Lodestone Chronicles

A Dragon, a Baby, and a Wizard

Living thousands of miles away from any human being, except an old curmudgeon of a wizard, was not by accident.

So, when the squawks of a human infant reached my ears, I thought I was having a nightmare. They echoed through my cave like a bad melody.

I thought perhaps the wizard was to blame, but his tower remained a silent sentry over the land.

What I found confused me. A female baby, only a pink rosebud in the damp deadfall of the forest, waved her fists at the sky and screamed until she was red in the face.

I tested the air with my flame. I could not sense any strangers, and the wizard would not do this to a helpless. He was endlessly bringing in the hurting. Had he not heard her cries?

Perhaps she was cold. I piled ferns gently around her.

She continued to scream.

She rejected the ferns with a few swift kicks of her tiny feet.

I breathed some warm air at her, careful to be gentle with my molten heat. She screamed harder.

My ears rung with the failure.

Did the light hurt her eyes? Instinct told me an infant dragon would despise the light, perhaps a human would too.

I used the tip of my tail to pick her up. I took her to my cave.

The dark of my cave didn’t help.

She cried more.

Humans needed water to survive, didn’t they? Perhaps she needed water.

 I leapt from my echoing cave and down to a nearby lake. I scooped some water into the hollow of my front paw. When I returned to the cave, I was sure the child’s voice sounded raspy. She needed water.

I poured the water over her face and reveled in three seconds of blissful silence. She screwed up her mouth, eyes, and nose.

When the water ran out, she opened her eyes. A deep sapphire gaze sparkled at me.

Then she glared at me and resumed screaming.

My talons gouged the cave floor. Tracing the line of my jaw with a now jagged talon, I considered what else she might need. I snapped my fingers.

Hunger, she was probably hungry.

I darted from the cave and cast about for something a human might find palatable. I had seen villagers a few mountains away that enjoyed mutton.

Seeing that they ate the beasts anyway years before, I thought they wouldn’t mind if I tested one or two dozen. Turns out humans are possessive of their food sources.

Instead of making the flight to the domestic sheep herds, I scoured the mountainside for a bighorn. When I found one I grabbed it, and shook it until it died, to put it out of its suffering you see.

When I returned to the cave, the child had quieted to whimpers. It was not a relief. Her screaming told me she had life in her, but now I worried she was weakening.

I plopped the sheep carcass beside her. The stench of the unkempt animal must have been offensive to her small nose because it crinkled, and she gagged.

How foolish of me. Humans always cooked their sheep before they ate them. I grabbed the sheep and turned my back on the child. It took only a small spit of fire to singe the hair and cook the muscle. I cracked open the charred hide to expose the delicious meal to the baby.

The gagging sound came back, then the tendons in her neck clenched and her back arched as she screamed again.

I bit back a tear. My scales shifted from their usual tawny bronze to blue and then red. The desperate need to appease this child was infuriating.

As I wracked my brain for a solution, the child quieted. She was shivering; the water clinging to her raven curls.

She was naked, without scales or fur.

Didn’t humans wear synthetic hides?

I delved into the shadows of my cave where I kept my horde.

My talons landed on a beautiful forest-green velvet. The edges singed, reducing it to char cloth in places. A remnant from my first meeting with the wizard. We had both been a lot younger than. I’d tried to introduce myself and got my wings tangled in his drapes.

Wait, would he know how to help a baby? I would have to be careful approaching his tower. He didn’t welcome company, especially not mine.

I wrapped the child in the velvet and left my cliff-side cave.

A dragon was not qualified to care for a human infant.

Copernicus was not a curmudgeon, despite what anyone might say of him. He was, however, tired of people. Such a thing happened when one is a wizard who has seen generations of humans born, grown, and killed by mortality. He had tired of the cycle and chosen solitude and privacy long ago.

Sipping on his pipe, he fixed his gaze on the looming mountain range. Bronze flashed in the sky and he slammed his pipe into its cradle. Wisteria had left him alone since their last chat, but that had been a century ago. He did not need her landing on his tower and shaking dust into everything again.

He climbed stone steps to the top of his tower and grumbled at the cold mountain breeze. The warmth that wafted from Wisteria’s russet wings made him grumble even more.

She was carrying a bundle of familiar green velvet. The tender way she set it down caught him off guard. Even stranger was how she retreated and disappeared into the sky without a word.

The pink fist that poked out turned his grumbling into a groan.

No, not a baby. He was not qualified to take care of a baby.

Yet, despite the pounding of his heart…

Despite the twisting knots in his stomach…

Despite the memories of laughing children that became leaning crosses in a forgotten cemetery…

He bent and picked up the velvet-swaddled infant.

She was weak with hunger and dehydration. Dried tears matted her crow-black curls in a crust against her scalp.

He wiped away an errant tear. Her wobbling lower lip sucked in a gasp. Her small fingers caught his in a decisive grip.

“Let’s get you some goat milk. Nice and warm, right from the udder. What more could a baby and an old wizard ask for?”

I’d never seen the curmudgeon smile before. Caused by an instinctual connection between himself and another of his own kind, perhaps?

I thought of her cries. They were his problem now.

I thought of her sapphire eyes sparkling at me. He could keep them.

I thought of how she caught his finger in her tiny grip. They belonged together.

As they should. What was it to me? I wanted solitude. I’d gone to great lengths to get it.

Really, what more could I ask for?

I was a dragon, after all.

This story was created because of a connection I made with one of my email subscribers. I am forever thankful for my subscribers and the motivation and inspiration they ignite in me. If you would like to join us on our adventures, click the link below to subscribe:

#flashfiction #shortstory #fantasy #createconnection #dragons #wizards

Dedicated to Rachel at http://www.armadilloproofreading.com/

© J. B. Wagner 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Pilgrim: Cover REveal!!

Pilgrim: Book 1 of the Lodestone Chronicles has been a long time coming. In fact, I was starting to think it would never come together. Oh, me of little faith…

This month Pilgrim will be published and available for purchase! What should you be looking for? Below is the beautiful cover.

The original artwork was completed by Lisa Larose (view her website at LisaLaroseArt.com).

Design and formatting was completed by Damonza.com

This month Pilgrim will be released as an eBook in the Kindle and Kobo stores.

Soon to follow will be Paperback and Audio versions through the Amazon and Audible stores.

If you would like to be notified when the eBook is available for sale please Subscribe to our Email List.

The Toad Queen

This story is inspired by the following beautiful artwork created by:

“Toad Queen” @LisaLaroseArt

A nobody. That is what I was when I first met the Master.

I believed I was a nobody because they told me that. I was not a stealthy cobra, or a regal bird of prey. I was a toad. Warts and all.

Because I believed them, I didn’t even try to appear before the Master when he was selecting a ruler for his Animal Kingdoms. I was sure that the one appointed to oversee the land would be someone much more elegant than I.

The memory made my silk white collar feel too tight. I ran my webbed hand down the red velvet skirts of my favorite dress. I frowned so my eye ridges wrinkled together and one of my warts bumped my golden crown askew.

The Master, he was the first to mention I was a somebody. I found him, tossing stones into the brown waters of my favorite watering hole. I watched him for a while, and I decided he looked quite perplexed.

“Your Excellency seems troubled.” I tried to say as clearly and proper as I could. It came out as a croak, to my dismay.

“I am.” He replied. Not even phased that a lowly Toad had just initiated a conversation with him.

“What troubles you?” his arm paused mid-throw, he looked at me and dropped the stone. I gulped when he crossed the distance between us and seated himself on the log beside me.

He looked down at me with thoughtful brown eyes. “I have spent the last three days watching the best and the brightest of the animal Kingdoms parade themselves before me.”

I croaked in acknowledgement, and then I snatched a mosquito that was looking for a tasty bite of the Master.

“They do love to preen and strut, don’t they?”

He laughed. The Master laughed at a joke I made.

“They do not seem to understand the purpose of a ruler for the Animal Kingdoms.”

“They did not meet your expectations then?”

“Is there not one who would care for their neighbors? Who would seek to maintain order among my creation?”

“How about the owl, he is very wise.”

“Scholars often lack the ability to relate.”

“The deer, she us very sensitive.”

“But easily manipulated.”

“The badger, quite strict, but not a micromanager.”

I snagged a few more flies from around my Master’s head, and I stopped when I saw his intense stare.

“What about you?” He asked.

“What about me?”

“You would make a fine Queen.”

I croaked again, “but I am a nobody.”

“You are not a nobody. You are Emeraldine Quicktongue.”

“You know my name?”

“Of course, you are after all one of my creation.”

“What could I do for you?”

At that point he only winked and jumped from the log. He gestured for me to follow. So I leapt after him.

“You asked me what troubled me. I am troubled that not one has the perspective needed to rule. Not one understands my creation with the clarity you just demonstrated.”

Now I stood on a pedestal in the Hall of the Animal Kingdoms. Before me was a small boy with bloodshot eyes and a snotty nose. His brown hair fell in thick strands across his eyes, with a red cap with a bill like a duck on it sticking out from his brow. He was small, but the same shape as my Master.

On his little legs were trousers of blue cloth that had holes in the knees, with frayed tendrils hanging down. He sniffed and wiped the snot from his nose on his shirt sleeve.

“Who is he?” I asked. Pitying the poor boy that had been herded into the throne room by a crowd of badgers and minks.

“Who?” asked the badger, “don’t you mean what?”

“He looks like a monkey, but he doesn’t smell like any monkey I’ve ever sniffed.” Commented the mink.

“He is a nobody.” Hissed the snake. “be rid of him.”

I narrowed my eyes at the garter snake. He was harmless compared to his cousins but I don’t trust anything that slithers.

“He is a something and he is a somebody.” I stated.

I squinted at him again, and the poor boy seemed to shrink under my gaze. It was laughable, I am but a hands breadth high, and he shrunk beneath my gaze.

“Send him to the owl.” I said. The owl would have an inclination as to who the boy was and where he may have come from.

The boy turned as the badgers snarled and poked at him. He looked so much like the Master, but that was preposterous. The Master was the only one of his kind. I wished I could ask, but the Master was away from his Kingdom and had left me in charge.

What would the Master do in this situation? I’m sure he would agree,  this untidy character before me was a somebody. He would say his name, he always knew everyone’s name.

I croaked, I have been practicing my Master’s language but it still felt awkward. Still in croaks and squeaks I got the question out.

“What are you?”

The young creature turned and looked at her with wide eyes. His small mouth opened and one word came out, “Sonny.”

The mink lost patience and pressed against Sonny’s leg with his paws. When he was gone I turned and looked through the window behind my throne. The sun was setting behind the estate of my master. What was a Sonny? Who was a Sonny?

I knew his name now, but still I didn’t know who he was. I curled my webbed hands into fists and anchored them on my hips. I would have find a way to learn who, or what, a Sonny was.

© 2021 All Rights Reserved J. B. Wagner

Accepted Standards

“What are the planetary radiation levels?”

“20% of the acceptable level Captain. Increasing by 1% every 30 minutes sir.”

That gave me 40 hours to decide a course of action, organize my ship and crew, and execute the plan.

“How far away is our nearest allied ship?”

“25 parsecs sir. Moving at full speed, they would get here in 45 hours.”

Too long. They wouldn’t make it in time to help us before radiation on the planet’s surface reached critical.

After receiving the distress signal, we had made contact to let them know we were on route and they should organize themselves for evacuation.

“Are the colonists ready for evacuation?”

“They estimate they will be in ten hours sir.”

“What is the population?”

“3,000 sir.”

I didn’t need them to do the math. Instantaneous Long-Distance Transport, or ILDT, had been my focus of study at the academy. To use the technology for that many people would take at least 38 hours, that wouldn’t cut it.

Casualties are a part of every rescue mission, that was rule number one of leadership training at the academy. It fell under the heading, “Accepted Standards” in our Rescue Mission Handbook.

So, it was no surprise the shock my crew displayed when I made it clear that any solutions that relied on that ratio were unacceptable.

It was a day when I placed the trust of my crew on the line. I placed my career on the line. All because of something my youngest daughter said to me the prior evening.

An acceptable casualty ratio quoted from our Rescue Mission Handbook is 5% of ship capacity.

I currently had before me a crew of 200, and a colony of 3,000 in need of planetary evacuation. At my disposal was a ship with a capacity of 2,000.

By the book, my acceptable total casualties for this mission were 160 people. 160 living, breathing, hopeful souls. That was well over 75% of my crew.

That didn’t include the ones that I couldn’t fit on the ship. Which would bring my casualties up to 1,200.

I handpicked this crew, many of them students I had tracked from their application to the academy and recruited as soon as they were approved for practical internships.

Some of their parents were my friends, some of them had grown up with my own children. Heck, one of them was my own child. I couldn’t ask them to give up their place on the ship, to save a stranger, could I?

Some of them might not survive our mission as it was, but at this point they believed they had a fighting chance.

My fists tightened on the rail dividing the bridge. It separated my personal workstation, from the bridge crew.

“Who taught you to hold such a high standard?” I remembered the conversation with Telia from the night before.

“You did, dad. You taught us kids that when the Designer entered the void to seal it and save our universe, he did it out of love for us.

“If he loves us that much, who are we to give anything less than our best?”

Our fight about her failed thesis paper was electric. She had challenged the Casualty Ratios dictated by the Medical Officer Handbook they supplied to doctoral students at the academy.

My neck was flushed red. What would my colleagues think of this? What kind of Space Colonization Captain has a daughter that flunked out of the academy?

Why had she chosen such a controversial topic for her thesis? Why had she refused to change it even as her professors argued with her?

Why did she have to be right?

Her simple, albeit naive, worldview was not wrong. The truth remained.

As humans our number one priority should be aligned with that of the Designer.

Our number one priority should always be caring for our neighbours.

That was the truth I wrestled with as my crew communicated the ratios and offered potential solutions.

All of them failed to think outside the box, because the Handbook had provided them an out. It was time for me to correct that error.

“Enough, I don’t want to hear any more solutions that allow less than 100% evacuation and safety for crew and colonists.”

There was silence on the bridge. Fourteen pairs of eyes stared at me, as if I were an alien with three heads.

“But captain. The capacity of our ship is only 2,000.” My first officer argued.

“I understand that Commander. But there are children, and parents, and friends and spouses down there that expect us to not leave their loved ones behind.”

They all turned sidelong glances at their crew mates. Had their captain lost it? Had I, after decades of space travel succumbed to mania?

“What is it that limits our ship to holding only 2,000 people?” I prompted them.

“Food and water supplies.” Someone replied.

“Do we have enough to last us until more ships come to our aid?”

“Yes sir.”

“The Atmospheric Control System, we are only compliant under 2 people per 100 square feet captain.” Somebody else offered.

“That’s system compliance, how many people is it actually capable of keeping alive for the hours it may take additional help to reach us?”

“The system is capable of providing enough oxygen for 2000 average humans for a week. At our present reserves.”

“So, what does that mean if we add an additional 1200 people?”

“We could survive a few days in space.”

“Excellent. ” I said.

“Excuse me captain, but if we have to land to evacuate all those people, our engines can’t break atmosphere with the additional weight.”

“What’s your solution Commander?” I asked.

He looked stunned. Then he recovered.

“We will have to find ways to decrease our weight?”

“Yes. Starting with what contributes the most weight without furthering our objective.”

One of the youngest bridge members, a quiet lad that often hesitated to speak was chewing on his lip.

“Do you have an idea you would like to share ensign?”

“Yes sir.” He said, “if we stripped the ship of anything purely aesthetic, we would increase capacity by 10%.”

“Great, begin a list of parts and components that can be removed.”

My first officer choked. “But Captain, the ship isn’t herself without her appearance.”

I looked him in the eye. “Wrong, Commander, the ship isn’t herself without her crew and her mission.”

“Captain, if I may?” The bridge engineering liaison interjected; his hand raised.

“Yes lieutenant?”

“If we only need to last in orbit until help comes, we do not need our energy cells, and after the engine core they are the heaviest components on the ship.”

I pinched my chin and narrowed my eyes. “Lieutenant, how many energy cells would it take to maintain essential life support in space?”

“25% sir, for 3200 passengers. But we would have to get rid of 90% of them to break atmosphere, sir.”

My eyebrows snapped together. “What else could help us break atmosphere?”

The bridge was silent. Two pilots were arguing in whispers. “Ladies.” I barked to break up the heated discussion. The women were inseparable, pilot and co-pilot since the beginning of their academy flight training.

“We apologize sir.”

“Did you want to share.”

Waters glared at Gilmore. “Sir, Gilmore has suggested that when we reach the upper stratosphere, we jettison the engine core and use the propulsion to clear us from the planet’s orbit.”

I turned to Gilmore, “Is it doable?”

“Yes sir, I am no engineer but by flight theory it would work. It was the way original space explorers launched their ships.”

“Work with engineering to make a plan.”

“Yes sir.”

Again, my first officer was ready to combust. “Sir, we would be a floating derelict.”

“But everyone would be alive Commander.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “What if the first ship to reach us is hostile instead, sir?”

I gritted my teeth because he was right. There was no point in saving the colonists from the planet just to have them captured by slavers or killed by Guerilla ships once in space.

Commander Grennwich looked like he had the mind to stand insist I was wrong, instead I saw the idea spark on his face. He turned to the Engineering Liaison. “Lieutenant, once the engine is gone, can we keep a few extra energy cells?”

“Probably sir.”

“Enough to power the shields at full strength and operate the dorsal cannon?”

“Yes sir, I believe so.”

“We will work on it together,” he said.

I was still holding my breath, but there was a chance we would make it out of this. I stood back and watched my crew at work. Waters guided the ship down to the planet’s surface while Gilmore consulted with engineering for the launch plan.

Grennwich worked on calculations with the ensigns and Liaison officers. They could have mutinied. They could have considered my new standards unreasonable and refused to comply. Instead, they had risen to the challenge.

“I couldn’t believe it, Telia, they embraced the mission, no matter how unreasonable it seemed compared to the accepted standards.”

“If the mission is worthy, they will every time dad.”

Tears welled in my eyes. “It wasn’t a perfect rescue though. One of the Elders from the colony had a heart attack during take-off.”

Telia’s eyes shone with compassion.

“His daughter told me his last words were, ‘thank the Captain for caring enough to risk it all’.”

“Dad, if you hadn’t cared, if you hadn’t taken that risk, his daughter may not have been able to relay that message to you. There were 1,000 people that would have been left on the planet.”

“I can’t say I completed my mission perfectly though.”

“No, but you can say you cared. And you can say you did your best. That’s all that counts.”

I laughed as tears splashed onto my desk. “When did you get so wise?”

She answered, “After a patient died in my care dad, and I was told I had done everything by the book. But I knew, I was distracted by my own selfish ambitions and I hadn’t been focused on caring for the person in front of me.”

I sobbed. Sobbed that my daughter had learned such a difficult lesson. I smiled through the tears because she dealt with it better than most would. She had chosen to grow, to take responsibility, to focus on the next patient with a new determination.

My crew never looked at me the same after that day. One of my bridge crew submitted his request for transfer, citing that I had acted recklessly. The rest of them, however, looked at me with new respect.

And I saw them with new trust because I knew, they understood the mission, and they embraced it.

This one is for my dad. He gave me my first laptop, on which I wrote my first novel-length story. He always reads my emails and my stories (despite his disinterest in reading) and he always texts me to say he loved it and is proud of me. After my email about connection, he texted me and said his story was about this: “I want to make other people’s stories mine…”

You guys, it is by making other people’s stories our own that we learn to connect.

Comment below and share your story with me. Or email me:

© J. B. Wagner 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Escape Attempt

            Anticipation tingled across her skin. Her eyes darted across the courtyard and through the shadows. Seeing no one, she slinked down the steps and edged her way around the perimeter, keeping to the shadows. She was nearing what she thought was a gate when a guard stepped out of an alcove and surprised her. Reflexes took over and her staff whacked the man on his crown. He slumped to the ground without a sound and air rushed out of her lungs in a sigh of relief.

            She rushed through the remaining shadows and reached for the handle of the gate she’d found. The lodestone started to beat, as if it had its own heart, and when she looked down it was shining with clear blue light. The subtle scent of wind and frankincense tickled her nose. She twirled, baring her sword and striking out with her staff. She was shocked when the dark figure that had walked up behind her grabbed the staff midway through the strike and wrenched it out of her hand. Her eyes widened, and she moved the saber in between her and the man as her last line of defense.

            “I don’t want to hurt you, just let me go and nobody else has to get hurt.”

            “I can’t let you leave.”

            She recognized the deep timber of his voice. The man moved and she swung her saber. She was shocked when he parried the blow with her staff. She swung again, and once more he deflected the attack with her staff. Growling, she lunged forward again, raining a blur of sword blows upon him. The man was silent as he dodged or parried each attack with ease. Sweat gathered on her brow and she could feel the tug of freedom behind her, on the other side of the door. The man rained a barrage of blows down on her, and she had to rush to deflect each swing of the staff.

            A sob hiccupped in her throat as she realized she couldn’t win. This was no bandit or shepherd boy trying to steal her herd. She was fighting a seasoned warrior who had no intentions of letting her escape. Reality sunk in and she flung herself at the man in one last desperate attempt. He surprised her by taking a step forward, bypassing her sabre and grabbing her by the arm.

            His hand wrapped around her upper arm like a vice. Tears sprung unbidden to her eyes and sobs wracked her body.

            “Please, just let me go, I can’t live here anymore. I can’t breathe inside these walls.”

            “Come with me.”

            “No. You can’t make me.” She struggled against the man, trying to wrench her arm from his grasp. His grip tightened and the pain was great enough to make her drop her saber. He pulled her across the courtyard but she dug her heels in and threw her weight back. The man grunted, picked up her saber and staff in one hand, then threw her over his shoulder with his other hand.

            She lost her breath when her stomach landed on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around the back of her knees and she could feel the blood rush to her head as her hair swung in time with his steps. Once she had her breath back she renewed her fight. She balled her hands into fists and started pounding on the man’s back.

            “I can’t live in here. I’m dying. They’re suffocating me.” Her words came out in wails. To her surprise the man set her down heavily and grabbed her by the shoulders. He gave her a shake and his grey eyes flashed at her in the dark.

            “Look, I am trying to help you, but you just need to be patient.”

            “Help me? Nobody wants to help me. They have all convinced themselves that I am out to ruin them. I just want to go home.”

© 2019 J.B. Wagner. All Rights Reserved.