McShayne's Dragon

an excerpt

Chapter One

There had to be an ironic explanation for this entire situation. It couldn't possibly be reality, but this felt more than a simple dream, even the nastiest nightmare.

Morric McShayne blinked open his crusty eyelids. His vision blurred and darkened. His head ached and felt heavy. He didn't remember taking one of his sleeping potions to help get past one of the many sleepless nights. Thanks to that blasted dream and those eyes haunting him. Those brilliant emerald eyes. He didn't know who those eyes belonged too. A rich tenor tone with a lilting accent whispered mate to him. The voice went with those eyes.

Only he didn't dream those eyes tonight. This wasn't a dream. This wasn't even a regular sleep. This was something else.

Morric wiggled his jaw. A harsh flare of pain spread across one cheekbone. He winced against it, then groaned and mumbled under his breath.

Drugged and punched. What in the name of the Crone did I do this time? Give someone the wrong tea?

No, someone gave him the wrong tea. At the town meeting last night.

Morric remembered performing the vernal equinox dance within his protective circle to spread nature's energy into the land. He'd reenergized the forest and land after the long winter's sleep and prepared it to accept and grow the new seed. While he danced, he pulled down the energy and light from the full moon to replenish the earth. The gifts of the three Blessed Ladies joined him to bring life back. Of course, he did all this sky-clad, as was his custom with all his equinox dances. Only when he finished did he feel someone's gaze upon him. Someone invaded his sanctuary. Dark hateful energy came with the obtrusive gaze and broke harsh against the welcoming warm energy and light created by the dance.

After pulling on his robes, he returned to his snug cabin. Dressing, he groomed himself in proper "town" attire. He left his beloved forest to head into town for the dreaded meeting. He rarely went into the small town, but it was one of those mandatory town-hall meetings that happen every season. If he didn't go, the town would try to pass some new law to make all his work illegal or take away his lands and plow through the forest to make way for some new farming land. They tried it exactly once when he didn't go to a meeting and he made sure either option would never pass. No one tried to propose the law again, but he made enemies with his vehement determination to protect his life and the forest.

Something happened at last night's meeting.

The memories were fuzzy, but Morric remembered accepting the cup from Lady Jackson. That was the only time he didn't keep track of where his cup of tea came from. After that, the night became a blank.

Wake up, Morric! Figure out what's going on. You're not home. Trouble. This all means trouble. In the name of the Crone, wake up!

Bright light flashed. The deep rumble of thunder grew into a raucous roar. The sound of it vibrated the very Earth. Cold droplets continued to splash across his skin. His russet brown hair draped past his shoulders; thick wet strands flopped across his face. Clothing hung against his body, saturated and clinging to his chilled skin. His shoulders ached. When he tried to pull them down, he couldn't budge his arms.

Wait. Earth? Rain? Lightning? What in the name of sweet Maiden is happening?

Morric forced himself to focus when he opened his eyes. This time he made sure they stayed open. He needed to figure out what was happening to him. His life, his forest, and his magic depended on staying awake and focused.

Sometime during the night, a fierce storm descended upon their small section of earth. Located at the very edge of the forested land, against the vast ocean, Morric knew thunderstorms could become vicious with all the moisture surrounding them. Even tucked in his cozy thatched cottage protected by powerful ancient oaks, Morric didn't dare venture outside into one of these storms. This wasn't the welcoming kind of rain to soak the ground with life-giving water. This storm could become a life-taker.

Now, somehow, he stood in the vast open. He was literally surrounded by the storm's wrath.

"Sweet Maiden, this isn't good."

Stating the obvious didn't help his predicament look any better.

Morric tilted his head and followed his arms up into the night. Wide iron cuffs secured around his wrists, locked tight, and connected to long heavy chains. He wiggled his fingers and hands, but couldn't spread them further to find a way to escape. The iron in his cuffs caused his energy to spark and flutter.

An elemental witch with some Fae heritage, Morric hated the feel of iron on his skin. Luckily, the iron wouldn't burn his skin like his ancestors, but it made him uncomfortable. It created a prickly buzzing type of feeling that wouldn't dissipate. His magic and energy were fuzzy behind the iron shield, almost lost to him. Thanks to the aching pull against his joints, he knew the stretch of his arms went almost too far and far too long.

"I'm not trussed up here like a turkey to be comfortable."

He studied how someone secured the chains to the iron ring connected to a post. The post had been planted deep into the rocky ground.

Oh, sweet Maiden, this can't be real.

Morric realized exactly where he was.

The sacrifice precipice.

A glance down gave him the final answer. The pure white robe of a sacrifice with a simple shirt and pants underneath. His feet bare on the cold ground. The fabric almost translucent from the torrential downpour.

Morric screamed his outrage to the night. He tugged his wrists against the cuffs, rattled the chains against the pole, and only caused more tugging on his shoulders. It was pointless to continue screaming. It did nothing to fix the situation, but he got it off his chest.

Sacrifices? Really. The idea of them was so outrageous and outdated. The nature and beliefs rooted strong in the small town that grew next to his forest over the generations of his family.

For years, the townspeople believed a dragon lived in the northern mountains. They insisted how the dragon controlled the weather and the destiny of the growing and harvest seasons. Without the dragon's approval, the town wouldn't have a successful season and could potentially starve during the endless winters. For this reason, the townspeople decreed they would offer a sacrifice to appease the dragon. A human sacrifice. Since that decree, Morric lost track of how many young people were lost to this archaic belief system.

"Superstitious fools. Dragons are extinct. Everyone knows this fact. No one has seen a dragon in a generation."

Personally, Morric considered the whole dragon idea impossible. As a male bloodline witch, he dealt with superstitions and the unusual throughout his life. The townspeople considered his work unnatural, his witchcraft abilities influenced by demons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything he worked with came from nature. He used what nature provided in a different fashion to create the potions, teas, medicines and other items. Items the townspeople used every single day. Some of them even came to him to help cure their various ailments or with pleas to help further their desires and wishes, but would immediately flip when asked to accuse him of horrible deeds and black witchcraft.

What happened this time to make them decide I would be the sacrifice?

He tried to think about the last few people who requested his help, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The usual teas to help with arthritis or breathing issues. A box of his beeswax candles. None of that could cause an uproar.

It had to be the person lurking in the forest, observing his lunar dance.

Another bright crack of lightning pierced the sky. The multi-forked slash illuminated the darkness.

Morric took advantage to lower his gaze. Close enough to the edge, he followed the long drop down the cliffs. It was well over a mile below to the frothy water. His stomach turned. He felt woozy. He never did well around heights.

Not that he had the particular problem of an accidental tumble this evening. Oh no, his was a far more desperate situation.

Another heated curse escaped him at the feat the townspeople accomplished. Somehow he'd become their latest sacrifice. Like all the previous sacrifices, he wouldn't return to his beloved cottage, garden and protective circle. If he didn't return, the land would die. The town's crops wouldn't grow as numerous or strong. He connected to the earth and sky and repaired the damage done by the town. Now his beloved forest would die.

No one knew exactly what happened to the sacrifice. Everyone feared the dragon wouldn't appear if someone stayed to guard or watch the sacrifice through the night. No, they all walked away, leaving the sacrifice to their eventual death. If it came to that.

Morric swore they didn't disappear by a dragon. Perhaps someone from another town learned about the sacrificial offerings and returned to help them.

"For all their foolish superstitious fears, I can't believe they would truss me up here." Morric banged the back of his head against the pole. "I didn't think those old farts had the balls. Impressive, but beloved Triple Goddess--" He paused to gaze up at the storming sky, eyes closing when the rain droplets stung his face. "This isn't how I want my days to end. Beloved Triple Goddess, protect me, guide me, and reveal to me how to leave this path."

High rolling waves broke against the series of granite breakers. The spray crashed against the dangerous granite and shale cliffs. The water created a mist around the precipice, altering the edge to make it harder to find. He felt the additional spray against his chilled skin, the taste of the salt against his lips.

His knees shook with weakness, only the chains kept him upright.

"Enough, I'm stronger than this. I can get free."

Morric needed to regain lost energy before he could figure out a way to get free. Nature provided more than enough tonight. He tossed a drenched russet lock away from his eye, but it didn't quite work. Forgetting his hair, he adjusted his positioning against the pole to plant his bare feet on the rocky ground. When he anchored himself to the ground, he dug his toes into the mud and rock to create a bond and extended his bound hands toward the sky. Then he pulled in a deep breath, settled his internal torment to open his mind and heart. Insight and openness are the keys to Goddess magic. Something he learned as a boy sitting by his grandmother. Over time, a deep sense of confidence settled within his body, knowing he was an essential part of the sacred cycles of life. He needed this confidence more than ever to survive this night.

"I call upon thee, beloved Triple Goddesses. Maiden, Mother and Crone, assist thy son of the ancient blood." He invoked the power of his magic and the energy piercing the tempest. "Blessed Crone's power, Dark Moon Hour, Fire to Banish and magic flow, bringeth the wisdom and energy to me. I called upon thee to make heat lightning happen in this place, here and now. Make the skies light up with this bright light. Oh, blessed goddess of nature, make haste and answer my pleas!"

Jagged forks of lightning speared to where he stood in defiance. Raw power forced into him, the entry piercing and harsh. He caressed and welcomed the bolt. It sizzled against wet flesh before it dissipated. The iron heated against his skin, caused his control of the magic to falter a bit. He fought against the increasing pain to hold onto the energy and break the cuffs.

Hidden within the thunder, Morric heard something move against the rocks. Swift and sure, heavy in weight, but delicate in movement. When another bolt lit the sky, he watched it illuminate a massive being. His control dropped, the energy dispersed in a gentle flow back to the earth.

"Beloved Triple Goddess, protect me."

Hues of midnight blue and ebony filled his view before he met a large single eye, the color of a brilliant rich emerald, scrutinizing his. Long lashes slid down over that orb before it pulled back. The flickers highlighted the long snout, the flare of nostrils.

Morric took in the rest of the creature's massive head complete with horns. "This is impossible..."

A puff of smoke enveloped him in a brief moment before it dissipated.

"Dragon..." he stuttered between trembling lips. "Perhaps there is some truth..." He yanked against the shackles.

A powerful front claw reached out with talons, longer than his forearms, sharpened to razor-edged points. Instead of ripping, slashing, spilling his blood, it enfolded him within a tender grasp. The shackles magically opened and dropped.

Morric couldn't see the rest of the body nor the wings that carried this creature aloft. The power needed to call down the lightning exhausted him and the shock took him over that last edge of consciousness. When his toes left the rock, he let out a gasp as darkness overwhelmed him.

Dragon. I saw a dragon.