[Author’s Note: What are these “AoA” tags? Check out this post to know why I’m writing these and why they don’t have anything to do with superheroes. It’s obviously been awhile since my last post of any kind… with the global pandemic, my Saturday writing group evaporated. I’ve done some plotting on my novel and a whole lot of Pathfinder game-mastering–we have gone from weekly in-person games to 3/week video sessions–but not as much prose writing. I miss my Saturday crew 😦 ]
(We fade to black, and when we fade in, typeface along the bottom of the screen says, “Sometime in the past…”)
Magetha Vashnarstill pushed her way through the dense jungle foliage. Her pale skin, hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat and dark green robes, suggested that she was clearly not a native of the Mwangi Expanse. Yet her movements said otherwise. Sure-footed and confident, the elderly human traversed the difficult terrain with practiced ease. All around her, the jungle chirped and hooted and trumpeted with life.
Magetha paused near the base of a wide ojobo tree, its roots digging into the jungle floor like thick, gnarled fingers. In one hand she held her staff, a polished walking stick of dark wood topped with an uncut, vibrant chunk of amber. With her other she fished into a belt pouch and removed a cloth rag, wiping it across the back of her neck. The heat today was oppressive and inescapable, worse than she could remember in years.
“Or perhaps I’m just old,” she said aloud, and chuckled. Magetha often talked to herself, finding long ago that she was excellent company. The habit had been one of several reasons the locals had dubbed her Mad Magetha, a name she quite liked.
Her pale blue eyes scanned the jungle, and her lips pressed together thoughtfully.
“This is Ekujae land. Leopard Clan, if I’m not mistaken. Quite odd. Now why would I be here?”
Just then a figure unfolded from the limbs of the ojobo overhead, clinging with talons each as long as Magetha’s hands. Green, mottled wings spread wide as the jungle drake’s sinuous neck unwound from its body. The creature’s fanged mouth yawned open, large enough to engulf her head, as it hissed menacingly.
Magetha didn’t flinch. She rapped the creature on the end of its snout with her staff, causing the drake to snap its jaws shut and rear back in surprise.
“Stop that,” Magetha said sternly. “Shoo.”
The drake stared for a moment with its yellow, pupilless eyes. Then, almost sulkily, its wings folded against the scaled, green body and it wound itself back up into the ojobo’s limbs. In moments its shifting mass had disappeared into the canopy above.
Magetha thought furiously, eyes darting as she did so. She was still several days away from taking her monthly hallucinogens, and she couldn’t remember being poisoned recently. The Ekujae were more than a hundred miles from her home, and she hadn’t been traveling. How could she possibly be here? Except…
“Ah!” her weathered, wrinkled face broke into a grin beneath the wide brim of her hat. “It’s a dream then.”
Of course. Then she saw it. The jungle drake had been the closest, but now virtually every tree and bush around her held the menacing, shifting bulk of dragons. Many were jungle drakes, blending into the green mass of vegetation with their snake-like bodies. But what she had originally thought of as bright flowers were now clearly the red eyes of flame drakes. Several wyverns cracked branches above, their poison-tipped tails thrashing. The other, more normal, sounds of the jungle had disappeared, replaced by minor dragons of every color and imagination hissing and growling as they watched her.
“A nightmare of dragons,” Magetha mused. “How original. Even in old age, I didn’t think my mind would grow as simple as this. Alright then. Show me whatever mortal horrors you need to show me so I can awake and be on my way.”
As if in response, the jungle shook with a mighty earthquake, drakes and trees falling away before Magetha. The sound was thunderous, drowning out all thought. She dropped her cloth rag and steadied herself with two hands on her staff, the tip digging into the earth.
The earthquake faded, rumbling to silence. The jungle had gone still as a grave. The old woman briefly scanned her surroundings. To her left and right, drakes still littered the landscape. But they had all stopped moving, their heads and eyes trained on the wide, open expanse now in front of Magetha. She followed their collective gaze.
Trees had bent or fallen for a hundred yards, revealing an enormous skeleton half buried in the earth. Magetha’s eyes widened. She had never conceived a dragon so large. Its skull alone was fifty feet long, bristling with many wicked, curled horns.
And then the skeleton began to move. Slowly, as if waking from a long stupor, the claws of the thing began digging into the jungle floor. Slowly, slowly the skeletal bulk of the dragon pushed itself up and out of the ground, debris falling from the yellowed bones. Nothing else moved in the jungle, including Magetha herself. All stood transfixed as the mighty dragon rose. As it did so, red, scaly flesh began growing across the bones like rapidly expanding mold.
“Oh no,” Magetha breathed, her eyes like saucers, her pupils fully dilated. “Oh no no no no.”
The enormous dragon was half-flesh now, the corpse of a titan. When it fully freed itself from the jungle, its bulk filling Magetha’s vision and blotting out the sun, the horned head tilted back to the sky. Its massive jaws opened wide. The roar was the sound of a thousand, furious dragons in concert, echoing across the Mwangi and shaking the earth. It was the sound of an angry god.
Tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, Mad Magetha screamed into the morning darkness, the dragon’s roar still echoing in her ears.