In the pitch black darkness of night, Phos was drifting.
He had returned to his human form, and in doing so felt an intense wave of nausea and fatigue. Keeping his eyes open was a chore, and the silver dragon clutched both him and Lillia in his paw in a way that squished them both together painfully as he soared through the stormy sky.
Lilia was downcast, and hadn’t said a word to Phos since the departure. But despite this, she hugged him tightly, holding back her tears. Her older brother pet her head tenderly and whispered.
“I’m sorry, Lilia… But this is for the best.”
“… Is it really, big brother?” she sniffled. “What about Uncle? What about Smith Gramps, and all of my friends in Lotor? I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“We can talk later, Lilia. Don’t worry. I’ll explain everything to you.”
“… I want to go home.” Lilia murmured. The paw holding them both tightened briefly, squeezing the air out of their lungs.
“Quiet now, little hatchlings. Your whining grates my ears,” the silver drake snapped. The air around them was light and cold, almost bone-chillingly so. They approached a massive ceiling of puffy clouds, sparkling with frozen ice crystals. “We are approaching the Great Cloud Barrier, which separates Aether from Terra. I’ll be flying much faster now that we’re at an appropriate altitude… Please do your best to avoid making me crush you to death before we arrive.”
Lilia opened her mouth to speak, but Phos held a finger to his lips, shaking his head. She nodded silently, then resolved herself to going to sleep. He sighed, and closed his eyes as well, to the great relief of his injured body.
With every rocking motion of the silver dragon— Phos decided to name him Silver Asshole, or Silver for short. The term ‘silver dragon’ was growing irritating to him— the broken bones in his arm sent bolts of electrifying pain through his body. Silver hadn’t been lying when he said he planned to fly as fast as he could, and it spared the young boy no comfort.
Urghhh… This is… So different than flying with Aurelia… he mused, drifting into a fitful slumber among the clouds.
“… Big brother…”
“HEY! Wake up, big brother! Come on!”
Phos groaned, slowly opening his eyes. Lilia was shaking him, pouting. How long had he been asleep? From what he could tell, it was mid-afternoon… But he wasn’t sure.
He was immediately aware of being freed from the grip of Silver, as well as the lack of cold air blasting his face. In fact, there was barely any snow around them anymore. The ground was rocky, with large cliffs erupting from the ground in otherworldly spiraling shapes, as if they were trying to defiantly claw at the sky.
We must have arrived in Aether, huh? Not surprising, with how fast Silver was flying with us. But which island are we on?
“You’re awake? Good, good,” Silver drawled, yawning. Phos took this opportunity to inspect the drake.
Silver was almost twice as large as Phos, but not quite as big as Aurelia. He was also slimmer, with a more lithe body, built for deadly speed and precision. The two horns adorning his head gently curved inwards, and were pale white. In the sunlight, his scales shimmered, just like a fish swimming through the water of a river, or a polished coin.
If Phos hadn’t met this sadistic dragon before, he would have described him as stunningly beautiful. But knowing what he did, he could only find this beast to be horrifying. As if reading his thoughts, Silver smirked, jauntily throwing his arms out.
“Welcome to the islands bordering the Kingdom of Cirr. This particular island is known as Wisher’s Reach. Much more pleasant than the Grounded hovel you were in before, no? Definitely warmer. And far less smelly… We shall rest here for today, until the moon rises. Then we will be departing for Cirr.” he announced, feigning a tone of enthusiasm. “I have sent word of your retrieval to Her Majesty. But I have yet to be graced with a reply, you see… Certain matters have been keeping her busy.”
Phos sat and crossed his legs, sitting on the rocky ground. Wisher’s Reach was enormous— he could not see the end of it. But despite its size, it was surprisingly barren. There was little plant life, and he was acutely aware of a complete lack of birdsong or insect chirring. What plant life did exist was gnarled and stunted, with unnatural colors.
To put it simply: this place was eerie and unnatural to the extreme.
“Big brother…” Lilia scooted over to him. “I’m really hungry. Do you have anything to eat in your satchel?”
Her stomach let out a loud gurgle, as if it were trying to agree with her. Lilia looked exhausted, and gratefully accepted the piece of peppered jackfish jerky he handed to her. She nibbled at it slowly at first, mumbling that her stomach was feeling jumpy. But before long, she was devouring it like a starved animal, chomping it down. Phos finished his own portion, albeit much slower.
… Some things never change, huh? I always thought she had a big appetite. I guess it makes sense why now.
Their hunger sated, the duo leaned their backs against each other to rest. The ground was far too rough to be comfortable to lay on, and neither of them had a blanket, of course.
Silver had flown away to hunt, leaving the two of them to their own devices for the time being. It was a huge weight off of Phos’s shoulders, undoubtedly Lilia’s too.
They relaxed aimlessly for a while, digesting their meal and saying nothing. The silence was broken by a tentative voice.
A small creature appeared from behind a rock. It was insectoid in appearance, like a bipedal ant. Transparent wings fluttered on its shoulders, and the chitin armor encasing its body glowed green. Staring at Lilia with beady and compound eyes, it waited for their response.
Phos thought this creature was creepy, and prepared to shoo it away. But Lilia brightened up immediately, stars shining in her eyes.
“Hello!” She chirped. “What are you? If you don’t mind me asking!”
The little ant buzzed over to them, landing on ground. It was about as long as one of their fingers, and could have comfortably sit in their palm with room to spare.
“Iz amz Puyoz… Greetingz.” It said, then clacked its mandibles together. “Puyoz isz goodz beastz… Noz hurtz?”
What a strange pattern of speech, Phos thought. It’s hard to understand. It sounds… About as much as I’d expect a talking bug to sound like.
“Noz hurtz?” It repeated, clacking again. Was it nervous? Lilia smiled, kneeling down low to speak with the creature in a way that would make it more comfortable.
“Of course we won’t hurt you! Your name is Puyo, right? That’s so cute! But when I asked what you were, I was meaning what errr… Species? Yeah. What species you are.”
“….Puyoz isz hivekinz. Hivekinz neverz seenz humanz.”
She held out a finger. “My name is Lilia. This grump next to me is Phos. I’ve never heard of hivekin before, but I’m happy to meet you!”
Puyo tilted his head, confused for a moment at what Lilia wanted. After a moment he reached out with two of his six needle thin legs, doing his best to hold her finger.
“That tickes.” Lilia giggled.
Phos didn’t know how she could be so calm when Puyo’s stinger was less than an inch away from her hand. Insects were rare in Terra, and he loathed them…. Puyo seemed friendly, but Phos was reluctant to trust him. Lilia shot her older brother a scathing look, and he finally relented.
“My name is Phos… Nice to meet you, Puyo.” he grumbled, holding out his finger too. Puyo fluttered over to him, poking him with his legs too. He adjusted the antennas on his head before replying.
“Phosz isz… Dragonz? Humanz?”
“I don’t know anymore, to be honest…” Phos laughed. “But I like to think I’m human.”
Puyo said nothing. Swiveling his antennae, he looked around fearfully, then vanished with a puff of green smoke, just as quickly as he had arrived.
The siblings tilted their heads in confusion, before they realized what caused the shy little hivekin to flee. Silver had returned, carrying bloodied chunks of meat in his mouth from whatever prey he had hunted. He dropped it on the ground with a thud.
“Been behaving yourselves, hatchlings? Ah. I smell hivekin… Pay those bugs no mind. Their brains are simple and boorish. Meet one and you’ve met them all.”
Lilia glared at him, but held her tongue. They settled back down, waiting for the sun to set together as their escort finished his meal.
It was some hours later when their wish was granted. The sky gradually was painted with shades of orange and red, casting dark shadows across Wisher’s Reach. Phos was greatly relieved when Silver scooped the two of them up in his hand once more, beginning their journey once again.