The next morning, Aurelia awoke to find Phos outside, scribbling on a large sheet of parchment paper. The two of them had found a suitably sized cave near the Spires to sleep in, to Phos’s displeasure; he didn’t bring a blanket.
And to Aurelia’s even greater displeasure? He’d used part of her wing membrane as one instead. The nerve!
“Morning, Aurelia.” Phos called out, waving her over. She sat down next to him, peering at his artwork.
“Morning… What are you drawing?” She yawned back. Human hands were so deft and versatile. They could hold and manipulate an assortment of objects, most of which dragon paws could not. It intrigued Aurelia, as she watched him flick and doodle his pointed instrument across the paper page.
Phos pointed to the sapling of a hardwood tree in front of them. Spindly branches held light, sky blue leaves atop themselves, tinted bright with their youth. Aurelia glanced at the sapling, and then back to his page…
“I don’t see the resemblance. Isn’t this just a bunch of lines?”
“Just wait, I’ve only started a few minutes ago. When it’s closer to being finished, it’ll take shape.”
Phos returned his attention to his artwork, drawing over faint guidelines with darker, shapely outlines. Occasionally the boy would use his finger to smudge a section, then draw over it once more with his tool. It was a mesmerizing process to Aurelia.
Leaves had started to take shape, and she could make out the scraggly branches now too. With delicate hands, he added details to each leaf, thin ridges and veins, just as they had in real life. After a few more minutes, he leaned back and stretched his arms above his head, satisfied with his work.
“Aaaand, done! For now, at least,” he announced. “What do you think now, Aurelia? Pretty neat, huh?”
The white dragoness had to agree with him. He picked up the parchment paper, holding it up to her eyes so she could see it more clearly. “Yes, it’s very nice looking. I had no idea you were an artist, Phos.”
“I’m definitely no artist, Aurelia. Anybody can do this much, believe me… It’s just a doodle. But it makes me happy to hear regardless!”
He grinned, stuffing the paper and tools back into his bag. It was time to meet up with Veskar, and prepare for their journey to find Stoneshaker. The Guardian of the Storm seemed to have a good idea about where the old earth dragon resided— apparently he was a hermit, living in solitude among the mountains of a vast desert kingdom.
“Are you shifting this time, or will you make me carry you on my back again, Phos?” Aurelia asked, tapping the ground impatiently.
“I’ll shift, for now. I know you get embarrassed when other dragons see me riding you… Sorry, by the way.”
Dragons, being the prideful race they were, saw the act of allowing oneself to be ridden a shameful act. When Phos and Aurelia flew around together like that, passing dragons who noticed would stare. Some would even jeer, laughing at them together with their peers. Aurelia hated it. So Phos wanted to try harder to shift more, even if he didn’t enjoy it.
“… It’s fine.” The white dragoness huffed in response. “There’s nothing you need to apologize for.”
Collecting his magical energy, Phos struggled for a few minutes before becoming engulfed in light and changing forms. An ebony-black drake now rose to meet Aurelia’s gaze, almost having to look down to do so. He arched his back and stretched like a cat, loosening the muscles he seldom used.
Aurelia grinned, shoving him playfully. He stumbled, and turned to shove her back, but the white dragoness had taken off into the air. She hovered in place, head raised in a smug challenge— a silent ‘catch me if you can’.
A challenge like that couldn’t be ignored.
Bunching up his own muscles, Phos catapulted his body upwards to follow her. His powerful wings pumped, catching air underneath them as he gave chase. Aurelia was a white blur, speeding over the treetops and twirling through the sky like a practiced artist dancing. Phos couldn’t pull off the same aerial acrobatics, so he settled for racing alongside her.
The two dragons gained altitude, flying among the clouds now. Aurelia was camouflaged perfectly, and enjoyed disappearing and re-appearing from them.
“Not too shabby, Phos!” Aurelia roared out. “But you won’t catch me like this!”
Phos sped up, swooping into a cloud after her. He lunged with his paws, but only grabbed vapor— Aurelia had zoomed away already, right over his head. She tried doing this once more in another cloud bank, but Phos was prepared this time. Steeling his resolve, he copied her movements, twisting his body and flipping through the air.
“… Hah!” She laughed, evading him once again. Pinning her wings to her side, she dropped out of sky like a stone, rapidly gaining speed as she lost altitude. Phos knew this was called stooping, something birds of prey did as well; he followed suit immediately.
Wind whistled in his ears, and he had to hold his breath while it assaulted his face. But Phos was relentless in his pursuit. He didn’t know why, but something within him was refusing to surrender.
Aurelia pulled her wings out again, leveling herself… But Phos didn’t.
The air whistled around his body as the black drake caught Aurelia by surprise, smacking her face with his long tail as he passed her.
“Victory!” Phos roared, landing on the ground below them. They had arrived at the outskirts of the Spires. Dragons nearby paid them no mind, the antics of young ones commonplace in any kingdom.
Aurelia landed beside him, eyes wide with shock. “I wasn’t expecting you to do that. If you didn’t time your movements, you could have crashed right into the earth.”
Phos knew it was reckless, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t know why he was showing off. In his human body, he wouldn’t have dared to try anything remotely as dangerous… The realization soured the sweetness of his victory.
“Yeah… I won’t do that again, I think.” He said, taking a moment to catch his breath. “I didn’t mean to do it. It’s just that I felt the strangest desire to give chase, and most importantly, win.”
Aurelia chirred, laughing heartily. Her voice was light and merry, and lifted Phos’s spirits once more.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. You’ll figure it out eventually, I’m sure!” She snickered.
The two of them found Veskar waiting for them with an all too familiar silver drake. Silvermere glared when they approached, hissing furiously as he left. Phos was relieved that he wouldn’t have to be in the presence of such a toxic dragon. He didn’t understand what was wrong with Silvermere, but he couldn’t forgive the beautiful drake for what he’d done to him and Lilia.
“Fair winds, my beloved daughter,” Veskar purred. He curled his regal head down, touching noses with Aurelia. It was an odd custom between dragons that showed love and affection. “And you too, Phos.” Veskar added when they were done.
“Hello, Veskar. Aurelia and I are both ready to depart when you are.” Phos responded, fidgeting with his claws. The journey ahead made him anxious, and he was eager to set off. He’d said his farewells to Lilia, Veld, and Tsuki the night before— but he still worried for his little sister. Lilia had been enjoying her life in Cirr, continuing her apprenticeship with Tsuki and developing her strength to the point where she could spend half the day shifted without tiring. She didn’t speak of their Uncle, and no longer pined for the friends she had lost in Lotor.
It made Phos lonely. The two of them had always been thick as thieves, following each other everywhere. He was used to his little sister doting on him so much that the lack of it was foreign.
“Very well. Let us make haste.”
Veskar beckoned them to follow wordlessly as he took flight. He led the way, Aurelia and Phos falling back to fly side-by-side behind him. The huge storm drake faced the brunt of the wind as they soared, making it easier for Phos.
The shape of the island of Cirr slowly faded into the distance as the trio flew. After some time, they passed the familiar outline of Wisher’s Reach— Phos swore he could see the green light of a hivekin twinkling among the dead branches of a hallowed oak tree.
After some hours of passing by various, smaller islands of all shapes and sizes that he’d never seen before, Phos spoke up. “Veskar! You told us before that you knew where to find Stoneshaker. But neither me nor Aurelia know where he is…. Can you fill us in?”
Veskar replied without turning to face them or breaking formation. “Of course. Stoneshaker isn’t too far from here. Like I’ve said, he’s a recluse who seldom leaves his domain. He holds his own portion of territory in the Kingdom of Deserts, Durange… Not my favorite place to visit this time of year. Blistering heat there will cook you in your scales on a hot day. You’re in for a rough time with your black scales, Phos!”
Phos groaned. He was well adapted to handling the frigid temperatures of Terra, and the chilly weather of Cirr. The Kingdom of Clouds had a climate similar to what he was used to— Durange most certainly did not. In his dragon form, his black scales would draw the sun to him, and in his human form, he had on clothes made from insulating animal pelts and linen.
Aurelia didn’t seem to mind the new information Veskar had given them. She glided alongside Phos, deep in thoughts she kept to herself. Phos new better than to pry, so he turned his attention back to the scenery.
They passed over a floating island filled with purple foliage, from trees to grass. They passed by another after some time, but it phased out of view the moment he tried focusing on it… Huh? How curious. Maybe it wasn’t there in the first place.
Veskar’s booming voice shook him out of his thoughts. “Griffins up ahead. We’ll be passing through their island chain to get to Durange. Stay close, and let me do the talking.”
Phos widened his eyes as the forms of a group of winged creatures approached them.