Dragon’s Tear was originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Sword and Sorceress, Volume XVI” which was an anthology of fantasy short stories with strong female protagonists. That particular volume was published in 1999 in paperback form. As a child I had always wanted to be a writer, and the day I got the acceptance letter was the day I saw my dream fulfilled. I had always intended to type it into a word processor for publishing on my own website, but through a google search, I found that someone else had already done the job for me at www.librarything.com, and so I now present my first published story for you to enjoy. It was originally published under my maiden name.
Amaryl inclined a pointed ear toward the cavern opening. Her three companions also listened for movement in the dark mouth, but of them all, Amaryl’s elven hearing was the sharpest. Except for a faint movement of air that only she could hear, there was no sign of the hell-spawned beast that guarded the treasure her party came to steal; a gem of unimaginable power and the savior of Amaryl’s people—the Dragon’s Tear.
The Isle of Elves was slowly falling into the sea. Earthquakeswere bringing down mountains and tearing great rifts through the island. The College of Mages had worked desperately to find a spell to stabilize the land, and finally they invented one that was likely to work, but it required the Dragon’s Tear. For the past twenty years, many champions had set out to retrieve the Tear, but none of them had ever returned. Daneloth was the last who had attempted the perilous quest, and when he did not come back, Amaryl made sure she was the next one to go. Along the journey she had searched for signs that Daneloth lived, but as she stood before the Dragon Maw Cavern, she was certain that the day he kissed her and promised her that he would bring back the Tear was the last she would ever see of him. Maybe she would find the Tear, maybe she would fail, but she swore that either way, the dragon would die. That she was sure of.
The companions Amaryl chose to aid her were picked from the three other races for their varying strengths. Olaug, the giantess, prettier than her name suggested, was chosen because she was the strongest of her race, and giant females, as a rule, were stronger than males. Gwyneth, the human warrior, was not chosen for strength alone; she was chosen for her heart. Human hearts were a force unto themselves, driving that inferior race to take over more than half the world like parasites and overcome the strength of giants, the cunning of dwarves, and the perfection of elves. Finally, the dwarf, Fenya; obviously not chosen for strength at all but for her uncanny intelligence. Fenya was perhaps the most valuable member of the party, for she possessed her kind’s knowledge of subterranean caverns and dragon killing. Fenya had placed poison inside hollow crossbow bolts, then armed everyone with several of them. She instructed the others to aim for the dragon’s eye or the soft membranes of its mouth, for any other place would be guarded by stone-hard scales.
The cavern twisted downward into darkness so pressing that the torchlight barely reflected off the coal-black stone. Clanking armor, footfalls, and the occasional shifting of a shoulder bag broke the otherwise pure silence. Amaryl occasionally heard Fenya sniff the hot and stagnant air.
“Burned,” said Fenya at last, with an ancient, yet childlike voice. “It’s a firebreather.”
Not all dragons breathed fire, but Amaryl had come prepared for the worst. After twenty years of losing the best warriors to the unconquerable foe, Amaryl knew this was an unusual dragon. All the fireproof salves, shields, and armor had not saved the previous champions. There was something else, something worse, some terror that not even knowledgeable Fenya could guess. Gwyneth knelt down.
“Footprint.” Fenya bent closer and held the torch close to the ground. An enormous five-clawed gouge was torn through the rock.
“Interesting,” said Fenya, “Most dragon prints are uneven, with the middle two digits extended well beyond the others. See, there are four even digits, with the fifth significantly shorter and bending off to the side, like a thumb.”
Amaryl asked, “What does this tell us?”
“We’re facing a completely unknown species.”
“Why didn’t we see any prints outside the cavern?”
Olaug answered, “Dragons sleep for months at a time, and any prints near the entrance would have been weathered away or grown over.”
Amaryl said, “Perhaps we can kill it while it sleeps.” Gwyneth added, “And if it isn’t, we’ll still kill it.”
The cavern eventually opened to a large space, but how large, Amaryl could not guess. The torchlight no longer fell on the walls, and their footsteps began to echo. They followed a path of unusually smooth stone, interrupted by occasional claw gouges, for some time. Then Amaryl heard a quiet scrape as if something slid against stone.
“Halt,” she whispered.
There was a rush of wind, and the torches went out. Amaryl held up her shield, sweating as she waited for the incinerating rush of fire that was sure to come. The cavern suddenly lit up as if in daylight. A globe of light rose into the air from Fenya’s outstretched arm. In that light, they found themselves near the brink of an abyss of unimaginable size, with walls honeycombed with hundreds of cavern openings. They were standing on one of the balconies, facing a mammoth, winged firebreather sitting on its hind legs, holding one of its forearms out in front of it, with its clawed paw closed like a fist. Suspendedon the end of a long, sinuous neck was a most unusual head. Unlike its reptilian cousins, there was something feline about this dragon’s face. It had broad cheeks, a high forehead cresting its whiskered snout, and large golden eyes under feathery eyebrows. Tufted ears poked out of a mane of silky golden hair. The only thing unmistakably dragon about it were the silvery-green scales covering the rest of it, and a triad of pearly horns over the eyes and nose.
Gwyneth was the first to aim her crossbow at a blinking golden eye. Amaryl did the same, wanting to be the one to kill it. She tensed her finger to shoot, but the massive paw opened like a hand, and something small dropped out of it and rolled toward them. A perfectly round stone, blacker than ebonite, and smoother than a polished blade, stopped inches from her feet. The Dragon’s Tear.
The dragon opened its mouth and spoke in a rumbling, grandfatherly voice, “I’m glad you have that light with you because so many lost their way in here and have fallen into my den. For creatures as small as you, it’s a deadly drop. I can’t tell you how many times I awoke and found another little one broken on my back. If I had known that these worthless rocks were what you came for, I would have been leaving them at the entrance all along for you. My den is littered with them from all the times I cried over the poor little creatures that fell.”
Fenya exclaimed, “A talking one!”
Gwyneth demanded, “How do we know you’re not lying! You could have eaten them, like you plan to eat us.”
The dragon replied sadly, “Please take your rock and go before you get hurt in here.”
Amaryl asked, “How did you know this is what we came for?”
The dragon replied, “The last little one who came here told me that others would come after him. He told me all about your island, and how these rocks help keep it safe.”
“What happened to him?”
“He slipped on the edge of my den and fell on my back. He survived for a short time, and he told me that he had made a promise to someone that he would get the rock to his people. If I were to deliver it to the next one who came, then his promise would be fulfilled. When I told him that I would do this for him, he died. After he was gone, I cried for days until I nearly buried my head in these stones.”
Amaryl stared at the black gem at her feet.
Fenya aimed her crossbow at the dragon and said, “Shall we finish, Amaryl?”
Gwyneth blocked Fenya, “No! This dragon is no murderer!”
Fenya replied, “It’s a rare specimen whose parts might make some out-of-date potions work!”
“I’ll kill you if you shoot!”
“Amaryl deserves her vengeance!”
Amaryl knelt and picked up the Tear. The sphere fit perfectly in her hand.
Gwyneth looked pleadingly at Amaryl, “If we rid the world of this good beast, which may be the last of his kind, we will be the ones who lose. Search your heart and find peace in Daneloth’s sacrifice.”
Leave it to a race bent on exterminating as many other life-forms as possible to have a heart for one miserable dragon, thought Amaryl. But wasn’t this why she had chosen a human for this quest—to have the strength of a heart more impassioned than her own?
Fenya snarled at Gwyneth, “How about I shoot you and then the dragon! A few rare potions I know of call for human parts!”
Gwyneth replied, “I’d like to see you try, you three-foot-tall toad!”
Amaryl stood and said to Olaug, “Get those two and let’s get out of here.”
Olaug nodded, then grabbed Fenya and Gwyneth and carried their kicking and hollering forms under each arm back the way they came. Before turning to go, Amaryl looked at the dragon. It bowed its head politely, then turned and shuffled down to its den where it planned to sleep for a few more months.