The moon hung high in the night sky, illuminating the Kingdom of Durange with its pale light. The dunes of the desert were painted in somber shades of blue, and the sounds of crickets serenading their brethren could be heard among the roots of saguraro cacti.
Aurelia slept, having fitful dreams of bloodshed and loss, unaware of her surroundings. She struggled to wake herself, wanting to escape her nightmares, but no matter how hard she tried her efforts bore no fruit…. She was powerless here, at the whimsical mercy of this land of dreams and omens.
Within her consciousness, a new dream began changing the scenery, like sepia toned blots of ink soaking into dry paper. She recognized this place as it took form; white marble walls rose around her, below her, and above her, forming a den. Sunlight gently filtered through the entrance, warming her scales for the first time ever. She stretched her small body, finding her limbs to be unbelievably stubby and weak— she tumbled forwards, and fell into the waiting tail of her mother.
“Careful now, my little hatchling,” the dragoness purred. She was pale blue, the color of the sky on a clear day, and her wings were dusted with white freckling. She curled her tail around Aurelia, sweeping her back into the nest. “Your father will be home soon. There is no need to fret.”
The voice of her mother, Delphinium, was as soft as the down feathers that cushioned Aurelia’s chubby little body. She spoke as if every word was a secret, just between the two of them. It filled Aurelia with admiration. Would she grow up to be just like Delphinium? Could she become as graceful, as beautiful, and as large and powerful as her?
Peeping at her mother, Aurelia snuggled into her side. Her horns were only nubs, and her gums itched in a most infuriating way, caused by her sharp baby teeth growing through her gums. Aurelia chomped down on Delphinium’s tail, trying to gnaw on it with her molars. Before her mother could chastise her, a shadow eclipsed them at the entrance to their den.
“You look like you’ve got your paws full, my dearest flower. I’ve brought you two food to break your fast, so allow me to take over.” Veskar said. In his paws, he carried an assortment of fruits and meat, as well as some strange little shells that smelled like the forest. Her father was youthful, lean and well-muscled. His cobalt scales shone brilliantly, in contrast to the demure shade of blue that Delphinium was.
Veskar was a dashingly handsome drakes in his youth, and he held himself with the pride and stance as a drake who was well aware of his status. Placing the food he brought onto the floor, he touched noses with Delphinium, who purred and rubbed her cheek against his.
“Thank you, Veskar,” she said, standing up and allowing him to take her place in the nest. “It’s been a while since I’ve been able to stretch my wings. I’m almost worried they won’t work anymore.”
Veskar grinned, lowering his head to Aurelia’s level. She tugged at one of his ears, and he gently pulled her away. His patience almost never failed him, and when Aurelia’s large, innocent red eyes gazed into his own yellow ones, he extended a mental link towards her.
Hello, my daughter. My beloved little daughter.
He whispered into her mind wordlessly.
Do you know how beautiful you are? Your scales are the color of snow, the same as you’ve seen in the memories I Blessed you with. And your eyes are just like those of your mother… They fill me with so much joy, when I look into them.
Veskar paused, twining his tail around her body with just as much care as a dragoness.
I love you, Aurelia. Your father will always love you, and nothing could ever change that. Remember this forever, my beloved daughter.
Aurelia purred, opening her mouth to reply. But no words could spill from her lips in the land of dreams and memories, no matter how hard she tried. So she settled for curling up by his side, feeling his mighty heartbeat reverberate through her own body.
Veskar watched Delphinium delicately pick through the fruits he’d brought, spearing azure berries with her claws so she could pop them into her mouth. The sight must have amused him, for he chuckled to himself…
As the young Aurelia in her memory drifted off to sleep, unable to stay awake any longer, the dream changed. The familiar walls of her den faded away, melting into the darkness of a cold, haunted forest, Aurelia had never seen this place before, and could not recognize it. Was it something conjured up by her imagination?
The skittering legs of insects could be heard. It scared her, goading her into trying to fly away. But the canopy above was so dense with vines and overgrowth that Aurelia couldn’t manage to escape. It was like a prison, caging her in to the darkness of the forest floor, where chitin covered creatures of her worst nightmares surely waited.
Landing back on the ground, Aurelia bolted in fear, galloping as fast as her legs could carry her. She didn’t make it far before she tripped over a gnarled root from one of the ancient hardwood trees above her, twisting her ankle painfully and falling to the mossy ground. She reached out her paws, scrambling for something to help her regain her footing… And felt an all too familiar texture. It was smooth, like finely crafted ceramic, and somewhat cool to the touch. She pulled the object to her, holding it close to her face so she could see what it was.
It was a dragons’ egg.
And not just any dragons’ egg. The emerald shell, while significantly more sickly and dull than she had remembered it, was that of former Queen Viridian’s egg.
She cradled it between her paws, tears welling in her eyes. She blinked, feeling them run down her cheeks. Droplets fell onto the shell of the egg, and she wiped them off with a clawed finger, careful not to scratch it.
Aurelia sat for some time like that, embracing the egg she had lost. But as the moments passed by, she realized something wasn’t right. Her instincts rang their alarms,
Was the egg alright…?
She tapped it lightly, trying to assess what sound the shell would make, just like she’d observed other mothers doing.
The green shell cracked, and Aurelia felt her blood run cold. For within the egg, was nothingness. An empty void of nothing, leaking the rotten scent of sulfur, burning her nostrils with the pungency.
Aurelia froze, entranced by the seemingly endless abyss contained within this egg. She tried to blink, but could not. She tried to swallow, but seemed to have forgotten how. She tried to inhale air, to sate her screaming lungs… But she could not.
The shadows of the forest encroached, swallowing up the form of the white dragoness while she held the shattered remains of the egg she had lost.
Phos stroked one of Aurelia’s wings, trying to soothe the sleeping dragoness. For the last hour, she had been twitching and whining in her sleep, as if she were trapped in a particularly awful nightmare. Veskar was not there.
When Phos had woken up after he himself lost consciousness, he had been in a dimly lit cave, somewhere in the higher levels of the Spires of Durange. Veskar had been whisked away by irate looking guards, clad in polished bone helms that made them appear menacing.
It seems that the dragons who ruled over the Kingdom of Deserts had felt the tremors and earthquakes from Veskar’s battle with Stoneshaker, and had went to investigate. The guards had taken Veskar to their Queen… And Phos hadn’t seen him since. Despite the initial anxiety he had felt, no harm came to Phos or Aurelia. They were merely excused to the room they were currently in, and ignored afterwards.
“…Rrr…..” Aurelia growled, her voice slurred in confusion. “Fa…the…rrrr…”
Phos poked her cheek, but it didn’t have much of an effect due to her scales. “Wake up, Aurelia. Everything is alright.”
Her eyelids snapped open, revealing the sharply slit feline pupils Phos had grown so used to seeing. Aurelia groaned, blinking a few times to clear the haze of her brain. She kept her head on the floor, but turned left and right to survey her immediate surroundings.
“… Where are we, Phos?” She asked. “What happened to Stoneshaker? Where is my Esteemed Father?”
Aurelia bombarded Phos with questions, and he waved her to calm herself with his hands. “Woah, woah. Slow down, Aurelia. Everything is fine… I think so, at least. We’re in Durange, somewhere in their Spires. Stoneshaker is dead, and Veskar was summoned by the Queen… I don’t remember her name.”
“It’s Queen Cecropia,” Aurelia added for him. “I see… Thank you. I’m glad you’re alright, Phos. I lost my consciousness before I could tell whether or not I’d squished you when I fell from the sky.”
He laughed. “No, you didn’t hurt me. I’m all in one piece, thanks to you… I really should be the one telling you ‘thank you’ here. You saved my life. You’re amazing!”
Aurelia averted her gaze, staring at her claws. Compliments always made her scales burn with embarrassment, and she didn’t know how she should respond. Phos didn’t seem to mind at all, and now busied himself with drawing on a sheet of dirty paper. He hummed to himself quietly, violet colored eyes concentrating intently on his work.
Aurelia sat up now, almost regretting it. Her bones ached, and the pain was enough to make her grit her fangs so hard that her she swore one of them cracked. She shook it off, bending over to see what her human friend was working on this time.
“… Oh? This is…” Aurelia exclaimed, ears perking up in delight.
Phos had drawn her father, Veskar. Cloaked in a sheath of electricity, he had his wings spread apart to strike a regal and intimidating pose. Phos didn’t have any paints with him, since they were expensive luxury goods, but he substituted for the missing colors by shading some portions of the drawing to be darker than others. It captivated her so much that the white dragoness didn’t see the guard appear behind her. When he spoke, she jumped.
“You there! Her Majesty Cecropia has deemed your group to be allies. You are free to leave at your own will.”
Aurelia dipped her head in acknowledgment, picking Phos up and placing him on her back. He cozied up into his usual spot, then continued scribbling away at his drawing. As Aurelia walker past the guard, she heard him spit at their feet.
“He must not be too happy about us being here,” Phos whispered. “I guess it makes sense. We did kill Durange’s resident Elemental Guardian.. Maybe Stoneshaker had some fans?”
Aurelia didn’t laugh at his joke, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “We’re lucky they’re letting us leave. I can only assume it’s because of my Esteemed Father’s influence. Trespassing dragons are seldom treated as humanely as we are. We got let off the hook, big time.”
As Aurelia approached the outdoor platform that would allow her to take off, Aurelia spread her wings and gave them a few cursory flaps, rotating her shoulder blades to test whether or not she could safely fly. Satisfied with the results, she leapt off, wings catching the wind like the massive sails of a ship in Terra. She opened her mouth, allowing the scents of everything around her to filter through her scent processing organ deep within the roof of her mouth. She identified Veskar’s trail, and angled her wings to glide both of them upwards, towards a huge circular platform made of gold, with colorful cloth held together over it for shade.
Dragons bustled to and fro on it, trading their wares. A battle-scarred brown dragoness called out to them, offering to show Aurelia the trophies from her hunts. Another dragon— a red drake, this time— was selling exotic fruits he had gathered. Aurelia moved to ignore him, but a paw pulled her back roughly.
“Hey! Aurelia, that’s you right?” An astonished voice trilled. Aurelia turned around, and saw a familiar face. Carnite, the jaunty red drake from Azmanthus, stood before her. His gold earring was missing, but the young drake looked no worse for wear than she’d remembered.
“… Carnite?” Aurelia queried. “It’s me. What in the Three are you doing here?”
Carnite grinned, his ears wiggling with delight. “I knew it was you! You’re the only dragon I’ve seen with pure white scales. Makes you stick out, you know?” He pulled a strange fruit out of one of his knapsacks, tossing it to Aurelia with a friendly wink. “Durange has a much better market for my fruits than Azmanthus ever did… No offense intended, of course. I promise. After our kingdom was destroyed, I came here with my father to seek refuge. And here I am now!”
Phos peeked out from his comfortable spot, looking the newcomer over curiously. Upon realizing it was another drake, the corners of his lips twitched, and he felt an urge to frown, his draconian instincts pushing bizarre emotions into his brain again.
How irritating. Maybe dragons really are just oversized lizards… Phos thought to himself with a sigh, returning to his drawing. Carnite either didn’t notice him, or didn’t care— the bright red drake kept yammering away.
Aurelia interrupted him at last. “I’m sorry, Carnite. But I’m here to meet with my father, and I’m afraid I can’t spare any more time here,” she dipped her head. “It was a pleasant surprise to meet you again, though. Fair winds.”
“Fair winds!” Carnite smiled, waving as they left. “My offer from before still stands, by the way, if you’re ever looking for a flight partner!”
“… I can’t believe he remembered that.” Aurelia muttered.
Aurelia and Phos finally found Veskar. The cobalt drake was waiting for them patiently, and his eyes visibly lit up when they spotted the snow white scales of his daughter. The two exchanged their greetings, each filling the other in on what events had transpired in their absence.
The sun had now reached its peak in the horizon, beating rays of scorching heat relentlessly into the island of Durange. If the Spires here hadn’t been constructed in the Rift Valley between two large mountain ranges, which provided considerable amounts of shade, then no dragon would have been willing to leave the cool and dark confines of their caves.
Phos itched at his shoulder, peeling sunburnt skin away. “Yuck… While this has been a new experience, and a fun adventure, I’m pretty eager to head to anywhere but here. This heat is torture!”
Oh, how he missed the frigid air and iridescent snow of his homeland… A sudden wave of homesickness crashed into him, and his thoughts wandered to his Uncle. Hopefully he wasn’t worrying himself into illness over him and Lilia. The old man was frail, and his heart couldn’t handle much stress… From his perspective, his two adoptive children had up and disappeared in the middle of a stormy night, never to be seen again.
Veskar nodded. “I’ve gathered what I have needed here. Here, my beloved daughter— a gift for you. This should be useful.”
He held out a satchel. It was made from the skin of a serpent from Durange. Phos couldn’t tell what species it was harvested from, but the scales bore a beautifully intricate diamond pattern. Aurelia accepted the gift, fastening around her neck with the help of Phos. It was large enough that he could could have fit inside with plenty of room to spare.
“… You aren’t planning on shoving me in that thing, right?”
“Of course not. I don’t think you’d be able to breathe or see very well inside of it.” Aurelia snorted. “Now, then… Where are we headed, Esteemed Father?”
“Home,” he smiled. “Our home for now, at least. Let us return to the Kingdom of Clouds.”