Blackwing Witch is a work-in-progress but I wanted to share it while I work on the first draft. Please bear in mind that this is an unedited work, but hopefully you will still enjoy it! Image is a commission from ShadowDragon22.
Chapter Twelve: Wounded
Spite tucked her wings and deposited Wy on a mound of dirty blankets and rugs, before staggering a few steps aside and collapsing, panting heavily. Her wings lay limp and spread at her sides and her legs were splayed beneath her.
Wy tried to sit up, barely containing a raw moan between gritted teeth. Spite’s claws had cut deep into either side of her body and ripped into her left arm. She was bleeding through her clothes and sitting on makeshift blanket nest that was filthy with dust and dander.
The mouth of the cave wasn’t visible from here, though she knew it wasn’t far. She couldn’t hear Valour or Lady Arielle, or the horrible, ear-splitting scream of Valour’s starfire. Spite had flown an erratic path at high speeds, dodging and diving on the wing even as she laboured against her own weakness and Wy’s weight. It seemed Valour had found it hard to follow.
Now the problem was her cut flesh. She had only the contents of her pack and the hoardings of the exhausted dragon beside her — once-brightly patterned cloths and rugs, glittering pieces of glass and metal heaped around the edges of the cave. It was hard to imagine that Spite would have stolen anything of value.
Wy slid off her pack, hissing as a strap grazed the deep cut on her arm. She checked the contents: the entire pack was waterlogged and filled with mud. She scooped out what she could, but little was salvageable. A cloth full of muddy gems and charms she had intended to sell at the shop; a pot of chicken paste she’d intended to bring back for Spite; her knife and her wand, which she never left home without.
The wand was a ritual item and she had little use for it now. The knife she could maybe use to cut up some cloth to use for bandages, but everything she was wearing was filthy and everything Spite had smelled of dragon.
She could move, if painfully, with these wounds, but they were deep enough that infection was a real risk. Her mother had told her stories of people killed by infection and the sickness it brought. Only skilled healers and potion witches had the knowledge and the supplies to stave off that kind of horrible, slow death.
‘Spite?’ she called to the dragon. Her hands clenched and unclenched in her lap; she wanted to curl up, or to hug herself, or to do something, something other than sit here and count off the ways she was destined to die in spite of Spite’s dive to save her.
Spite croaked, high-pitched, her eyes slitting open just enough for a flash of green to pierce the gloom of the cave. Come night, the darkness in here would be near impenetrable.
‘I need to get help.’ She gingerly touched the edges of the wounds on her sides. Blood had stained the edges of the shredded fabric. ‘I’m hurt, Spite.’
Spite nibbled her beak at Wy.
‘I need to leave, Spite.’
Spite closed her eyes.
But there was no response except the slow, high-pitched breathing of a dragon in sleep. And, exhausted, wounded, and with her mind still spinning to come up with a solution, sleep claimed Wy as well.
The first thing Wy was aware of when she woke was the pain. Then the warmth. Then the smell.
Spite had crawled over and curled around her in the night, her enormous beak inches from Wy’s face, one wing draped over Wy in a large, heated tent. Despite everything she had gone through for this dragon, Wy still couldn’t help but wonder. When she’d met Spite, the blackwing had repeatedly tried to kill her and drive her off. Now, Spite had saved her life, and was even comforting Wy in her sleep.
‘Is this the divine bond?’ she wondered aloud, her voice hoarse. Much was made of noble dragon’s imprinting on their Knights at hatching and the unbreakable bond that was born. But that seemed to Wy to be much like the way a hen could raise ducklings. This friendship between her and Spite was something different. Forged, not born.
Spite opened her eyes, watching Wy through narrow green slits that glowed in the shadow cast by her own wing. Wy reached up and scratched her neck; Spite made a strangled growling sound that might generously be called a purr.
Even through her pain, Wy couldn’t help but wonder that a feral blackwing would not only submit to a witch’s touch, but enjoy it.
‘Spite,’ Wy began. The blackwing continued to watch her: whether the dragon had accepted her new name or not, Wy wasn’t sure. ‘I need a healer. Do you see this?’ She lifted her shredded dress, wincing as the tattered fabric peeled away from the sticky wound.
Spite tilted her head to one side, then the other.
‘Look, Spite.’ She gestured with one hand. The blackwing’s gaze followed her hand. After a pause, she leaned forward to sniff the wound. Her beak opened. Her horny tongue extended. ‘No — Spite –!’
Spite’s tongue was simultaneously wet and sharp, like a handful of grit in a washing basin. Wy yelped as it pulled at the edges of her wound, tearing it further. ‘OUCH!’ Wy jerked away from the blackwing and swotted her lightly on the end of her beak, as she would to Pan when she nipped.
Spite’s head reared back, tongue still lolling, green eyes wide with shock.
Wy examined the wound, satisfied that Spite wouldn’t try licking it again. Noble dragons were said to have healing powers, but Wy didn’t know the specifics. Sure enough, Spite’s thick saliva had done nothing to improve her state, and might have infected it. Stars only knew what had passed through her mouth.
‘I need to get out of here,’ Wy said, more gently. Spite’s ears flicked forward, then back. Something about the intensity of her gaze gave Wy the impression that she was trying to understand.
Wy hauled herself to her feet, her breathing ragged and hitching at every tug of her wounds. She stood there a moment, catching her breath, while Spite watched her, eyes glowing inscrutably.
‘Come on,’ she said, more to herself than to Spite. She made for the mouth of the cave, a bright hole which with every laboured step seemed to grow more distant.
After a minute of struggling and with a sound barely more than a whisper of feathers, Spite padded at her side. Wy stretched out one hand and braced herself against the blackwing’s shoulder, fingers sinking into the feathers.
When at last they made it to the mouth of the cave, Wy found herself clinging to the blackwing more tightly; the ground fell away to reveal a silver-and-gold forest so far below that the canopy looked to be a fine carpet, the river a black thread. She could see, on the horizon, a faded shadow that could perhaps be the mountain Nyar Vell, made unfamiliar by angle and distance.
Her skin prickled and she locked her knees as they threatened to give out beneath her. This was not her empty wilds. This was not swamps and trees like blackened teeth. Spite had carried her farther than she had ever travelled, or ever thought to.
The mountain, and its promise of home, pulled at her like a hook and line. But she already knew that there was no going home — not yet, anyway. Not with Lady Arielle hounding Spite from Valour’s back.
But her family, like most of her people, were scattered. There were more places to look for help than home.
But first they needed to get out of here.
Bunching her hands in Spite’s feathers to steady herself, she looked down. Sheer rock and open air greeted her. There was no way to climb that unless she intended to scatter her remains on the ground below.
She thought of Lady Arielle and Mirran effortlessly mounting Valour, the noble dragon holding out her foreleg like a perch.
‘I don’t suppose you could carry me?’ she murmured, looking at Spite sidelong. The blackwing’s ears twitched, though that might not even be related to her words. Honestly, she didn’t really expect Spite to understand her — there were stories of divine dragons understanding speech, but that was all they seemed to be — stories. And anyway, Spite was a feral blackwing and not divine in any way people would recognise.
But animals understood the tone of things, didn’t they, if not the specifics? You could pick up a cat if you were nice about it, or pick a goat’s hooves, or coax a sparrow to perch on your finger.
‘You’re probably not going to like this,’ she said. Spite clicked her beak at her, ears flicking. She put her hands on the blackwing’s back. ‘But … I’m hoping you won’t kill me for it.’
She felt an uneasy thrill at the words. Only a few days ago, she’d risked her life just to toss this dragon some food. Now she was considering asking Spite to bear her across the sky, like some twisted parody of an Elysian Knight and her noble dragon. Lady Arielle’s mocking words returned to her. ‘A witch would find only danger among dragons. Especially given your options would be limited to the ugly, savage things that stalk the wilds.’
But if Spite was ugly and savage, then so was Wy. And in her gut, she believed the blackwing to be the rival of any divine dragon.
She started to heave herself up.
Spite cawed and sidestepped away from her.
‘Please hold still,’ Wy said as calmly as she could. She followed the dragon and tried again. The moment she put weight on her arms, Spite hissed and snapped toward her; she barely pulled away in time to avoid a sharp bite on her arm. She had no doubt the blackwing’s cruel beak could have snipped her hand neatly from her wrist. ‘Ahh! Don’t bite me, you oversized pheasa–’
At her shout, Spite’s wing flared out and hit her in the chest. She twisted to catch herself, then screamed as her wounds flashed with agony. Arms bracing herself, hips at an angle, she hunched on the floor, panting. Sweat beaded on her skin as she panted and waited for the waves of pain to end.