Author's Note: Hello and welcome! This story is my baby – the piece I'm proudest of. I started it originally for The Write Away's Summer Novel Challenge, where the goal was to finish a story in two months. Well, I didn't quite reach that goal, but I did write 50k words. I wasn't planning on posting here, but thanks to some prodding from some friends, I changed my mind. Please, don't make me regret this. It will be removed at the first sign of plagiarism.
Anyway. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me. I've got around 15 chapters written already, so updates should be pretty frequent for a while. Enjoy!
Extended Summary: The Drache and witches that inhabit Ejderha have long been at war, until both races come close to extinction. An alliance is struck; the price, a human sacrifice. At six years old, Josceline was that sacrifice. Years later, she returns to Ejderha, bringing the winds of change with her. As Q`lia mate to a candidate for the Drache throne, her life, once again, is tied to the fate of her world.
The scent of sulfur poisoned the air as several scaly bodies flew towards the caves, wings sending huge buffets of air towards the rocky ground. Bright eyes glowed in the all-encompassing shadow of night, multi-faceted gems fresh from the stonecutter's table. It was nearly impossible to make out their colorings or any distinguishing features, but the smoke oozing from their nostrils and the occasional tongue of bluish flame that leapt from fanged mouths were enough to prove their identities to the women awaiting them below.
Witches of the Tuaton coven, one and all, had gathered beyond their protective gates and circles, waiting for their enemies to approach. Sheer determination was all that kept their quivering legs from running back to their enchanted homes, along with the knowledge that if they did not survive this meeting, none of their children would have any sort of future.
One by one, the great winged lizards dropped from the sky, no more than fifty feet from the trembling women. Ten of them, all counted, furled and unfurled their wings in tandem. The scent of magic permeated the crisp night air, and the witches all watched in wonder as the beasts they had always feared shed their wings and scales to become men.
"Where is Eileen d'Frear?" One of the drache-turned-man stepped forward, pale hair glinting in the starlight. While his appearance had seemed wholly human from a distance, upon closer inspection, the witches could make easily make a distinction between the races. The sort of feral beauty in the eyes was the same in both forms of the drache, something no mere man could hope to mimic.
"I – I am she," a quavering voice responded to the question, and a small, timid woman stepped out of the conglomeration of witches. "Who do I have the," – she hesitated for a beat – "pleasure of addressing?"
"I am Sakrane, leader of the Khothu Clan. You are also the leader of your people, are you not?" The creature's voice was harsh and cruel, reflecting his aggressive nature.
"I am the named High Priestess, yes," Eileen admitted, her voice growing stronger as she named her title. "This is my apprentice, Josceline, who will assume my title when I die." She brought forth a young girl, no older than six or seven years of age, with hair the color of the midnight sky and eyes nearly as bright as the stars within it.
"I see no reason for introductions or small talk. We all know why we are here – your witches are in danger of extinction, and my people can offer protection from the other clans and their allied covens. My people tire of being at the bottom of the food chain, and your coven can help us ascend." There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd behind Sakrane. "We need an alliance, of that there is no question. What are in need of discussion, however, are the terms of that alliance."
Eileen bit her tongue against the angry retort that bubbled to the forefront of her mind and forced herself to nod. "This is true. But we would like to know, before we begin – why is it you think that partnering with us will help gain royalty? We are not the most powerful coven in the land, obviously. If it were otherwise, we would be able to save ourselves." The witches braced themselves for the answer, expecting more harsh words.
To their surprise, Sakrane's voice was rather calm as he explained, "You know very little of our culture. You had no idea that we were shape shifters, and I'm reasonably sure that you know nothing of our Gods. So instead of explaining in great detail, suffice it to say that one of our Gods came to one of us in a dream and showed us the path. We dare not question, we can only follow."
With a careless gesture of the hand, he pulled another of the drache forward. At his nod, the other creature began to glow with magic, and in an instant, was back to the majestic lizard form that the witches associated with the plunder and destruction of their homes.
Over the nervous tittering of the witches' crowd, Sakrane spoke again, "We light the ceremonial fire as a sign of our goodwill towards the Coven Tuaton. Let the talks that will lead to the merging of our peoples begin."
At the end of his speech, the dragon reared back and pulled a tree from the ground with his forelegs, then proceeded to break it in to small pieces. When the logs all lay side by side on the ground his mouth opened with a roar, and a spiral of flame created a bonfire out of the pile of wood.
The witches trembled as one at this display of power, but the thought of their babies and husbands asleep in their beds at home forced them to sit around the fire, waiting for Eileen to tell them what to do.
The talks began as soon as the drache who had lit the fire took his human form again. There was less arguing than one might imagine among enemies, but there was a great uneasiness among the witches as Sakrane relayed what his people believed was the best course of action.
"You want us to send our daughters into the desert alone?" One of the more vocal members of the Tuaton screeched as he finished, her pale face flushed in anger. "On the off chance that they manage to find a dragon egg? It's mad! We'd lose more of our people that way – not save them!"
One of the other shape shifters leveled a gaze at her. "We're risking our children, as well. If you perform the necessary spell - they will die if your girls do not find them." A hum of agreement went through the men around him. "And it's the best way to weed the strong from the weak. We'll have only the strongest pairings – those that manage to survive the bonding and the trip will be able to survive anything."
Eileen gestured angrily at the vocal witch to sit down. "We know the risk, Acacia," she said, raising her voice to be heard over the din of the crowd. "If you cannot contain yourself, you will be escorted back to the settlement." Her eyes sought Sakrane's again. "I apologize for Acacia's outburst. You must understand … we've had fewer and fewer children born with magical potential in the past years. It's a frightening idea that we may lose those we do produce."
The Khothu leader nodded, predatory eyes unreadable. "The likelihood of the young ones connecting would be greater if we added another provision into the spell – what if they were able to communicate mentally? The dracheling could call to the witchling, and connect that way. If she makes it by the time he hatches, a mere touch will complete the energy transfer. They'd be bound for life, feeding from each other's energy sources."
"I can't say I enjoy the notion of our children being mere parasites . . . but I see the need. If they are not bound for life, there will be no hope of a mating."
When the idea that the drache and witches should mate was proposed, before Sakrane had began to explain his plan, the outcry for the alliance to be dissolved had been nigh impossible to ignore. The witches were disgusted at the thought of mating with monsters, and the drache were not fond of the idea of their pureblood line being weakened with mortal blood.
Eileen had seen Sakrane's wisdom immediately, however, and jumped to defend her new ally's theory by explaining that if they were not mated, they'd fall in love with others. The allegiance would be separated, and that, in turn, would cause the bond to separate. All of their careful planning would be for naught if the two creatures did not love one another. And it wasn't as if their daughters would be mated to animals – the drache could obviously become human, as far as physiology was concerned.
"It is agreed then. They will be bound for life, and romantic partners. Though I should warn you – we do not change forms until maturity. But obviously, they will not be mating before maturity is attained, either." Sakrane spoke carefully, as if he was choosing his words to fit his own truth. "They will have a way of mental communication, and be sworn to protect each other for all their lives. Is there anything we are forgetting?"
Eileen looked at the woman behind her questioningly. When no one raised a concern, she looked back at the man before her and shook her head. "That is all from the Tuaton. Have you any concerns?"
He too shook his head. "No, I do not believe –"
"How will we continue to produce young, if all the male drachelings are to be mated with mortals?" One of the bigger men demanded from the back of Sakrane's group. "They obviously can't lay eggs!"
Eileen shook her head before Sakrane could reiterate the question. "We will only send ten women out to the desert. The rest of your eggs will hatch unhindered."
"How, though, if you cast your spell over all of them?" The same angry drache demanded, muscling his way to the head of the group to stand beside Sakrane.
"We will cast the spell to cover only the ten of your kind that are suitable for the union. Fate will decide which ones they are. I promise you, only ten will be affected." She looked back at Suhura, the master spell caster of their coven, for confirmation.
The older woman nodded. "It can be done," she assured the gathering in her rusty voice. "I swear it on the Goddess of the Night."
Sakrane nodded and shoved his loud-mouthed companion back into the lineup. "We do the spell tonight," he ordered. "It cannot be put off much longer – the Manchu clan meets with one of the covens of the east tonight to speak of a similar alliance. They heard of our plan. We must begin first, so we have the upper hand."
His news brought mutterings from all assembled. None had heard of the other meeting before that instant, besides Sakrane himself, so the unease spread instantaneously. If they were beaten by the Manchu and whatever coven they had found to merge with, Tuaton was as good as done for and the Khothu would never ascend to the position they craved.
Suhura had already begun making marks in the sandy ground at her feet, a look of intense concentration on her aging face. "I will require blood of both peoples," she informed them, looking from Sakrane to Eileen seriously.
The High Priestess leaned down and removed a short blade from her walking boots. Without so much as a wince, she split the skin of her forearm with it and handed it to Sakrane, a challenge in her eyes. He accepted without hesitation and followed suit, looking at Suhura expectantly. "What now, Spell Caster?" he asked, a small amount of respect evident in his tone.
"Hold the wounds together. Bring your people in to form a circle around the two of you – witches and drache alike, as it will be for the rest of time." Her words were eerily prophetic; the smell of magic wafted to Eileen's nostrils as they were uttered.
When the circle was finished, Suhura began to chant under her breath, unintelligible words that wouldn't have made sense had she said them loud enough to be heard. The symbols she had etched in the sand began to glow, sending beams of light around the circle like a dome. Eileen and Sakrane began to feel a tingling in their joined arms.
A blast of wind sent the group reeling backward, accompanied by the sound of rushing air. Lights of different colors and hues began appearing, shooting from the stars themselves and coming from the beings gathered beneath them. They rose from every grain of sand and every insect in the vicinity, as well as any other sentient being, to create a sort of vortex.
Josceline, Eileen's protégé and own daughter, was the only one to be carried by the rushing wind and into the vortex. Black hair was the last thing to disappear, along with the lingering sound of a terrified child's shriek. The vacuum snapped shut behind her, and all traces of magic disappeared, seemingly ending the life of the youngest and most favored of the Tuaton.
"No!" Eileen fell to her knees as the magic ended, appeased by the sacrifice of the only child in attendance at the meeting. Tears fell down her cheeks in rivulets as she hugged herself, ignoring the sting of her injured arm against her clothing.
"The Goddess required sacrifice to perform such a great work of magic, my dear." Suhura's foggy eyes lit on the High Priestess with no pity. "Do not despair – her life was used to preserve her people. With her life given to the Goddess, the magic is set. Our peoples are merged."
Suhura's words were anything but comforting to the grieving mother, but Sakrane grinned with more teeth than any human man could possess. "Bring the ten here, to this spot, in twenty days. We will escort them to the Dracheling Desert for their quests." Now that the act was done, it was clear he wanted out of the clearing as soon as possible.
Eileen nodded numbly. "It will be done."
The men backed out of their circle and away from the witches to transform back to their monstrous forms, growing wings and scales in the blink of an eye. Claws raked deep furrows in the sand as they took to the air, roaring their triumph to the night sky.
The coven and clan were brought together irrevocably thereafter. The ten witches went with the Drache to the desert, and six Drache-Witch pairs returned. Termed Q'lia, the pairings were successful in helping the witches' survival. The Drache did not rise to royal standing yet – try as he may, Sakrane did not possess the attribute required to become King, namely, purple scales.
The little girl that had been sucked into the vortex was never spoken of in front of her mother again. There was no funeral, no real chance to mourn. Eileen and her husband were heartbroken, but went about their lives as if their daughter had never existed, since it was considered blasphemy to believe the Goddess's actions wrong.
But of course, death is never the end of a story. It is only a beginning.