By Austin Jones

he air was dry and heavy. The sun gave no warmth though it shone bright. Once, not long ago, a serene mountain with lush green trees and open trails. It was now covered in thick snow. Tobin was hunting and being hunted. He hoped he would find his god-forsaken dragon fast, before he froze, or the king’s knights found him. He could only withstand the cold for so long even with his many layers of clothing. He trudged on and on and on. 

If I don’t find Chydri, the king will keep hunting until finds us both. I must report back to the mages, so we can plan our attack. 

Tobin had no intention of going back to the kingdom. He would find his dragon and report back to the mages, where they would then plan their attack on the kingdom. If one could control a dragon, why not use all of its power? He and the rest of the dragon mages would inflict death upon all that came across them. The mages had planned to infiltrate the kingdom for a while now, they just had to find the right person to do it. It was difficult for the mages to place him. He was grateful at the lengths the masters went to to negotiate with the king that got him placed in a comfy position almost immediately. I guess they have magic words too. The king is a hard man to negotiate with. The plan was simple, infiltrate the kingdom, learn their offensive and defensive capabilities and any other secrets they may have and report back. Tobin knew he was a traitor to the kingdom. He didn’t care about the people; his loyalty was to the mages. Although, Tobin believed the king knew this. The king had been suspicious of him for a while. He would no doubt send more knights after him.

Nothing could get past a dragon mage. Tobin had noticed the suspicious behavior of those around him, ever since he was “placed” in the court. 

The king thought he was clever. Subtle glances here, pointed questions there. The king’s historian coming in and out day after day. Either the king was incredibly stupid or very clever. It was an endless game with him. Did he know of Tobin’s plans? Tobin was too analytical, he did his best to think of every outcome, and it wore on him. None of that mattered now. The only thing that mattered now was finding his dragon.

The sun was setting. If he didn’t find Chydri soon, he would freeze, or be found and killed by the other knights. Not a good outlook either way. 

I wish I had fire elemental magic right now. Controlling dragons is fine and all, but I would kill for a fire or some source of warmth. I guess I could always start a fire the old-fashioned way.

He made his way through the dead trees and piles of snow in search of some sticks and rocks. He had flint with him, but no steel. 

Rookie mistake. The reliance on dragons for fire has made me weak. 

He continued through the trees, searching endlessly for Chydri. The branches and thorns grew thicker around him. The sun grew silent. Darkness was beginning to set all around. Now his quest wasn’t about finding his dragon, it had changed to surviving. 

I’m so cold. I suppose I could set the trees on fire. But then the whole forest would burn. Is it worth it? I must survive. No. Keep moving. Keep moving. 

He drew all his strength and ran through the trees, abandoning finding his dragon to find relief from the cold. If he was being honest, he didn’t know how to start a fire. He never learned, and it was never important. Until now. Fires were always already made for him. He grabbed the first thing he saw, a rock, and rubbed it against the flint; Nothing. He rubbed the flint against a stick; nothing. He continued running while searching for things to start a flame on the ground. It was hopeless. He was so cold he just wanted to lay down and let the darkness take him. It would be easy. What were the mages going to do anyway? Destroy the kingdom? Take it for themselves? What after that? Just keep going kingdom to kingdom until it was all theirs? Then what? Just rule? Have an endless supply of dragons at their disposal for anyone who dared cross them? He didn’t want that. He wanted to find his dragon and escape. Or was that the cold talking?

He knew who he was. Kept down by his kings and masters. What did he actually want? I just want to be free. Free from the confines of my masters, free from tyranny. 

I guess everyone does. I’m no different. Who am I to all of the other fools who want freedom? Even if I find Chydri, what will I do with him? Set him free? I don’t know! 

He fell into the soft snow beneath him. This is where I die. I can’t go on any longer. He sunk down, farther, and farther. The snow would bury him, and he wouldn’t be found until next spring. At least the knights wouldn’t find him. He kept sinking and sinking. As the snow caved in around him, something started to move. Beneath him, a long neck rose from the snow, then a large body. He flailed and tried to hold on to anything around him. A pair of wings rose above his head, shattering the surrounding trees. Branches flew everywhere, scarping and bruising him. He looked down and saw familiar, green scales. He couldn’t believe it! Fear turned to shock, then to excitement.  

Chydri was here! Right below him! His best friend, his companion. His connection was instant, he felt warmer already. The C insignia scarred on his chest began to glow. It really was Chydri. He drew in a quick breath to calm himself and cleared his mind. 

Breathe fire. He thought. 

Chydri’s belly extended. Tobin could see the orange glow of heat coming from his dragon. Chydri lifted his head above the trees and let out a radiant orange burst of flames into the twilight sky. Tobin felt the warmth immediately. Remnants of fire spread out across the sky, and Chydri flew up into the air, Tobin holding onto his neck. 

Tobin looked out across the orange and purple sky. 

It’s been a long time since we’ve both seen such a beautiful thing, old friend. 

Chydri let out a huff in response. 

Would you like to head back to the House of Mages, Chyrdi? I have all I need. Or, we have the rest of the day, we can go where you’d like. 

Chydri flew north, back toward the kingdom. Tobin looked down to the forest and as he suspected, there were the knights. They pointed, yelled and flung their torches around, signaling to them. It was obvious they were angry. They wanted to kill Tobin and Chydri. But Tobin didn’t care. He’d never see them again anyway. Chydri flew past the kingdom. It was dark enough now that the lights in taverns were coming on. He saw people going out to eat, a boy coming out of a school library, horses crossing streets. Soon, they would all know the power of the mages. Or would they? Tobin was still torn about what he would do. What would be the use? But then again, I could rise in the ranks of mages. For what purpose, I don’t know.  

Chydri led them to a snow-covered ruin. Broken brick and remnants of an old kingdom; stones and wood haphazardly lay about. Tobin knew this place; it was the castle of King Jor. 

Why are we here? Tobin asked Chydri. His dragon swooped down to the ruins and planted his claws firmly, cracking the ground beneath him. Tobin got off and walked around. He shivered. Chydri saw his discomfort and lit a fire on a broken pillar, illuminating the night around them. 

Why did you bring me here? He asked. 

Chydri led him to an open cavern in the ground beneath some stones. 

Tobin removed the rocks around the cavern to reveal a dead mage. An F inscribed on his chest. His body was mangled and burned. 

Tobin was horrified. So many new questions arose in his head.

Where is this man’s dragon? Did his own dragon do this to him? Was it another mage? Is there discord among the other mages? I don’t know him. He looked to Chydri. Did you know him? Did you do this?

Chydri shook his head no. 

Is this why you were hiding? Is this man or woman still out there? 

Chydri laid down on the ground and put his head close to Tobin’s. Tobin came closer and rested his head on the dragon’s. Then Chydri’s eyes glowed white and his mind infused with Tobin’s. 

“I do not know how this man died.” Tobin’s voice rang out. Chydri was using Tobin to speak. “I only know he has been like this for three days. I hid to avoid suspicion. You have told me they already suspect you at the kingdom. I did not want to put you in jeopardy. I am sorry I did not call to you. But if there is a traitor in the House of Mages, we must put a stop to it.” 

Tobin pushed back as hard as he could against Chydri’s speaking. It wasn’t hard for a dragon to take control of a human. It was infinitely hard, however, for humans to communicate back. No matter how much training one had, or how strong the bond. 

“But why? What if you and I went away? Lived a peaceful life somewhere. We could just be alone. No war’s, no fighting, no spying. Just peace. Just leave the man where he is. I don’t care anymore. We could use your power and my intelligence to make out a living. The mages will come eventually, but we can deal with them once they come. I don’t like the idea of ruling anymore or working in the shadows or bringing down kingdoms. I just want to be. Are you even happy with the other dragons?” 

Chydri started to speak. “If that is what you want, then so be it. I am indifferent to what we do. I can live anywhere or do anything as long as we are together, friend.” 

With that. Tobin sunk to the ground unconscious. The mental strain was too much to take. Chydri curled around him to keep him warm. It would be a while until he woke up. Chydri took another look at the dead mage before them and wondered who, or what, would do such a thing, and then looked out to the black horizon. A life of peace sounds nice. Chydri thought.    

Austin Jones is completing a master’s degree from the University of Texas, Arlington. He is a communications student and strive to be a novelist. He has also taken the Neil Gaiman Masterclass on the art of storytelling. Jones has one work of fantasy fiction published in Midwestern State University’s Voices Magazine,

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