Tag Archives: Writing

Sunday Spotlight with Writer Jessica Jayne Webb!

Jessica Jayne Webb is a Writer from New Zealand. Jessie published a fantasy novel we’ll get into below. She writes poetry as well, and is working on a variety of projects. Jessie says writing her book was monumental for herself and her family as both her sons have learning challenges. She is also working on her degree, while enjoying family life, fishing and foraging, with her partner and two high functioning boys.

I’ve been looking forward to our chat so much, Jessie. Your book The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle is packed with fabulous elements. There is a castle. Score 1. Then, you have a reluctant heiress facing an unexpected change. Score 2. It harks back to my favorite genre in the 70s. The gothic romance, but maybe this is more dark fantasy. Score 3. Then, there is a whole hidden fantasy world. Score 5. And finally (well not even finally because there’s more) you have romance. Score 6.

I’d like to start by asking how you came up with your story, which I think of as a story within a story. Did you set out to write such an epic multilayered tale?

Hey, thanks for having me here, I appreciate you adding me in and wanting to talk about my journey.

I started this more as an assignment about 10 years ago now, for my English paper at university. My lecturer liked it so much she asked me if I could write more. I wrote about 4 chapters before life jumped in. Then about 3 years ago, I had a back injury. Instead of going loopy from being stuck on my back about a year into being almost bedridden, I ‘found’ my book again and decided to write. It was hard at first to get back into it but once I opened the door in my mind again, I was able to pull the whole thing apart and rewrote it in about 2 months. I think similar to my life, I am multilayered, so writing my book like that seemed like a natural way to go about doing it. 

D. So sorry that you suffered through such a terrible injury. But I’m glad you found a creative outlet to help you cope with it. I’ve had several people tell me creative pursuits like writing and art have helped them survive life’s debilitating curve-balls. Good for you.

That leads us to the question about your process. Are you a panster or plotter? Do you like to sit at the keyboard and let the story come, or do you plan ahead with an outline or other favorite technique(s)?

I think I’m a bit of both or perhaps something else entirely heh. I started off by just writing what played out, but then decided to organise myself a bit and wrote one or two lines for each chapter or like for some chapters, I listed 4 to 6 words I wanted to ‘hit’ when writing the chapters. But for the most part, I felt I was a narrator. The characters were all playing it out in my head, like a movie and I was playing catchup trying to keep up with them. I don’t sleep much, so I didn’t find it odd when I mentally argued with the characters. Much like I messaged you, as I’m finishing off my Bachelors I have had to take a step back for a few months and put them all in a metaphorical ‘draw.’ It does leak out though, so studying becomes a bit challenging, along with having children, a couple of jobs, and whatnot.

D. Ah, conjuring scenes instead of sleeping! I can relate. And after talking to so many of our fellow writers, I’ve learned that malady afflicts a lot of us.

Do you have a designated place to write, a place that is ready with the things around you that get you into the zone? What does that look like? What are your favorite methods, tips?

Nah, I’m not that organised, I go where there is silence, a decent seat and a big table. I do like to have my coffee with me; almond flat white with an extra shot. I’m a major coffee addict. Near a food source also. I like the local library on occasion. But quiet is the main part, as the noise from the characters make it quite hard to concentrate. Tips! Everyone is different. Putting all my gear into a backpack and exploring the area is a great way to find a niche place. Everyone has their quirks, and preferred ways of writing. Mine may look completely different to yours and everyone else’s so really it’s looking for what you feel will work that day.

 D. Thanks for sharing that. I enjoy envisioning writers’ environments as they settle in to write. Lifting my coffee cup to you!

Is fantasy your preferred genre, and what subgenre(s)? Discovering my niche market is something I’m delving into, since I could technically gear my books towards several, so I’ve been polling writers to learn how they determine where their books fit on a book store shelf. Where do you see your book if you were to walk into a traditional book store? What books would you find next to it?

I think so, to your first question. I would say on the bestsellers shelf is my best aim heh! Unfortunately, my book is really expensive so it is mainly online. I would love my books to be near Terry Practchett’s Discworld Novels. That would be my dream. Epic fantasy for my next series. I am finding The Secrets of Wilderfort Castle is going dark. With more relationships popping up I’m feeling its getting into darker fantasy, not quite mind benders but looking at scenes involving death, I mean if you checked out the first book you would have seen some areas where the characters show a taste of the twisted things they are capable of. It’s very twisty-turny and you need to keep up. Definitely pay attention to the details or you may miss something. The characters are also showing some areas of LGB relationships which back then (Victorian era) was frowned upon and done behind closed doors, but didn’t mean they weren’t happening. So in other words, you will have to read the book. 

D. Wow. Even more elements to add to the ones in our introduction. It sounds like a totally fun story to write.

At what stage in the process did you find your publisher? Can you talk about the process of getting a book deal? Did you consider self-publishing? If so, what convinced you to go traditional?

I want to go traditional. I know it’s a hefty percentage cut going that way but they have the connections and can market the book. I’m terrible at marketing and prefer to hide while writing or go walking in the literal sense. It helps me organise whats happening in the book, within my brain. It took a while to get this contract, as I really had to hunt around. I didn’t know what I was doing. Now that I’m in the book scene, I have found many more areas of interest. This first book deal was a hybrid contract. I didn’t know what I was getting into but I definitely DON’T recommend it. I was offered four hybrid contracts from different publishers and went with this company as my friend had published through them. I am looking, and they know I’m looking for another company. I am quite open with that. I need someone who can keep up with me and my different forms of writing.

D. I look forward to hearing how you progress with those goals. I can appreciate finding the right representative who can advocate for different types of writing, since you write poetry and quite a variety of other things, which we will get into in a little bit.

Can you share your insight and tips for balancing homelife and family with your writer’s life?

No tips, I’m terrible at it, apart from having the ability to take my boys swimming where I can write for two hours. Finding a place that can entertain kids and give you wifi is a great way to go. Keeps everyone happy. I sometimes ‘book’ in time for when I’m going to write. It’s like I’m mentally organising myself in preparation.

D. I like that tip. I’m a planner junkie. Writing down a schedule even if it’s booking time with yourself can be really effective.

Who and/or what were your biggest influences in becoming a writer?

Becoming a writer, it was more like, I quite enjoy this, I’m going to see where this takes me. My dad has always been in my court when an idea came up. I have actually had a few businesses in the past one being an art business, and he was always one to encourage any kind of creative flare in myself and my siblings.

What are your top 3 favorite books, or if you prefer, top 3 favorite writers, and why?

Terry Pratchett. Definitely. Cynthia Voigt’s A Solitary Blue was a very emotional book for me. I read it in college and it was the first book that changed my life, I really struggled in college. I’m loving a lot of indie authors at present, too hard to pinpoint but they are all amazing writers, I have gained a lot of insight from the bookish community on Instagram. I am part of a couple of awesome groups, and I’m really thankful.

I was delighted to find you have poetry I could listen to on Spotify. Wow! To have your words read so movingly. How did that collaboration come about? Will there be more?

I was a bit cheeky actually. Attai lily was talking about it online and I DM’D her saying if she needed anything, I would love to be included. She said she was still setting up so when she was ready, she posted up for potential authors and I jumped on board. Attai Lily is amazing to work with and has really begun to take off.

D. Enjoy right here, Jessie’s poems “Life Explained” and “The Rhyming Muscles” read by Attai Lily, In Lines and Verses on Spotify.

We met through our writer’s alliance, which I think is awesome because it brings writers from around the world together to support each other. What can you share about your experiences in the writer’s community? What other online groups can you recommend?

The bookish community is brilliant. There are some really helpful authors out there all wanting the best for you, I have learnt so much and will continue to learn from them. It’s very supportive. I have looked into NaNoWriMo. I did sign up for a writing competition with them, but the timing didn’t fit in with my schedule, I will enjoy looking at that more in depth over Christmas. 

 D. I do love participating in NaNoWriMo challenges. It’s a great way to focus on a project over a month. I hope to see you there.

Have you found any local communities or helpful ways to share your books at home in New Zealand?

Funnily enough no. New Zealand can be a really hard place to jump into. There are so many creatives in New Zealand. I have this fabulous man, William Yip. He is the forerunner for the Collective, a local community hub, and he is a supportive man for any he knows needs to market. I am working with him at the moment to get my book out to the local community. I managed a newspaper article and that helped, but to get anywhere you need a constant influence in the national community, plus anything overseas. I will be looking into more international influence next year.

D.  Awesome. Thanks for that. The community hub with Mr. Yip sounds like a great local feature.

Now for a favorite question of mine. I understand you have projects in the works. Can you give us a glimpse into what we might see next and when?

Oh gosh. Where do I start? Well, Wilderfort is one of five books I have planned. Then there is The Last Tribe of Terraway. That is a three-book series about a small community of varying-aged trolls on the run. I haven’t quite settled on a name for my horror. I was thinking The Puppet Creator. But I’m still working on the name. That is one I am really looking forward to writing, I won’t give too many details except I am going to the local morgue at the end of the year to learn about embalming haha. I also have a ghost possession type story, and I’m excited about writing that one. I also have a children’s book with a first draft. I think this one will be about 10 books in total but I need to find an illustrator to join me on the journey. Plus my poetry book. This, I actually wrote in my twenties but as you know, a couple have been put up on spotify. I’m not sure where I will go with that one. I also have a couple articles I want to write based on Education as my study ( I’m in my final year) to become a teacher. 

D. I love these ideas, and I can’t wait to see more. You can follow Jessie on Instagram and Goodreads.

Thank you so much for visiting my Spotlight, Jessie! Any parting words of advice about following our creative passions? 

Don’t give up. Listen to yourself, not what others say. I was told in college, after asking an English teacher for help, not to bother. I would never get anywhere. Research. Make sure you understand what you are writing. Don’t go on blind faith. Be open to learning curves. Everything we do helps us to improve. We are always learning. Be open to it, and be humble.

Be kind, don’t be a Karen! Unless you’re copying my second mum.

D. Fantastic!

My Pod People Talked me Into Going to Class

Wow! I sort of took a dive off the deep end after retiring. I’m having a blast, but somehow, I’m using my brain more and busier than ever. The old cliché is true! How did I ever find time for work?

So, I went to class. My characters (aka pod people seeded in my brain by aliens) talked me into taking on more ambitious goals. And I did. After all, they’ve done me lots of good and deserve to have me at my best; making them shine, bringing them to life.

Art by Edgars Soiko

Starting with orientation last Friday, then commencing Day 1 Sunday, every day since has been packed full of exercises from a workshop I stumbled onto on Facebook (okay the advertisers stuck it in front of my face, but sometimes that’s a good thing), and boy! I’m so glad I did. The value has been phenomenal. If you ever get a chance to catch Getabookdeal101‘s Pitch Perfect Masterclass, 5-Day Query Letter Challenge, grab a spot! It’s only $17! A generous offer by a team who really cares about the struggling writer. It’s packed with insight into the publishing industry, and you get hands on practice building valuable skills.

I’m using a draft of a historical fantasy I have in the works as my practice pitch. I’ve truly learned to “mine for the gold” and pull out the nuggets of my story, as Kathy Ver Eecke likes to say in one way or the other. Quoting Kathy again, “it’s all that and a bag of book deals.” She is super fun, and so is her team.

Even if it takes me a while to get a book to the point I want to pitch it to an agent, the skills and inside industry knowledge will come in handy for so many things. Like book blurbs and story submissions to anthologies and magazines. And I now have a better way to look at my story for those nuggets that are the most desirable to my readers, then craft it even better.

Next on my list is AutoCrit’s Penning Passion romance writing class. Yay! It starts next week and you can still sign up.

I’m also in the middle of Writing Battle‘s micro fiction contest, and AutoCrit‘s annual short story challenge (my story Priss Starwillow & the Wolf made it into the anthology last year, which was super exciting, I must say). If you haven’t checked out AutoCrit as an editing platform option, take a moment to do so. They’ve recently done an overhaul of their community website giving you better access to tools and resources.

Writing Battle just so happens to have also undergone a website design overhaul, so check them out if you’re looking for new and fun ways to challenge your writing.

Yep! Deep end!

Art by Theo Durrant

“But that’s not all” I finished a short story and it’s off to my readers. I’m getting the feedback I expected, which is that it’s probably a bigger story than the 15,000 word limit I was going for. More on Giving it up for a Vampire soon!

I’m still working on my relaunch goal for this month for my Starlight Chronicles series. What!!! Yep. I’m working hard and this month is going way too fast.

And, I still have two fabulous interviews coming your way on my Creator Spotlight. First one’s up… this Sunday!

So like I mention in my previous musings about my pod people, they won’t let me retire!

Ode to an Uncle I Didn’t Appreciate as Much as I Should Have Before Becoming a Writer

First of all, I want to say I adored Uncle Lauran. I just had no idea…

Today, someone asked a question on social media about using multiple pen names, whether they should employ a different one for different genres they market their books in. My first reaction was; a name is the most important aspect of a writer and should sell the author selling the books no matter the genre. It’s hard to imagine using multiple pen names and struggling to brand each one for each genre. I have a hard enough time branding my one pen name. Of course, I’m self-published in the modern world. Back in my uncle’s day… sigh… oh to be a writer when people frequented libraries…

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s not a new question. Writers have used multiple pen names to flavor their stories and focus readers on the genre for ages.

Then, I had a “slap my forehead” moment when I realized one of the most amazing and prolific writers of the twentieth century who’d mastered this concept was my very own uncle, Lauran Paine, a man who like so many of us struggled to get published, found his niche and launched a career that resulted in over 1000 books! Yes that’s 3 zeros folks!

Here’s what People Magazine said about Uncle Lauran:

Ernest Hemingway—Lauran Paine can outwrite you! Franz Kafka—Lauran Paine can outwrite you! Count Leo Tolstoy—you too! Lauran Paine can outwrite all you pretty-boy novelists put together!

Jack Friedman, People Magazine, May 13, 1985

Uncle Lauran was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific living author for many years. That was the first thing I asked to look at when I went for a visit. I loved the Guinness books’ fun facts already, and to have an uncle’s accomplishments listed in a book that chronicled the tallest man ever, the shortest woman, and the largest living cat… well that was the best! I had no clue what it meant to have so many of your own books on the shelf. They covered a wall!

And the point of my musings today, he used over 70 pseudonyms! Both male and female, depending on the market.

I’m not sure why I haven’t given Uncle Lauran’s writing more thought since I’ve become a writer. My Dad inserts a story about him every time I talk about my writing (which makes for a lot of stories… hmmm…) and I love hearing them. But only today did it occur to me how amazing he was in his chosen profession, and I started remembering how he shared his experiences. I loved hearing them then. Today, as a writer, those conversations take on a whole new meaning.

Memories are funny things. I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment when one thought opens a floodgate. Uncle Lauran married my Aunt Mona in 1982. She was his favorite research librarian at the Siskiyou County Library. It was a late romance made in heaven. All the memories ran through my head today like a film reel. The holidays at the cozy A-Frame in the mountains. Uncle Lauran scaring off a huge bear who came to visit at the back porch one Thanksgiving. And his office full of his own books in the stone-lined basement built into the hill under the house.

So, I had to share. Because now that I’m a writer, and taking another look at his body of work, I’m floored. I would love the opportunity to go back in time and learn more about how he did it. He was a rock star! I appreciate so much better now what he accomplished by sitting down and writing every day with a set schedule.

Books were his bread and butter. He wrote full time from 1948 (though he started writing in 1934) until right before he died in 2001. He always talked about having a formula. If you master the formula, you can write anything on a steady basis. Mr. Friedman of People Magazine captured the formula best in Uncle Lauran’s interview.

Keep in mind, he was a true cowboy from a much earlier time…

Paine churns out more than oaters. “After a while,” he says, “I get bow-legged with all these Westerns.” He’s done history, science fiction, mystery and romance. “Romances are the easiest thing in the world to write,” says Paine, “if you can stomach them.” In conquering his digestion, Paine must also come to grips with a problem all fiction writers wrestle with: empathy. “I don’t know much about women,” he admits. “But what man does? They’re emotional creatures.” So Paine has devised a formula to probe the depths of female psychology. “They want him, they don’t, they don’t know. By that time, you’re on page 251.”

Jack Friedman, People Magazine, May 13, 1985

Uncle Lauran really said that about the formula! He said it to me numerous times to convince me I could write. I guess I did have asperations back in those days. Hmmm.

U.K. Writer Ben Bridges does a beautiful job of highlighting Uncle Lauran’s career. You can find his article here. I love what he has to say about the pen names:

When the paperback market began to dry up in the 1960s, however, Paine adopted several new pseudonyms and began turning out westerns primarily for Robert Hale, its subsidiary John Gresham and the then-buoyant library market. Now, in addition to Mark Carrel, he could also be found masquerading as Clay Allen, A A Andrews, Dennis Archer, John Armour, Carter Ashby, Harry Beck, Will Benton, Frank Bosworth, Concho Bradley, Claude Cassady, Clint Custer, James Glenn, Will Houston, Troy Howard, Cliff Ketchum, Clint O’Conner and Buck Standish, among many others. Additionally, he published scores of crime, science fiction and romance novels (virtually all issued by Hale or Gresham), but later admitted that thrillers and SF required more thought, time and planning to make them work.

Ben Bridges

Mr. Bridges, also published by Robert Hale, has an impressive body of work himself under his own variety of pen names. I discovered another author I need to study and read!

My favorite part of Uncle Lauran’s story was how long it took him to find his niche, which didn’t happen until he got advice from his publisher to write what he knows. He was a cowboy, a stuntman, he owned cattle. He said he had the scars to prove it. He wrote what he knew and he gave his readers tons of it. He used to tell us some of his Hollywood stories about the times he hung out on the lot of the Lone Ranger. He was friends with Jay Silverheels, who was the legendary Tonto. That’s just a sample.

Two movies were made from Uncle Lauran’s stories, 1957’s The Quiet Gun inspired by Lawman, and 2003’s Open Range based on The Open Range Men, produced by Kevin Costner and starring Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Annette Benning, Michael Gambon, and Michael Jeter. It’s an amazing movie, and does justice to the original story. My Aunt managed Uncle Lauran’s works after his passing in conjunction with Lauran Paine, Jr., and worked very hard with Mr. Costner to transform her husband’s story to the big screen. She got to attend the premier.

Uncle Lauran picked this one for me because it is a beautiful western romance. I’d have to argue that he understood women despite his glib formula litany. I loved it.

Uncle Lauran didn’t just crank out serial fiction. He created an impressive wide-ranging body of nonfiction. He brought this book to my Dad’s one visit, and I stayed up all night reading it. It’s fun to find these out of print books for sale from interesting booksellers. This one is listed by Common Crow Used & Rare Books.

Though I didn’t get to thank Uncle Lauran for planting those seeds to tell a story back when I was in my twenties, I hope he enjoyed my fascination with all that he was and accomplished, nevertheless.

My Pod People Won’t Let me Retire!

Retire I said. Write full time, I said. Get up when I want. Eat when I want. Listen to books when I want. Go out with friends when I want. Eerrk! Wait, back up. Write full time? That’s work, right?

Did I really think my pod people (aka book characters seeded in my brain by aliens) would let me retire? Get up when I wanted, go out with friends when I wanted. eat when I wanted? Okay, so that stuff is actually happening, but yikes! I am really writing full time!

Like get up, stay in my jammies, bring a cup of coffee to my office, and start writing, until I want to stop kind of full time writing. Oh Yeah!

It was a great month to retire from the old day job because it’s Camp NanoWrimo! I passed my goal yesterday and I’m closing in on a finish to a story I have been dying to write since Book Two in my series, The Starlight Chronicles (slipping in an announcement here – my series relaunch is happening in May!!), because there’s a vampire, one of those secondary pod people you fall in love with from his very first introduction. And he only gets better all the way through to his cliffhanger ending (coming in Book Three!!).

So what better Camp project is there than giving Mortas his own short story. And events unfold that include another great secondary pod person, Ember, the witch. But pod people beget more pod people when writing fiction. And that’s what’s happening in this story. New compelling pod people!

I’m trying to keep it short, which means its 15,000 if I want to submit it to an Indie Press anthology. But it’s pushing the boundaries really tight. So, we’ll see.

Let me know what you think of the story description that follows my beautiful teaser. I would love any help with using it for my submission.

Mortas

Description:

No one remembers how Mortas came into existence, least of all him. Due to his vast age, he can command magic, and his vampire urges. His other inexplicable ability? He can exist in daylight. These skills mean Lord Aramis, the ruler of the North American Vampires, often assigns his favorite emissary to missions involving humans.

But Mortas has not always been at the pinnacle of vampire perfection. He’s done a lot of things in his thousands of years he would rather forget.

When he meets a witch in San Francisco in 1969, he wonders for the first time if it’s possible to live life without being plagued by dreams of regret. But Ember has another calling and leaves their bed one afternoon, never to return.

When you’re immortal, you move on.

An assignment leads Mortas to Selena Aires. He’s captivated by the beautiful, marked maiden with a prophetic destiny. Turns out she needs his help. But Mortas’s help is never free. When she pays the price without question and joins him on a dangerous mission, his fascination turns into purpose. A purpose that sends him into the worst predicament of his life.

~~~

Ember grew up in Fisherman’s Wharf, part of a coven who told fortunes for sailors as cover to more lucrative work, like picking their pockets. When two of her marks got the better of her at fourteen, she got rescued by a bear. To this day, she would do anything for that bear shifter because Andras Johns is one of the best men she knows. When he calls on her to help a vampire in trouble, she doesn’t hesitate to answer.

Until she finds out the vampire is Mortas.

Preview of my fabulous April Spotlight Guests!

This month, I will be chatting with two phenomenal writing buddies I met through separate community platforms who happen to both love Sci Fi, one along the lines of fantasy, the other space opera. It was fun inviting the two of them for April and establishing this theme because not only will the format of our conversations be a bit different where the conversations happened first then the questions followed to tie them together, but through the process of producing my two blog interviews, they became writing buddies as well. I love it when that happens!

Dustin is working on what he refers to as one MASSIVE manuscript he’s structuring into three parts. We’ve been motivating each other this month at Camp NaNo and he’s made phenomenal progress. He’s still deciding on whether to go the traditional publishing route, or self. I have to say, what he’s shared with me about the world building so far has me chomping at the bit!

Nicolas is working on his first novel, Seven Drifts, an epic space opera story featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth and murders, a brewing rebellion and an antique wooden treasure chest. We are helping each other stay on track on our respective publication goals and after reading his sneak peek short story, Cradle, I can’t wait for his novel to release! You can learn more about it and get your copy here.​

Artwork credit, svekloid on Shutterstock

Sad Swallow – A Two Sentence Story – Fairytale Retold

Sad Swallow

By D. L. Lewellyn

In a voice that plucked at her heart strings, her dear swallow lamented, “All winter we exchanged stories, my beautiful Thumbelina, and it made my heart soar. When you climbed upon my back and begged me to take you to my favorite far away land, how could I have known my happy dream would end with you forsaking me for another?” 

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/books/review/Jenkins-t.html

Will this winter ever end? Lamented the author…

So happy to have shared so many stories with you all this winter, despite longing for spring.

Next Sunday Spotlight Goes Behind the Scenes with Writing Battle!

My next Sunday Spotlight (March 26) will give us a unique perspective into two amazing supporters of the writing community when we visit with Max and Teona of Writing Battle! We will discuss this phenomenal peer-powered writing competition, how it came about, and the amazing community of writers from around the globe taking part. You’ll get to hear the perspectives from both Max and Teona and be inspired by their teamwork and how they made a dream come true.

Writing Battle! – My Winter Flash Fiction Entry – A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere

A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere

by D. L. Lewellyn

Two brothers get swept into the Coral Sea by a wave to end all waves, but they have their surfboards and ride it out. Then, a giant, golden fruit bobs up on the horizon, carrying a motley crew of survivors, and promising the strangest of rides.

~~~

Carter passed the binoculars to his brother as they leaned against the railing at the top of the giant pineapple. The fiberglass fruit hadn’t started life as a houseboat, but it made a damn good one once it was swept into the sea by the tsunami that wiped out eastern Queensland. Before that, it served for decades as a popular photo op entrance to a zoo.

“Still no sign of life in any direction.” The dire report came with Flynn’s unflagging optimism, making Carter marvel and shake his head.

“Miro thinks we’re mostly drifting in circles but maybe edging closer to New Caledonia. What do you think?”

Flynn lowered the glasses. “If anyone has a clue, it’s Miro. He can read the sky. Going in circles isn’t good.”

“I know. Rations are thinning… like, to nothing, but us starving is not what worries me.”

“You still haven’t made friends with Bunji and Dainen?” Flynn chuckled and nudged his brother.

“It’s not a matter of making friends. What do you think the tigers will do when they get hungrier? Even to me, you look like a juicy steak.” Flynn laughed harder, which lifted his spirits. Nothing could shake his brother’s sense of adventure. It’s what kept them alive long enough to come across this absurd sanctuary.

The brothers were camping on Rainbow Beach when disaster struck over what turned out to be an unbelievable swath through Oceana. They survived the monster wave, the one everyone talked about but didn’t believe would come, only because they were excellent surfers. They spotted the swell on the horizon before it grew so massive it blocked out the sun, and they grabbed their boards and prayed. Thanks to Flynn nabbing his bugout bag with a flare gun and firing off a shot, they found each other again, though it took them half a day to join up and lash their boards together.

After that miracle, they’d drifted for days, as if they were the only two beings on the planet. On the night before their next miracle, the starry heavens had lulled Carter into philosophical dreams, and he’d given himself up to the big sleep when his brother’s hopeful voice penetrated his resignation.

He’d lifted his head towards the horizon and said through cracked lips, “Is that a pineapple?”

“Yes. And there are people on it, waving like mad. We’re saved, Carter, by a giant symbol of hospitality.”

The next surge rolled them close enough to paddle alongside the marvelous fruit and be pulled onto the lacquered rind where they laid on their backs and smiled into friendly faces leaning over them, blocking out the morning rays. When giant, furry heads nudged their way into the greeting, the brothers kept smiling. Why wouldn’t there be tigers on a floating pineapple?

Carter returned to the present when Miro popped out of the makeshift hatch and demonstrated his uncanny hearing. “Oi! You knocking my babies, mates?”

Bridie popped up next to him, and her freckled face split into a grin. “I thought you blokes knew better.” Thunderous growls followed, and Carter grinned back at the zookeeper who’d raised the orphaned beasts like a brother, and the teenage girl who was the first to hitch a ride with him on this giant fruit, bobbing its way to… anywhere.

###

Five days later, Carter was in a staring match with Bunji. Was the cat drooling? He thought by this time he and Flynn would be bones scraped clean and bleaching under the sun. They were all starving. Nothing in the way of food had made an appearance, no matter how hard they searched. Even Miro’s uncanny abilities found no success.

He laughed when purrs erupted from the massive cat as it plopped on its haunches, lifted a hefty paw, and licked it. Dainen draped himself alongside his brother to enjoy his own grooming.

Carter jolted when the cats rose in a baffling show of alertness. Then, he felt it. “Um… Miro, why is this pineapple bobbing like a fishing lure?” He was already queasy with the jerky motion.

Flynn and Bridie were sitting cross-legged on their sleeping pallets, playing poker with homemade cards. They looked at Miro when the pineapple lurched again. Then, Bridie laid down her hand, squealed, “full house!” And scrambled up the hatch to the surface.

Flynn called after her, then followed. Carter came up behind them and stood next to his brother to gape at their surroundings. Something was wrong. He looked up. The sky wasn’t right either. Even the ocean seemed different.

Miro yelled for them to get inside just as surging waves pounded them into a cliff. But that wasn’t their worst problem, because swooping at them from a massive nest above were a pair of humongous… pterodactyls? Wicked claws reached for them.

“No way!” Flynn cried, but with an edge of excitement as they dove inside.

They rode out the pummeling until everything stopped, even the surging sea. Miro ordered, “You three will stay inside, and the boys and I will investigate.” His eyes pinned them down until they relented.

After so many hours passed listening to strange noises, Bridie said, “That’s it. I’m going after him.” The brothers didn’t say a word. Just geared up with their meager belongings and followed her out of the hatch.

They climbed down, then stood in an unnatural paradise. 

Flynn sniffed the air and concluded, “It smells primal.”

“I have no idea what primal smells like, but I get you,” Bridie whispered as they crept up the beach on shaky sea legs. She jerked to a halt. “Do you hear that?” Not only was the sound terrifying, but the ground vibrated.

The tops of the trees rustled.

When the tigers leapt at them, they cried out and ducked, then realized their feline heroes were pouncing on something much bigger, with scales, gnashing teeth, and a terrible roar. 

Miro stepped out of the trees and beckoned them, and they ran for their lives… The tigers on their heels.

~~~

How the Contest Works at Writing Battle

Writing Battle… Winter Flash Fiction Contest… What can I say? Okay, I’ll just say it. It feels just like I went ten rounds in a boxing ring! (Since I’ve never done that, I make conjecture here for dramatic purposes.) Only it’s a month long and a knock down drag out struggle through five rounds.

First, there’s the excitement of drawing my prompts with the fabulous flipping tarot cards. Then deciding within the very narrow timeframe of creating my story whether I want to stick with my draw, or try for a redraw. (This time, I did avail myself of the one redraw allowed for the genre, so I went from Winter Survival to Lost World and it felt like a bonus gift! I stuck with my character – zookeeper, and object – pineapple, but I could have redrawn up to 7 more times)

Writing a story in a Lost world with a zookeeper and a pineapple? No problem!

Then comes the writing, rewriting, begging friends and family to read it, rewriting, rewriting, then hitting that submit button. Whew! Surviving stage one… done!

Stage two… the duels. I get to go from writer to judge. The best part? I’m treated to some very good stories (in the three other genres I’m not competing in), and it is so very hard to pick between the two stories (for five duels)! I’ve discovered that offering feedback is not only a great way to give back to my community of writers, but it’s a super good learning experience.

While we wait for stage three, we can open our story to the community and read other stories, then give and get more feedback, or just chat. There are four genres. I mentioned two, Winter Survival and Lost World. The other two were Occult and Meet Cute. One of my favorite stories I read in the post-dueling rest period was from a male author who got Meet Cute and decided to go for it. It wasn’t in his wheelhouse. It was my favorite story. He nailed it. The characters were amazing, it was funny, and the ending delivered the perfect punch and left me grinning.

But the nail biting continues folks. Once the dueling is over and we’ve chilled for about a week and enjoyed more stories, the scoring begins. It’s quite an elaborate system, but I’ll try to capture the gist. There are four rounds of elimination based on the initial seeding round and subsequent dueling results, then the fifth round goes to the professional judge. Each day, we come back for the results. Yikes! I will mention at this point, the platform is pure genius, if you aren’t picking up on that already. All the stages are well laid out with a timer, so you know exactly what will happen next and when.

My goal is to make it to round five one day. I think (if I’m figuring things out right) I made it to round three this time before getting knocked out. My story in the 2022 Autumn Short Story Contest, The Passengers (edited here based on feedback), made it to round two. But that’s okay. The competition is fierce, and no matter the results, you get feedback from your peers. Talk about learning. The story above got enough consistent feedback to tell me exactly what to work on.

I’m signed up for the 500-word Spring Micro Fiction Contest. Registration is open! Then comes the 250-word Summer Nanofiction, then Screenwriting… and back to the 2000-word short story. Did I mention yet, there are cash prizes? Very decent ones, too.

Feedback is welcome on A Pineapple Ride to Anywhere. I’d love to see how it jives with my peers at Writing Battle.

Enjoy a little computer generated imagery and thanks for visiting, and the read!

My Pineapple AI art, courtesy of Photoleap

The last photo is the real thing and inspiration for my story. A landmark in Queensland that captured my imagination before I even traveled there. How could I not use this awesomeness in a story with a pineapple prompt? 😉

Now for the big announcement!

You can meet Max and Teona, the team behind the Writing Battle platform, on my Sunday Creator Spotlight. See Post!

The Guardian – A Dragon Story

~ Mareduke is the last of his kind, and if the humans have their way, no dragons at all will exist in Kassia. Then, he meets two remarkable beings intent on changing his fate. ~

I hope you enjoy this story I submitted to a contest where the prompts required a dragon meet a toddler in the forest, and what followed. This was a joy to write.

Mareduke’s bloody, scaled head froze mid dip. He reeled his tongue back into his mouth and stared at the child across the water. A long, cool drink was critical to his state of near-death, but he gave it up to inspect the reflection cast into the mountain lake by the tiny person on the grassy ledge.

An image of a girl not much more than two, wrapped in a cloak, wavered over the surface. The sun glinted on that spot as if shining a beacon on the proof he sought. He raised his eyes to the embankment again.

The toddler was real, and she was staring back.

His snort displaced the water below his face. She would just have to watch while he got his fill because he was losing blood faster than his magic could heal him. There were too many wounds. Enough to end him if he didn’t hydrate and rest.

The humans’ trap this time was multilayered and rigged with an exorbitant number of blades that had pulled Mareduke farther down a natural pit with every move he made. They must have spent weeks designing all the intricate hazards. He had come close to losing his head to a sawblade, and a broadsword missed his heart by inches when it lodged between his ribs. But when he quit panicking long enough to halt the agonizing plummet, he was able to gather his magic and break free with enough momentum to gain altitude and escape the armed contingent of dragon assassins waiting for him on the surface.

He’d spit his wrath at the failed murderers as he flew away, but they jeered at him when his usual rain of fire barely amounted to a drizzle and his wounded body kept listing sideways. He didn’t care. At this stage of his life, he was accustomed to the humans and their collective superior attitude towards him and his dying species.

Still, he couldn’t understand their brutal solution to his thievery. He wasn’t there to hurt them, just grab a meal, a plump sheep or two, because they had a penful of the tasty morsels too tempting to resist. Why did all humans insist on trying to kill him before his time? As far as Mareduke knew, he was the end of the line, and the idea, when he let himself dwell on it, that humans couldn’t share the whole of the Kingdom of Kassia with even one of his kind offended him.

The dragon managed to stay aloft all the way to this refuge to recover his strength. That was the idea anyway because no humans came to this lake high in the mountains. Yet, inexplicably, he beheld one of their children standing at the edge of the water by herself, appearing as if she were on a picnic. By now, he was sure the toddler was alone because even as he concentrated on recuperating; he’d been watchful. Nothing but the two of them stirred in this place.

He settled on his haunches this side of the dark green expanse and rested his chin on his front paws, so he could better observe her. She hadn’t made a sound, only sticking her finger in her mouth as she looked around, then back at him. This was the most bizarre thing he’d experienced so far in his young dragon life. What was she? He presumed human, but she could be anything.

He gave some thought to how he might find out since neither of them could speak to the other. So, he tried to pick out clues. Her cloak was made of fine, blue-dyed cloth with a glimmer weaving through that spoke of magic. Her wavy mop of strawberry-blond hair and clothes appeared clean, though her feet were bare.

That made him wonder if she was cold but then he thought not. It was mild this time of year, even at this elevation.

While he sorted her out, she made herself comfortable as well, plopping down on a fluffy tuft of grass, her stubby legs sticking straight out, and her toes wiggling as they stretched towards the water. She got busy plucking nearby wildflowers until she had a short bouquet gripped in her hand. In between peeking at him, her finger absently returned to her mouth as she observed other bits of life in her immediate vicinity. He watched in amusement when she sniffed the pungent flowers, and her nose wrinkled, but she smiled happily at her collection.

Mareduke grew more entranced when nature began to react to the tiny being in its midst. Just like it had done to her reflection earlier, the sun shone a beam of light on her, and dust motes danced around her head. Two bees drifted towards the flowers, then darted in to sip at the nectar. Butterflies flitted near her face, which made her smile widen.

Next, woodland creatures inched closer. A rabbit stood above the grass and wriggled its nose at the air. A pair of doves settled in a branch above her and cooed. A doe and her fawns watched it all from underneath the tree. Squirrels, hedgehogs, and even a young fox made an appearance. None of the creatures paid any attention to Mareduke, their fascination centering on the happy child.

Mareduke thought that even with her mysterious aura, she must have parents worried sick somewhere, but even more curious than where she was from was how she came to be here.

The dragon froze at the sound of crashing through the trees. All the life clustering around the child scattered, leaving her blinking at their sudden absence. She stood and turned towards the increasingly noisy disturbance, which now included thundering growls amid the sound of cracking branches.

A mountain troll was coming. Mareduke could smell the vile creature. He should have before now, but he’d been distracted. He must decide what to do about the abandoned child directly in its path. The troll would sooner snack on her than look at her, and the only thing to stop the voracious brute was Mareduke, but he was still weak from his injuries.

When the bulbous head made an appearance at the edge of the trees, Mareduke wasted no more time thinking. He flapped his wings and in two strokes, landed between the oncoming threat and the helpless toddler. The troll’s red-rimmed gaze fixed on Mareduke, and he bore down on him with a makeshift club he held in both hands.

Mareduke laid his wing over the ground and motioned for the little one to hop on. But she just stared at him. The beast closed in, making the ground shake under them, its growls deafening.

The absurdity of his situation made Mareduke want to snort in protest. Here he was, a perpetual target of human violence, getting ready to lay down his life for one of their offspring, if that’s what she was, because she couldn’t grasp that it was imperative to climb on.

He inhaled with everything he had in him for one good burst of fire, even as he indulged in images of the stories told of his sacrifice on behalf of the enemy… until he remembered there was no one but a baby to witness his death. And if he was destroyed, she had no chance.

He launched his fire. It stopped the oncoming troll… for all of ten seconds.

The child tucked beneath him tapped the bottom of his chest with a fist so small he could barely feel it, but it got his attention. She smiled up at him and clapped her hands, and Mareduke experienced an entirely new sensation. The air turned heavy, then seemed to curl in on itself. His stomach lurched, and he closed his eyes.

When he opened them, they were in a flower-covered meadow surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. He didn’t recognize the mountains, and there was no sign of the troll.

***

Mareduke’s world stopped tilting, and he took in his surroundings. A hut squatted near a giant oak tree with a stone fireplace taking up an entire end. Smoke curled from the chimney. There was a garden with neat rows of vegetables, and a milk cow poked its head through a half door in a miniature barn as it chewed its cud. A raven cawed at them from the roof, and the child’s face split into a wide smile. She waved at the bird, which elicited a louder squawk as it stretched up and flapped its wings, then flew towards them.

The raven landed at the dragon’s feet, and proceeded to change to a tall, bearded man with flowing robes who looked down at the child and said, “Well done, Eliana. You found him.”

He looked up. “Can you understand my words, dragon?” Mareduke dipped his snout, and the man said, “Judging from your abundant wounds, your guardian was nearly too late.” Guardian? He looked at the small, grinning face. There was a sparkle in her eyes.

At Mareduke’s inquiring look, the man said, “Have you no knowledge of the Western Woodland Fae?” Mareduke stared at him, and he continued. “The fairies, who guard all living things in Kassia other than the two-legged kind, though their kinship with dragons is the most sacred. A Fae like Eliana is born only every eight hundred years, give or take, with a special affinity for dragons, and a destiny that compels her to do all in her power to preserve the species. A necessary service when you have a hereditary enemy bent on wiping you from existence.

When Mareduke continued to stare, he added, “You must have raised yourself, young dragon, just like I theorized. You are truly alone, then?” The dragon’s snout bobbed again, and the man said, “What is your name? Wait, allow me to place my staff over your heart. I will be able to hear you in my mind.”

Curious to experience this, Mareduke allowed it. The oaken staff was strangely warm and comforting, which made it easy to respond. I am Mareduke. Will you please tell me who you are and where this is?

The man stepped back and said with a poignant smile, “Eliana. Meet Mareduke. Quite possibly the last of his kind… Though Eliana and I have hopes that isn’t the case. Don’t we, child?” The tiny person laughed and said Mareduke’s name in a musical child’s voice that touched something in his heart.

After a bow and a sweep of his staff, the man said, “I am Pantheos, young Mareduke. An old wizard, retired from the academy where I spent a lifetime studying dragons and their history, all in preparation for meeting up with little Eliana here when it was time. Your time, Mareduke. Finding you is one part of our task. The other is to find your mate. If we don’t, then all hope for the dragons is lost. What do you think about this purpose?”

The dragon snorted and shook his great wings as the staff again touched his chest. Then he said, I hatched alone and believed I would die alone, accepting that fate marked me as the last of my kind. I never considered another dragon waited for me somewhere. Could it be possible?

Pantheos bowed his head and said, “In fact, we have evidence she exists, or at least existed. Her name is Cindra.”

All at once, Mareduke’s weakened state got the better of him, and he plopped on his haunches.

The wizard cried out. “Please. Forgive my thoughtlessness!” He pointed his staff at the well behind them and a splash sounded from a bucket dropping into the water, followed by creaking when the wizard’s magic operated the crank to pull it back up. Then Pantheos stepped to the well, retrieved the bucket, and brought it to the dragon, repeating the process until he was sure the exhausted creature wouldn’t keel over.

While Mareduke drank, Eliana settled on his front leg close to his head and patted his cheek.

He flinched when a voice spoke in his mind, sounding anything but childish. I am sorry you suffered such abuse today, Mareduke. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the part of Eliana who always exists and very pleased to meet you. I would have found you earlier if my information had included your foray on that village. But everything Pantheos and I knew of you pointed to the lake once you ventured out for food.

He tilted an eye at her. Your kind must hatch fully developed, like dragons. Otherwise, how can you sound like a grown person? Her little girl laughter lifted his heart, and he was sure his healing sped up by a day.

She explained more. I am an old soul aware of my occupation of this organic being who must grow in a mother’s womb before existing. I am both child and your spirit guardian, and my entire purpose is to see you survive to have offspring of your own. But we must first find a way to make peace between dragons and humans.

How are you speaking to me now, and why not at the lake?

You needed to get used to the idea of me as a child first, and I needed to observe you. When your heart opened to the possibility, we were able to connect.

When Mareduke woke this morning with an empty stomach and the misguided plan to raid that village, no one could have persuaded him that by the end of the day, he would no longer be alone.

He puffed out a tiny bit of air to ruffle her hair, making the child laugh. Her ancient voice sounded again. So long as Pantheos and I draw breath, you will never again feel the bite of loneliness.

Mareduke aimed his snout at Pantheos’s staff, and the wizard nodded, touching it to his chest. I understand a little now of the soul called Eliana, but please tell me more about the child and how she was able to retrieve a grown dragon on her own and bring us here. His big green eye swiveled back to the tiny being. Don’t you have parents?

Pantheos said, “Eliana is my ward, and her strong Fae magic is why we have this arrangement. It is part of my destiny to train her to manage the abundant powers she was born with as a guardian. Though her soul has experienced this before, the child must learn how to function in this role. Her parents knew what she was as soon as her mother gave birth to her, and they sought me out. She has a mark, you see.”

The pintsize Fae swept her cloak over her shoulder and showed Mareduke the small dragon’s eye on her forearm. The mark was more proof that what they told him was true, and he wondered how he could have lived all this time without knowing about the Western Woodland Fae and the guardians.

Trepidation struck him. Eliana felt it and turned to her mentor. Once again, the staff covered Mareduke’s heart, and the dragon spoke his worry in their minds. If humans are my enemy, what about those who come to my aid? A spark of warmth flared in Eliana’s eyes.

Pantheos said, “Well. Yes. You’ve grasped the tricky part. That is why you do not recognize these landmarks. Eliana brought you through a portal to a place the humans cannot find, the land of the Kassian gnomes. You won’t see them, but the nature-loving beings are all around this clearing, watching, never having seen a dragon.” Mareduke glanced around in interest as Pantheos continued. “And you’ve addressed the other reason her parents left her in my care. Our best chance to meet our destiny and the challenge of your enemy is to combine our strengths.

“The plan is for you to join us in locating your mate. Time is of the essence because the last known female dragon faces the same hazards as you. We’ve determined the location of her territory, which is the region in which Eliana’s people dwell. But we have not received word of Cindra for some weeks.” After this troubling news, the wizard rubbed his hands together. “Now. Did you consume any sheep in that raid? Or do you require a meal?”

Eliana pressed her hand to Mareduke’s chest and conveyed his answer in halting toddler words, as if the ancient one had retreated. “He ate one before he was caught in the trap. He’s good for a day or two.”

“Fine. We’ll catch you up and plan our expedition while you finish recovering.”

Mareduke’s head was spinning. Yet, everything his new friends said felt right. Eliana felt right, even if her dual nature was a bit disconcerting, and he knew this little glen was where he was supposed to be at this moment. As for the future, he thought to himself, could there really exist another dragon in Kassia? What if something has happened to this one called Cindra? What if it hasn’t and we meet, and she hates the sight of me? Or worse, I can’t stand her?

He snorted, filling the air with small puffs of smoke. None of that mattered if it meant he was no longer the last of his kind.

***

After the third time Mareduke had to insert himself between the villagers and the magnificent silver dragon belching molten fire, he began to seriously question the necessity of paring up with his own kind. No one told him female dragons were bigger than males, stronger, and could set half a town on fire with one blast.

And he’d made her angry.

It took two weeks to investigate the leads the three had narrowed down, and one more to pinpoint the most likely location to find Cindra. Having left Pantheos and Eliana in a safe place, Mareduke arrived at the south edge of the Western Woodlands, just in time to save what was left of a town under attack by the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.

Cindra had strategically wiped out the village center, including those who could organize a defense. Humans were scattering in all directions, disappearing into the woods, jumping in the lake, and hiding in rock crevices up the side of the adjacent mountain. And still she circled her quarry, laying down fire to cut off retreats and destroy crops, livestock, and any other industry critical to the inhabitants’ livelihoods.

His best guess, if anyone were to ask him, was that his female counterpart didn’t like humans. And she just added him to that list, judging by the way she bore down on him now, which made Mareduke grateful for his smaller size. She might be a powerhouse, but he could fly circles around her, and he proceeded to do that as he led her away from the village by stages, and to the secluded mountain meadow where his friends waited for them.

He just needed to figure out how to calm her down on the way.

Did the humans offend you? He tossed that question her way as he dove under her belly.

She twisted her body and flew backwards, aiming fire at him when she had a clear shot. It hit a shelf of snow and caused a small avalanche. He circled around a mountain spire disappearing from her view, then found a spot behind her, so he could try again. Is this how you treat all your new friends?

I have no friends; you muddy-colored dragon. Who do you think you are, interfering with my retribution? Flames shot from her nostrils. Are you a coward, hiding behind my back?

Mareduke snorted. I can’t help it if your size shields me from your eyes even as it blocks out the sun. Cindra roared.

But Mareduke had stopped feeling intimidated, and he went on, even as he ducked her fire. The humans try to kill me on a regular basis. But I am bigger than them, and I don’t believe in using my advantages to harm others.

Well. Aren’t you the saintly one? Is this why you showed up out of nowhere? To protect humans.

Uh… Sort of. My friends and I have heard of you. You do realize there aren’t many of us around?

So what.

Why are you angry?

Why do you care? And where are you taking us?

Hmmm. So, she noticed. He didn’t think anything other than the truth would work, so he went for it. My friends have been searching for you and want to meet you. They only recently found me, and when they told me you existed, I wanted to meet you, too. I’m Mareduke. Will you be peaceable if I take you to them? They are beings of the two-legged variety.

Since you’ve made me curious, I promise not to harm your puny friends, but I’m not promising to stick around. I have things to do.

When they circled over the meadow, Eliana was in full sight, grinning at them and clapping her small hands in delight.

What is that? Cindra’s voice in his head was scathing as she emphasized each word. That tiny being is one of your friends?

Her name is Eliana. Mareduke made sure to put plenty of warning in his own tone. And yes, she is my friend.

Where are your other friends?

There are only two. Now, will you land with me and let us explain?

I said I would, and I will.

***

Eliana’s toddler charm had little effect on the dragon with the bad attitude, but Cindra’s reaction to Pantheos when he stepped out of the trees surprised Mareduke. She went down on one knee and bowed her head.

Pantheos bowed back and said, “You know who I am?” The silver head bobbed, and the wizard said, “Would you be amenable to drinking this potion, so that I can hear you? It is how I communicate with Mareduke.”

Cindra agreed with another nod, and Pantheos spoke in an ancient tongue as he turned his staff halfway around, then back again, and a bucket of water appeared in front of each dragon. It was only then Mareduke realized he was parched.

The huge dragon waited patiently for Pantheos to add a few drops to her bucket. As she drank her fill, Eliana stepped close enough to reach out and touch the silvery, scaled face. Cindra ignored her until the small hand caressed the bridge of her snout. She stiffened, then aimed a sable eye at the bold child. When Eliana’s laughter bubbled out, Cindra pulled away and rose to her full height. Mareduke spotted the warmth in her gaze before she hid it.

Pantheos said, “I am pleased to finally meet you, Cindra.”

It is an honor to meet you, High Mage. My mother told me the story of how you came to her aid. It was your intervention with the humans that allowed her to make it to the nesting grounds. Otherwise, I might not be here. Cindra’s visage darkened. The humans managed to kill her not many years after.

“I am sorry. I was informed of the tragedy and tried to find you, but you’ve kept yourself well hidden, other than coming out for those raids that have made you notorious.”

Do you know of my father, High Mage?

“Please, call me Pantheos. Yes, and I was there to help your mother through her despair. You have my deepest sympathies for the loss of both your parents, maiden dragon. That is why my young apprentice, and I did not give up our search. But it was Mareduke’s abilities that allowed us to finally succeed. It is our purpose to ensure your parents’ fate does not befall you, or Mareduke. You are the last of your kind.”

Cindra cast a scornful eye at Mareduke, then looked down her snout at the toddler still smiling up at her. Who, or should I say what, is this child?

She is a dragon guardian. Do you know of such ones?

I’ve heard of these Fae. I have respect for her people and leave them out of my reckoning. It is only the humans who deserve my wrath. And you are keeping me from my next engagement. So, I’m afraid I must take my leave.

Mareduke scoffed. That’s it? You can’t give us any more of your precious time to learn about your other choice?

Let me guess. My other choice involves mating with you. No thank you. I’m fine on my own.

Mareduke’s brownish scales glowed bronze, and green eyes blazed with his indignation. A chuff of surprise was Cindra’s only reaction to the impressive sight, and she spread her wings in preparation for taking off. Mareduke got in the last word when she was aloft. We might be fine on our own… but should we be?

The last four words were louder in their heads than intended because Cindra was already a mere speck in the distance, and the reverberation elicited a squeal from Eliana as she plopped on her bottom. It was the ancient guardian who spoke next in a voice that covered the distance to the departing dragon. We will meet again soon, dear friend.

***

Mareduke was not sure why he made the effort to track down the unpleasant maiden dragon … again. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand her pain. Part of him would like to give in to vengeance for the violence that ended his own parents. But he’d long ago come to terms with his principles over killing. Nothing good came of it.

He thought Cindra might believe that deep down, somehow sensing her destructive ways ate at her. Convincing her to change was another matter. Eliana and Pantheos assured him it was worth a try, so they flew with him to yet another human village they had pegged on their map of Cindra’s territory. Mareduke didn’t want to admit it, but he could feel her in his heart, which assured him they were on the right path. He put the idea away for now that his sensitivity was due to a mate bond already forming.

They saw the blaze rising above the trees before they spotted the silver dragon camouflaged against a low cloud.

Sending his thoughts to his passengers, he said, She is one headstrong beast. But this village was prepared. Do you see the trebuchets lined up around the perimeter? The brave ones are determined to load them even as some die under her fire.

Pantheos added, “And it appears half contain buckets of tar, while half are fireballs. That’s quite a defense.”

The guardian said in a grim voice, I foresee those wicked devices causing her death. We must disarm them.

I will not risk you, Eliana. We should put you down somewhere safe.

You needn’t worry about me, Mareduke. We have one shot at a pass while they are focused on her. Let’s go.

The little one was right. Mareduke flew low and fast, knocking the legs out from most of the machines before the humans realized another dragon had descended on them. The flaming ammunition dropped to the ground, and the villagers scrambled to put out their own fires. But they were prepared, tying cloths over their mouths, and pulling covers over each spot to snuff out the flames.

Still, Mareduke couldn’t fly to them all fast enough.  Pantheos shouted, “To your right!”

The trebuchets still standing were repositioned, tar buckets set ablaze and aimed their way. Besides the tar, fire from above rained down from a device before he could topple it. Mareduke twisted and shot up, managing to dodge the tar, but the flames hit his flank, and he faltered under the searing pain.

Hang on! He shouted to his passengers. I can get us away.

Even as he listed to the side, he managed to power his wings enough to lift above the machines, but not out of range of a tar bucket, which hurtled towards his chest. If he ducked the wrong way, the missile would hit his precious cargo, so he braced himself for the pain.

A silver scaled wing appeared between them and the tarry danger. Mareduke roared out his fear for Cindra. The bigger dragon smashed the bucket to the ground with her outstretched wing, which collapsed the remaining trebuchets, but not before her wing was doused with the thick, flaming goo. She listed horribly sideways, then crashed to the ground, and the smell of gaseous tar and her burning flesh filled Mareduke’s nostrils.

The humans closed in with more tar and torches.

Set us down next to Cindra, Pantheos commanded.

Mareduke wasted no time landing, then rose to his full height to shield the dragon struggling to stand. Her voice, full of pain and frustration, sounded in his head. What are you doing, you murky dragon? Go! Get that child out of here!

Beams of brilliant light flared from Pantheos’s staff in every direction, like a prism. The humans stopped in their tracks to shield their eyes, then looked to the source atop Mareduke’s back.

“I am the High Mage, Pantheos. I bring a decree from the King, who swears to protect the last of the dragon kind, provided my apprentice and I found the last two alive. It is not right to destroy them.” He paused, “Or that they exact revenge on you. That will change. There will be peaceful coexistence. Eliana and I will see to it. Now, back away and let us leave with the injured dragon.”

One of the men stepped forward. “Many have died today. What does King Lathan say about that?”

Eliana reached for Pantheos, who picked her up, so she could face the crowd. A beam of sunlight washed over her, and the sweet, halting voice of a child sounded across the smoldering village. “There has been much death on both sides. It must end here.”

Though many in the crowd appeared swayed, the man shouted. “Until there is another king who will decide differently. My descendants may yet avenge our dead.”

The toddler guardian bowed her head and said, “That may be, if you decide that is your legacy. For now, let there be peace, and let me go home with my friends. I promise you, one day you will need them.”

Artwork by D. L. Lewellyn using Photoleap and Canva, and the funky-limbed dragon came from Shutterstock.com. I love him anyway.

Priss Starwillow & the Wolf, Enchanting Characters in an Enchanting World, all in 5,000 words.

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Priss Starwillow & the Wolf, Enchanting Characters in an Enchanting World, all in 5,000 words.