This short Story came from a writing workshop I attended at Ravencon. The workshop was run by Wendy Delmater, who happens to be a three-fisted-humdinger of an instructor. She has tons of experience as a reader, editor and engineer. She comes at the task and craft of writing with a no-bullshit, practical, common sense approach that had me riveted to my seat for both sessions of the two-part workshop.
All that is to say that I learned a LOT. I plan to write a blog post about the experience. Posting this short story is just an introduction. In that upcoming post, I’m going to share some of Wendy’s critique points. I didn’t follow all of her advice, but that wasnt’ for a lack of percieved value.
One of the insights I gained from the workshop is that my writing craft is built of many more ingrained habits than I realized. I also learned that I have much more work to do in receiving criticism in a productive way. That last revelation caused a bit of self-dissapointment. I’ll attempt to explain that in the promised post.
Here is the short.
Laughter of the Red Sun
Solume stalked among the long desert shadows towards a mountain of black glass on the horizon. The setting second sun behind her made the dunes appear as sea of blood. Only the child sun knew her fate now. He was Chastoo, the trickster.
With his blue mother gone down behind the world to sleep, Chastoo was alone with his urge to play his red games with the people. Chastoo used his red light to taunt her and make her afraid. He gave the gray cactus trees inky shadow twins that stretched out across the red sand like mocking fingers that pointed the way to the dragon’s lair.
Just twelve days ago, Chastoo’s laughter was with her people. The village had laughed at her when she stood up and seized the ice spear. At first, they thought the act was a joke. Then, they believed the act a mockery. But in the end, they realized that the spear belonged in her hands. It was the only thing that made sense. Solume alone had the best chance of defeating Panathrax.
Everyone else was either too old, too young, too afraid, or too dead.
Solume had but seventeen years in the world and weighed not much more than the tools her father used to shape metal. She was a shepherd of the milk-givers and a tender of vines. That was her avocation. She knew how to make things live. It stood to reason that she would understand how to make something die. The final hope of her tribe hung on that slender thread of reasoning.
The dragon took the strongest warriors first, including Solume’s brother. Then, it took the old veterans. When the village, in its desperation, sent farmers and crafters against it, the dragon took them, too.
In blasphemous anguish, her father the blacksmith and her mother the alchemist, created the ice spear. It was a thing never tried before. It violated the law of both craft and magic to create such a thing, but they saw no alternative. Let the Gods punish them in the next world for taking one of their favored beasts. The village had decided that death by dragon was not a noble fate, no matter what the scripture said.
With every blink of her eyes, memory seemed to cast the sight of her father on the backs of her eyelids. She saw how he stepped out their stone hut, spear in hand. She saw how he danced away from dragon fire. She saw how bravely he waited for his time to thrust. In the end, she saw how Panathrax took him just like the rest.
The dragon had its fill of her father, then flew back to its glass burrow to sleep. Solume planned to creep into bed with the monster and run the spear through its malevolent heart. Why she believed this was possible, Solume had no idea. She only knew it had to be done and that it would be done.
As she passed from the last stand of cactus trees, the desert seemed to bow down before the peaks. The mirrored mountain facets winked back at silver eyes set in the inverted bowl of night. The discordant beauty of that place, a product of sand and dragon fire, delivered her into a trance.
The blood from her chapped, cracked lips somehow brought reminiscence of the sweet-dew sickles her brother would bring back from forbidden-hour patrol.
She would help him remove his ironvine armor, and they would watch it feed while he thrilled her with red-hour stories. His duty as a warrior was to fend off beasts that would have their tribe for food. His duty as an older sibling was to keep his younger sister up past her bedtime to hear scary tales.
He was more than a brother. He was her closest friend. Panthrax took him. Gods be damned. For that, Panathrax would die.
It wasn’t hate that drove her, but perhaps something much worse. It was the calculus of vengeance. Something took what Solume cherished. She hoped the monster cherished its own life, because she was about to take that life away. She wanted him to know her pain.
Her fevered march melted distance and time. She reached the mountain’s feet just as Chastoo woke again to lift his red eye toward the peaks. He showed her the way to the lair that was littered with the vomited bones of her people. Solume turned that sickening morning joke on its head. To mask her scent, she passed through the piles.
She was the predator now.
Her arms trembled as she pulled herself up onto the rim of the cave where Panathrax slept. She looked down at him, without knowing exactly what was to happen next. The fear was gone, replaced by deadly intention.
The cave was cast in orange hues by his glowing belly. Overlapping spades of iridescent black scales rippled as he breathed. One of his short, muscular arm was draped over his snout, while the other formed a pillow for his chin. His long, spiked tail wrapped around his body and twitched by his snout. He reminded her of a sleeping dog.
The legends said his heart was roughly in the same place as hers. She needed to get the ice spear through the left part of his ribcage. She was close; probably closer than any living person had ever been to a dragon. It was close enough to understand that her task was impossible.
Even if she was not dying of thirst and half-starved, she just knew that she did not have the necessary strength. Impossible tears rolled down her dusty cheeks and joined at her chin where they formed a tiny waterfall. Where her dessicated body had found the water for tears, she had not a clue.
While her mind reeled with silent lament, Chastoo stared mockingly over her head and into the mouth of the cave. Without his blue mother to scold him, he turned Solume’s tears tears into a river of blood.
The stream broke across the back of her hand, while the other hand held the spear. The tears slipped between her fingers and snuck under under her supporting palm.
The sobbing sank deep into her chest as she struggled to keep it silent. A sudden wave of sorrow made her palm slip. She shrieked as she began to slide toward Panathrax.
Time became a long story told by an old man with too much wine in his belly. Each fractional moment held far too much detail as she tobogganed headlong to her end.
Panathrax reared up in sudden fright and his finned head slammed into the roof of the cave. Solume rolled to the side to avoid falling chunks of shattered obsidian.
She popped up onto her feet as soon as she could. If she had to go, she wanted to die standing, just like her brother had. Somehow, she still had the spear in her hand. But when she realized what was happening, the sobs transformed into gales of laughter that made her doubt her own sanity.
Panathrax was falling. His snout was turned down to her, and his forked, purple tongue hung from the side of his mouth. His eyes were crossed. In his fright, the dragon had given himself a sapping blow on the skull.
Solume cursed him then, with words that would have made her mother shout. “Your death is a red-sun joke,” she screamed.
She ran forward with the spear held upright in both hands. She had but one chance to align the tip of the spear with the right spot. At least, she hoped it was the perfect spot. If the legends regarding dragon anatomy were true, she just might succeed. Either way, she was certain she would have to find out in the afterlife. Solume was certain that she and the dragon would die together.
Just before his body hit the spear, Solume closed her eyes. She didn’t need to see death. It would be enough to feel the crushing weight.
But that weight never came. She was not crushed. An unfathomable mass nearly snapped her neck and knocked her to the glass floor. She found herself in a void and very much alive.
Solume squeezed herself through a gap between some part of the dragon and the ground. The dragon had fallen with its stubby arms beneath it.
In the end, he died without so much as a whimper. With tears and insane mirth, Solume collapsed onto her back and screamed laughter until her sides hurt.
Luck or genius, it did not matter. There was no great battle. There was no heroic thrust. The dragon was dead. She had frightened it to death.
And as the blue mother joined her red son to look down on her, the violet light of day dried her tears.
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