Kesq made ripples across the top of the water as she swam—her tail gliding back and forth to propel her forward. In her hand, she held a thin wooden pole with three metal spikes angled slightly outward from the weapon's tip.
Her reptilian face surfaced without losing any momentum and then plummeted down into the water, her back and tail following suit in an arc as she dove. Bubbles rose around her as she swam deeper in the turquoise waters. Fish scattered in all directions, hiding beneath the brightly-colored ocean foliage.
The large lizard swam straight for a cluster of rocks and gripped the spear in both hands.
Kesq was a large creature, slightly bigger than the average Human, with small metallic-blue scales covering her body. An orange pattern stretched across her back and tail that looked like lava pushing out from under the ocean floor. She had two ridges of orange barbs that framed the top of her head and diminished around the bottom of her neck.
Once she was close enough, the Saurian waited and released some air from her mouth to keep herself from floating back to the surface. She stabbed the spear forward between the rocks and held it there. Her arms were tense as she kept the pole still.
She pulled it out slowly and revealed an octopus, about the size of a large coconut, writhing on the end of it—a trail of ink and blood following behind.
The lizard held the spear up so that the octopus was above her head, and found the water's surface. She swam back to the rocky shore and climbed out of the water with her prize still stuck to the end of the spear.
The Saurian began to walk towards her campfire, just past the debris that high tide had left behind. She set down her catch and added a few more dry logs to the fire as she eyed her dinner.
"Ahhhh!" A scream broke through the trees just beyond the beach. The Saurian stopped and listened. Another scream rang out. Someone was in trouble. They needed help.
Kesq gave a disappointed look at her dinner and then charged into the forest.
Large leaves slapped against her face and body as she ran. Before she saw anything, she could smell the smoke. It started as just a smell but quickly became more—a taste. Then she saw it—black smoke rising out of the tropical forest, stemming from a blanket of flames spreading across the forest floor.
She was running towards a forest fire.
"Help!" She heard it coming from within the fire.
Her head snapped to the right, looking for the source of the voice, and she spotted a Human woman.
She was wearing a blue dress now covered in ash and torn at the bottom. Strands of her blonde hair that had fallen out of what was probably a neat bun hung loose in front of her face. She covered her mouth with cloth torn from her dress. A man hung limp beside her, his arm held in place over her shoulder, and a young boy clung to her leg with a look of terror on his face.
Kesq surveyed the situation. Surrounding them was a flaming barrier of fallen trees and shrubs, with no route of escape. Showing herself would alert them to her presence, a Saurian in Human territory. But she couldn't let them die.
Kesq rushed toward the trapped family. When the women caught sight of her, her eyes widened in what looked like surprise, and possibly fear.
Kesq stopped just outside of the wall of flaming trees and tucked her arms next to her hips, her face stiff with concentration.
I need to clear a path, she thought. She used her magic to reach for moisture, but the fire made it hard to find any.
A few seconds passed. She then thrust her arms forward, rotating them in a circular motion, and a small blast of water shot out towards the flames.
Not enough. Maybe a few more of those will do it.
Surprise crossed the women's face and she ran closer to the barrier that the Saurian was slowly dousing. The woman looked around as if trying to find a way to help but resigned to covering her mouth once again with the torn fabric.
The Saurian resumed her previous position, focused, and shot another small stream of water at the flames. It was enough to clear a path most of the way across the now smoldering logs, but not enough if the family wanted to avoid severe burns on the way through.
She stepped forward and began to concentrate once more.
A tree tipped and crashed from the forest fire deeper in the wood. Kesq barely dodged out of the way in time. The woman shrieked in surprise.
Kesq stood and headed back toward her path-in-progress, but she stopped short when she saw something emerging from the base of the fallen tree.
A lizard the size of a hippo crawled on all fours out of the flames, from the base of the fallen tree. It was a drake, with a hooded figure riding atop its back.
The drake had a head shaped like a wide boat with calloused skin. Rows of spikes ran down the sides of it's back. A metal harness wrapped around its snout connected to thick leather reins held by its rider. The drake raised its head and belched a stream of fire at a nearby tree.
The rider was covered from head to toe in a black cloak, his face hidden in the shadow of his hood.
The drake stepped out of the fires towards the Saurian, and she heard the rider's familiar voice.
"Kesq. It's been too long, old friend."
Kesq suddenly made sense of the inexplicable wildfire.
Thrask. ...How did he find me?
She didn't stop to find an answer. Panic set in as her thoughts turned to escape.
There's nowhere to run, and even if there was, that drake is faster than me on land, she thought. Firebreathers hate water though.
As she turned toward the shore, her eyes met those of the trapped woman, and she was reminded of their predicament.
If Thrask started this fire to catch me, then that family is trapped because of me.
Panic turned to guilt, and she knew what she had to do. As much as she knew she couldn't take on Thrask and his drake in a fight, she had to try. She had to save that family.
She stopped and swung herself back to face the hooded figure.
The drake continued to walk towards Kesq. Once it left the flames, Thrask removed the hood from his head. Like Kesq, he was a Saurian. His scaly exterior was a deep red with a black streak running down the top of his head and neck into his cloak.
Seeing that he had Kesq's attention, Thrask spoke. "This doesn't need to be difficult, Kesq. I'll even let that poor family go if you'll give yourself up."
Kesq stood squared her shoulders to Thrask, ready for a fight. She snarled a response, "Let them go! Then we can work this out like real Saurians." She knew he wouldn't, but hoped she could at least stall while she thought up some kind of plan.
"I know you better than that. You'd run like you have been doing for the last 3 years."
He wasn't wrong. Kesq didn't respond as her thoughts raced to find a solution. Her eyes were fixed on Thrask.
Thrask let out a sigh. "I guess it will have to be the hard way then."
In the same breath, he whipped the leather reigns and the drake charged at Kesq, each footfall like a miniature earthquake sending small tremors beneath Kesq's feet.
Kesq reacted quickly and darted to her right, around the flaming debris that surrounded the family. If only I could sweat. Then I might be able to make enough water to clear their path.
The drake reeled its head back and belched another jet of flames at Kesq as it ran.
Kesq barely dove to the side in time to avoid it. The flames flew past her and hit the base of a nearby tree.
She stood and looked at the tree that had just been hit. Its trunk was wider than her arms would be able to reach around, and other than it's base, the tree was untouched by the fire.
Another blast came streaking towards her but missed as a result of the drake's careless run.
Kesq ducked then ran toward the tree that was previously hit, keeping herself directly between it and the drake.
Another torrent of flame ripped toward Kesq. She tried to dodge it, hit a root, and took a glancing blow to her arm. It throbbed with pain, the smell of burnt flesh wafting into her nose.
She gritted her sharp teeth, stood, and kept running. She reached the tree and continued another several steps past it. The lower part of its trunk was now heavily damaged from the onslaught. She stopped running and turned to face the drake.
Thrask and his drake gave chase around the tree and stopped between it and Kesq. The drake’s tail was nearly touching the tree it was so close.
"You know you can't win." Thrask taunted as he dismounted his steed. He pulled out a cutlass from within his cloak and sauntered towards her.
Now! Kesq ran straight towards the drake with a dagger drawn.
The drake responded with more fire breath, but Kesq dodged to the side opposite of where Thrask was and continued her charge.
She ran passed the drake, digging her dagger into his snout as he tried to catch her in his jaws. She ran for the tree.
Thrask, still seemingly unaware of Kesq's intentions, tried to get around the drake to reach her. The drake got to her first and lunged.
Kesq, now near the back end of the drake, dove just past the tree’s trunk, and the giant drake crashed into the trunk in its pursuit. Weakened by the flames, the tree came crashing down with another loud CRREEAAAKK. The tree landed, forming a narrow bridge where Kesq was previously trying to douse the flames. An escape route.
The woman who was shielding her son from the falling tree saw what Kesq had done and quickly scrambled onto the makeshift bridge with her family.
Kesq didn't let up. She jabbed her dagger up at the underside of the drake’s mouth, finding purchase it the soft skin. The drake screeched in response.
She stood to her feet and shifted to her left, keeping the drake between herself and Thrask. Fighting a drake wasn't something she wanted to do, but if its attention was on her, then it wouldn't set fire to the escape route that she had just created.
Her burned arm throbbed as she tried to move quickly.
The drake bellowed a vicious roar as if trying to scare her into submission. In the same instant, Thrask ducked under the monster's tail and charged at Kesq.
Thrask stomped toward Kesq as his drake growled. Kesq tried not to make an obvious glance at the family now climbing down from the log outside of their fiery prison, but Thrask must have seen it. He looked over his shoulder and looked back at Kesq with a wide toothy grin. “Hah! You thought you saved them, didn’t you? I thought you knew me better than that.”
Kesq stood, panting for breath, holding her dagger up with one a shaky arm and leaving the other one limp as blood ran down from the wound. She winced when Thrask spotted the escaping family.
Thrask made a clicking sound with his tongue and pointed to the family. The drake snorted and charged after them.
“No!” Kesq shouted the word without meaning to. She hesitated and then continued. “Let them go. I’ll go with you. Just leave them alone.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Thrask said, his grin growing impossibly wider. “Turn around with your hands behind you.”
She turned and with a jingle, she felt cold metal clamp around her wrists. The movement agitated her fresh wound and brought the pain back to her mind.
With a whistle, the galloping beast stopped. A few moments later it returned to Thrask. Kesq turned to look and saw the trapped family sitting on the beast’s back, conscious and well, aside from the occasional streak of ash.
Kesq gasped as Thrask pulled a pouch out of from his belt and tossed it to the family climbing down from the drake. “Well done,” were his only parting words as the family disappeared into an unburnt section of forest.
“You snake!” Kesq hissed. “I should have known.”
“Ah, but you didn’t. Now are you going to join me on the drake nicely, or am I going to have to chain you to it?”
Kesq didn’t say a word as she climbed onto the drake.
It was dark, and the swaying motion and sloshing waves against the boat’s hull made it hard for Kesq to sleep. But she hadn't been planning on sleeping anyway. No, Kesq was very much awake.
She sat on the floor of her cell, a bandaged over her burned shoulder. The rays of light from the moon that made it through the small window into her cell didn’t provide much light to work with, but it wasn’t going to get any better. She sat on the wooden floor of the ship, manacled hand and foot to the wall, carefully steadying a rusty nail that she had managed to pull free from the floor of her cell. She moved slowly and carefully despite the ocean’s best efforts to cause her to slip up and lose her impromptu lockpick.
Just outside of her cell, a male Saurian slouched on a stool. He had green scales with a yellow frill that ran down the center of his head onto his back. The Saurian looked annoyed to be on babysitting duty and stared through the small window at the sky.
Through the same window, Kesq could now hear a murmur of conversation above her on the deck.
“Well look at that. It is real!” said one voice.
“Where’d that island come from?” said another.
“It’s Daegal. The new land that sprang up from the sea.” said a third.
Kesq strained her neck to catch a glimpse through the window and could barely make out the peak of a mountain. She wasn’t sure if it was her mind playing tricks on her, but she thought she saw a faint orange glow at its highest point. She too stopped what she was doing in wonder of the new land.
Then she felt it. It was a feeling she had felt many times before. She had spent years studying it, learning to replicate the effect with enough time and resources. Somewhere nearby, somewhere on that island, was a magical beacon: a concentration of magical power so strong that it could be tapped into and harnessed.
It was her way out.
As they came closer to the island, probably to take a closer look, a storm rolled in. The sky grew dark and Kesq could hear the sound of thick beads of water beginning to pelt the deck above her head. She took advantage of the added noise to work on her manacles more aggressively. She turned the nail this way and that, until, CLINK, they popped open and fell to the ground.
But the sound of the falling manacles proved to be louder than she had planned. The guard looked into the cell.
“What was that!” he snarled.
He spotted the loose chains, snorted, and grabbed a key ring from his sash, fumbling for the right key.
Kesq wasted no time as she began moving her arms in a fluid motion, swaying with the waves.
The guard finally fit the correct key into the cell door and swung it open as he drew his blade. He charged Kesq.
Just as he did, a massive wave crashed into the boat in unison with a large sweeping motion of Kesq’s arms. The boat rocked, throwing the guard off balance and into the wall. He steadied himself and lunged at Kesq once more.
Another sweeping motion in the opposite direction smashed a second wave into the boat, throwing the guard against the cell bars on the other side of the cell.
This time he held onto the bar with one hand and pointed the blade at Kesq’s throat. He was close enough to strike her if he lunged and let go of the bar.
“You! Stop!” he said.
Tempting fate, Kesq unleashed one more wave, again switching directions. The third was the biggest yet, rocking the boat almost sideways.
The wave blasted through the small window and Kesq could now see that there was something different about it. The water that came through glowed with the same orange hue she thought she had seen on the mountain peak earlier. It rocketed through the room and struck the guard, and as it did, his body began to warp. It twisted in shape and shrunk down. His tail turned flat and his scales turned silver, as he morphed into a tuna. Disoriented, the guard turned fish swam into a wall and then slipped out through the window with the escaping water.
Shouts were now coming from the deck above and loud footsteps could be heard all over the boat. Kesq tried to reach out to the glowing water, but her shackled legs kept her just out of reach. The glow faded and Kesq began commanding the tide once more.
This time, she was more intentional with her motions. She did her best to point the wave at herself. She threw her arms back and a torrent of glowing water blasted through the window and struck her in the chest.
She felt the magic take hold. It was strange, something she hadn't experimented with before. Here she was using a magical beacon that wasn't her own type of magic and she was at the mercy of whatever this magic decided to transform her into. The orange magic tingled as it covered her body and began to shape it. She only hoped that she would turn into something small so that she could escape her bonds. But she had no such luck.
Kesq's body began to expand and shift. Her feet turned to something like hooves and her scales became thick gray skin. Kesq's face expanded and a large horn grew at the tip of her nose. She was turning into a rhinoceros.
The shackles snapped off as her body took shape, but she quickly realized that she was having a hard time swimming, especially in the middle of the storm. The boat rocked as another wave crashed into it. Kesq floated along with the water now filling her cell and crashed through the wall of the boat. She tumbled in the water and tried to hold her breath long enough to figure out which way was up. The water churned and tossed her too and fro.
Then, the waters threw Kesq to the surface. She broke through the crest of a wave and gasped for air. Already she could see the transformation was starting to fade, and her normal Saurian features were returning to her. She looked around and found the ship sideways in the water not too far from where she was. She could make out several other heads bobbing around it in the choppy waves.
"Is that you, Kesq?"
Kesq spun around in the water and met Thrask’s eyes.
“You always find a way out. Don’t you?" he said. “So you’ve learned how to created beacons without resources? Is that it?” As he said it, Thrask raised a hand above the waves. A massive wave raised behind his hand, and he commanded it after Kesq.
But Kesq had the advantage. She knew how to use the beacons. She swung one of her hoof-claws and redirected the wave down on Thrask, the orange glow along with it. The shimmering wave slammed Thrask in the face. When the wave settled Thrask was gone.
But the storm was far from over. The waves tossed and turned Kesq as her half mutated body struggled to swim against the waves. She fought with all her might. It felt like an eternity, but Kesq did not give up. And just when she thought she wouldn't survive one more wave, the water threw her into a shallow floor. She pushed against it and realized she could stand. She used all of the strength she could muster to keep her ground and push her way to the shore. And when she finally reached it, Kesq collapsed in the sand.