Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Wednesday Briefs: Broken Path, Starless Tail


The walls warped around him as he slowed, but Beckett wasn’t looking at them. He focused on the pile of rubble that blocked the stairs he needed to get down to find Valrinda. The damn golems had pulled down so much of the wall he couldn’t even get down.

Had that been their plan all along? Trap him up in the tower and let the lightning kill him? He snorted. That wasn’t going to go their way. Trapping him in the tower wasn’t going to go their way either. Beckett tucked the softly glowing star into his pocket, then planted two hands on the biggest stones. They began to vibrate. He pushed harder, not liking the muffled sounds he could hear through the chinks in the rubble.

Valrinda needed him. His face heated, and he let loose a primal roar, forcing the power inside him outside. The air throbbed and pulsed with a wave of energy that rocked the world around him, removing the rock barrier and everything in front of it.

He wasn’t going to feel bad about the golems who were smoldering in clumps alongside the chunks of rock.

“Val!” There were three golems on top of him.

“Beckett! I thought you were dead.” One of the golems opened its wide mouth and bit down on Valrinda’s spines along his back, the sound like stone on metal. Valrinda roared, so it must have hurt.

“No, but those golems are about to be!” Beckett flung out his hands and the heat coalesced inside him and shot through his palms. Crackles of white hot heat blasted through the air and smacked into each golem, piercing their thick stone hides and ripping them off Valrinda’s backs with a resounding boom. “Oh, shit.” He shook out his hands, flexing his fingers.

They were still pink, totally intact. “Wow. Who knew I could do that?”

“Not me.” Valrinda looked over his back. There was a chunk taken out of a spike, but not a singed mark on him. “Nice control.”

“Control my ass. I didn’t control anything. I just saw them on you and got mad. Just like I did when I blasted that wall open.” Beckett went over to Valrinda. “Are you okay?”

“I will heal. Let’s get out of here. Climb on, I think we should fly.”

“But you’re hurt.” Beckett didn’t want to do anything that would make it worse. Valrinda had been out here protecting him while he’d been getting some shiny gem thing. As soon as he’d grabbed it, the star had turned out to be nothing more than a clear rock with pulsing colors that he’d shoved in his pocket as he raced down the stairs.

It had better be worth all that it had cost him and Valrinda.

“It’s not that bad. I don’t want to risk trying to get back through the city. Someone’s going to object to the fact that we just demolished a building and killed a pack of golems.”

“Some of them might still be alive, if they ran away,” Beckett said.

“Golems don’t run away from the buildings they’re charged with protecting.”

Which meant, since they’d been hiding when they first arrived, it had definitely been a trap. For them specifically or just whoever might try to steal the star from whoever stole the star… he wasn’t sure. “Well, I’m not sorry. They were the enemy and don’t deserve any mercy.”

“You’re not getting any arguments from me, but we need to go.” The urgency in Valrinda’s voice was stronger.

“Fine. But we stop as soon as its safe so you can rest and heal.” It was already getting dark with the temperature dropping, and Beckett wasn’t looking forward to the temperatures up in the sky even if flying was one of the best things he’d ever done.


The wisps had done a lot to set up camp once they’d joined up together, but as long as Beckett and Valrinda were together, he didn’t care. All he needed was to curl up by his dragon’s side, and Beckett was happy.

“You found the star?” Valrinda asked. He curled tighter when Beckett shivered, wrapping one wing around them both so his heat created a pocket of warmth around them.

“I did.” It was stabbing Beckett from inside his pocket anyway, so he pulled it out. The star was hard and pointy but not in any sort of regular shape. Certainly not in an actual star. It didn’t look like a gem or a rock, either. There were lights inside, dancing and glowing, and even in the warmth of his pocket and Valrinda’s heat, the star itself held a heat of its own that made Beckett’s hand tingle without burning.

“It was making lightning all over the room, and I wasn’t sure how to get it. Then I heard you fighting, and I just… knew how to do it. If I let my fire burn, I could flame just as bright as this star.” Beckett shook his head. “That’s just insane.”

“Why?” Valrinda cocked his head.

“Stars are insanely hot. And huge. None of this makes sense.”

Valrinda snorted. “You are talking about magic. Of course it makes sense. If you believe in it hard enough.”

Did that make sense? “So you’re saying because you believed I’d find the path and the star, I did? And because I believed I could use fire magic hot enough to match the lightning, I just could? No other reason or logic?”

“What is magic but reason and logic that hasn’t been explained yet?”

Beckett rubbed his forehead. “This is too existential for me. I’m exhausted.”

“You used a lot of magic today. You need to rest. I will watch and listen for any pursuit.”

“To heal you need to rest too. I can take a watch up on the rocks tonight.” Valrinda had put them down near a jumbled set of jagged rocks that rose up next to the road.

“I am resting.” 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Wednesday Briefs: Broken Path, Starless Tail Chapter 28


Getting in really didn’t turn out to be a problem. The gate to the tunnel was wood, and two bashes from Valrinda’s tail decimated it. It was a tight squeeze for him, but he made it in. His bulk hid what waited for them at the end from Beckett, but he was glad he’d listened and let Valrinda go first when the heat from his breath wafted back into the stone tunnel.

“Sorry.” The dragon’s voice was muffled by his own butt. He blocked most of the light, so Beckett couldn’t see much either, just a few stray gleams bouncing off his back scales.

“Want to get out of the way?”

“Um, just a moment.” There was a crunch, stones crumbled, and dust filled the tunnel. Beckett started coughing, doubling over as his body fought to hack up both his lungs. Tears ran from his eyes, and he gasped, trying to catch his breath.

More light was streaming in until Valrinda stuck his head and shoulders back into the tunnel. “You okay?”

“No,” Beckett choked out. “What did… you do that for?”

“There was a guard on top of the wall here facing inside that I couldn’t burn, so I sort of pulled down the top of the wall.”

“That you… couldn’t burn.” Beckett felt faint. “You burned people?”

“Nah. They were constructs. Golems imbued with power to guard the star. Do you really think anyone who would still Parallax’s star would allow other beings around it who might steal it from them?”

“Oh, good point.” Beckett’s cheeks heated. He still didn’t have an accurate picture of the who or what had stolen the star, or who’d tried to force Valrinda. Both beings had too much magic, but he wouldn’t let that stop him.

There was no way they’d expected Beckett and Valrinda to overcome the venom and come after the star for themselves. Dragon and fire mage to the rescue!

Of course, Beckett was also going to have to figure out what a fire mage was. Or did. He’d chalk that up to tomorrow’s job.

“You wanna move so I can get out of the tunnel now?” He was more than a little worried it was going to collapse, especially since he was going to have to climb over some rather large pieces of stone to get out.

“Sure, sure. I’m going to go knock down some more walls.”

“I’ll stand back while you have fun then.”

So much for the serious adventurers saving the day and getting the star. Valrinda was cackling as he tore into the walls, his claws ripping into the mortar and pulverizing the edges of the dark stones as he yanked them out until he created a huge hole.

“You couldn’t have just pulled the doors off their hinges?” There were two big double doors at one end of the courtyard.

“The star is up there.” Valrinda pointed to the right with his tail. “Why go the long way? Besides, more golems are coming. I can hear them.”

“Good point.” Into the hole then. There was a long flight of stairs, which turned twice, growing narrower each time. Valrinda had to stop or risk getting his long body stuck. “I don’t like this,” he hissed. “I need to protect you.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m not some weak human anymore, remember? Besides, you need to go back and protect our retreat.”

“You’ve never been weak.” Valrinda pushed his nose against the hand Beckett laid on him. “Be fast. Get the star and come right back. I’ll be here. If I hear something that makes me think you’re in trouble, anything, I’m tearing this place apart to get up there.”

“How about you don’t tear the building down around me, hmm? I bet I still squish good.” Plus Beckett didn’t want another dust bath.



Alone now, Beckett climbed warily. They hadn’t found any golems inside. Sure, the whole building ruse had been about hiding the star in an out of the way place, but this seemed too easy.

And he spoke too damn soon. Golems? He’d take a golem or two.

Ten even.

Instead, he faced a pool of lightning that crackled and roiled. He jerked out of the open doorway when a bolt? Strand? Freaking lance of bright white crackling energy that made all the hair on his body stand on end lashed out and struck within inches of his feet.

And in the center of all that deadly electricity? The star. He couldn’t really look at it, but he could sense it and knew what it was.

Was the electricity a trap protecting it or part of the star itself? “Fuck!” Why couldn’t Parallax have given him some god damned answers before he sent him in after this thing? Beckett tried to peek into the room without putting his body into the doorway.

A crackle and snap struck again, and he cursed, ducking into a crouch. The building shook under him, and he fell against the wall. “Hey,” Beckett shouted. “I said don’t pull down the walls.”

“It’s not me, it’s the golems!”

Shit. Of course he’d wished for golems and this would happen.

“They’re pulling the building down. They came out of nowhere, and there are too many of them. I can’t fry them all. You need to get the star and get out of there.” Valrinda grunted, then groaned.

Pain lanced through Beckett. “Oh fuck. Hell no.” They were hurting Valrinda. Rage boiled up inside Beckett, and his whole body caught fire. He began to glow the same color as the lightning inside the room, and it went crazy, striking him over and over.

It tickled, but he ignored it. Racing to the center of the room, Beckett grabbed the star and then he was dashing down the shaking stairs.

He had some golems to turn to ash, and then he’d find the bastards who hurt his dragon. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Wednesday Briefs: Broken Path Starless Tail Chapter 27

Their flesh met, and the venom joined them together under the magic. It wasn’t just a neurotoxin poison that forced the victim to surrender control of their mind and body to the owner of seprecries. That had been what attacked Valrinda, and he’d been fighting it with all his might. He’d managed to stay down under the city instead of going back to the surface to find Beckett and kill him.  

Then find the star.

But that was where his strength had failed him. He couldn’t fight forever, and he would eventually succumb to the suggestions being overlaid on his mind. Whispering, shouting, twitching along his nerves and clouding all he knew, thought, and did.

Until Valrinda and Beckett had touched, and those scrapes on his chest met the wounds on Valrinda’s neck. Blood met blood, already tied by fate, and together they turned their attention to the master of the seprecries who thought they could own Parallax’s star for their own. Their greed would bring about their downfall.

First, the poison in Valrinda’s veins.

Beckett rested his head against Valrinda’s smooth scales. They were unnaturally cold. “Let me help you,” he whispered.

“Please,” Valrinda begged. Not that he had to. With his permission freely given, Beckett unleashed something he hadn’t known lived inside him.

A fire that blazed within his being rose up and spread outward, pouring into Valrinda. It rekindled his flame, and they snuffed out the poison in a few heartbeats. Valrinda’s eyes cleared, and his wings drooped. He folded them along his back. The rigid lock of his muscles eased, and he sank to the stone floor of the tunnel, curling around Beckett. “Thank you,” he said.

“You protect me, so I protect you,” Beckett said simply.

“How did you find me?” Valrinda asked.

“The wisps. There was one… somewhere.” He didn’t bother trying to look for it. He needed to stay with Valrinda. “You knew about this before, didn’t you?”

“That you had magic inside you? Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? People kept calling me human.” His forehead wrinkled. “But I can’t just be a human. People don’t feel like this.” The flames were banked inside him at that moment, like hot coals that were ready to be fanned into a flaming inferno at his behest.

He wasn’t quite sure how to do it though. He hadn’t done it on purpose when he healed Valrinda, but it had also felt as natural as breathing.

“You are a fire mage. It is why we are so compatible, and also why you rejected the ice dragon. We have always been meant to meet and do this. It was fate because it’s been foretold.”

“Who foretold it?” Beckett looked up at him, still stroking his scales around the pink, healing wounds. His own wounds on his chest hand finally closed, the flesh pink but no longer raw and painful.

Valrinda snorted. “Parallax, of course.”

That damn cat. It all came back to him. What was his real purpose in sending Beckett here? “If he foretold me meeting you, and if he knew I had this magic… then why didn’t he just stop his star from being taken in the first place?” Beckett was exasperated, but it was a good question.

“Maybe he couldn’t.”

“Or he didn’t want to,” Beckett muttered. Damn cat was just as big a pain in the ass as regular cats. More, even.

Well, he had his dragon back, and now he had magic. “We should go.”

“Where?” Valrinda asked.

“After the star.” Thanks for the seprecries, they knew where it was. The shadowy figure that had sent it to attack Valrinda was still obscured from them, but it had given two very distinct commands.

One, kill Beckett before he could find the star and take it back through the portal.

Two, get the star from the squat building behind the castle on the hill. It was very “Don’t look behind the big fancy castle at this midden heap of a building.” Fancy stuff hiding the real gem.

“We can go up two streets over.” Valrinda craned his neck over Beckett’s head. “That way.”

“First, the star. Then we get the mage that sent the seprecries after you.” Beckett stroked Valrinda’s scales by his wound one last time. “No one hurts you.” The coals inside him burned a little hotter as he made that promise.


Beckett and Valrinda emerged from the tunnels into the late afternoon sun. How long had they spent healing their wounds? He didn’t think they’d been down there that long.

“We need to hurry.”

Despite the mix of beings in the city, the two of them couldn’t move around without getting stared at. Apparently dragons weren’t that common, or at least ones Valrinda’s size. Maybe the little red guy was more normal. He had seen one or two flying things moving away from them that could have been dragons.

“How are we going to get in?” Beckett asked.

“I’m a big-ass dragon. We’ll get in.” 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Wednesday Briefs: Broken Path, Starless Tail Chapter 26

The one-eyed-winking windbag, as Beckett dubbed him in his mind, looked like a tube that had been unrolled, then inflated partway. Lumpy, with no real defined shape, it still filled the entire archway that appeared to have a set of stairs leading down into a squat stone building. Every time the thing breathed out of holes on either side of its eye, it emitted a cloud of… something foul into the air with a greenish tinge. The mix of cooked broccoli and three week old gym socks made Beckett gag and then have to swallow down a thin stream of bile that burned on its way back down.

“How do I get passed it?” he hissed. He hid around the corner of a building a block away. That’s how far the stench went, so he couldn’t begin to imagine how bad it was up close. He’d pass out! No locker room had ever rivaled that smell. No way he could hold his breath that long.

The wisps must have been as stumped as he was. “Guys?” Beckett looked behind him… and they were nowhere to be seen. “What the hell? Damn it!”

Beckett turned back to the windbag, and his eyes widened. The wisps hadn’t abandoned him! They were swarmed around the thing, and had rolled it in a shiny net. He’d have preferred a bag that trapped it in its own odors, but beggars couldn’t be choosers because in that moment, the wisps were rolling it away from the archway. He took off running. “Thanks!” he called over his shoulder as he sailed down the stairs and down into the depths of the building. He didn’t look back, and he kept going, determined to find Valrinda.

One wisp stayed by his side, not having any trouble keeping up despite how small it was. Seriously, what were they like under those robes? He ran down the uneven stone steps until his side ached, and then he stumbled to a stop, leaning against the gritty stone wall. It was cold and damp.

Glowing sconces on the walls kept it from being pitch black, and Beckett prayed they were removable. Who knew what the tunnels were like? While he caught his breath, he examined one. It looked like something was moving inside the globe, and he shuddered, but he still grabbed the bottom of the post in the bracket and pulled. It came free with a loud scrape.

He looked back and forth, but nothing was behind them and he didn’t see anything in the murky depths of the stairs still leading down. How far was it? “Can you still sense Val?” he asked the wisp.

“Yes, he is ahead and that way.” It pointed to one side.

“Okay.” He heaved a big breath. “Let’s go.”


They walked, and walked, and walked. Once they were off the stairs, they found tunnels. Thank fuck a wisp came with him because they branched everywhere like snakes. Some were huge, and some small, and Beckett would never have found any sign of Valrinda on his own. There were definitely things living down here, but he never saw anything, just heard sounds and saw the bones.

That was worse. Wet, sucking noises or soft scraping. Dry clicks or raspy rattles. He would hold up the globe high or spin, but never saw the gleam of an eye or a hint of a body.

The wisp tugged him along, and Beckett went as fast as he could. He wanted out of here, his skin crawling constantly.

“Wait! Did you hear that?” It hadn’t been like the other sounds. It had sounded like… “There! Chains, I think it’s the chains you guys put on Val!” Excited, Beckett took off toward the end of the huge tunnel he was in. “Valrinda! I’m coming! Wait for me!” Was he trying to find the way out? To look for Beckett?

Beckett ran into a space where three large tunnels came together right before Valrinda left by another tunnel. “Val! Wait!” He ran up to him and threw his body against his dragon. “I found you!”

Val’s wing swept out and knocked him away. He turned, barely fitting in the space, and bared his teeth, growling.

“What the hell?” Beckett wheezed on the ground, the breath knocked out of him. “It’s me!”

What was wrong with him? Beckett crawled backward on his elbows and heels, not taking his eyes off the milky orbs that were fixed on his chest.

His tunic had popped open with the force of the fall, and the raw red claw marks were still visible. He’d learned to ignore them, since they’d never gone away, but now Valrinda was staring with his nostrils flaring and his teeth bared.

Like he was enraged. At Beckett? Himself? Maybe Valrinda thought he hurt him.

“They’re just those scratches from before. I’m fine. You didn’t do it. It’s okay.” He tried to soothe Valrinda, but it didn’t work. As soon as he spoke, Valrinda snarled and the sound held nothing but hostile menace.

Something wasn’t right, and Beckett had no idea what. He had to get out of here. His eyes burned but he refused to let the tears fall. He’d figure this out on his own. But he had to free Valrinda. Maybe he could lead him out….

No, the tunnels were too small the way he came. He’d just have to let him find his own way out. Beckett gathered himself to jump up and run. He’d have to make it past that deadly mouth full of fangs and those claws and through the tunnel to his left.

He waited for an eternity of a moment when a sound distracted Valrinda. In the second his head turned to the side, Beckett leaped to his feet to bolt away. Then he saw the dripping puncture marks, and the side of Valrinda’s head caught him and swept him against his neck, right against the wound. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Wednesday Briefs: Broken Path, Starless Tail Chapter 25


They were not staying in an inn or anywhere else Beckett could have gotten food or something to drink. He should have known better. The wisps seemed to be universally unpopular. Instead he was sitting on the floor of a ramshackle building that looked like it would fall down around his head if he moved wrong or even breathed too hard.

The wisps had all grouped together in a giant pile and they were glowing as they chanted. He watched with nervous anticipation and hoped that something happened soon. This room was dark and gloomy, which was probably great for hiding, but all he wanted to was find Valrinda, find the star, and get home.

Smothering his gasp with one hand, hoping he didn’t distract the wisps, Beckett struggled with the stomach punch of a sudden realization if he found Parallax’s star and took it home to him, he’d lose Valrinda.

The real world certainly had no room for a magical dragon with scales and wings. Their nights snuggled together with Valrinda warming him with his wings curled protectively around him or the days he’d been given the gift of flying on his back would become nothing but a distant memory that would be consumed then obliterated by a boring, grown up life.

He grit his teeth. No! He didn’t want that to happen. Beckett was tired, and hungry, scared out of his mind, and still happier than he’d been in the last year since his dad had started pressuring him. He was free in a way he’d never been before. He knuckled his eyes, taking deep breaths.

“Found him!” The wisps cried, their voices merged together in an echoing jumble. Beckett was pulled to his feet, and he stumbled as pins and needles stung his abused legs from sitting still for too long.

“Come,” the ones holding his hand repeated over and over.

“This way, we found him!” The others milled around them, and he winced when they wacked right into the stone walls. Dust, or more frightening, the mortar chinked between the ancient stones also crumbling, filled the air. His nose tickled and he sneezed twice, yanking his hands away from the wisps.

“Slow down,” Beckett said, wiping his nose on the back of his arm. “Where is he? Did that thing on the road attack him?”

“Shh! Come!” They pulled at his clothes and pushed him and generally shoved him out of the hovel and onto the street. He blinked, blinded by the sun that had cleared the buildings and woken the city. People were moving now, going about their business. The chill was already gone, heat building from the blazing sun and lack of shade in the desert city.

He tried to use his brain since the wisps were not giving him any say in where his body was going. They’d disappeared when the huge beast charged them with that human on his back… huge beast. It’d been way too big to create the hole in the barn they’d been in. So it wasn’t that.

Then what had attacked them? He’d just slapped evil guy, obvious star thief on the human’s head since he acted like a douche nozzle and came off all high and mighty, plus he knew shit he shouldn’t know if he wasn’t in on the whole thing. He squinted, chewing his lip, growling in frustration. The imp on his right squeaked, squeezing his hand.

“It’s far, hurry, hurry. The great one is moving away, and you must catch up to him!”

“Great one.” Beckett rolled his eyes, but he tried to put on some more speed. For little guys, the wisps were damn fast. Fine grit ground across his forehead when he wiped away the sweat stinging his eyes as he panted and strained to keep up with them for longer than he expected it would take to even cross the entire city. “Are you leading me in circles?”



“Maybe?” another squeaked. “We follow the chains.”


“Feel them.” The wisps in front of him patted their chests, eyes closed.

“Could Val be flying?” Beckett squinted as he looked upward, straining to catch a glimpse of his dragon on the high rising thermals despite the lack of even a ribbon of white clouds to hide his sleek, dark form.

The wisps shook their heads in unison. “No, too close.”

“We would have seen him if he was close!” Beckett exploded. “Even with all these damn people and buildings crammed in here like a fucking sweatbox, we wouldn’t miss a black dragon.” People had gotten out of their way the day before or risked being stepped on and slightly smooshed. “Where is he?” He rubbed his forehead, trying to stave off the dizziness. His chest still ached, his head hurt, and nothing he did could make the pain go away.

Nothing except find Valrinda. The wisps said they were close, and he believed them, so what was he missing? The brick buildings and brick streets couldn’t stop the desert from sending in the fine dust from outside the walls. It piled up in corners and trickled down in holes between the pavers…

Holes between the stones. If Valrinda could smash through a wall, could he or his attacker have smashed into the road, or under it?

“Fuck. Of course I have to go looking for underground tunnels.” He swallowed hard. “Are there tunnels here?” he asked louder. He prayed they would say no, but by their excitement as they began towing him around again, he knew the answer was yes.

Worse, the ugliest creature he’d ever seen, emitting the most disgusting smell, was guarding the entrance to what was clearly a tunnel into a basement, which no one would bother guarding, or an underground labyrinth of tunnels that his dragon was trapped in.

“Guess which one you’re about to explore?” Beckett muttered.