“… It is as you suspected, Your Majesty. Stoneshaker was the culprit. I also found him to be feeding on the flesh of humans from Terra.”
Veskar bowed before the Queen of Clouds, Her Majesty Nimbus. Seiryu was at her side, the whites of his eyes showing as he stroked his long whiskers, trying his best to avoid attention.
Nimbus rose to her full height, stepping down from her throne of treasure. Gold nuggets and gems slid in her wake like a miniature avalanche of riches, rolling to a stop when they hit the storm drake.
“I see,” Queen Nimbus hissed, looming over Veskar and casting him in her shadow. “I knew Stoneshaker could not be trusted, the moment I heard of how Azmanthus crumbled like a broken toy. But tell me, Guardian— why should I trust your kind? You were friends with Stoneshaker, in the past. Seiryu has spoken of how close the nine elemental guardians were in their youth.”
Queen Nimbus grasped Veskar’s face within her enormous paws. He remained calm, meeting her gaze evenly and without fear. “Stoneshaker was not well. His health had been in decline for quite some time… It seems his mental state was, too, unbeknownst to me. I am sure the other Guardians will say the same. His actions cannot define us all, no matter how cruel they were.”
Seiryu cackled at Veskar’s response, chewing on his claws. His tail twitched constantly, and he held it down to still it. “‘Tis strong words you say, Veskar. Stoneshaker was ‘yer wing-brother. Where were ‘ye for him all of these years?”
Veskar was silent.
“I’ll tell ‘ya. ‘Ye abandoned him, and all for a squabble over a dragoness who ain’t giving ‘ye the time o’day no more— AHHK!”
Veskar blinked to the front of Seiryu, grabbing his neck and slamming him into the floor with enough force to shake the foundation of the room. Queen Nimbus snarled, picking Veskar up around his waist like a misbehaving kitten. Seiryu wobbled to his feet, cowering in fear.
The storm drake was shoved against the floor. It felt cool against his face, helping to bring him back to reality. His heartbeat slowed… But Queen Nimbus still did not release him. Her cloudy eyes were filled with rage at his show of disrespect.
Pushing him more strongly into the floor with her paw, she placed the other atop his head, wrapping her clawed fingers around his noble horns. “Submit,” she hissed. “Submit to me, Guardian of the Storm. Grovel, and I shall forgive your rude display in my throne room. I shall not forgive you for attempting to harm one of my subjects unless you obey.”
Veskar felt the anger rising within him once again. He willed it down as best as he could before responding, his voice cool. “Seiryu insults my honor, Your Maje—“
Queen Nimbus began to pull on his horns, causing pain to blossom in his skull, where they were connected into a cavity. “I will only ask you one more time, Veskar. Submit to me, or these horns are going to removed. I assure you, it’s just as unpleasant as it sounds.”
The pain was overwhelming. It felt as if barbed claws were being driven through Veskar’s skull, and he could feel the flesh that surrounded the base of his horns beginning to creak under the pressure.
“… I submit to you, Your Majesty,” Veskar groaned through his grit fangs. “My actions were uncalled for, and I beg for your forgiveness.”
The pressure released itself from his head. Queen Nimbus released Veskar, who immediately mantled his wings in apology. Seiryu sniggered from where he watched, sending waves of shame along Veskar’s scales for his rash actions.
“You are dismissed, Guardian of the Storm. My amnesty towards your daughter does not extend to you. Leave my kingdom by nightfall, and never return.” Queen Nimbus spat, turning her back to Veskar.
Aurelia was informed of what had occurred in the throne room later that day by Tsuki. The grey dragoness had sought her out personally to break the news.
“… My Esteemed Father wouldn’t do such a thing. I cannot believe it.” She murmured to herself. “He’s never lost his temper like that in front of me before. I’m sure something happened to warrant this.”
Tsuki shook her head. “I am afraid to say that the Queen’s words are true. Veskar acted out of line, little dragoness. Disrespecting a matriarch is one of the most serious offenses a dragon can commit, and this is his punishment.”
Phos stood by her side. He was shifted in his dragon form, and had been practicing his aerial acrobatics with her until now. “What are you going to do, Aurelia?” He whispered to her. “Are you going to stay here? Or will you leave with your father?”
“Of course I’m leaving,” she whispered back. “The Kingdom of Clouds isn’t my home, especially not when my Esteemed Father isn’t here. Don’t you feel the same, Phos? Silvermere plucked you from your family, and brought you here.”
“Yeah, you’re right on the point there… This place doesn’t feel like home to me, either.” Phos murmured. He scooted closer to Aurelia, bumping shoulders with his friend. “If it’s alright with you… Can I come along?”
“Of course. Youre my wing-brother, after all,” She proudly reminded him. “You said so yourself, didn’t you?”
Phos chirred, laughing at the fact that she had remembered his blunder. “I’ll have to say my farewell to Lilia first. She’s already planning on going off somewhere herself… I get the feeling she won’t be too sad. We’ve grown apart, over the last couple of weeks. Or maybe she’s just maturing? I can’t say. But I will admit that it makes me sad.”
“Take your time. I’ll go find my Esteemed Father. You know where Wisher’s Reach is, right? We’ll wait for you there.”
Phos agreed to her plan, and then took off to find his little sister.
“You’re leaving, big brother?”
Lilia hadn’t been far off. Phos tracked her scent to the Spires, leading him to a portion of the kingdom known as the Inner Circle. Many dragons bustled about in this busy area, conversing with each other in casual conversation. Many were younger dragons, looking for good company to play games with or spar— the latter favored by drakes, who did their best to attract watching dragonesses.
“Yeah. I’m sorry, Lilia. You’re welcome to come come with us, if you want. I would like that.” Phos offered, after explaining the situation. But Lilia shook her head, sighing.
“No thank you, big brother. Like we’ve talked about before, I’m going to travel to Moltar soon… I can’t come with you guys. Plus, I have a feeling I’d just end up becoming a third wheel!”
Lilia snickered, giving her older brother a pointed look. It made him feel uncomfortably embarrassed. “It’s not like that…!”
“There’s no need to lie, big brother. The drakes here that I’m friends with told me that you’re totally mooning for Aurelia. They can tell when they come near her— you give them death glares!”
“Geh… I do not, Lilia!”
The two bickered for a few more moments, before breaking down into giggles.
Lilia flew with Phos all the way to Wisher’s Reach, racing him through the clouds. Every so often she’d stop and hover in place, waving her paw and waiting for him to catch up.
“You’re so slow, big brother. I guess you can’t beat me, whether you’re human or dragon!” Lilia quipped as they landed together, catching her breath.
Phos felt his heart warm with love for his sister. Copying what he had seen Veskar and other dragons do, he leaned forward and touched his nose to hers. She responded in kind, purring and twining her tail with his.
“I love you, Lilia. It’s been too long since I’ve said that. We’re family, and we always will be, okay? No matter how far away we are from each other… And I promise you that when we meet again, I’ll be able to tell you all sorts of tales and discoveries from my grand adventures!”
“I love you too, brother… I’ll be looking forward to it!”
Lilia blinked away tears as she watched Phos turn away, joining the waiting silhouettes of Aurelia and Veskar. The two dragons greet him eagerly, although Veskar was unusually somber. His yellow eyes were filled with exhaustion.
“Ready to go, young Phos?” He rasped, gazing up at the clouds. “The weather may not hold for long. We best be hurrying up.”
Aurelia snorted. “Of course he is. My wing-brother has impeccable resolve— let’s go!”
She leapt into the sky, her tail brushing against Phos as she swept past. He launched himself after her, and Veskar followed behind them, taking up the rear.
Deciding to discuss where they were heading later, the group of dragons simply continued their flight, rising into the endless azur skies of the Aether…
<<<To be continued>>>