Note: For all those that read/reviewed/favorited 'The Undying', please note that it will be removed soon and to focus your attention on this story instead. The plot is similar to that which I set up in The Undying, but the mechanics of the story are different, such as point of view. This is the story I will be working with from now on. Thank you.
The severed head of the last black dragon looked miserable to Artemis. It was not at all the ferocious, merciless, wicked beast she had been told to imagine. It was hardly the reflection of evil that her father had woven into her bedtime stories so that she would behave. At least it didn't seem that way to her as she stood quietly in the dining hall and stared uneasily up at it, but she would never dare to speak these thoughts out loud. They would think she was mad. Possibly even whip her. The dark ones were evil. It was known.
The dragon's once brilliant, green eyes were now pale and glazed over with a white film so that she could barely see the slits of its pupils. The sagging jaw hung a little to the right, giving the head a slightly silly expression. She supposed most people would have laughed or cheered if they saw the black beast in such a pathetic state, but Artemis wished secretly that she could straighten it. Perhaps she was weak or more scared of it than she was consciously admitting, but reducing the once mighty entity to such a humiliating state didn't sit well in her gut. What if it cursed them? The stories often talked about how black dragons could curse.
To further her discomfort, she was sure the dead dragon was female. The one horn on the sagging side of the face had been broken off at the root during the battle that was ultimately the dragon's demise, but the horn that remained pointed backwards along the skull had numerous twists like a screw. Only female dragons had horns that twisted, along with only one horn on the ridge of their nose instead of the male's customary two. Female dragons were by no means weaker – sometimes they were even more savage than the males but more often than not they had calmer dispositions, more adapt with strategy than that of male dragons.
Artemis often thought that if she ever had a dragon, she would have liked for it to be female and an image came to her mind of her riding the rare and hated black dragon in front of her – her hair as dark as its scales, flying out behind her, her robes torn without care. However she didn't allow the thoughts to last more than a few moments and even then she felt a slight stab of guilt. These were thoughts of treason.
"Ah sister, are you admiring my prize?" a voice she hadn't heard in so long rung out behind her. She spun around and smiled widely at her brother as he approached. The first thing she noticed was how tired he looked, his face gaunt from malnutrition and his shaggy, black and possibly permanently wind-blown hair looked like it might have been singed a bit. His back was still straight though, his dark eyes – so similar to her own – were sincere.
When he was almost at her side she dipped into a small, mocking bow. "Black dragon slayer, Lane," she addressed formally. He just laughed and shoved her lightly back.
"Stop it. I can't even take you seriously when you do that."
Artemis straightened, still smiling. "And I can't believe you actually hunted this dragon down. Did you lose your mind? It could have killed you!"
He gave her a slightly puzzled look. "Anyone else would have done the same. I am just lucky enough to ride and fight beside a dragon who isn't scared of a little blood."
Artemis grimaced doubtfully. "No. You're insane. No one in their right mind would go looking for a black dragon...and Razorit isn't scared of any amount of blood."
"Well he's made a name for himself so it was worth it," he said dismissively and before she could even fathom whether she cared to ask what the dragon's new title might be, he continued, "He's Razorit the Nightbreaker now."
Her heart lifted a little in discomfort. "So he can take a mate now?" she asked a little nervously. It was never really written in stone, but as far as Artemis knew it was considered taboo for a dragon to take a mate without first earning a title.
Lane shrugged uncaringly but Artemis knew this was simply because he didn't know how uncomfortable his ruthless green dragon made her when they were alone together. His orange eyes stalked her like a hound stalking a sheep, except this was no mere hound, this was a dragon who could twist himself into human form. If he had earned himself a title among his kin by slaying the last black dragon, she had no doubt he would be granted the highest of honors and the greatest respect. He could have whatever he wanted.
The thought made her shift awkwardly on her feet. What if he asked for her hand in marriage? Her feelings for him were not mutual. He was far too violent and if the black dragon's death had proved anything more, it was that he was also too impulsive.
"Where is he now?" she found herself asking, trying to restrain the anxiousness in her voice.
"Sleeping off the last of his battle wounds before the celebration. He should wake up soon."
The comment surprised her. "How injured is he?"
Lane ran a hand through his curtain of black hair. "We had a dog fight with the last black dragon in the world, Arty. She was fighting for survival. He'll have a few mean looking scars for the rest of his life."
She tried to show some sympathy for the green dragon, really she did, but in truth she knew the scars were probably nothing compared to the recognition he was going to get in the next coming months. If anything, she was sure he would wear them proudly, as a reminder to others of what he had faced. If only the dark dragon had wounded his ego, she found herself thinking, instead of just his body.
They stood in silence for many moments, just staring at the skewered dragon head that loomed over the oak table. On top of avoiding Razorit, she was sure she wasn't going to be able eat normally with the pale, dead eyes staring at her while she chewed. It was going to be a long night, she could feel it. But with her brother finally returned home safe and sound after months of fruitless searching for the last black dragon known to man, following nothing but rumors, she decided quietly to straighten her shoulders and lift her chin. She would not ruin his night. The last thing she wanted to do was drive her only family away. It was sad how much she had cried when he left.
"Do you think father would be proud?" Lane suddenly asked, his voice quiet. Artemis just laid a gentle hand on his back. It was only because of this did she truly realize how thin he had gotten from his time away. The shoulder blade beneath her palm was pointy, with little mass left.
"Why would you ask that?"
Her brother merely shrugged and his shoulders drooped even further. "It never feels like enough."
Artemis could only nod. Boy, did she know that feeling. Certainly even more than Lane could have known it. He was the favorite. He had a dragon and she had little to provide for the family in the ways of honor. Even marriage – her only real value – was diminished because she was petrified of the concept. It hadn't pleased her late father.
Kendric, her betrothed, was a kind boy though. Well, he was once a boy. She supposed he was much more of a man now but she hadn't seen him in years. Trying to be discrete, she counted backwards with the fingers laid against Lane's tunic.
'One...two...three...' she thought, furrowing her eyebrows further each time she curled another digit in. 'Three whole years since I've see him.'
It was kind of an embarrassing fact, but he had said he would wait until she was ready to be wedded. At the time she was relieved. Now she wondered if she would still be horrified at the concept of marriage if she had just gotten it out of the way. He would be a lord and she would be his lady. She liked his beautiful white dragon well enough, and if they had been married she wouldn't have had to deal with Razorit. Now the green beast could have anything he wanted, and she knew she would have to be careful that he did not straight up demand that her betrothal be extinguished...or worse.
Artemis shook the thoughts away. "Don't worry about father. You know he's proud. So am I."
He let out a sigh, but she could tell he was just shaking off the doubt for now. "Thanks Arty," he said before playfully ruffling her hair and succeeding in making her laugh, "But you better not just be trying to worm your way out of the celebration tonight. People want to meet you."
"You caught me," she chortled, wrestling out of his brotherly embrace with a shove.
"I know I did. Your skin is so translucent I can see right through you."
"Truth now, you're just scared of dealing with Razorit's obnoxious ego all by your one-some."
He ran a pale hand through his black hair once more. "Oh c'mon it's not that bad."
"It's bad..." she said honestly, and brought her hands up to cover her sympathetic smile as she repeated it. "It's bad."
Her brother nudged her. "Alright, alright," he allowed. They turned finally away from the drooping, black dragon head and began their departure from the dining hall. "Just don't tell the king-of-the-west that. Especially on his big night."
Artemis burst out laughing momentarily, which earned her a pleasantly puzzled look from her brother. If he meant for the phrase to be funny, she wasn't immediately sure but she liked it anyway. The king of the west was once the mightiest of the black dragons – a Greatfather – who held so much hatred for humans that he burned his own kingdom to the ground and set himself on fire when asked to partner with humanity. It was his insanity that led to the annihilation of his own dark kin, down to the very last female dragon that hung so sadly on the spike above their table. She could only imagine Razorit's fit if he heard himself compared to the most hated of all dragonkind.
"Don't worry," Artemis said after one last look back at the head before the gap in the wooden doors sealed, "I won't mention a thing."
Thank you for taking the time to check out this story, it is greatly appreciated. To be honest, this is actually the second draft of a story I already have on here, but will be removing. I didn't like the beginning of the previous version, and though I was only on chapter three, I felt I should turn back now before I have too many chapters updated and it becomes too late to take down and I run the risk of angering people. I apologize to those who already fav'd it and reviewed, and encourage you to migrate them to this story instead because this is the one I will be working from beginning to end with. I know it's not in first-person like the former draft, but I found first person to be just to finicky for me to handle. Perhaps it's just because I'm so used to writing in third-person at this point.
On a side note, I love reviews. I can even take constructive criticism pretty well (I plan to get this published after all!) but I must timidly advise people on the difference between constructive crit and OPINION. Most anything can be transformed to look like constructed criticism with enough TLC, but telling me that my dragons NEED to have four legs instead of two is an OPINION, and will be passed over. However, telling me that my pacing is off because [Insert valid reason here, with valid evidence] could be considered constructive criticism, and, I'll likely read/try to fix it. You must understand this about me, I ALWAYS have to answer WHY for everything that happens in my story. It's so important. So if there is no valid reason or example for the criticism, meaning, I can't figure out WHY it's important that I change this or that... I'll probably ignore it. That's fair right? Yeah. I think so. You wouldn't want your child left in the hands of someone who's trying to change them just BECAUSE now would you? LOL. I didn't think so.
Anyway, I apologize for the very short first chapter. I tend to write chapters that are about 5000 words in length, as the next one will be but this is the best place to end the very first chapter.