The clearing

The sunlight streaming down onto her upturned face is pleasantly warm, knocking the chill from her body and thawing her smile. The yellow-tinted hue gives a spring-like freshness to the towering trees, clad in just-turning leaves. The springy moss under foot gives a satisfying bounce to her steps.

The girl is free and happy for a moment, until the heavy black chains on her ankles stop her sprightly steps. The rattle and clang from the thick links remind her of where she is and what she’s doing. Her masters wouldn’t hesitate to grind the smile from her face.

The looming specter of her masters brings her back to herself. She peers left and right, making sure she’s still alone in the forest clearing. Her purple eyes darken, piercing the deeply shaded areas around her. Her pointed ears pull forward, straining to hear unnatural movements, but she senses nothing.

The slim girl takes a few more seconds to commune with the early autumn sun before moving back to the tarred post she’s chained to. She stretches her legs out once more before crouching down upon the single moss-free spot of the clearing.

She is bait. The lure her masters use time and again to capture more magical beings. She hates being the meat for the trap, but this has been her fate since her mother was captured, long ago, the girl a mere spark inside, below her mother’s heart.

Her magical hearing allows her to hear her overmaster growl, “Cry, demon’s sake, or you’ll find me nothing!”

The girl begins crying, lightly but truly. If she coerces nothing into the trap, her masters will ensure she is even more pitiful on the morrow, with added bruises and bleeding. She would sob in earnest, then.

For several heartbeats, nothing happens. Then, the warm, comfortable sunlight fades, bringing a wash of frigidness to the clearing. The girl looks up, frightened by the abruptness of the change. She cowers, dropping to her bare belly on the hard ground, and throws her hands above her lank green hair.

The great sapphire dragon hovering above the clearing roars in anger and challenge. He is outraged at her condition. The trumpeting of his call echoes through the forest, sending lesser creatures scurrying for cover.

Even in her terror, the girl hears her masters’ voices, cawing in laughter and glee at their catch. They are sure the gem dragon is no match for their cleverness and greed. The ground trembles in her ears. Her masters are arriving.

Then a closer voice, gentle as the finest silk and chiming like glass orbs in a spring wind, whispers in her pointed ear, “Be calm, little one, your masters are masters no more. Look!”

The girl raises her purple eyes to gaze in wonder on the scene in the once-peaceful clearing. Her masters, all four massive, foul beasts with their piggish snouts and horned visages, are surrounded by magical beasts. The fear flowing from the masters is palpable to the girl.

Her lips spread in a slow, feral smile, showing her tiny, sharpened teeth. Her delight in the masters’ distress and terror tastes wonderfully crisp and sweet as it slides through her. She watches the sparkling, gem-encrusted sapphire beast hover above the masters, bugling orders to the other magical creatures of the forest. She admires the precious stones, craving the feel of the sharp edges, aching for the riches inherent in each pebble.

The dragon feels her greed, her lust for the treasure that adorns his body. He trumpets new demands into the crowd across the mossy clearing. As one, the group of masters is lifted bodily into the air, short stout feet flailing in impotent distress, and carried into the thickness of the forest.

Lost in her desire, the chained girl forgets her shackles, bounding her way to her feet. But the thick iron links hold her fast to her post. She cries out to the majestic blue dragon for help, but the beast’s cold-hearted reply leaves her gasping for air.

“No,” he says, “for you have become what you’ve hated. You, my child, have become a master, though you know not. I leave you here, to whatever fate finds you. You are no longer our concern.”

With that, the massive wings flapped, pushing frozen air like daggers at the girl’s bare skin, and the sapphire dragon flew away.

The girl turned her small, heart-shaped face to the warmth of the sun and contemplated her world. The small clearing, full of springy moss, teemed with possibilities. The masters had taught her how to take advantage. And she would, she thought, as she heard movement in the trees.

She whimpered, cowering next to the tarred post. Her purple eyes gleamed in anticipation.



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