The Dragons’ Bane

Origins Prequel – The Dragons’ Bane Chronicles

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by Simon Driscoll

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Three

Zanima poured threads of magic into the glowing diamond floating just above her claws. Her tail flopped around happily. Other dragons derided her for having such a cat-like mannerism, but she supposed they just didn’t have a life of sufficient contentment to cause their tails to flip back and forth. She’d spent the last six weeks charging this particular diamond with threads of Spirit in preparation for an attempt at forming a Dragonsword, her only hope of staying alive.

She already had five diamonds that were fully charged, and it had taken her a decade to fill each one. This was the beginning of making a second set, in case her first attempt failed. One wall of her cave was covered in suits of armor, swords, and other weapons that knights and princes had used in their attempt to free the countryside of the local dragon menace over the centuries. It was more than enough to provide the metal she needed for a Dragonsword, though she still had no way of obtaining the dragons’ bane flowers she needed.

Energy exercises also kept her young and strong. Zanima took a moment to pause and contemplate her work. These threads of Spirit felt different than others she’d collected. It now seemed to pulsate with a life of its own, rather than reflecting back Zanima’s thoughts as it should. She was about to continue pouring in more Spirit when the chattering of two squirrels just outside her cave distracted her.

“I’m telling you, the beast was big, huge, enormous!” a grey squirrel squeaked.

“All cats look enormous to you, Teech,” a red squirrel replied.

“I’m telling you, Grift,” Teech chittered back, “it’s bigger than those humans, and the orange fur is unlike anything I’ve ever seen!”

“Orange fur indeed!” Grift laughed. “You don’t expect me to believe such a thing, do you? Nothing has orange fur, that’s just ridiculous.”

“No! No! It’s true! Hayverd saw it too! Go ask her. It almost ate her. If that human girl hadn’t distracted it, the orange cat would have swallowed Hayverd whole.”

“You’re telling me this enormous orange cat was frightened off by a human girl?” Grift asked.

“No!” Teech shouted back. “The gigantic orange cat went after the girl. Her screams echoed for miles as she ran! Surely you heard it.”

“I heard no such thing,” Grift replied. “Besides, there are lots of things that make silly little girls scream.”

“I’m telling you, that gigantic orange cat was going to eat the girl! Ask Hayverd!”

“I think I will,” Grift said as their voices retreated. “But if she isn’t more convincing . . .”

Rodents were known for exaggeration, but this squirrel was describing an attack on a human. If she wanted to, Zanima could have called the squirrels back for more details, but she had already heard enough. Even allowing for some exaggeration, there were enough details that she needed to investigate. After all, this was her forest.

She set the diamond aside, knowing the threads of Spirit would flow back into her if she didn’t tie them off, but protecting the forest was more important than pursuing a goal she likely would never obtain. Reaching out with her magic, she called to Maggeri, the black panther.

Maggeri was the fastest creature in the forest, other than Zanima herself. She had once been a human, though that was many years ago. Now she was just a very large panther. It wasn’t long before the big cat sauntered into the cave as if she had come here on a whim. Her heavy breathing suggested she’d run at least a few miles to get here so quickly. Still, she showed no sign of haste now. “You called, O great one?” Her tone was playful, more than respectful.

“Yes. I’ve received a report of humans being attacked in the forest by a creature. Have you broken our treaty and returned to your old ways?”

Maggeri bared her teeth and hissed. “How dare you accuse me of this crime! I have served as your messenger for more moons than I can count. Perhaps you should leave your cave once in awhile if you want to know more of what is going on in your own forest.”

Zanima roared, shaking the cave, and the panther. “You dare accuse me of laziness? Have you forgotten who is in charge of this forest?”

Maggeri backed herself into a corner and whimpered, revealing a slightly wet spot where she’d stood before.

Zanima glared at the panther while calming her draconic rage. Once she could think clearly again, she inquired, “Have you seen any beasts attacking humans lately?”

“Y-yes.” Maggeri took a moment to compose herself. “I was fortunate enough to be saved from a hunter by a large tiger. The odd thing was, this tiger stood on its hind legs.”

Zanima frowned. “There hasn’t been a tiger in these woods for three hundred years.”

“And I am the only panther in this forest. Perhaps she wandered in from another domain. I tried to thank her for saving my life, but she ignored me, as if she hadn’t heard. When I got closer, she growled at me. She was as speechless as a human.”

Zanima couldn’t resist a smile. “Just because you can’t understand the human speech anymore doesn’t mean they don’t talk. Can you give a better description than ‘large tiger’?”

Maggeri nodded. “Orange and white striped fur with elongated claws. I’ve seen her several times, and each time she looks slightly different.”

“Explain,” Zanima demanded.

“She is larger every time I see her, and her snout has grown longer. Also, she moves faster, and during this most recent sighting, she was moving faster than I can.”

Zanima scowled. “What you are describing is not a tiger, but a hellcat. When did this happen?”

Maggeri licked her tail a few times before answering. “Time has little meaning to me anymore, O great one. What I do know is the moon has covered barely one cycle since I first saw her.”

“Have you seen her attacking humans?”

“Twice now. A few days before the full moon, and again last night.”

“Yet you failed to report this until you were called.”

“Who am I to question the motives or actions of another beast of the forest? I may be your messenger, but I am not your spy.”

Zanima was angry at first, but then realized Maggeri was correct. A dragon couldn’t fault a panther for not reporting something like this. One drawback of being such a fierce defender of her territory was the fear it instilled in those she wanted to protect. All the forest creatures respected and loved her, yes, but also feared her. They only approached her with the most difficult of problems. Often this prevented vital information from reaching her ears, but it also gave her the solitude she needed. “The latest attack, who was killed?”

“No one had been killed yet, that I know of,” Maggeri replied. “A young woman from the farm on the north edge of the forest, near Tarna Hill was attacked, but she was able to escape, thanks to the men who came looking for her.”

She knew the girl. Not by name, but Zanima had watched her visit the woods several times. The girl had such a sweet disposition and love of the creatures within the forest. Whoever had done this was an enemy. “I will deal with this matter,” Zanima growled.

Maggeri nodded and sauntered off.

Zanima cast a spell of detection over the entire forest. There were many creatures in her domain. Some of them gentle, like the squirrels, and others with vicious intent, like Maggeri. She could not find the hellcat among the many predators in her forest. Yet she had already suspected she would not be able to detect this beast.

If it had been merely a lion, tiger or panther she would have easily found it. But a hellcat was notoriously difficult to detect, because it no longer had a soul. In the realm of another dragon, the beast might have become an ally. However, Zanima was the protector of the forest and all who respected it. There could be no alliance with a creature of destruction such as this.