This story is by Taralyn Cooper and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Cora laughs as she walks away from the Lightning Griffins, our local biker gang. They protect our town and us here in The Vine. Old man Cedar yells out to bring another round, motioning with his hand to the entire bar. The Lightning Griffins cheer while Leighton, the bouncer, shakes his head. His sculpted arms are crossed over his chest making him look bigger than he is.
It’s a small group of us tonight. Usually there’s at least one person at each table. I’m sitting at the bar, in my usual spot at the end closest to the door. Cedar sits a table over from me, closer to the stage that rarely gets used. The Lightning Griffins have their table on the opposite side of the bar from me; Leo, their leader, sits facing me.
“Sparrow?” Broderick’s voice comes from beside me and I turn to smile at him. His lips quirk even as his eyebrows stay furrowed. “Everything alright?”
“Everything’s perfect,” I say, barely heard over the laughs from the guys.
His face smooth’s out and he smiles at me. “Do you want the drink Cedar’s offering?”
I shrug. “Is it more ale?”
Broderick grins. “It’s about the only thing he drinks.”
I laugh. “True.”
“Sparrow!” Cedar calls and I wonder if he heard us. “You must drink with us, friend. It is a momentous occasion.”
I turn to face him and tilt my head.
Cedar stutters over his words, clearly trying to think of the reason. “Well, we can make it a momentous occasion!”
Everyone starts laughing and Cedar raises his drink high in the air. The Lightning Griffins follow suit and cheers ring throughout the bar.
I see Leighton tense out of the corner of my eye before the door slams open against the wall. Two armed guards step through covered head to toe in plate armor. If they’re cosplaying they’ve done an amazing job.
Leighton pushes away from the wall and turns to them while Broderick walks around the bar to stand in front of me.
“What brings you here?” Leighton inquires, his muscles tensing as his hands curl into fists.
They scan the bar and I realize why I recognize the armor when the one on the left turns to me. I suck in a breath; it’s been three years since I’ve seen the guards from my home world.
“Sparrow,” the one on the left says and Cedar stands, walking to take a stance in front of me.
“You’re not going to get her,” Leighton says.
“The King has requested her return home,” the one on the right says. “He didn’t say she had to be alive.”
The Lightning Griffins jump from their seats, pulling guns from their pants.
“Just try it,” Leo growls.
“This is unprecedented.” The one on the left hums and if he took off his helmet I know I could place his name. “You were supposed to learn about this world.”
“And I have,” I respond. “The King said he would send a formal request should my attendance be necessary.”
The one on the right snorts. “The King has more important things to do than keep promises to a little girl.”
I tilt my head to look at him. His hand hovers over his sword at his hip. I wonder if he knows anything about this world?
Plate shifts together and I glance over to see the other taking his helmet off. Blonde hair falls messily around the face of a much older Thorne. He’s got a new cut running along his chin too, still healing.
I raise an eyebrow at him. “You were sent to retrieve me?”
Broderick glances over his shoulder. “He friendly?”
I shrug and Broderick nods.
“Not my decision,” Thorne says. “I reminded the King about your agreement.”
The other guard snorts again and I can see Leighton’s muscles tense even further.
“If you’re here,” I say quietly and Cedar slides his gun out from the back of his pants. “That must mean the portal has been compromised and the King has run out of options.”
Thorne shrugs and his face takes on a sheepish look. The other guard turns to Thorne and whips his helmet off. The usual long, black hair of Hadden is now cropped short and spiked even after wearing the helmet.
“You’re giving away everything now?” Hadden snaps.
“She’s smarter than you give her credit for,” Leo says. “Why don’t you explain what’s coming for us.”
Hadden turns and glares at me as if this was all my fault.
“An army that has a dragon,” Thorne answers. “They’ve managed to learn of the existence of this portal and who it’s tied to.” Broderick gestures to me and Thorne nods. “We’ve come to warn you and ask for your aid.”
“Speak for yourself,” Hadden mutters.
“So we need to close the portal,” Cora says and I jump, not having realized she walked up beside me. She places a calming hand on my shoulder.
“Sparrow does, yes,” Thorne answers. “We need to keep the army in my realm while she does that.”
Hadden growls and takes a step closer to Leighton.
“I wouldn’t do that, friend,” Leo says and two of the bikers rush forward and force Hadden to his knees. Hadden struggles, his armor clanking echoes in the bar. His face shows how baffled he is these two guys have managed to force him to his knees.
“You say I need to close the portal,” I say.
Thorne nods. “The King said you were the one who opened it; you are the only one that can close it.”
I hum. “It’s been three years. My magic is a little rusty.”
“Three years is a long time to be abandoned,” Cora says.
“She wasn’t abandoned.”
I shrug. “Call it what you will but who’s to say I won’t keep you on this side of the portal?”
Cedar and the gang laugh, their mocking guffaws echoing around us.
A dragon’s roar echoes in from outside and cuts off their laughs.
“I guess we’re fighting a dragon,” Broderick says.
“We?” Thorne asks. “You guys wouldn’t know the first thing about dragons.”
“Sparrow is one of us,” Leo says. “And if there’s something coming for her, it’s coming for all of us.”
Thorne shrugs and draws his sword. “Not sure how much damage those things will do,” he motions to the guns. “But the more hands the higher chance we’ll have of surviving.”
The ground trembles, rattling the glasses on the tables. “I guess they’re coming to us,” Broderick muses and taps Leighton on the shoulder, pointing to the exit. “Time to meet them halfway.”
Leighton and Thorne lead us out; the bikers holding Hadden down give his shoulders a nudge before they follow the others. Hadden scowls at me as he stands and turns to stomp after the others. I hop down from my stool and Cora gives my shoulder a squeeze before we follow them.
“Think we can defeat a dragon?” She asks.
“We only need to push it back,” I say.
Outside the dragon’s head is roaring from the open portal a block away from the bar, no longer hidden behind a pine tree. Gunshots are ringing through the air and I can see the dragon flinching back from the shots aimed at its face.
“You told me once that if you were to close the portal, it would be closed indefinitely.”
“You have to choose which side you want to be on, then,” she whispers as we stop behind the guys.
Hadden has jumped back through the portal and I can see him using a chain around the dragon’s neck. Thorne jumps through on the opposite side and does the same, trying to pull it back through. The mountains of home are silhouetted behind them, but my memories of that place are tainted.
I turn to look at Cora. “This is my home now and there’s no where else I’d rather be.”
She grins at me as the dragon’s head is forced back through the portal. I spread my arms and circle them clockwise before bringing them together in front of me. The portal flashes gold and Thorne waves before stumbling to catch the chain again. I push my hands towards the portal, feeling my magic thrust out to it. The portal glows gold and I wave back as the portal folds in on itself, closing. A roar echoes around us even after the portal is gone.
“That’s it?” Cedar asks and we laugh. The tree it was hidden behind is a smoldering trunk but, minus a few extra scorch marks around the outskirts, the place is back to normal.
I grin as the others cheer with imaginary glasses. My fingers tingle from my magic as we head back to the bar. It’s been three years since I used magic; hopefully that’s the last time I’ll need to.