This episode has been a long time in coming, and when I say “a long time in coming,” I mean that this is the episode in which you will finally get payoff for hints that I laid way back in the second episode – the second episode of the whole series, not the season. In some ways, Blood and Dragons is the easy climax of the series, the obvious one. I’m hoping that I’m able to pull it off where that’s an advantage, and not a problem, because I’m really excited to finally be writing this pair of episodes.
Blood and Dragons will be two parts, and while I hope that it will be enjoyable to people who have not been following along and reading every episode, this is the sort of episode that I think you will enjoy much more if you can start connecting all of the dots alongside the characters, or even just before they do. Here’s my not-so-subtle plug for you to go back and reread all of the previous Blood Magic episodes. Even knowing what’s going to happen, this is exciting for me to write, because I get to see all of the hints and references that I’ve carefully placed into previous episodes come to fruition.
Maybe it’s my interest in real-world history coming through, but I think that Blood Magic’s history is one of the strongest and most compelling parts of the series, and this two-part episode is where we get most of our payoff and answers regarding what happened in the deep past, answers to questions like who built Heart City, where do the dragons fit into the world, how did human history on Lufilna start, and just why did the Pifechans believe that terrible things would happen if they crossed the “double zero” mark?
Looking at it from a writing perspective, this episode was relatively easy to write, but there was one major problem that overshadowed everything, and that was an overpowered adversary. My viewpoint characters don’t have the background in magic and history to fully understand what is going on, or be on anywhere near a level to compete in a battle between gods and dragons. That leaves me in the difficult position of finding ways to write them that will have them being interesting and proactive, without being unrealistically capable.
However, I’m hoping that you, my readers, trust me enough at this point that I could get away with a little bit of overpowered characters in this first part of Blood and Dragons. There will be explanations for how and why the dragons and the gods are so much more powerful coming in the second part next month, but for this first part I wanted there to be a sense of awe, and a sense of being overwhelmed. That’s how the characters are feeling right now – they’re outclassed, they don’t really know what’s going on, and they are even less equipped for this conflict than they were for the Pifechan invasion. For this episode, you should feel like the dragons and the gods are operating on a completely different level that the humans cannot hope to approach.
I’m very pleased with how this first part turned out; my only other concern is that we don’t get a lot of Kiluron in this episode. The Pifechan invasion was his time to shine, and he’ll be doing some things during the second part of Blood and Dragons, but this just isn’t the kind of problem that he’s suited for – it’s much more Doil’s kind of problem. I almost sent Kiluron off with Doil, but I just couldn’t make that make sense, and I think the episode is stronger letting Doil navigate on his own.
That’s all I can really say about this episode for now without spoiling anything. I really hope you go read Blood and Dragons soon. In the meantime, I’m going to get to work on finishing the second part.
Even though the sun was down, the night air was hardly less stultifying than it had been during the day, leaving Redra’s pale skin slick with sweat. She squashed another mosquito, leaving a ruddy mark on her forearm next to the scabs that were just starting to heal, and she shoved the thin blanket off of the bed. Sleeping uncovered was uncomfortable, but tonight it was less uncomfortable than being covered. Naked now, she laid on her back and stared up at her hut’s ceiling, wishing for just the slightest of breezes.
Sleep should have come easily, despite the muggy heat. Her day had been a long, tiring one, working with the villagers beneath the summer sun all morning, and spending the afternoon healing the sick and injured. One old man who had been brought to her had been delirious with the heat; he had pushed himself too hard during the morning and broken something inside of him. Only with magic had Redra been able to save him, magic and a great deal of skill. Her magic wasn’t strong to begin with, so she used it only when she knew of nothing else that could help.
Using magic always left her exhausted, and not just from the blood loss, but despite all of that and the long summer day, she couldn’t sleep. More than just the heat was leaving her uncomfortable and restless. Her scabs kept tingling unpleasantly, like they were tugging at her skin in the fashion of those that were almost healed instead of those that had just formed, and she kept peering into the hut’s shadows with the sense that someone was watching her, though she knew there was no one there.
In the far distance, thunder rumbled, whether from the heat or some distant storm Redra could not say. A storm would have been nice, to alleviate the humidity and make the night feel cozier, but there was no sign of one nearby; she could tell that much just through the hut’s smoke hole. With a heavy sigh, she flopped wide across the bed, arms and legs spread-eagled, and forced herself to close her eyes and strive to sleep. Even so, it was a long time of listening to the quiet rustling of sap rising through the trees to their heavy bounty of verdant leaves before she attained an uneasy sleep.
All night, such small portion of it as she felt she actually slept, she was plagued by nightmares of unfamiliar places and unfamiliar gods. It was a relief when the sun began to rise and she could stop trying to sleep, but she was nonetheless slow in mimicking its daily action. She picked over the dreams like picking at a scab or itching a mosquito bite, something that she knew she shouldn’t do but could not quite resist doing for the delicious, painful relief it brought. Her mother would have told her that dreams were meaningless, and Redra normally agreed, but her mother was a long way away, aiding a village in faraway Welate, and these dreams lingered instead of fading the way normal dreams did.
No dream or nightmare was an excuse for laziness, though, so eventually she swung her legs out of bed and got to her feet. The inside of her hut was already becoming stifling with the first rays of sunlight striking its daub slopes, having never properly cooled off during the night; just putting on clothing made her start sweating like she had been weeding the garden. It was nothing compared to the oven into which she stepped when she pushed aside the door flap. Squinting and keeping her eyes toward the ground, she stumbled to the basin of water.
Dunking her head brought some slight relief, however temporary, and she managed to fully open her eyes. Her breath caught in her throat as she did, for there was something wrong with the sky. She had to look at it several times to be sure she wasn’t imagining it, but it was definitely there: a sort of slit in the deep summer blue that shimmered wrongly, like a heat mirage, but different, more alien and more substantial. It terrified her on some instinctual level, but she could not tear her eyes from it. If the sky were a sheet of glass, this was an almost invisible crack in that façade.
Only running footsteps brought her thoughts to more mundane matters; she turned from the torn patch of sky to see Nildo, one of the village teenagers, sprinting towards her with an expression of abject panic on his face. Nildo, for whom just that spring she had tended a broken arm and severe lacerations from when he had faced down a wolf to defend his younger cousin. He ran into Redra having hardly slowed his pace, almost knocking her to the ground.
For a long moment, all Redra did was put her arms around him as his shoulders heaved. He seemed like he would rather have never moved from that position, but Redra pried him a little from her so that she could look into his eyes. His face was haunted, like he had seen something so horrible that it had been imprinted deeper than any physical scar. “Nildo, what happened?”
Nildo’s mouth worked soundlessly several times before he forced words out between hiccoughs. “They’re dead, they’re all dead, we’re all dead, all dead,” he howled. Then he was tugging at her hand, trying to tow her away in the same direction he had been running.
“What do you mean, they’re dead?” Something was sinking in Redra’s stomach even as she asked the question. The rift in the sky, her nightmares… “Nildo, tell me.”
“Too late, it’s too late,” he moaned. He had stopped trying to run and was now pointing behind her with a trembling finger.
Turning around and keeping Nildo behind her, Redra faced giants. There were two of them, stalking down the same path along which Nildo had come running. Each stood half again as tall as a tall man, and their faces were long and blunt. They appeared to be clothed in liquid sunlight that draped across their shoulders and flowed down around their ankles, and where their skin was exposed, it shimmered in the same way as the rift in the sky.
The giant on the right opened her mouth and spoke, and though it was in no language that Redra could understand, the meaning was clear. “You can’t have him,” she snapped, keeping herself between the giants and Nildo, and fighting the urge to flee before these beings. There was something overwhelming about their presence that made her want to fall to her knees, but she fought that impulse, too. The giant spoke again and reached for her; she stumbled back a few paces, still keeping Nildo behind her, and yanked her knife from its sheath at her side, waving it in front of her. “Keep back, you monsters!”
Turning to each other, the two giants exchanged words in their alien tongue, and then turned back towards Redra. A pressure flowed from them, and when Redra met their eyes she found herself transfixed, unable to look away, unable to move. It felt like a massive stone was pressing down upon her chest, and though she struggled, she could not overcome whatever held her transfixed. The giants spoke again, but she could not even hear the alien words. Her heart was pounding in her head, and she couldn’t breathe. Black spots began swimming before her eyes, her vision was fading, until all she could see were the monsters before her, those beautiful, beautiful monsters. They looked just like the gods in her nightmares.
A sensation like a cool breeze washed through her, and whatever had held her bound dissipated faster than a puffy, white dandelion in a summer breeze. Redra sucked in a sharp, gasping breath and wavered on her feet. From the way the giants were looking around, she knew that it was nothing they had done that had freed her. Not sure how long she had, she slashed across her arm, drawing blood and opening again the scabs from yesterday. She slashed and slashed until the blood was pouring forth, and she felt magic building within her. Never had she imagined trying to use Blood Magic as a weapon, but against these creatures that threatened her and Nildo…she would do whatever she had to in order to protect him. That was her role.
“Run, Nildo,” she ordered. “Run, and don’t look back.” She had to repeat her command twice more before Nildo managed to start running. One of the giants took a step towards her, but the ground rippled up into a tsunami and tossed both giants backwards, although nothing else had been disturbed when the ground returned to its customary stability.
“Run, Redra. I will hold these Ipemav here,” a voice boomed in her mind. A shadow passed over her, eclipsing the sun’s brilliance and plunging the forest into shadow; it made the giants appear even more beautiful, illuminated by their own, internal radiance. Redra didn’t move. These creatures had attacked her village, had attacked her and those she lived to protect. It was her duty as a Healer to die fighting them.
“I am sorry that I was too late for your village.” Though urgent, the voice in her head managed to convey a great weight of sympathy. “But I am not too late for you. There will be dying enough in the war to come. For today, live.”
Another gust of wind, this one physical, almost threw Redra from her feet. She stared in wonder as the wounds she had inflicted on herself to power her magic began to close on their own accord, and as she stumbled away from her hut after the direction in which Nildo had fled, she saw the shadow that had eclipsed the sun resolve itself into a gleaming, glittering, crimson dragon that landed between her and the giants. “Go, live!” the voice repeated in her head. Lightning crackled across the dragon’s garnet-like scales, and the creature roared; the ground seemed to buck in answer, rippling out from where it had landed. Tearing her eyes away, Redra left the battle behind and ran after Nildo.
She found him only a little ways from her hut and the battle of which it had become the epicenter; he had run only far enough to get out of sight before collapsing with his hands clasped over his neck, like he was vainly striving to protect himself from a tornado. Thinking that perhaps that was not far from the truth, Redra urged him to his feet and got them both moving again, while the ground bucked sporadically beneath their feet, and the air hummed with the energies being exchanged in the conflict from which they fled.
Whatever wild fear had driven Nildo’s initial flight, it was being rapidly placed by a pale, numb exhaustion. Redra felt just as ready to stop, to lie down and be done, and she kept trying to justify stopping to herself. Each time, she forced both herself and her lone surviving charge to continue on, though their frantic running slowed to a hasty plodding. She wondered what was happening between the dragon and the giants – Ipemav, the dragon had called them – if the battle had been resolved or if it still raged; it had been a long time since she had noticed the ground shaking.
There was a neighboring village a day’s walk away; they reached it midafternoon, a testament to how fast they had fled. Redra had every intention of stopping there for refuge until she caught a whiff of the wind coming from the other village. It was all smoke and burnt flesh, and she gagged even from a distance. Without a word to Nildo, she turned their steps another direction. Nowhere else was in walking distance that day, but anywhere was better than confirming what she feared about their neighbors’ fates.
She found a thick pine tree with low branches that already bowed close to the ground. A little work with other branches, some rocks, and her dagger gave them a decent shelter. Nildo helped her, although his motions were mechanical, stilted, as if he were a puppet being stepped through the necessary motions for life without any real vigor. They built no fire, and Redra was thankful for the heat of the summer night that just a day before she had been bemoaning.
No matter how she tried, she could not entirely block out the shimmering rift in the sky, which appeared all the more alien and vivid in the darkness. It seemed not to have moved at all in relation to their day’s travel. All she could do was hold Nildo close and hide his head against her chest, as if her form could shield him from what came out of that rift. She felt him crying against her until he finally fell asleep. Despite her exhaustion, it was still a long time before she joined him.
Nothing disturbed their sleep that night. When morning came, Redra found a coppice of wild berry bushes to furnish their breakfast. She considered it a good sign that Nildo ate with gusto, turning his lips and fingers purple and sticky from the sweet, tart fruit. Even so, he didn’t speak until they had already spent most of the morning walking.
“All dead,” he whispered hoarsely. “They just…killed them all, like killing chickens for the solstice.” He looked up at Redra. “How could anyone do that? They looked so human.”
There were no answers that Redra could provide; she didn’t understand herself what had transpired. “They may have looked human, Nildo, but they weren’t. They were something different, something evil. But they didn’t get everyone, you hear? You and I are still alive. They didn’t get us.” It was a scant comfort, and she remembered the dragon’s voice in her head. If that creature had not come, she did not doubt that neither she nor Nildo would have escaped.
Whether or not Nildo accepted what she said, he nodded, and they walked on in silence. “Where are we going?” he asked eventually.
“I – I haven’t decided yet, to be honest,” Redra admitted. “Away from where we were, for now. I have no idea how widespread this might be.”
“What’s even the point?” Nildo asked. “Nothing can fight against Gods.”
Remembering her dream, Redra shuddered, but the thought of the dragon descending between her and the giants helped push it aside. “Not nothing. The dragons can.” As she said that, she remembered rumors, and realized where they needed to go.
Click here to read the rest of Blood Magic S3:E5: Blood and Dragons, Part One
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