The village of Meavin was situated in the south-east coast of Krisar's colony of Gyr'end, normally an irrelevant settlement of peasants where the biggest excitement was usually the new harvest, if they managed to get one. In the last ten years, though, the village had attracted some fame due to being the birthplace, and current residence, of a local hero, with both Gyrader and Krisader blood. He was Axor, the greatest dragon slayer of the island, the latest champion of the Kron Kavan that had been held in the kingdom's capital and had brought glory to the otherwise obscure bunch of farmer houses.
Five years had passed now, and it was time for the Kron Kavan - the Great Hunt in Krisader language - to be held again. Dragon slayers, the richest and most famous ones, travelled months to reach the settlement where it would start, the hometown of the last winner. And with the Great Hunt being soon to begin, and with a dragon being spotted just a few days before, Meavin was experiencing an amount of attention that not even in centuries would likely come again.
Axor was looking at the three embalmed dragon heads, black, beige and red, above the fireplace in his house. He had still vivid in his mind's eye the vision of the magnificence of the State Capital, its majestic streets full of people and elegant buildings, the immensity of the central castle where the Queen of Krisar resided. All the money he had saved since the beginning of his career, all his sacrifices that forced him to a sober life, had been fully worth it. He would never forget the face of the Queen herself, seeing him coming back before everyone else, with the same three heads he was now contemplating. Those trophies were his greatest achievement in life, although listening to bards singing songs in his honour in the local tavern was another extraordinary satisfaction. Axor gave the three trophies a last look before leaving his house, walking to the open field where the traditional opening ritual would be held the night before the Kron Kavan.
This year, he suddenly realized while walking under the night stars, he had an advantage he did not want to share. Everyone was aware of the black dragon that was seen on the horizon, which had a debt to pay to Axor's honor, but only he knew about the amber dragon that could possibly fly around.
That amber dragon...
That conversation had happened three days before, and Axor's head had kept roaring him constantly about that event. Maybe he had once had the impression of hearing another dragon talking - but hearing one talking politely and calmly? It was common knowledge that they were very intelligent for being beasts, but nobody had ever told him they could show that kind of intelligence. Furthermore, the dragon had not even spoken to him as an enemy - there had been some moments of resentment, but that beast clearly had a connection with humans. Not the one of master and servant like he would have imagined: something closer, more intimate. Nothing of what his mother had told him when he was young, about dragons being worshiped as gods.
'Undoubtedly, that was a strange dragon', he told himself, 'but it certainly cannot be the norm. You have seen it with your eyes.'
'Ha!', a sarcastic voice inside of him replied, 'but don't you remember? He explained it to you. It was your fault!'
Since when did he question what he did, especially with the money and prestige that came with it? He had never been a man of many questions, nor a rebel. There was no reason for him to be one. He knew dragons were dangerous, like any wild animal, and that their uncommon strength and abilities could cause more trouble than regular wild animals. He knew guaranteeing they were kept far from human society was a job only the most skilled could do, those with years and years of preparation behind. This, after all, was common knowledge.
His feelings for dragons had always been neutral: in his mind, they were nothing but his source of income. Now that conversation had opened something inside of him. Doubts about the meaning of the words they exchanged pervaded his head like annoyingly loud mosquitoes. He had told himself it had not been pleasant at all, which was partly true, when they had reminded each other of the kills committed by the other race. But then the dragon had asked his name...he had asked it in a friendly gesture...
No. There had to be something behind. Dragons were intelligent, that was undisputed. If they could converse politely, they could likely also have enough intelligence to be manipulative. That dragon was probably deceiving him. Yes, that was a good explanation.
But would it not have been more convenient, for the dragon, to kill him instantly once he was disarmed and trapped between his paws? No need to waste that amount of words when he could have one less threat to its race instantly...
And if he ended up meeting him again, what would he do? Would they talk again? Would they fight? What if possibly they met the next day, during the Great Hunt?
Suddenly, Axor found himself walking in a circle in the same muddy spot. Pervaded with horror from his head to his feet, his legs exploded into a desperate run, spreading dirt all over. The ritual of the Kron Kavan could not begin without his last champion! What was he doing, in the name of the Gods the Kingdom had brought to this land?
In few minutes, his mad run brought him to the place, his best boots covered with dirt. He ignored his exhaustion and reminded himself of the passages of the rituals before speaking. That damn amber dragon appeared no more inside his mind.
"That direction," Iexolud pointed out with his muzzle away from the sun, which was slowly being swallowed by the western horizon.
"Are you sure?" Erifor asked for confirmation, nervously turning his head towards all directions. Ever since leaving he had been seeing slayers everywhere, only for them to appear to be deer or oddly shaped trees when he looked closer. After first landing in the ruins of the ancient Gyr'end capital, where Iexolud had met the young dragon they were searching, they had moved east, soaring the mountains for three days. They would land whenever a valley appeared, with the old dragon constantly sniffing around for capturing any possible whiff of their objective's scent, and rest under the stars, sleeping in turns.
"I found a trace," the elder dragon sniffed the grass twice deeply, "it smells like he landed there. That foolish youngling," he suddenly snorted, "had he listened to me more, he would know the north is far less populated by the Krisaders_"
"My sister and I used to live there in the north," Erifor reminded, painfully.
"Right," Iexolud nodded, "I suppose no part of Gyr'end is...safe...anymore." He concluded the last part of his sentence with great effort, like if even after all those seasons he could not accept that reality. "However, I'm sure Shervan went that way. It's going to be risky, so, more than ever, always stay next to me."
They kept flying and stopping wherever they could smell a trace, until the sky turned from orange to dark. The full moon was to Erifor like a haunting light, illuminating their scaly backs and revealing them more easily to potential slayers. But despite that, and despite getting closer and closer to the eastern coast of the continent, no wandering humans were to be found at all, a positive, yet somehow disturbing, as Erifor pointed out to his mentor after inspecting another point.
"It is true" Iexolud nodded "there is undoubtedly something strange about this silence. However, this could be our best occasion. Shervan will probably have settled down, convinced he has a found a safe spot somewhere."
"Yes" the younger dragon cried out in frustration, "but where?" The traces had become weaker and weaker, until they were barely recognizable: they were lost. "Is there anything here?"
"Don't lose hope. We only need to fly a little backwards and we should have no problem. Likely, he has just_"
Be he suddenly interrupted when a loud, unnaturally harmonious sound came to their earholes from a distant source, a sound that could only be produced by human means.
"What was_" Erifor moved again his head erratically, until his eyes found a huge column of smoke behind the peaks, towards the south, were the terrain was flat. Something was happening: he had the total certainty of it now. Iexolud, next to him, seemed to think the same.
"We need to get closer," the older dragon declared immediately, "we must find out what is happening tonight. It could be vital to know it_"
"But is it prudent?" The younger dragon asked uncertainly.
"Remember, Erifor," Iexolud looked at him directly in the eyes, "that you are with me. And that despite everything, our senses are better than theirs. We can look and smell from a safe distance without them realizing that they are being observed, with the night hopefully helping us." He gave a look at the night sky. "Of course, we must be careful not to stay directly under the full moon."
Without losing an instant, Iexolud left the ground, slightly on the left of the direction where the pile of smoke was rising. Instinctively, but full of unspoken fear, Erifor followed, but as the two dragons arrived at the height of the last peak, they abruptly stopped.
On a large field, there were not one, but several dragon slayers all at once. No other kind of human would ever have attached to their bodies those metal plates and those horrible things made of dragon scales. They were not alone, though. They were surrounded by a large crowd of regular humans.
The dragon slayers, though, were not behaving at all like usual. Instead, they had gathered around an immense bonfire, immobile and silent like living statues, keeping their long iron claws vertically on the ground with two hands. One man stood out of the crowd that watched them: he had white hair and beard, wore an elegant red robe and kept his eyes pointed beyond the mass for people, who looked at the same direction, like for waiting for something to come.
"Who is that human with red robes?" Erifor asked.
"I have never seen him," was his mentor's answer, "but he surely has a position of power over the rest of the humans there."
"Could it be...their king?"
"No," Iexolud denied, "their kings wear something golden on their heads. This human doesn't."
Erifor nodded and concentrated his eyes on the bonfire, which to his horror revealed to have, just in front of it, a large dragon skull.
"This is not good", the young dragon murmured, trembling, "this is not good..."
"Calm down," Iexolud begged him in a low-pitched tone that someway did not hide enough his disgust "it will be better now that we're going to know it."
They waited, immobile and silent just like the slayers, still for a long time...
...until from the opposite side of the human in red came another human, a male like most of the others. His chest was covered in iron, and he carried on his back a long metal claw with him, just like the slayers. As he arrived, the crowd exploded into a cacophony of enthusiastic screams and waving hands. Some sang. They yelled a name...
"Iexolud, what's happening?" Erifor said alarmed, looking at the older dragon narrowing his eyes in an alarming gesture.
"I...the name they're saying..." he murmured "I think I know who that human is..."
"Who is_" but both the dragons stopped talking when the human in red silenced the cheering crowd with a gesture and spoke directly to the newcomer.
"You are late, Axor" Erifor heard the new human say in the Gyrader language, the one he had learned with great effort since he had been living in the cave. The other human replied: "Pardon me, governor. I guarantee that the rest of the ritual will pass without any disturbance."
"Axor..." Iexolud repeated "That's the name of the slayer I talked with..."
The human called Axor put himself in front of the dragon skull, until the human in red made another gesture before speaking, loud and clear, something in what had to be the Krisader language.
"Hammend ken kron kavanen kos sevak! Nar Kolsenner fera danner bros in elifen!"
The slayers raised their long metal claws in unison, and shouted: "An ra!". Then Axor, now surrounded by silence once more, lifted up the massive dragon skull without any help - for the incredulity of Erifor - and left it inside the huge bonfire.
"It looks like my words were in vain..." the old dragon murmured, his eyes reduced to narrow slits.
Axor watched the flaming skull with an unreadable face, until he turned back to the crowd, and pronounced in Krisader, like the human in red:
"In viekes ken Kolsenner han Dronend, han me bakkaresk kan kerros farend sirk, ra merkana kron kavanen ert!"
As the last words left his mouth, the crowd exploded again, and the other slayers shot their screams to the night air. Somewhere, a music started. The human in red walked to Axor and spoke to him again, reverting to the Gyrader language: "Naturally, we, including the rest of the contestants, expect you to win again. Especially me. You are a symbol of the peace between this island and the Queen's state, and as such, I order you to bring this time even more than three dragon heads."
"I...I will, sir," Erifor heard Axor replying.
"Therefore save your energy and go to sleep now."
"Of course, sir." At that point, Iexolud flew back down to the foot of the hill where they had hidden all this time. Erifor followed him. Behind their backs, the music from the screaming crowd was getting more and more frenetic.
"Iexolud...?" The younger dragon tried to call him.
"We need to fly. Now," he replied between gasps of breath. He was panting, even though they had not flown for a long time. "Whatever it was...it's dangerous. Dozens of slayers. Dozens. Even the one I talked to_"
"We must find him tonight," Iexolud announced. His tone of voice was cold, but there were some clearly audible trembles in each word. "It's our only chance. If we don't, we must escape. As fast as our wings can."
"But you said we would be safe with you..."
"Not against all those slayers at once. No. By the time we beat one, another one will come. Until we're too tired to defend ourselves and each other."
Without exchanging another word, the two dragons soared up under the stars, as far as they could from the crowd in the distance, which kept screaming and dancing around the dragon skull in flames.