It might help if you've read 'Marquis,' which takes place about twenty years before this story since the king from it is referenced in passing, but it's not necessary, it's just for extra background. Also 'Dielle' is the sorceress' family name, not her given name. I tried to edit for clarity and combined the first two chapters hoping it would flow better.
"Well if it isn't the little sorceress brat," the dragon remarked casually as the Dielle girl came slinking into sight of his enclosure.
She looked both ways as she backed towards the fence dividing the garden path from his personal hellhole before turning to face him. "I need a favor," she said in a firm voice, but keeping her tone low.
'Apparently the brat's here without an invitation,' he thought as he watched her glance over her shoulder once more.
"Big surprise. Here I thought you wanted a recipe for seared farmerback ribs." Seeing that she was not impressed he shot a line of flame towards her and watched as her eyes narrowed. "And what makes you think I'll help you, Dielle? If I could, that is." He shifted a manacled foot and fixed grim eyes on her. They were wells of darkness with irises as black as his pupils and the faint light that did reach them seemed merely to be absorbed, with no shine of reflection.
The girl huffed and leapt over the fence, a whirl of petticoats and blue damask. The dragon watched the material flounce, actually flounce, as she landed and let out a snort of smoke.
"Well excuse me for being reasonably well dressed," she snapped as she approached a bit closer.
They were watching each other's movements closely and she was wisely staying out of his flamerange. It was as she circled slightly he saw the sword hanging at her side, mostly obscured by the ridiculous layers of fabric humans wore, nevertheless it was real and it meant the brat was serious. His eyes followed her movements out of his direct line of fire, but he managed to restrain himself from moving his head, he could still whip around at a moment's notice and incinerate her if she would just come a bit closer…
"I did try to convince the Duke to release you," she said, planting a hand on her hip and pausing still out of range.
"A lot of good his laughing did me," he said with a flick of his clubbed tail, its barb long gone.
"—So I don't see why you reserve extra hostility towards me."
"Extra hostility is what my keepers get when my food is late," he snarled, pulling his limbs under his body and slowly scooting around to face her. "What do you want Dielle?"
"I want to send a message," she said and her eyes flashed gold.
The dragon knew enough human-lore to know that meant she was in a rage and her magic was building up beyond normal levels. He had heard whispers of the sorceress' magic before, of her berserker rage and the fury of the divine in her spells from those passing in the garden, and carried on the wind from the palace windows. With the old teachers dead it was possible she had never been taught of the dangers of letting emotions cloud her magic and he thought it an interesting situation to say the least.
"What kind of message?" he asked, still trying to appear annoyed and disinterested. Human problems were human problems and it was bad enough being a garden ornament without dealing with whatever was upsetting this brat. They never knew how to handle things in a reasonable manner and invariably magical creatures like him got dragged into the mess. That was how it had always been and always would be so long as some of them could use magic and he had to remind himself of the facts as she took a step closer.
"Do you think you could tear a roof off a building? Or at least most of the roof."
His tail flicked and he tried to hide it, but those glimmering eyes, the tension in her every muscle, the force of the magic she was containing, and she had a lot even for a sorceress with such a high pedigree. She was hard to ignore. The dragon let his tongue slide over his front teeth and thought about what terrible things humans were, how he, of all creatures, could be listening to this brat while still chained to the ground.
"I want you free and far away from the city, something I think you want too," she said as she took another step closer. She was within burning range, but fire would not get these chains off him. "If I were to just set you free they would know it was me, and that's assuming you would just leave peacefully, which I doubt." True, true, he thought as she took another step towards him. "But if I take you now, and you help me, then I just happen to lose track of you in the fighting, and you disappear off into the west, towards the mountains, then…nobody can say it was intentional."
"Fighting?" he asked, blood positively boiling now. They were natural allies in many ways, mentally feeding off each other's magic and emotions like this, magical creatures united against the nonmagical that threatened them. 'No,' he stopped himself, 'she is still human.' "You could take a roof off a building yourself," he pointed out, his tongue flicking through the cooling night air as he watched her posture shifting. He didn't know humans well enough to know what it meant though.
"But a dragon—" she said and her eyes glazed slightly. "I'll show them fear." Those hard little orbs flashed gold again and it took longer to fade.
"What did they do to you brat?" he asked, intrigued. Who 'they' were hardly mattered to him if 'they' were human. But a sorceress in a rage was rare and worth investigating; they were trained young to control themselves, to keep the magic in check and separate from their emotions. A sorceress in a rage, and him free, it was very tempting, it if was real.
"They," she shuddered and reflexively stroked the hilt of her sword. "They attacked members of the royal family."
He huffed and began turning away. 'Really that girl is too ridiculous,' he thought as his half-lidded eyes looked down on her. "That royal family killed most of your kin, most of the magical creatures within the borders of this kingdom, and put me in these chains."
Her eyes narrowed and she fixed on him a look filled with such venom and ice that for the first time the dragon felt he might be able to respect a human, if she proved herself in battle, in fire and blood.
"That royal family," she said, her voice frozen with the coldness, "produced Emory. And I do not take kindly to people trying to kill him, or the members of my immediate family who were near him at the time."
A hissing, spluttering flame came from the dragon's mouth as his whole frame shook. Laughter, it was rare in him, but this was too good. The sorceress brat, avenging injury on the mad king's grandson, and freeing him in the process. Humans were ridiculous creatures, but he had seen dragons go nearly as mad when their young were threatened or their territory impinged on when he was still young and wild. And if her kin had been attacked as well it was slightly more understandable, though he didn't think humans any less mad.
"I will do you this favor, brat," he said with a flick of his tail as his eyes slid back towards the palace behind her. The stone walls rose up not far away, though the lower floors were screened from view by the greenery. It was late and most of the lights had been put out, but a few candles still flickered in the Duke's private apartments. Far above the roof the stars winked in the velvet blue sky, with that little sliver of moon he hated so much hanging in the east. It reminded him of a human's smirk, looking down on him from above, mocking him. At least clouds half obscured it tonight. But now—
Freedom. In distant sight.
"Let us swear an oath, dragon," she said before approaching any closer. "That we will not harm each other and that you will not harm any humans I do not give you permission to harm. And," she added loudly, "that when you depart you will go west to the mountains and the dragon preserve and stay there without stopping to make snacks of humans along the way."
"I will swear," he replied, "if you will swear to set me free before dawn and help me escape no matter who tries to stop me."
Solemnly they invoked their respective spirits, called them to witness and bind the agreement. Then the sword was drawn. Their eyes locked, neither actually trusted the other and an oath was not physically binding, though a broken one would eat away at the mind of the breaker. She came closer, the blade catching the distant lights of the garden lamps.
"I hope you know what you're doing sorceress."
"I hope so too," she replied, stopping by his hind legs. Her sword glowed suddenly and the dragon pressed his double eyelids closed, wondering if maybe, after all, she had only meant to kill him.
Clang. Metal on metal, metal rending metal; an element used against itself with control and precision. It must have been a cold burning rage for her to stay so calm as the first manacle fell away and she moved slowly to the next. Another single strike to the weak spot, shattering spells and welds. And the dragon was free.
He made to flap his wings but felt her slap the flat side of her sword against his flank.
"Not yet," the girl hissed, hurrying forward as she sheathed the sword. "If you start kicking up a wind they'll know something's wrong, you never practice flying at night."
The dragon stopped stretching and waited, his eyes fixed on the girl.
"How did you know that I practice flying?"
"You didn't think I wouldn't have asked, did you? I wanted to make sure you could fly, otherwise I'd have to blow out one of the garden walls, and the Duke would certainly not have liked that."
Before he could protest she hopped onto his front foot and clambered up to his elbow and from there to his back. That was the last thing the dragon had expected and he blinked a few times before swiveling his long neck around, trying to look at her.
"What do you think you're doing, brat?" the dragon hissed, his tongue snaking out between fangs, though it managed to keep its fire in check. He could feel her shifting around up on his shoulders, settling in, and it was not a pleasant sensation, rather one that sent chills to his core. "Get off me."
"How do you expect us to get halfway across the city if we don't go together?"
"I'll carry you in my claws, just, get off." He could barely keep himself from throwing himself to the ground and rolling in an attempt to remove the abomination.
There was a distinct huff and he felt her heels dig in on either side of his neck.
"Look." Her voice snapped and he felt her muscles tightening. "I don't have time to argue, and I don't want you dropping me. I've carried humans on my back before, it can't be that much worse for you to do it once."
"Not only am I not your steed, sorceress, but that would be a bad place for a pest such as yourself to be sitting when I take off. I have to flap my wings, remember."
So, to make matters more fun for him, the girl began trying to climb up his neck.
"Let me sit on your head," she said as she caught hold of one of his horns and tried to pull herself up.
She was almost twenty feet above the ground now, if he just gave his head a quick shake, a rapid snap to the other side… No. He shuddered, shaking off a few loose scales as his skin twitched. He must not attack the human. Not only would he not kill her, he reminded himself as he lowered his head and allowed her to climb up between his horns, but she would fight back. The oath would rebound as well. No, he must deal with the monster until he could be free. 'Sufficient unto the day…'
"Alright." The sorceress had an arm wrapped tightly around one of the bony projections above his brow and he could feel a flicker of magic from the spell she had used to bind herself to that spot. "Take off, if you can, and I'll direct you."
"Hmph. Stay on, if you can, brat."
The dragon stretched. Every week he went through this routine, standing up fully, rocking his weight to his hind legs as he tensed his muscles. He adjusted his wings, angling them to cut upwards, but unfold quickly when he was ready to flap. On his head the girl tightened her hold, not like that would do her any good. Tonight her life rested in the hands of her magic. The coil released, the dragon sprung, the wings whipped out, a single strong down stroke and they shot up several feet. Another beat of the wings and they were higher, the great motion forcing them further through the air, up towards the stars and the mocking moon. On his brow the girl gasped, and no snarky comments followed. She was a creature unfit for flight and they were now higher than the palace walls.
He tilted slightly as he flapped again and sent them shooting forward, out over the ducal palace, over the walls that had enclosed him these ten years, over the lamp posts, the carriages, and the screaming humans. Up, up, up towards the flicking ether, towards the sky and the moon and freedom. Up away from the chains and the misery. Up to be a dragon again. Up to feel the wind and the cold and wet damp of puffy clouds. Up to fall again with rain and fire, belching forth from open maw, one with air, water and sky. Cleaving and soaring beyond the reach of earth-bound things.
A spasm ran through his right wing and they fell a few feet before he could flap again. 'Softly now,' he told himself. 'Or I'll fall from the sky.'
"I thought this might happen," she yelled and he could barely hear her, but it reminded him she was there, reminded him there was something still to do. "…carried away. Wait a moment. I have to activate the charm."
He felt the magic in her swell, rise to the surface and a part fly out suddenly. It was not shooting away like a spell gone wrong, hither and thither, then dispersing, but like a carrier pigeon going home, straight and true only it knew where. They waited a few seconds, circling lazily, until, off in the distance maybe three miles, maybe two, a flare exploded suddenly, red and harsh and far too high up to be normal.
He turned with a tilt and slapped the air with heavy blows that sent them careening forward.
"I feel like roaring," the dragon said and his call reverberated through his body
"Not yet!" she screamed back, into the wind, which whipped her voice away from her. "Wait until we're diving!"
The element of surprise, that seemed to be what she was going for, letting him rise up into the clouds, tracking her location from above, out of sight, keeping him quiet when a roar now would shake the city to its foundations. The prey would know. In some ways that made her the better hunter, but he had been in chains a third of his life. It was time to relearn. As silently as great wing beats can be they approached. When they reached the fading flare he began to descend.
"There's a sorcerer in there," the dragon said, suddenly realizing why she had been quiet, why she was so grim. The other magic was right below them, he could feel the tingling in his bones.
"Yes," she replied, not moving in the slightest. "That's why I needed a dragon."
"You expect me to fight a sorcerer?!" The stream of fire erupted from his mouth unintentionally and he almost looked back at her.
"No. I expect you to terrorize everyone else, while I take care of the sorcerer."
They were silent for a minute, him circling and descending slowly and her watching the building with those glowing eyes.
"He is more powerful than you," the dragon said as they dropped out of the low lying clouds, and moved into the dive.
"Why I need the element of surprise," she shouted, clutching his horns tight enough for him to feel the pressure. "This won't be our last fight, but it should be a good one. Now you can roar!"