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A Hunt for Dragonnest

Dragons where no dragons should be.

By Thomas BrandPublished 12 months ago 12 min read
Grandfailure |

There weren't always dragons in the Valley. 

Not if people were doing their jobs, anyway.  

Theoretically, there should never be dragons in the Valley. Just as there should never be rats, roaches, wolves, or other pests. That was the whole point of the Valley. It existed as an exemplar of how the world could be if only it would bring itself to embrace organised thaumaturgy. 

Only, organised thaumaturgy wasn't as organised as it was supposed to be. And today, that was Jasclin's problem. 

Sighing as he trudged through the undergrowth, Jasclin, Apprentice of the Thaumaturgic College, scanned the surrounding area for the telltale signs of dragonnest. Sweat trickled down his forehead, despite the shade granted by the trees. Being outside was bad enough on its own, but trudging through the forest that ran along the northern edge of the Valley was worse. Forests, even the carefully maintained forest here in the Valley, were full of surprising plants and bushes with thorns that pricked through woollen trews and cotton tunics far too easily. 

The dragons that had been reported would be small. It would take nothing short of a complete disaster for the Thaumasters to allow full-grown ones to develop. That rarely happened except in the wilds, where no one clear them out before they grew so large. No settlement, however small, was careless enough to let a dragon infestation get out of control. But even the grand spires of Ithellum had standing pest controllers trained in the clearing out of dragon infestations.

Everywhere, that was, apart from the Valley. 

The Valley was the home of the Thaumaturgic College, where grand thaumages taught their skills and spread the word of the superiority of magic. Not through anything as crass as raw displays of power, of course. Instead, they created and maintained the Valley as a paradise on earth. Here, the elements were balanced. Growth and decay were kept in perfect harmony. And the everyday pests that were an accepted part of life anywhere else were nowhere to be seen. 

Except, of course, they'd been seen. 

It wasn't Jasclin's responsibility to maintain the weaves that kept dragons and other pests out of the Valley. That job fell to the Students, and Jasclin was a mere Apprentice. It's not that he didn't have the ability. Maintaining a weave someone else had created was well within his ability. But even if it wasn't his fault, it fell on the lowest members of the college to trudge through the grounds and deal with the fallout.

When the Apprentices had been told what they would be doing today, he had checked the Student duty logs. It had been no surprise to see that Calaphin had been on pest weave maintenance this week. There always seemed to be an outbreak of dragons when Cal was on that duty. 

There. Jasclin's eyes caught a glimmer between the roots of a nearby oak. There were no dragons in sight, but nestled in a hook made by the root was the telltale enamelling of dragonnest that people called "dragon shell". It wasn't actually shell. The iridescent sheen was a secretion from glands in the back of a dragon's throat that hardened on contact. They used it to coat branches and burrows, creating the smooth surface they liked to roost on. 

Leaning against the tree, Jasclin examined the nest. Small, so probably only one or two dragons at most. Taking his clipboard, he made a brief description and marked the approximate location on the small map he had been given. Each Apprentice had to do the same for any nests they found. The details would later be used to analyse weaknesses in the weaves. Or quite possibly filed away and never looked at again. 

Taking a handful of the banishing chalk he had been given, he liberally sprinkled it over the dragonnest and muttered the necessary incantations. As he finished, the dragon shell burned away in a bright purple flash, leaving no sign it had ever been there. Luckily for Jasclin, actually finding the dragons themselves wasn't necessary. Any that had roosted in this particular nest would have burned away in the same instant, wherever they were. 

'That your first one?'

Jasclin looked up. The speaker was a young woman stepping into the clearing around the oak. With short dark hair and a pointed face, Malclin was another Apprentice and Jasclin's friend. She had arrived at the college a little while before Jasclin, but after three years of training, they were now pretty equal in skill. 

'Hey, Mal. Yep. First one all day.' 

'This must be the edge of where they manifested,' his friend waved her own clipboard. 'I burned three nests in the last hour, walking this way.' 

'Maybe that'll be it.'

'What do you think?'

Jasclin sighed, causing Malclin to laugh.  

'Come on, Jas. At least it's a nice day. Getting to hike through the wood beats being cooped up with Master Ealon all afternoon.' 

'Learning enough to actually pass the exams, you mean?'

Mal just looked at him, shaking her head. She knew his dislike of being outside. She was also one of the few to know where it came from. But that had never stopped her from taking on the task of dragging him out of the library for air when she thought he needed it. Or when she was bored.

But the annual tests were coming up, and both Jasclin and Malclin had been selected for their first round of testing. Passing wouldn't put them up to the level of Students. But failing would mean at least another year before being allowed to try again. 

'Come on, Mal. Why would Jas want to do anything he can't get a grade for? 

Both Jasclin and Malclin looked around. The confusion on their faces was not at the playful tone of the dark-skinned girl who had come out of the trees into the clearing. It was seeing her at all. 

'Reena, what are you doing here?" Jasclin asked. 

'What do you mean? I've out here hunting for dragonnest, same as you.'

Reena was another Apprentice, although a year younger than the others and not up for testing this year. Her relaxed attitude to study had not endeared her to Jasclin, but she and Malclin got on, and so he had accepted her in their social circle. 

'I mean, what are you doing here. In this spot.' 

'You two are,' she countered. 

'Yes,' Mal chimed in, 'But all of us were given different routes to cover. There's no point in two of us checking the same ground.'

'Hey, I'm just following the route I was given.' 

'Let me see.' 

Mal reached out and took Reena's clipboard. Then she did the same for Jasclin's. 

'She's right. Our routes all bring us here. Why?'

Jasclin frowned. He'd been struck by the same thought. All the Apprentices capable of using the banishing chalk had been sent out that morning, scouring the entire Valley. And while that was most of them, the college didn't hold so many Apprentices they should be running into each other. Two of them encountering each other was plausible. Not three of them. Not unless someone had really messed up the planned routes. 

Before he could come up with a reason this might have happened, the three of them were interrupted by movement in the leaves above them and something that sounded for all the world like wings. 

'What the hells…?'

But before Malclin could finish her question, something burst through the leaves above them, a shower of small spears thudding into the ground around the three apprentices. 

Not all of them missed. 

A flash of fire drilled through Jasclin's thigh, throwing him to the ground. Bracing himself, he covered his head with his arms. But the sound of wings moved away, and no more volleys came. 

With a grunt, Jasclin managed to sit up. The ground around them was littered with short barbs, each several inches long. He had been lucky he'd only been hit once. Reena lay a little way off, gasping in pain and clasping at her side. Malclin was on her back, perfectly still. 

Gritting his teeth, Jasclin reached into his bag and pulled out a small clay pot. The spear had skewered his thigh, its barbed end poking out the other side. Fighting to put himself into enough of a meditation to ignore the pain, he grabbed the end and pulled hard. The sensation of it sliding through his flesh shattered the small about of calm he'd gathered about himself, and he fell back, screaming. Blood began flowing from the wound. Too fast. Jasclin could feel shock setting in. Delving his hand into the pot, he smeared the dry, orange paste over the entry and exit holes, muttering the correct incantations through clenched teeth. The pain began to dull, and he was able to focus more. Soon the blood dried, and the skin was whole again. All that remained was a dull ache. Walking wouldn't be pleasant for a while, but that was preferable to bleeding to death in the forest. 

Quickly dragging himself to Malclin, pot in hand, Jasclin felt bile hit the back of his throat. His good friend had been hit with a row of barbs running up her chest, ending in the one embedded deep in her eye. She would have been dead when she hit the floor. 

'A healing balm?' Reena gasped as he crawled over to her. The barbs had carried on straight through her side, meaning there was nothing to remove. 'How do you have that?'

'Are you complaining?'

Reena shook her head. Apprentices were not allowed to take anything thaumaturgic out of the grounds of the college without permission. Either because it was dangerous or because they could not be trusted not to break it. But every time Jasclin was forced to be outside all day, he snuck out a pot of healing balm. He'd never needed it before, but he'd learned at the age of ten exactly how dangerous the wild could be. And Jasclin always took his lessons on board. 

Reena's expression loosened as Jasclin worked. Despite her wounds being worse, by the time he finished, she was in better condition than he was. Healing spells never worked as well on yourself as on other people, and this time he hadn't had his own pain to contend with. 

As Jasclin carefully replaced the lid on the jar, Reena examined the barbs that had rained down on them. 

'Dragon quills.'

'What? That's impossible.' 

'Take a look for yourself.'

Reena handed over the one in her hands. Then her face went pale as she saw Malclin's body. 



Jasclin would mourn later. Malclin had been his friend for three years. Now she lay dead on the floor. But he and Reena were still in danger, and adrenaline pumped through his body. As always, when something like this had happened to him, it was as if his mind simply locked away human emotions in order to survive. 

'This is impossible,' he said, looking over the quill in his hands. 'There's no way a dragon from the nest I saw could be big enough to have quills.' 

'Then what was it?' 

At that moment, a deep resounding chime sounded in their heads. It wasn't a physical sound. Only those affiliated with the college would hear it, but they would hear it anywhere in the Valley. Neither of the two surviving Apprentices had heard it before, yet they both knew what it meant. 

The Valley was under attack. 

'Come on.' 

Grabbing Reena's hand, Jasclin pulled her to her feet and ran towards the Tower. It took a couple of minutes, Jasclin's thigh aching all the way, before they escaped the trees and were able to see any real distance. 

Up ahead of them, they could see the Tower and the buildings around it that made up the College of Thaumaturgy. When they had left it this morning, it had been as peaceful as any spring morning could be. Now one of the buildings was on fire, with smoke billowing out from a collapsed roof to be whisked into eddies by the wing beats of the Great Dragons sweeping through it. 


Impossible. Small, pest dragons might slip through the weaves, but these were full-grown Great Dragons. Three of them, each at least twenty feet in length. As Jasclin watched, one of them swept down, beating its wings at the last minute to send a volley of quills towards the college. In a scatter of sparks, the barrage crashed against an invisible wall. Someone had managed to forge a barrier. At the same moment, a ball of fire exploded in the sky where the dragon had been. Somebody was fighting back, at least. But the beast had already swerved away, its wings beating for more height as the others turned, ready for their own assaults. 

Jasclin's mind raced. Clearly, one of these dragons must have attacked them as it passed them by. But they had been hidden beneath the canopy of trees. There was no way it or its rider could have known they would be in that exact spot. 

Unless it had been told to strike there. At the spot where three Apprentices had been sent to meet, seemingly by accident. 

Unless it hadn't been an accident at all, and someone had planned the routes to put the three of them in a prearranged spot at the exact moment the dragon passed over. 

Someone had betrayed the college. 

How many more of the Apprentices, sent out on what they thought was a routine task, had been ambushed in the same way. How many of Jasclin's friends were lying bleeding or dead around the Valley, mowed down before anyone knew what was happening? 

Without thinking, ignoring the pain in his leg or even checking to see if Reena followed him, Jasclin set off at a run. He had to do something.


About the Creator

Thomas Brand

Blogging about polyamory, ethical-non-monogamy, mental health, and modern relationships | (He/Him) | |

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