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On Stolen Wings



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Sat Jun 29, 2019 6:07 am
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ScarlettFire says...



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The Plot


The Realm is in turmoil; there are rumours circulating about a mysterious figure behind a string of death--of dragons and their riders--and the sudden lack of new recruits into the Council's great Hall in Draconis. Some say this figure, man or woman, calls themselves the Litch-King. Some say, Litch-Queen. Regardless of the gender, these witnesses claim to have seen them, spoken to them and been promised a great many things--from wealth and power to simply be given food and a way to provide for their familes.

The rumours circle from the No Man's Land in the South-West to Synilas in the South-East and the grand Asturian Empire in the North and back to the Council's lands of Draconis in the South.

Asturia's grand Empire is failing, their people hunger and some angry, desperate for relief from the droughts and fires and floods, and the draining conquest far to Asturia's North-East. Some say it is Synilas' doing, but Synilas maintains that they have had and will always have good relations with their larger neighbour. Others blame the roaming clans of magic-users that claim the No Man's Land as their own, and often punish any mages they happen across in their small villages or even within Asturia's grand cities. It is a living hell.

You are one of the Council's most recent recruits, either through luck or tragedy, and you have been tasked with a grand goal, a quest, if you will; seek out these rumours and find the truth, and, maybe, discover who is really behind all the death and destruction. Will you accept this Quest? Will you discover who is truly behind all the atrosticies, the deaths and the destruction? Or will you fail and fall to the Conclave's murderous schemes?

Information & Maps

Map Of The Realm
Spoiler! :
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There are two main kingdoms here; Asturia and Synilas. Then there is the Council Lands, also known as Draconis. And finally, there is No Man's Land, usually occupied by roaming clans of magic users. They have a camp in the Grasslands of No Man's Land that they use a a meeting ground for all the various clans.


Raj Mahija
Spoiler! :
This is a hidden academy of magic that is rarely heard from. Rumour has it that it's in the Asturian Empire near the edge of the Great Western Desert where it meets the Central Plains. It's said to be crowned by a tall, pale-stoned tower with a golden dome. But it is just that; a rumour.


Races
Spoiler! :
Humans
Humans can be found throughout the Realm and usually have little to no magic. Any magic they do have is limited and uncontrolled. Humans make wonderful soldiers, though, because they reproduce so fast. They are a varied and resilient people who often don't know when to give up or stay down. They're determined to prove their worth as dragon riders.

Elves
Elves are creatures of nature and can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Their powers relate to nature and the elements They highly dislike anything too advanced and tend to avoid cities, except for the few who live in small communties that incorporate nature into their construction. Elves are rarely seen away from the forests. Elves are the race most likely to bond with a dragon.

Tieflings, Fey'ri & Others Of A Fiendish Nature
These races have demonic bloodlines which may be reflected in their appearance and abilties, if they have any. Tieflings and Fiends are the most like their demons while the Fey'ri more often than not resemble the Elven side of their parentage. Those with fiendish blood are the least likely to bond with a dragon, and often struggle to adapt if they somehow manage to do so. They are often a violent, impulsive people, but can be reasoned with. If you're lucky.

Half-Elves & Other Half-breeds
Half-Elves are exactly what you'd imagine--half-elves. Others may be half-Dwarf or even half-elf and half-fiend--like the Fey'ri. They may live for a long time, or not very long at all. It's always a risk with half-breeds, but most resemble one sids or the other, such as half-elves, who live a lifespan somewhere between their human and elvish halves; almost as long as their Elvish brethen, but never the thousands of years some of the Elves reach. Half-breeds, especially half-elves, are second most likely race to bond with dragons, due to the varied races that are included in their bloodlines.

Dwarves
Dwarves are a short, sturdy race of humanoid people who prefer to live in mountainous areas and in the mines they love so dearly, deep below the surface where they're so rarely seen. They live almost as long as their Elvish cousins, but nowhere near as long as those with fiendish blood, and often outlive their human friends. They bond with dragons on a semi-regular basis, if they ever feel like stepping foot outside of their mountains and mines.


Dragons & Dragon Riders
Spoiler! :
Dragons
Dragons are inherently magical creatures, born of magic and nature. The reproduce much like reptiles--by laying eggs--and can come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. These eggs often need a magical componet to hatch, coming either in the form of their dragon parents, some force of nature....or a bond with a human, elf or other race that inhabits the realm. They usually prefer nature to civilization and can often been found in forests or mountainous areas. Dragons are intelligent creatures and usually live alone or in small--very small--family groups. Most dragons are hermit-like in nature and will often have a cave or nest--a lair where they protect a small pocket of land they've claimed for their own--where they sleep and live. These lairs often contain treasure, though there are varying opinions on the type of treasure one can find in said lair. Some dragons, if they are old enough, can have a humanoid form, though this is rare and almost never seen. That humans and the like are aware of. Dragons seems to be semi-secretive creatures.

Dragon Riders
Dragon Riders are humans, elves or other races that have bonded with a dragon, either by finding the egg or by being approached by a dragon. They usually have some inherent magical abilities in one form or another, and are often young when they bond. Most are orphans, but a few have families. Once bonded, a Rider will be taken by the Council--who overlook all Dragon Riders--to their Hall in Draconis, the lands given to the Council generations ago. They will be raised, groomed and trained in how to fight on and off their dragon, or as a single unit, and learn how to interact with their bonded, how to use the inherent magic they have and how to draw on their dragon's strength.

There are two groups of Riders; The Council, as mentioned, and an elusive, nastier group known only as "The Conclave". They're a darker side to the Dragon Riders, often causing death and destruction wherever they go, but they're rarely seen and are hard to distingush from a Council Rider. They generally don't look any different, but their actions speak louder than appearances or words; they's a violent, secretive people who are almost always plotting something dark and dangerous made up of spies, thieves and assassins. It's best to avoid The Conclave whenever possible, if you can figure out who they are.

The Bond Between Rider & Dragon
The bond a dragon has with its rider is a sacred thing, often viewed with awe and respect and maybe a little fear. To harm or kill one is to do the same to the other. They're bonded for life and it's rare for dragon or rider to survive the loss of the other as the trauma of losing half of yourself usually kills a rider or their dragon. The Council honour this bond, but the Conclave don't care; Conclave members are not above killing a rider to force a bond on the dragon before it dies, which results in a horrible half-life for both dragon and rider, often corrupting the dragon with darkness and violence. It can happen the other way, too, with the dragon forcing a bond on a dying rider--often, it's a last ditch effort to save the rider and, potentially, the dragon they were bonded to, too. More often than not, forcing a bond fails and the dragon or rider will die regardless, sometimes taking the one trying to force the bond with them. It's not something an amature should attempt.


Magic & Monsters
Spoiler! :
Both exist in this realm, but they are rarely seen or heard about. Magic users -- or mages, as they prefer-- are more common than monsters, but you don't hear them bragging about their magic often, if at all. As for monsters, well. If you hear about a monster, it's a pretty big deal and quite a few hunters/rangers will appear to hunt it down. For a price, of course.

Gypsies, Mages & Magic
Gypsies and Mages are two sides of the same coin. Gypsies are mages who wander, unlike Mages who settled down in one place. There are Light and Dark mages, along with every shade between these extremes. Both have magic in their veins, quite literally. They are similar to Sorcerers in many respects, but unlike Sorcerers, the magic often represents as psychical abnormalities such as unusual eye or hair colour, and sometimes even runes that appear naturally on the skin.

Some notable traveling clans are; Toril, Haverj, Almeric, Asyra, Shanni, Vanna and Belusa.

Sigil-weaving
Sigil-weaving is a way of casting magic that involves ritual and non-ritual magic, hand gestures and verbal magic and finally the applications of tattoos for permament magic. It's a rarer form of magic, almost obsolete and not one that's taught much anymore.

Monsters, Demons & Other Creatures
Monsters are beings, usually inherently magical in nature, with a nasty reputation for death and destruction. It is one of the main jobs of the Council to seek out these monsters and deal with them, either with violence or diplomacy--depending on the creature. They can be a purely natural creature--a giant wolf or giant spiders--to more fiendish or magically-inclined creatures, such as Leshi and other nature spirits/beings to Sphinxs and Gryphons, and even the odd fiendish hound or other such monsters.


Character Sheet:

Code: Select all
[b]Name:[/b] (first and last, if possible)
[b]Age:[/b] (17+ please)
[b]Gender:[/b] (male/female)

[b]Race:[/b] (human, elf, others, etc)

[b]Profession:[/b] (Dragon Rider, preferably, but you might also be a thief or assassin, or a ranger; be creative! Please include the associated skills!)

[b]Bonded Dragon:[/b] (name, age, appearance and maybe personality if possible)

[b]Appearance:[/b] (a brief appearance will work; you can include a picture)

[b]Personality:[/b] (Please make this in-depth!  Also include strengths and weaknessess)

[b]History:[/b] (brief history will work)

[b]Up For Love:[/b] y/n, orientation?

[b]Other:[/b] anything that doesn't fit above, such as personal missions/goals, any secrets you might be keeping, etc.


Characters Slots:

1. Dragon Rider - Kiera Idora - Claimed by Omnom
2. Dragon Rider - Edana Elchar - Claimed by Europa
3. Dragon Rider - (Conclave Spy) - Autumn Sunlight - Claimed by Eurpoa
4. Dragon Rider - (Concalve Hunter) - Mallon/Malik - Claimed by winterwolf0100
5. Dragon Rider - Luna Moon - Claimed by FlamingPhoenix
6. Dragon Rider - Aranthel Elwyn - Claimed by AstralHunter
7. Dragon Rider - Loren Arden - Claimed by ScarlettFire
8. Dragon Rider - Anelmok Serkoy - Claimed by TinkerTwaggy



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On Stolen Wings is a part of The Universe, alternatively known as YWU, a collaborative writing universe


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"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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Wed Aug 14, 2019 12:05 am
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winterwolf0100 says...



Malik



The sweat rolled down Malik’s bare skin, making it slick and shiny in the dim lighting of the training center. He continued punching the bag in front of him, images flashing as he imagined a new person in place of the bag with each punch. He studied his knuckles with grim satisfaction, before punching it again. All the people he’d ever wanted to hurt appeared in the bag, and though the sounds of their screams were fake, he savored them all the same. He glanced at the slit towards the top of the stone wall, carved specifically so those in the training center could tell time, watching as the first cracks of dawn began to filter into the room. He stopped punching abruptly, moving over to pick up his sword before ferociously attacking a dummy.


A loud harsh voice filled his ears. Weak, weak, weak, Stella chuckled inside his head, and he growled, trying to drown out her words with the sound of the dummy being struck. Stella, Malik’s dragon, loved to tease him on his morning workout routine, seeing as she could easily do any of the things he did with no training at all.


Shut up, he growled at her in his mind.


Weak, weak, weak, she mocked. What are you going to do about it? She sounded amused, which only ignited his fury further because she knew as well as he did that there was literally nothing he could do. He couldn’t just cut off their connection; it was just there. He could pull his consciousness, but she could just as easily reach out again, leaving them in an annoying cycle of him pulling away and her seeking him out again.


If you call me weak one more time, I swear, he muttered in his head, and he knew she must sense the waves of anger coming off his consciousness, but she didn’t stop.


You are weak! She roared in his brain, and Malik’s hand trembled, his grip on his sword loosening slightly before he tightened it and beheaded the dummy in front of him. You are too obedient, and it makes you weak. She emphasized the word ‘weak’ as she said it, as if trying to coax the sparks of anger inside him into a forest fire.


Stella, he grunted, if you are going to continue jabbing at me, why don’t you at least tell me what it’s about?


Oh, come on, Mallon, she whined, and now he knew where the teasing was leading. You know what I’m talking about! If, instead of spending your time uselessly cooped up in that room every morning, you spent your time with me, we could go for morning rides every day. I could practice new flying techniques. It would help us more in battle than the weight-lifting you’re doing in there! I doubt an enemy is going to do a challenge to the death on who can bench-press the most. Malik rolled his eyes. She was trying to goad him on to make him fly with her.


Stella, don’t call me Mallon. It’s Malik now. And you know as well as I do that I can’t just go flying with you. We could be seen.


I’ll fly above the clouds! She said, excitement barely contained, so strong that it began to infect Malik’s mind in waves, filling him wave by wave with excitement, each one subsiding before attacking with double force. It was making it really hard to concentrate to say the least, and he knew she was trying to forcefully change his mind which only made the rolls of her consciousness harder to resist.


Stella. We could be seen by other riders.


She scoffed, and he could almost picture the expression on her face. What of it? We both know you could kill most other riders in your sleep.


He had to laugh at that. Stella, if I was going to fly with you, I don’t think I would be sleeping while I did it.


She huffed in his mind with frustration. You know that’s not what I meant.


Yes, I know it isn’t, but I don’t care, he replied firmly, his tone harsh. I cannot go flying with you every morning Stella. That is final.


She grunted in displeasure. Suit yourself, she murmured, and he felt her consciousness subside, melting away from his as she pulled her mind away.


He ran a hand through his dark black hair, swiping it out of his eyes before stabbing the dummy in the stomach. In his mind, the dummy was all the Council members the day they gave him his egg, only to take it away as soon as he bonded and she began to hatch. He stabbed again, and it shifted to one Council member in particular, a woman, standing over him as she cast a spell to hide his heterochromatic eyes before casting yet another to make him forget their existence and along with them, his demonic heritage. It was only when he was taken by the Conclave that he learned--or, should he say, remembered-- his heterochromatic eyes, and with them, his heritage. He stabbed again, and watched as the dummy fell apart, a mix of sack and hay falling to the ground.


“Need a partner?” The words echoed through the air, and he turned to see who they came from, chest heaving. When he saw who it was, he rolled his eyes, turning back towards the dummy. “No,” he said under his breath, but he knew she heard it anyway. Maya was one of the newest recruits, only eleven. She was also the only other person besides Malik who woke up this early, though usually she spent the extra hours before the day studying in her room, not here in the training center.


“Seems like you do,” she said, gesturing towards the dummy. “He doesn’t exactly look in the position to fight.”


“You don’t exactly look in the position to fight either,” he said, mocking her words. She was well-known among the older riders as not being able to hold her own with any weapon. It was likely she’d be killed or sent away soon; the Elders of the Conclave didn’t have much patience for those who were of no use to them.


She hesitated at his rude remark, but she still didn’t leave the room. He sighed, stopping his sword midair to turn towards her. “What do you want?” He growled, and she inched back a few steps.


“I just…” she paused, her confidence waning. Her glasses were resting on the edge of her nose, and she pushed them up, a nervous habit he’d noticed her doing quite often in his presence. Because Maya was only eleven, practicing with her would be a waste of his time and decrease her confidence. In short, it would be useless.


“Go practice with someone your own age,” he practically spit, and she recoiled.


“You’re the only one who’s up this early!” She complained, before lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m struggling with fighting…” she admitted.


Malik snorted. “Yeah. What’s new?”


She seemed hurt at his words, but didn’t let it show on her face. He was impressed, so he decided to let her finish speaking before blowing up at her. “I’m afraid if I can’t learn to use a weapon good enough, they’ll take my dragon away! I’ve learned all the rules and I’ve read all the history on dragon riders, and I excel in all of those classes, but I can’t keep up with anyone when it comes to training. I need your help. Please,” she whispered.


He looked at her, cool-faced, before turning back to the destroyed dummy at his feet. “And you think I could help you with that?”


She nodded eagerly, something he only saw out of the corner of his eye. “Yes, sir. I’ve seen you practicing every morning. You always wake up before sunrise to come and train. You have a precise schedule for how long you do each exercise in order to maintain the fittest. I know the science, and I can tell you do too. You know exactly how much to do of each thing to be the best you can be. I just need your help learning all of the techniques.”


At this, he stopped. Who did she think she was? She couldn’t just take the easy way out; she had to learn it on her own if she ever wanted to survive in the Conclave. “Listen, girl,” he sneered, eyes narrowed as he advanced towards her. Her eyes flickered with fear as she watched him approach, but she didn’t move. “Do you know who I am?”


She nodded quickly. “Malik, rider of Stella, one of the Conclave’s best and most loyal riders.” Her face and voice were full of nothing but admiration, but it did nothing but stir his anger. “Why would you assume, just because I’m loyal to the Conclave, that I should be loyal to you?” At this, the light in her eyes faltered, but he continued, not done yet. “Your lack of suspicion is going to get you killed some day. You give your trust away too easily, a trait I’m sure your teachers have already noticed. Likely, even with my training, you’ll be kicked out of the Conclave, or, if deemed untrustworthy, killed. Giving my precious time to train someone who is already doomed would be stupid.” He snarled at her. Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to say something but he interrupted.


“You want to know the biggest thing I’ve learned from the Conclave?” He said to her, watching as she squirmed under his iron gaze. “If you can’t do something on your own,” he jabbed a finger at her for emphasis, “you won’t survive out there.” He jerked a thumb towards the window, indicating the world, and, more relevant, missions.


In his head, Stella laughed. You’re a boy, she spit in his head, and he could tell she was still angry about their argument earlier. What would you know about surviving in the world?


“I could learn,” he snapped back. “I’m independent, unlike this defenseless mouse of a girl,” he snarled, before realizing, with shock and a bit of amusement, that he had said it aloud.


Maya backed up, eyes full of tears that she was furiously trying to hide. Stella chuckled in his mind. Good job Mallon, she sneered. You’ve made the mouse cry. Her voice was dripping with fake sympathy.


Maya was staring at the ground, and he watched as a tear slid down her cheek. It seemed as if she wanted an apology, but she knew better than to expect one from him. “I… um…” She said, her voice thick with tears. “I’ll be going. Thank you for allowing me to talk with you. It was a true honor, sir.”


With that, she left the room just as Elder Wintercloud walked in. His stern eyes scanned over her face, an expression of disapproval settling as he saw the tears she hastily tried to wipe away. Elder Wintercloud, half Fey’ri and half elf, was a hybrid mix, just like Malik. It was why Malik had always felt closest to him out of all the Elders. Elder Wintercloud’s gray hair attested to his old age, though no one knew exactly how old he was save himself. Some of the students thought him only to be around 70, while others claimed their grandparents, once students of the Conclave, mentioned him in different stories they told. Because of his elvish heritage, he aged incredibly slowly, so it was hard to tell just by his outer appearance his actual age.


“Rider Malik,” he said to him, a tone of authority sweeping through the room.


“My Elder? What brings you to the training center?” He asked, sheathing his sword and grabbing his t-shirt from the ground to cover his bare chest, slick with sweat.


“You, young one,” he said, staring at him with piercing eyes. “You have been called upon by the Circle of Elders.”


Malik’s eyes widened, but it was the only sign he gave that showed just how surprised he was. It was rare to be called upon by a single Elder. The entire Circle? What could be so important that Malik was to see the entire Circle of Elders?


The Circle? Stella asked in his mind, her consciousness filing into his brain. He felt her accessing his senses so she could hear and see everything he was seeing. Although most dragons could not see through their riders’ eyes, it was one of Stella’s special abilities, and she made sure to use it to her advantage any time she could. What does the Circle want you for? Her thoughts echoed his, distracting him from what Elder Wintercloud was currently saying to him.


I don’t know, he replied impatiently, trying to concentrate on what Elder Wintercloud was saying.


“--infiltrate a group of Council riders on a mission to find the Litch-King.” He knew he missed the first half of the Elder’s sentence but dared not ask him about it for fear of annoying him. Although Malik could remind the Elder that it could just as well be the Litch-Queen, he decided not to. Elder Wintercloud, probably due to his old age, tended to have more conservative views on certain issues. In his mind, it would not be possible for a woman to inflict the damage the Litch-King or Queen had inflicted. In fact, according to the rumors, he was opposed to female riders in the first place. Before the other Elders became more open to the idea of female riders, he would perform the separation ritual himself if a girl bonded with an egg. Once the dragon hatched, he would kill the girl and quickly bond a boy in her place. It was only within the last century or so that the Conclave had allowed female riders, a mistake they had paid for dearly. It allowed the Council, their sworn enemy, to build their ranks with all the females the Conclave turned away.


“And when am I to go before the Circle of Elders?” Malik asked, glancing at Elder Wintercloud.


“Now, boy,” he grunted, clearly annoyed. With that, he walked out the door, leaving Malik to follow.


Once they reached the Circle of Elders, a vast chamber carved out of the stone of the mountain they lived in, he left Malik to take his seat with the other Elders. “Malik,” one said, their voice booming through the chamber and bouncing off the walls. “We trust you know why you are here.”


He bowed. “I know the cause for which I serve, but I don’t know the mission I am to be sent on.”


“In that case,” Elder Wintercloud said, “I shall explain it to you. A group of riders have been recruited by the Council to investigate the Litch-King--”


“--or Queen,” one of the newer elders, a woman, interjected.


“Yes, yes, or Queen,” Elder Wintercloud said, dismissing it with his hand, a movement that showed he actually didn’t believe it could be a girl, “and your job is to drop off a new spy into the group and keep a close eye on him. He will leave a trail for you to follow as they continue to travel. Your job is to make sure his lips remain sealed.” Malik frowned, confused. Any one of their warriors were trained to not speak of anything that may compromise their mission. Why would they need him just to watch this one person?


“I sense you have a question,” said another Elder, the same woman Elder Wintercloud had just interrupted.


“Yes, if you don’t mind my asking. Who is this spy to need my supervision?”


A door to Malik’s right opened as he spoke, and he watched as two guards dragged in a man, who, judging by his appearance, was a Tabaxi. He had red-golden fur covering his body, with black spotted through his coat. He had a long, sweeping tail covered in fur which widened at the end. Instead of feet and hands, he had paws that resembled a cat’s, and Malik couldn’t tell if his lack of shoes was a decision on his part or a forceful decision by one of the guards. The Tabaxi looked at Malik before his head dropped down, his ears folding back.


The Elder’s voice was amused as she replied, “It seems as if you are about to see for yourself.” Malik recoiled with revulsion, his nose wrinkling up in distaste. In the back of his mind, he wondered if this man in front of him was civilized or not.


“And how will this…” he paused for a moment, searching for the right word, “creature help us spy on the Council? Can it even speak?” A few of the Elders laughed at his question. The creature, a male, Malik decided, looked up, an indignant expression on his face, before the guard shoved his head down again with a force that could break his neck. Malik spared a glance at him before turning to look back at the Elders. Although his question got a few laughs out of them, it was a genuine question. Why would they want to send something like him when they could send someone like Malik, especially when Malik would be going anyway?


“Actually,” Elder Wintercloud grinned, “he spoke quite a lot when he was begging for the lives of his children.”


At that Malik saw the Tabaxi clench his fists, but he gave no other signs that he understood anything they were saying. Malik turned towards Elder Wintercloud, a smirk touching his lips. “Really?” He said, a mock frown featured on his face. “He doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of talking now.” The Tabaxi glared at him, but said nothing, his fists only tightening.


“Yes, well,” Elder Wintercloud said with distaste, standing from his chair to walk over to the Tabaxi. “He talks when we want him to, and no other time.” The Tabaxi did nothing in response, his arms pulled behind his back at an awkward angle as the guards continued to stand but forced him on his knees. “Isn’t that right, Autumn?” Elder Wintercloud sneered, pulling his leg back to kick the Tabaxi with surprising force.


The Tabaxi doubled over, his lips pulled back in a snarl, but he made no noise, as if trying desperately to hold back his pain. Malik’s eyes narrowed, and he walked towards the Tabaxi, crouching to his level. The Tabaxi’s eyes remained cast downward, refusing to meet Malik’s gaze. Malik stood back up, and gestured towards a guard. “May I?” He asked, but she knew as well as he did that it wasn’t actually a question because without hesitation she stepped away, allowing him to pull the Tabaxi to his… paws.


He winced as Malik tightened the hold on his arm, and Malik noticed throughout his coat several stains of dried blood, one of which Malik happened to be holding his arm by. It seemed the guards were not the nicest to him. Malik pulled him towards the center of the room, away from where the guards were, and watched out of the corner of his eye as they left from the door they came from. “What’s your name, boy?” Malik asked, watching as the Tabaxi squirmed uncomfortably at the nickname. Malik knew he was probably older than him, but the nickname undermined the Tabaxi, which was why Malik used it.


“Autumn Sunlight,” he whispered quietly, so softly Malik almost didn’t hear it. Autumn still didn’t look up, turning his face away from Malik.


“Respect those above you!” Elder Wintercloud yelled at him, and Autumn flinched away from the noise. His ears must’ve been more sensitive to noise because of their size. “Now, tell him your name properly. Address him with the respect he deserves.”


Autumn swallowed as if trying to press down his anger, before he whispered harshly, “Autumn Sunlight, sir.” Malik quirked an eyebrow at the anger clearly shining through Autumn’s voice, but said nothing. They would work on that later. Best not to get the Elders involved.


“And why are you here, Autumn Sunlight?” Malik asked, eyes narrowed.


Autumn swallowed, but didn’t respond. “He asked you a question!” Elder Wintercloud seethed from his chair.


At this, Autumn looked directly at Malik, making eye contact, before replying in a steady voice, “I’m here to stop the Conclave from killing my family. Because that’s what the Conclave does. They kill innocent people who have done nothing against them.” His words were harsh, and before Malik realized what he was doing, he had backhanded him. Malik’s hands were shaking at his sides after he lowered them, anger flaring inside of him.


Is that really the best you could do? Stella mused inside his head. You looked like a toddler trying to hit a bear. Did you see that? He didn’t even flinch! She sounded amused, and it made Malik even more angry to realize she was right, and it hadn’t affected Autumn at all.


“You will learn,” Malik hissed, “to respect those better than you. It is the horses who serve the men, not the other way around, and you would be wise to learn it. And the Conclave doesn’t kill innocent people who have done nothing against them. They only do that to animals.” A hint of satisfaction went through him as he watched the anger writhe inside Autumn at his words, and it urged him on to continue speaking. “After all, what is a lamb’s purpose but to be raised for the slaughter? Animals have no purpose but to serve the people around them.”


“Good thing I’m not an animal then.”


Malik cocked his head to the side in mock contemplation. “Aren’t you though?”


This time, Autumn looked him dead in the eye. “Only a fool would get it confused.”


“Good thing I’m not confusing the two, only defining them as the same,” Malik snarled back. “I am going to be the only thing standing in-between you and a gruesome death for the next couple of months, so I suggest you start showing a little more respect.”


“And that starts now,” Elder Wintercloud’s voice boomed through the chamber, and it took Malik a moment to remember they were still in front of the Circle of Elders. “If I wasn’t fully confident in Malik’s abilities to put you in your place, I would whip you here and now. But alas,” he smiled a dark smile, “I am old. My arms are weak. I’m sure Malik’s blows will be far more… effective.”


In Malik’s mind, Stella snorted. Yeah, right. Mallon’s blows are weak as a--


Finish that thought, he warned, and I’ll be taking a horse on this mission instead of you.


He could almost see her eyes narrowing from her small stall where she was constantly cooped up. Because of the Conclave’s location, there wasn’t a lot of room for the dragons that lived there, and they couldn’t just fly around freely unless they wanted to risk being seen, so for her to miss out on an entire mission of being outside would be devastating. You wouldn’t dare… she growled.


Try me, he shot back. At this, she fell silent, knowing if she continued, she wouldn’t get to go outside for however long this mission would take, and, by the sound of it, it would take months. After the short conversation with Stella, Malik glanced over at Autumn, still keeping a firm hold on his arm. Autumn had lost every shred of the defiance Malik had seen in him only moments ago, and was now standing like he was trying to fold in on himself and vanish.


“Now,” Elder Wintercloud continued as if nothing happened, “take Autumn back with you to your room, Malik. There, you will pack. You are leaving tonight under the cover of darkness.”


“But sir--” Malik interjected.


The Elder raised a hand, and Malik fell silent. “On your bed, there will be all the information on your mission you need, Malik. Now go.” The rest of the Elders had been silent the whole time and none of them seemed inclined to add anything to what Elder Wintercloud had said, so Malik started to leave, pulling Autumn after him, fury boiling within him at the thought of having to let Autumn be in his room. What if he shed, and his fur got everywhere?


“And Autumn?” Elder Wintercloud called to them as they left, “You are being watched. Constantly. I would hate to take my anger for you out on your family, but I’m afraid it will happen. Best not to anger me, then.” In Malik’s grip, Autumn’s arm stiffened. In Malik’s mind, Stella started to laugh.


What’s so funny? He growled at her as she continued laughing.


Her laughs died down to chuckles, until she was simply speaking in an amused tone. Best not to anger me, she mocked. What does it matter if he angers him or not? Elder Wintercloud is going to do it anyway. What’s the point of him helping us along the way? If he’s really only doing this to save his family, he might as well give up. That’ll give him the same results, she snorted. Malik was about to object, but she pulled away, her consciousness breaking away from his as she went back to whatever she had been doing. The feeling left Malik empty, wanting answers on what she meant. Why did she believe Elder Wintercloud would still do it anyway? Why would she think it would be better for Autumn to give up? And for the first time in a long time, Malik wished his head wasn’t so quiet.
Last edited by winterwolf0100 on Sat Jan 25, 2020 4:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
  





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Europa says...



Edana


"You're doing great, Javor!" Edana leaned closer to the dragon's neck and shouted over the wind as they climbed. "Now just tip your left wing up a little!"

Edana, are you sure this is safe? Javor's voice echoed in Edana's mind, laced with worry.

"Don't be such a worrywart, we've practiced this hundreds of times!"

But the last three times we did this you fell off...

"And the last three times you caught me. Listen, we're never going to get the hang of areal maneuvers if we don't practice them."

Javor groaned a little. Well, okay... The dragon leaned slightly to the side, and Edana held on tightly as his weight carried him into a barrel roll. She laughed, then cursed as, once again, her hooved slipped out of the stirrups and she hung in the air, holding onto Javor's neck for dear life.

"Turn over! Turn over!"

Javor quickly flipped upright and Edana crashed onto his back. "I think it's about time we break for lunch."


Are you sure you're okay? I'm really sorry...

Edana undid the straps on the saddle. "Don't apologize, you were doing great. They really should make these saddles more hoof-friendly though." She heaved it off and let it fall to the tack room floor. Officially, it was only for horse gear, and Javor's saddle looked comically large compared to almost everything else in the barn. Javor himself was just barely tall enough to brush the ceiling with his horns if he sat on his haunches, comically small compared to other adolescent dragons, but large enough that the two or three horses in the stables stamped nervously. He stuck his nose through the door as Edana began to trot away.
I hope you're not leaving that in the middle of the floor again.

Edana raised her hands. "You're right, sorry." She picked it back up with a grunt and hefted it onto an empty shelf. "Now, lunch."

"Miss Edana?" Recognizing the rough voice of the innkeeper, Edana turned around.

"Always so formal Chester, honestly."

For once, Chester didn't share in her banter. Either he was sober, or he had experienced something that made him wish he wasn't. Knowing Chester, Edana was willing to bet it was both.

"There's a ahm... a gentleman here to see you."

Edana frowned. It wasn't as if Chester had never encountered the type of people who came seeking her services, he certainly wasn't a fainthearted man, but here he was wringing his hands like a distressed grandmother.

Do you think they might have found us again?

Edana shook her head a little If they did, they wouldn't be the type to pick a fight in the middle of a bar. Too many witnesses.

"Miss?"

Edana blinked. "Sorry, Chester. Private conversation with the dragon. Who is it this time."

Chester lowered his voice as if whoever it was may hear and incinerate him. "A member of the Council, Miss. An Elder, no less."

The floor under Edana's hooved rocked so hard that she wrapped her tail around a bridle hook to steady herself. "There's no way." Edana brushed past Chester and out of the barn with Javor. Outside, tied quite uselessly to the post normally reserved for the horses of people passing through the pub, was a giant pale gold dragon who was sunning himself and trying not to completely block the inn's front two windows. Javor gazed at him with a sort of reverent awe and spread his wings slightly as if comparing trying to figure out how long it would take for them to grow to twice the size of his own body. Edana patted the side of his neck encouragingly. "Maybe one day, buddy."
Javor trotted over to the other dragon to introduce himself, Edana took a deep breath, lifted her chin, and pushed open the inn door. She quickly found a beacon of white furs amid the pub’s usual bustle and strode towards it, cape swishing impressively as she sat down across from her commissioner. Elder didn’t even begin to describe him, the man was positively ancient. His robes sagged on his bony frame, and his eyes were sunken deep into his skull. Nevertheless, he peered at Edana over his hooked nose in a way that set her on a razor’s edge. Her tail twitched, and she wrapped it around the leg of the stool to steady it.

Edana leaned foreword, steep long her fingers. "Well are you here for a reason, or did you just come to gawk?”

The old man’s face twitched with displeasure, and Edana felt a rustle of satisfaction. Finally, he spoke. “We want to offer you a job.”

Edana rolled her eyes. “Well, that’s obvious. Mind being a titch more specific?”

“You would do well to show us more respect, Tiefling. There are scores of other mercenaries we could hire in your place.”

Edana’s Tail unwrapped from the leg of her stool. She had him now. “Oh, is there? Because I doubt you’d come to me if it wasn’t the last resort. You turned me away after all, and to come crawling back with your tail between your legs? It must be excruciating for you.”

The old man’s face hardened, but Edana saw him swallow uneasily. She gave him a sharp-toothed grin. "So let me guess. This has something to do with the Conclave, something that requires an outsider who is an expert on their inner workings, who knows how they move and think? Tell me if I'm getting warmer here."

The old man took a steadying breath. "Yes, and..."

Edana waited as the old man struggled with his words, smirking and he wrestled with his ego. "...you are the only one who knew enough about their movements to steal an egg from them and get away with it."

"So, in other words, you need my help."

The old man met her smug gaze with a scowl, and thumps a large bag of coin on the table. "we're willing to pay handsomely for it."

Edana frowned. "My...what?"

The old man ground out the words "Your help. Our riders have been murdered in droves, and the Conclave is our main suspect. If you accept, you will meet with the rest of your party and begin investigating."

Edana leaned back. "I've never been hired for detective work before...perhaps if you asked nicely."

The old man gave her a stony glare.

"Ah, but I can see I'm pushing my luck." Edana swept the bag of money off the table. "Well, you drive a hard bargain, but I accept. Don't bother shaking on it, I wouldn't want you to soil that non-fiendish integrity you're so proud of, and I just washed my hands." She trotted off toward her room to pack, calling over her shoulder, "But it really was a pleasure doing business with you."
  





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Omnom says...



Kiera Idora



Kiera sat, her legs crossed and her back feeling the comfort of the sturdy bark of an elderwood tree, a leather bound book in her hands. Under the gracious shade of the elderwood's immense canopy, the newly-adorned dragon rider was absorbed in learning as much as she could about the different kinds of magics taught at the Council. As she scanned the weathered page, her free hand absentmindedly twisted the small ring on her finger.

She heard a small clear of the throat, and she peered up from her book to see a scholar of the Council. The purple accents on the brown robes indicated a junior scholar, someone almost as new to the place as Kiera. She set the book aside on the grass and gave a courteous nod to the scholar, who removed his hood. "Master Idora."

Kiera immediately tensed up, and jerked her head around, looking for witnesses. In mild confusion, the scholar glanced around. After a few moments, Kiera remembered where she was and relaxed a bit. "I would prefer that name not to be spread around so readily. It's just Kiera."

"The scholar bowed his head in compliance. "Of course, my apologies. I'm here by request of the Council of Masters. They are summoning you."

"How is that-- That's not possible."

The scholar frowned in confusion. "I'm sorry?"

"I'm a new dragon rider. The Masters assured me I would have time to acclimate and train before they called on me. "

The scholar bowed slightly. "Apologies, Master... Kiera. I was only sent to deliver this message, nothing else."

Kiera let out a soft sigh and nodded. At that, the scholar returned his hood and promptly left. Kiera shook her head and glanced at her book, aiming to grab it, but her hand was stopped short by something both cold and warm. The grass around the book was squashed down, and Kiera just now realized it. She smacked the invisible object.

"Tyndros, you really are annoying sometimes."

A deep rumbling shook the ground and her, causing the massive tree to tremble, pollen falling from its leaves. The pollen fell around a massive body, partially showing Keria's much larger Imbued companion, Tyndros. His invisibility wore off as he let out a large yawn and set his head wearily down on Kiera's lap. "Your incessant anxiety roused me from my slumber."

Kiera shoved Tyndro's now revealed tail off her book and ignored his remarks as best as possible. However, Tyndros could easily feel her irritation, and he let out a deep laugh that vibrated the ground around them, causing the Elder Tree to shake and the leaves to shudder. An ocean of pollen drifted down to cover them both this time. Kiera tugged at a fold of Tyndros' massive wing and sheltered herself from the oncoming allergy storm. Tyndros let out of a soft growl that ended in a massive sneeze.

"That serves you right." Kiera jested as he shook his head free of the pollen, resembling a pet many times smaller than he. He laid back down on her lap and looked her in the eye, his pupils twinkling like a thousand dying stars. 'Why are you so worried, young one?'

'You heard the messenger, Tyndros.'

'Ahh, yes, the timid one did emit words when scared, but I did not care enough to listen to them.'

'We have been summoned, Tyndros.'

She couldn't quite explain how she knew, but she felt him tense up. Still, his deep and suave voice rumbled in her mind unbothered. 'That is... interesting.' He rustled and re-positioned his head so she could see both of his eyes. 'So you are insecure about a simple summons? I thought the human I chose was better than simple worries.'

'Aren't you the dragon that has avoided the Council for hundreds of years?'

The dragon growled at that which reverberated in Kiera's body. It was a friendly growl, but Kiera couldn't help but admire and appreciate the prowess of the being resting in her lap. 'I hope I don't regret my decision to change that.' He let out a deep sigh. 'I hope this decision for the both of us will not end in disaster.'

"That's not ominous at all, Tyndros."

~ ~ ~

Kiera fiddled with the hem of her shirt as she paced the entrance to the Council of Masters' chamber. She sighed. Suddenly, Tyndros' mind entered her own as if he was right there next to her. 'I don't know much about this so-called 'Council of Masters' but I assume they would appreciate it less if you arrive late.'

'They didn't specify a time, Tyndros.'

'Oh, that's not very Master-like.' Still, the present is better than the future, young one.' With that, he vacated her mind.

Kiera sighed. "Damn you, old fool." She whispered. After a moment, she finally opened the door. It only took the briefest of effort, and both grand iron doors swung open soundlessly, and pale blue light flooded the hallway and drenched Kiera's face. She held a breath and stepped through the threshold.

Several other people were loitering around; Kiera assumed they were the other dragon riders. Some, she had seen around before, others she hadn't ever seen on the grounds. She gulped and stood close to the center. She looked around at the other riders. 'Tyndros, something major is happening.'

Tyndros mentally sighed. 'When is it not?'

In front of the riders, a semi circle podium rose above them, pillars of blue flame lit the council from behind, revealing only their faceless silhouettes peering ominously at the audience far below them. In total, there were nine of them filling the thirteen seats.

Kiera shifted her weight on her heels nervously. There was nowhere to sit, and part of Kiera thought this was done on purpose, or out of malice. There was quiet muttering reverberating around the room, but Kiera couldn't make out where they were coming from. She felt so isolated from these people. Maybe this was a mistake.

'Now is a perfect time to learn about your opponents, and you might even be able to learn something beneficial to befriending them.'

'They are not my enemies, Tyndros. Now shush.'

'How do you know?' However, Tyndros did quiet and retract his presence, just a little bit. Maybe he did have a point, she found herself bitterly thinking, so she focused her attention away from herself and more into the room and the people around her. One thing that immediately caught her attention was a group of three riders talking in hushed and urgent voices. She couldn't tell if they were angry or worried about their discussion topic, but it was clear they knew each other. In fact, only Kiera and a couple of other people were loitering about alone.

She couldn't scrounge much more information from her surroundings because the hall fell eerily silent as a silhouette raised their hand. The sheer power this person demanded left Kiera in awe. The blue flames spread to the ceiling, filling the room with enough light to see everything clearly enough. The nine Masters, the council members, were all clothes in the same color with their own unique accents that denoted their area of expertise as well as their house of leadership. The one in the middle cleared his throat and lowered his hood. Aside from his white eyebrows, his heavily etched face had no hair on it. He breathed heavily, perhaps preparing his voice to speak aloud. "Dragon riders, you are the world's first and last defense against the mythological and mythical. Those things that exist in legend only do so because of the actions the imbued warriors of your past, present, and in the future." He stopped and caught his breath. The other members of the Council glanced at each other. He continued, slower this time. "I have called all riders here to address something... stirring in the North." The Master on the far right lowered her hood, revealing jet black hair that flowed down to her shoulders like a waterfall. She closed her eyes and extended her hands outward.

The balls of fuzzy, warm light flowed from opposite corners of the room and met in the middle, flooding the room in brilliant fury. The light settled into rolling clouds as the fog illuminated a mirage. Clouds sped past as the mirage zoomed in. The cloud coverage split to reveal massive landmasses in between giant pools of water. Kiera gasped in amazement and walked around the mountains that raised almost to her knees. "This is amazing."

'Now you see the land as it's supposed to be seen.'

"This is Runeheim?" She found herself asking aloud.

'Yes, little one. But it is... wrong.'

At that moment, Kiera noticed the black fog in the corner of the map. It coiled and writhed around the land and sea. The middle Master raised his hand and the land sprouted beautiful colors, with a beacon in the middle. "This represents the inherent magic within the land. The strongest source lies under our walls--"

'Stolen from the dragons.' Tyndros writhed within her mind.

"--It is a subtle draw to all those magically attuned, hostile or not."

The woman Master joined in. "That black mass in magical in nature, almost rivaling the magic within these walls, but we don't know what it is, and all of our previous attempts to figure out have been futile. It... attracts, just like this place. But, once within its grasp, it turns things sour."

'So the task has fallen to us.' Tyndros retorted bitterly. 'Dragons die doing their dirty work while they sit comfy behind their walls.'
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AstralHunter says...



Aranthel Elwyn (alias Arandiel Nerana)



Weren't the markets of Draconis just fantastic? It had spices and delicacies and garments, sure, but the cosmopolitan selection sacrificed depth in favour of breadth. For the citizens of the great city, that was perhaps all they knew, but for someone as well-travelled as Aran, that simply would not do. No, what fascinated him were the trinkets. Where else would one have equal opportunity to find something pretty but worthless or dull but spectacular?

Take the shady-looking man in front of him as an example! He was outfitted in brown leather everything, save for the black hooded cloak around his shoulders — the material was rough-spun, and though Aran himself wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something like that, people naturally had to make do with what they could afford — and he clearly had several blades hidden on his person, yet there he was, attempting to sell a shiny orb! Where else would such unscrupulous vendors be brave enough to sell their wares?

“If you would just follow me somewhere darker, you’ll see the magic for yourself.”

A more sceptical browser would have called the guards or declined before making a hasty retreat, but Aran was a discerning shopper! He wasn't one to judge a man by the shifty look in his eyes.

“Of course I'll go with you!” He beamed. “Lead the way.”

“You can just hold the orb under the cloak to shield it from the sunlight,” Aran’s companion pointed out, reluctantly following just behind them.

There was one of the aforementioned sceptical browsers. Sezheren, in his neverending wisdom, always advocated the more cautious route. Not merely out of preference, no, but because it complemented Aran’s spontaneous demeanour perfectly. Aran gazed back at his beloved dragon. With hair as white as snow, skin as fine as porcelain, and eyes of sapphire speckled with gold, he truly was as magnificent in his elven form (being more than a few millennia old had its perks) as he was soaring through the sky. Not a single soul tore their eyes away from his rapturous passage, for how could they?

“My dear Sezhen, do you not take this man at his word?” Aran discreetly traced a few circles, a couple squares, and a line in the air while speaking. Though his hand never left his side, the movements didn’t escape his companion’s notice. “He surely has no reason to lie to us!”

The other elf blinked and narrowed his eyes into unimpressed slits. “None whatsoever.”

The leather-clad party nodded vigorously, his head darting side-to-side, as if worried someone would suspect him of leading two unsuspecting civilians astray. “Yes! There’s no reason not to trust me. I just want to show you the orb’s magical effects.”

“See? His reputation is positively stellar!” Aran flashed a winning smile and charmingly tilted his head to the side. “Although, didn’t you say the orb only had one effect?”

The vendor shot Aran an annoyed look over his shoulder. “It’s a figure of speech.”

“Ah! Yes, of course.”

The man stopped in front of a dark alley to face them. He gestured towards it with his head and said, “This’ll do.”

Aran happily bounced after him, not unlike a jester masquerading as a wizard. The elm staff in his hand and golden mace strapped to his back were obviously mere props. Wait, did people even realise he had a “weapon” on him? After all, his Solar Cloak hung over it, and fading from sunset-orange at the top to crimson at the bottom, it perhaps distracted the eye. Well, the rest of Aran’s attire followed the same theme, with his pointed hat being sunset-orange too (aside from the inch of indigo cloth stitched around its base, of course), his crimson shirt having a yellow-orange collar, and his trousers and shoes being indigo. If his fabulous appearance diminished the glamour of his equipment, that was an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence.

They stopped halfway through the alley. The vendor turned and smirked at the lavishly dressed pair. “Here we are.”

“This is wonderfully dark!” Aran exclaimed delightedly. “The sunlight barely pierces the gloom! Oh, I can already imagine how your splendid orb will light up like a miniature sun…”

The smirk turned into a sneer. Two pairs of footsteps echoed behind them. “I'm afraid there’s been a change of plans.”

“Is that so?” Aran asked, frowning innocently. “I don’t think a group demonstration is exactly necessary.”

“They’re more likely to escort us somewhere darker,” Sezhen noted drily.

“Oh, actually,” the man replied, “my friends’re here to keep you safe. Once you see what this orb can do, you’ll understand why we can’t just let anyone see its worth. We need a deposit to make sure you won’t try anything stupid.” He paused. “We’ll be happy to escort you back into the light afterwards.”

“No, no, we can do that ourselves.” Aran pouted. “We just want you to show us—”

You want them to show you,” Sezhen corrected tiredly.

“—what the orb does! If it was a passive effect, it would certainly have shone by now.”

The man shook his head. “You’re not the brightest flower in the field, are you?”

Aran gasped. “What do you mean?! I’m the brightest flower in the whole plain!”

In response to the fellow’s confused frown, Sezhen remarked, “You should have picked an expression that better reflects your intent.”

“What if the orb’s effect is passive?” Aran wondered out loud. “Perhaps it needs to be even darker!” He flicked his free hand towards the man, propelling him against the wall with a surge of darkness.

The orb flew from his grasp, but Sezhen lunged forward and caught it. He inspected it with a scowl, glanced at the man where he lay groaning on the dirty cobblestone, and then turned back to Aran. “I don’t think Shadow can help like that.”

Aran stared disappointedly at the dull item. “Alas. I wasn’t expecting anything like Ray—” He gestured at the approaching pair, both him and Sezhen looking in their direction before turning away from the resulting white-hot flash of light. “—but I thought we’d get to see at least something.”

Sezhen shrugged and handed the orb to Aran. As soon as it exchanged hands, a brilliant light emanted from within it. Aran gaped in awe.

“Sezheren, you’re a star!”

“So I’ve been told.”

Aran handed the orb back to his dragon, the light dying away as suddenly as it had sprung up, and gazed in wonder at the ‘vendor’. “How much for this crystal delight?!”

The man moaned something inaudible, but the fear in his tone was clear.

“Are you serious? Five Tari?! That’s a steal!” Aran dug into his pocket and tossed the coins onto the sprawled out figure. “Thank you most kindly for your business!” He turned on his heel and strode towards the exit, a lilt in his gait.

The fallen man’s two comrades were no longer blinded, but Aran simply motioned downward with his free hand; his Force momentarily pinned them against opposite walls before they too dropped to the ground. Aran and Sezhen stepped out of the alley and back into the sunlight.

Aran tilted his head towards the sun, basking in its heat. “And you thought it was just a ball of glass.”

“You’re as astute as ever,” Sezhen replied with a sigh. “Open your eyes and watch where you’re walking.”

“Who needs sight when you have vision?!”

“The sighted do.”

Aran grinned at Sezhen. “But if I only have eyes for you, I can’t see where I’m going anyway. I must rely on instinct and clairvoyance.”

Sezhen returned Aran’s mischievous gaze with an indifferent stare. “You’ll ogle at least five people before the turn of the hour.”

“Is that a challenge?”

“I rest my case.”

“All right, I’ll prove my affection by buying you a journal!”

The dragon-elf scowled in mild indignation. “You can’t buy my approval.”

“I saw one in particular that’s bound in handsome black leather,” Aran replied enticingly.

“Tempting, but there won’t be time to use it before we’re off.”

“You think I wouldn’t take it along.”

No answer.

“Right, I’m buying it!”


***


The walk to the Entrance Hall of the Council of Masters led them through the more lavish residential area of the nobles and dragon riders. When Sezhen gave him the go-ahead, Aran made a pushing motion, wrapping Illusion around the two of them. Nobody else was on their way to see the council, so they wouldn’t need to worry about passers-by crossing the sigil’s effect radius and revealing them.

The courtyard outside the hall consisted of a large garden to the right, a tree in each of its corners and a large elder tree dominating the centre. Several benches were dotted across the lawn, a small group of diverse characters sitting on them or standing nearby. The left side of the courtyard was split by a road leading to the dragon stables. The nearest section consisted of a training area, while the farther one consisted of a smaller garden, also littered with a few benches.

They look dreadfully young.

Aran considered the scattering of individuals. If the council had valued its greatest riders just a bit more, these children wouldn’t be preparing to fill suddenly empty positions.

And they wouldn’t have needed to beg Raj Mahija for our help.

Grinning, Aran thought back, Exactly! And we only agreed because it’ll be tough to travel around as much as we do if there’s a Lich-Monarch… you know, doing nasty things to the environment and killing everything we’re trying to preserve.

Not because you want to taunt the council about how you had saved them in their time of greatest need?

He smiled sweetly and channelled his Primal Sense to push the great doors of the hall just slightly ajar. Perhaps.

Sezhen rolled his eyes and stepped through. Aran gave one last glance at the occupants of the courtyard, but none of them paid the doors any notice. He nodded in satisfaction. The youth were always concerned with themselves; deceiving them took pitifully little effort. He slipped through and pushed the doors shut behind them.

He beamed at Sezhen and strode down the pillared hall. “Are you ready to meet the council for the first time in… I can’t even remember. About seven-hundred years?”

Sezhen was silent for a moment. “Six-hundred-and-fifty-seven. No, fifty-eight.”

“You forgot our last birthday,” Aran said teasingly.

To answer your question, you’re mistaken.”

Aran tilted his head. “How so?”

“I’ll just stand there and say nothing while you provoke every council master that opens their mouth.”

“Sounds the same as last time to me!”

“Yes, that’s the problem.”

Aran grinned and waved at the iron doors ahead. They opened dramatically, the perfect frame for his even more dramatic entrance. He strode through and positively radiated charm, but naturally, most of the council masters were oblivious. Some of them even frowned in the dim light, incapable of seeing and hearing their unannounced guests.

A mere circular sweep and downward flourish of Aran’s hand later, a flash lit up the chamber. Vehement muttering and even softly uttered curses broke the heavy silence. Aran threw his arms wide as he stepped onto the dais at the centre, Sezhen strategically holding back before following him.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”

Is that the case?

Yes, yes, I did my research beforehand. You weren’t interested, remember? Anyway, there haven’t been any non-binary individuals on the council for at least a century. Shameful!

“Aranthel Elwyn,” a sonorous voice declared from straight ahead. “The greatest naturalist the world has ever seen finally deigns to join us.”

He says that like it’s not true, Sezhen remarked. His expression was neutral, of course, but Aran knew his dragon scowled inwardly.

“Your flair for the dramatic has not diminished over time, I see.”

“Head Elder Sarush ca Attar! It has been too long since I last heard your beautifully melodic voice. Although, I confess my surprise at your poor eyes being able to see anything in this darkness.” Sezhen?

Gladly.

Sezheren raised his hand and traced a circle above his head. He curled his fingers into a fist. A moment later, a glowing ring appeared on the ceiling of the chamber, bathing the room in a comfortable but bright light. Aran adored the emphasis it cast on him, but most of the nine seated in a semicircle around them were greatly displeased.

“There! Isn’t that much better?” Aran permitted himself a small chuckle. “I suppose you used a flashy display of magic to illuminate the place for the little scamps outside? I bet they went all starry-eyed.”

“You’re a fine one to talk about flashy displays of magic.”

Aran considered the outspoken council master. “Elder Zareen! Your voice is another I have missed most profoundly! I would have said it was wonderful to see you again, but… well, that wouldn’t be true with your hood up.” He donned an expression of mock confusion. “In fact, everyone of note here already know who I am, and the reverse is also true, so why don’t we all converse face-to-face?” He turned and bowed to the leftmost council master. “Except for Elder Shandor, of course.” He flashed a sincere grin. “A figure more legend than man, and as steadfast as this very mountain. Your will is unquestionable.”

If Elder Shandor ever spoke or lowered his hood, one might have observed him chuckling softly. Instead, Aran simply imagined that he did. The rest of the council masters were unamused and looked to their leader for guidance. He nodded reluctantly and lowered his hood, the seven others following suit.

“Ah, so many new faces!”

Starting with Elder Shandor and moving to Aran’s right, the council masters were Elder Leila, Master Furia, Master Delwyn, Head Elder Sarush, Master Kianoush, Elder Mihai, Elder Zareen, and Elder Parisa. Aran’s omnipresent cheerfulness slowly faded into pensiveness.

“And so many faces missing.” He made to speak, but Sezhen, standing to his right, put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head.

I can’t stop you from broaching the subject, but there are certain things even you shouldn’t say.

Aran swallowed with difficulty, but he understood. Many council masters watched their silent exchange with suspicion, but he locked away his deeper thoughts. He gathered his wits and turned to smile at Zareen again.

Short. Stout. Severe. She hated Aran more than any other council master at any point in time, but since she’d been one even before his birth, that wasn’t surprising. Had it not been for their mutual friendship with Elder Shandor, they would have duelled the last time Aran had stood in that chamber.

“Age continues to treat you unkindly. Elder Sarush certainly looks ancient, but compared to you, he’s as youthful as a newborn!”

“Age seems to disregard you, yes, but your demeanour reflects this more than your appearance.” Her gaze was stern, and she had more practice than most at ignoring his jests. “Your years are wasted on you, Aranthel. You believe you are entitled to act however you like, Runeheim a ripe fruit for your picking.”

Aran snickered. “Entitledness isn’t vanity, and vanity isn’t confidence. I act however I like because nobody stops me, and anybody who could stop me sees no reason to. Do you know why that is?”

“Nobody is interested in knowing why that is.”

Exactly! And yet here I am, about to share that information anyway.” He grinned wolfishy. “Unlike you, I don’t sit on my pedestal and preach to people about privilege. If I desire to do something, I take action. And let’s be frank, whether it’s making love, spreading knowledge, or eliminating threats to the realm, I’m effective. You… just give lectures and go on power strikes. This past century, you could have been reminding society why you have a reputation for being hands-on; instead, you did literally nothing.”

Zareen said nothing. Her silence stretched only across a few seconds, but to Aran, it felt like an eternity. And he relished every second of it. Then, she stood and approached as far as the podium would allow.

“How. Dare. You.”

“You’ve contemplated resignation innumerable times before, haven’t you?” Aran surprised himself with the sharpness of his tone. He hadn’t spoken like that… probably since his last encounter with the woman. “I’ve never had an issue with your goals; I said that before and I’ll readily say so again. My issue will always be with your pursuit of them. You used to be proactive, but at some point, you stopped taking the initiative and fell into the same complacency for which you now criticise others. We never saw the world the same way, but I held you in high esteem.”

Take a moment to breathe. Sezheren’s tone was gentle. Soothing. We aren’t here to discuss philosophy.

Aran did as instructed, filling his lungs to the brim and holding the breath for several seconds before exhaling. Thank you.

Finish your thought and forget about her.

Aran adjusted his pointed hat. “Magical equality is a problem. Shunning your abilities for more than a hundred years in stubborn protest achieves nothing. You stayed on the council because you thought you could effect change that way. I might not respect you, but I respect that. If you don’t think that’s the case anymore — and I’ve made abundantly clear what I think — then step down. Not because you give a damn what I think, but because Runeheim desperately needs more competent people right now.”

“Thank you for your insights, Aranthel,” a council master behind him said, “but it’s time for order to reassert itself. You are here with a purpose.”

Zareen took her seat, but she glared daggers at the speaker. Aran bowed at the other elder and regarded her with curiosity. “Elder Leila. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She nodded, but made no reply. He expected none, as she was notoriously practical. She’d been on the council for approximately the last five centuries, and though she opposed Zareen as well, her intentions to restrict magic clashed with Aran’s ideology.

“You are new to the political arena on the grander scale, Elder, so I feel obliged to inform you that Elder Sarush would have intervened during my exchange with your colleague had he thought he wielded any influence over me.”

“Aranthel, guard your tongue,” Sarush warned. He scowled heavily, but several council masters noted how he failed to deny the claim.

“You cannot hold this council hostage,” the man to Sarush’s left added.

Aran smiled at him innocently, his usual mirth returning. Sarush gave the man a stern glare, quelling him, but he wouldn’t escape a response so easily.

“You think I don’t know who you are, Prince Kianoush vys Asturias, but you’re evidently mistaken.”

The prince just couldn’t help but take the bait. “I am Asturian royalty,” he replied haughtily. “You would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not know who I am.”

“Yes, and now you sit with the Council of Masters. You must feel pretty important, mustn’t you? You’re not an elder yet, but ‘Master Kianoush’ has a pleasant ring to it all the same.”

The prince was irked at Aran’s sweet tone, but he projected an air of aloofness. “Play your childish game all you like. The council voted on my position; I sit here because of my merits.”

Aran leaned on his staff with both hands. “A bold claim. Are you sure?”

“As I said, the council voted—”

“Yes, yes, I heard you,” Aran interjected cheerfully. “But you sit next to the head elder! That’s rather telling. Take a few steps to your right and you’ll find yourself in the ideal position to fulfil your duties as royal lapdog.”

Kianoush spluttered in indignation. Elder Sarush showed a little more composure: he straightened and attempted to fix the elf with a penetrating stare, but to Aran, he simply looked frail. “You will speak no further.”

The brat annoys me, Sezhen declared. Go for his throat.

Aran smirked, partially because of the provoked reaction, but mostly because of his dragon’s encouragement. “What’s the matter, Elder? Is nobody else allowed to play with your pet prince?”

Sarush looked like his old age had finally gotten the better of him and would fell him on the spot. He breathed raggedly, drawing concerned looks from the rest of the council masters. Several looked like they considered intervening on his behalf, but they hesitated. Aran liked to believe it was because they knew it would be futile, not because Sarush would prefer to recover on his own.

“…I promise to treat him well,” Aran ventured into the silence. The prince made a disgruntled, gasp-like noise. “After all, he fills Elder Nahele’s recently vacated seat.” He turned his attention back to the affronted master. “In case you weren’t aware, her death was the final justification this council needed to request my assistance.” In a mock whisper, he added, “Nobody else from Raj Mahija was interested in helping.”

“I… don’t see what the relevance is!” the prince countered.

“Why, Elder Nahele was a dear friend of mine of course!”

“Is he serious?” he asked Elder Mahai, who gravely nodded in response. “Oh. My condolences.”

“Thank you,” Aran said, allowing his mask to drop just long enough to display his sincere gratitude. “So, what do you say, Kian? Do you want to be my friend?”

Kian’s jaw dropped, but Sarush finally found his voice. “Cease this. You have been invited to Draconis for a briefing, not a circus.”

Aran tilted his head and looked thoughtful. “Actually, Elder, the Council of Masters merely pleaded to Raj Mahjia for a saviour. As I said just now, yours truly was the only rider willing to adopt that role. I invited myself over, and since Elder Zara already briefed me on the situation, a circus is exactly what I anticipated.” Addressing Kian again, he spread his arms, staff in one hand and hat in the other, and said, “I make for quite the ringleader, don’t I?” He flashed a dazzling smile.

Sarush had his breathing and composure fully under his control once more, saving the flustered Kian from needing to respond. “It is true, you are everything you say—”

“Did everyone hear that?!” Aran exclaimed, looking excitedly from council master to council master.

“—but you are also a nuisance. If you have no interest in civil discussion, I must ask you to leave. The Council of Masters will no longer grant you the satisfaction of a response.”

Aran replaced his hat atop his head and gestured at Masters Furia and Delwyn. “But I was so looking forward to seeing these two bicker! An Idora and Adonis not only in the same room, but seated beside each other?! Your chamber has never been such a fire hazard!”

The individuals in question did their best not to react visibly, but the slight twitch of Furia’s lip and the crease in Delwyn’s brow illustrated their displeasure with the seating arrangement. They had no choice in the matter, of course, as the elders determined who sat where.

Sarush sighed heavily. “Aranthel, please. Do not continue to antagonise my council.”

Sezheren lowered his arm. There’s someone outside. They’ve been waiting a while, but they’re mustering the courage to enter. Concluding this farce isn’t a bad idea.

Aran nodded obediently. “As you wish, Elder.”

The head elder sat a little straighter, surprised etched across his face. Kian must have seen Aran’s acquiescence as a sign of weakness, for he asked, “Was there a reason for the lantern post’s attendance?”

Many of the council masters seemed curious to know the answer, but had been wise enough not to ask such a foolish question. Sarush, however, knew the white-haired elf was far more than he seemed. Aran’s horrified gaze and Sezhen’s icy stare gave him great cause for concern — few things were as dangerous as a dragon slighted.

“Master Kianoush, show more respect to our guests!”

The vehemence of his command stunned the prince, and indeed, many of the other council masters as well. Aran quickly diverted their attention by announcing, “In the spirit of civility, I suppose I could grant the council one small mercy.”

“What might that be?” Sarush asked, likely grateful for the de-escalation.

“Elder Zara instructed me to make an official pledge of my support.”

Sarush nodded, relief washing over his features. “You may proceed.”

“I, Aranthel Elwyn, pledge my unconditional support to the Council of Masters in the matter of discovering the identity of the entity known colloquially as the ‘Lich-Monarch’. I vow to return word of my mission’s success or failure upon its termination.”

“I, Elder Sarush ca Attar, accept your pledge and vow on behalf of the Council of Masters. I bestow upon you the authority to act in our name.”

“Fantastic!” Aran replied. Utter confusion showed on the younger council masters’ faces, and Kian seemed to realise he had good reason to start fearing for his life. He squirmed and avoided contact with Sezhen’s unblinking eyes. “All council masters have been informed of my alias?”

“They have.”

“Then I suppose my business here is concluded!” Aran declared merrily. “It was a pleasure standing before you once more. I thank the council for its indulgence.”

The chamber doors swung open, announcing the arrival of the council’s next guest. Sarush paid them no mind, seeming simply as if a thousand years had been peeled away from his fragile frame. “You are to meet with your fellow dragon riders outside the city at dawn tomorrow.” His features became weary again. “Do not make us regret our decision to ally with you. You are dismissed.”

“Acknowledged, Elder.”

Aran winked at Kian one last time before turning back to watch the newcomer approach. He hadn’t expected anyone or anything in particular, but for the first time in decades, Aran was surprised.

He’s so… purple.

Sezhen pursed his lips. You’re still as astute as ever.

Aran almost sighed in relief. No murder would occur in the chamber that day.

Says the dragon who’s not even looking!

Aran scrutinised the man. Seriously! He had pale skin contrasting starkly with his dark appearance — black hair, black coat, black cloak, and so on — but his hair shone with a purple hue and his shirt, gloves, and weapon sheaths were dyed to match. Once he drew near enough, Aran could even detect a violet tint to his blue eyes! He’d met individuals with purplish hair before, but none of them had ever embraced the colour so wholeheartedly.

This one’s a Fey’ri, Aran noted, observing the poorly hidden, adorably tiny horns poking out just above his hair. His bloodlines didn’t mix well, though.

Not uncommon for hybrid races, Sezhen replied, finally breaking his stare and discreetly peering over his shoulder. Although, he looks like he has it worse than most. He won’t last long.

As brutal as the elf sounded, he was right. The Fey’ri was evidently in pain even at that very moment. The way he gazed up at the Light sigil spoke of neverending fatigue and lack of motivation to perform even the smallest tasks.

“Ah, Loren,” Kian announced, clearly feeling braver without Sezhen’s eyes on him, yet not considering the consequence of speaking. “How good of you to finally join us.”

Sezhen scoffed almost imperceptibly. He’s attempting to copy the elder.

At least Sarush had some grace about him, Aran added disapprovingly.

What a miserable creature.

Aran gazed back at the Fey’ri. His pained eyes showed mild confusion as he bowed.

“Elder…?”

“Master.” Sarush gave Kian another stern glare. “Kianoush, as I said before, you will respect our guests. That includes our riders.”

Kianoush feigned indifference to cover his humiliation and fear. He continued glaring at the Fey’ri, Loren, and replied, “I didn’t start it.” He pointedly looked at Aran, just as pointedly avoiding looking at Sezheren. “And I refuse to finish it. Speaking of… Weren’t you dismissed, elf?”

“Your dog needs to learn how to heel, Elder,” Sezhen said softly, finally driven over the edge. “A cur that forgets its place and bites its masters is likely to be put down.”

Aran needed every drop of self-control he’d amassed during his lifetime to remain passive. The colour drained from Kian’s face, and when he looked to the other council masters for support, he found their expressions matched the white-haired elf’s. He swallowed uncomfortably.

Pointing at the foolish prince with his staff, Aran grinned amusedly and said, “You’re here to learn, little Kian. That’s done best by listening, not speaking. You should follow your elders’ lead. In fact, you can start by indulging me. Why don’t you announce me to Loren here? Consider it a shot at redemption.” In a conspiratorial tone, he added, “Just my name will do.”

Kian looked to Sarush for a reprieve, yet he merely found an unmoving wall. Defeated and embarrassed, he cast aside his pride and sighed wearily. “Loren Arden, behold: Arandiel Nerana.” His gaze flicked nervously to Sezhen, whose stare remained as icy as before.

Aran bowed at the Fey’ri, sweeping his hat off his head. “Greetings!” He smirked coyly, saying, “I must take my leave, but I suspect we’ll meet again soon,” and tapping his staff against the ground. Sezhen?

Again, gladly.

Sezhen unclenched his fist. Light fled from the room as if the sun was plucked from the sky. Aran stepped down from the dias and strode out the hall, the sudden darkness leaving him as unseen as when he first entered.

Aran regarded his dragon with features as stony as he could manage. The façade lasted a second before he broke into a wide grin. “That’s six before the turn of the hour.”

“…That’s the first bloody thing you have to say? You vex me.”

“I love you too,” Aran replied, leaning forward and touching his nose against Sezhen’s before bouncing across the hall towards the library. He found himself in a much longer hallway, again lined with pillars, and sank down against one of the columns. Sezhen did the same opposite him, after which Aran weaved another Illusion to conceal them. Contrary to what he’d said in the chamber, their business was not yet concluded.

After a brief period of silence, Sezhen disturbed the peace.

You’re insufferable.

Aran grinned. Why?

And shameless.

Any other adjectives come to mind?

Brazen. Maybe even belligerent.

“Hah!” That’s a bit harsh!

…Perhaps.

Are you upset because of the princeling or the Fey’ri?

The former. The latter is glum and sickly, yet I know you’ll waste your time courting him anyway.

That’s not a guarantee. I flirt with half the people I meet.

Including humans who insult your— He looked up at something past Aran’s shoulder and rose. We’ll discuss this later.

Aran rose as well, waving away the sigil once he saw who awaited him. “Elder Shandor!” He bowed deeply. “It is an honour to see you again. I was delighted to hear your request.”

“Your company alone is of any worth in this building,” Sezhen added, bowing more modestly.

“The feeling is mutual,” the elder said, “though you must not agitate my colleagues so.”

Aran clasped his hands behind his back and feigned innocence. “If your colleagues are agitated so easily by a pest like me, Elder, they do not deserve to be your colleagues.”

The elder permitted himself a small chuckle. “Perhaps not, but that is not entirely my say. Come. Let us retire to the library.”

Even someone as well-travelled as Aran would have reason to gawk at the vastness of the council’s library, but as it stood, he’d seen it before and had more pressing matters weighing on his mind. Elder Shandor was older than even Sezheren, and a dragon with a humanoid form was old indeed. Aran had met him personally only thrice before, and each occassion had been marked by a dire state of worldly affairs. Perhaps someday, they would be free to enjoy a more pleasant conversation.

“You have met Loren,” Elder Shandor observed. He was never one to waste words, which meant the subject at hand involved the Fey’ri. “He will only learn of this shortly himself, but he has been appointed as the leader of your expedition.” That confirmed Aran’s deduction. “He has an ailing body and a troubled mind. You have been informed of our suspicions regarding spies among our ranks.”

Aran nodded. Not the obvious spies like the three masters on the council, of course; spies from the Conclave or any other faction that would wish Runeheim ill. His first priority was officially to learn what he could about the Lich-Monarch and report his findings to Raj Mahija and the Council of Masters, but unofficially, it was to uncover any informants in the latter organisation and to find leverage against their enemies if said enemies were to overextend their reach.

“I fear Loren's disposition would make him a prime target for conversion. While remaining vigilant for agents of the enemy, you are to keep him under your watchful eye as well. Aid him however you can, but he must not be permitted to turn against us.”

Aran frowned. The elder sounded uncharacteristically ominous. Also… pensive?

“Does he have hidden importance? He must be a skilled rider if the council trusts him with leading such a sensitive expedition, despite it being a doomed endeavour, but how is he connected to the menace in the north? Or the multitude of council master deaths recently, for that matter?”

Elder Shandor, for the first time in Aran's memory, lowered his hood. “This is a personal favour I ask of you.”

The gesture conveyed implicit trust. Aran turned to Sezheren and found an expression as grave as his own. He faced the elder again and nodded slowly. His throat had suddenly gone dry, and he had to swallow several times before he could speak.

“How many people know?”

“Sarush. Zara. And now, you.” He nodded at Sezheren. “And the dragons.”

Aran pondered the implications for… he didn’t know how long. But Elder Shandor was infinitely patient. He wouldn’t press him. Eventually, Aran asked, “How?”

“I suspect you will discover that yourself, in time. It is better that way.”

“What exactly do you require of us?” Sezhen asked, his tone respectful yet firm.

“Guide the children. Guide Loren. If anyone strays and you cannot save them…”

“Kill them,” Aran finished.

“Correct. Can I count on you?”

“…We'll see to it.”
But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
- Paul the Apostle

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FlamingPhoenix says...



Luna



Hunched over an old map Luna scanned it, her eyes moving over every little detail. Letting out a disappointed sigh she rammed a steal knife into the surface of the desk the sound of splintering wood echoing throughout the large training room.

“How could this be?” She asked herself, as she paced in front of the table, her strides long and brisk. “I’ve looked everywhere and nothing. Should I just give up?” She should feel the pent up anger boiling with in her.

‘There is no point getting worked up about it, Lu? You’ll get your parents killer one day.’ Came the calming voice of her dragon echoing through her mind, Aduna’s calming hisses soothing Luna’s rage.

Nodding her head Luna tide her hair into a short ponytail, not passing her armored shoulders. Walking over to the table she was just standing in front of she grabbed her knife and head band, putting the sharp weapon away she tide her head band around her forehead, the words Worrier sown in fine black letters. ‘Hey Aduna let’s go for a fly, you know where to meet me.’ Luna thought back to her dragon.

No reply answered her, but she knew her dragon had heard her. Grinning she rushed to the door flinging it open, and went racing into the dimly lit halls, her arms swinging at her sides as she gained speed with every step. Her heart pounded in her chest, banging against her ribs as she moved faster ahead of her, her eyes landed on the opening in the mountain, no gate surrounded the steep cliff only the clear open sky.

With a look of determination Luna made her legs run faster, she could hear the pounding of her feet hit the rock floor below her, the sounds running through the halls, Braking free of the dark shadows Luna rushed out into the sun, the light blinking her but didn’t slow her down, When she felt one of her feet on the edge of the cliff she lunched herself into the air, feeling the wind run over her face as she fell through the air, The feeling from before evaporating as open space surrounded her.

Closing her eyes Luna let herself fall, the moment seemed to stretch on until the feeling of scales underneath her broker her from her trance.

‘Cut that a little close don’t you think?’ Aduna’s voice echoed through Luna’s head. Her emerald eyes glancing up at her, the power of her wing beats rippling through Luna’s body as she gripped onto her horns.

‘I knew you would catch me.’ Luna thought back, her deep blue eyes gliding over the landscape in front of her, the vast mountains behind her, and open grass plains stretching out as far as the eye could see. Pointing a finger to the ground she felt Aduna slowly glide down, the warm wind whipping past her face. 'I'm going to go check somethings out quickly.

The two passed through the trees, the lush greenery surrounding them. Sliding off Aduna’s back Luna made her way to the small cottage she had been going to for the past few years, Aduna following behind her.

Opening the wooden door her eyes immediately landed on a dark cloaked figure standing over a table that had a map and notes strewn all over it. Slowly she edged into the room, Aduna still outside. “Can I help you?” She asked her eyes narrowing.

“Indeed you can young lady.” Came the calm voice of the stranger still looking over her paper work.

Realizing who she was talking to Luna quickly bowed her head. “Forgive me for my impoliteness.”

“All is forgiven in time my child.” Came the raspy voice of the man, pulling his hood back his aged face was shown in the dim light that came through the cracked glass windows.

Standing up completely Luna asked. “What are you doing here? If you don’t mind me asking?” Pulling up a seat she allowed him to sit down, then pulled up her own, sitting across from him.

“I have a mission for you. The Elders are putting a group of young people as yourself on this mission together. And you are one of them that has been asked for.” The elder said, his icy gaze landing on Luna.

Trembling Luna slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to effuse…I’m still looking for the one who killed my parents, and a mission will only distract me.” Talking in a shaky breath Luna stood, her arms crossed against her waist. “Please forgive me, this is a real honor, but I’m sure the rest of the people you have picked can do it will out me.”

Letting out a raspy sigh, the elder shook his head. A stern demeanor coming upon him. “I didn’t give you the option to refuse, this is an order.” His blue eyes staring at her.
Mentally flinching Luna protested. “But-"

“There will be no buts!” He snapped, “Luna, this is for the good of the people and our kingdom. This team has been put together in a way you all will work well together.” He said putting his hood back over his head. “Your parents will have to wait. On this mission you might even find some clues.”

Letting a large sigh out, Luna only nodded, her eyes going to the floor. “I understand.”
“Good, you know where to go.” Like a shadow he walked out the room, leaving it in a cold silence.

‘You okay?’ Came Aduna’s voice. ‘What did he say?’

Speaking back to her through her mind Luna said. ‘We have a mission to do.’
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TinkerTwaggy says...



[]
Last edited by TinkerTwaggy on Wed May 13, 2020 8:28 am, edited 3 times in total.
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ScarlettFire says...



Loren Arden


Feeling the wind beneath Serkan's wings was always a welcome sensation; it made Loren feel alive. And like he wasn't potentially dying at any moment of the day or night. He closed his eyes and tilted his face up towards the sun, trying to ignore how shaky he felt and how much his joints ached. Instead, he tried to stay focused on the scouting task they’d just completed and not on the dull pain that was a constant daily reminder of how damaged he was. He couldn’t even hate his parents for it.

Loren, Serkan said, his voice a warm balm against Loren’s mind. We are being summoned.

Really? Right now?

Yes.

Loren groaned and let Serkan glide down into the Council’s stables. He didn’t need to guide the dragon, not anymore, but they still needed to land in the stables. The last time they’d tried to land in the courtyard, one of the Council’s gardeners had nearly had a conniption. That had gotten them a lecture, but it had been several years ago. Serkan was too big for the courtyard now, and neither of them were inclined to draw the gardener’s wrath again.

The dragon stables were a lair carved out of the smaller mountain top beside the mountain proper; a large hollowed out chamber full of caverns and tunnels that led down into the wooden stables that were reserved for the Council’s horses. Some of the riders liked to let their dragons sleep in there, but the presence of a large predator often upset the horses. Serkan, he knew, would never want to disturb such handsome creatures.

Loren clambered off Serkan’s back, nearly losing his footing once or twice before both his feet were solidly on the ground. He swayed slightly, struggling to catch his breath for a moment before Serkan’s warm, calming presence engulfed him.

Easy, my treasure, the dragon rumbled, bringing one large bronze eye down to Loren’s face. Easy. Take a deep breath, concentrate on my voice... Loren closed just eyes and leaned into the dragon’s face, feeling warm scales beneath his cheek and fingers. Slowly, his breathing eased out and Serkan rumbled out a rolling, purr-like noise. There you go.

“You said we were being summoned?” he asked without moving. Serkan huffed out a hot breath of air, blowing Loren’s braid into his face. He tugged it away with a contented sigh.

Yes...

“The Elders?”

Yes.

He sighed and pushed off the dragon, stroking one hand along the massive dragon’s cheekbone. “Listen closely,” Loren murmured, keeping his voice low and soothing, like he was just talking fondly to Serkan and not speaking of his distrust of the Elders. They were an evasive lot, but still better than his mother. “Let me know if they’re lying, please.”

Of course, my treasure.

Loren nodded and turned to head down the stairs carved into the sides of the giant cavern. He took his time going down and made sure to carefully place each foot in just the right way that he wouldn’t lose his balance. He kept one hand on the inner wall at all times and didn’t dare look out over the edge of the stairs at the very long fall down to the bottom.

Several minutes later, he’d finally reached the bottom and had to pause to catch his breath again. It happened every time he went flying; when he got back on solid ground, he was always short of breath or had trouble breathing. Serkan, of course, was always there to help him through it, and he was glad for the dragon’s warm presence at the back of his mind. Once he could breathe easier, he headed past the wooden stables and towards the doorway that led out onto the wide path cut into the side of the mountain.

The view was breathtaking, as usual, and not in the struggling-to-breathe way—not like before. Loren took a moment to appreciate the city spread out below him and the valley and lake beyond, all glittering in the sunlight, before he turned right and headed for the gate into the courtyard. He pulled his blank, serious facade on and passed through the high arched gates.

A small group of riders were lingering in various places about the courtyard. Some of them even turned to glance at him, but he ignored them and strode down the path to the intersection and turned left again, towards the tall, ornate doors that led into the entrance hall. There was some muttering as he passed, but soon enough he was pushing the doors open and stepping into the darker, pillared hall that was literally carved into the mountain side.

The doors swung shut behind him and suddenly, his heart was in his throat and his chest burned. Loren stumbled down the empty hall and slid behind one of the pillars into a dark alcove, clutching his chest tightly as the burning turned into a sharp, throbbing pain and his breathing quickly became shorter and shorter. He leaned heavily back into the cool stone behind him and tried to breathe through the sudden onslaught of pain. Only he couldn’t bloody breathe properly and Serkan’s mantra of calming words in his head was swiftly being drowned out by the rising throbbing in his head and the rush of blood pounding in his ears. He felt weaker than normal and when he raised his free hand, he could see the tremors growing stronger and stronger. He clenched that hand into a shaky fist and closed his eyes. He didn’t think he was going to pass out, but it’d be a close thing.

It took several minutes before he could hear properly again and then several more of Loren repeating Serkan’s soothing mantra before he could calm his racing heart and ease the pain in his chest. Unfortunately, the breathing would take a little longer, considering it was coming so short now that he felt dizzy. Eventually, that eased up and he could breathe again.

When he was sure he had regained his composure, Loren pushed off the wall and slipped back around the pillar onto the main path. He still felt a little out of sorts and weak, and there was still a fine tremor to his hands, but at least he could breathe and was no longer in danger of collapsing in front of the Council.

You have faced them before, Loren. You will be fine.

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he muttered back and approached the doors, ignoring the dragon’s snort of amusement in his head. He took a moment to adjust his hair around his horns and rub at his face before squaring his shoulders and placing his shaky hands on the doors. Ready or not...

Loren pushed the doors opened and stepped into a brightly lit room only to hear the tail end of what sounded like a dismissal. He glanced up and hesitated upon seeing that the dais was occupied by two people already. Or rather, two elves. He frowned and slowly approached the dais steps as one of the elves turned toward him. The lighting of the room was unusually bright and he quickly noticed the perfect circle of light against the ceiling. That had to be the work of one of the elves. The council would never use magic like that in the council chambers. They preferred to remain in shadows most of the time. Sarush has once told him it added an air of mystery. Loren thought it just made them look shady as hell, not that he’d say that to their faces.

What did we just walk in on?

I am...not entirely sure, my treasure.

“Ah, Loren. How good of you to finally join us.” That was the one seated to Sarush’s left. Loren hadn’t seen him before. How did he know his name?

He must be a new addition since our departure some months ago, Serkan murmured to him and Loren silently agreed. Do not anger him. He seems like the type with a short temper.

I would never—

Liar. The dragon sounded fondly amused and it almost tempted him into smiling. He managed to refrain from doing so, but only just.

Loren bowed slightly. “Elder...?”

“Master,” Sarush cut in, correcting him, and Loren glanced up in time to see the glare the Elder sent the younger man’s way. He was surprised by the correction. Masters did not generally sit on the council until they were officially announced as Elders. Why was there one here now? “Kianoush, as I said before, you will respect our guests. That includes our riders.”

Master Kianoush snorted and crossed his arms, taking a step back before gracefully taking his seat. He studiously ignored the glowering Elder beside him and stared down at Loren. “I did not start it,” the man muttered, his gaze darting towards the elves. “And I refuse to finish it.” His gaze narrowed. “Speaking of... Weren’t you dismissed, elf?”

Loren turned to the elf, catching a glimpse of his passive face. A much too passive face. He blinked slowly, then glanced back to the Master's bored expression. I am so confused, Serkan...

You are not the only one, treasure.

“Your dog needs to learn how to heel, Elder,” the other elf said softly, drawing Loren’s gaze again. It was the first time Loren had heard him speak, and despite the soft tone, he'd never heard anything icier in his life. “A cur that forgets its place and bites its masters is likely to be put down.”

Loren turned to stare at Master Kianoush, watching the colour drain from his face at the white-haired elf's words. The rest of the Council were alarmingly silent. Loren swallowed, feeling completely out of his element. What sort of game were these two elves playing with the Council of Masters? He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Concern--and suspicion--rumbled through Serkan's side of the bond, and Loren took a slow, deep breath.

Somehow, I do not think that one is pleased to be here... Tread carefully, Loren. Something else is going on here.

I noticed that, too.

The elf pointed his staff at Master Kianoush and grinned. Loren found the expression to be slightly unnerving, but refrained from commenting. He wasn't here to interfere in whatever quarrel the elf and the Council had.

“You’re here to learn, little Kian. That’s best done by listening, not speaking. You should follow your elders’ lead.” Loren stared at the elf in confusion, considering the elf's almost manical grin. "In fact, you can start by indulging me." The elf was staring right at Master Kianoush, and Loren found himself lost for words when the elf spoke directly to the man and no one else. "Why don’t you announce me to Loren here? Consider it a chance at redemption.” In a conspiratorial tone, the elf added, “Just my name will do.”

Just who is that elf? Serkan murmured, and Loren ducked his head a little.

I don't know, but he's certainly odd.

Obviously.

He turned back to Elder Sarush, mind spinning with confusion and possibilities. He tried to put the strange pair of elves out of mind and focus on why he was here, but they were distracting him and leaving him out of sorts. He still felt unbalanced from the attack in the entrance hall just a few moments ago, and now this? Was the Council trying to kill him faster?

Kianoush glanced towards Elder Sarush, then back to him and the two elves, and sighed wearily. “Loren Arden, behold: Arandiel Nerana.” His gaze flicked nervously to the white-haired elf again before coming to rest on Loren again.

The elf--Arandiel--turned towards him and Loren found himself staring at him in confusion yet again. “Greetings!” Arandiel smirked at him coyly, adding, “I must take my leave, but I suspect we’ll meet again soon." He tapped his staff against the ground and the light went out. Loren glanced upwards and then down to find the two elves descending the dais steps. They then swept out of the hall in the ensuing darkness, unaware that he could still see them. He watched until the doors swung shut behind them, leaving Loren alone in the council’s chambers with nine irate Elders and a Master staring down at him. He blinked quickly to dispell the after-effects of the light spell and turned back to the podium with frown. No, he realised, there were only seven Elders—and a Master. Elder Shandor was now missing.

He swallowed shallowly and mounted the steps, coming to stand in the middle of the dais with his feet planted firmly and his wrists crossed behind his back. Parade rest, as he'd been instructed to do so long ago. It was hard not to fall into old habits. If he weren't feeling so worn out, he'd probably be a little more resentful about being calling into the Council Chambers. As it was, he was already feeling drained. The attack earlier had clearly taken more out of than he'd thought.

“You summoned me, Elders?” he asked, meeting Elder Sarush’s gaze. He tried to block out Serkan’s concern radiating from the back of his mind and focus on the briefing he was about to have with the Council of Masters. If the dragon kept it up, he would probably need to tell Serkan to back off. The dragon worried too much.

Elder Sarush straightened up and took a deep breath. “Yes, now listen closely...”

~*~*~


Loren stormed out of the council chambers in a foul mood. They’d called him back only to send him out again, and with a rather large party. And without a chance to rest, either! He was so furious that he didn’t realise he was breathing heavily and unevenly until he stumbled into a pillar. Loren stared down at his shaking hand and clenched it into a first, pressing it tightly to the cool stone in the hopes of warding off the tremors. It wasn’t working. In fact, it was probably about to get worse before it got better. He could feel the tightness in his chest that preluded one of his more painful attacks.

Loren! Be calm!

I... I am not sure if I can do this, Serkan, he whispered to the dragon, his mind-voice barely more than a ghost of its usual self. It’s a large group...so many people...

Hardly! You speak to the council and that is just as many people, Serkan murmured, his voice soft and reassuring. Loren was having trouble focusing on it, so the effects were a little lost on him. What makes the riders any different?

I...don’t know, Loren murmured back, distracted by the sound of a door opening. He tried to straighten up, but the tightness in his chest was beginning to morph into pain, and his body refused to cooperate with his mind. He clenched his teeth together and resisted the urge to press a fist into his sternum. Somehow, he sensed that this attack would be the worst he'd had in quite a while. And Serkan's attempts to calm him weren't helping.

Footsteps approached him—two sets—and then someone was resting a hand on his shoulder, asking him if he was alright. Loren flinched away from them, curling around his chest as he pressed a fist into it. He didn't want them to see him like this, hadn't wanted anyone to see him like this, and yet here he was. With an audience. How he hated his fiendish blood!

“D-don’t,” he managed, voice shaky, and the hand withdrew. He glanced up to find the elves watching him, one with concern and the other with what appeared to be boredom. He thought they’d left, but apparently not. “Just...don’t touch me, please...”

My treasure, his dragon rumbled and Loren leaned his cheek into the cool stone of the pillar. I believe he may be trying to help...

The flamboyantly dressed elf stepped back and raised his hands. "All right! But you look like you need assistance.” Loren barely registered that he'd backed off, let alone that he was speaking, and even then, the words went in one ear and out the other. Even Serkan seemed to missed it.

"Don't care," Loren muttered back, and it took several moments before he realised he'd also said that out loud. He quickly switched to mind-to-mind only, intensely aware of the flamboyant elf watching him. I'm too tired to keep fighting the Council's battles, Serkan... I just want to rest.

I as well, little one, I as well.

"I understand that you've been dealing with this your whole life, so you might think you don't need my help, but with symptoms as severe as yours, leaving them untreated will cost you your life."

Loren shook his head, trying to breathe properly past the tightness in his chest that was quickly becoming pain. He tried to say something to the elf but had to stop and start several times before he could actually speak. "Please just... leave me... alone."

The elf stared at him for a while longer before speaking. "If that's what you want, then so be it. Just remember that pretense doesn't erase reality."

Loren closed his eyes and listened to the pair walk away in the direction of the courtyard. A moment later, he heard the doors open and close, and finally felt like he was alone. He spent a long moment just trying to breathe past the chest tightness. It eased off eventually, and faded to the usual dull ache, although the tremors lingered. At least he could breathe properly now, but who knew how long that'd last.

He waited a few more moments to be sure the attack was over before pushing off the pillar and dusting himself off. Loren cast a discreet look about the entrance hall but found it thankfully empty. The last thing he needed was for an Elder to see him like that again and take him off the mission, no matter how mad he was about not being given a break between the last one and the new one.

Feeling better, treasure? Serkan rumbled and Loren nodded.

Much.

Good, the dragon purred and his presence wrapped about Loren's mind like a warm balm. Ready to face the group now?

As ready as I'll ever be, Loren told him with a sigh and double-checked himself to make sure he was presentable. Once he was sure he didn't look as bad as he felt, Loren strode towards the doors and pushed them open, stepping out into the bright sunlight. It momentarily blinded him, but once he'd blinked it away, he saw the group he was supposed to be meeting all clustered by the Elder Tree.

Loren approached them slowly, giving them plenty of time to notice him and wrap up whatever conversations they were having. He came to parade rest on the edge of the group, just beyond the shade of the Elder Tree's canopy.

"Greetings everyone," he said, and fell silent, unsure how to continue. All four of them stared at him and he swallowed, suddenly nervous. Then something odd registered and he frowned. "There should be five of you..."

“An unfortunate possibility would be that the last person is as late as you and I were.”

The...person approaching him was pretty, but Loren was having trouble discerning their gender. He eyed the lavender skin, white armor, and the bright pink eyes warily. They were just putting away one of their weapons with apparent ease, coming from the direction of the training area off to Loren’s right. There was a respectful smile on their face and they offered him a small bow of the head, but Loren didn’t trust it at all.

“What do you mean?” Loren asked, turning towards them. “Everyone is accounted for--or rather, they should be. “Did anyone see who left the Council’s Hall before me?”

Save for the pretty person, everyone looked at each other in mild confusion, visibly unable to reply. Loren kept half his attention on the pretty one and half his attention on the orange tiefling, the dark-haired human and maroon-eyed half-elf, positioning himself so he could see all of them at once--and the looks they exchanged. It seemed they were as confused as he was. Well, except the pretty purple one.

“Though I don’t speak for everyone, I did not see anyone who left the Council’s Hall before you.” the pretty one continued. “As for your previous question, I meant to say that we were all summoned from different parts of the world and with varying orders. There is a possibility that whoever that fifth person is doesn’t have to be with us just yet, or required more preparations before this meeting. This was essentially my case, and I doubt I’d be the only one with that much freedom.”

Loren pressed a palm over half his face and stifled a groan. “Nevermind,” he muttered and turned to give the other three a proper once-over. “You’ll do.” He let the hand drop and squinted at all four of them, one after the other. “Now, I trust everyone knows the plan?”

You shouldn’t judge them so harshly...

Not the time, Serkan!

Hmph, it’s never the time, the dragon snarked and fell silent.

When everyone seemed to confirm that, Loren nodded to himself and glanced about at a couple of the older Riders lingering about over in the trainer area. He cleared his throat and focused on the small group in front of him again. The pink-eyed one was still smiling at him and he wasn’t sure he liked it. The orange tiefling, though, was scowling at him, arms crossed over her chest. The last two seemed a little distracted, but, oh well. He sighed.

“Alright, we’ll be walking through the city to get to the North Gate,” he announced and everyone who wasn’t already looking at him turned to look at him. “Stock up on supplies, weapons, anything else you think we’ll need and I’ll meet you just outside the Gate. If you don’t need supplies, go on ahead.”

With that, he turned to head for the gate that led into the Rider’s Residential Area and, beyond that, the city. It took him a few steps to realise that the pink-eyed person was keeping pace with him. Loren missed a step and then stopped, turning to face them.

“Can I help you?”

There was a short second of silence, during which the pink-eyed person’s smile grew slightly larger. “No. However, perhaps I can help you.”

Loren’s gaze narrowed and he crossed his arms over his chest. As pretty as the person was, he really wasn’t buying the ‘I-can-help-you’ act. “Oh? Is that so?”

For a moment, the smile vanished as the person briefly closed their eyes. “Examination complete.” When they opened them again, tiny pink wings spread from each side of their back as they continued: “I see that you are most upsetting. But no matter. I suppose I’ll have to speak your language a bit more. Young one, I am Anelmok Serkoy Five.”

It was like an illusion. Anelmok did not move, yet in less than a second, several pink-colored after-images appeared to come out of their body then vanished upon reaching Loren. But suddenly, it was Anelmok themself that materialized right in front of him, uncrossing his arms with a mixture of controlled gentleness and undeniable strength. “And though you may be our leader, you will treat me with respect. Do I make myself clear?”

He jerked back a step, trying to put himself out of reach of the pretty one, but their grip on his arms was too tight. Loren winced and looked away. “Don’t touch me,” he whispered, fighting the urge to squirm too much. “I would appreciate it if you let me go now.”

“I did not hear a ‘yes’ nor a ‘no’ to my question.”

“And you won’t get one if you don’t let me go!” he hissed, jerked on the other one’s hold again. He cast a quick glance towards the others but they seemed a little involved in speaking to each other, which meant that there would probably--hopefully--be no witnesses to his distress. “Please.

“You are too concerned with appearances and not enough with reality. But, I suppose that for now, that’s the best I’ll get. Now. Let us start again.” Anelmok let go of an arm but kept the other in their grasp. They put a hand over it and, with a soft movement of the fingers, appeared to poke at the parts of Loren’s arm where they’d surely left bruises.

For a moment, Loren was confused, but then the sharp pain for his bruised arms was fading, and so was the dull ache in the rest of his body. He glanced back and down to find a pink glow surrounding Anelmok’s hand as he passed it over Loren’s arm. The wings had also grown slightly larger.

“What...what are you doing?”

“Helping you.” Anelmok gazed into his eyes. “Since you are so concerned with appearances, I can be honest, because I am the same. Maybe the others can’t tell yet, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the current state of your body will, at times, make them doubtful of whatever abilities you have. As it happens, my goal here is to soothe as many people as I can so that we don’t all die due to a severe lack of teamwork or communication. And I expect you to let me help you, because unless you treat me like dirt, I will be of use to you. Other arm, please.”

Loren ground his teeth together and jerked his arm out of Anelmok’s hold. “I didn’t ask for your help,” he hissed and, with that, he turned to stalk away.

Loren, be nice! Serkan hissed, and Loren twitched at the stern tone in his dragon’s mind-voice. Loren hesitated for a moment and Serkan continued; Do not make this interaction with the[i] pretty one [i]any harder than it already is.

Loren stopped short, silently fuming. Must you always be the one who makes the most sense?

Always, my treasure.

Sighing, Loren turned back to find that Anelmok was still standing a few feet back, staring after him. He let all the anger drain away, offered them a shallow bow and then straightened up. “I’m sorry,” he said, not moving any closer. “I’m not used to people... er... helping me.”

Anelmok’s gentle smile re-appeared. “Then try to get used to helping yourself. I happen to struggle with that more than anyone else in this group.” They gracefully extended a hand. “Other arm, please.”

Loren hesitated, glancing past Anelmok and towards the others who were still under the tree. He sighed again, took the three steps necessary to put him within Anelmok’s reach and offered them the other arm. “Like this?”

“Thank you.”

Anelmok took his other arm and ran their hands over it. Again, Loren felt the sharp pain of his bruised arms fading, as well as whatever remained of the dull ache in the rest of his body. This time, he watched Anelmok with a growing sense of awe, which he quickly tried to hide by scowling--in the opposite direction.

And you thought this mission was going to be ridiculous,[i] Serkan murmured, sounding amused. Loren was just grateful that his dragon didn’t call him out on his reactions. [i]Now go on, thank the pretty one for their help.

Loren rolled his eyes at his dragon’s comments, but turned to face Anelmok with a neutral expression. “Thank you,” he muttered, and then eyed them more closely. Something had been bugging him the entire time, and he decided to just spit it out. “Um, this might be awkward...but are you a woman?”

A tuneful chuckle was the first reply to Loren’s question. “An exquisite possibility, is it not?” they said, amused. “I may decide to become completely androgynous, one day. But no, male is my gender. And your current relaxation suggests that it makes things better, for which I am relieved.”

He blinked. “Right,” he said, and cleared his throat, gently extracting his arm from Anelmok’s hands. “Well, then...uh...thanks. Should we?” He gestured to the gate. “You know, continue?”

“But of course! I’ll follow your pace. And should anything happen to endanger your image again, state so! I will do my best to help. Ah, your name is Loren, correct?”

“Yes,” he said, then turned to look for the others. They appeared to either be following Anelmok and himself or otherwise dispersed. “I assume the Elders mentioned it?”

“I don’t know about the others, but they did when I arrived.” Anelmok chuckled again. “Though it was the point, I supposed that my entrance made them more likely to cooperate smoothly.”

“Oh? Why was that?”

“I arrived with the severed head of a magical beast in my hand while my dragon marched in with its half-eaten body. They wouldn’t have really paid attention if I’d told them I was hunting as they summoned me, so I decided this was an efficient way for her to eat first, and have the Council let that happen without interruption.”

Loren stopped short and cast him a shocked glance. “You walked into the Council Chambers with a decapitated head in your hands?” he asked, and then laughed. “I would have loved to see their faces when you did that!” He shook his head and started walking again. “No wonder they were so disgruntled when I showed up...”

“Possibly! And, to specify, I had the head in one hand, and the murder weapon in the other.”

He shook his head in amusement at the very image that posed. “I definitely would have loved to see that.” Loren cast his companion a glance. “The Council of Elders are annoying as hell...”

Anelmok gazed back in mild surprise. “They are? Then you are very much welcome for the favor.”

Loren just offered him a small smile and the pair wandered through the gates into the Rider’s residential area, and then towards the city beyond.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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Sat Mar 21, 2020 7:36 pm
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Europa says...



Autumn Sunlight


The sound of Autumn's mandolin floated through the empty foothills. He was sitting tucked between Bellam's giant paws as she dozed, a protective barrier between him and his captor, who now looked up from sharpening his sword with an irritated expression.

"Would you stop with the instrument? It's grating."

More grating than your godsdammned whetstone? Autumn bit back the retort and put the mandolin back in his pack. He saw Bellam open one shining yellow eye.

Silver Dawn would have let him have it.

Even hearing the name sent pain lancing into the pit of Autumn's stomach. Silver Dawn. His wife, trapped back in that mountain with their children, helpless for the first time since he'd met her. He knew Bellam was right. Silver Dawn wouldn't have stood for any of this. She would have had no trouble fighting off this lone soldier, wouldn't have stopped fighting until she found an escape. But then, that's why they chose him, wasn't it?

He sighed. Yes. She would have.

Bellam pressed her snout to his cheek. Autumn accepted the embrace with a soft purr.
All I meant to say was you don't have to take him beating you down. I'm sorry, I should have known it was too soon to bring her into this.

I know, Bellam. But...I'm no Silver Dawn. You know that. Besides, what would happen to them if I--

Smack. Autumn was sent pitching sideways by a savage backhand. He lifted his hand to touch his stinging snout, and his fingers came away tinged with blood.

"Pay attention to me when I talk to you." Malik growled, looming over him.

Autumn cringed. He had to learn not to get so sucked into his dragon's mind. "I'm sorry, I--"

He was cut off by a deathly hiss as Bellam's head whipped up, jaws open. Malik jumped back as her jaws shut with a powerful snap, and Stella flashed forward in a blur of purple. Bellam didn't even have time to stand before her head was trapped underneath the other dragon's talons. There was more hissing, but sharper than the sound that would exit an animal's throat. Autumn knew from his many years in Bellam's company it was the sound of her claws superheating, melting through the rocks underneath them.

"Call your dragon off." Malik ordered.

Autumn almost laughed at the assumption that he gave Bellam orders, but swallowed it and looked to her. "Bellam don't, it's not worth it."

Bellam's only reply was a snarl.

"Stella," In response to her rider's prompting, Stella tightened her grip on Bellam's head, drawing tiny pinpricks of blood.

Autumn blinked back the tears burning at the corners of his eyes and whispered "Please."

Bellam held his gaze for a few heart-pounding seconds before she let out a resigned huff, and her claws cooled. Malik nodded to Stella, but the two locked eyes for several seconds before the dragon grudgingly backed away and allowed Bellam to right herself. Bellam checked Autumn with a sweep of her tail as he started towards her.

Show him no weakness.

Autumn nodded and swiped the tears from his eyes before turning back to Malik. "What were you trying to tell me."

Malik scoffed. "You really are pathetic, aren't you. Well, at least you remembered your place."

Autumn's tail lashed, but he chased the anger out of its tip as Malik continued.

"The riders will have to go through town before they get past the wards, not enough room for their dragons to fly. Most likely they sent their dragons ahead and are doing the first part of their journey on horseback. They should be passing by on their way to their rendezvous point in a few minutes. You're going to follow them by air until they get there, then you'll infiltrate."

"How?"

Malik exchanged another self-righteous glance with Stella. "The Conclave figured you wouldn't have a clue. Luckily for you, they were gracious enough to give you a way in." He reached into his bag and pulled out an envelope sealed with the Council's insignia, a dragon curled peacefully around a blazing sun. Autumn took it and turned it over carefully in his hands. "It's a perfect forgery," Malik promised. "Give whoever's in charge that note, and tell them you came late. That should be enough to convince them. I'll give you a sign when it's time to report to me."

Autumn nodded and slipped the note into his bag just as the sound of hooves reached them. Autumn stood as a gravelly female voice growled "--excuse me if I don't trust the authority of someone who dresses like a cheap novelty lamp!"

Autumn started toward Bellam and was stopped by a sharp push from Malik as he slowly approached the wall of trees hiding them.

"Did I--" He stopped at the look on Malik's face. His ever-present anger was still there but now he was staring out at the forest as if he'd seen the ghost of an old enemy.

"What the hell are you doing here..." He said it quietly, with the barest hint of a tremor.

Is...he still talking to me?

I don't think so.

"Didn't you hear me?" Malik was glaring at him now. "What are you still doing here? You're going to lose them dawdling like this!"

Bellam snorted sarcastically. Nice save.

Autumn scrambled back and onto Bellam's saddle. "O-oh, sorry! I thought--you didn't sound like--I'll go."

He lifted off and circled back. A clean path had been cut through the forest, and he easily spotted the little dots of the horses traveling along it from the air. He wished he could pull out his mandolin, but there was no telling what kinds of creatures were in the party below him, or how good their hearing was.

So, are we going to talk about it?

What, how Malik obviously knows one of the people down there?

Autumn, you know that's not what I meant.

Autumn didn't answer. He stared down at the ground as it blurred past him, the horses a beacon of clarity.

These people could help us. If you just warned them they're being watched--

We risk Malik sending word back to the Conclave that I betrayed them. I can't do that.

Everything comes with a risk, Autumn. Whatever you chose, that risk is equally huge.

Thanks, Bellam. Really inspiring.

Bellam rumbled her frustration. If we tell them what's going on we could convince them to help us rescue Silver and the kids. Don't you want that?

Of course I want that, Bellam! You know I would if I could but...I can't. His shoulders sagged as he finished the thought. It's like I said before, I'm no Silver Dawn. So please, just help me get through this.

Bellam hissed, but this time it sounded more like a sigh. You know I'll respect your wishes. But the moment you want to stop being ground into the dirt, you tell me.
  





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Wed Aug 05, 2020 5:23 pm
Omnom says...



Kiera Idora



The city of Draconis (not to be mistaken with the pseudo-country of Draconis) was a marvel of modern architecture blended almost perfectly with ancient Runic design that extracts the most benefits from the plethora of dragons that resided within the labyrinth of caves and underground rivers networks that eventually pool into the lake --which, quite ironically, is also named Draconis Lake. Draconis was a beacon for all those who wanted to learn about magic from those who were most intimately connected to the River: dragons. With its shining bright marble towers that jutted into the sky to the lush greenery that intertwined the city's inner walls like a verdant snake that made its nest in a pristine eggshell, Draconis was clearly a statement to the relatively infant country to its east, Synilas, that magic was not something to be feared, but to be admired. In fact, Draconis was a beacon of defiance and hope to all who attempted to snuff the light out magic out from Runeheim completely over the past hundreds of years.

But, like all beacons, Draconis was bound to be removed eventually. And, as a resident who lived within those halls, Kiera understood better than most that Draconis was not as it seemed from the inside. Like so many other people fleeing Synilas, she fled the city and the country to Draconis, seeking a place that would actually accept her for who she was, a person with a connection to the River. However, when everyone has a connection to the River, it no longer was a place of learning. Magic became a weapon of politics and power.

With the spires of the inner city gleaming down upon them, Kiera heaved the massive saddle over her shoulder and almost toppled over when she underestimated just how heavy a dragon rider's saddle would be. She half dragged it, half carried it, over to the last stall on the south side and dumped it on the ground into front of the stall and groaned, stretching her back but failing to actually pop it and make it feel better. These past few hours made her feel more like a stable hand than a dragon rider, and it humbled her more than anything. When she first arrived at Draconis as an imbued human, the thoughts of riding through the skies made her feel important, made her feel emboldened. She was going to be someone that people remembered, maybe even looked up to. However, the day-to-day goings were far less fantastical than what she had in mind. She wiped her brow and looked over at the rest of the group.

At the other edge of the stable were Loren and Anel. According to a quick briefing, Loren was the leader of the group, with the most knowledge of the mission they were about to depart on, and Anel was something of his advisor. Kiera still didn't know too much about them, but it seemed they were in deep discussion, with little care about the other riders in the stable. It was probably some political mumbo jumbo that needed to be taken care of before they take off.

A light orange skinned lady stretched and yawned as she walked up to the stables, her dragon in tow behind her. Kiera stifled a reactionary yawn. "What are we doing up this early?" The girl, Edana, Kiera thought, complained aloud.

Arandiel sighed and barely gave her a glance, but his voice rang like a light song across the wind, although it was filled with a hint of annoyance. "One would think a simple mercenary would know the benefits of being early to a task instead of being late."

"Oh, I know perfectly well. Arriving at dawn, on the other hand, is annoying and impractical for a lady who needs her sleep." She scanned the room. "I thought there would be more riders for such a dangerous mission. Must be why they paid me so much to be here."

Loren and Anel clasped each other's arms and Anel left the stable. Edana gestured to them. "Well, there goes another one. No one wants to be here."

"Oh I don't know about that," Arandiel muttered, "but I suppose the Council must be desparate indeed if they hired you."

Kiera hid a soft smile. She could tell she would enjoy these people's presence already. They seemed to be a bit of an eclectic group, but it was far more interesting than the boring scholars who plagued her from dusk to dawn about menial tasks surrounding Tyndros. She learned fairly quickly on that Tyndros was a laid back, low maintenance dragon, at least Draconis' standards. If only she could disappear as easily as Tyndros, it would be less of a task avoiding them.

She wouldn't have to deal with them for the foreseeable future, at least. Along with the other dragon riders that were in this stable with her --a motley crew, for sure-- she would be traveling further than she ever had before, even past Asturia. Kiera plopped down next to Tyndros' sleeping and invisible body, letting out a sigh. Sitting next to this old dragon, an immense being with so much history in him, while he slept calmed her. She was able to do this a lot, since the old man of a dragon slept a lot. She couldn't wait to see him spread his wings and fly for long periods of time. They never had before, but he assured her he would be able to.

Loren walked up to Tyndros' stall, a sizable distance away from Kiera. He cleared his throat timidly, even though Kiera already knew he was there. "Hey, I was wondering if you're all set and prepared to go?"

Kiera nodded. "I've done all I can do before we leave."

"Okay, okay. It's just, I noticed your saddle still not on your dragon... and to think of it, I don't see your dragon."

"Oh, that," Kiera chuckled, "he's right here." She patted behind her, and her hand stopped on Tyndros where it should have gone right through. "Unfortunately, I tend to rely on his schedule."

"Oh," Loren emitted a slight laugh.

"Don't worry," Kiera's voice softened, "I'll be ready to go when you are."

"Okay, good. It'll just be a few more--"

The natural sunlight shining in through the stable sunroof dimmed as a large shadow passed above, and then another, and another. Kiera stood up and joined the others just outside the stable, all of them looking up, trying to see what was going on. Kiera did the same, shielding her eyes from the harsh sun. All she could see were small dots in the sky, but they were growing in size and heading their way.

"What is it?" Kiera thought aloud.

"More riders?" The other rider who mostly kept to herself at this point, Luna, Kiera believed, asked.

"Not that I know of," Loren said.

"Well, whatever it is, it's approaching fast." Edana said, and backed out of the group.

"Where are you going?" Loren asked.

"I've had my fair share of fights in the sky. Whatever this is, it's nothing pretty." She hopped up to her dragon. "I advise you all to do the same."

Arandiel walked over to her and her dragon, and laid a hand on her saddle. "You don't need to worry, mercenary. Draconis has barriers against beings who would do anyone harm."

Almost at the same time, all of the riders got a fuzzy look in their eyes, and their faces visibly drained. Edana scoffed. "Well, my dragon disagrees." Kiera looked around, and Edana's remark was true. The other dragons were visibly agitated, and Edana's dragon growled, deep and low. Arandiel rushed over to his dragon.

Kiera touched Loren's shoulder, and he jumped. "What's going on?"

"I don't know, I don't know."

"Get to your dragons!" Edana shouted. Loren and Kiera locked eyes for a moment and Loren looked lost, but mostly tired, like he had the weight of the world riding on his shoulders.

A spine chilling screech split through the air as the shadows grew. Kiera glanced up again, covering her ears, and she could vaguely make out shadow-y shapes in front of the rising sun. Kiera looked back to Loren, but he was gone, already going to his dragon.

The screech was met with a cacophony of harsh calls that made her heart fall to her stomach. Vibrations in the air rattled through her bones, but it was a familiar feeling. It was the feeling of dragons flying.

The shapes gained a bit of color and light, but mostly size and they flew overhead at blinding speed that shook the frame of the stables. Kiera looked back to Tyndros, but she couldn't see him. Was he really still sleeping through all of this? Tyndros! She shouted through their mental connection, but nothing. Tyndros! We're--

"We're under attack!" Loren shouted, dread filling his words. Kiera looked around, fear drowning out rational thought.

"Kiera!" Her name shook her out, and she looked to the source of it. Edana held out a hand. "C'mon already!" Kiera took the hand and Edana's dragon jumped out of one of the large holes in the roof, opening its wings lightly to glide over to the courtyard above that fell in the inner ring. Arandiel and his dragon were in front of them, and they landed on the courtyard's perfectly manicured grass adeptly, sending dirt everywhere. Edana's dragon landed almost right after, and Kiera jumped off, unsheathing two large knives that were in her arm-guards. It was then that she was finally able to get a good look at the assailants.

The dragons were smaller than the ones she had seen in Draconis, almost as small as a teenaged dragon that were still a couple of decades away from imbuing with a dragon rider fully in a normal occasion. But, judging from the size of their fangs, they were adult-aged, but their color was dull and black armor plating covered much of their body. Large metal spikes protruded from their tails like a mace and adorned the top of their skulls. There was a total of five of them, each with an equally menacing rider on their backs. A more regular looking dragon with no armor was behind them, with a large chain around its neck.

Each group of dragons bared their teeth and the sound of so much growling droned in Kiera's head, making it hard to think. Loren and his dragon landed and he launched off. The spiked dragons snarled at him, and he shouted something Kiera couldn't hear. The spiked dragons all roared in unison. It was a deafening sound that smothered anything the dragons on riders' side were emitting. It was the sound of a butcher's shop before the slaughter. It was the sound of a village before the raid. It was the sound of a ship before it sunk. It was the sound of murder the moment before it was enacted. It was death before its silence.

An immense shadow blotted out the sky, and for a moment Kiera was terrified of reinforcements. She didn't even know how to fight off one dragon, let alone a squadron of them built to kill.

But it wasn't.

Tyndros' dull silver body landed in between the two groups and he unfurled his wings, letting his body open to its full height and he looked to the sky, letting out a guttural roar that was deeper than anything Kiera had ever heard before. It was a call of a time before, a time long gone, and it utterly terrified Kiera. His size was large compared to the dragons of the other riders, but it was absolutely massive compared to the armored dragons. He lowered his eyes to the dragons, seemingly sizing them up.

The other riders were in awe or admiration of Tyndros, and Kiera realized that they hadn't really seen the dragon she was imbued with. Tyndros kept to himself, and he always said he had his reasons. It was obvious he was an old dragon, as dragons never truly stop growing in size.

The armored dragons backed up, much to the disdain of the humans on their backs. Kiera rushed over to Loren. His vision was focused on the stairs of the grand cathedral, and she followed it. Several Masters and Elders walked down the steps, and two of the armored riders jumped off their dragons to meet them. One of them was tugging at a chain, and someone was attached to that chain. Kiera gasped. Loren turned around. "Arandiel, come with me."

Arandiel nodded in agreement, and slid off his dragon deftly. Both of them followed the Council members and the armored riders inside the cathedral.

In the awkward silence that followed, Kiera ran up to Tyndros. His look was one that she had never seen before, and she attempted to approach him mentally before she approached him, but he was closed off. He seemed wild, and completely different to her, and his vision was unfocused. "Tyndros." She mentally and physically reached out to him, and she felt his skin ripple from her touch. His mind opened back up to her, and he looked down, his pupils opening back up to his normal, sassy self. Little one. He said, with relief apparent in his voice. I thought something happened to you... He trailed off.

It's okay, Tyndros. His mind flooded into hers.

I'm sorry, little one. I never thought I would show that side of myself again.

Their conversation was interrupted as Loren, Arandiel, and the armored riders exited the building. One of the riders shoved the chained person forward, and they landed on their knees in the courtyard, making Kiera wince. The other armored rider walked forward. "We are the Conclave, and we mean no harm to you. You will need our help, however."

Loren walked up next to them. "They'll be overseeing safe passage through Asturia, through their territory."

Tyndros growled. Nothing good will come from this.

Kiera gulped.
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If you run now, you will be running the rest of your life.
— Reborn