I have a short story for you this week, featuring a dragon better known for being ancient, all-knowing and a top-class interferer: Elder Goryal Clan Starshine. Except this is from when they were a mere twelve years old and barely out of their hatchling phase.
Beware, excessive cuteness lies ahead. Enjoy!
Approx: 2300 words
Goryal’s Grand Adventure
THE BOLD BRAVE dragon approached the dread portal, belly down and cautious. Foul magic hung in the air, dark shadows full of terrible pain and punishment. Who knew what cruel beasts lurked in the passage beyond, guarding the way and waiting for courageous souls to try the door.
The bold brave dragon did not fear them, they feared nothing, they —
“Goryal, what are you doing slinking along like some wyrm? You’ll get all dirty.”
Goryal sat up with a frustrated sigh. Keralaya, of course. It would be. She always knew precisely when to come along and spoil all their fun. They glared at the older dragon, hoping she would take the hint.
She didn’t. She never did.
“Look at your belly scales! Hereliet is going to be so vexed with you.”
Goryal looked down at themself and brushed a paw over their silvery belly. It was just a bit of dust, nothing to worry about. They sniffed their paw and sneezed. Nursery attendant Hereliet was an old worrywart, just like Keralaya.
“You’d better bathe before you go back, or we’ll all be in the suds.”
Goryal didn’t even bother dignifying such foolishness with a peep or a squeak.
Keralaya put her nose in the air with a sniff and sauntered off, muttering, “Stupid hatchling.”
Goryal whipped their head around and glared at her with a low growl. Just because they didn’t choose to talk yet, did not make them a hatchling! They were twelve years old, over a decade. Two whole years above a hatchling! Keralaya was barely two decades older. She wasn’t special.
They snorted dismissively as the older dragon’s gold-flecked tail whisked out of sight around the corner, then settled their scales again. Never mind her, she didn’t know what she was talking about. Goryal was on an important mission.
Reminded of their duty, they flexed their wing stubs and hunkered down on their belly again, eyes fixed on the door.
No, the dread portal.
Lifting a careful paw, they took a silent step.
The big bold brave dragon approached the dread portal, slinking low and silent, cloaking themself in magic to ensure none would hear, see, smell or sense them coming. Utterly invisible they approached the foul magic that hung around the portal —
And recoiled, squealing, as the dread door slammed open on their nose and a crowd of older dragonlings tumbled inside.
“Oops! Sorry, Gory, didn’t see you there.” Laughing and joking, the five nursery mates romped past, noisy and disruptive and completely oblivious of Goryal’s annoyance.
They swished their tail angrily and waited for them all to pass. So much for the dread portal, its terrible magic and the awful creatures that lurked beyond. Although that last one had been truer than Goryal knew. The last dragon in the group, the irritating, pebble-dashed Oweren crossed their eyes and pulled a face.
Goryal stared impassively back. Oweren was the next youngest dragon in the nursery after Goryal, and somehow they thought that made them clever. Goryal stared at the stupid hatchling until Oweren realised they were getting left behind by the others. Squeaking, they ran to catch up. Goryal waited for their back to turn and poked out their tongue. Oweren was only three years older and hadn’t unlocked their words yet either. They might be bigger than Goryal and already have their magic coming in, but Goryal was smarter. They had imagination. Oweren was just silly and desperate, running around after the older dragonlings all the time, pretending to fit in.
Goryal shook their head and winced as the bump on his nose throbbed. Crossing their own eyes, they peered down their nose, certain they’d see a great red lump glowing on the end.
Nothing, just an unfocused blur of dark grey speckled with bits of silver.
They sighed. It wasn’t fair being the smallest and the youngest of all the dragons in the Clan. They couldn’t talk – at least not in a way anyone else chose to understand – their magic wouldn’t work and their wings had yet to grow. It was so frustrating. They had all these ideas, all these plans, all these excellent games for everyone to play… but no one ever played with Goryal. The usual dragon games bored them, but no one ever had the patience to puzzle out what they were trying to say when they tried to explain that they had a much better game to play. The other dragons thought Goryal was stupid. Which was unjust. Goryal wasn’t stupid, everyone else was.
Not that they much cared. They liked being alone, playing their games, going on adventures. Or, at least, they would if only Attendant Hereliet would let Goryal leave the nursery grounds.
They eyed the dread portal again. Magic shimmered around the edges, like heat rising from the ground on a hot summer’s day. Every other dragon in the nursery had earned the right to pass, at least during daylight. Only Goryal was barred.
They were too young. They were too naughty. They were too disobedient.
Being the youngest was awful!
They sank onto their belly again, not caring if they were getting themselves all dusty or not, and crept towards the door. Nothing would stop them this time. No magic would zap their paw when they reached out and clutched the handle. No power would snap at their nose and drive them away. No light would —
The door creaked inwards.
Goryal froze, their paw barely a scale’s width from the handle. A cool breeze snuck through the narrow gap, tasting of outside and adventure. Goryal shuffled backwards, careful not to touch any part of the door, staring at that tiny gap and willing it to grow with every piece of their mind.
The wind picked up, ever so slightly, and the door groaned open about a foot.
Scales prickling all over, Goryal held their breath, willing and willing the door to open just a tiny bit more.
A gust of wind, the door swayed… and Goryal pounced.
Wings tucked tight, tail held high, they bounded over the threshold away from the rough and tumble world of the nursery and out in the great beyond.
The door shut behind them with a clang. Goryal jumped, clutching their tail with fright and looked back. From this side the door looked more like a gate, the sparkling lines of Hereliet’s magic strewn across it like ivy. Goryal studied it while they waited for their heart to cease pounding. The magic looking the same on this side as the other. If they touched it now, Goryal knew it would no more let them pass back into the nursery as it would let them out from inside.
The way was shut.
They were locked out.
Squealing with delight, Goryal romped in a happy circle and wagged their tail at the wretched door. Three years, they’d been trying to escape that thing. Three whole years! But now, thanks to the carelessness of silly old Oweren, Goryal was free, free, free!
Chortling with glee, they flipped their tail one last – and extremely rude – time at the door then trotted off down the path. Adventure here they came.
* * *
IN ALL THE stories and tales of great heroes and adventurers, not one of them mentioned that adventures were tiring. It hadn’t taken long for the joy of Goryal’s newfound freedom to wear off, and they found a sunny spot to lie in while they rested their weary paws and stared up at the bright blue sky. Adventures were boring too. They didn’t know how long they’d been outside for, but were certain it had to have been ages. They’d walked so very far already – two miles at least! – and nothing interesting, scary or the least bit adventurous had happened to them. So much for Hereliet’s warnings and dangers.
It was all very disappointing.
And hungry-making. Goryal’s belly growled like the beasts Hereliet tried to warn them against. They looked around, but there wasn’t anything around except grass, a big tree and the wide blue sky.
They put their head back down with a sigh. Their feet throbbed. They’d never walked so far in all their life and their paw pads were not happy about it. The tender skin burned and they had a blister forming between two toes where some dirt had got stuck and rubbed them nearly raw.
The stories never mentioned that.
Goryal sighed again, wondering what they were going to do. Clearly adventuring was about more than getting outside the nursery, especially as Hereliet’s promised monsters were noticeably absent. But that was all right, Goryal was perfectly willing to go looking for adventures, if only their feet would stop hurting first.
Laughter drifted on the breeze and Goryal sat up, looking quickly around. Their sunny spot was off the main path, but still in sight of it. Although they were brave and bold, they also weren’t about to go back to the nursery without a fight. Not everyone in the Clan knew who Goryal was, of course, but adults were forever remarking upon how tiny and precious they were whenever they visited the nursery. Not only did Goryal hate being reminded of such things – especially while being poked and cuddled and stroked like some brainless pet – they were almost certain any passing adult would take him back to the nursery.
What a disaster that would be!
Ignoring the pinching and throbbing of their poor abused feet, Goryal ran for the tree. They’d never seen one so big or impressive before, but they didn’t stop to admire it. Instead they scrambled up like a nimble squirrel and hid. Panting and wincing, they sprawled across a broad branch and let their legs dangle down, resting their chin on the bark so that they could peer through a gap in the leaves. The path uncurled just ahead, where three adult dragons walked along, all in human shape.
Goryal sighed with envy, wondering if they would ever grow old enough to change their shape. Most dragons saw changelings are young and immature, but from Goryal’s perspective it was too far away to contemplate. Ten years seemed too far away, let alone two centuries. Especially when their magic hadn’t even shown up yet.
Feeling sorry for themself, Goryal dozed a little on their branch, listening to the adult dragons chatter as they settled into the sunny spot Goryal had previously enjoyed. There they stayed for quite some time, talking and laughing and playing with their magic. Goryal’s scales turned a disgruntled pewter. Not only were these dragons blocking their escape, they were also showing off into the bargain.
They huffed and puffed, a crackling energy dancing across their scales and crisping the nearest leaves into withered little balls. Goryal didn’t notice. Flopped over the branch like a rug hung out to dry, they shut their eyes and willed the newcomers to be on their way.
It didn’t work – and Goryal fell asleep.
* * *
WHEN THEY WOKE two things were immediately apparent. One, the intrusive newcomers had gone. Probably because, two, it was dark. Which led to a third realisation: Goryal was cold.
They’d never been cold before. Not really. They’d felt a momentary chill and had sometimes shivered after leaving the bathing pool, until Hereliet’s drying spell warmed them up again. But this wasn’t like that. This was real cold, the sort that clung to the scales and burrowed beneath. That made bones ache and muscles clench, that tickled at the jaw and made teeth chatter and dance. Even Goryal’s tail was at it, twitching and shivering as if it had a mind of its own.
They didn’t like it. They didn’t like being hungry either, which their noisy belly reminded them of once Goryal sat up, folding their body in together in search of warmth. But the cold and hunger swiftly paled into insignificance as Goryal realised something else.
They were much higher up the tree than they remembered.
And there was no way to get down in the dark.
Squeaking, Goryal froze on their branch, peering down into the darkness in search of a ground that wasn’t there.
Of course, it was there somewhere. It had to be. But Goryal couldn’t see it and they couldn’t remember where it should be. Which meant it could be anywhere.
And they couldn’t fly.
Oh, Great Spirit! They were a dragon who couldn’t fly. Who was also cold and hungry for the first time in their life, and trapped in a tree.
By the Family, if this was what adventures brought, Goryal didn’t want any part of them any longer.
They wanted to get down. They wanted to eat something, and they wanted to be warm. They wanted Hereliet and the nursery again, even if it did come with Oweren, Keralaya and the others. They wanted to go home.
Shuffling backwards along the branch, Goryal bumped into the trunk. Turning around, they clung to the tree with claws and tail, threw their head back to the uncaring stars and wailed.
* * *
WHICH WAS HOW Hereliet found them a short while later, although it seemed like forever to Goryal. The mauve and midnight attendant flapped down out of the starry sky, the silver highlights on his wings and claws shining in the darkness.
Plucking his youngest charge out of the tree, Hereliet cradled Goryal in one large paw and raised them to his face. “I’ve been looking all over for you, little troublemaker. Was freedom worth the fuss?”
Trembling, their scales all a-shimmer, Goryal threw themself under Hereliet’s chin and burrowed in close with a frightened cheep.
Smiling, the older dragon patted the youngster on the back, holding them tight as he opened his wings and flapped back to the safety of the nursery for the night.