A Dragon Lands Mystery
At twenty-two years old Shasta Oaks finally has her first job with the family business, Oaks Consulting. However, instead of tracking down criminals, she’s in the Dragon Lands of Wyoming teaching adolescent dragons how to behave should they venture into the rest of the country. Some groups are better than others. The current lot is not better. In fact, they keep falling out of the sky. It’s a good thing she’s a half-elf half-witch or she’d have some very squished dragons on her hands.
With such an straightforward job, it could’ve been the solo assignment she requested. Instead Oaks Consulting, and more accurately her parents, gave her a partner. Cord is a perfectly nice elf, but he’s hiding something. Even though it’s causing strain in their relationship, she isn’t inclined to discuss the issue. Shasta has a secret of her own, one she’s spent her entire life hiding, and she’s afraid he’ll ask questions she can’t answer.
When one of her dragons goes missing, Shasta quickly discovers that the job isn’t as safe as everyone thought. There’s evil brewing in the Dragon Lands. If she wants to save the dragons, she’ll have to embrace the parts of her she’d been hiding and show the world the real Shasta.
**Please note this is a rough draft. There are errors, but they will be addressed during the editing process.**
A charcoal gray dragon and a deep purple dragon flew straight at one another, each beat of their wings propelling them closer and closer. Shasta caught her lower lip between her teeth, holding back the words of warning, words that from this distance would be worthless. The dragons crashed into each other. Shasta winced when the thunderous boom reached her ears. The rock the charcoal gray dragon had been carrying plummeted to the ground with a thump that she was felt as much as heard and, sending up a puff of dirt. Both dragons faltered in their flight and started slowly gliding back to the ground.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the four dragons standing in a line to her right cringe. Between the flying accidents, the lack of manners, and the short attention spans, these new dragons were wearing her out. The last group, also a class of six dragons, had been a joy to work with — other than that one incident with the flames, but when working with dragons a certain amount of fire was to be expected. Objectively, this class shouldn’t be any different than the last. They’d both been a group of six. All of them were all about the same age, late teens, and size, between sixteen and eighteen feet. However, after two weeks with the current class it was clear the individual dragons weren’t equal in attitude or ability.
Shasta suppressed a sigh. When the Oaks Consulting had taken this job someone must’ve known what a pain it was going to end up being. Being the youngest and least experienced employee of the business her mother had started years ago had some downsides. This was one of them. Plus there was the added burden of upholding the good reputation of a business that was older than her. Permanent solutions to magical problems was a great tag line for Oaks Consulting, but Shasta wasn’t sure there was an acceptable permanent solution to draconic stupidity.
Turning, she folded her arms across her chest and raked her eyes over the four dragons. Heads drooped and wings lowered. “Natalia,” a peach colored dragon jerked her head up. “Your turn to run the course. Matilda,” This time a pale amethyst dragon snapped to attention. “You’re up for the opposition. Remember, this is simulating the crowed flying conditions in the humanoid areas while transporting cargo, and, Natalia, if you drop the rock you fail the run. Out here it’s unlikely for you to hurt anyone if you drop something, but most of the country is filled with people who don’t have much defense against an object falling on them.”
It was always tricky trying to explain life in the rest of the country to dragons who’d never left Wyoming. They didn’t realize there were cities filled with missions of humans, werecreatures, elves, fey, brownies, dark elves, vampires, and a plethora of other races. These dragons had no idea what it was like to be the size of a house in a humanoid sized world. They’d spent their entire lives here in the dragon lands. “Remember, out there you’re the biggest and toughest thing. Its easy to create problems doing things that aren’t a big deal here.”
The two dragons nodded. Matilda leapt into the air with a powerful thrust of her hind legs and several heavy downbeat of her wings. Natalia walked over to the a row of rocks. She grasped the hundred pound rock with her fore legs, and thrust herself into the air. Her takeoff wasn’t as fluid as Matilda’s, but it was more than adequate. Once they were both at altitude, Natalia circled over the waiting area as Matilda got into position for her part of the training run.
Shasta shaded her eyes, looking for her to troublemakers. They were on the ground, well away from the obstacle course, slowly limping back. Since they were safely out of the way, Shasta stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled shrilly.
Natalia broke off her circles. She aimed for the obstacle course as she powered herself up to a purposeful flight speed. The stone was pulled up close to her chest, with her claws clamped around it. Natalia gracefully swooped under the stone arch marked the start of her run. Matilda came winging in from the side, and Natalia pumped her wings, quickly gaining altitude. The two dragons passed each other without any problems. Shasta give a satisfied nod.
Having made it past Matilda, Natalia pointed herself toward a series of rings, the first of the magical challenges. While the obstacle was nothing more than a series of green circles, not even a wingtip could brush as the dragon went through or the circle would turn read. To make it more difficult, each ring was a different size, they were staggered at varying altitudes, and they gently drifted from side to side with the wind.
Natalia stretched her neck out, elongating her body as her wings cut through the air. Coming into the first circle, she pulled her wings in tight, twisting as she passed through the center of the circle and angling herself down to the next one. Her controlled dive took her through the second circle. As soon as her wings were clear, she started powerful strokes that carried her up to the next ring. She timed it so she shot through the circle while her wings were close to her body.
There was only one ring left, at the same altitude as the previous one. Natalia climbed a bit above it so she could shoot through it at the end of a shallow glide. The stone was still clutched in claws. Shasta couldn’t see any sign that transporting the rock through the acrobatics was tiring her.
Natalia headed directly for the next obstacle. This one, a dragon sized perch that was very real and surrounded by two magical domes of light, was different. The goal here was to fly and around the side of the dome between the inner red layer and outer green layer. For Natalia the space was hardly larger than her wingspan. In past sessions dragons a taken a number of different strategies to getting around this particular obstacle. However, Natalia swung to the far left coming almost parallel to the outer dome before gliding through the green barrier. At first she kept her wings spread, using flicks of her tail to keep her safely between to the two barriers. Then she used shallow wingbeats to propel her the rest of the way. In a few seconds she had navigated the circled and was heading out.
Shasta gave an approving nod, not that Natalia could see it. Though when Shasta glanced at the two dragons on the ground she caught them looking at her. She lifted an eyebrow and they whipped their heads around, dutifully watching Natalia. After a long moment she turned her attention back to the obstacle course, though out of the corner of her eye she saw two of them glance in her direction.
Natalia was taking advantage of the space between obstacles and gliding , giving her a few moments to catch her breath. Which she would need, because Natalia’s next challenge was Shasta’s favorite obstacle. This one didn’t look like much, just little beams of green light shooting up into the air, flickering out, and then appearing in a different location. It had taken some work to get the spacing and the timing right. Now it was a very challenging but entirely doable obstacle.
The dragon slowed as she headed into the obstacle, likely trying to find the pattern. This was her second run, so she probably hadn’t figured out that each light had it’s own unique pattern, which made the pattern of the thirty lights rather complicated to decipher while in the air.
Natalia banked around the first light, then barrel-rolled to avoid one that flickered to life right in front of her. She snapped her wings open in time to avoid crashing into another light, and then darted between two more. Natalia ended up in a gap. Natalia swung her head to and fro, trying to find the best way out. She aimed herself to the left and headed for a big gap between two lights.
Shasta held her breath, knowing what was about to happen.
The lights flickered up. Now there wasn’t enough space for Natalia to fit. The dragon twisted her body, folded her wings, and slipped through the remaining space sideways. With another twisted of her shoulders, Natalia righted herself and snapped her wings open, catching a thermal and lifting her high into the air. That was the best flying Shasta has seen from a dragon in this group.
Matilda came back in her second pass, this time aiming at Natalia. Shasta held her breath as the two dragons flew directly at one another. Not only was this the exact move that had caused the previous crash, but no one from this group had gotten past this obstacle. Though, Shasta had a good feeling about Natalia.
Matilda and Natalia were getting closer. One of them had to break or they would crash. Shasta braced herself for another crash, sending a silent plea to the earth to cushion the landing and prevent injury.
At the last moment, Natalia folded her wings, holding them tight against her body, dove under Matilda, and through the arch that marked the finish line. The dragons on the ground let out happy whistles. Natalia was the first one to successfully complete obstacle course.
As Natalia and Matilda came flying back, Shasta looked around for her previous course runners. Byron, a charcoal gray, and Randolph, a deep purple, were still lumbering back in this general direction, going absolutely as slowly as they could possibly manage. Since her two remaining dragons, the butter-cream toned Tracy and the brilliantly green Romeo, had already run the course Shasta waited, with her arms folded across her chest for the remaining dragons to return.
Matilda swooped down and landed a polite distance away. The earth vibrated underfoot as Natalia dropped her rock on the ground. She glided a few feet away from the row of six rocks, landed, and then trotted over. The two dragons stood next to one another, taking deep breaths of the mellow spring air.
“Natalia, congratulation on being the first to successfully complete the course.” Shasta grinned. “You’ll get your pick of run times tomorrow.”
The dragon bobbed her head. “Thank you.”
Shasta nodded and focused on Matilda. “Excellent flying. You’ll get at least two chances to run the course tomorrow.”
Matilda’s head lifted. “Really?”
“Really, really.” Shasta assured her.
Matilda twitched her hair happily.
In the distance Byron and Randolph lumbered into the air, finally putting some speed into their return to the group. Shasta suppressed a sigh and focused on the four dragons on the ground. “You’re doing well. It usually takes a few days for everyone to get the hang of the course. Now, If you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to those two.”
Shasta turned away from four of her students, walked toward the obstacle course, and planted herself in the landing area. She stood there, arms crossed, waiting for the trouble makers. The sun was delightfully warm on her skin and the breeze was just cool enough to make being outside a joy. In moments like this she fell a little more in love with the wide open spaces and peace that came from being so far from humanoid civilization.
The illusion of solitude was shattered when a slender green dragon sidled up next to Shasta, teeth showing in the dragon equivalent of a smile. “I shall beat you into submission with my charm.”
Raking her eyes across Romeo, Shasta licked her lips. “I hear dragon tastes just like chicken.”
His mouth snapped shut and he eyed her. “You would never be able to kill me.”
She bushed her hair back to revealing her pointed ears, lifted up a hand and summoned a fireball. “You forget who you’re dealing with.”
“They said the damsels in distress loved it when dragons rescue them.” He cocked his head to the side. “Elves can’t create fire.”
“I’m a damsel, I’m not in distress. And, I never said I was an elf.” With her slender build, golden blonde hair, and pointed ears she was often mistaken for an elf. She was actually half-elf half-witch and there wasn’t much that caused her distress.
Earth Born will be released January 2018.
@2017 N. E. Conneely.
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