PART ONE 850 words
The dragon turned her golden eye toward the young woman and lowered her massive head. In the dark confines of the ancient cavern the sound of the woman’s heartbeat hammering against her chest, disturbed the quiet. The dragon exhaled. So many hopes, so many futures rested on the shoulders of this diminutive human.
“Your quest…” The dragon’s voice sent echoes reverberating off distant walls of empty halls once filled with the warmth of dragon kind. With a talon designed to tear flesh from bone, she touched a pool of still black water. A ripple spread outward, before the water’s mirrored surface returned. With a thought she called up enough light, to illuminate a scene she had watched for so long.
Under an expanse of sky that stretched from one star studded horizon to the other, a fingernail moon shed light on a scarred landscape. The dragon focused and the image centred on a confused gathering of lights emanating from a group of buildings. Again she tightened her focus. The hammering of the human’s heart increased to the point where the dragon found it hard to concentrate on her own calm.
"Lies before you." The young woman needed a strong heart to face the world where her quest lay. Dragons no longer dared cross the rift to linger in a world where magic ceased to exist and science held sway. This human must travel where dragons now feared to fly.
It hadn’t always been that way. For a moment, a dozen racing beats of the human’s heart, the dragon remembered the feeling of euphoria that crossing from one world to another brought her kind. The image faltered as the dragon’s concentration lapsed. The human cleared her throat, bringing the dragon back to the task at hand.
Motorized metal boxes followed slivers of light along the scars crossing the surface of the world. Humans controlled the motion, stopping at an oasis of light for sustenance and fuel. Focus centred on the group of buildings, the main source of light, movement and human activity.
The human leaned forward. Although her heart raced, the dragon recognized the woman’s burning curiosity. Her courage might give her the strength to succeed when so many had failed. The dragon did not mention the others. Last desperate hope rested on this woman’s shoulders. For now, the safety of too many worlds rested in her hands.
The woman peered into the image, where, within the warm light of the building nearly a dozen people moved. There travellers ordered meals, ate or read large sheets of paper. Others prepared food, filled tanks or slept within the metal boxes. The woman pointed, drawing the dragon’s focus to individuals within the strange tableau.
Two women sat facing each other across a narrow table. They appeared as older women, with dour expressions on their face. They had the look of people who expected to be somewhere else. As well they could. The younger woman held a short staff, complete with an ornate end.
The human lifted her head as though surprised at the scene. “No magic? Yet they carry ancient wood able to translate power?”
“A crutch, to help an old woman walk, but yes the wood is ancient. It may retain a memory of magic.” The dragon’s heart lifted with hope. This human held the future in her hands. Her acute assessment boded well. “Remember your magic may not always work in their world. The air is tainted. The water is corrupt. Even the planet’s spirit is beyond our call. Hope remains but the human lust for power has almost destroyed the habitable places. Beware despair. Watch closely… even as we speak we witness violence that is endemic to this world.”
“I see a man who does not allow the violence to go unsorted. His actions show that at least some good remains in the human spirit. Another man shelves a weapon unused. He shows restraint. I need a weapon. The universe provides.” The human looked into the dragon’s eyes and her gaze did not waver or show any sign of hesitation or fear. “Do not despair dragon. The human spirit can rise to meet most challenges. Even knowing my magic may not work, I accept your quest. I will see the border between dimensions safe before time turns back on itself.”
“There are those who will try to stop you. It is into danger we send you. Already you have proved yourself champion among many. This quest will test every skill you possess and all the lessons we have taught you.”
“I understand. Magic doesn’t always work. But a carefully thrown plate works as a weapon. It will be an interesting experience, dragon. I accept the challenge, in return for you keeping your part of our deal.”
“If you fail, the barrier keeping the soul daemons bound will be destroyed.”
“Then I dare not fail.” The human straightened, looked the dragon in the eye and squared her shoulders. “I gather you don’t want to come with me to this world?”
“Dragon’s don’t get a good reception there.” The dragon lifted a talon and disturbed the watery image. “If you are ready… it is time for you to go.”