Blackwing Witch (Chapter Thirteen: Worried)

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.

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Chapter Thirteen: Worried

She was so focused on the pain that she didn’t notice Spite until the blackwing ran her beak through her hair. She looked up and met the dragon’s luminous green eyes, now wide with worry.

‘It’s okay,’ she said. Her voice shook. She sat back with a grimace and laid a hand on the blackwing’s smooth beak. ‘I know you didn’t mean to, beastie. It just hurt, that’s all.’

Spite nibbled her beak, then made a sound somewhere between a purr and a chirp — again, impressing Wy with her range of vocalisations.

‘I need to get out of here,’ she said. She moved her hand under Spite’s beak, scritching the feathers under her chin as if she were a housecat and not a horse-sized bird-beast. ‘If I don’t get help and healing supplies, it’s going to be bad, Spite. Do you understand that?’

Spite squalled and nudged her arm with her beak.

‘Can you help me up?’ She slid her hands back along the blackwing’s face; Spite leaned forward so that she could ring her arms around her neck. She tested her weight; Spite held firm. Gritting her teeth, she hauled herself to her feet; Spite even lifted her head and stepped back a little, giving her a bit of extra help.

‘Thank you,’ Wy released her and stepped back, offering her a shaky smile. Spite might not understand language, like the stories said, but she was intelligent and seemingly emotionally literate — such as Wy would expect from a dog or cat, not a wild animal that attacked travellers.

Spite cocked her head to one side, watching her.

Wy put a hand on her shoulder. ‘We’re gonna try this again,’ she said. She scratched the blackwing’s neck, then braced herself against her back. ‘Is this okay?’

Spite watched her, eyes aglow.

‘And you won’t bite me?’

Spite made a clucking sound in her chest that sounded so much like a chicken that Wy had to hold back a laugh. Slowly, she eased her weight onto the blackwing’s shoulders.

Spite stepped aside.

‘Wait –’

And lowered her forelegs and fanned out her wings.

Wy’s hand went to her throat. ‘Stars and sea,’ she whispered.

What were dragons, really? How much did they understand? Every time she thought she’d figured Spite out, the blackwing had revealed new depths and sharp intelligence.

Did she understand that Wy was asking to ride her? Or was this a coincidence, a random behaviour that just so happened to line up — like perhaps she was asking Wy to scratch behind her wings? Wy had spent years caring for and studying animals. She knew that animals understood far more than people guessed. But nonetheless, Spite was on a whole new level.

Spite croaked and flexed her wings, impatience etched in the movement.

Wy didn’t want to miss her chance. She skirted Spite’s wing and scrambled up to sit just behind where wing met shoulder. She fell forward as Spite straightened, grabbing her neck.

Spite growled, a sound more grumbly than menacing, and folded her wings against Wy’s legs. It felt strange against her skin where it brushed holes in her leggings — warm and fibrous, as opposed to the smooth satin of her outer feathers.

Wy barely had time to consider her next steps — where she would hang on, how she would direct the blackwing to where she needed to go — before Spite bounded over to the cliff’s edge and leapt into the open air.

The world became a blur as Spite tipped into a dive, her wings tight against Wy’s legs. The earth leapt up to meet them and a scream tore from Wy’s throat. Then Spite’s wings snapped out, beat once in a powerful lift, and the blackwing went into a smooth glide toward Amys Mor. For a moment, Spite made a quiet, jackdaw-like chucking sound that was almost a chuckle.

‘That wasn’t funny!’ Wy’s voice was hoarse. She relaxed her death grip on Spite’s shoulder feathers and looped her arms around her neck.

Spite squawked and chuckled again in reply. Her feathers rippled as the air rushed past them, making the dragon almost iridescent in the sunlight, black and shiny as oil.

‘Not Amys Mor,’ Wy said as they approached the mountain that had loomed over her whole life. Spite’s ears flicked back, as if she’d heard, but her flight didn’t waver.

She probably didn’t understand. How much language, if any, could a dragon pick up — especially a feral blackwing, with little experience of it?

‘It’s not safe there,’ she said in a low voice. The ears flicked again. Spite turned her head, regarding her rider with a toxic green eye. ‘I know where we can go.’ She pointed eastward.

Spite looked where she had pointed then looked back at her. Her ears were laid flat and she croaked a question. She still wasn’t understanding.

Wy remembered her mother’s horse, when she was younger. Barely more than a pony, but light and nimble enough to pick his way through the swamp. Her mother always rode it unsaddled and unbridled, and expected her daughters to do the same. A gentle touch at her side was all the signal she needed to turn.

‘This way.’ When she had the blackwing’s attention, she pointed again, this time pairing it with a light heel into Spite’s side.

The blackwing’s eyes narrowed and a growl rumbled up from her chest, vibrating through Wy.

Wy rolled her eyes. ‘This. Way.’ She pointed and heeled her again.

Spite’s eyes widened, flashing green. She cawed and banked, swerving eastward. Wy clung to her, but the blackwing moved so smoothly that it was more for her own peace of mind than anything.

From there it was easier to guide her, smoother than riding a horse, and with more of a sense of being understood. She felt a thrill of connection. It was far too easy to communicate with Spite — less like training an animal and more like talking to someone who spoke a different language. And now she was flying — actually flying! And the longer she spent on Spite’s back the less it frightened her. Spite had caught her in the air before and the blackwing was taking such care with her now that she was certain she would do it again if she had to.

More worrying than the dizzying fall was the burning sensation in her side, interspersed with dagger-like stabbing pains. That it was only getting worse was a concern: she was certain now that if she were to remove her bindings, she would find the flesh gooey and dark with infection. She would die very quickly of it without proper care.

But if she did die … at least she would have done this much. Saved and befriended a feral dragon, who did the same in return. No story of the divine bond could ever match up to this.

They flew through a darkening sky lit in red and gold, Spite occasionally squawking and chittering, Wy sometimes talking back — telling her she was a beautiful and horrible chicken, that she was a wonderful monster, that she was so glad she’d met her. That Wy would be fine, though she was not at all sure that was the case. She didn’t completely know where she was guiding them. It was a journey she’d only made a few times, far from the shadow of Amys Mor and the lands she called home. And it all looked so different from dragonback, the world becoming a carpet of trees and grass and sloping hills, a shape that now felt utterly unfamiliar.

But she knew that it was east. And she knew that help would be there, if only they could find it.

As they flew, she slumped lower and lower on Spite’s back, until her arms dangled around the blackwing’s neck. ‘I’m sorry,’ she murmured into her feathers. ‘I’m sweating all over you, when you’ve been so nice to me.’

Spite made a high-pitched sound of distress, but Wy found she didn’t have the energy to comfort her. The world was getting blurrier, though whether from the coming night or from her growing fever, she couldn’t tell.

A plume of smoke rose through the trees. She guided Spite lower with the barest of touches, unable to summon any strength or urgency. It was a clearing, with the light of fire coming from it. ‘There,’ Wy said. She tried to raise her arm to point but found it leaden and heavy. ‘That’s … where it is …’ Her words became sluggish. As her vision faded, she had the sensation of falling. She heard Spite’s frantic caw but as blackness greeted her, she was too tired to care.

 

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