In the high walls of her stronghold, the future Queen of the Sand Kingdom was quite irritated.
She'd just walked out of a military meeting that was particularly amazing to listen to.
The highest advisors in all the desert were there, badgering her about the war, how things weren't looking so great, how she was somehow in danger of 'losing.'
"The IceWings are gaining ground in the Northwest! The MudWings have our allies dangerously thin and vulnerable! SeaWings Blah blah blah! Things need to be done!"
She'd had to fight the urge to throttle the scrawny little transcriber dragon that sat by her during the meeting, scribbling things down about them criticizing her leadership. Even worse, she had to listen to these old bags scold her about her strategic decisions that she had the right to make.
If they were so worried about the IceWings, they should go and kill them instead of bothering her talking about it.
The wind blew weakly in Burn's face as she stepped out into the great courtyard of her stronghold, underneath high noon's sunlight. The sandstone underneath her feet was hot, but tolerable. The rank smell of death sunk into her nostrils, the heads of dragons they'd taken prisoner or those who'd defied her hanging high on the walls just outside.
Normally, the smell of corpses, of victory would always be a refresher to her.
But she wasn't at all in the mood for a refresher.
And then there was another object of her annoyance; Singe, one of her brothers.
It wasn't enough that he'd been becoming more and more passive-aggressive the past few weeks like he thought he could get away with it.
No, not at all. He was there for the meeting, too. He thought he was so good at keeping it hidden, but she could see the happy glint in his eyes, the half-smile on his face as she was basically scolded like a dragonet in front of dozens, with a look that said, 'I'll remember you like this.'
The idiot was begging for something unfortunate to happen to him.
And right when she wanted something or someone to punch, the courtyard was empty.
She walked out into the center of the stronghold. Accepting the lack of things to vent onto, she paced absently, compromising by stomping the sandstone as hard as she wanted to and kicking pockets of gathered sand around while snorting with aggravation.
The dumbest thing she'd ever heard. How could she be losing?
It didn't even make sense. All she had to do was look at what was happening. All the time, soldiers came back from battles with tales of their many kills, their weapons coated in blood, with bags of war trophies and stories of new scars and glory. So many would be killed every battle.
She herself would fight and revel in many of them, coming back always with gore splattered claws, dozens of kills to her own name, and potential additions to her weirdling tower.
She still remembered the day the war started. Huge lines of loyal dragons wanting to join the fight going back as far as the dunes, all for the Sand Kingdom, to fight a war against its enemies, to show them to be afraid, to drown those stupid little upstarts in their own blood and guts as they deserved.
Losing? I doubt it.
So what if there were so many more enemies coming to fight? That just meant more victories, more territory, more killing.
So what if she'd had more and more close calls within the past few months, an arrow flying past her throat, a spear missed by a claw's length, a bomb blocked by a luckily placed body? Things happen.
So what if the crowds that used to come back from won battles first were in the thousands, now only in the low hundreds? Dragons died in war. So what?
So what if the torrent of soldiers joining every day are now barely a raindrop in the desert? So what if the recruiting centers that used to have hundreds upon hundreds now may be lucky to have a tumbleweed waiting in line? So what if they might be…
She froze mid-stride. For the first time in many years, a sharp chill ran down her spine.
They had a point. They actually had a point.
She was losing. Losing everything.
'Things need to be done.'
Her eyes traced the mortar of the sandstone bricks under her talons.
Like what? What in the moons could I do? What should I do?
A moment of silence, of deep thought, passed.
What would she do?
She rose her head from the ground, and her gaze drifted slowly to a tall obelisk sitting close to one of the walls of the courtyard.
She approached it slowly, each step giving her increasing sorrow like a well filling with water in a rainstorm.
The pillar was covered in a layer of powdery wind-whipped sand. She wept some of it off with love and care that nothing else would ever see, like it was a timeless masterpiece that she'd break with the lightest of fumbling, and read the now clear wording:
MOTHER OF QUEEN BURN
HER BONES NOW BELONG TO THE SANDS OF TIME
What would you do?
Her eyes stayed glued on the wording etched into the stone, like they might shift and change into some kind of answer to her question.
After nothing happened, no flash of inspiration, no voice from above, she shut her eyes and kept them shut.
I should have been there for you.
No more than a month after Oasis was killed, an extension was made to the stronghold that brought the place she died closer to home, behind the walls.
I wasn't ready for you to go.
The night she departed was the day Burn felt real pain, uncontrollable rage.
She'd had every single Scavenger den within a hundred miles burned to the ground, burned to ash, burned to nothingness.
And it wasn't enough.
It never would be, especially not while her sisters -her enemies- were still a threat to the throne.
And now they were winning.
They can't win. They don't understand the value of strength, like you.
They wouldn't do you justice. They aren't worthy.
Which was part of why Blister might've had something to do with her death. She probably let those scavengers in somehow. How would a few measly scavengers sneak into the best-defended place in the entire Sand Kingdom?
And Blaze, as always, completely ignorant. Somehow, so many SandWings stood by her when she tried to have her executed.
Idiots. Absolute cowards, the whole lot of them…
The thought of so many SandWings deciding to stick with that ditzy, moony-eyed fool…
The thought of Blister, that snake, tricking her to spare her, and then running away from a fight to hide behind thousands of SeaWings, MudWings…
It took her brief sorrow and brought it back to irritation before it quickly became hot rage, bright as the sun against the desert sand.
I'll kill them.
I'll kill both of them.
No. I'll kill all of them! They want to choose an idiot for a queen, a conniving snake for a queen, over a strong queen?!
Fine! I'll kill them all! I'll break their spines, then their bones, and let their screams echo across the desert before I dump them head-first in quicksand and watch them suffocate!
They want to finish this war, take the throne that they don't deserve? Fine! Come and get it! I'll fight you every step, every mile, every dune! I'll kill all of your armies by myself, and even if you get lucky, even if I'm dying, with my last breaths I'll drag myself to your palaces and strangle you both with my own fucking intestines!
She turned her head to the sound.
Singe. That tiny little transcriber dragon was with him, too.
Exactly who she didn't want to see.
"What do you want?" Burn said, not caring whether he heard the rage, the hatred in her voice or not.
Singe simply blinked his marbly black eyes. The tinier dragon next to him swallowed and took a step back.
"Well." He said. "Maybe I'll just…wait until later."
"Whatever." Burn said, turning her head back.
A snort from Singe, all it took to enflame her once more.
Burn whirled around, ready to start bludgeoning.
A thump, and her tail slamming on a hard object. She turned her head.
On the black marble obelisk, her mother's memorial, a huge, ugly chip was now in the stonework.
Caused by herself.
For a few moments, Burn was completely numb, numb before she looked to Singe again.
Their eyes met, and there he was. That stupid expression again.
His face that said nothing, but his eyes that said, 'Nice going, stupid. I bet you feel really proud of yourself.'
The way his lips tugged at the corners, like he was fighting a sadistic smile, like he was loving watching her suffer.
A few moments of silence.
A cry of ear-splitting, deeply primal rage, of anger like crashing thunder, echoed in the courtyard as she half-snarled, half screamed.
The tiny dragon standing next to Singe yelped as Burn thrust her poisoned barb deep into Singe's skull, spattering blood every which way.
As she stabbed him, she relished the feelings, feelings of a skull breaking open, the feelings of his brain bursting like a grape on the end of her tail.
Singe didn't even have time to flinch before he fell to the sandstone below with her tail still embedded in his head, convulsing, flailing wildly for a few moments before moving no more.
After the event, Burn stared at Singe's body.
She felt the anger melt away from her just like the blood and brain matter now pouring from Singe's destroyed head.
Finally, she tugged with quite a bit of force, pulling the now-gory barb out of his skull with a sigh of satisfaction.
She felt much, much better. If only she could do that to everyone that bothered her.
Unfortunately, she couldn't do that to everyone that was at the meeting. She needed them, even if they were problematic.
But she could make sure they knew their place.
Her eyes fell to the tan-scaled, now blood-covered transcriber dragon. As she approached him, he shrunk and backpedaled, avoiding her eyes once he was in her shadow.
"I-I'm sorry My Queen. I…I-I didn't see anything, I swear."
"Look at me." Burn said, towering over him.
His gaze slowly traveled its way to her until his eyes met hers.
"So. They want to keep telling me about the problems and doing nothing? I'll take care of it myself." She said. "Go tell General Six-Claws to gather his command. I want him ready to leave by next noon. We're going north."
"Y-yes, My Queen." He said, bowing lowly with a noticeable fearful shake, and turned to leave.
"And by the way?" She said, and he froze like a deer mid-turn to look back at her.
She pointed with her tail to the fresh corpse of Singe, still convulsing weakly on the courtyard of the stronghold. His eyes followed the gesture.
"Make sure they know that this is what happens when you annoy me."
"Y—Yes, M-My Queen." He said, finishing his turn and speed-walking out of the courtyard.
She watched him leave in a hurry, going through the ground exit to outside and eventually disappearing behind the terrain.
Once he was gone, Burn turned her head back to her mother's resting place, now bloody, and she felt a twinge of guilt.
With no words, she immediately spread her wings and took off, going to the tower of the stronghold- her weirdling tower.
Entering from the top floor, she stormed through the currently sun-lit rooms inside, passing by many of her oddities, and reaching a desk at the end by a stairwell.
Quickly, she pulled one of the drawers open, pulling out several rags.
She had cleaning supplies in here, to maintain the appearance of her displays.
Just as quickly as she entered, she left with the rags, flew down to the pillar, and quickly wept up the blood with long, wide strokes, remaining silent as she did her work for a few minutes.
As she stepped away after finishing to inspect it and ensure that it was clean, she frowned deeply, eyeing the damage she'd done to the memorial with painful guilt. She'd need to get someone to fix that.
After about a dozen seconds of silence, of respect, she spread her wings, preparing to leave.
Rest easy. As long as I breathe, your legacy I will carry until the sands themselves fade to nothing. You deserve that much.
With no further thoughts, she took off, leaving Singe to lay where he died.
Her only regret was that she couldn't go back in time and make him die screaming.
She flew up to the fortifications of the stronghold, landing on the top of the walls.
There, she gazed out to the north, over the dunes taller than three full-grown dragons, going farther and farther until the sky met the ground and nothing else could be seen.
Six-Claws was a competent general. And Blaze's coalition with Queen Glacier's forces was likely weakened after their campaigning in the northwest.
Just waiting for someone to kick their teeth in.
She smiled, anticipating the coming days, the coming months, and cracked the knuckles of her talons.
Think you're winning, aren't you, sisters? Think again.
I'm still alive. I've still got an army. And I'm coming for you first, Blaze.
So get ready. Now I'm going to be the one doing the winning.