Dragon Dancer

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Leathery wings pounded in the distance, teeming over the water to the north. Within this thunderous sound a rhythm could be heard. It took practice to find it, however; many young ones could not. Instead they covered their ears and hopped with excitement as the spectacle neared. But not Lanitia. That was her sister on the cliff.

Lanitia stood with the adults. They were relaxed, swaying to the beat. The old ones, who could not see as they used to, were saying prayers for The Dancer. All eyes remained fixed on the Woman in White at the edge of their vision, hundreds of feet above the raging ocean. Her sister Vortina was calm. She did not tremble or tense.

Lanitia, however, wiped her sweaty palms over and over on her dress. She wanted to pray with the old ones, but she was too nervous. Every village from miles distant was here for this ancient tradition. Every year the dragons migrated on this solstice day, leading the winter winds.

The pulsing vibrations of the approaching beasts moved the air; the earth shook with the coming storm of bodies. Suddenly Vortina, in her snowy white gown, stepped off the distant cliff. As she fell into that terrifying open space, the people gasped. Lanitia screamed.

A thin emerald dragon shot upwards and over the precipice. Balanced with perfect poise, bare toes curling around the bases of two razor sharp neck spines, arms outstretched and head held high, her sister stood solidly as the dragon bellowed and loosed a jet of green flame. Hundreds more dragons rose from the wind currents they rode across the ocean, rose to shriek up the cliffside and blot out the sky with stained-glass wings.

Some people cheered, some cowered. The adults banged mugs on tables in excitement or let them fall from their hands in awe. A prayer came to Lanitia now, but not a traditional chant of her people. “Please don’t die!” tore explosively from her throat, mute in the din of the magical reptiles overhead.

The Dance had begun.

Vortina’s long dress flowed like a streak of morning clouds. As the dawning sun paints the sky, transmuting its simplicity into a burst of beauty, so to the light reflecting off the multicolored scales transformed Vortina’s being into a tumble of rainbows. Light as a lullaby she stepped from her perch and into oblivion: not to plummet madly, but to begin a dignified descent into the boiling sea of bodies beneath her.

A crimson-scaled orange-bellied Draconis Major lazily spun upside down. Its round, shining, shed-sized stomach became a slide Vortina skated across; soaring over the slick overlapping rows of tangerine lamina. When she reached the tail, a sweeping flick launched her upwards. Rising above the writhing mass of dragons she spun delicately, her corkscrewing dress projecting a thousand colors upon the crowds below. Then she was covered by a bustle of flapping, momentarily gone from view. A chill ran down Lanitia’s spine— then a rush of relief at Vortina’s reappearance. And what a return! A glorious caper across the wingspan of a gleaming Golden Guivre.

Vortina leapt— used her hands to catch the curved, forearm-sized claw of another enormous Draconis, turned a flip to land in a swarm of juveniles. Her feet were lyrical as she stepped from claw to wing, from head to back, always with the rhythm of the wings; evading a snapping jaw or knife-like spine with dignity and elegance. Faster and faster Vortina frolicked; climbing the cloud of chaos as if it were a noble spiral stair.

Lanitia remembered dancing with her sister in their kitchen as children, swinging from the rafters and bounding across the stool-tops. They had pretended the pots they hurdled were spines, the pans were claws, the dog barking at their antics the head of a monstrous Draconis. Never had they dreamed one of them would be selected for The Dance. Yet Vortina had impressed the council with her skill.

The Dance of The Dragons was impromptu. It was raw emotion: a feral connection, a kinship between the dragons’ interlinked consciousness and the Dancer who came to join them. The Dance was wild: ferocious as the Spined Sea-Amphiptere. It was tasteful: like the perfect rows of symmetrical adamantine scales. It was dangerous: vicious as the dragons themselves. A single misstep meant an impaling, a slice, a burn, a two-hundred-foot drop.

A cluster of Wyverns suddenly billowed around Vortina; yellow dragons streaked with vibrant, sapphire blue that blurred to green they moved with such swiftness. When the Wyverns passed her hair was tangled and the edges of her dress were in tatters, though her beauty was not diminished. Lanitia gasped at a thin thread of blood running from her sister’s shoulder; it scattered to the wind in glistening droplets.

Vortina, turned, twisted, and gamboled; eyes closed all the while. She trusted her God, believed in her feet, and relied on the dragons to play their part. Lanitia was directly below her sister now. The ancient tradition ended two ways: The Dancer would either fall to her death; or, (what Lanitia prayed for her sister) The Dancer would jump and land on the single high hill to the south. The Descent it was called, both the act of jumping and the location.

But the dragons now passed The Descent, and Lanitia sobbed. Her sister had not dismounted, nor stopped dancing! Surely she would fall! Yet Lanitia dried her eyes: Vortina did not panic, did not jump recklessly to the flatland. In fact, she seemed not to notice the people below at all. She continued dancing, fading from view into the distant horizon; the sound of beating wings lasting long after vision failed. She was wild, she was free. She moved in time with the thunder, one with its wild denizens. Vortina, The Woman in White, had done what no others before her had done: she had kept dancing.

No one knew where the dragons went during the spring and summer, nor from whence they came far across the ocean every fall. But it was noted the next year the migrating thunder was led by a snowy-white dragon: rhythmical and elegant as a hidden waterfall. Soon whispers became rumor, and rumor grew into legend, which spread across the land. Lanitia told her sister’s story from her place at the elder’s table each year with excitement and sadness in her eyes. The story of Vortina: The Dancer who became a dragon.

H.T. Grossen lives and writes beneath the long evening shadow of the Rocky Mountains in Pueblo, Colorado with his magical wife and pulchritudinous daughters. He writes poems and fiction of all genres.
Handle: @htgrossen - Website: htgrossen.com