Great flames raged hellish around her, pale unnatural blue. Countless toppling trees fed the firestorm. Towers crumbled into falling fragments as a vast shadow darkened the world. A pair of great evil eyes oversaw the calamity, and claimed dominion over everything left. The world burned. Screams never-ending. Great reaching hands; it had come for them all. A raw bloody roar as its darkness spread through cities. Racing ice froze every forest in sight. A final winter. Rivers turned to cracking glass; every living thing reduced to glittering diamond-dust. Her numb fingers blackened to frostbite rot in mere moments. A rising wind, a razor-sharp blizzard, shredded her to gore as she screamed.
Astre woke with a panicked grunt, and searched for burning cities in the coarse leather walls of her tent.
‘…Stupid dreams,’ she mumbled grumpily. Heavy rain pattered on the small snug tent around her; she saw a grey gentle dawn through the opening ahead. Sighing a yawn into the warm bedding around her, she threw off the soft meaty musk of her jackalope furs and stretched sluggishly towards the daylight.
‘Nother day in paradise, she told herself, rubbing her tiredness from sleep-ringed eyes.
A raining realm of pines towered around her; a distant lake gleamed in the dawn. Crawling to sit cross-legged in the tent’s entrance, she cast a small gold shield-spell over her sodden campfire. It made for a glassy-clear makeshift shelter, fizzing with magic as the raindrops plinked on top of it. Keeping the rain off the charred remains of her campfire, while she pulled firewood sticks from the pile beside her. She cast a tiny fireball to dry her stone-circled campfire to steam. A little more effort, and the floating fireball set the sticks ablaze.
‘What’ll it be?’ she asked the fox beside her, as it stretched from the tent and nuzzled her elbow in passing. ‘Squirrel? Or more squirrel?’ With the tiniest sparks dancing from her fingertip, Astre brushed her greasy black hair behind her ear to take aim at the trees above. Grey-blue eyes, vivid-pale in the daylight, as she searched the thicker branches for a victim. Aiming her hand like a finger gun, she zapped a scurrying squirrel with a tiny lightning spell and sent Fox scurrying after its body.
‘Squirrel. Always squirrel,’ Astre muttered, with a weariness beyond her years. Fitting feast of the damned and exiled, so the ancient fairy-tale told.
Fox dropped the dead squirrel beside her, watching hungrily as she skinned and staked it. Smart enough to know that cooked meat took time, but tasted better; which left Astre wondering if Fox was really something else with a curse on him. Maybe he’d paired with her these past few days in the hopes of a cure.
‘Think you may have the wrong calibre of sorceress there, friend,’ Astre mumbled, finishing her thought out loud. ‘Breaking spells like that takes a lot more tomes and studying. Which, after what I’ve done, are things I’m kind of… locked out of. For good.’
But Fox wasn’t listening; it only waited patiently for the staked squirrel meat as it hissed and cooked in the campfire. Astre sighed and pulled her coarse black hood over her head against the rainfall. The small flame of the campfire glowed orange on their hungry waiting faces; its light danced demonic in their eyes. Astre looked up as birds took flight above her. Flocking out over the forest, and the foothills around her; the vast ice-tipped mountains beyond. The great cliff where she camped in exile, which wasn’t a cliff at all. Its form was a fallen statue, some forgotten towering monument, whose craft and construction was beyond even the highest kingdoms of this Age. A great writhing dragon, coated in forest and carved in bright stone. Taller than cities, if its monolithic mass had still stood upright.
Astre sighed in the rain and watched her squirrel roasting, and wondered if the dragons would come hunting her too.
…Well, everything else is, she told herself grimly. It was only one teeny tiny Forbidden Spell.
© Andrew Hall 2021