The Sorcerer's Garden

By D. Wallace Peach

Fantasy, Action & adventure

Paperback, eBook

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274
4 mins

Excerpt: Chapter 1 - The Fire Breather

“Good thing, Brother, because here it comes.” He heard the vexed curse as the man scrambled to his feet at their crude wall. Cody didn’t turn to observe, trusting that Dustin knew his part. He kept his eyes on the dragon soaring toward them, still a black smudge silhouetted against the crimson clouds. Even at this distance, he could judge its size—massive beyond comprehension. “She said we’d survive,” he called to his brother, though more as a reminder to himself.

“Most likely,” Dustin clarified.

Glistening ebony wings extended for a glide. Long spindly finger-bones tipped with curved hooks fanned open, veined membranes stretching between hollow phalanges. As it neared, Cody watched its shape take form: scalloped webbing, serpentine neck, and horn-bristled head, taloned claws curled inward for flight. The long, spiny tail flicked like an angry cat’s.

“Flaming foul.” Cody rotated on a heel as it sailed over the blackened landscape, higher on the peak, spewing an inferno of fire. He spared a quick glance at his brother’s stunned face, raised the crossbow to his shoulder, and clenched his teeth. Beyond the steaming ridge, the dragon arced. Its spiked head swayed with the rhythm of its wings as it scanned the mountain’s crust. Cody cringed as streams of pearly vapor issued from the flared nostrils on its narrow snout. Bursts of flame erupted from its throat.

The dragon’s fiery eyes snapped to Cody when the creature spied him there in the open, standing like petrified prey. Cody watched the wings adapt, webbed fingers retract. The soaring flight tilted into a dive, increasing in speed. His crossbow rose a fraction as his finger caressed the trigger. Jaws gaping, the dragon craned its neck. Scaled forelegs extended, talons splayed. The massive chest began to swell with air.

Fighting his panic, Cody steadied his breath and pulled the trigger. He dove toward the nearest boulders, landing hard and smashing his fingers under the bow. A monstrous roar thundered behind him with a flash of intense heat. He scrambled forward on his belly, a grip on his weapon, his trousers on fire. With a yelp, he flung himself behind a blocky slab and madly swatted at the flames. The largest boulder shook as the rope lurched. The bolt had found its mark. He, however, hid among the wrong group of rocks.

A bat-webbed wing scraped over the boulders, hooks gouging the rough stone. A vast wave of fire engulfed the air. Cody curled into a ball behind the huge slab, buried his head in his arms, and held his breath, his body over the bow. When the inferno’s roar receded, he raised his head, caught a whiff of sizzled hair, and heard Dustin bellowing at the dragon, attempting to draw it away.

Every inch of his skin screamed as he scrambled to his feet, yanked the rope pull, and loaded his last bolt. With a laugh at the absurdity of his situation, he staggered out from between the boulders, slightly rear of the beast’s flank. No need to aim, he raised the bow and pulled the trigger. The bolt flew, dragging the second rope. Cody’s ankle tangled in the twisting coil. It flipped him from his feet to his back, his breath punched from his lungs.

The bolt’s barbed point nicked the dragon’s rear leg, skidded beneath the scale, and plunged into the tender belly up to its steel fletching. The beast roared, flung its horned head, and streamed fire toward the boulders where Cody would have stood if not for the tangled rope. His crossbow, pitched to the ground when he fell, flashed into blackened char.

Still on his back, Cody twisted and grabbed a rope. Gasping for lost breath, he pulled himself hand over hand until he lay directly beneath the dragon. The colossal beast towered over him on legs like tree trunks with hooked talons capable of cleaving his body in two. The head snaked on its long neck, fire blasting the rock wall where his brother hid. Dustin yelled for him and loosed arrows between fiery bellows.

Above Cody, the thick scale gleamed like polished armor, not wholly black but the swirling colors of oil on still water. If the bolt hadn’t slipped beneath the scale plates from the rear, he doubted it would have penetrated at all. The dragon strained against the ropes. Talons scraped into the mountainside, inches from Cody’s head. Monstrous wings flailed and slammed into the rock, hooks scratching and raising hot dust. The immense body heaved toward Dustin’s barricade, then stepped back to roar and lunge and spew another fountain of flame.

Pelted by shards of stone and choking on dust, Cody held onto the rope, aware that eventually the lines would snap or the dragon would burn its way to freedom. Time running out, he twisted his arm in the rope at the dragon’s belly. His sword unsheathed, he stabbed between the scales, withdrew the bloodied blade, and thrust again.

The dragon reared on its hind legs. Scorched ropes lurched upward with the body, dragging Cody off the ground and slamming him to the stone as the beast dropped to all fours and spun. The rope loosened and as quickly jerked taut. His wrist twisted, a layer of skin scraped from his forearm. With a desperate grunt, he yanked his sword free of the scales and stabbed again. The beast’s neck curved as molten eyes sought the man wielding the sword at its belly. Jaws of razor teeth snapped at the rope rigid at its flank.

Blood gouted from the wounds, hot and slippery, as the dragon wrenched against the ropes. Cody drove his sword between the scales, jerked it free, and stabbed again. He held on as the dragon reared, spitting fire at the darkening sky. Then his hand lost its grip and slid. The moment his feet touched down, he caught a glimpse of Dustin outside the barricade. Wide-eyed and shouting, his brother waved his heavy sword in warning.

Cody glanced up precisely as the massive dragon crashed down to its forelegs, its scaled belly hammering him to the ground. The monster thrashed its tail while taloned feet raked at the dirt in an attempt to scrape him out. A curved claw caught his thigh and ripped a gouge to his knee. He gasped as stunning pain flared through his veins and burst in his head.

Out of options, his bones rattling with fatigue, he scrambled to his knees. He raised his sword double-handed behind his head and swung forward in a powerful, overhead arc that eviscerated the dragon. Blood and entrails poured out, burying him in a hot, wet, reeking slop. “Eyaah. Uuth. Yek.” Cody retched his own stomach contents into the slimy ooze.

Winded and heaving, he half-slid half-crawled out of the creature’s intestines. The dragon snorted plumes of smoke and keened an eerie howl as it swayed over him. Its quarry forgotten, the beast lurched toward the rift. Taut ropes strained. Boulders dragged. Barbs caught inside the dragon’s body tore at its flesh, releasing another river of blood.

His nose and mouth buried in his sleeve, Cody staggered to his feet and shuffled to one of the ropes. In an act of mercy he barely understood, he swung his blade, swiftly slicing the twisted strands. Dustin shouted a curse and stumbled toward him as Cody’s sword bit into the second rope, not quite severing it. The dragon reared over him with a thunderous cry. Cody raised his blade over the fraying rope and sank to his knees as it snapped with a soft pop. The dragon blasted into a haze of soot and smoke that collapsed, congealed, and swirled into the rift like water down a drain. Towers of flame erupted skyward as Cody fell.


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