The Fire Drake: Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6 – THE JOB

FIVE YEARS LATER

Azroth swaggered down the high street, whistling as he carried his latest delivery of goods. The market had been abundant today as an influx of people crowded into Lambswell from the surrounding towns. Rumors of a great treasure making its way from the gem smiths in Solomon to the north side of Lambswell swelled with each new traveler.

Because of the influx of strangers and their extra money, Marjorie had sold out entirely and paid Azroth extra today in both food and coins. The other merchants Azroth helped throughout the day also paid him well for his efforts, and the thought made his smug smile grow wider.

The gang used to tell him it was impossible to feed them all through honest work. However, not one of them had gone without something to eat ever since he came along. Soon, those who argued against him working stopped complaining, and just accepted his oddities. Even Gabe couldn’t deny how Azroth brought in more food and money than any of them could steal in a day.

Azroth had also ensured the merchants on this side of Lambswell were safe from the residents of the Haggis, as no one wanted to disrupt their flow of food. For if they got caught stealing, it could mean Azroth getting ejected from the markets and their food supply would drop. He’d even hired out thirteen-year-old Brewster today, who’d helped the butcher with his meat. Now, the pair walked side by side with their parcels, more laden than Azroth had ever come back before. Between them, there’d be enough food to last them for four days. Maybe more if they were careful. 

Passing by the silversmith’s forge, Azroth noticed several delicate chains and swords with silver filagree in their handles. Azroth’s fingers twitched. Though he didn’t steal from the merchants at the market who had become his friends, that didn’t mean everyone in South Lambswell was safe.

Azroth had tried to apprentice with the metal smiths for the past year, but they refused to take on anyone without an upstanding pedigree. To add injury to insult, the forge masters had tossed him from their shops with great gusto, ensuring a large crowd was passing by for him to land on.

Since then, they’d found their inventory shorter than when they’d gone to bed on many occasions. Maybe he’d come back tonight and relieve the silversmith of one of her chains. Then he could pair it with the ruby pendant he’d lifted a few weeks ago and finish his gift to Ariel. 

Azroth let out a satisfied sigh as he saw the rickety steps that led to the Haggis’s hideout. He led Brewster up the stairs that he was certain were held together by magic and opened the door to his home. Ten kids of varying ages sat playing games on the bare floor while those responsible for making food tonight were bustling over to take the baskets from Azroth and Brewster.

“Has Ariel come back yet?” he asked one of the newer street kids, Gil.

The younger boy shook his head. “She hasn’t returned from a meeting with the Vixens yet.”

Azroth suppressed a shudder, hiding it beneath his veneer of indifference. He’d forgotten about the meeting today. He was supposed to have gone as well, except Gabe preferred him going to the markets, as it kept the peacekeepers off their backs, mostly.

Grabbing an apple and a mini loaf of cinnamon bread, Azroth slipped back outside. The cool spring air bit at his face as he bit into his apple. The breeze still didn’t like him, always whispering things like “smoke” and “ashes”. Though, after five years of the wind’s whining, he’d learned to tune it out. Wrapping his cloak tighter around his shoulders, Azroth pressed forward to the north side of Lambswell, his senses alert.

Azroth pulled his hood low to conceal his face and stuck to the shadows as he walked. With the last rays of light slipping over the city walls, a cathedral came into view. Azroth paused at a corner, peering around the side of a building. He watched for several minutes to ensure all was clear before making his way to the towering structure.

He’d crossed the canal nearly every night for two years to see the monolith. Azroth was almost certain the great treasure making its way to Lambswell was destined for this structure. He’d overheard tired laborers who’d stayed late one night discuss something about a “Sapphire Star.” Azroth couldn’t wait to get his own look at the treasure.

The massive beauty stood resolute as Azroth admired the cream-colored stone. It boasted of tall spires, grand swooping arches, and pointed windows full of stained glass. Flecks of minerals in the stone glimmered in the sunset’s pink rays, making the building take on an ethereal glow.

Several times when Azroth came, he’d found and fixed mistakes the workers had made. More than once, he filled gaps in the mortar or adjusted a brick when it hadn’t been set right. He had no control over the larger stones and curled his lips every time he walked past a particular block the builders never noticed had shifted out of position as the mortar cured. 

Azroth was no mason. Yet, he’d been coming here long enough to tell when the workers had done the job wrong. He’d also eavesdropped enough to learn many things about the ways of the stone. Caution had to be his number one priority, however. If the workers, or worse, the rival gang under Riddick’s control, should discover he came here, it wouldn’t end well for this thief lord.

Walking around the base tonight, he could tell more stained glass had been added to the upper windows. Scenes of the founder of this land, Saul Comstock, depicted him doing all sorts of heroics. Azroth very much doubted whether any of them were true. No single human could slay a thousand Hein wolves. Not even the “divinely chosen” king of this land.

Unless he had the fire gift, like Azroth’s ancestor, Pryder Phoenix. After the Earth Guardian covered the city of Liteya in glowing magma, Pryder’s heart turned to flames. Fire ignited on his palm, and the light of his hatred had burned ever since, passing from one generation to the next.

However, if Saul had been a fire user, the people of this land wouldn’t treat the elemental gifts like black magic. Azroth shifted his gaze to one of the stained glass windows depicting Saul single-handedly subduing the elemental Guardians and burying them in prisons so deep, no one could ever reclaim them.

Azroth smirked at the image. Saul must have really despised the Earth Guardian. The king had buried him the deepest, and the look of derangement on the Guardian’s face was akin to the wraiths that haunted the desert. Whatever Tellen had done at the end of the empire, he’d ensured that every kingdom and people hated his name.

Azroth’s hand ran along the wall as he walked around. The roof towered seven stories above him, making this the largest building in Lambswell. Coming to the side door, he picked the lock on a side door and let himself in.

Making his way to the scaffolding below the windows, Azroth climbed up and inspected the last of the stained glass installed for the day. The workers had done a much better job than yesterday. Azroth had needed to reset one pane because it slipped from its place. Shimmying down the ladder, he wandered toward the main entrance to get into the attic. 

It was almost too dark to see, but Azroth didn’t dare light a torch. He didn’t want to be seen by one of the security guards. 

Azroth touched the scar that ran across the side of his neck. He also wanted to avoid being caught by Riddick. Otherwise, the gang leader would finish the job he’d started the last time he caught Azroth trespassing. If Ariel hadn’t followed him that night, Azroth would’ve become one more dark line on Riddick’s arm.

Once he felt his way to the hidden staircase and made two turns, Azroth allowed a tiny flame to light up his palm. It always gave him a rush when he tapped into it, but instead of exciting him, it felt like a lead weight in the pit of his stomach. Six stories later, Azroth entered the attic and extinguished his light. Moonbeams filtered through the open holes where windows would go. 

Striding over to a window, Azroth breathed the still air deeply. The stars overhead shone down with their cold light. They’d seen so much that he hadn’t. He’d used to hope that if he saved up enough, he’d move on from this place. Unfortunately, no one moved on from Lambswell. Especially not a thieving street kid. No. His destiny was to die young on the streets or join up with the army when they came recruiting and die young in their ranks. Either way, it didn’t look good for him.

When Azroth leaned back inside, he froze. Two people stood at the top of the stairwell. A man holding a crossbow aimed at Azroth, and the woman holding a knife and a torch. These weren’t the security guards he’d usually seen. How did they catch him?

The man brought the crossbow up. “What are you doing in here, boy?”

Azroth glanced back out the window. If he moved quickly enough, he could dive outside before the man fired. He could use the offset bricks to climb down to the ground. He’d done it before when one of the security guards came lumbering up the stairs. The only downside was the last drop.

Azroth had broken his ankle, landing on the hard earth. Then he was left to avoid Riddick’s slum rats by himself while hobbling around like a beggar. Not something he was eager to try again.

“Don’t chance it,” the man said, eyeing him. “I’m a much better shot than our guards. Plus, they told me you broke your leg the last time you tried that route.”

Azroth rubbed the back of his head. “They saw that, did they?” And they hadn’t shot me?

“They did, and they also mentioned how they can’t seem to keep you out of here. Luckily, you don’t seem to come here to vandalize anything. The guards have reported that you often fix our builders’ mistakes.”

“I watched you climb up the scaffolding to check the stained glass downstairs,” the woman added. 

Azroth was at a loss. He’d been so careful every time he entered the cathedral. Or so he’d thought. Apparently, these people had been watching him the whole time, testing him. He must be getting careless if they’d been able to do that.

“Why do you keep coming back?” the man demanded.

“I think it’s a beautiful building,” Azroth said, stepping away from the window. “And I want to ensure it’s done right.”

“Are you a mason’s apprentice here in Lambswell? You look like you could be in your third year of training,” the woman said. “I know they were jealous that we got the bid for the building and not one of the locals.”

“You’re not from Lambswell?” Azroth asked, his interest piqued.

“We’re from Solomon,” the man answered.

Azroth took a step closer, and the light shifted around the couple. For just a moment, he saw Wesley and Imogen standing there. His heart stuttered for two beats before finding its rhythm again. It had been so long since he’d thought about the couple who’d made him part of their family. 

Then the torchlight shifted again, and all he saw was the curvy woman and the broad-chested man. He blinked, trying to revive the two people he missed most.

“Are you all right?” the woman asked, watching him curiously.

“Oi, Fire Drake!” a shout came from outside the cathedral.

Azroth’s attention snapped back to the window he’d leaned out of a moment ago. Could this night get any worse?

Bringing his back to the wall, Azroth peered down into the dark grounds and saw what must be most of the northern gang. He cursed quietly.

“I see you up there,” Riddick’s voice carried up through the still night. “Come out and face me like a man, or shall I come in and drag you out like a sewer cat? Boris spotted you sneaking into our part of the city, and you know what happens to trespassers.”

Riddick let his veiled threat hang in the air like smoke. “Plus, you owe me this debt many times over.”

Six hundred and thirty-two times, to be exact, Azroth thought.

He shot a swift glance at the couple. If Riddick came in here, there’d be little Azroth could do to protect them.

“Maybe I should set fire to this building you love so much, eh?” 

Turning to the couple, Azroth said, “Don’t leave the cathedral until daybreak. And if you see your guards, tell them to do the same.”

“What gives you the right to order us around?” the man demanded. “This is our building.”

Azroth walked tentatively forward. “I have very little right. But I fear if you two die tonight, this building will never get finished. Stay hidden. Darkness brings death for gentle folk like you.”

He moved to walk past them and into the stairwell when the woman grabbed the sleeve of his jacket. “For being one of the crime lords of the southern part of the city, you’re much nicer than you’re depicted. Why are you doing this?” 

“This isn’t your fight. And I want to see this cathedral finished.”

Azroth pulled his arm from the woman’s grip. Her look of disappointment was so reminiscent of Imogen that his heart clenched. For five years, he struggled to remember the redheaded woman. Her scent, the tone of her voice, and the way her arms protected him from the demons of his nightmares. Yet, this woman brought everything back with painful clarity that he had to force himself to walk by her without another word.

“What’s your real name?” the woman called.

Azroth paused, warring within himself. She asked the very question he so often asked himself. The image of Wesley and Imogen flashed into his mind again, and the words rolled off his tongue before he could stop them.

“Ross Galbraith.”

“Why do you come here, Ross?” asked the man. His crossbow was by his side. Not a safe place to be.

“Because I love the stone,” Azroth answered.

“Then you should get off the streets and find someone to apprentice with,” the man said.

Azroth let out a harsh laugh as he turned around. “If a street kid could get hired as an apprentice, I would have done it five years ago. No one wants someone like me.”

“I’ve seen your work after you’ve fixed my crew’s shoddy job. You’ve got a way with the tools, Ross. I’ve even told a few of my men to make mistakes deliberately, then waited for you to come. If you want to become an apprentice, you can have it,” the man said.

“Why would you offer this to me?” Azroth asked, unable to believe the man was in earnest.

“Because we can tell that you are a good person,” the woman said.

Azroth shook his head in disgust. “If you only knew what I’ve done––”

“If you were the cold-hearted killer the rumors say, you wouldn’t have hesitated to attack us when we surprised you,” the man said, cutting across him. “Give up the streets, and we can provide you with a home and work that doesn’t include dealing with the rival gang.”

“No one leaves this life alive,” Azroth said miserably. He squeezed his eyes shut as more memories of his last days with Wesley and Imogen surfaced. “Don’t leave until dawn. The light chases away the monsters that lurk in the shadows.”

With that, Azroth fled down the stairs, leaving the couple and the memories they dredged up far behind. He exited through a different door and sneaked into the streets beyond where he could lose Riddick.

“Got ’im!” crowed a victorious shout to his left. 

Azroth sprinted forward, but an arm caught him in the throat. He landed hard on his back, and fat hands held him down. Azroth thrashed as his throat struggled to recover from the shock of the impact. He needed air, and it refused to move in or out of his lungs. Spots swam in his vision, and he was afraid he’d die there on the ground with Riddick’s cruel face shining down at him.

Then, with a mighty gasp, his airways opened up, and Azroth greedily sucked in air.

“I’ve warned you to stay away,” Riddick said, pulling out his knife and sauntering toward Azroth.

“I’m not stealing from your side,” Azroth rasped.

“That doesn’t mean you haven’t before. You’re on my turf, cockroach, and you know what happens to trespassers.”

Without warning, Azroth shot a fireball into Riddick’s face, making the young man leap back in pain. He quickly aimed more fire at the goons sitting on his limbs. Azroth bolted to his feet once he was free and headed to the canal that divided the city. A sharp pain struck him below the shoulder on his left side, and he stumbled. The feet tearing after him urged Azroth to keep running.

“I will kill you when you come back! I know you can’t keep away from this place, and we’ll be waiting.” 

Riddick’s voice chased Azroth all the way to the canal. A few extra goons were stationed on his usual route, forcing him to take a longer way home. By the time he make it back to his territory, a sticky warmth seeped down his back. Riddick must have thrown his knife, hitting Azroth in the side. If he hadn’t half blinded them, he’d likely be drawing his final breath by now.

Once he was back in the safety of the dilapidated homes surrounding the Haggis, Azroth slowed.

“Fen!” Ariel’s angry voice called from above him. “Where have you been?”

Azroth quickly pulled the cloak closer around himself. He didn’t want Ariel to see the knife wound, at least not yet.

“I’ve been out for a walk. What’s up?” Azroth called back, trying to keep his voice light.

“Get up here now. The Vixens are here.” Ariel sounded nervous.

Azroth blanched. The Vixens never made personal visits. He took the treacherous stairs two at a time and met Ariel at the door. Her glare deepened as she took in his rumpled appearance.

“Why are you covered in dirt if you went for a walk?” she asked shrewdly.

Azroth ran a hand through his hair and dislodged large chunks of mud onto Ariel. She glowered and slapped his back. He supposed she did it to dislodge the great clot of mud attached to his cloak, or maybe she just wanted to hit him. Whatever the case, Azroth cringed when her hand landed overtop of the knife wound.

Ariel’s eyes narrowed as she inspected it further. “I just nicked this cloak. Why is there a massive hole in it already?” 

Ariel pressed her hand into the hole. Azroth grabbed her hand to keep her from prying further, but her fingertips came back with blood.

“Fen,” she said in a dangerous tone. “You promised me you wouldn’t go back. Riddick nearly killed you last time.”

“We’ll talk about where I have or have not been after the Vixens leave,” Azroth said, his hand on the doorknob.

“I’ll make sure that wound festers if you lie to me again,” she said and followed him inside.

Azroth entered the cramped living space and found the Vixens sitting on the low couch looking haughty. The sisters inspected him as he drew closer. Narissa’s blond hair hung like silk down her back, while her sister, Heleena, watched Azroth between the straight curtains of her dark hair.

“Good evening, Fen,” Heleena said. 

Heleena’s azure eyes were alight with a frosty interest. The last time he’d stood before the sisters, he’d brought them a huge emerald medallion he’d stolen from the silversmith’s shop.

He’d passed by the desperate woman trying to save her farm from creditors by selling her family’s last treasure to the greedy silversmith. Azroth had almost kept the emerald medallion with silver vines wrapping around the gem for himself. The moment it came in contact with his skin it flared to life. If the kids of the Haggis hadn’t all caught the fever and needed medicine, he’d still have it.

Narissa skipped the pleasantries and got to business. “Fen, we come here with a job for you. One with a high enough payoff, you lot won’t have to work for a year.”

Azroth gave his full attention to Narissa. “What is the job?”

Narissa crossed her legs and leaned forward. “I’m told you have a penchant for cathedrals.”

Azroth shot a glance at Ariel, who refused to look at him. “I admire the architecture, yes.”

“Do you admire the one currently under construction in the north sector?”

“I’ve visited it from time to time.” Azroth had a sinking feeling he wasn’t going to like this.

Narissa gave a satisfied smile. “Two nights from now, the wagon carrying a jewel called the ‘Sapphire Star’ will deliver it to the cathedral in north end.”

Azroth clenched his jaw. Riddick would slaughter him if he crossed over again that soon.

“We want you to steal it for us,” Heleena said. Her frosty eyes were alight with desire.

Azroth’s face morphed into a mask of indifference to hide the turmoil inside. How could he steal from the people who’d just offered him a home and an apprenticeship? Though the thought of doing work that built rather than destroyed was enticing.

“And what happens if I refuse?” Azroth said casually. His mind searched desperately for any way out of this.

“We’ll kill you and make Ariel go in your place,” Narissa said, flicking a finger in Ariel’s direction, watching his reaction.

Azroth lowered his eyes. He’d never let Ariel take such a risk alone. She’d been too close to his heart for far too long and the Vixens knew that. He should have stayed away from the cathedral like Ariel had warned him so many times.

“Sounds like I have a gem to steal.”


Thank you for reading this week’s chapter in THE FIRE DRAKE. If you’ve loved this story so far, please consider donating. Every little bit helps me to keep bringing clean, exciting stories to you as my reader.

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Vanessa Thurgood
Vanessa Thurgood

Writer of epic fantasy tales spun with action, adventure, slow burn romances, and flawed human beings. All wrapped up in books that are family friendly. You can find more of my stories on Amazon.

The Fire Drake: Chapter 5

An origin story in the Comstock Chronicles


Have you loved the Fire Drake so far? If so, please consider donating. Your contributions help me to keep writing and sharing great stories with you.

~ Vanessa

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CHAPTER 5 – THE FIRE DRAKE

The ancient wooden staircase leading up to Gabe’s home sported so many holes, Azroth wondered how he was supposed to not fall through. Several times, the boards creaked with enough force he skipped up several at a time, causing the old wood to groan more. Gabe, however, walked up the steps as though he’d hewn them from marble.

The main room was empty, but bottles, blankets, and other debris littered the floor, revealing that more people lived there than just Gabe. Or maybe the boy was just that messy. 

“Are you still hungry, or did Marjorie stuff you full of cheese and bread?” Gabe asked.

“Um,” Azroth said. 

He was still hungry but didn’t gather that food was abundant here in this dank space. Paint was peeling off the walls in several places and the petite fireplace on one side was barren of ash or wood. 

“Here,” said Gabe, tossing him a bright red apple from a basket resting on a low table Azroth had missed in the dim room. He caught the apple easily, which seemed to please Gabe.

“You’ve got good reflexes for a scrawny little git,” Gabe said.

“Oh,” Azroth said, embarrassed. “Thanks, I think.”

Gabe sat down on the couch and two moths took flight, their wings catching the light from the rising moon. Azroth tried not to wrinkle his nose. This was better than trying to sleep out in the Black Waste.

“So, little Balli, what brings you to Lambswell?” Gabe took a bite of his own apple.

“I, um…” 

Azroth couldn’t stop the barrage of images that blazed before his eyes. The dragon tattoo on his arm burning. His desire to protect Wesley and get back to Imogen. His father yelling at him to push further into Wesley’s mind and find the heart of the murder conspiracy. Fire exploding in his vision, so white hot and terrifying that he couldn’t control it. Wesley dead on the stone bench, and the loss of a home he almost had.

He blinked rapidly, grateful that Gabe hadn’t lit a lamp. 

I’m a murderer. I ran away because I’m a murderer.

He couldn’t say that out loud. If he did, it would make his awful reality that much more tangible. 

“I didn’t want to be like my family. I wanted a different life,” Azroth finally said.

“And you chose Lambswell?” Gabe asked, raising an eyebrow. 

“I’m trying to get to the capital, Solomon.”

Gabe choked on his next bite of apple. “What’s in Solomon? You got family there or something?”

“That’s where my father told me I should go. That I would be safe there.”

Azroth clamped his lips shut. He didn’t even know this kid. What if Gabe sold him out when someone came looking?

“Safe from what? All these cities are the same.” Gabe wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “They’ve all got the snooty ones, the sellers, the buyers, the debtors, the debtees, and the street urchins like us. Solomon may only differ because the darker side of the city hides deeper in the shadows. We’re stuck in the cycles of life that were handed to us. The royals live their royal life, while those of us on the bottom, stay here. 

Gabe leaned forward and motioned for Azroth to come closer.

“I’ve got a dose of reality for you. We don’t go to the university. We don’t become merchants or do anything of renown. Nobody leaves this life. We just stay in this rat trap and scrap out a living as best we can.”

“Have you ever tried to leave?” Azroth asked.

Gabe’s smirk held a bitter edge. “You don’t become leader of the southern gang by trying to get out. You learn to play the game.”

“What game?”

Gabe stood up and stretched. “You’re free to eat more. You’ll sleep out here on the couch. Don’t open the door if anyone knocks,” Gabe said.

“Who would come knocking?” Azroth asked, a hint of fear in his voice.

“Just do us both a favor and don’t answer it.”

The older boy walked to a room in the back, and Azroth heard the door close with a soft click.

He eyed the blankets on the floor, unsure of how clean they were. Deciding he’d rather be warm tonight than worrying about cleanliness, Azroth grabbed a large gray one and curled up on the couch. Another moth flew up as he sat.

It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but Azroth at least slept without fear of some ghostly personage trying to suck the life from him.

When sunshine peeked in through the small window, Azroth stirred. He found several missing blankets that had been on the floor the night before. He patted himself and found two of his coppers missing as well.

In a rage that ignited on his fingertips, Azroth threw off his blankets and marched toward Gabe’s room in the back.

“I wouldn’t go in there if you value your life,” a girl’s voice said casually from the corner of the room.

Azroth spun around to find a pretty girl about his same age. Her black hair was pulled into a knot at the base of her neck, and she leaned casually against a wall in a manner much like Gabe.

“Why shouldn’t I go in there? He stole my money, and I want it back,” Azroth said.

“I took the two coppers. You didn’t think you could stay here for free, did you? Everything has a price.”

Azroth scowled. “How do I get them back?”

“You don’t. You spent the night here, and you paid for it. No refunds. I had to get blankets for the others because they couldn’t come back.”

“How many people live here?” Azroth asked.

“Fifteen of us sleep here on an average day. There are a total of thirty-seven, however. I’m Ariel, by the way.”

“Why did I keep the others away?” Azroth asked.

“We have to protect ourselves. Gabe rarely brings people to the Haggis without some kind of ability that could benefit our operation. Unless you count his latest girl. She’s less than special if you ask me.”

Ariel threw a contemptuous look to the back bedroom.

“However, as you are an unknown, we all slept at one of our other locations last night. That way, if you caused problems, Gabe could take care of you. Balli’s sometimes do.”

“Why does everyone keep calling me a Balli?” Azroth asked, tossing his hands in frustration.

“Because that’s what you are. You came from Ballitus. All you have to do is listen to how you speak and observe the way you strut. You’ve got enough confidence that you likely came from a well-bred family, too.”

“Have you been watching me?” Azroth asked. If this girl could follow him, it made him wonder who else could.

“Of course. I helped Gabe keep track of you yesterday. I still can’t fathom how you convinced Marjorie to let you help her in the cheese stand.” Ariel sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “If you came from a well-bred family, you certainly don’t smell like it. Come on. I’ve got extra clothes that will help you blend in and a place you can get the stink off you.”

Azroth bristled at the insult, but followed Ariel out of the ramshackle house and down the rickety stairs. She led him to a house a few buildings down with a nondescript door on ground level. Ariel knocked twice before it opened, and a tousle-haired boy of about eight opened the door.

“Why’re you back so early, Ariel?” the boy rasped.

“Because I got a live one who stinks. Out of the way, Brewster.”

The little boy squinted up at Azroth with curious eyes. Ariel pushed past the boy and led Azroth down a narrow hall. 

“There’s a pump with fresh water, soap, and several sets of clothes on a shelf. Clean up. We have work to do today.”

“What kind of work? And who says I’m joining you all?” Azroth protested.

“If you had anywhere else to go, you wouldn’t have gone with Gabe,” Ariel pointed out.

Azroth didn’t reply. It was true. He brushed by Ariel and entered the small washroom. Several minutes later, he emerged wearing a brown tunic, trousers, and a close-fitting vest. He’d tucked his remaining coppers into a slight hole in the seam of his vest where it would be hard for someone else to steal it.

Ariel snorted with suppressed laughter when she saw him.

“You certainly weren’t raised on the streets. No one dresses like that, but it may win you some favor with the merchants. I’m glad to see the vest I swiped last year is finally getting some use after we couldn’t sell it.”

Azroth blanched at his clothes. “All of this is stolen?”

“Yeah. You didn’t expect us to be bleeding coins to pay for clothes like that, did you?” Ariel said derisively.

Actually, he had. The only thing he’d stolen before was his brother’s marble set, which he paid dearly for, and snacks from the kitchens.

“Do I need to pay you for the clothes?” Azroth asked, thinking about how she’d taken two of his coppers.

Ariel lit up at the possibility.

A hand fell on Azroth’s shoulder, making him jump. Turning around, he saw Gabe, a giant grin on his face.

“All you need to do, Fen, is bring in more coins today, and we’ll consider it even,” Gabe said.

“And how am I to do that?” Azroth protested.

Gabe cocked his head to the side. “Don’t you have an appointment to help Marjorie today?”

“You’re helping Marjorie? The cheese lady?” Brewster asked in awe.

“Fen, here, has a silver tongue. He convinced Marjorie to not only feed him but pay him as well.”

Brewster’s jaw dropped open in shock.

“You can’t imagine how hard we’ve tried to nab some of her cheese. It’s the best in the city, or so I’ve heard,” Ariel said. “We’ve stopped bothering because that woman watches things like a hawk.”

“I just offered to help her if she’d pay me with some of her cheese. It had been a while since I’d eaten,” Azroth said with a shrug.

“Let’s go, Fen. The market is waking up, and you need to be there.” Gabe steered him out of the tiny house and into the narrow streets.

In no time, Azroth was helping Marjorie set up her stand again and keeping her table stocked as her customers came by.

Unease, lined with guilt at wearing stolen clothes, settled on Azroth. What if the original owner of these clothes recognized them? Was Ariel trying to get him thrown into prison? Or the “Bricks,” as people seemed to call it here.

“Here you go, Fen.”

Marjorie handed him a wedge of white cheese and a hunk of bread.

“Thank you,” he said, gratefully accepting the food.

Marjorie gave him a kind smile. “You’re welcome.

This pattern remained unbroken for the next four days. Each morning Azroth would wake up in the common room of the Haggis, eat an apple or whatever other food was lying around, then head to the market to help Marjorie. Some of the other vendors had noticed, and when Azroth had lulls in helping Marjorie with her cheeses, they’d ask him to do minor jobs for them. By the end of the market, one merchant gave Azroth a basket to carry home all his food and a hard-to-steal pouch to carry his coins.

Gabe, and the street kids under his command, did not enter the markets openly while Azroth sat among the vendors. He noticed Ariel watching him occasionally, but the others stayed away.

The problem came on the fifth day. Azroth was moving crates of white cheese to the front of the stand when Marjorie nudged him.

“Fen,” Marjorie said in a quiet voice.

Azroth looked up at the older woman.

“Don’t stare at me, boy, but give me your ears.”

Azroth nodded as he kept working, curious about her request.

“The next time you move a crate, glance up toward the water fountain. I’ve noticed a man staring at you, and I get the worst feeling from him. Be careful doing so.”

Azroth was alert as he surreptitiously looked toward the fountain in the middle of the square and his heart stopped mid-beat.

It was Bartley Westrimus. Barley Breath.

He returned his attention to the cheese crate in his hand. How did Barley get into the city? Azroth needed to think fast if he was going to get out of this. He set the crate down.

“You know that man?” Marjorie asked.

Azroth nodded. “It’s been my pleasure to help you, Marjorie, but I’m afraid I have to leave.”

As he made to sneak out of the booth, Marjorie caught hold of his arm in a firm grip.

“Whatever trouble you’re in, you’re always welcome to come back when it’s over. And so long as that street girl who follows you can behave herself, she’d be welcome too.”

Azroth glanced past Marjorie and saw Ariel looking anxious a few stalls down.

“Thank you.” Azroth’s throat grew tight.

Marjorie released him, and Azroth slipped between the stalls, silent as a shadow. He tried to slip past Ariel, but the girl caught up to him.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded.

“It’s not safe to be around me,” Azroth panted as they rounded a corner.

“Oh, right. Like you’re such a big hot shot.” Ariel sneered. “You haven’t even met the Bosses yet.”

Azroth shot her a look. “Go back to the market, Ariel.”

A fireball grazed the top of their heads, and Azroth risked a glance back, cursing. Barley was nearly upon them.

“Run!” he urged.

Azroth leaped over refuse bins as they shot down an alley between two tall buildings.

“Who’s that?” Ariel asked, ducking as Barley shot another fireball at them.

“A Balli of the worst sort.”

Azroth dodged down another side street, but Barley was gaining on them.

“Why are your people after you?” Ariel called out. She was clutching her side.

“I ran away from them,” Azroth said shortly.

A fireball hit Azroth square on the back, knocking him to the ground and making his vest smoke. Ariel screamed and landed a few paces ahead of him.

Red sparks lit up his hands. Azroth had promised himself not to use his fire gift to hurt other people, but he wasn’t about to die at the hands of Barley Breath for the sake of keeping it.

Azroth flipped over and launched a fireball that hit Barley in the face. The man cried out as flames hit him.

Ariel stared in shock at Azroth.

“You can do that, too?” she asked in alarm.

“Later! Run!” Azroth shouted at her.

He grabbed Ariel’s arm and hauled the girl to her feet. They needed to get out of there. Barley was recovering too quickly, and now he’d be angry.

Fire erupted at the end of the alleyway, blocking their escape.

“You’ve made me chase you through the Black Waste and into this rat-infested city,” Barley growled as he advanced on them. “Your king demands your return, Azroth. Come quietly, and I’ll let you walk out of here on your own feet. Otherwise, I will haul your sorry carcass out of here and let the crows peck at your back as we do.”

Ariel clenched her jaw, giving Azroth a sideways glance. “Azroth?” she hissed. “Like Azroth Phoenix? The son of the king?”

Azroth cringed. He didn’t think his name was so far known. 

“I’m never going back,” he said fiercely.

“Yes. You. Are,” Barley said.

The soldier pounced, but Azroth leaped out of the way. Barley missed him by several feet. However, when Azroth turned around, he saw Barley hadn’t been aiming for him. The soldier held his knife at Ariel’s throat, pressing her tight to his filthy jacket.

“I know you, boy. I know how you feel compelled to protect those you call friends. I’ve seen it with your governess and her late husband.”

Barley’s smile coiled like a viper around his mouth. “Protect this girl by walking out of here and returning to Ballitus.”

Azroth’s attention flicked to Ariel, who showed no fear as Barley pressed the knife into her skin. Without warning she stomped the inseam of his boot with her heel and elbowed him hard in the ribs. Barley gasped as he released his hold on her.

However, as Ariel tried to run away, Barley encased her in a cocoon of fire. The screams from the blaze sent Azroth’s gut into a spiral.

“Release her!” shouted Azroth.

The red dragon tattoo on his left forearm burned white-hot. He had to get to Ariel and get her out of there. The fire drake issued from his hand and reared up as an angry, towering monster advancing on Barley.

Azroth ran into the circle of flames around Ariel and wrapped her in his arms. So long as he held onto her, the fire wouldn’t eat her.

“Get your hands off me,” she demanded, scrambling to get away.

“If I do, this fire will consume you,” Azroth said, readjusting his grip.

“Who are you?” Ariel asked in a scared voice.

“I was born to be the protector of Ballitus. But I refuse to protect something without a heart.”

Azroth returned his attention to Barley, who was backing away from the snapping dragon. Using the dragon’s eyes, Azroth saw Barley’s terrified face. In a flash, the flaming dragon lashed at Barley’s legs with its tail and knocked the man flat on his back, searing his legs.

“You’re getting better at controlling that beast,” Barley said, his voice an octave higher than usual.

The flames around Ariel and Azroth died and he let Ariel go. Advancing to the side of his fire drake, he glared down at the man who’d made his life a living inferno.

“You return to Veridon and tell my father that you found me dead in the Black Waste. You will stop pursuing me because I’m never going back. Find someone else to serve as protector of such a cowardly kingdom.”

“They’ll murder you if you stay here,” Barley hissed. “In this land, the elemental gifts are seen as black magic. They’ll never accept you, especially with that firebrand you carry. You are a Phoenix, Azroth. You may be dead to Ballitus now, but you just wait. All phoenixes are reborn, carrying forward the hatred that gave us life amid the empire’s destruction. You will return to Ballitus one day and I’ll be waiting. You have a destiny you can’t escape.”

“Leave, Bartley Westrimus. Before I kill someone on purpose.” Azroth clenched his hands, and the air shimmered with heat.

The soldier got to his feet and gave Azroth a grudging nod of approval. “I’ll be watching for you, Azroth and so will all of Ballitus.”

Azroth was too angry to reply. He shook as he watched Barley exit through the other end of the alley and into the bright afternoon sun.

Once Barely was gone, Azroth released his hold on the drake and allowed the fire beast to dissolve back into the tattoo on his arm.

He turned back to see where Ariel had gone, only to find she wasn’t there. Rubbing his hands together, he blew sparks onto the ground, igniting the places where Ariel’s foot had touched.

A confused tangle of footprints was all around him. However, he found a set of prints leading back out of the alley. Azroth followed them until he found her sitting with her knees up to her chin, eyes wide in shock.

“Why did you run?” Azroth asked, startling her.

“Stay away from me, demon,” she said, jumping to her feet and backing up.

“Ariel, I won’t hurt you. Barley’s gone.”

“What was that thing that came out of your arm?” Her eyes were the size of gold coins.

Azroth swallowed hard. “A fire drake. The symbol for the protector of Ballitus.”

“Why are you here?” Ariel asked, taking a step back.

Azroth’s shoulders slumped. “I want freedom, to use my gifts for good.”

“The elemental gifts are dark magic,” Ariel said with a shudder. “They were exterminated from Telldius for a reason.”

“They aren’t bad,” Azroth said defensively. “It all depends on the person using them.”

“You’re lucky there isn’t a reward on your head as the son of the king because Gabe would turn you in without question,” Ariel said, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“And what about you? You know who I am and what I’m capable of. What will you do? If you tell people who I am, I’ll have to leave. Barley may tell my father that I’m dead, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others come looking as well.”

Ariel looked him up and down, like she was estimating his value. “I think you’re fairly useful, and it would be a shame to lose someone who brings in such easy money.”

Azroth cracked a smile. “You mean works for a wage?”

“It’s too simple with no risk at all,” Ariel quipped. 

“No one would hire a street kid to work for them, you mean,” Azroth countered.

He could tell he’d touched a nerve. 

“Don’t you want more excitement out of your life, than just living, waiting for someone to pay you? That can be taken away in a moment.”

Ariel snapped her fingers to emphasize her point.

“Why not take charge of your life? Take some risks, and reap the rewards. The Bosses love giving out rewards.”

“Who are the Bosses,” Azroth asked. “It sounds a lot like you’re waiting to get paid, to me.”

“The Bosses find us the jobs, and we pull them off. The bigger the risk, the greater the rewards and with a fire dragon on our side, we could take on much bigger jobs than we’ve ever had before. With over ten thousand people in this city, the possibilities would be endless.”

“You want me to become a thief,” Azroth said.

“Anyone can become a thief. Only a few are good enough to steal and not get caught.”

“And if I refuse to join the gang?” Azroth said. He searched for anyway out of this. He didn’t escape the life of a murderer only to trade it for a thief. Both paths led down a dark road he didn’t want to take.”

“Then, I’m afraid this will be the end for you. No one enters the Haggis and gets out. You’re one of us whether you like it or not.” Ariel spat into her palm and held it out. “What do you say?”

Azroth gave her a hard stare before spitting into his own palm and taking her hand. “I’m in.”

“Welcome to the gang, Fire Drake,” Ariel said, shaking his hand then letting go and wiping her palm on her trousers. 

“Keep calling me, Fen.”

“Alright, Fen, though word of this is going to get out. It’s best to have a name you can distance yourself with. Come on, let’s get back to Gabe. He’ll be wondering where we’ve gone.”

Azroth followed Ariel back toward the marketplace, alert for Barley or another soldier possibly lurking in the shadows. Gabe strode toward them from behind a pole holding up a balcony, and Azroth made a new promise to himself.

I will get out of here if it is the last thing I do.

The Fire Drake: Chapter 4

An origin story in the Comstock Chronicles

Have you been enjoying the story so far? If so, I’d love to hear your comments below on what parts you’ve enjoyed most. Also, it would go a long way if you would share this short-story with someone craving a new read, because we’re all in need of a good book.

Happy reading!

VANESSA THURGOOD

p.s. Did you miss chapters 1, 2, or 3? Check them out before reading Chapter 4.

Also, if you haven’t read my other books yet, check them out here.

Now for this week’s chapter of The Fire Drake…

CHAPTER 4 – LAMBSWELL

Bartley Westrimus placed the fingers of his gloved hand on the black rock surrounding him. He hated coming to the ghost-infested land of the Black Waste. However, the wights knew better than to bother him unless they wanted to end their miserable experience.

Passing beneath the onyx spires, Bartley took a swig of his preferred drink of malted barley. This drink had earned him the nickname of “Barley Breath” from his quarry, but it didn’t bother him enough to want to give up the liquor. What did the brat know, anyway.

Mist hung heavy around him like a drape, proving the wights had been here recently. Their penetrating cold hung in the air like a poisonous vapor, chilling Bartley to his bones. However, he wasn’t about to use his fire gift. It didn’t do to attract unwanted attention in the Black Waste.

The soldier rubbed his gloved fingers together. As he spread his fingers again, soot residue coated their surface. A naive fire user had given in to the heat when the air grew too cold.

Bartley took off his glove and touched the soot covered stone. Pulling his palm back, red sparks blazed to life in the shape of a dragon. The mark of the Protector of Ballitus, of Azroth Phoenix.

He curled his lip. Judging by the amount of soot on the rocks, the boy lived to run away. No one else carried the mark of the fire drake.

Why the Guardian of Fire had gifted this boy with such magic was beyond him. And now, his king had ordered him to find the brat.

“You’re mine, you little roach.” 

***

Azroth slunk along the dry grass as he skirted past by the edge of the military city of Illium on Ballitus’s northern border. The yellow spindly sticks clung to his clothes as he crawled along on his belly. He’d waited until dark was entirely upon the landscape before trying to cross the no-man’s-land. If he got caught by Ballitus soldiers, they’d torture him, then ship him back to Veridon with hands held out waiting for a prize from their king. He wasn’t sure what to expect from the Tellidine soldiers.

Though not officially at war, Ballitus soldiers frequently stirred up trouble along their northern border. They’d cross over the eight-foot wall that divided the two countries and visit the northern towns and cities of Tellidus, causing as much trouble as possible.

The Tellidines responded by first beating them, then tossing them out of their cities. For those who went too far, they were hung from the ramparts as examples to others daring to cross the no-man’s land. It did nothing to curb the hostilities, however, as Ballitus had no civilian cities on this side of the Black Waste.

The grass stuck to his torn and dirty jacket, making Azroth itch. While traveling through the ruins of Liteya, the original capital of the Comstock Empire, Azroth had encountered wraiths and jinn. The jinni who’d taken up residence in the Topaz Palace did not take kindly to being disturbed. Azroth barely made it out, just as he had with the wights.

Once the Ballitus garrison lay behind him, Azroth broke into a run. He sprinted until his lungs beat on his chest for air. The moment he slid across the wall that divided Ballitus from Tellidus, however, Azroth slid to a stop. His Firespark dimmed as he set foot on the Tellidus side, and he shivered from the cold. A deep consciousness seemed aware of him. A coyote yipped in the distance, causing Azroth to jump.

He must be imagining it. No one could see him in the tall yellow grass that spread throughout the no-man’s-land, especially in the dark. 

Azroth dropped to his belly again as he neared the Tellidus soldiers’ garrison. No one appeared to be on watch as he drew closer to the walls, but he wouldn’t take any chances. The boy hugged the ground until the Tellidine military city was well behind him. Dawn was on the rise and he shivered as the fall air of the north chilled his bones. Wesley hadn’t mentioned how much colder it was up here.

A city rose in the distance as the sun crested the eastern mountains. Azroth reached into the satchel Hanzi had given to him for a piece of dried meat. His hand came out empty. Peering inside the cloth bag, he turned it upside down to see if there were any scraps he’d missed. The heads of cheat grass were all he got.

His stomach rumbled loudly in protest, causing him to clutch his middle. Despite the abuse he’d received at Nero’s hand, Azroth had never experienced genuine hunger the way it gnawed at his belly now. He must have eaten his last piece of dried meat before crossing the no-man’s-land.

Azroth shivered again as a stiff wind whipped around him like it was trying to snuff out his fire. He clutched at his gift, trying to stave off the cold biting his face. The wind retaliated by blowing harder and knocking him sideways.

He was getting the impression the land of Tellidus didn’t like fire. Everything about him felt unwelcome. However, each time he checked the compass, it continued to point him in this direction. Azroth paused before the gate guarding the city before him. The name “Lambswell” was etched into the center the arch.

Azroth clutched his empty satchel. What if they threw him out? His clothes from the nomads seemed similar to what others around him were wearing. Yet, he couldn’t shake the fear that they’d see through him. That they’d see he was a murderer, and the son of a hostile king in a foreign land.

Morning shoppers entered, breaking around him like water on a boulder. The stones of the wall throughout the no-man’s-land were just rocks stacked on top of one another with a smear of cement. The stonework of this city’s walls, however, stood at an impressive height and was carved with edges that looked sharp enough to cut.

In contrast, graceful arches and spires rising above the buildings and entrances left him in awe of how smooth they appeared. That was, until someone pushed him from behind, nearly shoving him to the ground.

“Get moving, boy. You’re blocking the road,” grumbled a man holding the rope of a giant ox. The brown monstrosity pulled a cart heavily laden with goods wearing a doleful expression that stated today was no different from any other day.

An idea struck Azroth, getting an appreciative growl from his stomach.

“Are you a merchant?” Azroth moved to the side to allow the man pass.

“So what if I am?” the man challenged as he lumbered by. “A Balli like you couldn’t afford anything I sell.”

Azroth had no idea what a Balli was. “I’d help you unload your cart if you have some food to spare,” he said, jogging to keep up.

“I don’t take on strays, especially not ones that sound like they’re from across the wall,” the man said and sped up the pace of his ox. 

Azroth pursed his lips. He didn’t speak differently, did he? As he listened to the gathering crowd moving inside the gate, however, he heard subtle differences in the way they spoke to one another. It was softer, less on the tips of their tongues, and they drew certain words out that he usually said with a clipped tone. The boy tried to mimic their speech patterns, but couldn’t get his mouth to work right.

His stomach growled, again. It was time to find food. Azroth entered the city and found himself gaping at what he saw. The cream colored stone used to construct this city glittered with flecks that sparkled in the sunlight.

Somebody brushed by him, and he turned to see a boy of about fifteen staring at his hand with a grumpy expression. Azroth watched him curiously. The boy narrowed his eyes as he caught Azroth staring.

Not wanting to get into trouble and cause a scene, Azroth shuffled his feet down a street filled with enticing smells and away from the boy’s piercing glare. Glancing back to make sure the boy had moved on, Azroth pressed forward to the market place. However, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following him.

Azroth stopped in front of a merchant’s stall where a woman was setting up a display of cheeses. His stomach urged his hand forward as the woman turned her back.

He could swipe one of the small cheese rounds and make a run for it. It wouldn’t be any different from when he’d nicked food from the kitchens at Veridon castle. He was confident he could run faster than she could. However, the food in the kitchens at the castle was already his. This woman might rely on the money she earned from her cheeses.

“Excuse me,” Azroth said. 

The woman turned around and eyed him shrewdly. “Yes? What do you want? Have you lost your parents?”

The question stung as flashes of Wesley on the stone bench lurched before his vision.

“I wanted to ask you something,” Azroth said.

The woman put her hands on her hips and peered around as though expecting a surprise attack. “Well, get on with it then.”

After another prod from his stomach, Azroth stumbled on. “I was wondering if I… if I helped you set up your display, if you’d pay me with some of your cheese. My food ran out.”

The woman’s stern expression softened. “If you’re earnest, I’d appreciate the help. Go to the cistern pump on near the gate and clean the grim off your hands. Then you can help me.”

A smile cracked Azroth’s face. “I’ll be right back.”

He ran to the cistern she’d indicated and scrubbed his hands as fast as possible, removing a week’s worth of dirt he didn’t realize he’d been carrying. Once done, Azroth raced between market goers to return to the woman. The thought of hearty cheeses on his tongue made him salivate.

Just as he was about to turn the last corner, a hand grabbed his jacket and yanked him into a dark side street. His head met the sparkling stone wall, and stars exploded in his vision.

“What does a rat like you think you’re doing on my turf?” a gruff voice said in Azroth’s ear.

The point of a knife poked through the coarse fabric of his jacket, pricking his skin.

Azroth brought his eyes up to meet the young man who’d bumped into him earlier. Anger welled up within. The cheese woman was waiting for him with food, and this street urchin was preventing his return.

“I think you need to look in the mirror and decide who the rat really is,” Azroth spat.

Red sparks danced on the tips of his fingers, but he allowed them to dissipate as the promise he’d made to himself returned.

I won’t hurt another person.

The knife’s point pressed harder on Azroth’s skin, and the desire to reach for his fire gift increased.

I won’t hurt another person, he repeated to himself.

Azroth waited for the boy to get on with it, but he hesitated. A disgusted grimace touched the corners of Azroth’s mouth. If this boy was going to kill him, he would’ve already done so. Why did he hesitate? He appeared to be no stranger with a knife.

Then it dawned on Azroth. He wants something. He’d seen his father toy with his victims often enough to recognize the posture.

Azroth extinguished the fire within.

“You better watch yourself, vermin. I own this side of the city.”

Azroth raised an eyebrow. “They’re allowing gits to run this city? No wonder anyone can walk through the gates.”

“Your accent sounds deeper than the common Tellidine, even for these parts. What’s a Balli doing here?” the boy asked, looking him up and down.

“I’m here to eat. And the woman with the cheese stand has promised me food if I help her.”

“Is that so?” The pressure on the knife at Azroth’s middle decreased, as did the forearm pressing into his neck. “You convinced old Marjorie to allow you to work for food?”

“If that’s her name, then yes.” Azroth clenched his teeth as a loud growl emanated from his stomach.

The boy leaned back, stroking his hairless chin. “If you can convince one of the hardest merchants in Lambswell to allow you to work for food, you must have a silver tongue.”

Azroth remained silent. He needed to get back to the cheese stand. It was growing late and he might miss his opportunity.

“Can I go now?” Azroth asked impatiently as the boy continued to study him.

The boy hitched a greasy smile on his face. “Course you can. Just meet me back here at the day’s end.”

“Why would I do that?” Azroth countered.

“Because if you really are a Balli, you’ll never find a place to sleep tonight except in someone’s doorway. You’ll either get yourself thrown in the bricks for loitering, or tossed into the no-man’s-land in view of your people’s soldiers, letting them take you back to wherever it was you came from.”

A glint flared to life in the boy’s eye when Azroth squirmed beneath his scrutiny.

Azroth pushed past the boy, doing his best to hide the worry the words had caused. He hadn’t even thought about finding a place to sleep. All he’d wanted was food.

Making his way back to the cheese stand, Azroth spent the next several hours with the woman keeping her cheese table stocked and being as helpful as his twelve-year-old self could be. The woman would periodically cut a slice of cheese and hand it to him with a hunk of bread, and Azroth savored every bite.

When all the cheese was sold, the woman, whom he learned was indeed called Marjorie, turned to him and said, “Hold out your hand.”

Azroth did as instructed, expecting a final gift of cheese and bread. 

Instead, Marjorie placed ten copper coins into his palm. Azroth’s eyes grew wide.

“I’ve watched you all day,” she said. “You never once attempted to steal from me, and you provided some much-needed help keeping my stand stocked while I haggled with customers. I’ll pay you more if you come back tomorrow and help me again.”

Marjorie brushed her brown flyaway hair out of her eyes.

Gratitude swelled in Azroth’s chest. More food, and more money. Maybe he could make it here after all. And once he made enough, he could travel to the capital and see for himself if Wesley’s description of the king of Tellidus was right.

Then maybe, he could return and find Imogen and bring her here. Azroth wondered what she was doing, and if she was OK. He wished he could see her.

“I’ll be here,” Azroth promised. “Thank you.”

With a full belly and the promise of a job in his new home, Azroth asked for directions to the nearest inn. The cream stone walls of the impressive inn met him with double wooden doors. The roof’s wooden shingles fit snugly, while graceful beams supported the second story.

Clutching his coins inside his pocket, Azroth strode inside and up to the counter.

“I’d like a room, please,” Azroth said when it was his turn.

The man leaned over the polished wood to leer at him. “Where are your parents?”

Azroth didn’t have the lie quick enough to respond.

The man leaned back with a sneer. “How do you expect to pay for a room, young man?”

“I have ten coppers,” Azroth said.

The innkeeper laughed derisively. “Ten coppers? Oi! Leo!”

A man with short-cropped hair and a beard who’d been leaning on the bar strode forward. His burly build rippled with muscles. While brown eyes narrowed in on Azroth and his dirty clothes.

“This young man says he’d like a room for ten coppers,” the inn keeper said, barely hiding his mirth when Leo got within earshot.

The brawny man chuckled as he raised an eyebrow. “We must give him the royal treatment, then.”

The man called Leo grabbed Azroth by the scruff of his neck, steered him toward the door, and chucked Azroth out into the streets.

“Come back when you have real money,” Leo called before slamming the door of the inn shut.

Azroth, flipped over and red sparks shone on his fingers.

“Yeah, I’ll come back. And I’ll burn down your fancy inn when I do,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.

The boy from the side street was leaning against the building opposite with a smug expression.

Azroth ignored him and brushed himself off, heading farther into the heart of the city. There had to be an inn somewhere that would accept his money. Or at least offer a place to sleep that wasn’t on the streets.

However, Azroth quickly discovered that not everyone was as generous as Marjorie. After being thrown out into the streets for the fifth time, the smug boy reached out a hand to lift Azroth from the dusty road.

“Are you ready to accept my help?” he asked.

“I don’t even know your name,” Azroth said angrily, dusting off his jacket and trousers. “Why would I accept help from you?”

“The name is Gabe, and after being thrown out of an inn for the fifth time, I thought you might be running out of options. Plus, you’re getting dangerously close to Riddick’s end of town, and he’s not as forgiving of trespassers as I am.” 

“Who’s Riddick?” Azroth asked.

Gabe smirked. “He’s the boss of the north half of Lambswell.” 

“Why are you trying to help me? What do you want?” Azroth asked shrewdly.

“To be transparent, I want your skills and will offer payment for services rendered. It just may not always be with coins.” 

Gabe casually flicked the dark hair out of his eyes.

“What’s your name, Balli?” Gabe asked as he leaned against the side of a building again.

“Fen,” Azroth said, using the shortened name Hanzi had given him. 

He feared to use the full name of “Fennix” as it was too close to “Phoenix,” but Fen should allow him to avoid connection with his surname and the terror it instilled.

“Well, Fen, what do you say?” Gabe waited for an answer.

“What do you want me to do?” Azroth asked, still unsure if he wanted to trust this boy. “Slit people’s throats while their backs are turned?”

Gabe waved the comment away. “Your job would be much simpler. All I want you to do is keep buttering up old Marjorie, share some of your coins, and you’ve got food and a place to stay.”

“You won’t require me to do more than that?” Azroth said.

“Come on,” Gabe said, swinging an arm around Azroth’s bony shoulders. “Let me show you your new home.”

Gabe led Azroth to the outskirts of Lambswell near the wall. The buildings in this part of the city were primarily constructed of wood, and Azroth’s fingers twitched. So many things to burn. His mind lit up as he considered the blaze he’d have at his disposal if he allowed his gift to run wild. The fire drake he conjured would purr with delight at so much food.

Easy, now, he warned himself.

The red spark on his fingers longed to be put to use. But his gift would only hurt the people who dwelled in these towering matchsticks. Also, he’d made a promise to himself. 

Gabe pushed a piece of drying laundry hanging low out of the way for Azroth. 

“We’re here.” Gabe eyed the three-storied, ramshackle building with the pride of a king over his castle. “Welcome to the Haggis.”

Did you enjoy chapter 4?
Did you enjoy chapter 4?

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The Fire Drake: Chapter 3

An origin story in the Comstock Chronicles

Before you dive into this story, I want to give you some background on how this gem came about. Over the summer, I asked my readers which character they wanted to read more about. Ross Galbraith was the clear winner. So, over the course of the next several weeks, I will be releasing a new chapter in this original novella about Ross Galbraith.
Enjoy!

Vanessa Thurgood

Did you miss Chapter 1 or Chapter 2? Check them out before reading Chapter 3.

CHAPTER 3 – WIGHTS AND FRIENDS

The black spires rising from the lava flow stretched toward the cold light of the stars like fingers desperately clinging to life. Azroth shivered as the night pressed down on the desert, and frost crystals glittered on the craggy surfaces of the black rock around him.

His torn sable tunic, bleeding face and hands attested to the sharp rocks surrounding him. The soles of Azroth’s fine boots split open as he took his next step, exposing his foot to the unforgiving ground. Azroth tripped on the ruined shoe and cried out as his knees struck the rocks.

Sitting down on his rump, Azroth drew his knees in and finally allowed himself to cry. He cried for Wesley, for Imogen’s healing touch, for the family he no longer had, and he cried for himself. Why was his life so hard? Did anything care about him?

As his tears slowed, the rumble from his empty stomach cramped his insides, making him cringe. The hunger, however, was nothing compared to the aching thirst. Azroth longed for anything to drink and crying had only made it worse.

The pool of water he’d found before the sun disappeared had been guarded by a lizard more giant than any Azroth had seen. The creature bore spikes from the crest of its head, down to its long whip-like tail.

When Azroth approached, the lizard hissed, revealing a blue forked tongue. Despite the danger, the desiccating thirst drove the boy to try for the water. He got within two feet of the refreshing liquid when the lizard leaped at him, revealing pointed teeth coated in a green substance.

Azroth reeled back with a shriek as the snapping jaws came within inches of his face. The lizard hissed again before rushing the boy. Azroth screamed as the creature came after him and fled. Satisfied with having chased the boy off, the lizard settled into its original spot and closed its eyes. Azroth was tempted to try for the water again, but when the lizard opened one eye and hissed loudly, he gave up.

As the night deepened, Azroth’s shivers increased along with the pounding in his head. Tired, cold, hungry, and thirsty, Azroth had never felt more alone or pathetic. He could warm himself easily enough, but that would mean touching his fire gift. Azroth never wanted to feel the red energy again after what he did to Wesley.

However, his resolve lessened once his toes and fingers went numb.

“I can’t hurt anyone out here,” he told himself. “I’ll die if I don’t get warm.”

After amending his promise never to use his fire gift against another person, Azroth rubbed his hands up and down his body. The warmth was a welcome comfort in that dark place. He found a smooth spot on the ground near a boulder and wrapped his arms around his knees.

He’d have to be cautious using his gift out here. If Nero sent anyone to look for him, he couldn’t leave too bright of a trail for them to follow. Despite his lesser qualities, Barley Breath was one of the most capable trackers ever employed by Nero. The moment they realized Azroth hadn’t gone to Imogen’s, Barley would be on his trail.

With thoughts of the stinking man’s grasping fingers around his neck, Azroth got up and started walking again. However, he’d lost his way in the dark and needed to get back on course.

Glancing around, Azroth squatted low, rubbing his hands together. He didn’t have a knife or any other tool, so he tried to use his finger to draw the fire compass. The flames were weak, but the glowing embers provided enough light to see. Thinking of his destination, Azroth blew on the coals, and a bright arrow shot out of the ring, pointing him toward two great pillars that blotted out the stars. It worked.

And now he had a heading. As he stood up, a movement to his left caught his attention. A pale figure of a woman stood across from him. Her sunken eyes drank up the red embers. Azroth’s breath hitched. It was a wight, a ghost of the desert.

“It’s been so long since I’ve felt warm,” the woman said. Her voice echoed like she stood in a deep well. “No one brings fire out here anymore.”

Instead of reaching for his fire compass, the woman’s skeletal hand reached for Azroth’s face. He scrambled out of reach. The cold of her hands radiated like the depths of winter.

“I need to feel warm,” the woman said, sounding desperate.

“I can’t help you,” Azroth said, edging away toward the columns in the distance.

A man emerged from the shadows next to Azroth with a cane and a hunched back.

“I need to feel warm,” the man rasped, coughing violently.

Before Azroth could react, the man snatched the boy’s arm with alarming strength. The wight sapped the heat from Azroth’s body as he struggled to escape. White crystals rose on his flesh as the bandages Imogen had wrapped around his blistered skin ripped.

Azroth wrestled his arm free of the wight’s grip, only to find himself surrounded as more spectral people shuffled forward. Any warmth Azroth had from his fire gift vanished. The horde of ghostly beings hissed.

“Get the fire,” one of them moaned.

The otherworldly figures converged on him, and Azroth ran. The howls of the agitated souls rent the night.

“I need to be warm!” several voices cried.

Azroth tripped, and the scuffs of old boots reverberated behind him. He jumped back to his feet as curses flew from his mouth. The boy zig-zagged through the lava field, with the host of white figures dogging his every step.

In a desperate attempt, Azroth shot a volley of fireballs into the horde of wights. Several bodies went down in the onslaught, and those nearest dived at the fire, trying to heat their insubstantial bodies.

This gave Azroth an idea. He blasted several spires with fire, and the wights tore after the heat. After a few more shots, Azroth forced himself to think of Wesley, and the fire immediately fled his body. The wights stayed behind with the fire still clinging to the black rock. Azroth escaped into the night, forgetting which way his compass had pointed.

Running until his legs gave out, Azroth collapsed to the rough ground. His hunger and thirst were at their peak. All he wanted was water. Why couldn’t he have been given that elemental gift instead of fire? Water was much more helpful when in the desert.

The stars were fading before the growing light of dawn. Azroth lay his forehead down on the cool rock. Maybe he should rest. He should be safe enough if he didn’t produce more fire. Azroth closed his eyes with a sigh, losing himself to a dreamless sleep.

***

Something hard poked Azroth in the side. It was likely Barley Breath coming to wake him up for another day of lessons on torture.

“Wake up, boy,” a man said.

Another poke to his side, and Azroth moaned softly.

“He’s alive,” a woman said in relief.

“Aye, but who knows how long he’s been out here,” the man replied.

“He must have come from somewhere important. Look at those clothes,” the woman said.

Azroth tried to open his eyes, but sand coated them and every other part of his body. Strong hands picked him up. As his eyes fluttered open, he recoiled as the sun blinded him.

A smooth hand pressed into his forehead, and the woman tutted. “He’s burning up.”

“Looks as though he met the wights last night. See his arm. It’s blue.”

“Let’s get him in the wagon. Hanzi can look after him,” the woman said.

Azroth felt the sweet relief of shade from the wagon’s interior, though it wasn’t enough to quell the fire throbbing under his skin. The man laid him on a soft surface, then spoke to someone before his heavy steps retreated outside.

The rocking of the wagon soon lulled Azroth into a fitful sleep. When he woke again, the wagon had stopped. He tried to roll over, but his body seemed to weigh as much as a block of stone.

Attempting to bring a hand to his eyes, Azroth found the arm stuck. He blinked past the grit, and saw what caused him to stop. His arm was tied to his chest in a sling. The fingertips looked black in the dim light coming in through the small windows.

“Careful not to move too fast, mate. I can’t lift you back in bed if you fall out,” a boy’s voice said.

Azroth tried to find the source of the voice, making out indistinct shapes in the gloom.

“Who are you?” Azroth rasped. The pain behind his eyes was nauseating.

“Have some water first. Zella said you needed it when you woke up.”

A waterskin landed next to Azroth’s shoulder. He reached for it, uncapped the lid, and poured the cool contents down his throat. He drank so fast that he emptied the waterskin within moments.

A second waterskin landed next to his shoulder again.

“You must’ve been out there for some time to be this thirsty,” the boy commented.

“I was only out there for a day and a half, I think.” Azroth laid his head on the soft quilt. “Where am I?”

“You’re in the camp of the nomads,” the boy said. “You care if I light a lamp?”

“Have at it,” Azroth said, his face in the blanket.

Light burst into existence, and Azroth recoiled. Blinking in the bright light, he could finally see the wagon’s interior. It was constructed of dark wood with a small window on either side draped with yellow curtains. The bed he was lying on took up the front portion of the wagon, while another, smaller bed resided on one wall. A boy with dark eyes and heavy lashes watched him from the second bed. His black hair hung to his shoulders.

“What’s your name?” the boy asked.

“My name is….” Azroth paused.

Did he want to continue to carry his given name? It had only ever caused him pain. Plus, he didn’t want it to cause problems for him in this nomad camp. If the rumors he’d heard were true, his father had treated the wandering nomads like vermin. Learning Azroth’s true name would only make his situation worse.

He thought about the name Wesley and Imogen gave him, but the ache that opened inside his chest made the name of Ross Galbraith die on his tongue.

“That bad, huh?” The boy on the other bed stated. “Most strays who enter this camp never seem eager to claim their names. Perhaps it’s something to do with whatever you ran from.”

Azroth nodded.

“In that case, I’ve developed a series of names for you to choose from. Each is a good name. You’re lucky I’m not like my friend Ryker. He tries to give every stray we find a name with ridiculous meanings so the strays get laughed at. I’m Hanzi, by the way.”

Azroth waited while the boy tapped his chin in thought.

“Since you actually woke up, which I’ll admit, I didn’t think you would with the wight’s touch on your skin, you could take the name Django, which means ‘I wake.’”

“Do most not wake up after you find them?” Azroth asked, inspecting his arm where the old man had grabbed him.

The skin had regained most of its natural color. However, blue impressions of where a hand had gripped his arm still clung to him.

“It’s been a while since we’ve found anyone, but sometimes they never wake up. It depends on how long they’ve been out there.”

Hanzi brushed his dark hair out of his eyes.

“However, encountering a wight usually means death. Those specters freeze their victims from the inside out. Zella tended to your arm while you slept. She is one of our best healers. She said for you to have withstood being touched, you must have the fire gift in your blood.”

Hanzi gestured to Azroth’s bandaged arm. When Azroth didn’t answer, the black-haired boy continued in a rush.

“You’re certainly tougher than your scrawny frame suggests, because most people who get caught by the wights don’t live long afterward, if they make it out at all. The wights seem most adept at finding fire users. They make the night unnaturally cold. Those with the fire gift usually try something to stay warm, and that’s when the specters pounce.”

“I nearly got caught by them after starting a fire last night.” Azroth shivered at the memory of those icy hands stealing away the warmth from his body.

“You’re definitely lucky. Starting a fire would have attracted quite a crowd. How did you escape?” Hanzi waited.

“I used more fire and sent the rocks behind me blazing as I ran.”

Hanzi nodded sagely. “That was probably the best move you could have made, mate. The fire would have distracted them, allowing you to escape.”

“That was the second time I nearly died that day. i almost got eaten when a giant lizard protecting a waterhole chased me off.”

Hanzi sat up at this. “You saw an Aster dragon?”

The boy looked at him in awe.

“Is that what that thing’s called? It nearly tried to eat me. I wouldn’t have even gone near it if he hadn’t been guarding the only waterhole I’d found.”

Hanzi’s eyes were shimmering with longing. “I’ve wanted to get close to one for years, but these things won’t let me.” Hanzi slapped his legs in disgust.

“What’s wrong with them?” Azroth asked, inspecting the boy’s legs.

“What’s wrong is that they don’t work.” Hanzi grabbed hold of his pant leg and lifted his limb. It was small and twisted oddly at the ankles.

“What happened to them?”

Hanzi shrugged as he let his leg drop. “I was born this way. I’ve learned to get around since, but it doesn’t come without challenges. It’s why I get put in charge of the strays. I can be useful, though not like the other boys.”

Azroth dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry. It must be hard.”

“Not as hard as you might think. Many come to the nomad camps with injuries. All are welcome here. And I daresay I have a better home than the one you came from, judging by the blisters on your arms and the bruises on your face.”

Hanzi seemed to take pleasure in Azroth’s discomfort.

“How do you know so much about me?”

Hanzi’s grin became brighter. “I like to watch people and puzzle them out. Which reminds me, you still need a name since you don’t want to claim the one you came with.”

“What other suggestions do you have?” Azroth asked, picking at a spot on the quilt.

“Alafair could be fun. It means elf-warrior. You look like you’ve handled a sword before. Your hands are calloused, and your forearms are slightly larger than average.”

Azroth stared at Hanzi. “You’re almost scary with that ability of yours.”

“Like I said. I’m useful in other ways.” Hanzi waved off the comment. “How about Kaven, Marik, Vano, Credi, or Pyramus? That last one means fire.” Hanzi eyed the blisters on Azroth’s arms.

“Not Pyramus.”

“Hmmm.” Hanzi tapped his chin with his forefinger again. “What about Fenix? It means dark red, and you seem to have a red haze around you.”

Azroth shivered. Hanzi would have all his secrets if he stuck around here much longer.

“Sure, call me Fenix. But I’m afraid I can’t stay, as much as I’d like to. I need to get north into Tellidus.”

Hanzi’s eyebrows shot up. “What in the blowing sands do you want with the wolves of the north? You know they’ll eat you, right?”

Azroth kept his eyes on the quilt. “Someone I knew said they’d been up there. That all the tales they spread here in Ballitus are lies. The people who live in the north are good, and their king is just.”

Hanzi burst out laughing. “No king is good. They’re all tyrants and seek power over the weak. That’s why there’s no king among us nomads. Sure, we have leaders, but they were elected. Not this ‘divinely chosen at the Guardians’ hands’ rubbish. If you ask me, we should do away with all the royals and nobles.”

There was such a bitterness in Hanzi’s tone that Azroth couldn’t help asking, “Were you born a noble?”

Hanzi narrowed his eyes. “If you’d been born into a wealthy family who cast you off because your legs didn’t work, you’d hate them too. Though I gather you came from a similar situation.”

“You’d be right. However, I don’t want to bring ruin on you by saying more. The less you know about me, the safer you are.”

Hanzi leaned back against the wooden wall of the wagon with his arms behind his head, studying him with such intensity that Azroth shifted uncomfortably beneath his gaze.

“Well, you can’t run off yet. Zella needs to finish taking care of your arm. The wight’s touch still lingers on your skin, and you won’t want to be dealing with that while making your way north. More trouble likely awaits you and you need to be ready.”

“You’re probably right.” Changing the subject, Azroth asked, “So, if you are a runaway too, who are the people you live with?”

“Radachio and Zella Codona. Two nicer people you’ll never meet. They adopted me as their own after chasing off the coyotes trying to make a meal of me, though in the nomad camps, children are raised by all, both old and young. We take care of one another. Are you sure you don’t want to stay? You look like you could use friends.”

Hanzi gave him such a pitiful look that Azroth wanted to stay, if only to make the boy cheer up. However, Azroth had no illusions of what Nero would do should he find his flesh and blood in the middle of the nomad camps. No one, especially not Hanzi, would live to see another day.

“I can’t. I’m not safe here, and while I linger, I put everyone else in danger.”

Hanzi gave an exaggerated sigh. “Well, if you’re certain, Fen, let’s find you some food and different clothes. More than wights ’ll hunt you if you keep running around in black silk out here.”

“Thank you, Hanzi.”

The boy gave a halfhearted smile. “If Tellidus is as wonderful as you say it is, come back and find me one day.”

“How will I find you?” Azroth asked. “I don’t even know where we are?”

Hanzi gave him a sly grin. “You have the fire gift, right?”

“Yes,” Azroth said slowly.

“Do you know how to make a fire compass?”

Vanessa Thurgood
Vanessa Thurgood

Writer of epic fantasy tales spun with action, adventure, slow burn romances, and flawed human beings. All wrapped up in books that are family friendly. You can find more of my stories on Amazon and Vocal.

The Fire Drake: Chapter 2

An Origin Story in the Comstock Chronicles

Before you dive into this story, I want to give you some background on how this gem came about. Over the summer, I asked my readers which character they wanted to read more about. Ross Galbraith was the clear winner. So, over the course of the next several weeks, I will be releasing a new chapter in this original novella about Ross Galbraith.
Enjoy!

Vanessa Thurgood
Did you miss Chapter 1? Read it here.

CHAPTER 2 – A GIFT AND A CURSE

Azroth paced before the stone hearth in his room, doing his best to ignore the throbbing burns on his arms. The sandstone walls lit up in the bright afternoon sunshine pouring through the square panel windows. After he and Wesley arrived last night, a castle guard had picked Azroth up and slung him over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He screamed and thrashed, even using his fire gift to get back to Wesley, but the guard and his clothing were immune to flames.

The burley guard hauled Azroth up to his room, dumped him on the floor, and slammed the heavy wood fireproof door shut, locking it. Some fire users could turn themselves into smoke and sneak into or out of locked rooms. Azroth wished he was one of them. He needed to find Wesley before his father did.

Riding in front of Wesley on the way to the castle, Azroth hissed questions into the senator’s ears. He needed to know if the soldier’s allegations were correct. But Wesley refused to speak about it. Instead, he whispered the instructions for making a fire compass in Azroth’s ear, ensuring the boy could repeat everything back to him exactly.

“The moment you get a chance to flee,” Wesley whispered. “Make for Tellidus. With any amount of luck, Imogen can get away from here too.”

“What about you?” Azroth asked. All he felt was cold. Nothing remained of his Firespark, and he shivered in its absence.

Wesley’s hands tightened on the reins. “I will meet you one day. I don’t know when, but I will see you again, my son.”

Wesley’s arms encircled Azroth, giving him a momentary feeling of safety, but the feeling wouldn’t linger. Something was wrong. Azroth feared if he didn’t get to the bottom of it soon, the consequences would be dire.

As the memory faded, Azroth hurled a fireball at the panes of glass of his bedroom window. The glass absorbed the fire energy and rippled with red light. He shot more flames around the room, trying desperately to find a weak spot in the fireproof magic that clung to his walls.

He had to find Wesley before it was too late and he lost the only man he wanted to call father. With how Wesley evaded his questions, Azroth knew the senator was involved in a plot to murder the king. But why? The senate worked with the monarch. Why would Wesley be trying to kill Nero?

No, this had to be a mistake. Wesley would never try to kill anyone. Azroth would get them out. He wasn’t staying in this city any longer. Wesley and Imogen would adopt him, and he’d be their son. He would learn a trade that used his hands for something other than hurting people.

Just as Azroth aimed another fireball for the door, it burst open, catching the guard behind it hard in the chest. The boy grinned in pleasant surprise as the guard spluttered and cursed, tamping out the flames. The guard burst into the room, followed by Barley Breath.

If possible, the man smelled even worse today. Azroth wrinkled his nose as the man leered at him.

“I’ve got a summons for you to the dungeons,” Barley said.

“I’m not going,” Azroth declared, sounding much braver than he felt.

“You have no say in the matter,” Barley said. “Now, smarten up and change your clothes.”

Azroth wanted to defy the man. Experience, however, had taught him to get moving if he didn’t want to be nursing a black eye for the next fortnight. He quickly changed his clothes and splashed water on his face, though it did little to shake the fear coursing through his insides.

Once out in the hall, Barley Breath led Azroth and three other guards through the sandstone castle and into the dungeons. Nero and Zared were likely already there. Though powerful fire users, his father and brother could not infiltrate minds and steal memories the way Azroth could. When they discovered he could enter a person’s mind and leave it intact, that was all his father wanted of him. 

Azroth didn’t resist at first. It intrigued him to step into people’s minds. The things they hid from the rest of the world intrigued him. But when he proved he could do more than look at the memories, things went wrong. 

The boy’s feet lifted off the bottom step and landed on the dungeon floor. The stone here was darker, made from a material that pulsed like a black heart. Lead gathered around his feet, making each step slower than the last. The guard led him to the torture chambers.

Barley Breath spoke over his shoulder. “As you didn’t complete your lesson again yesterday, your father feels it necessary for you to practice again today. He hopes you won’t be such a disappointment.”

Azroth looked up sharply. Would they try to make him take the memories from another thief?  

A man’s screams echoed around the torture chamber as Barley and Azroth entered. A man lay on one of the stone slabs with his hands tied above his head. His feet were bound to the opposite end, secured by tight metal cuffs. Azroth couldn’t see the man’s face around the backs of his father and brother, hovering around their prisoner like vultures.

“It’s about time,” Nero snapped when he spotted his son. “If you walked any slower, Azroth, you’d go backward.”

Azroth cried out as the multitude of rings on Nero’s right hand struck the side of his face.

“You leave that boy alone,” wheezed the man on the stone table. He strained at his bindings, and Azroth saw blood weeping from his chest.

Azroth froze as he met Wesley’s stare. What had they done to him?

“You want me to leave my son alone, Senator? Then give up your secrets. Tell me who else is involved in the assassination attempt.”

Wesley pressed his lips together. It was clear to Azroth that the senator wouldn’t divulge anything, which scared him more. He knew what Nero would do next.

“Have it your way.” Nero turned away from Wesley, a malicious smile twitching beneath his thin goatee.

Nero gripped Azroth’s shoulder and steered his reluctant feet to the stone table. Fear reflected in Wesley’s eyes as they drew near. 

“Senator,” Nero said. “Do you know what happens when a person’s mind is forcibly invaded?”

Wesley didn’t answer. 

“One of two things will occur,” Nero explained. “If the person gives up their memories willingly, then there is little danger of them getting injured in the extraction process. However, if they resist, and the one extracting it continues to burn away memory after memory until they find what they’re looking for, the victim’s mind will become ruined.”

Nero leaned closer to Wesley while keeping a hand on Azroth’s shoulder to prevent him from fleeing.

“You won’t recognize your own wife or children, becoming a shade of who you are, forever disgraced in the eyes of your king.”

“What I don’t recognize is the king,” Wesley spat. “All you’ve ever done for your people is beat them like a dog. The gods gave us our gifts of fire for good, to lift and help others. You’ve squandered your power, choosing instead to oppress the people, ruling them through fear.”

With a sympathetic glance at Azroth, he continued. “You abuse those you should cherish most. Kill me, Nero Phoenix. I won’t tell you anything.”

The corners of Nero’s mouth turned up, creating cruel points. Azroth’s eyes widened in alarm. His father had wanted this.

“I won’t kill you, you worthless plebeian. I’ll let Azroth destroy your mind. Then I’ll give you back to your family, broken. I’ll watch your fall into disgrace, letting you serve as an example to all those who think of threatening me again.”

Wesley’s pitying gaze fell on Azroth before blinking rapidly and staring at the ceiling.

“Place your hands on the sides of his head at his temples, Azroth,” his father instructed.

“I can’t––” Azroth tried to say, but the back of Nero’s hand struck him again.

“Do as you’re told, boy.”

Azroth’s hand went up to the side of his face, coming away wet with red, sticky blood. Wesley’s eyes were riveted on him, an apology written across his face. The boy shuffled his feet over to the stone slab, moving faster as Nero raised his hands to strike again if he didn’t hurry.

Blood trickled into Azroth’s hairline as he placed his shaking hands on the sides of Wesley’s face. The senator gazed up with pity into his face as Azroth peered down.

Please, give me what he wants. I can spare your mind if you give me memories you don’t mind parting with. I don’t want to lose you, Azroth pleaded in Wesley’s mind.

Wesley gave him a sad smile. Do you remember how to make the fire compass?

Yes, Azroth said. 

Recite the steps for me, Wesley said.

Azroth did.

That’s my boy, Ross. Flee this place as soon as you’re able. Get away from Nero. Find your home in the north.

“Get on with it, boy,” Nero ordered, grabbing the scruff of his neck.

Azroth tried desperately to get his Firespark to ignite. However, dread was the only thing he felt. 

I don’t want to go alone, Azroth whispered.

I will never leave you, and neither will Imogen. No matter what happens to us, we’ll always be with you.

No! Azroth wiped his eyes on his sleeve. You’re coming with me. We’re all going to flee Ballitus together. Please give me the information, and I’ll get us out.

Wesley’s look of pity rose again. I can’t. Some things like freedom are worth dying for. If I perish, another stands ready to take my place, and another after them. The king can’t know the information I carry, and I’m afraid I can’t share it with you either.

“What have you found out?” Nero pressed.

“He… he says…”

Azroth couldn’t get the words out. If Wesley couldn’t tell him, he needed to make something up. He wouldn’t hurt the only man who’d ever treated him kindly.

Nero raised an eyebrow impatiently.

“The assassin fled. The plan changed once we captured the senator.” Azroth’s voice quavered as he spoke.

Nero narrowed his eyes. “Is that so?”

“Let’s see if that story changes once you steal his memories.”

Nero squeezed the back of Azroth’s neck tighter, causing red energy to spark from the boy in uncontrolled spirals. Some hit Zared and others landed on the guards. They cursed as they took cover.

As carefully as he could, Azroth stepped into Wesley’s mind. There were some memories he could take that wouldn’t cause damage. Forgotten dreams were usually a good place to start. Though the conscious mind forgot them, the subconscious did not and willingly gave them up when he called.

However, as Ross pressed into Wesley’s subconscious, he was met by a palisade of barriers. 

Please, Wesley, give me something. I don’t want to force this, Azroth pleaded.

A memory of when Wesley first sat upon a horse as a toddler surfaced.

Take this one.

Azroth carefully singed the edges, leaving it a dull gray. Nero pressed his hands to Azroth’s and broke into the connection between Azroth and Wesley. 

Azroth could feel his father’s disgust. Is this the best you could get? He said as he viewed the darkened memory.

Try harder, or you’ll feel more than the backside of my hand. This is your natural ability, boy. You form bonds with your victims and win out their secrets. You did it with that thief, even if you didn’t realize it. He pitied you, just like this traitorous senator, and let slip the information that led me to this scum. When Zared ascends to the throne of Ballitus, your job will be to protect him and the kingdom from threats like this cockatrice.

Using Azroth as the medium, Nero hammered against Wesley’s defenses, causing the senator to cry out, writhing in pain as they razed his mind. Azroth tried his best to stop his father’s power, but so much fear was inside him now that his power was doing more than sparks.

Nero crowed in triumph as Wesley wrestled with the chains binding him. 

“You shouldn’t have let that face slip, senator. Mario Persius will be next. Keep pushing, Azroth. Stop being so weak!” Nero shouted in his ear.

The sound broke any hold Azroth had over his gift. All the power sitting below the surface of his skin burst outward. His love for Wesley tangled with his fear of his father, insoluble and wild. Flames erupted around him in a protective ring, just like he’d made around Wesley and Imogen last night. The bristled head of a fire-born dragon rose and snapped, flinging Nero into a wall. 

Find something worth fighting for, Ross. Become a man of honor and live up to your name as my son, Wesley’s desperate voice echoed in his mind.

The fire, goaded by Azroth’s panic and the finality in Wesley’s voice, whirled around the room. Azroth threw up his arms to protect himself as he fell backward. His connection to Wesley vanished. Guards shouted in fright as the flaming teeth of the dragon pursued them. No one could get near Wesley for several minutes as Azroth calmed down, and the fires dissipated.

As the blaze dimmed, Azroth peered over at Wesley’s still form. His features were blackened in places, and his bare chest didn’t move.

“Wesley?” Azroth croaked. 

The senator didn’t respond. 

“Wes?”

Nero strode over and checked for a pulse on the senator.

Shaking his head, he said, “When did you learn to create a Fire Drake?”

Azroth couldn’t answer. His jaw worked up and down, but no sound came out.

“Whatever the case, well done. You’ve rid this kingdom of one more traitor and we have a lead for another. Though we need to figure out how to control your outbound power, you have the potential to be a great protector, my son.”

Azroth swung his attention to the man who’d brought him so much pain and fear, echoes of the fiery dragon’s bellow rang in his ears.

“I am not your son.”

Nero raised his eyebrow. “Really? Do you plan to hide behind the skirts of Imogen again? How will she treat you once she finds out you killed her husband and ruined their family? Do you think she’ll be keen to take you in after what you’ve done? No. You are my son. Not hers and certainly not this vermin’s. You are Azroth Phoenix, second son of the king of Ballitus, destined to be the next great protector of this land.”

Azroth glanced back at Wesley. How would Imogen greet him after this? The throbbing blisters on his arms wished for her healing touch, but he could never face her again. He’d just murdered Wesley and helped further expose the plot to kill the king. Nero had made sure no one could trust Azroth. Not even himself.

With shuffling steps, Azroth backpedaled to the doorway.

“Where are you going, boy?”

Azroth continued to back toward the door.

“You leave here, and you will feel my wrath,” Nero threatened.

Without another word, Azroth ran. He bolted up the narrow stairs as his father’s voice railed against the stones behind him. The guards upstairs only gave him a passing glance, assuming his lessons were going poorly again, and that he was headed to the estate on the hill.

Azroth couldn’t go that way today. He couldn’t go there ever again. Pushing his feet faster than they’d gone before, Azroth fled out of the city gates. He didn’t care where his feet led him, other than he wanted to get as far away from this place as possible.

As the sun slipped to the horizon, jagged stone spires and arches rose in the distance. Azroth ran toward the Black Waste and the broken remains of the once mighty city of Liteya, the land of his forefathers. These days, thieves, beggars, murderers, wights, and jinns all lived out beneath the sharp expanse.

Tears streamed down his face as Azroth pressed on. He’d never return to this city. Imogen’s stricken face floated in his mind. News of what happened to her husband would shatter any respect she had for him. All thoughts of the home he thought he had vanished.

Azroth ran faster, letting all traces of his Firespark dissipate. Azroth begged the heavens to give him another gift. He didn’t want fire. He never wanted to feel that heady rush the red energy gave him.

As he crossed into the lava fields, Azroth melted with the shadows, becoming another wraith on the dunes.

Vanessa Thurgood
Vanessa Thurgood

Writer of epic fantasy tales spun with action, adventure, slow burn romances, and flawed human beings. All wrapped up in books that are family friendly. You can find more of my stories on Amazon.

The Fire Drake: Chapter 1

An origin story in the Comstock Chronicles

Before you dive into this story, I want to give you some background on how this gem came about. Over the summer, I asked my readers which character they wanted to read more about. Ross Galbraith was the clear winner. So, over the course of the next several weeks, I will be releasing a new chapter in this original novella about Ross Galbraith.
Enjoy!

CHAPTER 1 – CONSPIRACY AND LIES

Azroth shuffled his twelve-year-old feet down the dirt lane as fast as he could without swinging his arms. Those he passed gave him a cursory glance before averting their eyes. They had no desire to be involved.

“Please let Imogen be there,” he whispered to himself over and over.

The faster he moved, the more the burning in his arms increased. If his old governess wasn’t at home, he wasn’t sure what he’d do.

At last, he topped the rise, and Imogen’s sprawling villa came into view. Three young children chased each other around the nut trees near the home, squealing with delight. Tears of relief stung Azroth’s eyes as he rushed up the lane to the white stone home. Imogen stood in the yard with her hands on her hips and scolded the little ones.

Then her eyes caught on Azroth and a look of deep pain crossed her warm features.

Pity rose on her face, and Azroth knew he must look worse than he’d imagined. He hadn’t checked in the mirror as he dashed from the dark confines of the place that should be his home. His father had been merciless this time. The man was determined to make Azroth the most dangerous fire user in this land, next to his brother Zared. However, Nero’s methods to bring the fire out in his sons did not produce equal results.

Where fear and pain invigorated his brother, it made Azroth recoil and shrink into himself. It didn’t matter. His father’s resolve to bring out Azroth’s gift by any means possible was unparalleled. Today, that meant hot pokers applied to Azroth’s arms, leaving blisters along the sensitive inner skin of the boy’s forearms.

Imogen met him halfway and placed a comforting arm around his shoulders as she led Azroth inside, his eyes too water-filled to see.

Hesbron, Imogen’s oldest son, followed them for a few steps before Cerilda, his younger sister, tripped him with a giggle and he tore after her again.

Imogen led Azroth to a low couch inside the cool stone home and called for one of her servants to fetch a basin with cool water while she gathered herbs and a soothing salve. Azroth sat on the couch, wiping his eyes on his tunic’s fine, sable fabric.

“Hold out your arms, Ross,” Imogen said as she entered the room again.

As his governess, Imogen had tried for weeks to find a nickname that fit him, claiming “Azroth” sounded too sharp and formal to use all the time. She called him “Roth” a few times but said it always tasted funny on her tongue.

“It sounds like I’m trying to say ‘Ross’ around a mouth full of cotton,” she’d said. Then she smiled. “Ross. I like that name very much,” and had called him by it ever since.

Gerta, Imogen’s servant, set a bowl of cool water with a rag on the floor. Then the older woman left to round up the children playing tag in the yard. Dinner was nearly ready.

Imogen took the rag and dipped it in the water before gently applying it to Azroth’s arms. He flinched but did not pull away. No matter what his father did, Imogen could always make it better.

“What was it today?” she asked as she dabbed the cloth around the red, puckered skin.

“He…” Azroth hiccuped back a sob. “He wanted me to… create a heat trail.”

Imogen looked at him, confused. “You already know how to do that. You and Wesley have practiced it for weeks.”

“Why haven’t they moved on to something else? Are they training you to become a bloodhound?”

Azroth hung his head, willing himself not to cry anymore that day.

“Oh, Ross.” Imogen sighed. “If you would show him your abilities before he resorted to things like this, it wouldn’t be so bad for you.”

“I know,” he whispered. “But when Father yells at me, I can’t feel the fire. All I feel is fear, and it steals the heat from my hands like an icy wind.”

Azroth’s voice cracked and he could feel his composure crumbling.

Imogen set the rag down and smeared some of the salve over the burn marks on his arm.

“Wesley’s spoken to different senators all month searching for any way we can get you from your father, but no law exists to help us. Besides that, the other senators are too afraid to defy the king openly.”

Imogen didn’t look up as she placed the fresh herbs into the salve and wrapped clean linen around Azroth’s arms. He sagged as the pain lessened. It would be at least two weeks before the blisters deflated, and he could use his arms normally again. But through Imogen’s care, Azroth was confident the blisters would heal quicker than normal.

His old governess pushed back her red hair from her face and sat down next to Azroth on the couch. With her arms around his small shoulders, Imogen held him the way he wished his mother could have. But, Gwenivier, and Azroth’s baby sister died during the girl’s birth, leaving Azroth and Zared in the incapable hands of their father.

Red sparks filled Azroth’s hands as Imogen held him close. Where fear and anger fueled his father and brother’s fire gifts, kindness and love ignited Azroth. Neither of which he received at his father’s hand.

“Why don’t you show me how you make a heat trail,” Imogen said, planting a kiss on Ross’s black hair and wiping away the last of his tears.

Keeping hold of his feelings for Imogen and her family, Azroth rubbed his palms together, willing the fire to dance on his skin. He loved the feeling of warmth they provided. He allowed the flames to trail along the tops of his fingers, flicking a little ball of light into the air with his middle finger and catching it in his palm.

“You’re showing off now,” Imogen said, smiling.

Azroth glanced at Imogen with a smirk. He couldn’t resist showing off for her.

Rubbing his hands together again, Azroth blew slowly, and sparks left his hands. A glowing orange trail alighted on the stones where Imogen had kneeled before him, highlighting her footsteps leading in and out of the adjacent hallway. Each spot her foot had touched lit up like a glowing ember, showing the direction her shoe had pointed.

“I say, that’s even better than the last time you and I practiced,” a voice from the doorway said.

Imogen and Azroth looked up to see Imogen’s husband, Wesley Galbraith, silhouetted in the fading sunlight wearing his white and purple senator’s robes.

“Wesley, you’re home early,” Imogen said, rising from the couch.

She wrapped her arms around the man who’d stolen her away from Azroth. Wesley chuckled and returned the affection, whispering something in his wife’s ear.

It had taken Azroth an entire year to forgive Imogen for leaving him alone with only his father and brother. The next governess chosen to be his companion was old and strict, showing none of the kindness Imogen had. After Azroth was eight, he refused to have another governess. So long as he took care of himself and stayed up on his lessons, his father didn’t protest, claiming his son was finally learning to grow up.

Every day for the next four years, Azroth trekked to Imogen’s villa, and stayed until either Wesley or one of the servants took him home.

Azroth continued producing heat trails as Imogen and Wesley whispered. He caught snippets of “it’s time” and “get ready.” Azroth wondered what it meant. When they spoke like this, he used to imagine that they were talking about how to adopt him. He’d much rather call Wesley his father than the one he currently had.

Blowing into his hands, Azroth made a heat trail to show which direction Wesley had entered. The orange footprints weaved into the hall, leading the way to the main doors. Wesley whispered something to Imogen that made her bring a hand to her mouth. She shot a glance at Ross before returning to her husband.

Imogen kissed Wesley, and Azroth looked away, out of respect.

“You’re sure?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wesley said, taking her by the elbows. “Pack what you can and be ready by dark.”

They must be traveling to one of the outer cities, Azroth thought.

They’d left him alone in this city on several occasions, and each instance proved to be a dark period in his young life. The thought of being alone with only Zared and his father for company caused Azroth to shudder.

“Ross, my boy, why don’t you walk with me in the almond grove? I have some news to share with you.”

Wesley waved at Azroth to follow.

He glanced at Imogen, but she only smiled and waved for him to join them.

Kissing Azroth on the cheek, Imogen left, calling their three children to come to eat dinner.

Wesley placed a hand on Azroth’s shoulder and steered him outside. The sprawling estate of the Galbraith family glittered like a green jewel in the dry, rolling countryside. Wesley’s estate boasted a large almond grove, olive trees, grapevines, cattle, and sheep. He was among the most wealthy in the land, next to the king.

Wesley’s dark wavy hair stood in stark contrast to his white and purple senator robes. He was early in his senator career, but already achieved the title of junior chairman—a high honor.

Azroth and Wesley wound through the almond grove until the villa was out of sight.

“What happened today?” Wesley asked, gesturing at Azroth’s bandaged arms.

Azroth couldn’t help glancing around himself. Imogen would scold him if she found out he’d lied to her again.

In halting detail, Azroth related the torment he’d undergone that afternoon. Of how his father coerced him into using his gift against a thief caught in the act of robbing a home.

“They wanted me to take the man’s memories if he didn’t cooperate, and I refused,” Azroth said, holding up his arms. “So they did this to me.”

Wesley gave him a sad smile. “This wasn’t the story you told Imogen, was it?”

“No,” Azroth said heavily. “I didn’t want to make her worry.”

Wesley leaned against the trunk of an almond tree and studied Azroth with a stern expression.

Azroth’s small heart quaked beneath the fierce gaze. Was Wesley mad Azroth had lied to Imogen? He thought he was protecting her from the truth.

When Azroth first met Wesley, he was afraid the man would treat Imogen the way Nero treated him. After they married, Azroth sneaked onto their estate, watching Imogen from the hedgerow, ensuring she was all right. Each time, he waited for Wesley to strike or belittle her, but Azroth never saw this. Instead, he saw Wesley take her for strolls around his estate in the evenings when he returned home from work, or sit and talk with her as she painted in the gardens.

The man doted on her, showing her every kindness. It shocked Imogen and Wesley to find Azroth sitting inside the hedgerow one day after a cat wandered by and flicked the end of its furry tail beneath his nose, causing him to sneeze. Since then, they’d invited Azroth to come every day he could. When his tutors fell short in their instruction, Wesley quickly picked up the slack. He taught Azroth how to harness his gift of fire and showed him things Azroth’s tutors likely didn’t even know.

“Why did they want you to take his memories?” Wesley questioned.

Azroth shuddered. “They claimed he was part of a secret group trying to bring down the king.”

Wesley shifted his feet and folded his arms. “It sounds like the king is growing paranoid. You oppress people for too long, and you risk falling prey to imaginary assassination attempts.”

“I think he’s worried about something. After I refused to take the man’s memories, Zared stepped forward and performed the task.”

“I bet that didn’t end well.”

Azroth shuddered. “It’s not something I want to witness again.”

Wesley stood straight. “Let’s keep walking,” he said with another glance around.

“Is everything alright?” Azroth asked.

“Fine.” Wesley scanned the trees. “I want to show you something.”

“What’s that?” Azroth asked, eager to shake the memories of that day.

The boy loved it when Wesley could teach him something new. He once asked the senator how he could do so much with his fire gift. Wesley explained that the fire gift was fickle. One could only perform certain acts when it was fueled by love, compared to when someone ignited it through hate or fear. Despite what his father may say, Wesley’s gift of fire was more substantial than anyone Azroth had met.

“Do you know how to make a fire compass?” Wesley asked.

“I’ve never even heard of it. How do you make one?”

Wesley guided Azroth to an open spot in the orchard. The young man pulled his dagger from his belt, and flames shot down his arm. The blade became a torch and Wesley crouched down. Drawing in the dirt with the blade’s tip, Wesley made a flaming compass about the size of a plate.

“If you’re ever lost, you can use this compass to point you in the direction you need to go,” Wesley explained.

Azroth watched in admiration.

Wesley blew gently on the flames, and an arrow of red light shot out of the circle, pointing northeast.

“What’s it pointing to?” Azroth asked. “Is that where you and Imogen are going?”

“Yes.”

Azroth dropped his eyes. The northern towns were far away. The pair would be gone for several weeks. What would he do without them?

“We want you to come with us, Ross,” Wesley said, looking up at him.

Azroth cocked his head to the side. “You want me to travel to the northern towns with you?”

Wesley flicked another glance around the grove, then took a step closer. “We’re leaving Ballitus, Ross, and we want you to come with us,” he said in a low voice.

Azroth’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “You’re leaving Ballitus? Where are you going?”

“Tellidus.”

“Isn’t that where demonic wolves and rock monsters live?” Ross asked with a shudder.

“And freedom.”

Azroth’s mouth hung open as he stared between the smoldering compass and Wesley’s deadly serious face.

“Imogen and I want you to become part of our family, but things are stirring in Ballitus that could prevent us from making it a reality. That’s why I want you to leave with Imogen and the children tonight.” Wesley’s eyes scanned the grove for the fourth time, and Azroth wondered what he was looking for.

“But no one leaves Ballitus unless you’re a soldier,” Azroth said. “There are many dangerous creatures in the north. That’s why we have to protect the borders.”

Wesley gave him a knowing look. “Did Nero tell you that?”

An uncomfortable pit was widening in Azroth’s stomach. His father had lied to him about other things. Why not this?

“Yes,” Azroth admitted.

Wesley gave a derisive snort. “If those are the lies he’s been spreading to the military, no wonder the young men are so eager to stamp out this supposed threat.”

Azroth didn’t know what to say. His fourteen-year-old brother, Zared, spoke nonstop of how he planned to join the soldiers when he turned seventeen and rid their borders of the ravenous wolves and the barbarians who trained them in the north.

“Ross, do you remember when I left on that trip a few months ago?” Wesley asked.

Azroth nodded. “You went to the northern towns on the border, right?”

“Correct. I was there to bring a report back to conditions and whether the senate should send reinforcements and extra provisions. When I crossed the black waste and came upon the military camps, I saw something I haven’t seen before.”

“What was it?” The boy was hanging off Wesley’s every word.

“Sprawling forests and mountains as tall as the sky. The land flowed with green hills and abundant wildlife. It’s not the dry land we know here in the south, but a lush, fertile landscape full of opportunities. That night, I snuck around the military lines and crossed the border.”

Azroth gasped. “How did you get by them? What did you find? Did you see rock monsters?”

Wesley chuckled at the barrage of questions. “I found good people who tried to live in peace. Their capital city has a library so large that it houses every book in the kingdom. I traveled many days among them, and even had an audience with their king.”

“What was he like and what did you say to him? Did he know who you were?” Azroth asked with a shudder. If that king was anything like the king of Ballitus, he wanted to be as far away from him as possible.

“No, I didn’t reveal my true character. I pretended to be a peasant looking for work and in Tellidus, on a certain day each month for two hours, the king would grant an audience with any who desired to come to Solomon.” Wesley smiled as he relived his memory. “I found him to be just and fair in his rulings.”

The senator paused and Azroth saw emotion gather on the older man’s face that he didn’t understand.

“They have none of the brutal games our great country boasts of to entertain the mobs, distracting them from the crimes committed by those in power.”

Wesley took hold of Azroth’s shoulders and kneeled before him.

“Will you leave with Imogen tonight? Will you become part of our family?” A fierce light shone in the man’s eye.

Azroth couldn’t stop the tears from filling up his vision. After the couple had welcomed him into their lives these past seven years, his heart had yearned for nothing else.

“All I’ve ever wanted was to be part of your family. I don’t want to become a tool used to torture others,” Azroth said.

The boy squeezed Wesley so tight it was a wonder he didn’t snap the man in two.

“I will make you proud of me,” Azroth said.

Wesley pulled away enough to look into the boy’s face.

“I’m already proud of you,”

“You’re truly going to adopt me?” Azroth couldn’t believe that he would get to leave this place, never to be separated from Wesley and Imogen again.

“You will be my son, Ross Galbraith, and no one will ever hurt or use you again. You’ll finally have the home that you should have now.”

Wesley laughed gently as Ross squeezed him again.

“Why can’t you come with us?” Azroth asked.

“I’m needed in the senate tomorrow for a crucial matter. However, I’ll meet up with you all in two days. We’ll take the long way around the Keykoch Loch and make our way into Tellidus and our new life. I’ve already had the servants prepare a trunk full of clothes and other things you may need so that you won’t have to leave for anything.”

Azroth let Wesley go and wiped his eyes.

Wesley snapped his middle finger and thumb, igniting his fire compass again.

“Now, I want to ensure you know how to create this compass. Imogen will need your help to keep on the right path and care for the little ones. You’re their big brother, after all.” Wesley swallowed. “Things are happening tomorrow morning that I must stay for, but then, you will officially become my son.”

Azroth looked up sharply. “What do you mean? Did you finally find a law that would help you get me away from my father?”

Wesley gave him a measured stare. “Can I trust you to keep a secret?”

Azroth nodded eagerly. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Wesley and Imogen, especially if it meant they’d take him with them when they fled Ballitus.

Wesley opened his mouth to speak just as a servant came running out into the orchard, waving his arms frantically.

“Master Galbraith! Master Galbraith!” the man shouted. “There are soldiers here!”

Wesley’s attention snapped to the villa, and Azroth could see eight mounted horsemen riding through the gate.

“Imogen,” Wesley said urgently. “Back to the house, now.”

The note of panic in his voice filled Azroth with a familiar fear, and he ran beside the young man, easily keeping up with Wesley’s longer strides.

When they reached the house, the lead guard dismounted and strutted up to Wesley with a horrible grin.

“Master Galbraith, you’re required at the castle immediately,” the guard said.

Azroth wrinkled his nose at the stench of malted barley that wafted toward them on the man’s breath.

“Is his Majesty holding a special court tonight?” Wesley asked. He gripped Azroth’s shoulder tightly, despite the tremor that traveled through his fingertips.

“Something like that. He’s requested that you bring the boy with you”

“Give me a moment, and I’ll fetch my things,” Wesley said in a tight voice.

The soldier placed a hand on his sword hilt. “Order one of your servants to do that. You aren’t to leave our sight.”

Azroth shot Wesley a worried look. What was this about? Did it have to do with what would happen tomorrow morning? The young man wouldn’t meet his eye.

“Wesley dear, what’s this about?” came Imogen’s worried voice from the courtyard.

She rushed forward and took Wesley’s arm, giving the soldier a fearful look. The soldier, however, rushed forward and shoved Imogen to the ground. Wesley immediately put up a protective wall of fire that encircled him, Imogen, and Azroth.

“Do not touch my wife again,” Wesley warned as he helped Imogen to her feet.

The guard leered across the blaze. “I can do as I please.” He made for Imogen again, pushing through the fiery ring.

The heat in Azroth’s hands flared out, and he doubled Wesley’s barrier, sending the guard sprawling backward. A snarl issued from the flames. The soldiers’ horses reared as the bristled head of a dragon emerged from the fire, snapping at the soldier who’d pushed Imogen.

The man scrambled away, fear making his unkempt mustache twitch.

“When did you learn dragon fire, boy?” the soldier asked, his voice cracking. “Last I’d heard, you couldn’t hardly get the fire to leave your fingertips.”

“Ross, be careful,” Imogen said.

Both Imogen and Wesley placed a hand on his shoulders. Their love for him was the only thing that could have reined in his gift. Many soldiers outside his protective ring had administered his punishments, and he itched to make them feel the same pain they’d given him.

I’d have no problem taking these soldiers’ entire memories,  turning them into limp flesh, Azroth thought savagely.

The sound of horse hooves on the dirt lane echoed behind them. A servant had Wesley’s horse saddled and ready to go.

Wesley kissed Imogen. “Tell the children good night for me,” he whispered as they broke apart.

Imogen’s stricken expression watched them as Wesley helped Azroth into the saddle so he could climb on behind.

Before the senator could mount up, the lead soldier strode forward and clapped a pair of manacles on Wesley’s wrists.

“Senator Wesley Galbraith,” the man said. His barley breath cut through the night. “You are now under arrest for conspiracy to murder the King of Ballitus.”

Look for Chapter 2 next week.

Thank you for reading the first chapter in “The Fire Drake.” This novella will be released one chapter each week until its conclusion. If you want to know when the next chapter is released, please subscribe to this blog. The story will also be released on the Vocal platform and can be viewed here.

P.S. If you love anything in this story, please comment below with your favorite parts.

Vanessa Thurgood
Vanessa Thurgood

Writer of epic fantasy tales spun with action, adventure, slow burn romances, and flawed human beings. All wrapped up in books that are family friendly. You can find more of my stories on Amazon and Vocal.