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Black Dragon

By Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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Prologue

It was in the air.

The islanders stared in amazement, their mouths hanging open, as the great ship cut through the clouds above them, gleaming gold in the noontime sun. Its sails were all scarlet, and rising above them waved a crimson flag marked with a strange, stylized picture in black.

“Sir,” someone said to the chief, though neither’s gaze left the miracle in the sky above them. “Sir… what should we do?”

Do? The chief shook his head and waved the speaker away. The ship was coming down, slowly gliding through the air in a curve. It would come to rest in the water, the chief thought: he had to be there to greet it. To see what it was. The crowd of people parted for him, and then gathered behind as he walked. They seemed to think he knew what was happening, somehow. As though being chief gave him some intimate understanding of the gods. But it didn’t. He could not even begin to imagine what brought this miracle; he could only hope it was for their benefit. A punishment from the gods would be far beyond his power to prevent.

The ship touched down at last, its keel sliding into the water with hardly a sound. The chief looked up at it, his stomach churning with fear and anticipation. It was enormous, like a mountain carved into a boat, gilded, and set into the sky. Beside its majesty, the village and its people appeared small, plain, and unimportant.

Atop the vessel, a person appeared. He was too high to be well-seen, but the chief saw that he was looking over the people who had gathered along the shore. He wore shining gold as part of his clothing, and a red cape blew around him. He turned, as though speaking to someone behind him, then threw himself over the edge. People scrambled back with cries of shock and fear, and the man landed on the shore, still on his feet, as though he had jumped off a simple step rather than a great ship’s height.

He straightened and looked around, and there was no fear in his eyes as he gazed at the many people, despite the spears of their warriors. He was strange to see, with golden-yellow hair that fell around his head but was cut before even reaching his shoulders, and skin the color of earthen clay. He was tall and strong, and held himself with easy confidence.When he looked around, the chief realized that the man’s eyes were glittering silver, like the metal in the hills.

The chief fell to his knees, ignoring the water that lapped against his legs. He heard those around him doing the same, bowing before the man who must surely be a god.

“My name is Rael,” the man said, and the chief looked up at him. “I am searching for a home, for myself and my wife. We saw no humans upon your mountain. We ask that you give it to us: we will stay long, and protect your people with our power. Who here is your ruler?”

There was a murmur through the crowd, and eyes turned towards the chief. He swallowed, fear rising in his chest, but forced himself to stand. The god turned to look at him, and his expression was not dangerous.

“I-- I am chief of Hoshizu,” the chief managed.

“Lord of the island?” the god asked. “This is your land?”

“I… I lead it,” the chief said, which seemed to satisfy the god.

“The mountain,” he said. “My wife and I wish to build our home there. We wish to be left alone there. Can this be done?”

The chief trembled. “I… I think so. I don’t know, Great One. But you are welcome to it. We cannot refuse.”

For some reason, the god did not seem pleased by this statement, and he looked up towards his ship with an expression of sadness. “No,” he said. “I suppose you cannot.”

“Great-- Great One,” the chief said. “Who… who is it we greet? From whence do you come to us?”

“We are guardians,” the god said. “Dragons, I suppose. From afar; but do not mind that. We are here, now.” He looked at the assembled people, still on their knees before him, and he took a breath of the salty, seashore’s air. “Rise, people. We will stay here. You need not fear us.” And with that, he leapt upwards, straight and high, until he reached the ship’s top and landed again. The islanders scrambled to their feet, watching as the god… the dragon, he’d called himself, disappeared from sight, and a woman leaned over the edge, her white hair blowing around her in the wind.

The ship moved, and the chief stumbled back from it, watching as it slipped back into the air, drifting in a slow circle until it was far overhead. It sailed with the wind, above the village, past the mountain, and disappeared from sight, lowering again as though to land on the island’s other side.

For a long time, no one spoke. The sun crawled across the sky, and no one moved. At last, one of the warriors stepped up to his chief, trembling, and the chief tore his eyes from the mountain to face him.

“What… what do we do?” the warrior asked him.

“Do?” The chief shook himself, looking at the sun in dismay. Had they really stood there for hours, doing nothing? “The gods have visited us. We will build a shrine at the foot of the mountain, and prepare for when they come among us again.” He turned and looked at the crowd. “Everyone! Now, we have gods among us! Rejoice, and return to your homes!”

The daze seemed to leave them, as though his words were permission to live again, and the people cheered. The chief glanced up at the mountain again, and took a breath to reassure himself. The gods were among them.

And the gods were called dragons.

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About Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

Genevieve is an aspiring author who has been dabbling in the arts of storytelling and writing for almost as long as she remembers. She writes mostly in the fantasy genre, and has received an Honorable Mention in the 'Writer's of the Future' contest for her short story 'A Faerie's Will'.

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