Chapter 22:

Queen of Clouds


Aurelia mantled herself before the gargantuan white and silver dragoness in front of her, seated atop a pile of jewels and riches that functioned as her throne. Other dragons filled the outdoor platform, a respectful distance from the white dragoness— Her Majesty, Queen Nimbus. 

Beside Aurelia was the familiar face and swirling green scales of her own matriarch, Queen Viridian. She did not bow, choosing instead to defiantly raise her head and meet the gaze of Queen Nimbus. Tension filled the room, thickening the air with the smell of both anger and fear. Some dragons shuffled their feet, pinned their ears, or shivered… But none dared to move an inch. 

When a regal voice rang out at last, Aurelia almost leapt out of her skin. 

“A lethal white, a former Queen, and her entourage of bedraggled subjects… All of whom think it to be reasonable to intrude upon my quiet little kingdom. Why, you never change, do you Viridian?”

Nimbus spoke with barely contained virility. Lethal white was a term used to insult pure white dragons such as Aurelia, who rarely survived after hatching. She was used to such slander and paid it no mind at all.

Nimbus’s cloudy grey eyes narrowed, but she held a composed posture, looking down on the two of them from above. 

“That’s Queen Viridian to you. I am a Queen!” The green dragoness hissed, digging her talons into the floor.

“Titles mean nothing by themselves. If you claim to be a Queen, then tell me; where is your kingdom? Where are your riches, your throne, and land to call your own?” Nimbus held up a gold coin in her claw, spinning it around to amuse herself. “I’ll go ahead and answer. Your kingdom is no more. You have nothing to your name but your pride and those who choose to still follow you, Viridan.”

At her words, Viridan dragged her claws through the lacquered stone floor. Ear-piercing squeals rang out from the force of it, like nails on a chalkboard. Aurelia felt her heartbeat increasing, and slowly edged away from her former ruler. 

“I traveled with my dragons here for shelter and safety, not a lecture from you, Nimbus. The other kingdoms have rejected us. Requis spat on our faces, and Mortis refuses to even allow us within their borders. Answer me now, and don’t waste my time: will you do the same, or will you offer your aid?” 

Viridan shook with rage, but did not step forward. Aurelia noticed with a sideways glance how her egg pouch was empty. Had she left them in a nest elsewhere? A few moments came and went in tepid silence. And then… 

Laughter. Queen Nimbus shook her dais with guffaws of laughter, sending small gemstones and coins rolling off her pile. She composed herself once more, then responded.

“Impudence! Your impudence truly knows no bounds, Viridan. You would barge into my island and kingdom unannounced, openly insult me, and then expect my aid? Not only that, but you demand it! My, it’s shocking how low you have fallen…” Nimbus’s tone changed from jovial to dark as she continued, spitting white sparks at them. Her gaze was filled with venom, and she leaned forwards. “No. I will not help you, Viridian. And do not deign yourself to believe any other kingdom is expected to offer their aid. You failed to protect your kingdom. Take your followers and be gone from my sight!” 

For a moment, Aurelia was certain Viridian was going to charge at the throne and attack Nimbus. Her expression was filled with desperation and hatred, but she beckoned her followers to her side with with a flick of her green tail. They looked exhausted, a fraction of what her kingdom had consisted of before. Aurelia didn’t recognize a single dragon, nor did she see her father. 

Before exiting the platform, Viridian turned around. “You will regret this. You all will. Cirr, Requis, Mortis… Everyone who turned us away. The Three shall curse you all!” With her final words spat, she took wing, disappearing into the clouds with her entourage. 

“Follow them,” Nimbus ordered three small drakes standing guard near her. “Ensure they leave my kingdom by nightfall. If they act suspiciously, you have my permission to execute them on grounds of trespassing.” 

“At your will.” They bowed, quickly taking off after Viridan. Despite being smaller than dragonesses, drakes were more lithe and agile, perfect for missions requiring stealth or assassination. 

Aurelia was now all who remained before Queen Nimbus. She had made her way to Cirr by following the scent trail left by Phos. He had disappeared from Terra after the stormy night where she heard a mysterious dragon’s roar in the town he lived in, and she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the boy since. 

First my Esteemed Father. Then Viridan’s egg. And now Phos, too? The Three must surely be laughing at me. So many have disappeared, so many I must find… 

Aurelia hadn’t known where to start. The only lead she had was the faint wisps of scent left by Phos and a female human she couldn’t identify, as well as a drake. That very trail had led her straight to the Kingdom of Cirr, where she now stood… Or rather, where she now mantled, before an angered Queen who could slice her head off with a single swipe. 

“You there, lethal white. You may rise.”

Aurelia rose from her deep bow, breathing a sigh of relief. This position was much more comfortable. Nimbus was still having trails off smoke waft from her nostrils, but appeared much calmer now that the source of her irritation had left. 

“Speak, and state your purpose.”

“I am Aurelia, daughter of Veskar, the Guardiam of the Storm. I came here to humbly request your permission to to rest and recuperate here, while I search for a friend I lost.” 

Queen Nimbus chuffed. “I don’t recognize you, Aurelia. You are a dragon of Azmanthus, are you not? Why do you choose to remain here over following that failed Queen of yours?”

“… Viridan is no longer my Queen, Your Majesty. She banished me, and I am now a loner wandering Aether. I have no duty to remain by her side.”

“Ahh, I see. An outcast, are you? Your circumstances are unusual, but knowing you did something to evoke the rage of Viridian is most amusing. And unlike her ilk, you seem to have enough of  a brain in your skull to show respect for your matriarchs.” 

Nimbus twined her tail around her paws, shifting her weight to her side while she deliberated. “I shall allow you to stay in my kingdom, Aurelia. But these are my conditions: you must contribute a suitable item to my hoard, as your initial offering. You will hunt or forage for your own meals, and are not to claim a cave in the Spires. You are a visitor, and nothing more. If you act in a manner I find questionable, you will be driven out of our borders immediately… Do you accept my terms, dragoness?” 

Bowing her head once again, Aurelia answered. “Yes, Your Majesty. I accept your terms. Thank you for your kindness.” 

She heaved briefly, coughing up the glimmering opal she had received from Viridan so long ago. Aurelia had kept it in her egg pouch, as she did not own a bag to strap to her legs, neck, or tail. She presented it before Queen Nimbus, who hummed while assessing the gemstone. 

Please. Please, please, please be enough. I don’t have anything else that’s valuable to give her. If this isn’t enough, then…

“This is acceptable. An opal, hmm? These are hard to come by in Cirr. My glorious kingdom has an abundance of sky diamonds and crystal, but seldom any opals,” Nimbus admired the gem, turning it in her claws and watching as it changed color in the sunlight. “If you find any more in your journeys, bring them to me. You will be amply rewarded, I can promise you… Ah, if that is all, you may leave now.” 

How long had she been holding her breath? Aurelia felt all the tension leave her body as she exhaled, shakily smiling. She bowed a final time, before turning and trotting away to the edge of the platform. Other dragons stared at her, being the strange outsider that she was, and it made her scales burn in embarrassment. 

Leaping off the platform, she glided down to the ground far below, immensely relieved when her paws finally touched the snowy ground. 

“I… I did it. I did it!” She gasped. “Yes! Thank the Three!” 

Rolling around in the snow, she laughed, filled with glee. For the first time in days, something had gone right for her. Having her efforts finally pay off was exhilarating, and she felt the clouds of depression that had been hanging over her begin to disperse. 

Finally, she could find Phos. And then, they would find the egg she lost.