Beware the Hydrobeast: Part 1

 

I wrote this piece for a weekly Flash Fiction prompt in which you were to write a story based on one of two themes: 

1. Doing a good thing sometimes means being evil.

2. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I started writing about the first one, but the story ended up leaning towards the second. Nevertheless, it was late. Like a week late. So I didn’t post it to the site. But I decided to put it up here, since I wrote a part 2 based on the following week’s theme. I’ll post it once it’s edited. Anyway, here’s part 1!

“Stop, Witch.” A young man, not much older than Melinde, stepped out from a large tree beside the forest path, followed by his two companions. He was dressed like one of the king’s guardsmen, with his royal blue uniform and travelling cloak. As he pulled off his hood, Melinde noted that his face was slim, and his features were far too delicate for a warrior. The other two, also dressed in royal blue, looked like actual soldiers. One pulled a large axe from his weapon belt, the other a flail, which he swung in a slow, lazy circle.

“Get out of my way,” Melinde commanded, with more bravado than she felt. She could maybe take on the slender one, but certainly not all three. She was only an apprentice magician; none of the rudimentary spells she knew would be very effective, and she had no fighting skills at all. Nevertheless, she held up one slender brown hand, conjuring a small blue fireball, letting it spin around over her palm. It wouldn’t hurt anyone, not really, but maybe it would fool them into thinking she was more powerful than she was. She took advantage of the axe wielder’s momentary distraction to sidestep him, but the leader grabbed her arm as she was about to pass.

“I know what you are planning to do. I cannot let you. You will destroy this kingdom!” Melinde spared only a moment to wonder how this man knew. The mark on her forehead, a blue star that was barely visible on her dark forehead, would reveal her to be a wizard’s apprentice, but not who was her master. Or what he had tasked her with.

“You idiot,” she spat, trying unsuccessfully to shake off his grip. “I’m trying to save the gods-damned kingdom! We must gain the alliance of the dragons again! They are the only creatures powerful enough to destroy the Hydrobeast!”

“The dragons have not been our allies in millennia,” he said, yanking on her arm to pull her closer. “You think that you, a wizard’s apprentice, and likely a first-year at that, will be able to convince a nest of dragons to aid us when not one of our kings have been able to in centuries?”

“It’s better than waiting around to be killed by that…that…thing!”

“Then you seek to make a devil’s bargain. Nothing comes without a price, Apprentice. The dragons will not aid us without something in return. And I sincerely doubt you have anything to offer them they would find to be of value.”

“Oh really?” She bent forward to reach her boot, her tightly curling hair falling over her shoulders in a cascade. After a long moment, she pulled out an object and curled her fist around it, but not before the young warrior had a chance to see it. It was just smaller than her palm and wrapped in black silk cloth. “Maybe I’ll surprise you.”

“You are a fool if you think the dragons will help you in exchange for a small trinket.” He reached for her arm again, hoping to pry the object from her fingers, but she swung her arm just far enough away.

“I’m not bringing them any ordinary trinket!” Still keeping her arm out of the young man’s reach, she unwrapped the object in her hand, pulling the silk away to reveal a large obsidian-coloured stone. It gleamed dully in the sunlight, and would have looked completely unremarkable but for the large patch of yellow right in the centre that was shaped exactly like a cat’s eye.

“How did you come by that dragonstone?” His eyes, which were wide when Melinde revealed the stone, now narrowed in suspicion. “I’ve only heard tell of one such as that, and it belongs to the king.”

“He gave it to me,” she said, re-wrapping the stone and tucking it into her breech pocket. She would not meet his gaze; instead she looked over his head as if scanning the horizon behind him. “He asked me to offer it to the dragons in exchange for their assistance.”

“You’re lying,” he hissed, his face suddenly mere inches from hers. Melinde took a step back and nearly backed into the other two men. She was trapped. “There is no way King Andreus gave the most valuable stone in his collection to you. And he would never trade it for the assistance of the dragons. Do you even know what that stone does?”

“Of course I do!” She bluffed.

“Another lie,” he said in disgust and took a step back, arms crossed. “That stone was created the last time the dragons tried to destroy us. It is the only thing keeping them from destroying us again. You give it to them and the Hydrobeast will be the least of our worries.”

“You think I would actually give them the stone? I’m not as stupid as you seem to believe.”

“You’re foolish enough to think that you will leave their realm with the stone still in your pocket. You will be fortunate enough to leave with your life. Dragons can see the truth of things. They will take one look at you and know you for the fraud you are.”

“I’m not a fraud!”

“Oh yes, you are, little Apprentice,” the man replied. The soldiers joined him, effectively barring the way forward for Melinde. “You should go back to your master and pray he does not discover what you’ve done.”

“I’m not turning back!” Melinde could feel tears pricking the corners of her eyes, but she stood her ground, pulling herself up to full height and crossing her own arms.

“Then I suppose you are coming with us to hunt the Hydrobeast instead.”

“Why in the heavens would I go anywhere with you?”

“Because maybe you know a bit more than how to conjure up a useless ball of fire,” he replied. Then he raised his own hand, which now held the silk-wrapped stone tightly. “And because I now have my father’s dragonstone.”

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