We had a great selection of entries from our April creative writing contest. Enjoy our favorite story from the adult category. Congratulations to Erin Smith!
Talons and Tales
By Erin Smith
Issagoth dreamed, and when it dreamed, it dreamed of fire and flight and the shrieks of its enemies. This particular fire-drake was small for its age, only the size of a warhorse, but it was also wily and fierce. It never went hungry, even in the long winter months when little stirred beyond its cave door.
The wind outside shifted, and the drake stirred irritably as a draught slipped in through the cave opening, the icy fingers scraping its black hide. Issagoth hated the cold and the whirling snow that blew in its face whenever it had to slither out of its lair to track down food. But more than that, it hated the endless monotony of the short days and long nights when nothing moved within its view in the surrounding valley. It was never as happy as on summer days when it was diving to the ground to harry a hapless villager with its fiery breath or carrying off a sheep in its talons. Boredom, on the other hand, was a foe even the drake could not defeat.
Something tickled at the edges of its hearing as it tried to settle itself back into a comfortable position on the cave floor. A buzzing hum as if from a dragonfly sounded over the wind’s shriek, but it was far too early in the year for such a creature to be on the loose. Issagoth eased its eyes open for the first time in days and flicked its tongue into the air, tasting for the first signs of spring and to assess what the unwelcome visitor might be. The scent coating its tongue was something it had not tasted since it was a hatchling.
“I know you are there,” the drake hissed in a dry rasp, lifting its head off the floor. “You might as well show yourself, sprite.”
The buzzing dipped toward Issagoth’s head, and the drake blinked its eyes open wide at the sight of a tiny, dark-haired woman in a blue shift levitating in the air. She must have been only three inches tall, and her wings flapped so quickly they blurred behind her.
“Hi there,” she said, flitting up and down in Issagoth’s vision, much like the dragonfly the drake thought it had sensed. “I don’t suppose I could borrow your cave for a few hours? It’s freezing out there.”
The drake let wisps of smoke spiral out of its nostrils as a warning to the impertinent visitor. “No. Begone before I decide whether or not you are worth the trouble of eating.”
Ignoring the command, the sprite landed on a rock, her wings showing iridescent in the light filtering in from the cave entrance. She looked around with an appraising glance. “Nice place. Cozy. Guessing you don’t get many visitors, though.”
Issagoth blinked. “Did you not hear me, sprite? Begone or die by my wrathful flame.”
The sprite quirked an eyebrow. “Well, that’s not very friendly. And ‘by my wrathful flame’? Just how old are you?”
“I am old as the hills. Old as the river flowing through yonder valley.”
“Ok. Well, I hate to break it to you, but you sound like Councilman Agnew down in the village. He’s always yelling at the kids to stop running so fast and griping about the price of cabbages.”
Issagoth drew itself up, feeling its breath heating in its chest as the flames in its stomach kindled. “You dare,” it sputtered.
The sprite sighed in response. “Don’t worry, he’s not as bad as some of the others down there. At least he’s not truly tragic like the poet pining over the Miller’s daughter. Like she’s going to marry anyone other than the Huntsman. Somebody needs to tell that boy that mediocre poetry does not win you any points in the romance category. And don’t get me started on the songs he’s tried to sing…” She shuddered. “No, you’ve got the right idea hanging out up here on this mountain. Farmer Benson and his fiancé Glen are the only ones down there worth two gold pieces, and those guys had a serious row the other day. You wouldn’t believe what it was about, either.”
The sprite took her boots off as she talked and raised her legs until the soles of her feet were within a few inches of Issagoth’s side. She whistled and wiggled her toes. “Wow, you’re toasty. That feels amazing.”
Despite its irritation, Issagoth felt a stirring of curiosity. This was so different from the usual monotony of its winter slumber. “What affront has the farmer made to his betrothed?”
The sprite grunted. “My Ma always said gossip makes your ears swell and your tongue fall off. I probably shouldn’t be telling you any of this. Forget I said anything.”
The drake shifted on its bed of rocks for a few moments. At last it rumbled, “Very well. You may stay, sprite. So long as you continue your prattle. I wish to learn the fate of the village folk and to hear the song of the tragic poet.”
“Great,” the sprite exclaimed. “It’s a deal. So, what do you go by?”
“I am Issagoth, Destroyer of Man and Beast, the One who Feasts on the Flesh of the Unwary.”
“Vanria. Charmed, I’m sure.”
With that, Vanria stood, fluttered her wings, and zipped upwards to the cave ceiling before settling herself onto Issagoth’s long neck. She rolled over onto her back and stretched out her legs, one hand idly scratching the drake’s hide.
“So, get this, Issy. Glen and Ambrose—that’s Farmer Benson—wanted to buy this cow named Buttercup. And Glen promised Ambrose he’d go into town with three gold pieces to get it. But then the cabbage seller offered him ten cabbages and a magic ring…”
Issagoth gazed out past the cave entrance at the swirling snow and closed its eyes as Vanria spun her tales. And when it dreamed, it dreamed of cabbages and poets, of farmers and millers’ daughters, of magic rings and the droning sound of wings buzzing through the air.