Worry kept pervading Talork, like a swarm of annoying insects crawling over his crimson scales, while waiting in front of the cave under the moonlight. It had become routine. No matter how many times he would tell himself his best friend was tough, that otherwise he wouldn't have been chosen to lead them many seasons ago: his now elder heart could only relax when he would appear in front of him, far away from those pesky slayers, in the safety of their cave up in the highest peaks of the mountains.
He tried to take comfort in the pinewoods below the cave entrance. His human friends loved to watch those simple natural elements to take comfort, and he had learned to do so as well, in his young seasons. But it wasn't enough. He was taking longer than usual: the sky was not so dark normally when he came back.
A good fly around, where the mountains protected them, may have suppressed his fears, if the disability he had carried since the War did not force him to save energy for when he needed it. He turned his head on his left and contemplated it for a while. His friend still wasn't capable of forgiving himself for it. For one like him though, who used to be the greatest dancer in the Ygan Feran, it was all but easy...
Maybe he should have gone back to the fireplace inside the cave, where other two dragons stood in front of it, in silence. Erifor and Nifor, the two siblings, the first a male with indigo scales and white wings except for an orange stripe at their upper edge, the second a female of a color not dissimilar from snow. They were not the most entertaining dragons he had ever met, but even that kind of company could be appreciated, especially in that cave. It wasn't strictly bad, it was actually quite spacious, but never could it be compared to the houses he and all the other dragons lived in, built by the Gyraders specifically for them. But after all, that cave had been chosen for hiding, not for living.
After some more waiting, two wings appeared in front of the luminescent moon. Talork's muscles relaxed, and he made space as he landed in the cave's entrance.
"Iexolud." They rubbed their snouts, and his draconic heart felt lighter.
"Talork." The amber dragon returned the gesture. Then he took his head off. "I have some things I want to talk about. I am utterly tired now, but when the sun's above the peaks, I need to speak to all of you."
"Is this why you came so late?" Talork asked. "What is it about? You met a slayer, right?"
"I did. But_"
"Did you fly to Deldras again?"
Iexolud's eyes lowered. "Sorry, bud. Tell me what you want, but for me it's important to me to keep alive the memory of that city," He paused. "Anyway we have nothing to fear about that...pretty much the opposite."
"What do you_"
"At the sun's come, please, bud..." Iexolud implored, "I really need to sleep."
Light rays of dawn partially penetrated the still dark rocky corridor that was the dragons' home. Being dragons, they did not really need the fireplace where they sat around to see in the dark, but their millennial bond with the Gyraders had taught them using the fire for sitting all together, enjoying the warmth on the scales - way more comfortable than passing heat through physical contact like in the old tradition - and chatting pleasantly. Moreover, the fireplace was essential on those occasions when one of the Gyraders visited them, usually their queen, Ianna.
"So," Nifor began, "what is it that happened?"
"Two things happened" Iexolud started. "No, no, we're not in danger," he quickly added, "it's about a younger dragon and a slayer I met_"
"_in Deldras, where slayers have already met you more than once," Talork interrupted him with a playfully mocking tone, "oh, you silly boy! Even after eight hundred seasons you still are the same silly dragonlet I befriended_"
"He was not fighting me! As I said, he was fighting another dragon, a youngster, which I saved, and for your information I was about to slaughter that human, and...well..." he became uncertain. Dragon spirits certainly did not communicate often to living entities...how could he say it?
"What?" Talork asked.
"I heard a voice...it sounded like my father's," he continued, hesitant, "I had to avoid killing him, it said."
The reaction around him were mixed. Talork slightly opened his mouth, amused; Erifor was an impassable mask; Nifor's eyes narrowed.
"The spirits spoke to you?" The crimson dragon said. "Why would they?"
"I don't know," Iexolud admitted, " but we know it's not possible to know what the spirits have foreseen, bud."
"Assuming it was the spirits," Nifor commented nastily, while Erifor looked away. "Whatever they could say, a slayer should be slain. For our safety. There would be one less pestering us."
"If they have spoken, and I assume they did," Talork replied, "they had a serious reason to tell him not to do it. We will likely discover it one day. Patience is the most natural of a dragon's virtue, with our long lifespan."
"Thanks bud," Iexolud nodded, then continued, "anyway, the slayer fainted and later we had a chat. Yes," he nodded, amused watching the surprised dragons. "I asked him some questions...it wasn't a bad chat, although there were some tense moments..."
"What did you talk about?" Erifor asked.
"About why he does it."
"And...what did you get?" spoke Talork.
"I'm not sure," Iexolud admitted, "he does it because it's the only job he knows and they pay him. So we can't really expect him to turn away from his...ahem...activity," he closed his eyes, the warmth of the fire relaxing him for some instants, "but hopefully I gave him some doubts."
Around the fire, the other dragons looked at each other. Talork said, "It was something we should have done before, possibly". Nifor, carefully watched by his brother, had her mouth half-opened, like if she was so desperately in need to comment again.
"You don't expect us to spare all the slayers we face, right?"
"Of course not, young one," Iexolud answered calmly but decisively, "if you battle, your life must be the priority. As for me, I'm old and confident enough to take certain risks."
"Well, it was an important gesture," the crimson dragon concluded, "what about the youngster?"
"I talked to him too, but I did not have the same success. He has apparently crossed the ocean to come here, so doesn't know the area and could possibly be in danger."
"I know what you want," Talork commented. "You want to bring him here."
"But Iex, why didn't he follow you, then?" Talork added, smiling with his eyes.
"He was...far harder to convince than Erifor and Nifor," he instinctively looked at the two siblings "way prouder."
"Even more than Nifor?" the red dragon joked. The young white dragoness was pretending not to hear, while her brother's expression did not change. "that's amusing..."
"Well, I don't know that," Iexolud smiled, a smile that quickly faded out, "but I'm sure he has known nothing but solitude and pain. If we want our race to be kept alive, instead of just surviving, we need to save any young one we can."
"That is very noble," Nifor commented sarcastically, "but do we have space for one more? If we rescue all those you meet here we'll need a second cave."
"Yes, we do," Iexolud replied, untouched by the youngster's harsh tone, "the tunnels this cave develops deeper are sufficient enough, you know it very well."
"But..." Erifor, the indigo one, spoke timidly, "how can you...find this new guy? It's too risky now to find him again."
"It's risky, yes," the old dragon replied grave, "but a new generation is worth twice my own life."
"I wouldn't take any unnecessary risk," Talork underlined, "you know how I feel whenever you come back later than usual."
"Bud," Iexolud replied, "if the spirits have intervened in this event, this dragon and this human may mean something. I feel it."
"Well...I know it's hard to change your mind," he laughed lightly, although his laugh sounded more forced than usual. "I would join you but...well, you know...my problem." His head turned down to his left wing lacerated and cut in half, an inheritance from the war.
"I know," Iexolud's heartache came once more for the memory.
"But if you must wander through the land, you can't do it alone. You know it well."
"Well," Iexolud replied, "now that I think about it, it could be more effective to have a young one with me to speak to the new dragon. Someone whose story is similar to his, who has met the Gyraders. This dragon - uh, his name was Shervan, if I'm correct - blamed us for befriending humans. He has known nothing but slayers, just like you had before I met you."
"It's a hazard," Nifor immediately said, "your sentiments are honorable like always, but this is too much. You're asking us to fly around the land and almost certainly being targeted by a horrible amount of slayers."
"As long as you fly together with me," the amber dragon snorted, "you will not have to worry."
"You just said it before, it's risky!" she growled. "Our parents were brutally slain by one single human!"
"Nifor, that was..." he interrupted himself for deciding what to say next "...a different situation."
"Why then don't we go out for attacking the Krisaders? To reclaim our and the Gyraders' territory?" she roared, begging to cause distress apparently. "Now that would be a real cause for risking our scales! Unlike looking for a single dragon that could be anywhere!"
All the other dragons snorted in unison, each leaving a little smoke from their mouths.
"Nifor, dear," Talork replied, with a severe look. "It seems that once again we must remind you that we and the Gyraders together couldn't defeat them. We can't beat them by simply declaring suddenly war against them."
This did not discourage the young female dragon. "It's just that...I'd rather die trying to earn a free life than living with fear forever. And aren't we dragons? We are meant to fly free! And we are much stronger than humans!" shouted fiercely. "But to waste our force by hiding and going out only for stupid reasons! We're acting like cowards, and when we decide not to be so, it's only for continuing our politics of cowardice!"
"Well, I'm going with him," Erifor intervened tempestively, "if Iexolud needs me, I will always help him. I trust Iexolud. Don't you?"
Nifor gave a venomous look to her brother. "Really? After all the times you were almost killed? Remember when they shot us with their_"
"I do!" Erifor answered back. "But we were both inexperienced with our surroundings, because we had barely left our den before that...other day!"
"That's enough!" Iexolud interrupted both with authoritative tone. "Nobody forces you to join me, if you don't feel like it. Nifor, you can remain here, and that will make absolutely no problem. But don't you ever accuse me anymore of cowardice, ever."
Talork quickly intervened, "Now you are going to find that dragon and there's nothing we can do to persuade you to stop, I suppose."
"No, indeed," the old dragon confirmed, and got up from his place, "and I mean to leave today. Erifor," he turned to the young indigo dragon, "do you confirm me you are going to follow me?"
Erifor slowly got up. "I do. I am eternally in debt with you, Iexolud."
"Fine. It's better not to be more than two. We would be too visible_"
"Erifor, please," Nifor spoke again, this time less unpleasant and actually more sympathetic. "He told it, young ones are to be saved. This is a folly_"
"I am sure of my choice, Nifor," he replied. "And I'll be safe with Iexolud."
"So, let's get ready, Erifor," Iexolud finally said.