"A bond?" Shervan exclaimed, opening his eyes and mouth wide.
"Yes," Iexolud nodded, "this land, until two hundred seasons ago, used to be governed and shared by both dragons and humans. Our ancestors had reached a pact which created the bond that has united the destiny of our two races for millennia."
The young dragon murmured something. Iexolud only managed to hear one word that sounded like: 'legends'. Eventually, he looked at him right in the eyes, and spoke with a sarcastic tone.
"I came here because all the dragons in the land where I come from would never stop talking about the land in the north where dragons lived safely from the humans' threat. And as I come here, I get attacked by a human. Again." He took a pause, and his tone become more venomous, his eyes tighter. "If you were friends with them, would you care to explain it, old one?"
Iexolud held back the irritation of being addressed so disrespectfully by a youngster, and with the same peaceful voice, gave the explanation he wanted. "It all ended when the Krisaders came - the humans from the territory you grew up in. See, their mission is to occupy as many territories as they can, and they had never shared with us the same bond. There was a great war between us and them, and..."
"Traitors" Shervan murmured, this time louder.
"What?" Iexolud replied calmly.
"Traitors!" the young dragon said back, his voice becoming even stronger.
"The humans here used to be completely different" Iexolud nodded back "let me continue my story..."
"The story of traitors?" Shervan growled. "See, this is what you get when you are clement with your enemy. It returns your kindness by biting you back." He prepared his wings, giving a contemptuous look at the old dragon. "Dragon haven, my bloody paws! Maybe once it was, but when in the story monsters could be tamed?"
"We didn't tame them! We befriended them!" Iexolud roared in anger. Already the youngster had left the ground. "I can host you in my cave. It's in a safe place far away from the Krisaders' eyes, and there are three more dragons with me. The Gyraders help us stay safe. You can have a peaceful life if you will follow me..."
But Shervan was now going towards the mountains' direction. He turned back one last time and roared: "No! I'm a dragon! I don't love the murderers of my race! I answer to their attacks by staying alive, by giving them the death they wish on me! Unlike you weakling traitors!"
"Wait!" Iexolud called him, while Shervan's profile became smaller. "Please...at least consider my offer! You can spend time with your race again!"
"I don't give a damn anymore about that damn legend! I will just resist until the day my body will succumb to them!"
"It's not a legend!"
"IT IS!" With a last furious roar, the black young dragon finally departed from the ruins. He quickly became a black point in the sky now falling into sunset. Iexolud attempted to call him until his lungs would not let him to roar the newcomer's name to the crimson clouds anymore.
Heartbroken, he shortly focused his eyes to the ruins that surrounded him. The ruins of the ancient capital of Gyr'end, Deldras. Just two former buildings beyond his eyes, now surrounded by climber plants and the first flowers of spring, there used to be the biggest building of all, the headquarter of the Dragon Council. Never would have he imagined that place he used to be the chief of, together with that flourishing town, would become a dead bunch of buildings infested by weeds and dragon slayers.
The elder dragon's sad heart would not permit him to avoid that place forever, no matter how dangerous it was now. The voice of the comforting memories of his previous life would seduce him whenever hunting, and there he would return, reliving his previous, happier life.
The human between his forepaws was now slowly opening his eyes again. With a flicking gesture of his left front paw, he got the sword that lay in the grass further from his prisoner. Maybe he should have killed him after all, just like the previous slayers he had fought. The old days would never return. If he had not saved this Krisader's life, Shervan probably would not have been so nervous, he may have actually listened to him...
What had truly stopped was he had listened to a voice. Possibly, the dragon spirits had talked to him. 'Don't let our bond succumb', they had spoken, with the voice of his father. That order could not have been clearer. If there was hope for the resurrection of Gyr'end, it would never flourish with more blood, would it? But then, why did the spirits not speak on the previous occasions? What was there special about this bloody dragon slayer? His look and smell said to Iexolud nothing special. His body features - pale skin, dark blond straight hair and grey eyes - revealed clearly a Gyrader descent: his ancestors were allied with them. That had to be a possible reason for why the spirits had intervened...but even another one resembled a Gyrader, he remembered. Half-breeds between Gyraders and Krisaders were not certainly unlikely to have flourished during those two hundred seasons of colonization, given the much shorter lifespan of humans.
'The spirits must know something else. But what?'
The dragon slayer fully awakened. His beard was reduced to black dots around his cheeks, and, like any slayer, his chest and arms were heavily bulkier than a normal human, and he wore a metal plate together with a set of garments and a cloak made of dragon scales. Iexolud held off his disgust for the destiny of those dragons reduced to clothes for the man who killed them, and greeted him with his big, serene eyes.
The human shouted out in panic and with lightning speed touched his back, where his sword was carried, only to end up touching his cloak.
"Here it is" the dragon said in Gyrader. He had heard other slayers shout in that language he had known since he was a cub - luckily, it had been preserved. His paw revealed the human's sword, carefully held in the grip among his fingers. "You can relax now" he added, with his deepest and most reassuring tone, "I am not going to hurt you."
The human's eyelids slightly closed, passing from fearful to confused. The sweat arrived to Iexolud's nostrils, who held a snort.
"You...you speak my language?"
"I've always spoken your language, yes."
The human movements became less frequent, until his heavy muscles calmed down. "Won't you...kill me?"
The dragon this time didn't hold himself from snorting. "No."
In that moment, the dragon spirits talked to him again. 'Talk', they said. Nothing else, but it would be impossible to misinterpret them.
"I only want to talk with you, if you please."
Iexolud relaxed his eyes. "Don't worry. I am not here to punish you. You have my word, that I will let you go."
"The word of a dragon?" the human replied. Iexolud ignored his veiled sarcasm, not too dissimilar to Shervan's, and got his head closer to him.
"Have you ever reflected on why you do...this? Your motivations?"
"You said you would not punish me."
"Really, I will not. Whatever answer you will give me, I will accept it and discuss it with you. No harm."
The human's eyes darted everywhere, like looking for an answer.
"Well, it's...this is my job" he stammered "the State in Krisar pays me for doing this. What...what else can I do?" His eyes became angrier, desperately attempting to show pride. "Do you know who you are trapping, dragon? I am the most famous slayer of your kind in this whole landmass! I have won the Kron Kavan held in the capital four years ago after a year of traveling, and I know at least two songs the bards sing in taverns in my honor!"
Iexolud did not react to that extraordinary statement. Instead, with the same calm voice, he continued. "I see. Of course, if this gave you glory, it's natural you do it...but have you ever questioned the primal reason behind it?"
"I...uh...what a stupid question! Someone has to do it!" He exclaimed. "Who else will protect our people? Who will guarantee that they'll be safe from the attacks of the dr_" he suddenly interrupted. "Wait. I know what you are."
"You are...one of the dragons that lived before they brought civilization here. When this land was ruled by savages that worshipped you dragons. My mother is a descendant of those savages, and told me everything."
"Whatever they told your mother, is false" Iexolud growled out of irritation. The human shivered in reaction. "Oh, sorry."
"Uh..." The human scratched his head. "...no problem?"
Iexolud continued, returning to placidness. "We were never worshipped . Only respected." He stopped, aborting his desire to tell the slayer about the bond that united his race with the Gyraders, remembering how unsuccessful it had been with that young dragon. "Now I ask you to think of what they told you about us. How many times have you seen one of us attacking your people for no reason?"
The human laughed without joy.
"Plenty of times. I've seen many people being so unlucky as to walk a dragon's direction and keeping living only because I was around."
Iexolud released a cloud of smoke from his nostrils. "Fair enough. These are dangerous times for us. What about that last dragon, the black one?"
"It was spotted very close to a village not far from here. I ran with my horse as fast as I could and found it. I had to intervene before it got closer to them."
"So you attacked first."
"I had to!" He briefly turned his head and looked over the mountains. "Once I saw two dragons firing up a whole village. It was one of the worst days of my life. The screams, the dead bodies...it was because of your people. If I had come just earlier, I would have punished those demons the way they would have deserved."
Despite the harsh words, noticing the slayer refer to dragonkind as people brought hope to Iexolud.
"Mm. Did you slay any dragons, in the days before?"
The human's eyes closed for a short moment. "Well, uh...yes, I...I went into a cave and there was a...well...nest of them. Two of them had been spotted in a nearby...village..."
Iexolud stood silent.
"How did you know?" asked the human, biting his lips.
"Only an atrocity of that magnitude could lead a dragon to such a terrible revenge. No, I am not defending the dragon by any means. Whoever they were, their actions were criminal."
"See?" the human replied, getting back some confidence "I have to do it!"
"Well, if you didn't do it first, maybe no village would have been burned?"
Silence. The human and the dragon contemplated each other with eyes of disdain, the advice of the spirits fading from Iexolud's mind.
"May I ask what's your name?" the dragon asked. Humans become more sympathetic once you ask them their names, his best friend Talork had told him many decades ago.
"I...just don't want to think of you as the human."
"Well...my fame has spread my name all over the land, so you are going to discover it regardless" he smiled, the way humans did. "My name is Axor. Do dragons have names too?"
Iexolud nodded. "Nice to meet you, Axor. Yes, we have names as well. Mine is Iexolud."
Axor raised slightly his head, like in curiosity. "For a dragon, your manners are much more similar to a human than what I would expect."
"We learned so much from you, and you learned from us, that over the time we became less and less different. You humans made the dragons of Gyr'end more complete." He admired the ruins of the former capital. "That time may be over...but I will not forget..."
Axor opened his mouth, like for asking something more, but the dragon interrupted him.
"No. I explained what was different then to that black dragon you fought, and he did not believe me. For now, I just want to make you think about what you were told about us. Someone has to break this circle of slain families and burned villages."
"If you won't tell me what was different fifty years ago...can you at least confirm me then you were not treated like gods?"
Iexolud limited himself to a brief nod. The direction where Shervan had taken flight was tinted red by the twilight. "Listen, Axor. I want to thank you for talking with me, even though I admit I didn't leave you much choice. I...I understand it, this is what you do for living. I will not ask anything in return, apart from thinking about this conversation we had."
He finally let the human go free of his paws and prepared his wings. "Goodbye Axor. I feel in my scales that we will meet again."
"But...wait! Tell me about those times! I will believe you! What were you, if not gods?"
Iexolud's big eyes gave a last look at the confused human before deciding one word could be fine. "Allies."
And he flew away, leaving Axor behind; on the way to his home where other dragons were hoping for his safe return. You have done good, the dragon spirits said finally before departing from his mind. Iexolud was not sure. Still, a sensation pervaded him - that the slayer was beginning to question his job. He had passed from scared to hostile and, in the end. curious. Still, what had moved the spirits to suggest him to save him?
'Trust your ancestors', he told himself, while flying to the Aled mountains, where resided the secure refuge of his other dragon companions and the last Gyraders who supported them. Their spirits see far beyond the material eyes.
Now a new goal was set up in his soul. There was someone else to be saved - Shervan. He would show him there was more in the world than fear. If he could make a dragon slayer question his own actions, he could rescue as well a young dragon.