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Beneath the Mountains

By Kit Tomlinson

By Kit TomlinsonPublished 2 years ago 18 min read

Estarlane fidgeted with the leather handle of her dagger as she waited for her father’s drooping eyelids to shut. He sat in the worn wooden rocking chair, in front of the fire with a rumpled paperback book open in his lap. Estarlane didn’t need to read the title to know he was reading ‘Seven swords’ for the hundredth time. It was one of three books they had in their hut, which they rotated between them. It helped to pass the time during the bitter winters they experienced in the Krowan Alps.

The seasons had become increasingly harsh since the Silah valley war two centuries ago. Man's discovery of Cladum ore, and its ability to be forged into scale piercing weapons, had led to the dragon’s displacement from their ancestral home. Ancient dragons who once possessed deep wells of power, now found even the motion of shifting into their natural form draining. The restricted reserve of land was slowly withering under the pressure to provide for such beasts, and the once harmonious creatures had begun fighting amongst themselves.

Estarlane had never known another way of life. The elder’s long tales of the fertile dragon valley felt as fanciful to her as the cradle stories that mothers told their babes.

Tonight, the wind was particularly icy and Estarlane knew her father was likely to fall asleep in front of the flames. He had stopped shifting into his beast form to sleep at night, saying that the motion caused his bad leg too much pain. His breathing began to slow and deepen, and he finally succumbed to sleep. She quietly grabbed another blanket and lay it over him. His stiff leg was elevated on a block of spare wood and Estarlane placed another small cushion beneath his heel. Blankets and cushions were poor substitutes for scales against easterly winds, but they were enough to get through the night.

Estarlane sheathed her dagger and threw on her cloak. The door groaned slightly as she opened it, and she moved swiftly so as to not let in too much of a draft. The moon was bright and full causing the snow-capped mountains to gleam. It was the one night a month when she would risk entering the Stara Forest.

She moved silently, slinking into the shadows of rocks until she reached the start of the forest. It began at the very edge of the Veron settlement, marking the shift into Pravis territory - The Human Court. She always made a point to silently say a quick prayer to Oon before stepping into the dark woods.

She loved the way the spongy moss-covered forest floor felt beneath her boots. Even with a layer of frost it felt like she was walking on clouds. Estarlane counted her strides as she moved forward, avoiding the pools of moonlight filtering through the trees. When she got to ten, she turned left to find a large oblong boulder. It was here, twenty years ago, that she had snuck into the forest as a rebellious five year old to play in the woods and found an abandoned storm drain at the base of the boulder.

She had walked for miles inside the drain, her teardrop pupils unaffected by the dark. When she eventually began to see light, she realised she had made it to the human settlement her mum had told her about. Her little heart had been filled with equal parts excitement and fear. Eventually fear had won out and she turned to walk back to Veron, when a brazen voice chirped

‘You smell disgusting! Do you live in this drain?’

Big blue eyes met her big yellow eyes, and two children instantly became friends. Tomin had never felt afraid of Estarlane, even though his history books at school painted the Dragon’s to be ruthless and soulless creatures, who would manipulate you into traps. He felt only joy in Estarlane’s presence, and he could barely contain his excitement when they would both sneak off to play in the storm pipes once a week.

As they grew older, they had become increasingly cautious until eventually they met only once on a full moon.

Estarlane was about to lower herself into the drain when she heard a crack behind her. Instantly her dagger was in her hand, and she spun around pressing her back to the boulder. Her ears strained as she tried to place the sound. Leaves scuffled a few paces away and Estarlane edged around the border to try and get a better look. There was silence for a moment and then she heard a quiet whimper. It did not sound like any other animal she had heard in the forest before. Her heart was thundering in her ears, even if the animal were injured it could still harm her while she was in her un-shifted form. She could sense that it was behind a large tree that directly faced her. Her grip tightened on her daggers handle as she tried to steady her breathing. Her skin began to itch as her instincts screamed for her to shift into her dragon form. More twigs cracked as the creature began to emerge from behind the tree. It stumbled forward and fell on its face in the middle of a stream of moonlight.

Estarlane’s jaw dropped as a tiny human began to wail, moonlight reflecting off the tears staining their chubby cheeks. ‘Mother of Oon’ she swore under her breath.

Her mind began to race. What was a human child doing alone in the forest so close to Veron? Did it come through the drain? Do other humans know about the drain? Was this a trap? She wanted to run away from it, nothing good could come of finding a human child. She wanted to get as far away from it as possible. But as she looked at the tiny child’s trembling chest and shivering limbs her heart began to ache. She knew that its wailing would attract predators of the night. Her heart and mind warred until she found her feet moving towards the toddler.

‘Be quiet!’ Estarlane whispered.

The small child’s crying eyes flew open in a start, and they let out a startled yelp.

‘Be quiet, or we are both going to be torn limb by limb’

The child’s bottom lip wobbled, and they began to wail again.

Panicked, Estarlane took off her cloak and wrapped it around the child and scooped them up. They wriggled in protest for a moment, but the enveloping warmth of the cloak seemed to settle them a little.

‘Want mummaaaaa’ They whimpered.

‘Where did you come from?’ Estarlane asked.

The child only kept repeating ‘Want mummaaa’ between weak sobs.

Estarlane knew that the most straightforward action to take would be to meet Tomin in the storm drain and hand the child over to him. He could help to reunite the child with their family in Pravis. But as she reached the entrance to the drain, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong about the whole situation. None the less, feeling her options were limited she took a deep steadying breath and entered the drain, gently hushing the child.

The drain was as silent as it always was, and she began the long walk to the halfway point where she usually met Tomin. After the first half and hour the exhausted frightened child’s whimpering turned into deep breathing as they fell asleep in Estarlane’s arms. The rhythmic sploshing of her boots echoed around them and Estarlane focused on her breathing to calm her anxiety.

She expected to see the flickering light of Tomin’s flame torch when she reached the halfway point, but she was still surrounded in darkness. Her pulse began to quicken again and the gnawing feeling in her gut intensified. Had he already come and gone? Was he in trouble? Was she now in a trap? But as her ears and eyes strained in the darkness, she sensed nothing. She could not feel another presence except for the tiny child in her arms, which was now beginning to feel very heavy. She crouched down and rested her back against the drain wall, relieving the strain in her back. The child murmured in their sleep and nestled closer to her chest. Estarlane sighed and closed her eyes praying to Oon that this night would resolve quickly and swiftly. She waited for Tomin until the damp had thoroughly seeped into her clothes and her bones ached from the cold. Her only option now was to return home.

Back in her hut, Estarlane lay the child onto her bed of straw and placed a blanket on her. She shifted into her dragon form and curled around the child concealing her from the draft that slipped through the gaps in the door. She hoped she would wake before the child, so she could shift back before they woke. I just need to keep her hidden for another month, she thought, then I can try take her to Tomin again. Eventually she stilled her mind enough and was able to succumb to sleep.

‘Estarlane! What in Oon’s name is this?!’ her father’s frantic voice hissed, jolting her from her sleep.

Soft morning sun was seeping in through the window and Estarlane saw clearly the child’s sleeping face. They had short brown ringlets and long eyelashes that were squished by their chubby cheeks. Estarlane groaned softly, her purple scaled stomach rumbling gently. She pulled a blanket over herself as she shifted into her humanoid form. Wrapping the blanket around her she quietly stood up.

“Da, I can explain’ she whispered walking towards him.

‘Oh, you better!’ he whispered incredulously his eyes darting between her and the sleeping child.

‘I went for a walk last night and I stopped near the forest border, then I heard this child crying and I thought it may have been a dragon baby and so I went to – ‘

‘You went into the Stara Forest?!’ her father cut in, his eyes incredibly wide now, trying to comprehend what he was seeing and hearing.

The child began to stir, and they both shifted their attention to her.

‘Don’t scare her’ Estarlane murmured under her breath before crouching down to the child’s level.

‘Mumma...’ the child mumbled, a frown beginning to crease their smooth forehead.

‘I’m going to help you find your Mumma, ok?’ Estarlane said to her, trying to make her voice as warm as possible.

‘You’re going to do know such thing, you are going to put her back where you found her!’ her father harshly whispered. His tone made the child’s eyebrows knot together and their bottom lip began to wobble again.

‘Hey, its ok, he’s just a grumpy old man’ Estarlane said softly before glaring at her father.

He let out an exasperated sigh and ran his hands through his grey hair.

A couple of tears began to slide out of the child’s big green eyes.

‘Do you want a hug?’ Estarlane asked and the little child gave a small nod.

Estarlane pulled her onto her lap and asked her ‘What is your name?’

‘Me se-phina’ the child replied between shaky breaths.

‘Seraphina?’ Estarlane asked.

‘Yeah, se-phina’

‘Nice to meet you Seraphina, my name is Estarlane, and this is Penn’ she said pointing to her father.

Seraphina scowled at Penn. ‘Scary’ she said shrinking a little closer to Estarlane.

‘He just pretends to be scary’ Estarlane said ‘He’s actually just a silly old man.’

‘You better watch your tone’ Penn said, pacing the room. He glanced out the window and then walked to the other window by the front door.

‘Da, you need to stop acting so paranoid’ Estarlane said, a tad too dismissively for Penn’s liking.

‘Paranoid? Paranoid Estarlane?! We are harbouring a human child!’ his voice rising an octave.

‘I’ll figure something out, don’t worry’ she said impatiently.

‘By Oon’s might, you better figure something out Estarlane’ Penn warned, pointing a crooked finger at her.

At that moment Seraphina’s tummy grumbled so loud that Estarlane could not quite believe it came from the little thing.

‘Let’s have some breakfast’ Estarlane said standing up.

Estarlane pulled on her clothes and held Seraphina’s hand as she led her into their small kitchen.

Her father kept staring and shaking his head as if he were hoping to wake from some horrible dream.

‘Estar, if Lord Azren finds out we are housing a human, or worse if Torzen find out – ‘

‘Well, they’re not going to, are they?’ Estarlane snapped, stirring a pot of porridge vigorously. ‘I’m going to fix this ok?’

She scooped the porridge into three bowls and put a little extra sugar on Seraphina’s bowl.

‘I cannot believe you sometimes’ Penn said.

‘What would you have done? Show some heart Da’ Estarlane propped Seraphina onto her lap and placed their bowls of porridge before them on the table.

‘I would never have gone slinking into the Stara Forest in the first place!’

Seraphina was about to shovel her second bite in when her big eyes began blinking again. ‘Want Mummaaaa’ she sobbed, fat tears rolling off her cheeks into her bowl of porridge.

‘Where is your Mumma?” Estarlane asked.

‘Running’ Seraphina wailed between gasps of air.

‘Running where?’ Estarlane asked, shifting her on her lap to face her.

Seraphina paused, her chest shaking with unsteady breathing. She appeared to be searching for the word.

‘Hot’ she mumbled.

‘Hot? Was there a fire?’ Estarlane asked

Seraphina nodded and kept crying, scared wails escaping her mouth.

‘The neighbours are going to hear her!’ Penn hissed anxiously, still pacing the room.

‘Da, you need to sit down and eat’ Estarlane snapped ‘you’re not helping the situation.’

Penn let out an exasperated sigh before reluctantly sitting down and staring at his breakfast.

‘Seraphina’ Estarlane began, gently rubbing the child’s small back ‘do you know the story about the brave little girl?’

Seraphina paused and shook her head, little brown curls bouncing with the motion.

‘Well, there was once a little girl who had a very brave spirit. She was strong and adventurous and could overcome so many things. One day, she found herself in a new place and she realised the best thing to do was to make some friends. Luckily, she met a new friend straightaway, and they decided while they were going to help the little girl find her way back home, they were going to have the most fun ever! What do you think was the most fun thing they did?’

Seraphina’s little mouth twisted to the side in contemplation. ‘Play dolls?’ she replied.

‘Yes! They played dolls for ages and ages! They also played hide and seek, and chasey and performed dances for each other. It was so much fun! Would you like to play games like that little girl?’

Seraphina nodded tentatively and Estarlane smiled and lead Seraphina to her room. She unlocked the chest in the corner of her room and retrieved the small doll her mother had sewn for her when she was a child. It resembled her, short black hair, yellow eyes with teardrop pupils and sun kissed skin. Her mother had also sewn her a dragon to resemble her dragon form with purple scales, slender body, and batlike wings.

Seraphina revealed a hint of a smile as she took the doll in her hands.

‘Pwetty’ she whispered giving the doll a little hug.

She looked into the chest, saw the dragon doll, and hesitated a little.

‘Scary?’ she asked pointing at the doll.

‘Oh no, this is a very friendly dragon. She loves tea parties... and making wishes come true’ Estarlane replied, stammering a little trying to come up with ‘the dragons’ interests.

Tentatively Seraphina took the dragon doll in her little hands and examined its painted scales and floppy wings.

‘Play?’ she asked and even though Estarlane did not know the first thing about playing with children, she was so relieved to be able to give the little girl an imaginary world to escape in.

After a long couple of days, they had eaten all the food in the house and Estarlane was given no choice but to wander to the market to stock up on supplies. getting there by foot was too dangerous and her father no longer shifted, so the errand was hers.

She had had to do a lot of convincing to Seraphina that she would not be gone long and that in the meantime she could play with Penn. She bit her lip to stop laughing at the site of the two of them side eyeing each other as she left the house. She walked to a cave close by that many of the people in her settlement used to shift. She stuffed her clothes into her bag and embraced the buzz of electricity that snaked through her body as she shifted.

It always gave her a sense of relief to stretch her wings and leap into the air. As she soared higher, she welcomed the swirling snow that swept over her face. She took the moment to really move her body and get her blood pumping.

In the market square there was a congregation of Sol dragons and in the centre was Torzen, preaching his rebellion.

‘Look around you… Look at this pitiful market! There is barely any produce in these wagons!’ Torzen’s voice bellowed fighting against the blistering wind. The crowd was murmuring their response, heads nodding in agreement.

Estarlane paid for her bag of assorted root vegetables and decided that she could forgo buying eggs if it meant avoiding walking past the growing crowd. She was about to turn to leave when a familiar voice croaked behind her

‘We haven’t seen your father at the tavern lately.’

Estarlane turned to face Viktor her elderly neighbour and fathers drinking buddy.

‘He hasn’t been feeling well’ she said giving a force smile and making to step past.

‘Funny, coulda sworn I heard him laughing yesterday afternoon’ Viktor responded, angling slightly into her path.

‘Definitely not, you know my Da is not a merry man. Especially when he is sick’

Estar began to feel sweat forming on her brow despite the icy winds. Her father had laughed yesterday when Seraphina showed him her interpretation of a dragon roar.

‘I remember he used to laugh a lot more when you were a youngin… much like it sounded yesterday’

‘They were happier times when my ma was around’ Estarlane said ignoring the twinge of pain caused by mentioning her mother’s name. She knew the awkwardness would make Viktor a little less prying.

‘Yes... indeed...’ he mumbled casting her a sympathetic look.

As she hurried to head back to the shifting cave, she felt someone staring at her, she looked over her shoulder to see Torzen staring at her over the crowd. She quickly looked away, but she felt his gaze on her until she was out of sight.

In the name of all that is good and gracious, she thought, please let us go undetected.

But as she took her dragon form and leapt into the skies, she had a horrible sinking feeling in her gut.

Three weeks went by and Estarlane was beginning to relax a little. There had been no more prying enquiries from Viktor, and she had managed another quick market run without attracting any attention.

‘Star-Star, story time’ Seraphina said. Estarlane had begun to really love the child’s version of her name.

‘Ok, just a quick one then we have to fall asleep’

Seraphina nodded and lay down on the blanketed straw pile. Estarlane began to make up a fanciful tale about little mice that lived in mushroom houses.

Within no time Seraphina was fast asleep, the two dolls hugged tight to her chest. Estarlane could not help smiling at the little child. She was so resilient and so trusting, it made her heart ache. She shifted into her dragon form, letting out a huff of relief which stirred the dust around them. She didn’t realise how exhausted she was herself and fell fast asleep without blowing out the candle.

Estarlane was jolted awake by her father yelling.

‘What is the meaning of this?!’

‘Where is she?’ Torzen’s voice shook the room. Estarlane realised he was in his dragon form. Without thinking she snatched Seraphina into her claws. Seraphina let out a terrified scream as Estarlane bounded down the hallway and out the back entrance.

Torzen let out a menacing laugh and burst through their roof, pursuing Estarlane in the air.

He was gaining on her fast. She flew as high and as fast as she could but still, he drew closer. Seraphina was screaming with pure terror. She had never seen Estarlane in her dragon form and had likely never seen a dragon in her entire short life. Now she had sharp claws around her and was hurtling through the sky at incredible speed.

Torzen shot a stream of flames towards her, and she swerved to ensure none of them reached the child in her grip. Again and again, he breathed flames until she stumbled avoiding a collision into a cliff face. She tumbled downwards through the sky and was only able to correct herself a second before making impact with the ground. She landed and in an instant Torzen was facing her.

‘Estarlane Havik, harbouring a human child’ Torzen drawled ‘It’s always the quiet ones.’

‘What do you want’ Estarlane hissed, squaring her body to his.

‘Why, the child of course’ he said edging closer.

Estarlane tucked Seraphina a little closer to her chest.

‘I am returning her to her family’

‘Estar, Estar, Estar, you must think bigger!’ Torzen exclaimed mockingly ‘such a sweet little human is incredible leverage for us dragons’


‘Yes, you sentimental bitch, leverage so that we can finally return to our rightful lands and prosper. We are dragons! The most fearsome beasts in history and what have we been reduced to? Emaciated, submissive peasants with dwindling powers and strength.’

‘This is not the way to fix anything’ Estarlane roared, a hint of pleading in her voice.

‘Nothing will be ours if we don’t take it!’ He bellowed and swiped at Seraphina. Estarlane just managed to angle the child out of his reach.

‘Back off!’ Estarlane roared, flames finishing her words.

Torzen’s orange eyes narrowed and revealed a gleam of pleasure at the challenge.

He lunged again, claws striking her face. She recoiled in pain and sent a jet of flames towards him. He met the flames with his own and a wall of fire rose. Estarlane rolled out the way as his flames pressed against hers threatening to envelope her.

Torzen smiled at her smugly and it was then she realised her mistake. She had rolled into a corner, wedged between jutting rock face. Before she could even think to escape, he had her pinned. The incredible weight of his huge beastly body pressing down on her throat.

‘Let go of her, or I will kill you both’ he breathed, hot air streaming from his nostrils.

Estarlane’s mind raged looking for a way out but the dreadful, painful sinking feeling in her gut grew and she knew she had lost.

A pained sob escaped her throat as she released her claws around Seraphina. The little girl screamed and screamed and screamed as Torzen snatched her and raced away into the night.

Estarlane let out an anguished roar. Fury and grief wracking her body. How had she let this happen? She had failed to protect someone so vulnerable, and it was breaking her heart.

Suddenly her mind recalled her father and she leapt into the air hurtling towards her hut. The entirety of the roof had caved in. Her neighbour Viktor was lifting rubble to try and find her father.

Estarlane landed and stormed towards Viktor.

‘You! You spoke to Torzen didn’t you!’ she roared almost knocking him over.

Viktor straightened and squared his shoulders to her. His blue scales were dull beneath the limited moonlight.

‘Estarlane, we need to retrieve your father from the rubble’ he said in a calm almost patronising tone.

She pushed past him and in one heaving motion lifted the centre beam that had fallen. Her father was crouched beneath the broken table. He coughed and spluttered as air rushed in stirring the dust. Estarlane used her tail to sweep away the debris and push him into the clear.

‘Are you hurt?’ she asked him.

‘Somehow I don’t think so’ he replied, slowly standing.

‘Viktor set us up’ she spat, turning to face her neighbour.

The old blue dragon slowly shook his head ‘I needed to be sure that you weren’t going to endanger the village!’ he said ‘Torzen said he was going to investigate, he didn’t mention snatching children in the night’

‘And what did you think a dragon like that was going to do?!’ Estarlane snapped, heat rising in her throat.

The tension was palpable, and Penn was not confident that Viktor would avoid a fight with his daughter, so he said ‘Estar, we can’t change what has just happened, but we can try and right this.’

There was still four days until the full moon and Estarlane knew she could not wait that long before warning Tomin and retrieving Seraphina.

‘I have to save her’ she said resolute.

‘How?’ her father asked, fear in his eyes.

‘I’m going into Torzen’s den.’


About the Creator

Kit Tomlinson

If I am not physically in an enchanted forest, then I am there mentally. Always.

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Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (5)

  • Casey Abbott2 years ago

    Well done. Your story is very engaging and makes me wonder how Seraphina will be saved!

  • Stephanie Brown2 years ago

    Great use of suspense, draws you in! Really like the shape shifting technique :)

  • K. Bensley2 years ago

    Great! Well written. Look forward to more entries

  • Dana Stewart2 years ago

    Great story! I loved that they were shapeshifters. Definitely need to continue this one, I want to know what happens.

  • Kenny Penn2 years ago

    Wow! This was a wonderful piece! I hope there will eventually be another part to it. Well written and developed, thanks for sharing

Kit TomlinsonWritten by Kit Tomlinson

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