FOREWARD: 'The Sword and the Sorceress', edited by Marion Zimmer Bradely (one of the cooler writers around) has always been one of my favorite writing anthologies. I've long been inspired to write a story for it, and while I doubt this is good enough it's a start. It's never been difficult for me to develop strong female characters. I usually have a good balance of men and women in my stories... the real challenge comes from writing a story based around characters that exist only for the purpose of telling this particular story. I originally wanted to write something about Cyadya in her years before 'The Tale', or maybe about 'Ryuuguu's' lovable Dragon Huntress Dhorisha Maginarr, but found that it was nearly impossible to write about these characters in a manner that would present them as singular character rather than parts of a larger universe. In otherwords, only I or my friends would fully understand these stories. On top of this, I wanted to write about Dragons because... well, I love dragons. Sitting in third period Chemistry class and staring at the snow slowly falling outside the classroom window inspired me quite suddenly to write this. So I did. I hope you all enjoy it. ^ ^

Izzy Girl

WHITEFALL was named for the way Winter rested itself heavily upon the land, giving the illusions of a perpetual press. Nature was quieted beneath that blanket of oppressive white, the mid season frost warping the land and draining it's colours until all that was left were the blackened branches of the sleeping trees, raising their wind-battered arms to the gray heavens. She had been born at the height of the Solstice, close to midnight when the snow fell in thick, soft masses of glistening 'moon tears, as Vinewyl, the tribe's witch doctor used to call it. Winter had always been her friend, a trusty companion in her lonlier moments, which only lent to her current state of distress.

The snow absorbed the blood dripping from Whitefall's mangled wing and created with it a dark, red trail, convinient and true, simple enough that the young dragon's prusuer could read and follow with effortless vigor. The drifts impeded her laboured movements and the bare trees offered no protection from the Hunter's piercing gaze. All around her the cold closed in and but deeply into her wounds with icy fangs. She faltered every second step and could hear the Hunter's even breathing as she closed within eight lengths.

The Hunt had begun before Winter's first snow and continued for nearly three fortnights. Whitefall was far from home and doubted that she could even find her way with all the ground covered in a height of snow. The Hunter was relentless, a tall and lithe human woman whom Whitefall had assumed fragile until she had swung her sword in a powerful, wide arc, a thin layer of tight muscel rippling beneath her wollen cloak. She had caught the dragon offgaurd as Whitefall paced the tall walls of My'Yearn waiting for her brother to finish exploring the rooftops of the strange city. Windglass had always been curious about human ways.

As Whitefall collapsed she was at once frightened and ashamed. Despite the old tales told by Minstrels, very few dragons had ever been fool enough to fall pray to a Hunter's blade. Her father always used to tell her that any Hunter worth their hide would target the wings first, and any dragon worth their family name would do well to keep their wings folded when near a human settlement. She would be a story told to little hatchlings for generations on end: Amaro Whitefall, born on the Solstice and killed exactly two hundred years after her birth due to careless stupidity.

This bitter thought spurred her energy, though weakly. She shakily forced herself to her hind legs, digging her front claws into the brittle bark of a wide oak tree. She climbed slowly, the wounds on her legs and stomach opening again as they rubbed against the tree's coarse trunk. When she reached a high enough branch to feel confident of her safety, she pressed her face into the frigid wood, but did not relax her claw's grip. Her wounded wings hung about her, shredded and limp, like the sad, long branches of a willow tree. She balked at the thought that they would never be repaired. If she lived, she was essentially a cripple, never to fly again. She wanted to sob.

It was tense and quiet, in the way that only Winter can be, in the moments before Whitefall spotted the Hunter mount the rise and come towards ger, cloak swaying gently in the barely still air and stnace poised for combat. She jerked her head, scanning the white clearning violently, then turned her gaze skywards. She spotted Whitefall and cursed.

'Of course!' Whitefall was silently victorious. The Hunter had exhausted her stock of arrows three moons before. As long as she remained treebound, Whitefall was safe.

The Hunter unravled her bulky travelling bag and spread her canvas sheet across a patch of ground where the snow had been previously packed down by the passage of horses and caravans. Whitefall watched her unroll her sleeping pack, light a fire and put some stew on to cook. While she was waiting, she dug a stone out from the snow and began to sharpen her sword where the blade was dulling.

Suddenly Whitefall's stomach began to grind painfully, reminding her that the Hunter's patience was superior to hers. She'd been without food since the Hunt began. Her body grew weary and impatient for nourishment and sleep. She didn't trust herself enough to rest in the tree- she would fall, or the Hunter would take the opportunity to scale the tree and slay her. She wasn't safe... she was trapped.

There was a sinking in her gut, a pit of dread forming then welling upwards, making her shake and whimper and gasp for ait as if she had run three border's length (which, in fact, she had). Whitefall was unable to stow the panic as it rose within her. She feared that she would lose her already tenative grip on her perch, her malnourished arms not even a tenth as trustworthy then they once had been. She clung desperately yo her branch and, in a final effort to survive, called out to the Hunter.

"Why are you doing this!?"

* * *

ELITANNIA had been a Hunter since she could walk, but never before had she even caught sight of a beast to rival the majestic beauty of a Dragon. Of course, she had heard the tales and seen the paintings, but nothing ever could have prepared her for the grace and magnificence of the real thing. She had held her breath as the arrow flew, hardly allowing herself to breathe even after it hit it's mark, tearing into the Dragon's wings as if they were parchment thin. She could dare think it, lest it should cause her to lose focus: The first in the Maginarr family of Dragon Hunters to actually bring home a dragon. She would be a hero to tell the little ones of for generation to come: Elitannia Maginarr, who set out in the heart of Solstice and returned home with the hide of a dragon, white as the winter's snow and silver as the stars themselves!

Unfortunately, the wings were ruined beyond repair. That would dissapoint her Father who had spent his entire life hunting the infamous 'Black Death' dragon of the North, forever entrance by the beauty of the creature's wings. Still, the beast's scales were expensive looking and her tall horns sturdy. They were worthy trophies to display above the family hearth.

The Dragon watched with wide, turquoise eyes as she set up camp. Elitannia didn't like those eyes. They were an unearthly color- pale, yet bright; blue yet green. No human was ever born with such eyes. So she moved calmly and confidently, not wanting to give the creature an opening. Dragons were documented as being intelligent, as far as beasts go, and wily. She faced the tree in which the creature was perched, not wanting to suddenly find herself with a bloodily ripped hole in her backside, and went about the process of making her dinner.

It all proceeded uniformly as any other night, despite the fact that there was a wounded dragon staring at her from no more than twenty feet away, until a piercing cry broke the mid-evening silence.

"Why are you doing this!?" it demanded tearsely. No, not a demande really, but a plea.

Elitannia was on her feet in moments, freshly sharpened blade tight in both hands. She looked around wildly, searching for the source of the voice.

After a few moments of unanswered silence, she relaxed her stance slightly and called back: "Who is there?"

The voice came again, just as broken and uncertain, "My name is Amaro Whitefall."

Elitannia's eyes travelled up and she was shocked to find that the voice was coming from the dragon. She blinked, dropped her sword and said, "Excuse me!?"

"I said my name is Amaro Whitefall, the daughter of Adrow Swiftbrook and Sareth Moondrop."

Elitannia nodded deftl and catiously lowered herself onto the canvas, crossing her long legs beneath her, "And what was it you said before?"

"I said nothing. I asked you why you were doing this."

"Doing what?"

"Trying to..." the Dragon choked, "... kill me."

Something was changing in Elitannia's perception. Slowly, but surely, the event of holding a conversation with a beast such as this dragon was changing the way she looked at the world around her. She wasn't sure exactly what this meant, but it was somehow important. And in the light of this importance, she was puzzled as to how to answer the Dragon's question.

"Uh... well..." she fiddled with the reply clumsily in her mind.

"Did I break some human rule, standing on the wall like that? Or did a wolf steal some babies, but the townsfolk blamed it on a dragons? I've heard that happens sometimes..."

Elitannia nodded slowly. How was she supposed to say that she was hunting her for sport. So instead, she posed another question, "How is it that you talk, Dragon?" she asked sharply, "That's not natural."

"How isn't it?"

"A Dragon should not be able to speak." Elitannia repeated.

"Why shouldn't we? We've been speaking long before you humans knew how to do it?"

"Are you saying that you're older than humanity?"

"I am not particularily. I am no more than a couple centuries old, a mere child. But my people were around long before your great grandsire's ancestors could start a fire."

Elitannia sniffed at this remark, "It's all magic and witchcraft. You've been hexed." she nodded firmly, as if to convince herself. The idea that she had spent the past month trying to kill a mere child of a race as, if not more, intelligent that she was herself was too unsettling, "This is some warlock's trick. Another trial in my quest."

"Your quest?"

"My family are Dragon Hunters. It's been my goal to hunt a Dragon since I was a little girl. I'll not let you trickery and pretend speech impede me now."

"My speech is not pretend." the Dragon insisted, "Most of my people would not speak to a human because they believe that they are not intelligent enough waste energy on. But I am at your mercy, Hunter, and I am desperately trying to live. If you killed me now, it would shame my family. Don't you understand, they will tell stories about my folly to embarass my brothers even when they've reached a respectable age!"

Elitannia raised an eyebrow. The replies and sentence structure were far to complex to be any simple magic trick, but it wasn't... it couldn't be possible that this Dragon... this Amaro Whitefall... had a family and an honor, much like Elitannia did herself?

It was at that moment Elitannia Maginarr surrender. She sighed sadly and dropped her head at last understanding that she couldn't kill this creature. She finally answered the Dragon's question.

"I was trying to kill you because your wings and horns would decorate my family's hearth beautifully."

The Dragon gasped in horror, then whined loudly, "You meant to take my life for vanity! You mean I've suffered because my scales are of an agreeable fashion?"

Elitannia raised her face and met the Dragon's sparkling eyes, "I am like you! I too have a family honor that I must uphold! It is not only vanity, but because of duty that I am hunting you. My Father and Grandfather saw me leave the village in pursuit of you. They saw the way you limped and struggled. If I do not bring back your hide, they will never look at me with pride again no matter how many wolves and banshees I vanquish!"

She hadn't noticed that tears sprung to her eyes. She wiped them discreetly, then stared at the Dragon expectantly. She was unsure of her own intentions, but would wait until the creature reacted to decide her course of action.

* * *

WHITEFALL studied the Hunter carefully. She was crying, not just making excuses for her monstorous actions. This fragile looking human woman was just like her, trying to make a name for herself, trying to act the way her parents would expect of her so that they would be proud of her someday. Whitefall felt pity for her, but she still was not willing to die.

The thought of her once beautiful wings nailed into the wall of some human's dwelling was sickening. The thought of her horns hanging from some man's neck like jewelry, or some woman wearing a shimmering cloak made from her scales. Whitefall would not have it. If the Hunter still wanted to kill her, she would have to fight. Knowing what fate awaited her, Whitefall was even more reluctant to taste the cold steel of the woman's blade. Wasn't she satisfyed, having wrecked Whitefall's wings?

Once again, she looked at them, in shreads and still bleeding. They were only a hinderence to her now. Nothing more than a painful reminder of her unattentiveness. She would have her Father remove them when she returned to the tribe... if he would even speak to her.

Then, it struck her. The fear of her father's dissaproval, that was the same fear the drove this Hunter. Whitefall's father would most likely be so happy that his daughter returned alive to care that she had nearly been killed by a human, but this Hunter's father... he would not see her mercy, her kindness, her understanding. He would not listen to her, or believe her. He would only see the failure.

'Then I'm the pitiless one.' Whitefall realized, 'I am the one sending my opponent to her doom. Those human Minstrels will sing songs about her failure long after even my sons and daughters have spent their years. This Hunter has showed me mercy, now I must do the same in return.'

She made her decision quickly, then spoke with more conviction that she had felt in a long time, "I think that maybe we should agree on a compromise of sorts. I do not wish for you Father to disown his only daughter."

The Hunter looked at her, half in confusion and apprehension, half in fear and eagerness. Whitefall sighed heavily one last time, then explained her idea.

* * *

"I AM sorry, Father. It was a long battle, and at the end the Dragon threw herself into the River. It was all I could do to save the wings." she bowed deeper, "I knew you would want me to save the wings..."

She waited anxiously, her head bowed so that it ached her neck while her father examined the dragon wings, once shimmering silver, now dulled, ripped and caked with blood. He finally signaled for her to rise. She could not read his expression, and this worried her.

He spoke gravely, "It couldn't be helped, I suppose." he shook his head and shrugged slightly, "I always failed to catch my prey because I couldn't bare to damage the wings. Perhaps you were stronger than I could ever be. Because you were so ruthless and unforgiving in your hunt, you've surprassed me." he paused, then awkwardly placed a hand on her shoulder. She relaxed, "I am proud of you Elitannia." he said. Then he left.

Elitannia threw herself into her favorite chair and mulled over his words while thoughtfully chewing the end of her pipe. Whitefall's wings were spread out across their dining table. She would have to clean them shortly, then hang them above the hearth. She hoped that they would preserve well because no doubt her father would tell the tale of how she valiantly defeated the Solstice monster until the day he died. Afterwards, though, Elitannia would tell her children and friends a very different story. She would tell the story of brave Amaro Whitefall, the dragon who sacrificed her own wings to save the honor of a human girl who had spent nearly two months trying to kill her. She hoped that somewhere, someday, young dragon children would want to hear Amaro's story as well, not as the shameful idiot-hatchling who nearly got herself killed by a Dragon Hunter, but as the heroic child who survived brilliantly against all odds.

Yes, Elitannia decided, Whitefall's would be a very famous story indeed.


ENDWORD: For those of you familiar with my writing (ie: my friends) yes, there were some Ryuuguu references in there. Elitannia Maginarr's surname is no coincidence and 'The Black Death' dragon she refers to is indeed Darkflower. ^ ^ Oh, I suck at coming up with independent continuities for short stories...
Jennifer Lynne Sparky Young
aka Izzy Girl
aka Cephied Variable
[email protected]
ff.n ID #12217 (Izzy Girl)