Prompt: I probably need some clarity on what it means to be a dragon in Vardin... by pygmymuse. Ficlet O'Clock Truth or Dare
Liana Mir reads, writes, and wrangles the muses from her mundane home in the Colorado Rockies and, occasionally, from the other side of the Barrier.
Story Within a Story
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Blood of Dragons
She was still a little girl for all she was a woman.
Akena is the daughter of guardians of Vardin, sworn to protect their people and their lands, and yet, she doubts herself, that she will ever become what she should.
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Vardin Science Fiction Fantasy
Akena was a slender, black-haired shadow slipping through the House of Britak, down stone passageways and through the book-walled rooms of their Household’s seat. She was sixteen years old and unbound. She had mastered not even one of her gifts and sometimes a tiny flame of wonder burned in her whether her parents felt shame at the fact.
Sixteen years to make a woman from a child. Sixteen years and she should have been a guardian. Sixteen years and she should have lowered her neck beneath the Queen’s hand and be bound to service of her nation, Vardin.
Dusk made the House quiet. It suited Akena’s purpose, for though she moved with grace and silence, there were others in the great families who needed no ears or eyes to sense her passage, for she was of the kahtchen, those gifted with various abilities: to see with their minds, to hear thought, to sense the passage of another kahtchen, to exert their will over common elements, to pass through time or space, to bring forth fire and not burn.
She paused above the corridor overlooking the training courts but did not step into it. Instead, she reached out with her kahtchen senses and felt the flicker of clomen, that element of giftedness, burning within a single body. One. Akena licked her lips in concentration, reached again—straining. Her father. Her father who was fire, who had bound himself under the name Burn, and who had named her born of flame.
She stepped out into the corridor, but turned out of it to a small side door leading to the stairs that went below. She would join him.
Burn, as every other guardian, trained with and without his gifts. He trained with fire, burning and leaving unburnt the things he wished. He trained with staff, sword, and his own hands as weapons in the dances which taught a guardian how to protect the plain.
Akena stayed in the shadow of an awning, where garden vine flowers trailed up the side of the House and she could watch her father before letting him know her presence. She had heard the stories since she was a little girl—stories of how the dragon households of the mountains of Rothnarak were once brothers in arms of the households of the valleys of Vardin and stories of the great wars fought between them over who had the right to live: those who could kill a plain human with a thought or those who were the untainted creation of God. And in between stood the guardians, the gifted kahtchen who had promised to keep both alive by sacrificing their own freedom to do so.
But Akena wasn’t bound. She was still a little girl for all she was a woman.
Like a shadow, she flew out from under the awning and her father met her, stroke for stroke. She lost herself in the training, in the idea that she too might one day be a guardian.
He broke off when she stumbled t he third time. She didn’t look up from the ground at him, kept her eyes on the rapidly darkening ground and heard her own breath ragged in her ears.
Akena. A command. She scrabbled herself to a standing position, ignoring the pain of overworked muscles and screaming bruises. She brushed the shimmering black hair from her eyes and stood before her father. His own eyes stared back, almost hurt within them as he tried to read her.
“You’ve been quiet lately,” he finally said then looked away and hung his staff on the wall in its place. He held out his hand and she took it to go in beside him. His fingers flicked up unconsciously. The torches in the stone stairway lit.
She could not do as little, to burn only what was needed. Her hand clenched on his before she could stop herself.
He turned to her in surprise and realizing the futility of saying nothing, she went on while she was still brave.
“I’m a dragon, father,” she said, chin lifted, daring him to deny her. He was so very Vardin with his dark blonde hair, his mastery of his normal gifts, and she looked like her mother, Shayna, who was powerful enough to claim abstention, the right to simply abstain from using her gifts unless life and blood were at stake. Akena looked like a daughter of the mountains with her golden skin and black hair inherited from Shayna. She breathed fire. She felt the burning rolling out from under here skin whenever she felt anger, joy, anything. She sensed clomen as another heard sound. She was a dragon like the dragons of the mountains and unbound. By law, that made her rogue.
Her father’s eyes seemed to burn into her, even in this shadowed passageway. He reached out and brushed her long hair from her face himself, hand lingering gently. “You are my daughter,” he said at last. “You are a daughter of Britak.” He shook his head. “Even Alyón has dragons.” His birth House and one which produced the guardians most favored for national service by the Queen.
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to be told that he too breathed fire when he was not feared by the very people he had sworn to protect. It wasn’t enough.
She shook her head, opened her mouth to speak and—
Voice sharpened, he silenced her. “Not all dragons are rogue.” He turned his back and continued on.
After a moment, she followed.
Mother found her in the morning. Akena stood leaning over her sword, palm pressed against the hilt, hilt pressed into the warm earth on the hill looking up toward the mountains. Akena did not have to turn to see Shayna Casal out of Britak, the most powerful kahtchen they had ever known, approach behind her. She could feel that hum of power reaching out to embrace her. They called her mother Universe, for she could destroy one.
“Mother,” Akena said softly, staring into the swirling sigils etched into her steel. “Am I wrong?”
Silence stretched. She had expected as much. Shayna never answered before thought. Akena had long practice in patience and she exercised it now, waiting until at last her mother came and settled on the ground beside her, traced one finger lightly over the symbols on her sword.
“When I was four, I glimmered,” Shayna began.
Akena turned sharply to listen, for her mother had never spoken of how she gained her gifts or control of them.
“Sometimes, the most powerful gifteds glimpse their power before it is theirs,” Shayna went on. “I did that. I touched my mother and she grew very pale and very sick. When I was older, I learned I could never touch anyone again without taking away their life.”
Akena knew it. She had touched her mother and been amazed at the strangeness of how it felt to be healed and drained at the same time.
“But—” Shayna stood, taking up the sword out of the earth and wielding it knowledgeably. “I also learned that mastery, hard won, is worth much.”
Akena watched her mother take up the dance where Burn had left it the night before, watched as her mother put her sword back into her hand and bid Akena continue it again. So Akena did, until her muscles ached and her bones were weary enough for the sun to be sinking in the sky, though it was not yet noon. She questioned Shayna with her eyes for she had no words left to ask.
“I am also a dragon, daughter,” Shayna said.
It took Akena aback, but could hardly be denied. Shayna may have been born with one gift, the gift to use another’s life and strength and power, but it had granted her all else. Shayna was all gifts, even the dragons, and though she was the Abstention Line, she too guarded their Household and their nation. She had taught their sons and their daughters to guard, taught them the histories, taught her own daughter the laws of the Households of Vardin.
Akena lowered her eyes, accepting her mother’s word. She raised them again and stared into dragon fire in her mother’s eyes. She would guard, no matter who looked into her eyes and saw the enemy.
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