Monsters, born or made?
It’s one of the Unscaled, to be sure. Nestled atop a stump. Albeit a miniature version. No bigger than my thumb. I sink low in the fjord, wedging my claws in the mossy rocks, and peep between the great sequoia trees that are nearly old as me. A break in the clouds, and the sun smiles through the lattice of leaves, shining off the wee beastie’s round cheeks, setting its crop of red curls afire.
Lovely as it is lethal.
I shiver, sinking a bit lower, using my jade tail as a counterbalance across the chasm. A breeze tickles my scales, and sweet notes of damp soil percolate, yet I feel no peace. Only the heavy burden of responsibility. Dragons from my Thunder have been scouring the Northwestern Plains. Searching for the seed of prophecy that will end our kind. But now that I’ve found it, I can’t bring myself to kill it.
The Unscaled pup coos, spittle gleaming on its lips as a butterfly the size of a raven lands on the adjacent stump. It flutters its gauzy wings and prisms dance over the pup’s pink skin. It giggles and kicks its chubby legs. How could this creature, so pure and helpless, bring on the destruction of our world?
The Unscaled went extinct thousands of years ago, long before I hatched, but the elders’ stories aren’t ones you’d likely forget. How the barbarians warred over power. Killed for treasure. Razed forests and clotted our oceans with refuse. Breathing back then was like trying to suck air from a seething volcano. The Unscaled, no one else, brought about their own demise. But as the prophecy foretold, nature always finds a way.
I pull the faded tile from my pouch. An artifact from a fallen chapel depicting an Unscaled reaching into the heavens to touch its creator. It’s ethereal, moving. The love it has for its god. According to the elders, though, the scene was merely the artist’s far-fetched dream. A fantasy. For the Unscaled they encountered knew nothing of gratitude. They subsisted on hubris and shat out greed.
A cry cracks across the overcast sky like lightning, and shadows swoop over the forest. Rocks cleave under my toes, pelting the scree leagues below. I siphon a muggy breath. My Thunder has found me.
I leap from my post and sprint for the pup. The butterfly darts off in a blur of purple, and I tower over the stump beholding my destiny, my salvation. I’ll preserve my fire, the trees, and crush it like a bug. It will be over quickly, mercifully. Pulse racing, I close my eyes and raise my foot. Lower it–
Warmth rings my smallest toe. I halt, eyes springing open.
The Unscaled pup has latched onto me. I grunt, and it looks up. Eyes deep as a lagoon. It doesn’t squirm or cower. Only grins.
And right then, my heart melts.
“Trua!” my sister yells my name.
The ground shakes as more of my kin land. Clouds gather, darken, and it grows cold. The scent of rain is thick in the air. I shush the pup as it tries to wrestle my toe (bigger than its head) into its mouth. I choke back something between a laugh and a sob.
I can’t do this. I won’t do this.
I grab a fistful of white flowers skirting the stump. Valerian blooms. What my mother used to give me when I couldn’t sleep. And press them to the pup’s face.
My sister calls again. Closer.
Ribs cinching, I beg the creator for more time. Just a few seconds.
The pup’s clammy hold loosens, its eyelids shuttering. Before it can topple off backwards, I catch its plump little body and–
“There you are.”
I whirl around. “Yes, here I am,” I say to the piercing gaze of Uaine. Quite the useless answer, but my brain’s soft as the pup hidden behind me.
“Gone deaf in your old age?” she teases, as she tends to do. Even though she’s older by a couple centuries. Her scales glimmer like gold coins in the mist.
The pup stills in my palm, thank the creator, but sweat slicks my spine. I never was good at lying, so I just smile sheepishly and shrug.
“Well, let’s go.” She swings her elegant neck towards the fjord. “Found a herd of bison near the lake, and I’m starving.”
I can’t hunt with the pup. It’ll wake and blow my cover. Still, an overpowering urge to protect it holds me stiffly in place. If I leave it, maybe its mother will find it. A daft thought I promptly snuff. The Unscaled may’ve been cruel and calculating, but all too often only to protect their young. Its mother wouldn’t have abandoned it. Not like mine.
“I’ll race you there,” I say and, as my sister squeals and takes flight, I stash the sleeping pup in a felled tree hollow and swear on my elders that I’ll come back.
When you live for millennia, some tasks like brushing your teeth and washing your arse become monotonous. Soul sucking. Those seemingly brief hygiene rituals compound to years wasted. A bit anticlimactic. But eating? That, I’ll never tire. Nothing better than finishing a long day off with a roasted cow or five.
Tonight is different, though.
I force down a chunk of bison and grimace. Might as well be chewing peat. I taste nothing, enjoy nothing, and the stringy texture roils my belly. Or perhaps that’s just my dread. Will the Unscaled pup be all right until I get back? The northern forests brim with shades and demons that instill fear in even grown dragons–yes I’m not ashamed to admit it–much less a youngster.
The bruised horizon and dense air do nothing to settle my indigestion. The lake we camp around is a sheet of black glass. The only noise, from my siblings and their myriad spawn as they feast with flourish.
“Aunt Trua,” Skal says. “Plan to finish that?” My nephew’s eyes glow like twin suns as he stares down my kill.
From my count, the glutton has inhaled seven bison already, but my innards are too twisted to take another bite. I nudge the carcass his way and he thanks me through a mouthful of bloody fur. I grin and shake my head. He’ll be eight centuries old tomorrow and still hasn’t mastered his manners.
The ferns rustle, spritzing me with raindrops as Uaine plops down beside me and slides me a wary look. The oldest of my four siblings, she took on the maternal role when we lost our mother a century back. She’s too adept, too keen for my liking. Always sniffs out the truth.
I sigh. “What?”
“You tell me.” She rolls onto her side, snagging a furry drumstick from her son, who snorts, filling the air with a milky fog, but takes no action. He’s a lout but not stupid. No one crosses Uaine, family or otherwise.
I feign a yawn. “Just tired.”
I don’t have to turn to know her gaze is razor-sharp. “Truly.”
She’s tough on all my siblings. Especially me. Somehow she got it in her head that since I’m the only one who hasn’t spawned–not for lack of trying; I’m just not fertile–she needs to watch over me like I’m a hatchling. Worried I’ll go mad like our late mother and try to dive into a volcano too. Does it hurt that I have no whelps of my own? Every damned minute of my infinite existence. But her hovering makes it worse, and more, infuriates me.
“Wasn’t born last century,” she hisses. “Whatever you're hiding, I’ll find out.”
Not this time.
I set my jaw, preparing a rebuttal, when she soars off. Her graceful silhouette against the full moon. It’s dark now. No crickets chirring. No owls hooting. Just my blood hammering my ears as my sister heads back to the forest and dissolves into the starless night.
By the time Uaine returns, everyone is asleep. Curled up, dragons sheen like mountains of gems beneath the moonlight. Radiant, perhaps. If not for their snoring. They rumble the ground, rattle the ferns, ripple the lake. No wonder we’re called a Thunder, heh.
Uaine’s gold form settles between her four sons. An eye spears me, but I pretend to be asleep. Surely if she’d found my secret, we’d have had words. The Unscaled pup is safe, for now. Hopefully. Pressing my ear to the damp grass, I wait for her breathing to steady. She shifts and moans, one of her long legs twitching. What sounds like a dying lion claws from her bum. I wrinkle my nose. Smells like one too.
Finally, after a decade, she joins the tempest of snoring.
I untwine my achy limbs and pad over to the far side of the lake, throwing glimpses over my shoulder every few feet. No movement. I spread my wings and catch a light breeze. Careful not to flap too hard. The sky hoists me up into her cool bosom, and I soar. Flying, like eating, never gets old. It’s mesmerizing, intoxicating. This freedom. Thoughts shuffle off, and you’re weightless as a cloud.
Tonight is an effort to stay airborne. It’s as though there’s a chain linked to my sternum, and its other end is an anchor, pulling me, relentlessly, across the fjord. Into the forest. Where my fate, good or bad, awaits.
Watery moonlight trickles through the canopy, over the felled tree, and fireflies wink blue around its stump. It’s sharper than I recall, its splinters long as swords, and my breathing hitches until I spot the bald stump where I first found the Unscaled. Still, I eye up its bladed counterpart like a cobra. No place to raise a whelp.
Gurgling, beside the rotten trunk. My shoulders loosen. A smile tugs my lips. The pup is where I left it. Eyes round and glittering as it follows the fairy-like bugs. When it spots me, it giggles and reaches…for me. Maybe it’s my yearning for motherhood, the blow after heartbreaking blow of stillborn spawn, or maybe pure relief that the pup is alive, but this simple gesture threatens tears.
I pick the darling up, cradle it in my palm, and just stare. What do I do now?
“Expected better of you.” Uaine’s voice is jagged as the stump.
My mouth goes dry, and I pivot around. Steam funnels her nostrils, clouding the space between us. Not enough space. I step back, shielding my pup.
“No use hiding it. Seen its ugly mug,” she spits.
Ugly? Dragons aren’t exactly daffodils. Have rough edges too. But I keep my mouth shut.
“Either you end it,” she lumbers forward, “or I will.”
I shake my head.
“Hand it over.”
I retreat, heel thumping the rotten tree. “No.”
“Trua.” She tut-tuts. I steel myself. My sister’s a deft hunter. Her words never miss their prey. “I can’t imagine how you feel. Not having a whelp of your own. But this isn’t the answer. I don’t care how innocently mushy the Unscaled appears now. It will grow into a monster and burn our world to the ground. Per the prophecy–”
“Fuck the prophecy,” I hiss, surprising myself and Uaine. I’m not one to rile. The pup stirs restlessly in my palm. “Killing it now when it’s done nothing wrong and can’t even defend itself? Doesn’t that make us monsters too?”
Uaine pauses, as if actually considering what I’ve said for once. But adrenaline spurts my veins, vibrating my limbs. My body, tempered from centuries of my sister’s outbursts, knows what’s coming before I do.
“Give it to me!” She charges.
“Never.” I swing my elbow, connecting hard with her side. She flies back. Hits the ground with a heavy thunk.
Wheezing, I square my stance and wait.
She doesn’t rise.
I stalk closer, squinting. Fireflies circle something jutting from her pale belly. It’s mottled brown, serrated. Oozing with–I gasp. No! The bladed stump. I fall to my knees and place the pup beside me. The stink of blood is a rusty saw on my tongue.
“Uaine, I’m so sorry. Let me help.”
“No.” She winces. “It’s done.”
I grab for the stake. Maybe if I pull it out, stanch the blood–
Her claws coil mine. “Please, Trua. Please…Don’t betray our kind.” Eyelids drooping, her chest stills.
A sob roars through me, and I bury my head into her side. Fool! What a fool I’ve been. My sister is dead. Killed over a whim.
“Momma,” says a voice, small and delicate as the fireflies around us. Just as magical too.
I sit up, wiping tears from my cheeks. I scoop up the pup and bring it close.
“Make hurt go away.” It leans forward and grabs my snout. No, hugs.
My jaw trembles as I fight back another wave of tears.
That’s when it comes to me. I will honor my sister’s last wish. I won’t betray my kind. For monsters are made, not born. And now that I’m the Unscaled pup’s mother, I will devote the rest of my life to ensure it rises above Evil's storm.
About the author
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme