Douglas Niles: The Dragons

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Douglas Niles The Dragons
  • Название:
    The Dragons
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    Фэнтези / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Douglas Niles


The Dragons

Prologue

Fiery Beginnings

Circa 8500 PC

Crematia awakened to yearning, an awareness of a deep and fundamental need. She twitched, driven by knowledge that she lacked something… something essential to her comfort, even her life. Slowly, over a measureless span of time, that longing coalesced into a specific desire.

Fire.

Compelling but terribly distant, a blaze of heat called from somewhere beyond her tightly restricted universe. Seductive and alluring, powerfully radiant, the sensation tantalized her, until she knew without understanding that she had been summoned.

She reacted by pure instinct, driven by an urge ingrained into every fiber of her being. Lashing out in sudden anger, Crematia pushed and struck the resistant barrier of her world, initial frustration only increasing her desperation. She stiffened her neck, straining mightily toward the draw of magnificent warmth.

But still that radiance was masked by her enveloping barrier. With growing agitation, she pushed and prodded, squirming and flexing her supple body, then recoiling as the constraints of her universe pressed her back.

And in that frustration, Crematia learned the power of fury. A snarl rattled her tiny body as rage gave her strength. She struck blindly, snapping, clawing, frenzy infusing the cramped, squirming body with irresistible determination.

Pushing now, Crematia flexed, straightening her long neck, driving against the pernicious barrier. The front of her head was a sharpened beak, and when she pressed this hooked cutter against the leathery membrane, she felt the surface yield slightly. Compelled to new efforts by her fury, she swept against the barrier with her forelimbs, finding that, like her snout, her paws were equipped with sharp edges that tore and ripped at the stubborn impediment.

And then that glorious heat was there, radiating against her face, warming her eyes and caressing her nostrils. But that teasing suggestion of life only made the enclosing barrier that much more infuriating. Desperately, frantically, Crematia clawed, pulling the tough fabric out of the way, widening the gap. Finally her head pushed through, and wonderful warmth stroked her neck, kissed her shoulders with the promise of full and immediate immersion.

With a final push, driving with her rear limbs and clawing with her forelegs, the serpentine creature wriggled through the gap, leaving a hollow leathery sphere collapsing behind her. She blinked, straining to observe and study her surroundings, to clear away the film of murk that coated her eyes. At the same time, she stretched, feeling a glorious freedom, a lack of constraint that allowed her to extend her supple neck, to twist and lash her tail.

The environment was cloaked in shadow, but everywhere Crematia felt magnificent warmth against her scales. Twisting instinctively, curling about, she let the heat wash over her, bringing a trembling vibrancy to her slender reptilian body. Awkwardly she stretched as wings still gummy from the egg slowly, stickily unfurled. The sensation of space was exhilarating, though almost immediately she sensed a new discomfort, a gnawing ache in her belly.

As yet she could see nothing of shape or color, but she discerned a flaring brightness that she knew intuitively was the source of that wonderful heat. Deeply attracted, she hobbled toward the light. Her feet were unsteady beneath her, and she slipped, stumbling and jarring her chin painfully against a hard surface.

Jabbing with instantaneous fury, she snapped her jaws on the obstacle. The bite was painful, but the expression of rage deeply satisfying. Again she lunged toward the bright flickers, her vision clearing with every heartbeat. She saw tongues of orange heat rise, waver, disappear, to be replaced immediately by more of the dancing flares. The bright tendrils encircled her, rising in a protective curtain, shimmering and pulsing with relentless infernal energy.

A dark shape moved across the curtain of light, bringing another vigorous growl from Crematia’s chest, causing her scarlet scales to shiver. Feeling anew the hollow pain in her gut, she froze, sniffing, staring. She saw a round form, smaller than herself, covered with smooth fur. A pair of bright spots glowed, widening as her sharp snout jabbed forward.

The furry creature shrieked when Crematia’s beaklike jaw stabbed through its soft pelt. A wonderfully intoxicating aroma engulfed the huntress, and she sensed the elixir mingled her enemy’s pain and its pathetic fear. As the dying form twitched a few times and then lay still, she knew with a thrill of anticipation that much of her life would be devoted to the re-creation in countless victims of these twin talismans of suffering.

Warm wetness flowed across Crematia’s nostrils, and she discovered another tool of her body-a tongue, supple and forked, that could curl from her mouth to lick that wetness. The taste was sweet, so succulent that the serpentine body shivered in anticipation. Jabbing forward again, chewing and tearing, Crematia relished the tender meat and sweet blood of her first kill.

There was very little meat in the tiny corpse, but in her hunger, she greedily swallowed the small, warm heart and crunched the frail bones, sucking the marrow from each. Shaking drops of blood and fur from her jaws, she lifted her head, peering around with increasingly sensitive eyes, ready to kill again.

Crematia was vaguely aware of other shapes all around her, serpentine, scaly bodies emerging from a great nest of bones. With talon and fang they pulled ahead, climbing and clawing over each other, each striving instinctively to move beyond the others. In an atmosphere of seething intensity, hunger seemed to fill the air, driving the red dragon female with growing urgency. Uncertain why, she knew beyond doubt that as the wyrmlings explored outward, continued to move away from the nest, she would have to go first!

She saw another huddled furry shape scuttle past, and her hunger flared anew. Pouncing quickly, she slashed with lightning-fast claws and brought the little four-legged creature to a halt. Each squirming twist of the body, each keening cry brought another shiver of pleasure through her body. Again there was that intoxicating scent of blood, and she tasted the sweet liquid, relished the struggles of the creature in her talons. Crematia was vaguely saddened when those struggles grew still, when the little heart ceased to pulse forth its crimson nectar.

Once more she ate, this time focusing on the tastier morsels-flesh, heart, and brain. She left the bones and entrails behind, knowing that there would be more prey, more killing, just ahead. The food was good, warm and fulfilling in her belly, but she wanted-no, she needed — more.

In a frenzy, she dashed after another of the creatures as the little furball scurried away in panic. Abruptly a green and scaly shape, similar to Crematia but a trifle smaller, darted in front of her, reaching talons toward the prey. But the red wyrmling caught her emerald nestmate by the rear foot, twisting the leg, sinking her fangs into the twitching thigh. With a hissing, hateful shriek, the emerald serpent thrashed on the ground. Ignoring the weakling, the crimson killer leapt ahead of her nestmate to bear the bundle of flesh to the ground.

Again she was patient, investigating the wriggling creature, enjoying the sound of its plaintive, terrified bleats. Crematia quivered in pleasure as she took one of the stubby, kicking legs and twisted it off to a new crescendo of wailing. She snapped another leg and tore at the moist flesh with her jaws, holding the still breathing and trembling creature pinned with one of her forepaws.

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