I’ve edited Sacrifice’s ending for clarity and to clean up a few points in preparation for turning it into a multiple chapter series. New stuff begins in the last … quarter? Of the story.
Maida grit her teeth as she lugged the heavily laden basket of potatoes back to her parent’s house. The sun had not yet burned off the early morning fog and the young woman relished the cool mist. Summer had fully set in and the sun spared no mercy for those that worked the fields. Maida grunted and lifted the basket higher, lean muscles tensing under the load. Five strands of blond hair escaped the simple ribbon holding her hair back and she sighed as they lay against the front of her face. When blowing air at her hair failed to move them away from her eyes, Maida sighed again and lay her basket down.
The great keep with its towering wooden walls stood less than half a day’s walk in the distance. The young woman watched the silent workers on the wall as she fixed her hair. As much as she hated pulling rocks and weeds, she would never join the men tending to the outside of the keep. Simple wooden platforms hung high above the ground with thick rope. Maida shivered and then knuckled her back before pressing her palm to her chest to pray to the Traveler for luck for the foolhardy men. Before she bent to her basket, she watched a group of horseback soldiers stream from the keep’s open gate and then split off in multiple directions.
The farms, Maida thought. They’re going for the farms. Two-by-two the men on horse rode hard for the outlying farms. She frowned, wondering if they were looking for someone – an escaped prisoner perhaps. Or, more likely, delivering news of raised taxes. Again. Maida frowned as she lifted her basket. Her silent curse for the local lord was said as no prayer. Lord Forun held the land in an iron grip and the high born inside the walls grew fat off of the back of the workers. As a child, she had dreams of living within the walls as a proper Lady. Now… now she wondered whether she’d even find a husband before her back was bowed and her skin was wrinkled.
The rest of her trip was uneventful as always and she began walking faster when a dull ache settled into her shoulders and back. The sun’s harsh glare finally cut through the mist as she neared her small house. Two horses were tied to a small post by their front door and Maida could hear raised voices. Her father and mother and another man. She wondered if she should wait until they were done but she worried her father would think she was being lazy. She still bore the bruise on her back from the last time that happened. The young girl set her basket by the door and then entered.
The heated conversation inside the small house stopped as soon as the door opened. Maida’s mother sat in the corner, silently shaking with tears. Her father stared stone-faced at the two men from the fort. The two soldiers turned to look at Maida. Both wore chainmail with the hawk crest for Lord Forun. The one closest to her was gray haired and he spoke but not to her.
“Is this the one?” He asked.
“Yes,” her father answered. “My oldest girl.”
Maida’s mother hiccuped with a sob. “Please,” she begged. “Please, no.”
“Be quiet, woman!” Her father hissed. “She’s old enough to marry and no man will offer! She’s another damn mouth to feed when I have three others already!”
The older soldier looked Maida up and down and she wished her gray dress wasn’t sloppy with mud. She felt herself unconsciously smoothing the wrinkles down the front. Her mind speculated wildly at what had gone on. Perhaps, she thought. Perhaps he is looking for a bride? He’s older but handsome enough. And he has pips on his shoulder. Oh, why couldn’t he have come earlier before I’d gone out?
“Fine,” the old soldier said. Her mother wailed and then cried out as her father struck her hard across her face. The soldier strode forward and grabbed Maida by her upper arm. He was not ungentle with his grip. The younger soldier followed in the wake of his superior as they exited.
“Wait,” Maida said, her voice trembling with fear of the unknown. “I… I have clothes and a few things. I-”
The soldier gripping her arm led her to the fine chestnut colored horse tied closest to the front door. “You won’t need them. Have you rode before? No? I thought not. Hold tight to me and don’t talk or you’ll bite-”
“Wait!” Maida’s father followed the men out of his house. He was larger than both but he shrunk back as the two men glared at him. “You said. You said there was coins.”
The soldier holding her turned back to his horse. “Pay the man and then mount up. We need to be back.”
The younger soldier grabbed a small bag from his belt. He sneered at Maida’s father and tossed the bag on the ground. It burst open, spilling copper coins flew everywhere. The young soldier made for his horse while Maida’s father dove for the coins, digging madly through the light mud. The old soldier mounted smoothly and then offered his hand to Maida. She gingerly reached for him and he pulled her up, his grip hard and sure. It took a moment for her to arrange her dress to cover herself and she was sure it ripped as her legs spread. Her mother would be furious.
“You said there was silver!” Her father looked up at the two men on their horseback.
The younger man spat down on the ground and half-drew his sword, stopping only when his commander held out his hand. Sheathing his sword, the soldier spat again. “Be thankful I don’t take your fool head for calling us liars. One. One silver piece. Dig for it in the mud. That’s what you dirty pigs do out here, isn’t it?”
The three rode hard for the fort and Maida clutched her man hard. As they approached the walled town, Maida began to hear the noise and talk of people working and going about their business. Roosters crowed, pigs oinked and a few rare ducks quacked from small cages atop loaded carts. All being led into the city. Four more riders joined them and each had a young girl or woman behind them. All of the women shared a look of confusion as they were led into the fort.
Maida had only been to the market near the gates so as soon as they left that area, she stared in wonder. Even the muddy streets were lined with straw while most of the pathways were clean. Fancy dressed men and women strolled about or were carried in carriages. A small, child-like part of her wondered yet whether she was being brought to wed but now she grew scared. It made no sense for the soldiers to round up so many young girls all at once.
The horse slowed to a walk so Maida chanced a question. “Please, sir, what is happening?”
“It’s not my right to say. We’re there soon.” The old man grimaced and then yelled at a small child playing too close to his horse.
Round and round the small group continued to go as more and more riders joined them. Soon, the lord’s keep lay straight ahead. People, high born and not, scrambled out of the way of the twelve soldiers as they formed into three lines. They all stopped short of the keep’s tall doors and then dismounted. Each woman was helped down from the horse – some gently, some not. Maida eyed the lot of them, crowing quietly in delight that none appeared as pretty as she was. Although, a few were dressed better, perhaps. Here and there. But, none so slender of neck or high of cheekbone. Maida’s soldier stepped to the front and the rest of the men slammed their closed fist to their chest in salute.
“Form lines and follow my lead. Quickly now!” And, with that, they entered the keep. Maida marveled at the paintings on the walls and how cool it felt. Young ladies tittered at the group behind lace fans and painted faces. Maida’s momentary pride in her features fell quickly and she felt shame rise to her cheeks. No. I am quite plain after all, she told herself.
Everyone paused in front of large bronze doors. Her soldier (captain, the other men said) slammed on the doors with the hilt of his sword. After a moment, the doors swung open, revealing the keep’s great hall. At the very end of the hall she could make out Lord Forun. At least, she assumed that’s who it was. It was his keep, after all. All of the soldiers marched their women to the center of the room and then stopped. The man on the ornate stone seat stood and the soldiers went to their knees. One by one the women also bowed to bent knee. Maida’s soldier, the older one, walked to stand by the lord’s seat.
With a surprisingly melodious voice, the lord spoke. “Make them sit.” The more intelligent women sat quickly. The slower ones were forced to sit by tugs and pulls. Maida looked shyly at the much hated lord. He was perhaps middle aged, graying with a widow’s peak and very, very well fed. His clothes looked to be made of velvet and Maida felt jealousy rise like bile from deep within. Every time she’d been allowed to go to market, she visited the old woman that sold fabrics. And every time, she marveled over the feel of them all. Silk, velvet and more. But, she particularly loved the feel of velvet. She’d rub the fabric against her face with her eyes closed until the shopkeep began to glare at her.
Now the lord strolled among them, nose hidden behind a scented kerchief. Two soldiers stayed with the group while the rest fell back to line the walls. Maida bowed her head when the lord stopped to look at her. Was it just her fancy or did he appear to stay near her the longest? Finally, the man retired to his throne.
“Some of you may wonder while you’re here. Most, no doubt, worry about your livelihood. Or your parents or brother or sisters. Worry no longer.” The lord paused to sniff at his kerchief. “There is a dragon nearby.”
The women gasped, hands to throat. The woman seated in front of Maida fainted and Maida caught her, gently laying her back down.
“I’ll not cut hairs. You’re to be sacrifices. All of you. One at a time until the beast is sated and leaves. You-”
An older woman shrieked and stood. Her eyes were wild and she pulled at her hair. With no other words, she made a run for the doors at the entrance to the hall.
Maida’s soldier’s voice rang loudly in the hall. “Men! Restrain that-”
The lord spoke and the captain fell silent. “Kill her. We’ve plenty more.” Maida caught a brief glimpse of anger in her soldier’s eyes.
The younger soldier that rode with Maida hefted a nearby spear and then, with a grunt, threw it full force at the wild women. It took her square in the stomach and the woman howled and tumbled awkwardly. Maida had a memory of her little brother spinning his wooden top and remembering it wobble and clatter made her think of the dying women.
The lord tsk’ed. “Someone shut her up, please. I’ve no time to listen to the wailing of women. If I wanted that, I’d bed my lady wife.” Maida heard the sick crunch of bone and then a wet gurgling noise. “Now, again, it is your duty to your lord to give life and land when told and now you shall. I’ll waste no time. You there. You.” The lord pointed directly at Maida. “You shall be first as the prettiest of the lot. Perhaps that will appease the monster. You and you,” the lord pointed at two soldiers on the wall. “Shall escort the woman. Now-”
The captain stepped forward and spoke. “My lord. I would take their place.”
The lord cocked his head at the captain. He stroked a non-existent mustache while he thought. “Are you sure, captain?”
The old man went to his knee. “Yes, lord.”
The fat man shrugged. “So be it. Pick one of the carts of food and take the girl. Leave now. The rest are to be taken to the cells below until as such time as they’re needed.”
Maida felt in a daze. She heard women crying around her as they were led off and she felt a hand on her arm but everything seemed a blur. Sounds, smells, voices – all a blur. Until, suddenly she was outside the keep. Maida now wore a simple white dress. Rather than horseback, she rode in a cart filled with small animals and crates of food. The captain rode next to her.
For the longest time, nothing was said. The captain stared straight ahead but finally spoke. “I’m sorry. I think this is a fool idea and it wasn’t right to take you. Or any of the women. It’s a mad plan doomed to failure.”
When Maida tried to speak, she found her throat seized by fear. Now, suddenly away from the fort and in the countryside, on her way to a dragon, now her tears came. She felt the captain’s hand squeeze her leg and she wished he would hold her and tell her it would be okay. Or to let her go.
Time passed and Maida’s dread built. She tried to look at the sun and the trees and the earth in an attempt to have one last look before she was killed but her head ached from her tears and she just wanted to sleep. She opened her eyes when the cart jerked to a stop. The captain whistled quietly. “Oh, Father, look at the size of that thing.”
And, she did. In the valley below them, a massive red dragon lay in the sun. Maida shielded her eyes from the sun shining off of the thing’s scales. She couldn’t even guess at how large it was. The fort was the biggest thing she knew and the dragon would easily fit within but… if it stood, it would easily stand taller than the massive walls encircling the fort. Thick black wings lay against the beast’s side and even from here she could see it breathing. It had an array of short horns around the crest of it’s head and it’s long mouth was bigger than a man. Bigger than two men standing astride each other. Maida couldn’t see its legs but the thing’s tail was curled against its side. The tip of the tail flared into a thick triangle of scales. Large spikes lined the thing’s back and they moved in a wave as it breathed.
“Father,” the captain whispered. “Father above, give me strength.” He glanced at Maida. “Give us both strength.”
The horse whinnied nervously but moved when the captain struck it with a rod. Closer and closer they crept until the horse drawing their large cart simply stopped moving. No strike or word of cajoling would move it again so the captain dismounted and then offered his hand to Maida. She stepped down and then fell against the captain and her face was hot with shame and tears and fear.
“Please. Please, sir,” she begged. “Please let me leave. Tell the lord the dragon swallowed me whole but let me leave.” Finally she felt the old man wrap his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head gently.
“I cannot. I am bound by my oaths as we all are. Come with me, girl.” She came and the fear left her. Everything left her.
The air in front of the dragon’s head wavered and Maida could feel the heat of it. It’s belly was lined by black scales in rows that disappeared under its body. She could now see the muscular legs tucked underneath. Its eyes were closed and the jutting bone above each eye was lined with scales and horns. The creature’s lips were segmented, scaled and black. Faint smoke occasionally puffed from the huge nostrils and Maida wondered if she could fit within one. She looked for ears and found holes at the crest of its head, hidden behind more horns. It looked like its skull extended out in a flat, wide bony protuberance that overlapped its neck.
The captain stopped short. “Now what the hell do I-”
The dragon’s eyes faintly clicked open. Huge vertical pupils dilated in the afternoon sun. Maida felt her heart tremble and her legs falter but the captain’s hand gripped her tight.
“Lord Beast,” the captain shouted. “I am-”
The dragon’s mouth opened and a blast of heat roared over them. Dagger-like teeth, each as large as a small man and strikingly white, gaped through the maw. A large, black, split tongue worked behind the teeth and the creature sat up, pushing itself up with its front claws until it looked down upon them.
I am no beast. It rumbled. Maida knew there was no way it had made the words. The thing’s mouth stayed open and the tongue lay quiet. Why are you here? Maida felt her skull vibrate and she wondered if she’d boil where she stood.
“We,” the captain faltered. “We bring you tribute. To save our lands.”
The dragon blinked with a click and its pupils shrank. To save them from what?
“From,” the captain looked at Maida, as if she could answer for him. “From your royal self.”
The earth rumbled around them in waves. The dragon’s head pulled back and Maida could see its belly shaking. Laughing. It was laughing at them.
Of course. From myself. And why have you brought the female?
“She is to be a sacrifice. Our lord had heard that a sacrificed woman might appease-”
Would you die for your fellow men?
Would you? Man of metal? Would you die for them if it kept me from killing everyone you know and love?
The captain bowed his head. “Yes.” Maida looked at him. The man’s eyes were tired. “Everyone I knew… for everyone I have loved are already dead.”
And you, woman? Would you die for them?
Yes, her mind told her. You say yes now. Like he did. Now is when you do it. “I…” Maida swallowed. “I don’t want to die.” She whispered.
No. Of course you don’t. You did not choose this, did you?
“No,” Maida said with bowed head.
Sir knight. Tell your people that I will accept your sacrifice. Leave us now and never return. For your sake and hers, they are spared.
The captain bowed and then leaned into Maida. “I am truly sorry.” He hugged her quickly and then turned and left.
Maida fell to her knees. Her head ached badly from her tears and her heart hurt. The dragon watched her while the captain left. She heard the horse stomp and whinny and then break into a gallop. Her last shred of hope fled her as he did.
What shall I do with you?
Maida looked up. “What… what do you mean?”
They suppose I shall eat you. I shan’t. You are not wild. You are not free. You’re the same as the small animals on that cart. Caged and made for sacrifice. If not me then in servitude to the lord. Or to your mate. Long have I lived and much have I learned of your people. Of you humans. Man and woman. Better for you if I ended your life here than for a man to take you.
An anger arose within her. “It’s not like that!” She shouted.
“No-” Maida thought of her mother. She thought of all the times her father struck her poor mother for daring to speak different. For trying to keep her children safe. “No,” she finished, defeated.
You all make cages for yourselves. Your unions. Your forts. Your treaties and homes. Is that what you wish? A pretty cage for you?
And what is for you, woman? What is your want?
“When,” Maida paused. “When I was a child, I wanted to live in the fort. I got to see it today. The pretty ladies all made up. The lord on his seat. I… There was no place for me. They looked at me with disgust and pity and like I wasn’t a person at all. My father beat me and favored his sons, my brothers. I work from before sunlight to after sundown to eat half of what my brothers and father eat. I slave and I work and I… I… I get sold for a bag of coins! Sold away like a pig at a market! And my proud father on his knees looking for the silver promised to him. That… that is my worth. A thing. Meat to be sold so they can live another day. I’m tired.”
The dragon’s wings flared out to his sides, blocking the sun. The dragon roared and Maida covered her ears from the pain of it.
Your anger fills me, woman. We dragons, we few that are left are free! We are no one’s meat! We hunt. Male and female. If a male mistreats a female, she punishes him greatly and he learns or dies. We are proud and free and the world is ours. To fly. To meld the world around us with the ancient words. To soar above everything and look down upon everything. We. Are. Free!
Maida’s heart roared with the dragon above her. Its words filled her to boiling and she raised her hands and yelled, wordlessly. Her throat became raw and Maida lowered her arms. “I… I envy you.” She told the dragon.
The beast lowered its head and carefully watched her. Do you? Look upon me. The dragon unraveled itself, scales screeching and groaning as it stood. Taller and taller the dragon rose, wings spreading with front arms raised until it stood on its heavily muscled back legs. The pure black scales of its belly rippled its lean body and she wondered at the slit between its legs. Briefly she wondered if it was a woman and whether that was a dragon’s sex. Wonder filled her as she looked at the creature. Wonder and fear.
Do you still envy me?
“Yes,” she answered with hoarse voice. It regarded her from on high. It roared fire and a sudden song filled the air. Except, not a song exactly. The air become warm and soft and bright and there was a noise unlike anything she heard. And then, slowly, the dragon reached one of its five clawed fingers towards her. She stood, transfixed. With surprising grace, she felt the tip of its black claw touch her forehead. Her heart raced as she wondered if it changed its mind and would eat her. The claw looked as big as her head.
I name you Maideira. wild heart. Be free of your cage, Maideira.
The dragon took its claw back and then rested again on its belly. Maida touched her forehead and felt a trickle of blood. A warmth radiated from where the dragon touched her and she shivered slightly. “What-” Maida looked at her arms. Sweat. She was breaking out in sweat. The warmth from her forehead radiated down her body and she gasped as it suddenly roared through her belly and down to her feet. Maida clutched her stomach and fell to her knees, panting like a dog against the sudden fire raging through her. Sweat soaked her dress and dripped from her forehead to the ground. “What did you- Ungh!”
The top back of Maida’s dress tore and she grunted. Something cracked deep within her back and she gasped in pain. Blood dripped from her mouth. She looked up at the dragon and tried to ask the question again but the pain inside of her was tremendous. Maida’s spine bulged as muscles broke and regrew at a fantastic rate. The tear at the top of her dress split further and she gasped for breath as the dress tightened against her. No, as she grew against the fabric of the dress. Her heart burned with a pain she never knew before. Maida gripped the front of her dress and pulled, shamelessly exposing herself to the creature before her. Her breasts were soaked in sweat and she could feel her nipples aching as they grew erect. Her upper body was completely exposed and she didn’t even notice or care. As she watched, the bones of her knuckles swelled. The skin at the tip of her fingers split, exposing raw flesh and bone. Through the redness came a deep black and she felt the way it cut through muscle and flesh. Claws grew from the tips of her fingers as her hands grew to accommodate them. The claws pushed until the tips of her fingers were bonded to the hard material.
Maida fell to her hands and gagged. She could feel the vomit coming and her body shook from it. Pain from her belly made her want to cry. Her stomach heaved and she felt her nose burn. With a fierce heave, she vomited, only instead of a stream of liquid and her breakfast, globs of liquid fire flew from her mouth. She screamed as her teeth instantly melted. Her awkward clawed hands reached for a mouth she’d sure no longer existed but the claws touched flesh. Maida heaved again and a stream of fire issued from her mouth while her nose burned in pain. She closed her mouth in panic and felt smooth gums touching. Her tongue was still there and she explored her mouth with it. Everything was dry. There was no spit or saliva in her entire mouth. As she explored, she felt a peculiar sensation at the tip of her tongue and then, it split. She felt the skin pull apart and then her tongue was touching different parts of her mouth. She screamed and another jet of pure white flame issued forth.
Hair fell in clumps around Maida and she felt the wind on her suddenly bare scalp. She had barely enough time to relish the cool feeling before a sharp pain crashed into her face. She felt and heard bones crack in her jaw and face and her eyes watered as her mouth pushed forward. She ground her jaws together and felt her gums itch as new teeth cut through her gums, leaving her mouth suddenly full of blood. Maida spat and the blood was consumed in the sudden red and yellow flame jetting from her throat. Sharp teeth clacked against sharp teeth as her jaw expanded even further. When the pain reached a point she didn’t think she could handle, it stopped. Her long, split black tongue flicked out and she watched it touch her flattened nose and then curl around her expanded jaw.
The world flared bright and Maida closed her eyes against the sudden light. When she opened them again, the world was awash with colors and details she never knew existed. Everything was more vibrant and bright. She focused in the distance and watched a hawk catch a sparrow in flight. Her body pushed and lengthened, skin stretching as her breasts flattened, pulling against her chest. Her spine lengthened to little ‘pop’ sounds again and again and she lay against the ground, grinding her fangs against each other. New ribs grew in a row down her body, stabbing against her flesh as her body pushed out. From the base of her spine a mass of flesh snaked out and she could feel it sliding and pushing against her bottom. Flesh against flesh. Her bare feet broke and she felt the same tearing sensation at the tips of her expanding toes as she had in her fingers. Claws tore into the earth and Maida twisted, clawing at the bottom of her dress, nearly bent in half with the help of the extra muscles along her lengthened spine. Her claws tore ribbons into the simple dress and her legs were freed.
Maida rolled to her back. Her growing tail thrashed at the ground as she roared in pain. Gouts of flame shot from her mouth. Her claws explored her expanding body. Smooth flesh. She could no longer reach her lower belly without bending. Her breasts lay flat and, unseen to her, her nipples pulled to her chest and then untwisted, turning into pure white skin. Slowly, the flesh along her belly darkened. Pure white skin turned darker until the flesh took on the hue of onyx. Maida felt a million small tugs against her body as the skin hardened into scales. Black scales lining her chest and growing faster and faster until it reached her sex. Almost gently, the scales grew smaller around her moist, engorged vagina. The lips of her womanhood darkened to black as scales grew to cover her wetness. She felt new muscles connect to the scales and then those muscles tensed, pulling the scales open to reveal her still human sex.
Flesh tore and speckled around Maida’s thighs and they expanded greatly. Golden scales grew in patches over the rest of her body. Maida rolled to her stomach and stretched, bones and joints cracking, thick tail crashing into the ground. She roared again in pain and a pure streak of white and blue flame melted everything in front of her. And then Maida howled as skin split in her back, tearing the newly formed scales. Wet black flesh pushed through the tears. Further and further until the leathery skin lay against the ground. Maida trembled and her new wings fluttered weakly. Golden scales covered her back and legs and she felt skin puckering and moving along her arms as the scales crept down to her fingers. Muscles bulged in her back and her wings lifted up from the ground.
For one brief moment, Maida was completely off of the ground, born into the air by her wings. Skin pushed from the back of her skull as it expanded, bone pushing out into the dragon’s crown. In place of the antler-like horns the other dragon had, two long, black curved horns grew from other side of her skin. Maida could feel her tail moving – could feel the flesh of it against the ground. And, suddenly, she could feel the now-familiar growth of new scales down the length of it. Jet black scales that matched her smooth belly grew from the base of her spine and down and around her tail in a spiral until the very tip was covered.
Maida looked around and the world was different. She was half the size of the other dragon. With each breath, the furnace roared inside of her. She could feel the new muscles controlling her wings. She could feel the thick muscles of her tail undulating behind her. She could even feel the small and delicate muscles that controlled the scales covering her sex. The pain of her change lessened while she continued to grow. Maida went to her knees and looked down upon herself. Ribbed black scales covered her belly and chest. Her completely flat chest. She watched her tail whip left and right. Her dense claw-tipped fingers touched against her giant thighs and the screech of sound made her shiver. The sound… Maida touched the side of her head. Like the other dragon, her ears were gone. In their place was a bony growth around large holes.
The world made beautiful music around her. The wind sang, the grass hummed and the trees raised their voice in a harmony beyond anything she could imagine. Everything was just… more. She felt her heart swell deep within the armored cage of her chest.
Finally, she looked at the other dragon. He was no longer a beast. He? Yes, she could see it somehow now. Some subtle differences that told her it was a male dragon. The shape of the face. The cut of the jaw. The way the bones covered his eyes and ears. He was beautiful. Like a fancy smith’s puzzle that suddenly came together, her mind now saw him for who he was. Fast. Beautiful. Slender. Strong. His green eyes were the color of the most perfect gem. The red scales lining his body caught the light in a way that almost made them shine with all of the colors of the world.
She didn’t notice when she stopped growing. So caught up in her examination of the male dragon was she that she didn’t notice her continual growth. The pain had become nothing. And now it stopped. Her tongue flicked out as her nostrils flared. She looked down and watched as the slit she’d noticed earlier between the male’s legs parted. A giant, smooth bulbous penis bulged through the exposed flesh. She felt something inside of her expand and burn. Deep within her lower belly. A liquid fire poured through her bowels and, before she realized what was happening, the muscles over her sex relaxed, exposing herself.
I am Raida. Winged Glory. Raida reached a clawed hand out to touch Maida’s jaw. Her tongue flicked out and touched his fingers. You are immensely beautiful. He told her. Spread your wings for me, Maideira. Show the world your might. Show the world how free you are. Roar, Maideira.
And, she did. Maida moved the muscles of her back and her wings cracked open. She felt her power. She felt the world around her. She roared and showers of flame filled the afternoon sky. She luxuriated in the heat of her breath and the gaze of the sun above her. The wind howled its greeting to her and she roared again.
When she spoke, the words formed for her from thought. I am Mai… Mai-deer… Mai-deer-uh.
Maideira. Raida said. The words will come to you. And? What shall you do now, Maideira?
She turned to look at the male. Everything was possible. But, where should she begin? What should I do, Rai-duh?
The male laughed. I am not your lord, Maideira. You are free. You are one of us, now. If you wished to take flight and leave me, I won’t stop you.
Why me? Why have you done this to me?
The male settled onto his stomach, crossing his arms over each other. You are a blank slate. You have nothing left and I thought you could survive it. And, truth be told, the sky is more lonely that it ought to be. Now. What will you do, Maideira?
Maida thought and then looked to the sky. The sun was a complex mix of color and she felt herself drawn to it. By habit, she looked away but when she felt no pain, she looked back. It was a glorious sight. Dark reds, near orange, soft yellows and small whorls of deep blacks fought ceaselessly across the surface. A faint halo of white tinged with purple surrounded the globe. Maida closed her eyes. The heat filled her – every new gold and black scale sucked at the warmth and it flooded throughout her massive body.
When she opened her eyes, Maida surveyed the land around her. She could easily see the keep in the distance. It swarmed with people – tiny ants at this distance. Maida’s claws flexed unconsciously in anger. Her great eyes blinked and the vertical slit dilated slightly. They were so small now. Everything was. Her tail lashed about behind her and it took a moment for Maida to realize it was even moving. She felt the muscles working along its length. She felt it pull at her back. And then, she felt small twitches in her long back as her folded wings acted to balance her from the tail’s movement. Her frustration and terror and hatred of the lord and his treatment of her – his very indifference to her wellbeing played out in the movement of her tail. Maida concentrated and the tip of her tail struck out against a lone, old oak tree. She barely felt the impact as the thick trunk cracked, showering the air and ground with wooden shrapnel. A few brave animals that had watched her transformation now scattered. A few others lady dead and her sharp eyes could pick out the details of their death. Speared or crushed by her blow.
Maida pulled at the muscles of her lower back and her tail coiled around her feet. Something was different for her mentally, too. She’d considered herself fairly quick of thought before but now… now she felt as if she existed in a great expanse. When she closed her eyes and relaxed, she could almost feel her thoughts forming. Vivid memories immediately came to mind and connections were made where before, she wouldn’t realize how actions mattered or what they meant. In her mind’s eye she could still see the tree and the carnage around it perfectly. Now, her new way of thinking nearly formed thoughts for her. I react in anger and fear, not thinking of the consequences and, around me, creatures die. Am I so like the little lord in his keep?
The memories before her transformation were not nearly so clear as now but she could still remember sitting in the hall, waiting to hear what the lord would say. Wondering against all common sense whether he would announce marriage plans for the prettiest of the lot. The shame of her earlier pride still burned but, not so much as the dread she’d felt earlier. The dawning horror when with a single command, she was led away like the fattened sow to her slaughter. The lord knew not who she was – only that she was born and lived outside the walls. A small thing with a small life to live and die at his whim. Maida looked at her hands. Her fingers ended not in flesh but in deadly claws. Her very breath melted everything around her. Her teeth were made for ripping and tearing of flesh. And, despite her size, she felt extraordinarily light. She knew that once she was used to her new body, she’d be as fast as the wind. Her entire body was made for death. But, she wondered. Is that all I am now? Death? Maida raised her face to the sun with her eyes closed again. No, she decided. No, I am free now. Free to choose my own path.
Maida flexed and her wings unfurled behind her. She swayed briefly before the claws of her feet dug deep into the earth. She could feel the whorls of air current pressing and moving against the thick skin of her wings. The muscles in Maida’s back moved smoothly to adjust for the sudden changes in wind.
Rai-duh. Will you teach me to fly?
The male’s lips curved slightly in the hint of a smile. Yes, Maideira. The wind welcomes you.
The captain lay his sword on the floor in front his lord. On bent knee he spoke. “My wife died while I was at war. My sons died fighting that same war. And now I have watched a young girl be sacrificed against her will. I am in exile. I will leave the kingdom. You have my sword and my honor. Do I have your leave?”
Lord Forun’s face turned bright red. “My… my… my! You don’t-”
The captain lifted his eyes. “Or, shall I take my leave?”
“Go!” screamed Lord Forun. “If I see you again, I’ll have you torn apart! Piece by piece! I’ll-”
The captain walked away as the insults streamed from the lord’s mouth. A few of the men most loyal to him threw their swords down and joined their captain. No one stopped them from leaving.
Once outside of the keep’s wall, the captain made a stop at a small farm. There, he handed a crying woman a bag of coins. Gold glinted within. “There is a village three miles south of here that would welcome a widow of such wealth,” he told her.
The woman looked confused. “But… But… I’m not a-”
The captain drew his long hunting knife. “Where is your husband?”
An hour later, the captain was cleaning blood from his knife when a shadow slid across the earth. He shielded his eyes and looked up. A golden dragon flew overhead. Golden like the young woman’s hair, the captain thought. I’m becoming poetic in my old age. “Men, with me. We’ve a long journey ahead of us.”
Maida barely felt the arrows as they clacked off of her scales. She ignored the guards on the wall and angled herself for the keep. The wind streamed over her body and she instinctively closed a second set of transparent eyelids to keep her eyes from drying out. She twisted slightly and then lost track of the wind, suddenly crashing into the ground among a panicked crowd of nobles. When she stood, her body was covered in blood and entrails. She sniffed and her tongue flicked out. The hot copper smell made her belly rumble but she was not yet ready to try eating raw flesh. Maida awkwardly crashed her way towards the keep, unaware of the destruction her tail caused without her notice. Some brave soldiers swarmed her, striking at her body with their swords but she ignored them; she felt nothing but the faint pressure of their blows.
The keep lay in front of her and a platoon of soldiers guarded it. Faced with spears, Maida hesitated. She spread her wings and roared but the soldiers still stood their ground.
You stupid men. She told them. Their lives ended in a roaring torrent of blue flame. The front of the keep erupted into fire around a large, newly melted hole. Maida walked into the keep, cracking the top of the building open with her claws. The top of the building came to the middle of her black scaled stomach and she waded through the wreckage she caused. The great hall was easy to find and the lord cowered in the corner, surrounded by his few guards.
The lord’s voice no longer sounded sweet to her ears. “I’ll… I’ll… please don’t kill me! I have more women to send as tribute! More food! Gold! Gems! Whatever you want!” The man’s crotch was stained with piss and Maida flared her nostrils in disgust. The air shimmered around her long jaws. Her anger burned deep.
Maida considered the lord as he hid behind his men. She knew she could bring the entire fort down around him. She could kill every single person here and then fly away, mostly unharmed. She could rain fire from the skies until the entire area was blackened. Or, she decided. Or I could send a message to everyone. There is something greater than you in the world. Something you can not buy or sell. Something even you can fear. And when you think yourself safe behind your walls, you can remember what happened here.
“Please,” the small man whimpered. “Anything. I’ll give you anything. Please.”
You already gave me everything, little man. Maida’s jet black claws closed around the lord. She felt spears bouncing from the scales and spikes in her back as she slowly crushed the life out of the lord. Blood and flesh and guts dripped to the floor. Maida shook her hand, spraying the remains across the room. The rough skin on the palm of her hand was covered in blood. Feeling curious and still ignoring the swords and spears clanging against her, Maida’s forked tongue flicked against her palm. Rather than recoil in disgust, she relished the deep and nuanced flavor of the blood. It tasted like nothing she’d had before and she wondered what it’d taste like when burned.
Ignoring her hunger, Maida bent low and tore at the floor. Sparks filled the air as her claws tore against tile and wood until she broke through. As gently as possible, Maida destroyed everything below her until she reached the cells two floors down. As carefully as possibly, she broke the bars holding the captured women. She wondered briefly if one had been chosen rather than her, whether she would be looking up at a dragon even now.
You’re free now. As free as you can be. Return to your families if they loved you. Band together and make your own family if they didn’t. The world is changed around you.
Still ignoring the few remaining fearless soldiers, Maida walked out of the keep. Once clear, she beat her wings once, twice and then took flight. Raida circled in the distance and she cried out a greeting to him. He looped around and folded his wings, screaming towards her before braking to swing beside her.
Are you finished here, Maideira?
Yes. She told him. Now I am free. Raida. Raida, now I am free.