Chapter 28:

Earthquakes (I)


The entrance of a dark cave stood before them, tucked away within the walls of the canyon. Pebbles were scattered around the entrance, as well as the dried as sun-bleached bones of small animals. It was unkempt and looked more like the den of a wild animal than the home of a dragon. 

Perhaps thinking the same thing, Veskar frowned deeply. “Stay quiet, and remain here. Stoneshaker is unwilling to respond to me, but I sense his presence within. If he collapses the roof of the cave, you two would have no way to defend yourselves.” 

Aurelia and Phos nodded, stepping away from the entrance. Bones crunched underneath the white dragoness’s paws, and she wondered why they were there. Such small creatures could have easily been devoured whole by a dragon. And by the Three, the smell… Her keen sense of smell could detect the odor of rot and decay, and it burned her sinuses with its intensity. She wasn’t eager to discover the source of it anytime soon. 

Phos had recovered enough energy to slide down her back, and he took it upon himself to investigate the skeletal remains. He picked up a long, slender bone from the sand, running his nimble human hands across it. “These bones are all shattered into pieces. I don’t see anything intact… But if something had been feeding on the carcass, you’d see signs of it. Teeth marks, scratches, and cracks would be all over the place. I’m stumped, Aurelia.” 

“I am too. I can only guess this is the work of Stoneshaker’s magic.” Aurelia whispered back to him. “Can you tell what species of animal the bones are from, Phos?”

He tossed aside the one he was holding, kneeling to dig around for something intact. Bones clattered noisily, their insides hollow and devoid of filling marrow. Phos dug around for a few moments, but ultimately gave up, shrugging his shoulders. “No, I don’t think so… Sorry. They could be from just about anything, with how broken up everything is. And I’m not familiar with the biology of Aether animals, let alone whatever creatures roam around in Durange.”

“It’s fine,” Aurelia said, offering him a paw so he could boost himself back up onto her back. A gust of wind blew sand everywhere, making the entrance to the cavern howl ominously. “… This place is terrifying. Stoneshaker can’t be in his right mind if he lives like this.” 

The white dragoness clawed at the ground, leaving deep gashes in the sand. Aurelia was hungry, and her belly gurgled in dissatisfaction, but the overwhelming smell of decomposition turned her stomach. Acid was rising in her esophagus, and she swallowed it back down anxiously.

“This is taking too long,” Aurelia hissed to Phos. “If my Esteemed Father does not return in another five minutes, I’m going to charge in there too.” 

“I agree with you, but Veskar told us to stay outside, remember? And I don’t hear anything happening inside. If Stoneshaker was attacking your father, we’d know. Elemental magic like earth and storm are noisy, aren’t they? It’s never quiet when Veskar summons lightning.”

Phos was willing to bet that elemental earth magic was even noisier than storm magic was. But he had no explanation for what could possibly be happening within Stoneshaker’s cave— and it stoked the flames of his curiosity, as well as his worry. 

“That’s true, bu— Get down, Phos!”

Every hair on Phos’s body stood on end. Electricity pulsed through the area, and with a loud kaboom, Veskar was ejected from the cave. The cobalt dragon had blocked a pillar of stone that had been launched at him, and if he had not caught it between his paws, it would have pierced him straight through his chest. 

“What is the meaning of this, Stoneshaker?!”  Veskar’s roar was filled with rage, and he snapped the pillar of rock in front of him, flinging it away effortlessly. The ground beneath their feet suddenly shook, tremors quaking and causing the bones around Aurelia to pop and clack. She flew to safety, not daring to intervene in the fight that was coming.

A dragon exploded from the entrance of the cave, gripping the sides of it with scarred and bloody paws as he propelled his body forwards. 

Stoneshaker, Guardian of the Earth, rose before them in all his glory… Or perhaps, terror. For his body was covered in bronze scales, dull and covered in dried filth. Gnarled, overgrown claws tipped every digit of his paws, and atop his head were massive horns that curved backwards, like those of a ram. The skin of his face sagged, and his eyes were deep-set, filled with madness. Stoneshaker opened his mouth to speak, revealing yellow teeth and inflamed gums. 

“I told you all… I told you all! I said to leave! Leave!” He shrieked, raising a mighty fist and slamming it into the earth. A shockwave traveled from the location of impact, rippling through the ground as it raced towards its destination— Veskar, who leapt into flight to dodge it. 

Not giving up, Stoneshaker immediately slammed the earth once more, with his tail this time. Stone stalactites erupted at his will, raking their claw-like forms into the sky. Veskar spun through the air around them, wingtips arcing with bolts of electricity. 

“Leave, LEAVE!”

The earth magic formations that Stoneshaker summoned could have killed an entire score of dragons twice over. But Veskar was no normal drake. He blinked, dodging boulders that were catapulted at him, and twirled around spears of iron. But Veskar knew that he had to close the distance between them.

When Stoneshaker summoned forth pillars of stone from the ground, Veskar seized his opportunity. Using the objects as support, he bunched his hind legs and leapt from pillar to pillar as they erupted vertically into the sky. Stoneshaker reared up onto his hind legs as Veskar completed his final jump, and the two drakes finally clashed. 

“Explain… Yourself!” Veskar snarled through his clenched teeth, bashing his head against Stoneshakers’. Their horns locked, and blue electricity surged from Veskar’s body to his enemy. The bronze dragon roared in pain, using his weight to fling Veskar off of him. 

“Nothing! Nothing!” He cried out. “I have nothing to say to you! Begone!” 

Realizing that negotiations with the old dragon would be fruitless, Veskar steeled his resolve. His cobalt blue scales began to glow, and sparks of azure fire popped wildly from his maw. He opened his jaws, and spewed forth a beam of pure dragonfire, scorching the earth and melting through the rocks in its path. Stoneshaker shirked himself with his own magic, but Veskar’s flames burned true. Molten magma splattered across Stoneshaker’s shoulder, and the old dragon barely managed to dodge the ensuing torrent of fire. 

Veskar snapped his mouth shut, heat and smoke trailing from his nostrils. His scales no longer glowed, but he was no less intimidating. 

“… Hurts… That hurts!” Stoneshaker barked, his face contorting with pain. His bronze scales sizzled and melted where the magma had contact, and surely burned through the fatty layer of flesh below. 

“The pain you are experiencing now pales in comparison to the agony you have inflicted upon others, Stoneshaker,” Veskar hissed, keeping his body low to the ground. He sliced through a boulder launched at him, splitting it clean in half. “I did not want to believe it, what I saw in your domain… But if you refuse to explain yourself, then I will have to force you to do so!” 

Veskar leapt into the air once again, the ground that had been beneath his feet moments earlier collapsing into a sinkhole. Aurelia blinked, and within that span of time, her father had crashed into Stoneshaker once more. He bit down into his neck, but his fangs failed to get a hold on slippery scales. The bronze dragon swiped Veskar away, raking his filthy claws across his face with a vicious swipe. Blood spattered the sand, and Veskar reeled, temporarily dazed by the force of the blow. Stoneshaker immediately lowered his head, and charged— ramming his horns into Veskar’s chest, and sending him flying backwards into a wall. 


The earth shook as Stoneshaker charged again, intending to pummel Veskar into the wall. But the Guardian of the Storm braced himself, catching Stoneshaker’s two horns in his paws. Veskar pushed back with all his might, leg muscles bulging under the strain. His feet crushed the ground, refusing to be moved. With a snarl, Veskar succeeded in his endeavor— he freed up enough space in front of him to flip over Stoneshaker, holding on to his ram-like horns all the while. The dragon barked in surprise as Veskar used his momentum to pull him along with him by the horns into his somersault, slamming him into the ground. 

Graaahhhg… Urk… Damn you! Damn you, Veskar,” Stoneshaker groaned, rolling off of his back. “I’ll kill you!” His own body began to glow, dull scales taking on an aura of gold. He reared his head back, and blasted his own dragon fire at Veskar, pure gold in color. The strength of his breath was so mighty that it pushed Stoneshaker backwards slightly, causing his aim to swerve at Aurelia and Phos, who had been simple bystanders until now. 

Luckily, Aurelia had been paying attention. She dove away, feeling the heat singe the top of her tail. Phos clung on to her for dear life as Aurelia stumbled, rolling down the side of the canyon and hitting the ground with a heavy thud. This drew the attention of the deranged Earth Guardian to them. 

“… More of you? Of course. You all never leave leave me alone!” Stoneshaker spit, stomping his foot. 

“Move!” Veskar roared, blinking to Aurelia’s side and throwing her and Phos into the air. Doing so caused Veskar to momentarily lose concentration, and he almost didn’t manage to dodge the stalactites he had just saved his daughter from. They grazed his stomach, leaving shallow scrapes. 

Aurelia had no time to apologize to her father. Phos banged on her scales wildly, drawing her attention. “Aurelia! Take us higher into the air. We can’t stay near the earth right now” 

She silently agreed, soaring higher. A large rock whistled past her with deadly speed, undoubtedly launched by Stoneshaker. But why was he targeting them now, and not Veskar? Aurelia shuddered in fear.

Meanwhile, Veskar interrupted Stoneshaker’s next volley of rocks by blinking onto the earth dragons’ back. Digging his talons into Stoneshaker’s hide, he managed to keep his balance while his opponent bucked furiously. Veskar leapt off of Stoneshaker when he charged towards a wall, attempting to crush the drake latched on to him. 

“You’ll have to do better then that, my old friend!” Veskar taunted. 

“Friend? You're no friend of mine!” Stoneshaker groaned. Spittle frothed from his dry lips, and his sunken eyes watered. “You all left me. You, Seiryu, Nero, Umbra… All of you! And now, I am consumed…!” 

Veskar ceased his attacks, going back on the defensive. Both drakes were showing no signs of tiring, despite their rapid-fire magical combat. The area around them, however, was taking serious damage. 

“Consumed? Consumed by what, Stoneshaker? Answer me!” Veskar cried, keeping an eye on Aurelia, who circled around the battlefield from far above. “I cannot understand you unless you explain.”

Stoneshaker shook his head, and then did the unthinkable…

He took to the sky, for the first time since their long-winded combat began. His leathery wings carried his body with surprising speed away from his elemental domain…

And barreled him right towards Aurelia and Phos.