Excerpt: Desert Fire
Chapter One: Prisoner
Why am I here?
Brand stared down at the dry ground beneath his feet, and then let his eyes roam the landscape ahead of him. The ground was dry and cracked for as long as he could see. Hills and mountains rose in the horizon, some giving off steam that was a telltale sign that they were volcanoes.
Brand had never seen volcanoes before, only heard of them in stories. Stories about this dry, hot, wretched land he was currently standing on. Turning his head, he looked back the way he had come. The mountain range reached out on both sides, closing off this land from the one he had come from. Trees could be seen here and there, but they had thinned the further he had come to what was called the Dragon Territories.
Why was he here indeed …
His eyes strayed to a group of three men, standing at a distance from him, conversing lightly. They were crude and filthy and lowly criminals, but he had needed them to get here. They had been here before—and he hadn’t.
And as to the reason; dragons and volcanoes. Those were the reason he was here, standing on this dry land, eyes again going to the sky, looking for the mythical creatures the other three were here to hunt. Brand was also hunting, but his intention was not to kill. He just wanted … confirmation, so to say. Confirmation of what he was, of what he could do.
A dragon’s fire … The lava of the volcanoes … No fire could ever match. And no fire back home could ever burn Brand. And so he was here to see if the mightiest fire spoken off could do him harm. Because if it couldn’t … he was what he was. If it could, he did not know what he was. Either way, he still could not go home.
“Hey lad, you plan on slaying dragons with that little dagger?”
Brand turned his head slightly, gazing down at the dagger attached to his belt. “I am not here to slay dragons,” he revealed, taking several steps ahead. His horse followed him, stopping when he did.
“You are not slaying?” The man’s voice got dangerously low. “Then what are you doing here?”
“I am merely curious.” Brand hadn’t exactly lied to them when he’d met them at an inn on the other side of the Black Mountains. He had overheard them talking about hunting dragons, and as dragons were said only to exist at the other side of the mountains, he had asked to join them. He hadn’t said he wouldn’t slay dragons, but he hadn’t said he would either.
“Curious?” Brand heard boots stalk towards him. “What do you mean you’re curious, you little—” He broke off as a big shadow fell over them.
Brand lifted his head and stared up at the creature blocking his view of the sky. He could not see much detail, but what he could see was the leathered wings beating powerfully to keep the big beast up in the air.
Brand felt his heart speed up, the excitement of seeing a real dragon overtaking him. Not that he could see much of it, as it blocked the sun, leaving itself in shadow, but there was no mistaking that outline. Garrick had shown him a drawing off it in one of his books at one time when they were young, and it had fascinated Brand.
When he had found out what he could do … it had fascinated him even more—even growing so far as to be an obsession. Especially after he had been banished from the pack and never being allowed to come back … and after staying at Vortigern, with Garrick and his strange friends.
He could not stay there though, so he had left in the dead of night when he had recovered, leaving only a small letter, and that was that.
The massive shape overhead beat its powerful wings again, but differently this time, and suddenly it descended, landing heavily on the hard, cracked ground several feet ahead of them.
It really was a big beast. White scales covered the entirety of its body, except for dark, leathery skin on its belly and feet. Its talons were easily as big as Brand’s forearm, and looked sharp enough to rip through the dry ground it stood on. They certainly would have no problem ripping through human flesh.
“A youngling,” he heard the man behind him mutter, drawing up to Brand’s side, as he was closest to the dragon. “This one is not full-grown. Younglings aren’t as valuable as full-growns, but valuable enough.”
Brand did not know why the man was telling him this, as he had just told them he was not here to slay dragons, but his words struck him nonetheless, for all he did not care to hear about the man’s line of work. If this huge creature was not full-grown, if it was just a youngling, then how big would a full-grown dragon be?
He swallowed, hoping fervently that he would not meet a full-grown one, but in the next moment he chastised himself. He was here for the dragons—or their fire. A dragon’s fire was rumored to be more vicious than any other fire, and seeing as Brand had never been burned … he was going to take his changes here, in this desert land known only as a myth for their warmth and their dragons and mountains that could spit fire.
Brand just wanted to belong somewhere. A realm of fire must certainly be a better place for him, who could manipulate it, than where he had come from.
A roar broke him out of his thoughts and Brand watched in horror as the men he had arrived with attacked the dragon—shooting arrows at it’s vulnerable feet, and thrusting spears towards it’s underside. The dragon drew back, flashing its teeth in another angry roar.
Brand stood frozen, not knowing what to do. The dragon was a wild beast, as likely to kill Brand as the three men he had travelled with. He wouldn’t mind the men’s deaths, he cared nothing for them after all and did not even know their names, but he preferred to keep his own life.
An arrow came out of nowhere, lodging in one of the men’s chest. He crumbled to the ground immediately, the arrow having pierced his heart.
Brand stared up at the sky and saw three big shapes high up. One of them dove, and Brand could not even blink before a dragon, decidedly bigger than the one being attacked and with scales glinting a deep red. But atop its back … sat a man, bow poised, an arrow having already lodged in the second man’s chest.
Brand stared at the man, not able to help himself. He was well built, and the fact that he was wearing only breeches showed off his toned body extremely well. His skin was golden, evidence to time spent outside, and both his hair and eyes were of a golden brown color.
The beat of wings around him snapped him from his perusal of the man riding the red dragon, and he turned to watch as the other two dragons he had seen in the sky landed on the ground, one the color of a brilliant green, the other the color of the sky.
He noticed briefly that both had men atop them. Another roar from the youngling dragon brought his attention, and he only managed to catch a flurry of movement in the corner of his eye before he dropped to the ground.