A war. An escape. No time to lose.
The Chase Begins
Catastrophe Incoming Volume 1
by Aimee Donnellan
Genre: New Adult Epic Fantasy
The first shimmer of magic through the sky interrupts a mouthful of fried bread and a convoluted story about a drunk wyvern.
“Did you see that?” Lark asks, to check that the flash of blue hadn’t been their dragon eye playing tricks on them.
Gravy stains Wren’s chin from how quickly she has devoured her own bread, and her face is still caught in laughter. It should be a crime to look away from something so wonderful and yet —
Lark glances up. The sky is clear now, and they mourn the days when they could trust their first impression of the world around them. The market they are standing in is full of people who haven’t paused and are continuing to shop and chat.
“Come on, what happened after it got kicked out of the vineyard?” Wren asks.
“Oh, I offered it a lift, wherever it wanted,” Lark says, snapping back to attention with a grin. “It didn’t exactly have faith in my mode of transport, but it told me about its home nest in specific detail. And off we went.”
“And that’s how you ended up in a snowbank.”
“And that’s how I ended up in a snowbank.”
Wren shakes her head as another laugh rocks her body. “I don’t know why I believe you. Ever.”
“Because you know it’s true!”
“But it shouldn’t be! So why do I believe you?”
Lark blinks at her. “Well, I’m told I have a very honest face. When people aren’t put off by the dragon eye, that is.”
“One day, you’re going to tell me how you got that.”
Lark grins, if only to hide the sting of the memory in question. They push down the voice that had coaxed them into it, any and all memory of that voice and the person it belongs to.
“Oh, Wren. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” they say. That part is truthful enough.
A flash above them — magic like crushed sapphire in an arc, revealing the dome shape of the city wards. Horns start blaring and a hush falls over the marketplace, followed by a wave of uncertainty and hesitation. A moment later, people begin to disperse at top speed. Fearful whispers of dragons linger in the empty spaces.
“Alright. That one, I saw,“ Wren says, gaping. “Are they right? A dragon, incoming?”
A dragon would make the most sense in the current war climate. Lark’s hometown, being in fact the holiest city of the Theocracy and the most westward city, is a crucial and dangerous location. And in their entire time in the city, they have only heard the horns once, when the first dragon attack had seen a massive creature of ocean blue scales decimate a quarter of the city.
“It can’t be a dragon,” Lark says, licking their lips, their hands beginning to gesture excitedly, “by all logic, the only danger should be a dragon, but… they’ve just changed the wards to inward.”
“So it’s not just not a dragon,“ Wren says, voice slow, “it’s something serious enough… they’re leaving us exposed to dragons. What could that even be?”
“I have no idea!” A laugh escapes Lark’s throat, inappropriate and delighted. “I love not knowing.”
Wren snorts. “You hate not knowing.”
“I love the not knowing that comes before the knowing, Wren, or else there would be no cause to be excited about knowing anything in the first place. Although there is something to be said for the acquisition of knowledge you never knew you were lacking—”
“Lark,” Wren says with fond amusement, “possible crisis. Do you have a plan?”
Lark runs a hand through their chin length dark hair, eyes darting around the city and mentally mapping routes and destinations before returning to Wren’s face. “Well, we could head to the ward hub and see what additional information was passed on with the order to invert the wards. The temple of War is bound to know something, and my own temple is of course in the know by nature—”
Wren’s eyes have drifted beyond Lark’s shoulder. “Or we could ask that city official who seems to be headed straight for us.”
Lark whirls around. A well dressed person bearing the city office crest is striding towards them with purpose, flanked by a pair of guards. They are talking animatedly to the guards as they walk and getting little in return. A long braid of white blonde hair comes past their partly elven ears and hangs over their shoulder, while their red and cream robes mark them as a follower of the Everflame, God of Summer and Fire.
“Seeker Lark!” they call out. “Wonderful to meet you in person.” They offer a hand in greeting, and when Lark takes it they shake vigorously. “The name’s Cillian. Emergency admin.”
“Good to meet you,” Lark says, returning their hands to their trouser pockets. “What can I do for you? There must be something going on if you’ve inverted the wards.”
Cillian grins as an odd, possibly nervous laugh escapes them. “One could say. I’ve been asked to escort you to the Tower of Justice. Your assistance is required.”
Reverie’s morning begins with an argument with a goose. Breakfast entertainment – or rather, annoyance – is not something she had ever thought to need, and now that she’s had it for six months, she would happily return it.
Unfortunately, fate has other ideas. She and the goose are stuck with each other.
All I’m saying is, once you kill someone the first time, it gets easier, the goose is saying now as she packs the saddlebags and prepares for the day’s ride. So you might as well get it over with.
Their telepathic link has its uses. But mostly it means he can spew bile for her mind only until she commands him to shut up.
“Is this from personal experience?” Reverie asks, out loud so as to not let Melora, her mare, feel left out. “I doubt you ever found it difficult to begin with.”
Ferdinand did not begin his lengthy existence as a goose. His previous form had been capable of much greater violence, she has been assured.
Of course I never did, Ferdinand says indignantly. This is all of your ancestor’s nonsense. But if you don’t want their advice, then sure.
“Oh, well if my great-great-great-uncle Stefaric thinks so, then that changes everything! Why didn’t you say so?” Reverie exclaims, as if it’s a revelation.
Ferdinand lands on the saddlebag while Reverie mounts. Smugness radiates from him as he settles himself as if atop the finest cushion.
A moment later: an almighty, indignant honk.
You’re making fun of me! He screeches in her head. Bitch!
Reverie pushes him off the horse and relishes the sound of his squawk as he hurtles to the ground and barely catches himself in time. Melora snickers. Reverie is not the only one already tired of this company they did not ask for.
The glorious victory is brief. As Reverie turns her eyes ahead, she swallows at the sight of the mountain range that looms before them. Leaving home had been the dream, for several years, and now that it has become reality… she feels so small. So insignificant.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, she thinks, wistfully.
The mountains cover this part of the border between her home country of Qelandia and Izirm, the Theocracy to the east. Going to the Theocracy had once been an exciting prospect, a country governed by the worshippers of the Higher Pantheon, so familiar yet different to her own Republic and its ruling council.
But then the dragons had attacked. Fear and flame in the air, blood and ash on the ground.
Things can change in a moment. The immovable force of change laughs at the idea of destiny. What a joke.
Reverie glances at the goose, who has resettled himself with a ruffle of feathers and a glare. She squares her jaw and takes a deep breath to calm the seething and poisonous resentment in her chest.
Grena’s Collection has long lived in her grandmother’s stories as a wondrous, peculiar place to visit. An essential stop for any Rosetia, she had said. It had always been an eventual destination in the back of her mind. Even nearly a decade on from the last story, every crucial detail remains.
Which is fortunate, given that now, it is the only thing between her and weeks of travel and danger scouring battlegrounds for the family greatsword. No one knows which skirmish took her brother — reliable communication across distance is so difficult without magic, and no one close to her family possesses such an ability.
But all weapons in the Rosetia armoury possess basic enchantments for durability and effectiveness. And anything magical and intriguing may find its way to the Collection.
If she’s lucky –
Reverie snorts before finishing the thought. Luck has never been kind to her, but it would be ridiculous not to stop by. The Collection is on the way.
The path up the mountain has the audacity to be simultaneously treacherous and tedious. To preserve her sanity and focus, Reverie composes a song about the stormy sky, about lovers meeting under it, braving the wind and rain for each other. By the time it has cohesive lyrics and a halfway decent tune, Reverie is grinning to herself even as her hair is plastered to her head, horns, and neck. The wind is determined to hammer its chill right into her bones, though, and poor Melora is drenched. They had better find their destination soon, or they’ll catch their deaths out here for sure.
To her relief, something ahead rings a bell in her memory.
“Follow the path up until you find a rock face that looks like a pair of tits,” Reverie recites, in Ama’s words exactly. Staring at the pair of round rocks with central indents, she has to laugh. “You asshole, it couldn’t be a lie, could it? It had to be true. Of course it’s true.”
Aimee Donnellan is an author of whimsical queer fantasy for new adults. She is proudly bisexual and on the aromantic spectrum, and loves to write bisexuals even more chaotic and disastrous than herself.
She lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her fiancè — who helps her write and worldbuild — and dreams of dog ownership when not playing video games or Dungeons and Dragons.