By Ian Spiegel-Blum
Botan’s brilliant blue eyes were gouged out and her wings were broken. Even still, she fought. She clawed at Opeth’s metal body, ripping out chunks of scrap. She swung her tail madly, swatting the soldiers as they came. The tendrils along her neck and back burned with bright light that seeped into her neck and out her mouth in a beam of blistering energy that cut through the walls of skulls and shook the catacombs to the core.
She saw Hue grab a sword from one of the swatted soldiers and rush toward more oncoming. She saw Xao bite deep into Xon’s neck, purple blood blossoming around its fangs. She saw Saturion’s smiling face, could feel him watching from afar. Somehow.
Sara could hear Botan’s voice inside her head urging her on, directing her. Trust your instincts, she said. You are a born Dustcrafter. Use your connection to Xon, his knowledge, to wield it, even if you do not understand it. We cannot win, Botan told her, even as she fought to the last. But you can live to fight again.
Xon used his all-seeing eye to transfer his memories to her. Memories of other Dustcrafters in ages past. Memories of how to siphon Dust from the air itself, to pluck it from the celestial fabric of reality and rearrange it to one’s making. In those moments, clarity beyond what most ever experience washed over Sara, even as she felt her existence cease. She had become something more, the living accumulation of thousands of years of dragons partnering with humans, of a covenant as old as the first wars. When she reached, she did not grab air; she grabbed reality itself and bent it to her will. She pulled the sky toward the ground and twisted the two and when she let go, they were no longer in the catacombs at all but in front of a sparkling well.
A dragon coiled its body around the water. Its flesh sparkled like the summer sky.
“Guardian. Why have you come,” the dragon said, its voice rumbling out of its chest.
Hue tried to catch his breath, sword still in-hand. Xon bled from his wound. Sara hovered for a second before falling to the ground. Hue threw the sword aside and caught her before her head hit.
“Delphion,” Xon said. “My charges and I require safe passage.”
“And so you awoke this girl’s power prematurely?” said the dragon.
“It was either that… or die,” Xon said.
“There will be consequences. You know this.”
“Consequences?” Hue said, holding his sister. She stirred in his arms. “What kind of consequences?”
“I am aware of the risk,” Xon said. “Delphion, old friend. Will you help us? Please?”
“For your mother,” Delphion said. “For Botan.”
Xon nodded and the well swirled with night blue light. Sara, Hue, and Xon fell into its depths just as the soldiers and Xao appeared before Delphion as well. Each were sent home.
Nobody seemed to notice the vortex of night blue light outside of the inn, except for Molio, Constance and Franz. They rushed out, ignoring the furious serving wench who thought they wouldn’t pay.
Sara, Hue, and Xon walked down the deserted street like vagabonds. Botan, Xon’s mother, lay dead behind them.
“Oh my,” Constance, princess of Westmarch said.
“Little Guardians,” said Franz, her tutor.
The siblings collapsed in Constance and Molio’s arms.
Molio had spent his boyhood protecting the prince. Now he led the forces that would fight against the oncoming threat from Raacnia in a war to end all wars. He needed weapons. He needed dragons. And he needed soldiers.
But Sara and Hue were children. Not soldiers.
“They must come with us,” Franz said. “They will require training, as do you, Xon.”
“No,” Molio said.
“Do you think Saturion cares about the age of his victims?” Franz said. “Princess, what say you?”
Hue and Sara’s small chests lifted and lowered with each breath. Sara sucked her thumb. Outside, the entire village of Pirth surrounded Botan’s dead body, the symbol of their harvest. The reason for the Midnight Festival. Hue and Sara slept through the commotion, the screams of terror and delight alike. Sara bore no sign of the magic she had performed that night, nor would she a memory of it come morning.
“Their training can wait,” Constance said.
“I must insist,” said Franz.
“I agree with her,” Xon said. “You will not take these children. They are my charges.”
Franz shook his head. “This is a mistake. From the look of things, they have no one. They would be better off with us.”
“No,” Constance said, putting an end to it. “One day, perhaps. When we are ready.”
“Ready for what?” Franz said, annoyed.
“Ready to watch them die,” Constance said. “For now, let them sleep a while longer.
“There will be consequences for this, you know,” Franz said.
“There always is,” Xon replied, thinking back on Delphion’s cryptic warning. Life would not be easy in the years to come.
Constance stood. “It is almost dawn and Saturion’s soldiers could still be near. Let’s see if we can’t find them.”
Molio and Franz knew a command when they heard one. They left the children under Xon’s watchful eye as the first hint of light broke across the horizon. Children cannot stay asleep forever, though. When they awoke, they helped bury Botan.
“I suppose last night was the last Midnight Festival,” Hue said as they walked back from the burial. “Now that Botan’s gone.”
Hue did not tell Sara about the rash, the skin flaking off at his knee. That was the first sign of sour scale. He knew it well. It’s what his mother had died from. He would not tell her.
“Maybe,” Sara said. “For now.” Just then, a comet streaked across the sky trailing blue light. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the topsoil of Botan’s grave glow.
Little girls could win dragon eggs. They could cast magic spells and grow up to become powerful sorcerers. Anything, Sara now knew, was possible.