Chapter 24:

Those Who Are Blessed

DRAGON’S FLIGHT


Deep, deep within the dark forests of the island kingdom of Mortis, an egg that had been lost was soon to be found… Bookmark here

The gnarled branches of deciduous trees stood resolutely, their arms bearing wide golden and red leaves that protected the forest floor from the sun above. In the darkness, mushrooms and fungi of a variety of colors sprung up from the soft earth, and enormous invertebrates scurried and stalked their prey. Bookmark here

In the deepest, most forlorn section of the Wilderwoods, the green dragon egg lay nestled between ferns, cloaked in shadow. The once vibrant tint coloring its shell had grown dull, and it no longer had the healthy luster of a well cared for egg. Cold to the touch, it lay abandoned and solitary, awaiting its fate at the hands of the Three. Bookmark here

A giant centipede approached it, rustling leaves as countless pointed legs moved them forward. Two spindles antennae swept from side to side, brushing against its surroundings and helping the creature navigate in the dark environment they called home. Folded beneath its head were two fangs, dripping with caustic venom that could melt through a dragons’ scales and burn their flesh with a single injection. As the centipede detected the lone egg, it leaned forwards, unfolding their fangs in preparation to shatter the shell and consume the precious yolk and developing embryo within… Bookmark here

Until a dragon swooped in from behind, deftly slicing the centipedes’ head off without a sound. The decapitated body wriggled wildly, legs trying to move without direction from their brain. The head was unmoving, save for the occasional twitching of the creatures mandibles. Green blood oozed from the body, sizzling with poison that darkened the ground. Bookmark here

The dragon wiped his claws on the moss beneath him, ignoring the burning sensation creeping along his paw— this amount of pain meant little to him, and was simply an annoyance; for he was Umbra, Elemental Guardian of the Shadows. Bookmark here

 Fitted on each of his talons were claw extensions made of iron, sharpened to sickening points. They were weapons capable of helping him slice through his opponents, no matter how well armored their hides were. Known as a talon blade, this weapon was an iconic invention from the dragons of Mortis. Each one clicked on the ground as he walked over to the egg, rolling it away from the burning blood puddle of the centipede. Bookmark here

“…?”Bookmark here

Umbra tapped it with one of his claws, testing what sound it would make. One could gauge how close an egg was to hatching this way— as the egg lost moisture while aging, the outer membrane inside would pull away from the shell, causing it to become more brittle. He was surprised to hear a pleasant tink tink, as if he had tapped on thin glass chimes. The egg would hatch within the next few months… But was it alive? He sniffed it, and smelling no sulfuric scent of rot, decided to reach out to the fragile being with his mind. Bookmark here

Umbra opened his mental link, extending his self to the egg. A few moments passed, with no response… And then, he felt it.Bookmark here

He felt nothing. Nothing but an intense void of coldness, and mind-numbing emptiness. It froze his blood, sent shivers down his spine. The egg clutched on to him from the mental link, undeveloped mind seeking out his own, as if it were consuming his warmth to replace what it was missing. Bookmark here

Umbra hissed, disgusted at the pitiful display of codependency. He closed the link immediately, leaving the egg alone once more. Never before had he heard of an egg filled with such emptiness… Who had blessed this egg? Had it even been blessed at all? The Guardian of the Shadows could only see it as being cursed.Bookmark here

But he could relate to that. He was sure every dragon in Mortis could. Their land was shrouded in darkness, scorned and mocked by the other kingdoms in Aether for their lifestyle. Bookmark here

Perhaps this egg, abandoned and empty, would hatch and find its place here…. Bookmark here

And so, Umbra grasped it securely in one of his paws, concealing his violet scales with a cloak of shadow magic. His yellow eyes were well-adapted to seeing in low light, so he made quirk work of climbing a thick and ancient oak tree. In the Wilderwoods, a dragon could not freely fly due to the density of foliage— so instead, those who traveled it ran along the limbs of the hardwood trees, leaping from tree to tree and occasionally gliding. It was a slow, grueling form of travel; but as a result, the dragons of Mortis were all wiry and strong, bodies smaller than average but packed with powerful muscles to propel their limbs. Bookmark here

Umbra made haste for his kingdom, eager to present this newfound treasure to his matriarch…Bookmark here


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The next day, Phos and Aurelia made their way to the throne room of Queen Nimbus once again. She had sent summons for the white dragoness, ordering her presence immediately and without any explanation. Aurelia had wanted to go alone, but Phos, who had never seen a draconian matriarch before, found himself overwhelmed with curiosity. He’d pleaded to her with devilishly innocent eyes, and refused to take her irritated roars of ‘NO!’ for an answer. Bookmark here

Now, Aurelia landed on the exterior of the stone platform with a resigned expression. Phos rode on her back, like the smug victor he was. His leather bag now boasted a reinforced braided cord to secure it to his waist, so that he wouldn’t lose it again. Bookmark here

“Come on now, Phos,” Aurelia grumbled. “You can’t meet Her Majesty like this. It’s disrespectful, and I’d prefer not to carry you back in pieces... Get off my head and shift!” Bookmark here

“Alright, alright. Sheesh, give me a minute will you Aur— Ack! I’m working on it, okay? Please don’t shake your head like that!!” Bookmark here

He slid down her side, steadying himself against the claw she offered him for support. Taking a deep breath, Phos calmed his mind and tried tapping into his reserves of magical energy. A few heartbeats passed, bearing no fruit. The magic would swell within him, like ocean water, but almost immediately lose strength and simmer down. Bookmark here

“… What’s wrong, Phos? Still not used to shifting?” Her voice was calmer now, and she lowered her face so she’d be on an equal level with his own. It made Phos feel a tad guilty about irritating her before. Bookmark here

He sighed. “Yeah, I’m just not that good with magic, I suppose. I feel like I can’t grasp it sometimes— if that makes sense to you? I can’t get it to build up.”Bookmark here

“It makes sense to me. I’m not good at magic, either… I guess we’re similar in that regard, huh?” Chirring, Aurelia looked up at the sky. Clouds lazily drifted across the sea of blue, promising fair weather. “My Esteemed Father is adept at magic. He told me once before that strong emotions can trigger magic effectively, but that only fools rely on external forces to compel them… True magic comes from yourself, and your own strength.”Bookmark here

“That sounds about right. I can shift easier when I’m pissed off… Your father gives good advice, huh?”Bookmark here

Aurelia smiled sadly. “Yeah. He does.”Bookmark here

Chatting to his friend helped to ease Phos’s mind. He closed his eyes once more, focusing intently on his desire to shift. Although it took a few minutes, he was finally successful— grasping the magic, his form glowed with light and transformed. Bookmark here

“Got it,” he rumbled. His voice was much deeper than before. “I’m ready to go.”Bookmark here

“I can see.” Aurelia snorted, looking him over from his side. Phos didn’t know why the white dragoness always became so salty after he transformed. He made a quick mental note to ask her later. Bookmark here

Walking side by side, the two dragons entered the room. Today, no dragons except for Queen Nimbus and a wizened old drake were there. Long oriental whiskers drooped from the elders’ muzzle, almost touching the floor. He remained unmoving, hunched over himself beside the Queen’s throne of treasure. Bookmark here

As they approached her, Aurelia bumped Phos in the shoulder, beckoning him to spread his wings and bow before the Queen. Aurelia had told him it was called mantling, and while she’d taught him how to properly pull it off, it was still uncomfortable and foreign to him. Bookmark here

Queen Nimbus narrowed her eyes when she saw Phos. “I do believe my summons stated for you to come alone, Aurelia. What business does this drake have here?” Bookmark here

She swallowed nervously. “Your Majesty, I apologize. This is my wing-brother, and he must accompany me wherever I go, as his sworn oath decrees.”Bookmark here

Among dragons, there was no higher honor of being the wing-brother or wing-sister to someone. Two dragons would swear an oath of loyalty to one another, persisting until their deaths. Phos being Aurelia’s wing-brother was, of course, a lie; but Queen Nimbus had no way of knowing that. It was a risky move in the long run… But one Aurelia was willing to take. Bookmark here

“Hmmmm… Very well. As long as your companion can keep his mouth closed, he may remain. You may now rise.”Bookmark here

Phos was grateful to stand once more, trying his best to hide his awe for the matriarch of Cirr. He’d never seen a dragon this gargantuan before. Rather than terror, he felt intrigue. Phos felt the urge to ask her how she managed to grow so big, but even if the Queen didn’t kill him for that, he knew Aurelia would do so instead. Bummer…Bookmark here

Queen Nimbus rose to her full height, stretching her wings out to work her sore and stiff muscles. The elderly drake fidgeted at her movement, muttering incomprehensible words to himself. It creeped Phos and Aurelia out. Bookmark here

“Do not mind Seiryu. His mind may be questionable at times, but as the Guardian of the Waters, his presence is invaluable.” Queen Nimbus said, before continuing. “Now then, I've never been one for idle chitchat. Allow me to get straight to the point: Aurelia, you informed me before that you were a former dragon of Azmanthus. What I want to know is related to the kingdom— the fall of it, to be specific. Tell me, how did your kingdom meet its end? Viridan was a foolish matriarch, but an entire island being destroyed is… Vexing. I must know.”Bookmark here

Aurelia dipped her head. “As you wish, Your Majesty. But I’m afraid I don’t know much. During a ceremony, the ground began to shake underfoot, and then the earth shattered, taking with it all who could not escape. I… I’ve never seen anything like it. I can assure you it was a horrid sight. It was like Azmanthus just broke.” Bookmark here

“… Shattered, hm? How strange.” Nimbus then called to Seiryu, breaking him out of his trance. “Guardian, do you believe this to be the workings of malevolent magic? State your thoughts.”Bookmark here

Seiryu stroked his whiskers, deep in thought. “Ehh... Sounds like earth magic to me. ‘Tis been some time since I’ve met an earth dragon capable of such a feat… I reckon only ol’ Stoneshaker, Guardian of the Earth, could manage…” Bookmark here

His voice was raspy, as if his throat was inflamed or filled with granules of sand. After he finished speaking, he hunched back over, staring at the floor to avoid the gaze of his queen. Bookmark here

“I see. Thank you for your input, Guardian. If Stoneshaker is indeed responsible for such an act, then he must be dealt with swiftly. I will not allow my own kingdom to be threatened.”Bookmark here

“I’m afraid I can’t help ‘ye there, Nimbus… Mighty as this old one’s body may be, water magic ain’t effective in combat, and certainly not against the element of earth…”Bookmark here

“You jest, Seiryu. I have witnessed your power with my own eyes. An element that is capable of drowning your enemies in spheres of water is not weak.” Bookmark here

“… Bah! Never said it ‘twas weak. Just ineffective. Try comparing it to the damned magic of fire or storm dragons… Much more suited for combat!” Bookmark here

Phos and Aurelia both tilted their heads at this bizarre exchange. The Queen was bickering with Seiryu, yet she remained calm,— even looking amused. Nimbus toyed with the opal Aurelia had given her, and their back-and-forth commentary continued for a few more moments before she sighed, turning to address the two once more.Bookmark here

“Seiryu cannot offer his assistance. The Guardian of Fire would be optimal for my orders, but Nero is a most disagreeable dragoness. I have decided that the Guardian of the Storm is the one who shall deal with Stoneshaker.” Queen Nimbus said, watching Aurelia carefully with her cloudy eyes.Bookmark here

“… My Queen, I have not seen my Esteemed Father since Azmanthus fell, nor do I have any idea how to find him.” Bookmark here

Aurelia hung her head, expecting Nimbus to chastise her, perhaps even shrug her wings and say “Not my problem. Do it anyways!”. But Nimbus only laughed. Bookmark here

“Oh my, such a simple-minded dragoness. Seiryu can divine the location of dragons through water. As I’ve told you, he has his uses sometimes.” Bookmark here

The Queen dug around in her treasure pile, producing a shallow silver dish embedded with jewels along the side. She tossed it to Seiryu, who just barely caught it. Bookmark here

“Do your work, Guardian.” she ordered. Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Seiryu glared at her, but did her bidding. Raising both arms, he formed a spinning sphere of water between his paws. It smelled like the sea, salty and wild, and he lowered it into the dish with masterful precision. Bookmark here

Phos perked his ears, watching everything Seiryu did carefully. He could feel exhaustion beginning to creep up on him though… He wouldn’t be able to sustain his transformation for much longer. Bookmark here

The old drake gazed into the liquid, seeing things that only he could. After a few minutes, he pushed the dish aside, a look of triumph on his worn face. “You won’t have to look far, missy…. Seems like Veskar’s on his way to Cirr. He must’ve gotten word of you staying here.” Bookmark here

Seiryu grinned, showing his yellowed fangs. Bookmark here

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