Beginnings - Firetalon
Once, long ago in the great void of space, there shone a tiny iridescent light. This was not a star, however. This was a planet. And it glittered in the darkness like a sparkling gem in the infinite abyss.
Life was abundant on this world, for it was truly a paradise among the stars. Great stone cliffs rose from lush plain. Ivory beaches touched upon the sapphire seas. The skies were vast and endless, and the earth was fertile and plentiful.
Creatures of all kinds thrived here. Grazing beasts roamed free on every plain. All sorts of swimming things filled the seas. There were even creatures that dwelt within the earth and thrived in the darkness, as was the way of their kind.
But among all these creatures, one set itself apart from the rest.
These creatures were possessed of ancient knowledge, and within them they bore magic beyond that which is present today. The raw forces of the elements flowed through these great beasts, and they could call upon the world's magic at will. At their command, they could shoot forth jets of flame and ice. Lightning would appear at their whim and the searing heat of the earth could be brought forth as lava.
And when the first of these great creatures spread its leathery wings to the air and sounded a clarion call to the world, the race of Dragons was born.
These Firstborn soared the open skies freely, for surely they had nothing to fear from any beast upon the ground. They ruled the twilight and the dawn, and every being that came under their mighty wings was under their guidance.
These first Dragons named the world Dragonhome, or 'Drakan', in the ancient tongue of their kind. On this world, they lived, thrived, and grew strong. From the Firstborn came many more generations, each more powerful than the last.
And for many centuries, the Dragons watched over their dominion. They grew ancient and powerful, and eventually, they grew a close bond with the world they cherished.
Those who settled in the icy reaches became Ice Dragons, their inner fires bonding with the chillness of their homeland. Ice was their weapon and defense, for they could summon the bitter and paralyzing frost of the frigid land itself. The Dragons who settled near the foreboding swamps could call forth searing poisons upon their foes. Those wyrms who lived atop the rocky, snow-crested mountains had the power over lightning. The Dragon clans who preferred the furnaces of volcanoes could draw upon the fires of the world itself, using their powers to shoot great blasts of magma.
All Dragons had the power of flame, for no matter their homeland, it was fire that flowed through Dragon veins.
For many years, the Dragons' reign remained unchallenged. They were truly the rulers of all they surveyed, for none could withstand the great and powerful Masters on the Wing.
And so it remained for many generations. The ancient Dragons lived and died, and passed on their magicks to the younger wyrms. History grew into legend, and legend into myth.
By this time, many Dragons believed their supremacy unsurpassable. After all, none would dare to challenge the awesome might of a Dragon.
But in all cases, there is always an exception...
Akaela yawned, then stretched deeply. She couldn't help thinking how boring keeping watch really was. Wouldn't these idiots ever stop bickering?
In the valley below, several two-legged creatures, members of the tribes of humankind, sat crouched before a small campfire. Akaela snorted in disdain as yet another one of the creatures shot a nervous glance at the darkening sky. As if they would be able to detect anything anyway with those weak senses. Those insects were obviously afraid of encountering Dragons.
As well they SHOULD be, Akaela seethed. After what they did to Nyernya's clutch...
The memory of the destroyed eggs flooded back to Akaela. Tiny dragonets, perfectly formed, lay crushed and mangled on the cavern floor... The frail transparency of wings that had never tasted the air...
Akaela forced herself to remain calm. She could not let her anger overwhelm her.
The Dragon eyed the band of humans fiercely. Although she fully believed that Atheron was a fool to forbid attacks on humans, Akaela was in no position to question her leader's decisions.
And so Akaela continued to sit, wait, and watch. If the humans made any move toward this clutch, then she was free to strike.
She must be patient.
At least for now...
"I'm telling ye," a man began. He glanced at the sky nervously. "We should stop these lizards now!"
"I agree with Guildan," spoke another. "They have threatened our town for too long. I say we destroy that clutch we found today."
"Aye," Guildan added. "Eggs grow into lizards! We've got to destroy them before they grow up and destroy us!"
A few more voices rose in assent.
"Perhaps," another murmured quietly. He eyed the group with a grey-eyed gaze, then turned to Guildan. "But have you considered that this is WHY you are being attacked? You have already destroyed one clutch-"
"Aye!" Guildan spat furiously. "Because those beasts torched Cainan's farm!"
"Provoked or not," the grey-eyed man spoke. "Would it help any to take revenge? I'm simply suggesting we wait. It would help to know more about these creatures. And why they have come to the valley."
"Bah!" the second man sneered. "You would have us sit idly and allow these monsters to roast OUR valley! Rather cowardly for a mercenary, if you ask me."
"But perhaps Greymar is right, Drevan," said a lanky youth, who had up until now remained silent throughout the discussion.
"Who asked you?" Drevan snarled.
The youth instantly fell silent under Drevan's baleful glare.
"I don't know about everyone else," spoke up another man. "But I'm in agreement with Guildan. We should strike now."
few of the men brandished their weapons in agreement.
"Well, what say you, Greymar?" Guildan demanded.
Greymar's brow furrowed slightly. "I'll do what I can to keep you alive, but you'll get no aid from me when it comes to the eggs."
Guildan snorted. "As long as you do what you've been paid to."
"I'll keep to my end of the bargain," Greymar eyed Guildan coldly. "But I'll not keep silent when I know you're making a big mistake."
Guildan snorted, then turned to the others. "All right," he began, ignoring the mercenary and addressing the other members of the party. "Let's move out."
The men began to break camp.
Greymar pulled his cloak around his shoulders and waited quietly at the edge of the flickering firelight. He already carried with him what belongings he had.
He silently watched the group's preparations and tried to suppress a feeling of impending doom. These men were FARMERS, not warriors. The only reason Greymar continued to stay was because these people would go out and get themselves killed if someone didn't help them.
Unfortunately, the only person even halfway capable of doing that was Greymar himself. He was the only one anywhere near here that had ANY experience in dragon-hunting.
Greymar winced slightly at a loud thud as one farmer dropped his makeshift mace.
These people DEFINITELY needed help.
"I'll take rear-guard," Greymar muttered, walking to the back of the line.
Drevan snorted. "Too scared to go in first, eh?"
Greymar bit back a sharp remark and eyed Drevan sternly. "If there are dragons in the area, as I suspect there are, they will likely circle around behind our position to catch us off guard." He raised a brow. "And I, for one, would prefer not to be caught off guard."
Drevan snorted in disdain and walked off.
Greymar slowly drew a well-used longbow from his pack. Although the wood was old, it had obviously been well cared for. The polished yew was still supple, and the mercenary strung the bow with a deft hand. And as he always did, Greymar ran a finger over the intricate designs carved into the aged wood.
Magnificently stylized etchings of dragons stretched across the bow's length. Flames gushed from the reptilian throats and curled around to the bow's tips. The dragons' wooden eyes blazed with an inner fire.
The young man who had spoken up for Greymar earlier eyed the bow with interest.
"It's called Dragonstrife," Greymar said suddenly, startling the boy.
The lad jumped in surprise and flushed in embarrassment. "Uh, I didn't mean to stare-"
The mercenary waved a hand dismissively. "No need to apologize. I just noticed you were interested in it." He handed the bow over to the lad.
The youth traced a finger over the carvings in awe. "It feels as if it were... alive!"
Greymar shrugged. "I suppose, in a way, it is."
The mercenary grinned as the boy handed the bow back hurriedly.
"It's not going to reach up and bite you, lad," Greymar chuckled. He again traced the carved lines around the etched dragon's baleful eye. "I meant that the bow has some kind of magic within it."
The lad's eyes widened. "What kind of magic?"
"Well, for one, it never runs out of arrows," Greymar began. "And from what I've seen, nothing can destroy the bow itself." He traced a series of runes running down the bow. "It also seeks its prey with bolts of magic."
The youth eyed Dragonstrife in awe.
"By the way, my name's Greymar," the mercenary said, holding out a callused hand in a gesture of friendship.
"My name's Galen," the boy replied, taking Greymar's hand in a firm handshake.
"Well met, Galen."
Galen eyed the mercenary curiously. "If you don't mind my asking, why are you here if you object to destroying the eggs?"
Greymar smiled grimly. "I've got to make a living somehow." He shrugged. "If they want to take out a few dragons, it matters little to me. As long as they pay me in advance."
"But you sounded as if you were against the dragon-hunt."
Greymar sighed. "I've seen enough dragon-hunts go bad, Galen, to know I want no part of it. I've found that if you don't bother the dragons, they won't bother you." He laid a hand on Dragonstrife. "But sometimes we have to do things that go against our better senses," he grimaced. "There's a lot of coin in dragon-slaying. If I have to choose between ideals and starvation, well, I'd rather stay well-fed."
"Everyone move out!" Guildan shouted from the front, rallying the others and organizing the group.
"You'd better get going, lad," Greymar raised a brow. He scanned the skies, readying Dragonstrife for the attack he knew would come.
"Galen!" Drevan ordered.
Galen hurried to the front of the grim caravan, leaving Greymar alone in the shadows.
"But I'd rather be starving than dead," Greymar muttered to himself, once again cursing himself for ever accepting this job, and doubly cursing the fate that brought him to this situation.
Akaela's scales bristled in anger as the band of humans began their approach.
So they had finally decided to attack, eh? Akaela's eyes blazed a fierce red.
She raised her crimson head to the sky. A high-pitched whistle, a call far above the human hearing range, emanated from between her razor-sharp fangs.
In the distance, several whistles sounded in reply.
The small group reached their destination- a large cave high on the rocky crags.
The walls were smooth, worn down through countless centuries by the passing of enormous scaled bodies. In the floor, several long narrow grooves, testimony to the nature of its inhabitants, marred the cavern's smoothness. Scales of every hue littered the floor. They glittered sullenly in the frail torchlight, as if the human-born flame were offensive to them. A strange scent, a mingling of fire and blood, filled the air… the smell of Dragon.
"Just destroy the eggs," Guildan said, his voice a harsh whisper. "Then we can get out of here."
The others nodded silently in reply. They were wary of speaking, for sound echoed eerily within the large chamber.
The men stirred nervously with every noise.
"Drevan, where did you see the eggs?" Guildan whispered.
"Over here," Drevan gestured to a tunnel branching off from the main chamber.
Greymar moved forward grimly, Dragonstrife at ready. He stayed close to the walls, and inched slowly into the nest area.
The small band drew their weapons and followed the mercenary, trying to emulate his stealthy movements. He gestured for the others to wait at the door, and Greymar moved forward alone.
Shed scales and animal bones layered the floor, as well as shell shards and other nest material. They coated the cavern, keeping the precious eggs warm. However, this made it impossible to move silently. With every step, Greymar cringed at the noise. His footsteps also raised up a cloud of dust that clogged his nostrils and made him cough. Greymar glanced around the cavern warily, expecting to be attacked.
Nothing lay in the shadows save for cobwebs and nest material.
Ignoring the feeling of dread coming over him, Greymar waved his arm, giving the others the all-clear signal.
He could hear the shuffle of their feet, and the occasional cough as the group entered the nest.
Guildan crept to the center of the chamber, where a large lump of nest material lay heaped in a pile.
"This must be the clutch," Guildan called softly to the others.
Greymar's face darkened, but he remained silent. He was being paid to protect these fools. Nothing more, he told himself. If they wanted to destroy some eggs, then that was their business.
Guildan brandished his hammer and brushed aside the fluffy layer of bedding to expose the concealed clutch.
The look on his face, however, was not one of triumph.
There was nothing there.
"Wha-?" Guildan started, his face the picture of confusion.
Greymar instantly readied Dragonstrife. He KNEW something would go wrong. "Get out now!" he ordered.
Startled, the small group moved toward the tunnel entrance without argument.
"Ahh, not so fast, egg-slayers," a sibilant voice spoke in the darkness. It was a quiet voice, yet it carried through the chamber eerily.
There was the sound of stone on stone as massive boulders were shoved across the only exit.
"We're trapped," Guildan gasped, the color draining from his face.
Sharp clicks and high screeching whistles sounded from outside, as if punctuating Guildan's words.
Greymar scanned the room frantically. No other exits!
The scraping sound of stone filled the chamber once again, and a moonlight poured into the cavern.
The group glanced upward fearfully, panic freezing their muscles.
An inhuman form, silhouetted by the light of the twin moons, cast its shadow into the cavern.
It was a dragon...
Greymar let out several curses. The nest material that surrounded them was wonderfully flammable. The dragon was going to burn them alive!
He heard the dragon draw in a sharp breath.
And in that brief instant, Greymar knew he would die.
In frustration, he fired Dragonstrife, intending to at least go down fighting. Swearing fluently all the while, the mercenary let loose arrow after arrow at the small hole in the ceiling.
The arrows lit up the chamber briefly before sailing through the opening. True to their magical nature, they swerved toward the dragon, seeking their prey with deadly accuracy.
A piercing shriek of pain and rage tore from the dragon's throat and its silhouette disappeared from the opening.
The hissing and the clicking outside grew fiercer. Wingbeats sounded in the distance, and Greymar knew the dragons would get to the opening soon enough.
The mercenary forced himself to action and, with a panicked frenzy, started shoving the fluffy bedding away from the exit.
"Help me here!" he shouted, kicking the nest layers away from him.
The others, jolting out of their momentary paralysis, immediately began shoving the bedding material away from the sealed exit. In a short while, the group uncovered a semi circle of rough stone.
Darkness filled the chamber as the forms of dragons shadowed the narrow opening in the chamber's ceiling. The small window lit briefly with flame.
"Quick! Get by the door!" Greymar ordered, readying Dragonstrife.
A swift hiss accompanied the fireball as it sailed through the opening. There was a sudden thunderous boom as the blast struck the combustible nesting.
The room ignited with flame, and the small group retreated to the relative safety of the stone. They scrabbled frantically at the boulder-blocked exit, trying to escape the searing wall of flame that surrounded them. A couple of individuals, who had moved too slowly, were caught in the flaming nest. Their flesh instantly ignited and their shrieks of agony filled the chamber.
Greymar gagged as smoke and the odor of burning flesh filled his nostrils, smothering him. He quickly ripped a part of his tunic and bound it over his mouth and nose. He aimed Dragonstrife at the skylight and shot several more arrows.
Although he didn't see them hit anything, he knew the arrows struck true as more draconian cries filled the night with their rage.
Greymar then threw Dragonstrife aside and aided the others, who had begun to push the boulders out of the way.
"What about...the dragons...?" Drevan coughed, shoving against the heavy rocks.
"We'll deal...with that," Greymar gasped. "At least...we'll have a chance...to fight-"
"Instead of... burning alive!" Guildan finished, leaning heavily on the rocks.
A boulder slowly started to give way. Soon, a small gap opened in the wall of rocks.
Greymar grabbed up Dragonstrife quickly. Several others drew longbows and awaited the mercenary's orders.
The mercenary shot several arrows through the opening first, before finally going through.
The tunnel itself was empty, but Greymar knew the dragons were still there. Wingbeats rustled just outside the tunnel, and the savage gnashing of knife-like teeth was audible in the night. The dragons were careful to stay clear of the tunnel opening, but the mercenary could still see scaled bodies dart past the tunnel, their fierce eyes burning like embers.
Greymar turned to the others, his face grim.
The group watched him silently, their faces ashen. All eyes were wide with fright, and they looked to Greymar for direction.
The mercenary checked a sigh and tore the strip of cloth from his face.
"We'll have to fight our way out of here," he said finally. "Anyone who brought a bow will go first. We have to clear a path."
A few members of the party drew their bows and moved forward, their faces grim.
"What if you didn't bring a bow?" someone asked. "What do we do?"
The mercenary eyed the man emotionlessly. "Run fast."
The man fell silent.
Greymar turned to the rest of the group. "Archers will come with me. Runners, once we've drawn the dragons' fire, start running. You'll have to find what cover you can. You're on your own. If luck's with us, we'll make it back to town. The Dragons won't follow us there. There are too many archers." Greymar studied the group sternly, making sure everyone understood the danger they were in.
"Now that everyone's clear about what they need to do," Greymar continued. "Let's move out."
The archers nodded silently, awaiting Greymar's signal.
The mercenary crept carefully toward the exit and glanced warily around. He craned his neck upward, scanning the dark skies for any sign of the dragons.
A bellow of anger pounded against the tunnel walls and the valley lit up with the glow of flame. Several blasts of flame pelted the tunnel's entrance, scorching the rock and leaving a thin layer of ash.
Greymar quickly drew back. Hissing curses under his breath, he shot several magic arrows into the night.
Shrieks of pain filled the night, and the flames ceased for a moment.
"Now!" he shouted, darting out of the tunnel opening.
The air was immediately filled with enraged clicks and hisses. Wingbeats grew louder as the beasts approached.
Greymar didn't know if the others followed him, but he couldn't take the time to check.
He ran maniacally across the open plain, continuously firing arrows at the sky. He could feel the scorching heat on his back as flame struck the ground behind him. Dodging the fire at his heels, Greymar dove to the ground behind a small pile of boulders. He let loose several bolts as his pursuer swooped above him, raking the air with rapier-like talons. The claws sliced his back, and the mercenary could feel the blood starting to trickle down his back, soaking his tattered tunic and cloak. Greymar gritted his teeth against the pain and let more bolts loose.
The magic arrows struck the red-scaled underbelly, and the dragon hissed fiercely. It glided upward, away from the mercenary, clicking what must have been draconian curses under its fiery breath.
Greymar quickly leapt from his position before the dragon could turn around for another attack. He had to find a better defensive position.
An emerald green dragon spotted the scurrying mercenary and swooped down for an attack.
The sibilant hiss of flame whooshed by him, and Greymar let out an involuntary cry of agony as the fireball seared his shoulder and the side of his face. He clutched at his face, but drew his hand back hurriedly as he felt bone and muscle beneath the scorched flesh. Charred skin and blood stuck to his hand and Greymar fell to the ground in agony. He pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the pain as more blasts of flame scorched his shredded back.
He staggered under the meager shelter of a hanging ledge and sank to his knees, his back to the stone. The blood and skin stained the rock face, and trickled down into the soft soil of the valley. Greymar ignored the pain and continued to let loose Dragonstrife's magical bolts. The glow of magic arced across the sky briefly before striking its target.
The emerald dragon's tormented shriek sounded throughout the valley as the bolt hit home. The massive wings convulsed, then stopped beating altogether. The reptilian form froze in death and plummeted from the sky. A sullen thud rumbled the earth at the dragon's impact.
Greymar groaned painfully as the ground seemed to buckle beneath him. Through his one good eye, he could see the green-scaled creature's dead eye staring at him, a dull glaze covering the once-bright orb.
The mercenary stared back dumbly, his arm and face throbbing. He still held Dragonstrife in one hand and his numb fingers plucked at the string mechanically, as if by habit. He clutched the bow as if it were the only thing that existed, although Greymar could barely register himself firing it.
Arrows continued to sail through the night. Some found their targets. Others missed. Searing blasts of dragonflame merged with the arrows, lighting the sky with deadly force.
Greymar ignored them.
Cries of pain, both human and dragon filled the night. The ground shook as dragons fell from the sky. Human blood seeped into the ground, mingling with that of the fallen dragons. The smell of burning flesh hung in the air, combining with the odor of sulfur and flame.
Greymar ignored these as well.
The pound of blood filled his ears, and the throbbing of his scarred flesh pulsed synchronously. He could barely feel the wood of his bow, but he continued to fire the arrows. The taut cord cut into the callused fingers and blood coated the polished wood of the bow. His breath came in a ragged gasp, and gradually slowed. Dragonstrife fell from his fingers, the chill limbs no longer possessing the energy to hold it.
Wingbeats sounded on the edge of his consciousness, and blazing reptilian eyes stabbed into him. Golden wings and crimson scales sped across his hazy vision. The dragon loomed before him, eyes burning red with hatred and anger. The serpentine jaws parted briefly, revealing a set of ivory-white incisors.
Heat emanated from the jaws...searing...like a furnace... a desert...
"die egg-slayer," came the sibilant voice, filled with fire and hatred.
Greymar heard nothing beyond the pounding in his head.
A golden flame appeared on the horizon of Greymar's sight.
"How beautiful..." Greymar murmured, his dying voice a soft sigh.
A white-hot glow filled his vision.
Then all was dark.
Galen's feet pounded in time with his rapidly beating heart as he fled into the night. His lungs burned, and his muscles ached, but he dared not stop.
A booming roar rebounded against the valley walls, and pounded in Galen's head, spurring the lad to greater speed. He could hear the sharp twang of a bowstring, and the hissing of an arrow in flight.
A draconic hiss of anger came to the youth's ears. Wingbeats pounded the air behind him.
Galen dove into a small crevice in the valley's stone walls. He crawled frantically behind some rocks and tried to quiet the harsh sound of his breathing. It was only now that Galen realized that he was alone.
Cries of pain, human and dragon sliced through the night. Light, both magical and flame born, flashed across the sky. A sharp piercing peal of rage stabbed through the night, the fierce echo slicing through Galen's head.
Galen froze in panic. Get out of there! he urged the others silently, unable to move a muscle or call out.
The agonized shrieks echoed throughout the canyon as dragon plummeted from the sky. Human cries were already fading, though Galen didn't know whether that meant everyone was dead, or they had just escaped.
Dragonstrife's magical bolts continued to light the air, but they grew less frequent with every passing moment. Eventually, they ceased altogether.
A sudden, brief glow of flame illumined the canyon.
All was quiet, save for massive wingbeats slowly receding.
Then the night was silent once more.
For a long while, Galen sat in the darkness, listening to the beating of his own heart.
She paused on the low stone ledge, breathing painfully through cracked nostrils. Flameblood dripped freely from her wounds, coating the rock with its amber sheen.
Akaela drew in a sharp breath. The smell of charred flesh stung her nostrils. She coughed quietly, then winced in pain as the movement jarred her body and sent a sliver of pain through her shoulder.
A magic arrow jutted from her wing. It had embedded itself in the joint of her shoulder, making it extremely painful to move her wing. Akaela sighed. It wasn't as if she would be able to go anywhere anyway. She glanced at the torn membrane of her golden wing. It fluttered pathetically in the slight breeze.
Akaela sighed again, ignoring the pain that shot through her side. She needed that stone! Without it, she wouldn't be able to heal herself.
The Dragonstone had hung around her neck, under her scales. The cord must have broken when those magic arrows struck her. The Dragonstone HAD to be here somewhere.
A terrible idea flitted across Akaela's thoughts.
What if a human found it? She knew a few of the band had escaped. She would never be able to catch them in her condition.
Her crimson scales clicked together nervously. She had better continue looking for it.
Akaela craned her sinuous neck and scanned the recent battleground. Her sharp gaze flickered over the ground.
There! A flicker of light! Could it be...?
Akaela's eyes lit up in relief. It was! Her Dragonstone!
She rose to her feet, groaning as the pain shot through her wing. She padded softly across the ledge, her talons clicking against the rock. Her wing dragged behind her, but Akaela ignored the pain. She would heal herself soon enough.
Slowly, she inched her way down the rock face, carefully picking a path among the almost vertical stones. Every so often, her amber eyes darted from the path to a small crystalline glint on the valley below. Her breath came sharply, but she moved forward with determination.
The stabbing pain in her side grew worse. Akaela gasped for breath, sinking to the stone in agony.
The rock shifted beneath her weight, and slid from beneath her.
Akaela spread her wings instinctively, but the torn membrane couldn't support her. Her red scaled form dropped heavily to the grassy floor, her wings flailing uselessly beneath her. She lay on the ground, her body shuddering in anguish.
She only needed to reach her Dragonstone and everything would be fine.
Akaela crawled weakly toward the glint in the grass. Her attention was fixed solely on the elusive shimmer of the Dragonstone.
She didn't even notice the bloodvines creeping toward her.