Lemon and the Dragon’s Runes

Submitted into Contest #108 in response to: Write a story about a team tunneling down into the centre of a planet.... view prompt

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Adventure Fantasy Fiction

Hey, Tazán?”

    “Yeah?”

    “How much longer do you think we’ll be flying?”

    “I don’t know...probably at least another day.”

    Three cats crouched on the back of a massive orange dragon, surrounding a spherical globe of flame floating in the air, their only source of light. Playing cards were laid at each of their paws. 

    “The light’s getting low,” said the yellow cat who’d first spoken.

    “Maybe I can fix that,” the gray queen next to him suggested hopefully. She closed her eyes and began hacking alarmingly. Smoke hissed from between her teeth. 

The yellow cat beside her leaned away. For a moment, it looked like fire was going to shoot from her jaws like a dragon, but in the end, all she managed was a smoldering hairball.

           “Someday,” she sighed. 

    "Here." The third cat, a brown tabby with facial stripes resembling a pair of spectacles, reached out and touched the fire globe, whose flames immediately rekindled. At the same time, his facial stripes flashed briefly with soft golden light.

            "Don't worry," he reassured the gray cat. "You'll get it eventually. In the meantime, using your paw is easier."

"Firebreath is so much cooler, though," said the gray cat as her companion deftly played a card. 

    The yellow tom turned to the tabby.

    “Tazán, I've been curious. Where does your name come from?”

    “Oh,” said Tazán, “it means ‘bowl,’ after this.” He touched the white semicircle on his chest. “Are you familiar with bowls, Lemon?”

    “I am. Back with my humans, I always had two for my food and water.” 

    “Do you miss them?”

    “Yes. They were good to me. But I know I can never go back.”

    The gray cat joined the conversation. “I wonder how far away your planet is. Which solar system it’s in. Can we see it from here?”

    “Grisa...” Tazán began.

    “No, it’s fine,” Lemon said dismissively. “I have no idea. I wasn’t really watching when that space phoenix carried me here.” He reached up behind his ear, pulling from behind it a bright blue feather. 

    “Now,” Grisa lamented, “I’m going to die of curiosity. Lemon, what are you doing?”

            "A portal rune." Lemon paused what he was doing, leaving a pattern of glowing thread half-woven into his feather.

            Grisa sighed. "Give it up. The likelihood of that phoenix ever returning to earth in your lifetime is microscopic."

            With a sigh, Lemon returned the feather to behind his ear.

    “Hey,” Tazán said suddenly. “Grisa, isn’t that your mate? Why’s he glaring at us?”

    Grisa sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve made it perfectly clear that we three are just friends, and I invited him to join us, but he refused. Although he’s perfectly welcome anytime,” she added, raising her voice. 

    “Well, to be fair,” said Tazán, “you have been spending a lot of time with Lemon since you saved him from that crash-landing.”

    “But he was all alone! Before meeting you last week, Claro and I were all he had.”

    “Still, if you’ve been neglecting Enero-”

    “Don’t tell me how to run my relationship.”

    “Guys!” Lemon swept their cards into one pile. “Let’s play another game, okay?”

    Their ride’s neck twisted around to look at them. “Can you deal me in this time?” 

    “Okay, Claro,” Grisa told the dragon. “I’ll play for you.”

    And so began another epic card game, joined by everyone except for the emerald green dragon and his feline rider, lagging in the shadows.

    They flew in a broad downward spiral, following the tunnel that led to the planet’s Core. For the most part, it had been all darkness, but yesterday there'd been an alarming flash of fire below. 

           “The Core is on fire,” Grisa had whispered to Lemon. “That must be one of her flares.”

    Near the end of the game, Lemon was  close to winning. But before he could play the final card, fire erupted from nowhere.    

            Cat and dragon alike screeched as they shot upward. The dragons could handle the fire, so they tried their hardest to angle themselves so the cats were safe. Nonetheless, Lemon felt his paws slipping as he tried to scramble up to Claro’s horns.

             Then, before anyone could process anything, the three of them were plummeting through blazing, open air. 

             Claro’s tail curled upward below them, but she only succeeded in catching Tazán and Grisa. 

              "Lemon!" Grisa shrieked. Through the fiery haze, Lemon saw her throw herself after him, one paw outstretched. The other clutched what looked like one of Claro’s scales to Grisa’s chest. As he watched, Grisa threw the scale, letting it fall below them.

White strands of light shot out from her paw, connecting with the scale below and shifting into a sort of pattern.

A rune.

A portal.

As Grisa collided with Lemon, he felt the scale slam into his back.

Then--

    The air changed, becoming cooler and darker. The two of them slammed into solid scales.

    “Are you okay?” Cried the dragon they’d landed on. 

    “Yep,” said Grisa. “Enero!”

    She turned and sprang towards the silver cat on the green dragon, nuzzlinghim close. 

    Lemon had expected to be burned to a crisp, but now he realized he didn’t feel hot at all. In fact, he was starting to feel...cold.

             It all made sense when he spotted Tazán, whose stripes glowed blue. 

    “Did my ice rune work?” Tazán asked him. “Are you burned?”

    “Not at all.” Lemon shrugged off the blue threads of magic that he had just noticed wrapped around him. “That was genius.”

    He turned to Grisa. “Both of you. That was a portal rune you did there, right?”

    “Yeah,” said Grisa. “That’s why I always keep one of Claro’s scales with me, so I can get to her from wherever I am.”

    Grisa's dragon sighed. “I still can’t believe we’re going towards the giant fire dragon in the center of the world.”

    “I’m not sure I believe the Core is a dragon,” said Lemon.

    “We have the word of seven notable explorers,” Grisa pointed out.

    “Explorers are known to spin tall tales,” said Claro. “I’m taking Lemon’s side.”

    “Either way, we all know that it’s a real threat. The Core is shooting fire in stronger blasts. Soon it may tear the planet apart. We have to try to stop it with our magic.”

She nodded to Tazán’s satchel. 

    Some time later, the tunnel opened into a cave. Droplets of water poured like rain from an overhang far above.

    They found the entrance to a long, winding tunnel that glowed with warm, red light, and followed it for a ways.

    “It’s hot,” Lemon complained. 

“Of course it’s hot,” Grisa responded. “We’re nearing the center of the world.”

Claro ducked around a corner--and Lemon caught his breath. An indescribably huge cavern opened before them, a smaller but still massive head occupying the majority of it. 

It was a dragon’s head, the color of lava, with rippling undertones of gold and orange. To his left, Lemon saw her massive neck round a corner. A ridge of flame undulated across her spine. To his right, the very tip of her tail curled in front of her nose. 

“Who’s laughing now?” Grisa mumbled weakly to Claro. 

They all stared down at the beast. 

As they approached, Lemon felt a current of energy nearly knock him off his paws. 

The team spread out, cats standing beneath their dragons. “Ready?” said Tazán, handing out glowing purple threads from his satchel.

“As I’ll ever be.” Lemon clutched his threads to his chest. He concentrated on pouring strength into them. Life. Light. 

“Are we sure this is going to work?” Claro commented. 

“On something this big?” Enero responded with contempt. “Never.”

Lemon paid him no mind. His threads began to grow, expanding until they were massive enough to encircle the head of the sleeping Core. Then, together they thrust their threads with all their might onto its head.

“It’s not doing anything,” Claro fretted. 

“It is,” Grisa corrected. “Look, it’s dimming a little!”

Lemon opened his eyes--just in time to see a blur of green out of the corner of his eyes. He ducked as Enero’s dragon collided with Claro. 

After that, everything was a blur of flying silver threads and the battle roars of two dragons. Lemon glanced around for Grisa and Tazán. “What’s happening? Why is--” 

Horrified, he choked on his words as he caught sight of Grisa.

Threads wrapped around her, dragging her towards the Core. “Enero!” She cried. “Help me!”

Enero’s facial stripes were indeed glowing pale silver, but guilt showed in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Grisa,” he said. “But this is the only way to survive.”

It was surreal to watch. As Grisa was pulled closer to the Core, her very form seemed to almost...dissolve. 

Lemon raced to her, surveying her bonds. “What are you doing to her?”

“I’m giving her life force to the Core,” Enero croaked. “I’ve read about this happening before. It’s waking up because it’s hungry. If someone feeds it, it will go back to sleep. Even a dragon and several cats will do.”

“So you’d betray your own teammates?” That was Tazán, who stood on Enero’s other side. 

“To save the world,” Enero snapped. 

Grisa stared at her mate. “You--”

Enero’s legs buckled as Tazán barrelled into him. His satchel was flung to the side as they fought, magic spilling out. Lemon pounced, hooking his claw around a strand of orange--the kind that could destroy other magic. Racing over to Grisa, he threaded it underneath her silver bonds. Then, he focused. An orange mark glowed on his forehead.

    Just as the threads began to strain, something heavy crashed into his back. Enero’s silver fur flashed at the edge of his vision. While Lemon twisted, not sure what to do, fangs sank into his neck. 

    Grisa screeched. 

Through a red haze, Lemon saw her strain with all her might. As he watched, the silver threads snapped--and Grisa sprang free. Her caterwaul echoed throughout the chamber. 

As fire shot from her jaws. 

Enero rolled off of Lemon, screeching as he tried to quell his flaming pelt.

    Grisa ran to Lemon. Nuzzled him. Nudged him to his paws.

    “Grisa! Lemon! Tazán!” Claro shoved Glorion into the nearest rock wall, knocking him unconscious, and raced to them in two bounds. “Climb on!” She ordered them. “Now!”

    The cats sprang onto Claro’s tail and raced up her back to the safety of her horns. As the dragon spread her massive wings and launched into the air, Lemon noticed that Enero was with them. 

    They’d have to deal with him later. Fire burst in a seam along the Core’s massive body. 

    Claro dove into a deep crevice to escape the flames, and they huddled there, trembling. 

            Watching as infinite flames scorched the air. 

             It hurt to breathe. 

    Grisa brushed past Lemon as she leapt off of Claro’s back and pressed herself against the far wall, getting as far away from Enero as possible.

    Tazán dug into his satchel and wrapped some ice thread around them. 

    A few minutes later, the flames abated. But the light of the Core remained, sharper and brighter than ever.

    Suddenly, Grisa went ridgid. “Guys…I think you might want to see this.”

    What they saw when Claro moved cautiously to the edge made Lemon’s breath catch in his throat.

    The Core of the planet was no longer crimson, but a piercing yellow white. 

    As they watched, the Core shifted. 

Shifted again. 

Its tail tip twitched. 

And then, with an earth-shaking rumble, the Core of the planet rose to its feet. Its eyes glowed painfully white as it scanned its surroundings.

“I’m going to die,” Enero mumbled, his voice heavy with despair.

“We’re all going to die,” Claro snapped, brushing him off of her.

They paused abruptly, their heads snapping up. The ceiling above them groaned. A crack appeared, outlining a chunk of heavy stone that was half a moment away from landing on top of Grisa. 

“Grisa!” Lemon yowled, catapulting himself toward her. 

The chunk of rock slammed into the ground. 

Dust swirled in the air, flying into Lemon’s lungs. 

Grisa sprawled just beyond the rubble, staring  at the place where she’d stood a second ago. “Enero,” she gasped. “He pushed me. Saved...my life…”

“Guys!” Called Tazán from on top of Claro’s horns. 

Lemon helped Grisa to her paws. Together they raced toward their dragon.

The rest of the ceiling caved above them. Claro was forced to leap out of the way. 

The instant before they were both crushed, silver threads shot towards them, wrapping themselves around Lemon and Grisa’s bodies. Then, with a powerful yank, they shot out from under the avalanche and collided with Claro’s back. 

“It worked!” Tazán cried. Lemon looked up into the relieved gaze of his friend, framed by soft silver light. 

“Of course it did,” Lemon replied. “You’re the best cat at doing runes that I know.”

“Um, ouch,” said Grisa. 

She was interrupted by another terrifying tremor.

    Force trembled through the entire planet as the Core slammed its claws into the ground, making enormous cracks. 

    A flash of blue caught Lemon’s eye. My feather!

    It was drifting in the air above his head, jostled free by his collision with Claro. He reached up and swiped it out of the air.

    The portal was still there, still woven into the blue. He stared at it, then at the restless Core below.

“There’s still a chance to save the world,” he found himself saying.

Both his feline companions stared at him. Even Claro turned her head. 

Lemon pulled his feather out from behind his ear and, clutching it between his jaws, leaped onto the rock ledge behind them.

The earth shook as he reached the space in front of the Core. Its claws hovered above his head as it prepared for another strike, one that might shatter the planet.

Lemon reared up and held the feather above his head. 

The very tip of its claw collided with the feather, right in the center of the rune. Then, as it continued its descent...it disappeared.

    Lemon buckled under its power. The Core continued to fall, never reaching the ground. First her talon, then her arm, and finally her body shrunk and disappeared into the portal. 

    The momentum, the energy, was too much. It knocked Lemon off his paws, sweeping his spirit out of his body and into the stars... 

             Staying grounded by half a claw tip, he heard voices, faint as of they were whispered into the wind--

    “What happened?! Is he dead?”

    “No. The lucky idiot’s still alive, somehow.”

    Vaguely he felt a great something lifting him up--and then his consciousness faded into glittering stars.

    The desert had been broken, the landscape entirely transformed. Giant canyons now split the entire continent. 

             In daylight, it was an exciting adventure. At night, it was terrifying. 

    Lemon shakily climbed to the top of a starlit, jagged-toothed ridge where another cat sat, her head tilted toward the stars. “Hey,” she meowed.

    “Hey.” Lemon sat beside her. She looked him over with concern. “Do you need more energy? You still look unwell.”

    “I think I’m okay. Just normal tired.”

    Lemon would never forget the debt he owed Grisa for working tirelessly to fish the rest of his life energy from the cosmos, returning it to him. Because of her, he’d awoken a few weeks ago to her tongue lapping his fur. “Are we dead?” he’d asked. 

    “No, silly,” she’d purred. “You’ve saved everyone.”

“What are you thinking about?” he asked now.

    “...Everything. The universe. I was looking for the Core.”

    “I’m pretty sure it’s long gone.”

    Lemon's rune had teleported the Core of the planet to the phoenix who had carried him here a few months ago.

    “I still wonder where your old planet is.” commented Grisa.

“I don’t think we can see it from here.”

    “Do you miss your home?”

    “Yes...but I’m happy here, too. With dragons, with magic. With you.”

    Grisa was silent for a long time. “You know,” she said at last, “after Enero betrayed me, I thought that no one in the world would ever love me as much as I deserve. But you...you’re not from this world. You’re the sweetest, bravest cat I’ve ever met. I think maybe, if it’s you...I could be ready for romance again. Do you want to be together?”

    Lemon nuzzled her close. “Of course!" He purred, and they leaned together, noses touching, under the infinite sky of stars.

August 28, 2021 01:59

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1 comment

Blue Green
19:26 Aug 30, 2021

Original and very entertaining, that's the wierdest journey to the centre of the earth that I've ever read :-) Your heros are certainly very loveable and fearless. I had to read it a second time to fully understand what was going on, as things happened at quite a fast pace at the end, but it's a great story! Perhaps more of Lemon's adventures to come? Well done!

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