"On Day 168 by Cherie Reich - For 168 days, a dragon imprisoned Astryd in his cave, but the chieftain’s daughter has escaped to discover the dragon may not be her only enemy. This story takes place several hundred years before Reich’s series The Fate Challenges.
Reborn, the first novel in The Fate Challenges, was published back in 2014, and Cherie hopes to publish the rest of the series sometime next year.
Astryd etched another line into the cave wall. Despite making 167 previous marks into the stone, the diamond’s edge hadn’t lost its sharp point. She blew the rock dust away and ran her finger along the groove. One hundred and sixty-eight days since the dragon stole her from home. The same number of days as number of children her father had sired during his three hundred plus years of life. Her vision wavered and throat tightened. She refused to die in this cave.
She gripped the diamond until her hand ached. Sunlight peeked from a crevasse in the cavern’s ceiling. The beams struck the gold and multicolored gemstones in an array of rainbow colors. When she’d first arrived at her prison, she thought the jewels were pretty and marveled at the dragon’s wealth. Yet she soon discovered they had nothing on the evergreen trees emerging near the pike fence surrounding her village or the stars sparkling in the nighttime sky.
She threw the diamond. It bounced against a stalactite and disappeared among a pile of jewels. A scream of frustration built inside her.
The spirit—a male elf a few years older than she—appeared before her.
She swallowed the yell before she could voice it. Bitterness coated her tongue. When Llewyn was alive, he’d arrived at her village to marry her, an agreement made between his father, an elvish prince, and hers, a human-elf mixed village chieftain. But Llewyn had vanished before the ceremony, and the dragon kidnapped her the next morning. He’d haunted her since mark thirty-three.
“What do you want?”
He pointed toward the dragon’s area.
She peered into the darkened maul that led to the main cavern. The dragon hadn’t harmed her, but he had blocked her escape at every turn. He left her food and water. She had shelter from Norvadia’s prolonged winter. Despite his attentiveness in keeping her alive, she would never view this place as home.
Llewyn drew closer and jabbed his finger toward the darkness again.
“Oh, very well.” She braided her white-blond hair and tied the end off. Her gaze darted to the spirit as she grabbed a fur-lined cloak. She missed the bright rich blue of his skin, a darker shade than hers or even her father’s, who was closer to the elvish line than she. She wrapped the cloak over her shoulders and marched past him.
Her shoulders almost touched the sides of the tunnel. At one point, she had to turn sideways and suck in a breath to squeeze through. The dragon couldn’t navigate this part of the cave, which was why she typically stayed there, but she had to find out what Llewyn was so insistent she see. With an exhale, she entered the main cavern.
Hills of gold gave the area a reddish-yellow luminescence. Astryd stumbled up one mound, her feet sliding every fourth step. At the top, she gasped and dropped to her knees.
The dragon wasn’t there.