Lighting the Torch


“Have you ever killed anyone?” Dr. Riverflow asked, sitting across from Hirador. The doctor adjusted the shawl over her shoulders.

Hirador had come close on numerous occasions. The red dragon remembered one person in particular, a mage who inadvertently wiped out much of Hirador’s race many years ago. Even Hirador’s brother and sister supported his plan of action, at least initially. After further consideration, however, they decided against it, but it didn’t lessen Hirador’s desire to bring death to the human.

It’s one characteristic that separated Hirador from his siblings and the primary reason for his counseling. Though he wouldn’t admit it, Hirador was objective enough to identify the problem. His temper and rash thinking often got the best of him. Still, even if he had killed someone, it was no one’s business but his own. He’d successfully avoided the doctor up until now, but Hirador’s brethren had a way of persuading him to do things he normally wouldn’t.

Shifting on the bale of hay and doing his best to avoid the question, Hirador inspected his surroundings. Various shades of cherry-colored brick rested beneath his feet, stretching from one end of the building to the other. Every few yards, brick columns of the same color popped up on both sides, supporting massive wood beams that ran the length of the walkway.

A vaulted ceiling, one with intricate wood carvings, contained symbols that Hirador could not decipher. Sunlight crept between the gaps in the panels, helping illuminate the large space. Hirador turned his attention to the stable doors on his right. Then he glanced to his left. More stable doors, but all of the stalls appeared to be empty.

“Is there a problem?” Riverflow said. “You seem preoccupied.”

“You live here?”

She shook her head. “I’m sure you saw the cottage on your way in. This is my workplace.”

Hirador exhaled, the air from his nostrils fanning the woman’s lengthy blonde locks. “It’s not very cozy.”

“I’m not in the business of running a lodge.”

“But surely your patients…” Hirador bit his tongue, disliking that last word. “Clients,” he clarified. “I’m sure they’re more conducive to opening up when the environment is right.”

Riverflow sighed. “Unfortunately, my clients are diverse. Some days I have to accommodate a hill giant. Other days a gnome. It’s why I use this barn.”

Hirador nodded.

“Would you like to answer my question?” she said.

“Not particularly.” As confident and intimidating as Hirador could be, Riverflow’s cold stare still made him uneasy. If she’d dealt with hill giants before, he could certainly understand the woman’s rough exterior.

Riverflow pulled the shawl tighter and eased back in the chair. “I’m not here to judge you, but honesty is an integral part of the process. It’s the only way I can help you manage your anger.”

Hirador remained silent, contemplating his next move. Or words to be precise. “And you truly believe you’re capable of being impartial?”

“Of course.” With her head tilted, Riverflow’s eyebrows stiffened. “You don’t agree?”

“Humans and dragons have a troubled history. As a result, we don’t have the best of relationships.”

“I have no problems with dragons.”

“An easy thing to say but a much harder statement to prove.”

Riverflow sat upright. “Do you ever have arguments with Tulvir or Mianth?”

The question caught him off guard. His brother, Tulvir, and sister, Mianth, were just outside. “All siblings have disagreements,” Hirador finally said, keeping his voice low out of fear of them hearing.

“Precisely. Whether they’re related or not, dragons feud with one another. It’s no different with my race or any other. You think a dragon would be better suited to assist you?”

Hirador shrugged.

“I get paid for results,” Riverflow said. “If I had an ulterior motive, it wouldn’t be good for business.”

Hirador let those words sink in. Riverflow actually made sense, and he was satisfied with the doctor’s response, but he wasn’t about to disclose that information to her. Some might call it stubbornness on his part, but Hirador preferred to think of it as pride.

“Since you’re reluctant to answer my initial question,” Riverflow continued, “perhaps I can ask you something else.”

“Do what you wish.”

Riverflow relaxed in her chair again. “We’ve all done things we regret. Myself included. What’s something you’ve done you wish you could take back?”

Hirador cocked his head back and pondered. He’d done plenty of things that many would deem unnecessary or even shameful. Whether he regretted those actions was another matter. One encounter did come to mind, though. It might not qualify, but it was close enough.

“My siblings and I ran into a dwarf during one of our journeys several years ago,” Hirador said.

“Does this dwarf have a name?”

“Everyone has a name.”

“What was his or her name?”

“It was a male.”

“And?”

“Why is his name relevant?”

“It makes you more accountable. It will help in releasing your burden.”

Hirador looked around the room, attempting to stall as much as he could. “Modrad,” he said.

“And what did you do to Modrad?”

He recalled the incident in his head. It seemed innocent enough to him, but Hirador knew the doctor would think otherwise. Modrad had proven to be a good companion at times, but he was too much like Hirador. Tenacious, independent, and self-assured. Those traits caused the two to clash on occasion. This skirmish, however, went beyond their typical war of words.

“I singed his beard,” Hirador conceded.

Riverflow’s lips parted, and she cleared her throat. “And how did you feel afterward?”

“Amused.”

“Later on,” she clarified. “When you had time to contemplate your actions.”

“There were consequences.”

“So, you ultimately felt guilt for what you did?”

“I wouldn’t call it guilt.”

“What then?”

“Disappointment.”

Riverflow smiled. “Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Can you elaborate?”

“Modrad had a knack for hunting snow hares. When we allowed him to join our group, he offered to do it on a daily basis. Food was scarce at the time, so who was I to say no? Anyway, I remember eating them three or four at a time. They were absolutely delicious. Have you ever had the pleasure, doctor?”

She shook her head. “I haven’t.”

“You should try them. You’d probably want to cook them first. Being human and all. Personally, I prefer them raw. They have the most amazing flavor and—”

“I’m sorry. What does this have to do with anything?”

“After I scorched his beard, he refused to hunt them for us. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment.”

Riverflow couldn’t muster a response. She lowered her head, burying it in her hands, and took a deep breath.

Hirador noticed something. “What is that?”

The doctor parted her hands and looked up. “What?”

“On the stable door over there.”

Riverflow followed his gaze. She turned her head and glanced over her shoulder. “A dragonfly?”

“That’s what I feared.”

“Now you have issues with dragonflies?”

“I don’t care for them.”

“Why?”

“The same reason humans don’t care for spiders.” Riverflow opened her mouth, but Hirador cut her off before she could speak. “And who gave them that name, anyway? It’s an insult to dragons. They’re nothing like us.”

Hirador felt a burning in his belly, and his chest expanded.

“What are you doing?” Riverflow stuttered.

Hirador peeked in her direction, watching as Riverflow’s eyes swelled with fear. Then he turned his attention to the real target, releasing a power deep inside of him.

* * * *

Mianth and Tulvir were waiting outside, both of them wide-eyed and alert as Hirador exited the barn.

“What happened in there?” Mianth asked. “I heard a scream.”

Hirador coughed, and smoke shot out of his nostrils and mouth. “I believe our session is over.”

“You didn’t—”

“No,” he said, interrupting his sister. “I didn’t dispose of her, but the doctor is a little unsettled.”

“No doubt due to you,” Tulvir said.

Hirador grinned, but Tulvir didn’t return the gesture. “It wasn’t my fault. Not entirely, at least.” He shrugged. “You know how I am around dragonflies.”

“A dragonfly? In there?” Hirador nodded, and Tulvir shivered in disgust. “I despise those things.”

“My sentiment exactly.”

© 2018 Kevin Hopson

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