Rule of 3: Raker's Return to Renaissance

Good news.  Now that the Rule of 3 Blogfest has ended, my four chapters were long-listed.  So, for the judges and any other interested parties, here's all four installments in one post.

The Return of Raker
Raker lumbered through the meandering passages of the Kastanes, staying clear of Heriot’s Pass.  Even in dragon form, he knew to avoid the hangout of the rebellious youth from the village of Renaissance.
Smoke curled from his large nostrils as he snorted over his old world language. Village.  Of course, Renaissance deserved the label, but no matter how hard he tried, he spoke in those ancient words while in dragon form.  His purple scales scraped along the tight walls, and the great beast paused to rub back and forth along an outcropping, a low rumble of pleasure rolling up his throat.
He paused mid-scratch, lifting his snout.  The scent of lilies tickled his nose. With a thunderous bellow, he rushed forward.  “How did you find me, woman?”
Brigit sat on a stone, her bright peasant skirt dipping into the dragon’s accumulated treasures.  She regarded him with a cool, blue-green stare, her red hair floating around her face in a fiery haze.  “Greetings, Raker.”
Scaly tail slamming against the far wall, Raker edged closer, towering over the woman.  “Why are you here?”
“Honestly, Raker,” Brigit said in her no-nonsense voice.  “It wasn’t that hard.”  She stood, her tone shifting to a sharp reprimand. “Why are you here?  The Sons of George don’t forget.  No matter how many years it’s been.”
The Sons of George.  He’d managed to evade them.  The dim-witted traders.  He hadn’t expected their return to Renaissance, too.
The slap came as a shock, and he rounded on her, mouth open, fire building in his belly.
“Don’t you dare!” Brigit wagged a finger in his face.  “You will not toast me, today.  Now change.  I can’t talk to you like this.”
He hunched his shoulders but instead rushed toward the abandoned mine shaft at the other end of the chamber.  Wings folded, he plummeted downward, but as he soared toward the floor, a sudden weight hit his back.  Pain blasted across his shoulders as Brigit’s sharp nails found the spot between his neck scales and dug in.
The pair landed with a thud at the bottom of the shaft.
Unable to resist her pin-pointed attack on his neck, Raker hunched over.  Purple scales melted and fused into smooth golden skin.  His body folded in on itself.  After a few agonizing moments, Raker stood naked before her.  A man.
“Why Renaissance?” Brigit advanced on him.  “Have you found one?”
 “The ancestors lived here.” He rubbed his neck.  “I smell her.”
Brigit tilted her head to the left, but then shook it from side to side. “We’ll look elsewhere.”
Fists clinched, Raker bunched his shoulders and took a menacing step toward Brigit.  He knew his man-form displayed great power and size.  “She’s here.”
She raised an eyebrow.  “It’s too risky.”
He unleashed the dragon, heat filling the shaft and revealing a myriad of passages.  Skin rippled as scales reclaimed their place amid the swirling scent of ash.  The dragon soared upward.
 “Raker!” Brigit’s screech echoed from the bottom of the shaft.

Brigit The Brash
Brigit didn’t spend two hundred and forty-seven years as a dragon keeper without gaining a few survival skills.  By mid-morning, she stumbled out of the maze of the Kastanes mine, blinking at the sun.  The horizon gave no hints to the dragon’s wherabouts.  Sunlight glittered off of the rooftops of Renaissance in the distance.
Brigit slapped at the dirt clinging to her clothes.  “Another skirt ruined thanks to that no-good lizard.”
Her gaze returned to the town. Raker said he smelled the One.  To town, then.  Hopefully, she wasn’t too late to save his scaley, purple hide.
She hiked to her truck’s hiding place and dragged a duffel bag from the cab. The water bottles provided luke-warm refreshment, but she didn’t care and stripped down, pouring water over her sweaty body.  A leather, wide-brimmed hat concealed her wild, red hair. She donned jeans and a loose-flowing shirt, and then the dragon keeper climbed into the truck’s cab.
“Maybe the Sons of George won’t be looking for Brigit the Brash, yet.”
The engine roared.
A few miles down the Kris Highway, which really was more of a semi-paved dirt road, Brigit passed a young Asian girl walking.  Petite with long dark hair, she looked no more than twelve and offered a friendly wave as Brigit drove by.
Brigit eased off the gas and studied the girl in the rearview mirror.  She wore jeans and a red T-shirt.  A pair of sandals dangled from her fingertips.  “What’s a child doing out here alone?”
Brigit backed up.  “Need a lift?”
A bright smile returned thanks, and the girl hopped into the cab.
“Where ya headed?”
“To town.”  The girl’s rich, alto voice flowed smooth as honey.
Brigit eased back on the road.  “It’s not my business, but what are you doing way out here alone?”
The girl shrugged.  “The kids from town took me to Heriot’s Pass.”
“And?”  Brigit re-evaluated the girl’s age. Heriot’s Pass was teen territory.
“They left me.  Some new kid ritual.”  The girl rolled down the window, her black hair flying in the breeze.
“Kind of young for that group, aren’t ya?”
The girl dimpled.  “I’m sixteen, just small for my age.”
Brigit pondered this fact for a moment, but her thoughts returned to Raker.  Of all places to return, but his dragon sense would find the One, no matter how far away.  She considered the women of Renaissance—a blond virgin would be hard to find in today’s loose world.
 “I’m Jade.”  The girl interrupted Brigit’s thoughts.  “My Uncle Albert will have a fit if I don’t know who gave me a ride.”
Brigit coughed.  “Uncle Albert?  As in Albert George?”
“You know him?”  Jade wrinkled her nose.
“Of  him.”
What fate led the niece of the Sons of George leader to her on the day Raker sensed the One?
“But you’re—”  Brigit glanced at the girl.
“Not a big, strapping Viking?”  Jade laughed.  “I’m adopted.  From China.”
“So, Jade George?”
“No! That would be awful.  Jade Marshall. My mom’s a George.”
The truck rattled into town.  “Just drop me off at the dragon fountain,” Jade said shaking her head in amusement.  “This town and their stories.  They say my great-great-great granddaddy killed the last dragon.”
“I’d heard,” Jade said, studying the monstrous image of the Viking, a pitch fork shoved into Raker’s gaping maw.
Brigit gripped the wheel tighter when Albert George stepped out of his gas station and watched Jade approach, then studied the truck, his hand shading his eyes.  On the corner behind him, Brigit spotted Raker, frozen in motion, hungry eyes tracking Jade.

Albert's Armory
Albert George watched his niece climb down from the dirt-splattered F-150 truck.  She flashed a quick smile in his direction and started to stroll on by. The woman in the truck watched them, her body frozen in time.
“Jade?”  Albert restrained his voice, seeking a calm tone.  “It’s not safe for you to be out here alone.”
The girl paused.  “I wasn’t.”
 A strange tingle ran along Albert’s spine just like his father told him it would.  Could it be? Didn’t he have four more years to prepare?  He sniffed the air.  Sulfur.  The woman in the truck stared back at him.  “Who’s that?”
Jade squinted at the driver, a look of confusion crossing her face.  “She didn’t say.”  She shrugged one shoulder.  “She knows you.”
 Albert clenched his fists and nodded toward the dragon fountain. “That wasn’t the last dragon.”
Jade laughed out loud.  “Yeah, right.  You’re crazy.”  She shook her head and hurried toward Albert’s gas station.  Her laughter trailed behind her like an overpowering perfume.
The truck still sat by the fountain, and Albert strode toward it with purpose.  The driver couldn’t be Brigit, could it?  He got within a few feet of the truck, and the woman startled like a surprised bird, revved the engine, and burned rubber only to screech to a stop at the gas pumps. 
Albert’s heart pounded in fear. Jade stood beside the pumps.  A dark-haired man hovered over her, his body leaning in close and possessive.
 “Jade! Get away from him.”
The man stroked her cheek once.  Albert’s stomach churned at the sight. 
The dark man glanced at Albert and hopped into the truck.  It sped away kicking up dust and gravel.
Albert skidded to a stop next to Jade.  “Did he hurt you?  What did he say?”
Jade’s almond-shaped eyes sparkled. “What?”  A secret smile spread across her face.
Grabbing her arm, Albert dragged her through the store and into his office.  Three quick turns of the dial and the old safe door swung open.  He hauled out the bag containing his spear gun and cross-bow and slammed it on his desk with a thud.
“I should’ve smelled him sooner.”  He strapped on his holster.  “There’s a lot you don’t understand.”  He jabbed at a faded WANTED poster on the wall.  “Is this the woman in the truck?”
Jade rubbed her hands along her arms like she was cold.  “Uncle, you’re scaring me.  That’s like from the old west or something.”
“Does it look like her?”
She shook her head.  “It can’t be her. Is it her grandmother?”
Albert grabbed the duffel bag and shoved past Jade.  “This wasn’t supposed to happen now. We thought I’d have four summers to teach you.”
“Four summers?”  Jade stiffened.  “Here?  No thanks.”
“Jade.”  He rubbed his face and struggled over what to say in a few short seconds.  “You’re here for a reason.  My sister adopted you on purpose.”
Jade shook her head.  “Because she wanted a child.  She loves me.”
He relaxed his grip on the bag.  “We all love you,” he said, laying his hand on her shoulder.  “But it took a lot of historical research to find you.  It had to be you.”
The girl backed up against the wall, looking young, small, and afraid.  “What do you mean?”
“Your grandmother’s ancestors honored the dragons of old.  The women…”  He paused, unwilling to disclose the role her ancestors played.  Slinging the bag over his shoulder, Albert marched out of the office.  Sixteen was too young to learn that you’re dragon bait.

Fire In The Sky
Brigit took her frustration out on the F-150’s gas pedal.  “What were you thinking?”  The truck fishtailed  down the Targe highway heading toward the Schiavona Desert.
As the truck bounced over potholes, Raker shouted above the roar of the engine.  “You really have to ask?”
“She’s only sixteen, Raker.”  Brigit spun the wheel, tires screeching as she took a dirt road leading into the bush.  “And Albert George’s niece.  Nice choice.”
Silence greeted that news, and Brigit glanced over at her charge.  The desolation on his face drew her back a hundred years to his last attempt to reproduce.  She glanced in the rear-view mirror, remembering the destruction his fires wrought on Renaissance that day.  The small town never had fully recovered and, from the look of things, neither had Raker.
She stopped at the top of a hill, the truck facing back toward town.  Below, dust billowed into a cloud behind two trucks and four motorcycles.  The Sons of George wasted no time in pursuit.
Raker scrubbed at his face and groaned.  “I don’t know why I smelled her so early.  I knew the moment I saw her, but,”  he flashed a sardonic grin toward Brigit, “I couldn’t resist.”
The dust cloud drew closer.
Fear and compassion sent bitter adrenaline into Brigit’s soul.  “Get out. Change.  I’ll distract them and seek you later.”
“No.”  He pounded a fist on the dashboard.  “I’ll protect you.”
“Fool.”  She rounded on him.  “You die, I die.  Get out.”

Albert scanned the horizon for a sight he’d hoped never to witness in his lifetime.  His Harley ate up the road, faster than the horses his predecessors rode to chase dragons, but it still wasn’t fast enough.  His niece.  They suspected, no, counted on her ancestry, but the accuracy of his sister’s research still tasted bitter on his tongue.
“There.”  The shout came from his cousin, Edwin.
A great shadow rose above the horizon, wings flapping in large cumbersome arcs as the purple dragon ascended into the sky.
Albert stared, his hand letting up on the throttle.  Around him, the others slowed, too, awe and fear flashing in their faces.  That thing.  That dragon wheeled in the sky and turned toward them.  The shadow plunged from above, the sound a screech like the wind whistling through the tunnels during a sandstorm.   The great body blocked out the sun, casting a cool shadow for a moment.
Albert’s mind snapped back into awareness.  The cool shadow lulled prey until it was too late.  “Duck.” 
The dragon’s maw released a blast of fire as the men dove for the ground.  The trucks burst into flame as the beast wheeled around for another attack.
Albert scrambled for his crossbow, sighting for the dragon’s heart.  His brother, Robert, stepped up beside him, crossbow ready.  The dragon swooped down, and they both released.  One bolt bounced off of the hard scales.  One embedded in the dragon’s wing.  An ungodly screech shattered their ears.
Albert and Robert jumped on their bikes and raced after the fleeing dragon.  Behind them, a concussive explosion told Albert what he had already accepted. The trucks, and the brothers inside, were gone.
When Albert crested the hill, the dragon had disappeared.  In the distance, dust trailed the woman’s truck.  Albert gunned his engine, but the truck and dragon were too far away.

Jade rushed out of the gas station as the building shook with thunder.  She flung a pack over her shoulder and started hiking. Folk said the Roundeli Mountains were hundreds of miles away. Far wasn't far enough.


Anonymous said…
Congrats on making the longlist!
Fred Brooke said…
Barbara, love your story! It's filled with great images and real people - plus dragons!! Good luck!
Thanks, Fred. And to think this is the first time I've written about dragons.
Thanks Josh. I'm pretty excited about it.
Unknown said…
I love your story. Congrats on the short list!! Good luck in the voting. :)
JennaQuentin said…
And congrats on the making SHORTlist!! I love this story - voting will be tough!
Misha Gerrick said…
Congrats on making the shortlist! ^_^
Kurt Hartwig said…
Coangrats on a great wrap to the story and on making the final voting!
Golden Eagle said…
Congratulations on making the shortlist. :D
Li said…
Congrats on making the short list! Good luck :-))
Congratulations! it's easy to see why you made the short list. Great story!
Thanks everyone. This is a tough competition. I'm up against some really good stories. Very humbling.
dolorah said…
Will you be making this into a novel? From beginning to too soon ended, this was fantastic. I love how well you blended the Renaissance environment, the subtle world and character building; the exciting plot.

Congratulations on making the short list. A well deserved win :)

Colleen said…
I think I missed reading this complete story before--I'm glad I got to now. WOW! Great writing--very effective.
Vonda Skelton said…
Great job! Proud of you!!
Anonymous said…
I'm having such a hard time deciding who to vote for! Great writing, really.
@Donna, yes, this is backstory for my WIP.

@Colleen, I know. There were so many entries that I didn't get to all of them either. Thanks for checking mine out.
MAJK said…
Congrats on making the short list. This story makes me want to hear more. Have you thought of turning it to a short story or something like that?

May-Day_Aura said…
Congrats on making the shortlist! =)
Lisa said…
Great line: The dragon’s maw released a blast of fire. . .

Congrats and goodluck!

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