Riders of Verlendia | Encyclopedia

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THE
RIDERS
of VERLENDIA

PLOT
For nearly a century, the Draconic Forces of the great kingdom of Verlendia have lay dormant, the creatures all but driven to extinction by a mysterious illness. Six eggs remain, belonging to the original line, guarded diligently in their stasis. At long last, the kingdom prepares itself for the Hatchling Ceremony. But on the cusp of the ceremony, a great evil builds, determined to ensure the creatures born from the eggs of their ancestry will never rise to meet their calling.

Meanwhile, the time has come for the Eyes of Orestra to begin their pilgrimage. The Oracles have been called forth to choose the Riders that will defend Verlendia and all her surrounding lands. The Knights of the Phoenix Ash are tasked with the protection of the oracles as their journey leads them into the world to complete their Vision Quest. But the Knights are not the only ones aware of the pilgrimage, and danger lies in wait at every turn as dark forces strive to prevent these quests from their fulfillment.
MAGIC TYPES
& SCHOOLS

NATURAL MAGIC
This is an elemental based magic, stemming from one's connection to a particular intrinsic source of nature - those sources being fire, metal, earth, water, wood, air and light and dark. These magics are limited to their source and require a balance of energies to execute, which are gathered from the element's natural draw points. The stronger the spell, the more energy is required. With this balance, the magic user is then able to control the element they are connected to.
  • FIRE || Strength, Fervor, Adaptation | CONTROL - FIRE [flames, cinders, smoke] DRAW - Feats of strength [battles, sparring, fights etc.]
  • METAL || Focus, Willpower, Potential | CONTROL - METAL [external metals] DRAW - Mental Feats [intense study or review]
  • EARTH || Endurance, Determination, Productive | CONTROL - EARTH [stone, dirt, clay etc.] DRAW - Feats of Creation [farming, tilling, planting, building etc.]
  • WATER || Flexibility, Naturalism, Momentum | CONTROL - WATER [water, ice] DRAW - Physical Feats [Non-combative physical exertion]
  • WOOD || Vitality, Patience, Purity | CONTROL - WOOD [flora and fauna] DRAW - Spiritual Feats [prayer or meditation]
  • AIR || Curiosity, Creativity, Confidence | CONTROL - AIR [air, pressure] DRAW - Artistic Feats [art, dance, music]
  • LIGHT || Boldness, Brashness, Decisiveness | CONTROL - LIGHT [radiance] DRAW - Feats of Leadership [speeches, inspiration, leading, strategic cleverness etc.]
  • DARK || Restfulness, Healing, Secretive | CONTROL - DARK [healing, sleep] DRAW - Feats of Restfulness [deep sleep]

ALCHEMY
Science based magic. Alchemy involves focusing on the blend of mysticism and science, particularly where it concerns transmutation, or the transforming of basic materials into something of a purer nature (lead or iron into silver or gold), or making lasting or permanent alteration to the state of matter (making glass bendable or more durable), etc.). Highly skilled alchemists are also capable of forms of Elemental Manipulation (particularly electricity and fire).

Alchemists are also capable of creating potions and imbuing items with magical properties. These include but are not limited to healing potions, poisons, other physical effects (invisibility, fire-impervious skin, water-breathing, etc.) and items such as bags of holding, alchemical jugs and pins or tools imbued with spells.

Very rarely (and even more rarely with success) and only in the event of absolute mastery of their craft, an alchemist may be capable of Life-Force Manipulation (cheating death and creating artificial 'life').

CEREMONIAL
This breed of magic involves a form of ceremony to complete - generally requiring either a willing or unwilling sacrificial element. These magics include Necromancy, Blood and Soul magic. While not all who use these spells are necessarily evil or violent in nature, because of the abuse of such powers and the dangers involved in proper usage, most ceremonial magic is outlawed within Verlendia and several outlying lands within Calion for practice by commoners.

There are sects throughout Calion where these magics can be utilized, but the acolytes responsible are required to practice within their temples, only, and all magic must be approved by a figure of authority.

  • NECROMANCY || Involving the reanimation of the dead, either for communication or as an non-living oppositional force. Generally, this magic requires a sacrifice of something living [General practitioners commonly use birds, rodents or small reptiles]
  • HEMOMANCY || Blood Magic - this can be used in creating blood-pacts or in blood-skrying, as well as temporary physical enhancement (strengthening or quickening). Blood must be used in order for the magic to effectively be used, both of the caster and those upon whom the spell is cast.
  • PSYCHOMANCY || Soul Magic - generally practice of soul magic is highly discouraged, as soul magic is rarely ever effective beyond use as a curse. The sacrificial element of soul magic is seen as so depraved, no known acolytes of this magic exist within the temples. In order for soul magic to work, one must sacrifice their own soul. The only known use of soul magic within Verlendia was performed by a dark mage, Cyrcian Penndrake - a failed attempt to curse the King of Habi'sav with infertility, after being slightest as court magician. Cyrcian was burned at the pyre for his actions, his soul damned to the Undying Darkness.

SHALMAI MAGIC
The ability to perform spells and rituals through communication and bargaining with the spiritual and natural realms. Shalmai (a name derived from the nomadic people of the Shalmarin desert in Maglin) typically stem from a tribal community, their magic passed down generation to generation - different techniques are taught, including the use of animal bones, totems or other physical items.

Generally, Shalmai practice the evaluation and care of a person's physical ailments, as well as control or contract with a spiritual force. Shalmai have a natural affinity with both plants and animals and are thought to be able to communicate with both effectively. It is believed that Shalmai magic is inherited through blood,

RUNIC
A sympathetic magic, Runic magic requires the use of runes to complete a spell. These runes are taught only to those who show a natural affiliation for the craft, and are otherwise kept well guarded within the Libraries of Prell on Taz'Dien. When a Rune mage (also known as Artisans) graduates from the Library, they are gifted with a special quill, equipped for the Rune drawings - this quill can only be used by and its writing read by those possessed of this magic.

The Runes learned are of a basic, intermediate and advanced class.

  • BASIC|| Control Water - As the spell name indicates, this allows the user to temporarily control small amount of water.
    Enlarge/Reduce - With this rune, the user can either enlarge or reduce an object for a small period of time.
    Entangle - Using this spell, vines of entanglement can be created and utilized to ensnare.
    Minor Healing - With this spell superficial wounds, burns or injuries can be healed.
    Levitate - This rune allows a person to temporarily levitate.
    Heat Metal - This rune is used as the name suggests, to heat metal objects or items.
    Ice Blade - A blade of frost can be called using this rune - sharp and dangerous, though generally only for one use.
  • INTERMEDIATE || Hasten - With this spell, a creatures speed is quickened temporarily. Note: Said creature will suffer exhaustion, following a use of this spell.
    Counterspell - This rune can be used to despell an object or counter a spell used against the target.
    Animate Objects - This spell will temporarily enliven an inanimate object for a brief period of time.
    Mirror Image - This rune creates a mirror image of the target it is used on.
    Intermediate Healing - This rune can be used against slightly more intensive injuries or wounds.
    Invisibility - This rune temporarily turns a creature or object invisible.
    Daylight - With this spell, a beam of bright white light is called forth, which can cause damage and burns to any target it is used against.
  • ADVANCED || Rebuke - This rune calls down fire from above for a brief period of time.
    Wall of Flames - As the name suggests, this rune can be used to create a wall of flames. Superior Healing - This spell can be used to heal major wounds or injuries.
    Mental Subversion - This rune is used to temporarily control the mind of a subject or creature.
    Bolt of Lightning - This rune calls down a bolt of lightning to a single target.
    Door to Planes - Using this rune open a door to a separate plane for a brief period of time, allowing travelers to pass through it.
    Will of Life - This rune allows a subject to resist the call of death - working only as long as the rune is in use and only once.

CELESTIAL
Celestial magic is derived from a connection to the celestial realms - or magic imbued by a deep spiritual connection to a deity. Because of the nature of this magic, and its reliance on worship of and devotion to a deity, this magic is largely practiced by clerics or paladins, scattered throughout the lands.

Celestial magic largely relies on healing, inspiration, protection and prevention of death. Because of their connection to the spiritual, Celestial mages often possess the ability to communicate with the dead for brief periods of time.

DIVINATION
This magic draws visions of future occurrences or the Sight | Every few years, a person is born gifted by what is known as the Sight. These gifts are revealed in facial markings, the color, size and shape varying based entirely on the strength of one's gift.

Once it has been determined the Sight is present, by a legitimizing process, the baby is taken from their home and placed in one of the four temples scattered throughout the Land to become an Oracle within the Order of Orestra (The spirit of Justice).

Because of its rarity, Oracle magic and those who possess it are widely respected and revered, and often feared. Their gift is enacted through touch, and because of this it is considered a great show of disrespect to touch an Oracle without consent - punishable in most kingdoms. To prevent accidental use of their Sight, most Oracles wear covering, particularly gloves.


HISTORY

HISTORY


Man and Dragon were not always opposing forces. Once, many long years ago, mankind shared the skies with the magnificent beasts, protecting the people below with honor and dignity befitting knights of old. But men below were greedy, and kings and warlords claimed the dragons as their own - tame though they were not. Soon, tiring of their captive lifestyle and the lack of regard for their formidable nature, the dragons and their kin rose up and a terrible war took place. (The Reckoning)

In the wake of such devastation, few dragons remained that bore loyalty to man. Those few centered around the land of Verlendia, where the Draconic Forces rose from the mire of desolation. Chosen by the Eyes of Oresta, oracles gifted with foresight, the Dragon Riders and their dragons guarded the lands and people of Verlendia.

Then the Great Disease came. It began swiftly and carried little mercy, taking the dragons with it. In time none of the fearsome beasts would survive its calculating hand of death and destruction. Without their guardians, Verlendia became vulnerable to outside forces, and though their army was diligent, they could not stand against the onslaught (The Bleak Year). Most of Verlendia was taken. Only the Iron Citadel of Cobrol and the deep stone walls of Stavinburg held fast. They would not hold forever, but there was hope. Hidden in a cave deep below the Palace of Glass, at the peak of Mount Theonar outside of Holiveil, six eggs were gathered, untouched by the illness that ravaged the dragons.

Strengthened by the rumors that their guardians would be born anew, the people of Verlendia rose up against their tyrannical infiltrators, and liberated the lands once more. (The War of Sowers)

RACES

RACES

The Gatskin and Dracoric were thought to be some of the original races on Calion - slowly, over many generations, the dragon-like qualities of the Dracoric becoming less and less apparent in many Dracoric (giving way to a separation of darker, scaled Dracoric and the lighter skinned, who began referring to themselves as Scalefeld). Over time, the Gatskin and Dracoric began to interbreed, thus giving way to both the Marband (Gatskin-like with slightly curvier ears and smaller stature) and the Sol’dien (elven-like, with sharply pointed ears and taller, leaner structure).

Also present on Calion at the time of its creation were the Esquirian - half man, half beast - and Amalfi (beast-like men), as well as the minuscule race known as Triflings and the druidic tribes of the Nera.

While all races appear capable of magic, not all utilize it, and fewer possess a natural inclination for it. Due to the focus it requires to learn even the basic skills of magic, few strive beyond one school, and those that do are generally stunted in their abilities to master any skills.

DRACORIC & SCALEFELD


Dracoric [dragonborn] || Dracoric - [dragonborn] - No one knows quite how the Dracoric race came to be. Some speculate that they are a mutated breed of dragon and some suggest that they were created by the great Draconic deity, Lioris. All that is really known is that their appearance greatly resembles that of their much larger, primal relations. Scales line their skin - their colors varying in shade as dragons do - and their eyes are reptilian in nature, with claw-like hands and feet, elongated faces and sharpened teeth. Their ears are sharply pointed and their noses flat and slit-like. Their height averages to six foot for women and six five for men.

Over time, some Dracoric beings began to experience an alteration in their biological appearance - thought to be a result of their decision to leave their cavernous dwellings and explore life above ground. While their tusks and the sharp point of their ears remained, their scale-like skin softened, the coloring fading significantly, and their eyes began to dilate more evenly, adapting to the brightness of the sun and sky. Eventually, they took on the name Scalefeld, and began societies of their own.

While the nature of the world has forced civility as much as it might, the Dracoric are a naturally elusive race and prefer isolation. They can be quite territorial and when pressed, significantly volatile. The Dracoric lineage still live beneath the mountain ranges of Taz'dien, while the Scalefeld take residence within the valleys above.

Dracoric tend to favor the Natural magic and lack most of the education for other magical schools.

Dracoric have their own language, though most speak the common tongue as well. Their naming conventions are customarily revered in most all settlements - a personal name given at birth, with a surname reflecting that of their clan name. Most Dracoric will also go by a pseudonym given to them during childhood, something reminiscent of an event or quirk - For example, Stickyfinger Jinclaw of the Orios or Swallow-pecked Midrim of the Blackscales.

Scalefeld [orc] || A product of their environment, quite literally, Scalefeld are the result of a sect of Dracoric, having abandoned the lifestyle to which they were accustomed and adapting to a significantly altered state. While their physical form in build remains similar to their original state, little else is reflective of the dragonborn nature of the Scalefeld. Scaleless, as vaguely implied by their name, their slightly coarse skin varies in shade, from pale to dark, and in hue, ranging from green to peach. They still possess significantly sharper teeth, but with the flattening of their facial structure, manifest tusks. Their ears still rise to a point, but their eyes have lost most of the reptilian slit and their claw-like hands and feet are considerably less so.

After their shift in appearance first manifested, the Scalefeld were subjected to cruel prejudice from their dragonborn kin and have since separated themselves from the Dracoric nature entirely, settling above ground on Taz'dien and parts of Verlendia, educating themselves, particularly favoring the sciences of the Gatskin and artistic nature of the Nera.

The Scaleborn, due to their inquisitive nature, have quite the affinity for Alchemy. Given their connection to the Dracoric, they are also often gifted in Natural magics. Both Dracoric and Scalefeld tend to live roughly 150-175 years.

Scaleborn will often speak Dracoric and common-tongue, and have also transmuted some branches of Dracoric, to separate themselves from their former kin. Names within the Scaleborn reflect common traditions, generally utilizing a proper name and surname, usually of a strong or guttural tone to them.

GATSKIN, SOL'DIEN & MARBAND


Gatskin [dwarf] || Despite their somewhat shortened stature, the average height of their males buckling at five foot five, the Gatskin are not a people to be taken lightly. Wise and cultured, they are as formidable as they are intelligent. Generally ranging from lighter skinned to a pale bronze, the Gatskin possess rounder, plumper frames, smooth ears and quite often, some degree of facial hair (though not prevalent among the females, it isn't entirely unheard of for even a woman to possess a full beard).

The Gatskin take great pride in the nature of their intellect, and are quite gifted in medicine, astronomy and architecture. Their cities are often spectacles, magnificently beautiful and filled to the brim with cultural heritage and educational resources. While originating on Taz'dien, the Gatskin people have since taken to spreading out across Calion, and can be found on nearly every continent besides Maglin - having no affinity for the discomfort of sand in one's undercarriage.

A scientific people, Alchemy is generally the central focus of Gatskin magic, but they seem to possess capability in nearly every school apart from Shalmar (which requires far too much time in the desert for their comfort). Gatskin tend to live roughly 100-125 years.

The Gatskin don't follow much in regards to a naming tradition, but they do tend to emphasize those things with which they take great pride - for instance Martha Featherstep Trunch or Simeon Thickbeard Malman. The Gatskin speak their own language as well as common - most Gatskin are fairly fluent in Dracoric, due to their proximity to the largest Dracoric settlements.

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Sol'dien [orc] || The Sol'dien are another offshoot of the union between the Scalefeld and Gatskin. Similarly colored to Marband, they retain the somewhat pointed ears of their ancestors, as well as the nature of their structure. The Sol'dien are a somewhat nomadic people, traversing Calion throughout, though large groups have settled within Maglin, forming several tribes within the desert lands.

The Sol'dien are a private people, but their natural gifts in healing make it difficult to maintain an entirely secluded society. Most Sol'dien live to be about 90-100 years.

The Sol'dien seem to practice Shalmar magic quite exclusively on Maglin, but elsewhere bear a natural gift for other magics as well.

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Marband [human] || Created from a union between Scalefeld and Gatskin, Marband possess very little of their dragonborn heritage. While their coloring is varied, from pale to dark, their skin is completely smooth, their eyes and ears rounded and their teeth straight and flat. Their height and stature are varied as well, though they are smaller than their Scalefeld forebearers, generally averaging between five foot five for females and six feet for males.

Marband people have no particular territory, and over time and with expansion have settled within every continent on Calion. The Marband lifespan is roughly between 70-90.

Marband are capable of most magics, but also appear the only race capable of Runic magic, largely contributed to the combination of their genetic blend.

Marband speak common and are known to study other languages as well. Their naming conventions are fairly standard, with a proper name and surname. Occasionally, a Marband will also go by a title, if one is applicable.

ESQUIRIAN & AMALFI

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Esquirian [centaur] || Esquirian are a race comprised of half-man, half-beast, possessing the upper quadrant of the former and the lower quadrant of the latter. Where the upper half can vary in terms of coloring and build, the lower half is always, to some degree, a hoofed beast - primarily horses, deer, elk, moose or mule, though camel variants exist on the desert continent. The physical appearance of their upper halves has some correlation to the lower half, and it is not unheard of for Esquirians to compare antlers as a sign of dominance.

Esquirian are a societal people, living in herds. Though they seem to possess no ill will towards other races, understandably, they do not intermingle and in fact find the non-hoofed to be quite ridiculous and unpleasant to look at.

They are largely located in the plains Of Verlendia and Sor'len, and parts of Maglin, though some herds can be found on Sor'len. They are a largely non-magical society, though each herd does seem to possess some form of healer, either Natural, Celestial or Shalmar trained. Esquirian generally live to roughly 70-80.

Esquirian naming conventions are generally uncomplicated - they will choose a proper name, then a surname in relation to their coloring - for example, Sebris Baycoat or Dammer Greyskin. Esquirian speak common.

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Amalfi [anthropomorphic] || Amalfi, similar to the Esquirian, are an amalgamation of beast and man, but in a way more notably defined, with features of beasts in a bipedal, humanoid frame. The Amalfi are spread throughout Calion, but the largest population lives on Verlendia. Amalfi are significantly more territorial than the Esquirian, and are not above base or primitive behavior, often where outsiders are concerned. Because of this, Amalfi are regarded often with caution or fear, and occasionally with discrimination, in all but Maglin, where the Sol'dien are quite accepting of the race.

Yearly, a few Amalfi youth are selected by their kin to pursue an Honor Quest of their choosing. Most involve the slaying or taming of a great beast or the procurement of a relic or hidden artifact. Amalfi that have completed their honor quest tend to choose a new nickname reflective of this task.

Amalfi are generally inclined towards all branches of magic, though few possess the patience to explore beyond the basic skills. Amalfi are also incapable of breeding outside of their own race, and rarely associate with outsiders more than is absolutely necessary. Their lifespan is generally between the Marband and Sol'dien, averaging 80-90 years.

Most Amalfi are fluent in common-tongue, as well as their own language (related in general to their subspecies race). Their naming conventions are common-inspired, though it isn't unusual to find Amalfi have taken on names with tones of prowess or intimidation - Bragdin 'Claw Bearer' Bellows or Leopold 'Sharp Bite' Dane.

NERA & TRIFLINGS

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Nera [druids] || Druidic by order, Nera are a people centered around nature. Several tribes of Nera exist, scattered across the continents, each developed around one of the eight elements. Due to their tribal lifestyle, Nera are generally accustomed to traditionalism and ceremony, including the selection of a leader, annually, by whom all tribal decisions are mandated. Outsiders are generally welcomed within Nera camps, but are not permitted to take place within the Nera tribal makeup. To preserve their lineage, Nera marry within their tribes and for this reason, are quite small by comparison to other races. Nera that choose to marry outside of their own are banished from tribal life. Nera do not appear capable of reproducing other Nera with those outside of their race. Half-Nera appear profoundly mundane - possessing little to no magical proficiency whatsoever.

Nera appear similar to Marband, but for the natural elemental aspects of their appearance. Their size and shape vary, but they are generally Marband-sized. Their lifespan tends to be longer than most races in Calion, often extending beyond 150 or so.

Nera magic is almost entirely Natural and each tribe focuses on only one elemental form. The Wood and Dark tribes are located in Sor’len, the Metal and Fire tribes in Verlendia, the Earth and Air tribe in Taz’dien, the Light and Water tribes in Maglin. Once yearly, all eight tribes gather for what is known as The Suring - a celebration and ceremonial blessing of the next year’s Tribal Ruler.

Nera naming traditions are customarily uniform throughout the varying tribes - a Tribal surname is given, as opposed to a traditional surname, along with a proper name. Lyra of the Air or Jermal of the Earth. It isn't out of the ordinary for a Nera to also bear a name related to their great strengths - for instance, Marquit The Stonebreaker or Lorenna Fireeater

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Triflings [brownies] || One might go their entire life and never encounter a Trifling, and for many, this is how they prefer it. As minute as their name would suggest, this pygmy race rarely grows much larger than average house mice, well hidden within secretive communities in the forests of Sor’len. Not unfriendly, Triflings are nevertheless quite shy and have a tendency to avoid those things that might very easily tread on them.

Trifling are, however, brilliant in all things, but primarily their militaristic mentality - their army quite intimidating for being so tiny, employing beasts and birds as cavalry, and fashioning weapons from scraps of metal and other materials they find lying around. As well as prolific numbers, families often as large as eight to ten children on average, the Trifling life expectancy is also a great deal longer than most at nearly 250 years, and they boast nearly impeccable memories.

Unlike the other races on Calion, however, Triflings do not appear to possess the ability for magic, which might, in part, account for their lack of social enthusiasms.

Trifling speak several languages (of which they study out of curiosity. The tend to have shorter names (in reference to their stature), such as Pip, Tuck, Lim... etc. Surnames usually represent the trees within which they name their home. Pip Oakleaf, Tuck Maplewood..

KLERION & EIRBLINS


Klerion [tieflings] || The Klerion appear to be a variant of Sol'dien, though differing greatly in both size and physical aspect. It was rumored at one time or another that Klerion were Sol'dien practitioners of forbidden psychomancy, used in relation to control of dragons, and their race was cursed with a distinctive physicality to their undying shame. Klerion are, however, generally considered a venerable proponent of current society, often valued for their knowledge in both magic and their weapon-craft.

For the most part, they reflect the appearance of Sol'dien - ranging between five to six feet tall, with some variations, with pointed ears and soft features. Where they differ is in the color of their skin (which reflects the chromatic scale of dragonkind), oddly hued eyes and the prominent horns crowning their heads.

Klerion lifespan is similar to Sol'dien, though they have been known to live upwards to 200 years, given their advanced use of magic. For the most part, Klerion can be found throughout Calion, though they have a tendency to resist settling on the cold continent of Taz'dien.

Klerion have their own language, and it is not uncommon for them to learn one or two other languages, as well as common. Their naming conventions tend to be reflective of soft vowels and hard consonants, though it isn't unusual for a Klerion to choose a virtue name in favor of their given name.

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Eirblins [goblins] || Contrary to their diminutive appearance, Eirblins have something of a fearsome reputation, scattered across the continents of Calion. Ranging between three to four feet tall and almost never weighing more than that of a large hound, Eirblins are generally skittish and territorial, though their disposition can vary in dependence to their correlation to civilization.

They are generally green skinned, though their tone can vary, and have sharp teeth, bulbous eyes and claws on both their hands and feet. The more civilized make a habit of wearing clothing, but it is not uncommon to find Eirblins living more primitively. They possess little in the way of magic, but are well known for being quite sneaky and their reputation often colors them as thieves or scoundrels.

Less commonly, Eirblins are known for their odd gift in musicality, and the race has been known to bring tears to the eyes of even the most stalwart with their song.

Eirblins lifespan is between 70-90 years, though some have surpassed this out of simple spite. Their names are harsh sounding, with hard vowels and consonants, and nicknames generally reflect some form of fierceness - Jawbreaker, Throatripper... Anything that, in theory, lends them a more threatening appearance.
CREATURES

CREATURES


Dragons
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Four legged winged beasts, generally possessed of flight. While they are not opposed to working with humans and are, in fact, often inclined to, they are neither tame, nor are they unintelligent. Their alliance with humankind is generally born from survival instinct, as their lifespan and the gestation length of their offspring often leaves them vulnerable to loss. Dragons can live upwards to three-hundred years, barring significant injury or illness but their eggs will generally gestate for half that time. In fact, most full grown dragons never see the following generation reach adulthood. The dragons within Verlendia were nearly entirely wiped out by a mysterious disease - only six eggs remain.

Most dragons are born to their mother, and therefore develop a passive, if not feral nature. Some, however, when the mother is absent or killed and the egg abandoned, should they not be harbored by humans and bonded, find madness at birth and their nature becomes savage and violent. Eggs that are recovered, provided a rider can be bonded with the creature, will result in an unflappable union of the soul. Should their relationship be severed (either by abandonment or death), the dragon may suffer greatly - either through death itself or a similar madness to its unbonded kin.

Dragons tend to vary in both shape, size and coloration, but they're also quite different where personalities are concerned. Even in dragons bonded to riders, the dispositions can be quite diverse.

Dragons are classified by color.
  • Chromatic - Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Purple, Pink, Orange, Brown
  • Achromatic - Black, White, Grey
  • Metallic - Brass, Copper, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Iron ,Adamantine, Cobalt, Mercury

Drakes
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More reptilian than dragons, drakes are on a smaller scale, four legged and without wings. While less loyal and responsive than Wyverns, drakes are occasionally known to side with larger species dragons, and their affiliations.

Drakes have often been used as mounts, for while they are wild and generally not tamable, they have a strong affinity for food and can often be convinced to cooperate for a hunk of red meat.

Drakes are generally classified by elements, with which they have some affinity.
  • Air
  • Earth
  • Fire
  • Ice
  • Magma
  • Ooze
  • Smoke
  • Water

Wyvern
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Similar to dragons, but on smaller scale, Wyvern possess hindlegs upon which they stand and talon like appendages attached to their wings. While appearance wise they appear closest to dragons, Wyvern are considerably less intelligent and far more submissive, often kept as mounts. Wyvern played a grand role in the War of Sowers, ridden into the fray by several of its most notable peasant regiments.

Wyvern are classified by their locational terrain -
  • Rock
  • Sand
  • Bog
  • Snow
  • Sea
  • Field

Wyrm
Also in similar build to a drake and slightly larger than a wyvern, wyrms are without limbs or wings. While considerably more primitive in appearance, wyrms are in fact one of the more cunning breed. They loathe both mankind and those who willingly side with them, as wyrm's find it offensive to be kept or lorded over. Curiously, however, Wyrms do possess a strange affinity for the Klerion people.

Wyrms are generally found on all continents and are usually classified by their location terrain - Sand Wyrms, for instance, in Maglin, Frost Wyrms in Taz'dien.

Sea Serpent
Their structure is very similar to wyrms - limbless and wingless, but they bear long fins along their spines and as their names suggest, tend to keep to deeper waters - they are classified by salt or fresh water. Sea Serpents are a rarer breed, one to two seen, per year by sailors or travelers along the coast. They generally keep to themselves, and will only surface should they feel threatened or need to feed.

Hydra
Similar frame and size to drakes, Hydra have three separate heads, each capable of its own movement and action. Severing a head will result in two more sprouting. Their rarity is such that only one Hydra has been witnessed in the last several hundred years, deep within a cave in the Maglin desert - though some are not as of yet unconvinced the creature wasn't a figment of a desperately thirsty mind.

Fae dragon
Tiny dragons, roughly the size of birds - fae dragon are possessed of magic, and can be quite tricky should they be crossed. Generally, these dragons, if found, are found on Sor'len. They hide within flora, blending in to their environment to avoid detection. Fae dragon, however tricky, are usually amiable in nature, found of small treats and children (the two being mutually exclusive, of course). They aren't generally tamed, but have been known, on occasion to act as mounts for favored members of Trifling tribesmen.

Kirin
Horse-like in build, but possessing reptilian shaped heads and scales. Kirin trend near water - particularly natural lakes and streams, and have a tendency to be exceptionally shy. Because of their equine forms, Kirin are occasionally used as mounts, but given their nature, can be quite difficult to tame. Kirin appear to be of middling intelligence, compared to other dragon-like creatures, more animalistic in behavior.

Chimera
Blended creatures - amalgamations of multiple animals. (griffins, enfields, peryton, hippogriffs etc.) Chimera are found throughout the continents, usually within mountain ranges and caverns. They are often aggressive, but with proper motivation have been known to form bonds with other species. Certain breeds of Chimera have been used as mounts, but they must be trained from hatching, or they will not yield to the will of their rider. So much is their stubborn resolve not to be tamed that there is a well known adage "It's harder than mounting a full grown Chimera!" that has circulated Calion.

Trolls
Ogre-like beasts, large and hairy, withsimple, aggressive minds. Trolls typically live beneath structures - bridges being their most likely place of residence. They are exceptionally unintelligent and territorial and have a habit of attacking passer-byers with very little motive beyond the enjoyment of it. While not difficult to best, Trolls are known for regenerative capabilities, and the only way one can truly defeat one is to burn the body before it can heal.

Giants
Massive man-like beasts - unintelligent and extremely territorial. Giants live in the mountain ranges and deeper in the deserts of Maglin. They, like trolls, re typically lacking in intelligence and extremely quick tempered and territorial.

Merrow
Sea people - half man, half fish. Devilishly tricky, and generally responsible for ships going astray. Merrow are found in both salt and fresh water, and have even been known to take up residence in swamp areas. Merrow have a pheromone that they excrete, which if inhaled can cause hallucinations.

Kraken
A squid-like sea creature, prone to causing ship-wrecks. Kraken are found in deep waters, and rarely surface without cause. There have been a few spotted off the coasts of Taz'Dien, though often times these stories are chalked up to drunken ramblings of sailors past their prime. One particular story centers around the legend of the great One-Eyed Grin'Gashiir - a popular tail for fireside chats in taverns around Taz'Dien.

RELIGION

DEITIES


ORESTRA | The All Knowing - Orestra is largely worshiped across Verlendia and is said to be the source of all Divination magic and Oracle appointment. Generally good and kind, Orestra is nevertheless formidable, fearsome in both her depiction as well as history's stories of her accomplishments.

LIORIS | The Lord of Dragons - A dragonkin himself, Lioris is thought to be father of all dragon kind, including the race of Dracoric. Dangerous in his own right, Lioris is shrouded in mystery and little is known about the great Golden Dragon.

OBRIEM | Kind Father - Represented throughout all continents, Obriem is viewed as a peaceful and benevolent deity.

FENMAR THE BLACK | The Dark King of the underrealm, Fenmar is master of death. He is often worshiped by practitioners of darker magics and is rumored to have been the first to utilize Psychomancy to its full effect.

THAIN | The Iron Knight. God of war and metal. Worshiped primarily within the Iron Citadel.




LOCATIONS

LAND of CALION


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SOR'LEN

Central to Calion, Sor’len is a temperate continent, largely flat and composed of many forests. The most notable locations are Palais, Southben and Silvernest. Sor'len is home to the Esquirian and Triflings, as well as the Dark Nera tribe and the Wood Nera tribe.

  • Palais |
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    The City of Palais is located to the northeast of Sor'len, a stunning red-roof city, flanking the river Tam, and surrounded by Golden Ash trees. Palais's stone structure homes cluster alongside cobbled paths and rich gardens. Even at the furthest border, the thunderous roar of Tam's majestic waterfalls can be heard and over the air is carried the scent of lilacs and honey suckle.

    At its center lies Palais's Hall of Kings, a magnificent promenade, hugged by sweeping vines of wisteria and deep burgundy bougainvillea. The Hall is home to Palais's mayor, Chevril Danich and his family, Leeli, his wife and Petri and Mendeline, his son and his daughter. Southernmost Palais houses The Gold Leaf - a tavern and inn with a sprawling bath house,for weary travelers.

    Palais is well known for the Ash Brewery and the fine ale produced therein. A festival is held yearly, know as the Seeding, where the hops are gathered from their field and following this harvest, a feast is held, honoring Pip, the child-god of nature. Palais has no known military, but the Mayor has a private guard, fairly ornamental, known as the Gold Bearers.
    • Les'ili|
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      Located further east of Palais, within a grove of brilliant golden ash trees lies Les’ili - home to the Nera’s Wood Tribe. Their dwelling places majestically fitted within the trunks of the trees themselves, Les’ili is a shining beacon, reflecting the skill and beauty of their wood craft.

      At her head is the Wood Nera leader, Tommen, and deep within the city are temples devoted both to the worship of Pip and of Heris, The Giver. Les’ili has one small tavern, located on its western edge.

    • Lyre|
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      The Lyre Orchestra is a series of waterfalls curling off from the river Tam and leading into Palais from the South. Across the Lyre stretches a stone bridge, thought at one time or another to be home to a family of river trolls.

  • Southben|
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    Southben, the Birchwood City lies to the North of Sor’len, it’s striking tree houses glittering among the trees for miles. Southben is home to a large settlement of Gatskin, overseen by Beldeen 'Broadknees' Nilbor.

    Southben is home to several small inns and taverns, as well as a magnificent library, known as the Ivory Athenaeum

  • At’thalia |
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    Hedged by copses of lavender, sage and catmint, At’thalia is an ethereal paradise, a haven for the healers that make their home there. The Dark Nera reside within hovels beneath the purple-crowned sloped hills, their leader Mal’rien found in the centermost hill, beside the House of Purity - a healers domain for those in need.

    At’thalia has one inn - a relaxing retreat known as The Cozy Nook.

  • Silvernest |
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    At the southern tip of the continent sits Silvernest, the largest settlement of Triflings on Sor’len, a hive-like home with subtribe communities living within the trees and bushes scattered throughout the old ruins upon which they have built. At its center lies the tree for which the city is so named - a silver olive tree, the fruit of which is thought to possess incredible magical properties.

    Due to the Triflings isolated nature, Silvernest is incredibly difficult to find, and contains no buildings within which ordinary sized people can enter. The splendid tree itself is heavily guarded by the Silver Wings - Silvernest’s private militia who ride atop heavily armored gyrfalcons.

VERLENDIA
Just east of Sor’len, Verlendia is the largest of Calion’s continents, comprised mainly of temperate regions, as well as cooler climates, found primarily within the towering mountains and the land surrounding. Several decades have passed since Verlendia has seen a dragon ride its skies, after a mysterious illness wiped out those that existed on the island. All that remains of the original line of the Draconic Forces, guardians of Verlendia, are six eggs, long protected and reaching their time to hatch. Verlendia has three major mountain ranges - Curoet, Brosenkiel and the Adamantine Ridge.

  • Atheno | The Pale City
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    Atheno, the Pale City, is the centermost point of Verlendia - a sprawling and luxurious city, built in the shadow of Mount Curoet. Limestone buildings capped in cobalt domed roofs and encircled by the River Fen, overlook the lands, rife with lovingly landscaped parks and deep pine forests.

    Ruled by the Wisened Council, Verlendia’s centerpoint is home to the Gilded Court. Several inns, taverns, shops and markets line the streets within Athena. Temples are also kept throughout, with many represented deities.

    The Military of Atheno is a strongly rooted force, overseen by Captain Cavirel, referred to as the Pale Guard.

  • Cobrol - The Iron Citadel |
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    The Iron Citadel is a small city built into the city of the Adamantine Mountains. So great is the city's fortification that it remains one of the few places within Verlendia to survive the devastating events of the Bleak Year War. Within the Citadel resides King Gracin Direstrine, Lord of Iron - a formidable leader and militaristic minded strategist. While few would underestimate him, Gracin has never been less than forthcoming of his weakness - his daughter known to the people as Nelicindra the Fair.

    While the population of the Citadel is small, outnumbered by most other Verlendia locations, it remains one of the most well traveled places and houses a great number of inns, taverns and shops.

    The army of the Citadel is a true force, tried by time and resilience, known as the Keepers of The Iron Will.

    Few temples exist within the Citadel - save for one dedicated to Thain, the Iron Knight, god of metal and war.
    • Holiveil |
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      A small village located north of the Iron Citadel, Holiveil is home to little more of interest than the Academy of Intrinsic Sciences - dedicated to the study of and teaching of alchemical magic. Holiveil is humble and quaint with thatched cottages dotting its hillsides, and very little in the ways of militaristic support.

      Its leader, Buck Thorian is a well known huntsman throughout Verlendia, thought to be the ancestor of one of the continent’s greatest Dragon Riders. Yearly, a celebration is held for the Thorian Ancestry, complete with alchemical displays out-matching even the greatest and most well developed of cities.

      Holiveil has one inn, the White Hare, a small library also dedicated to alchemy and a temple to Roshna, the Master of Minds and Kurn, god of languages.

      Outside of Holiveil lies the encampment of the Steelcoats - the Metal Tribe of Nera settled within Verlendia, as well as the Palace of Glass, high in the mountains Of Theonar, a mysterious system of natural ice caverns, within which are found the dragon eggs.

  • Stavinburg - The Deep Wall |
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    The only other location to have survived the Bleak Year, Stavinburg is located within the mouth of Mount Brosenkiel, a massive fortified wall, impenetrable but for the four heavily guarded bridges found at each compass point around the city. Within the city itself, the structures are simple and clean, with little in the ways of embellishment, much like the people therein. There are several taverns and inns, the most popular being Farring’s Rest and The Outcrop. It is also home to a massive market place and a training barracks. Near the city center, there is an Academy dedicated to the knowledge of Runic Magic.

    The military of Stavinburg is touted as Verlendia’s finest, The Knights of the Phoenix Ash often tasked with challenging or dangerous missions few others would endeavor to complete. Within the city there is a massive temple to the goddess Orestra and within this temple are housed the Eyes of Orestra - oracles thought to be acolytes chosen by the goddess herself.

    Stavinburg is ruled by Mosia Stavinburg, the 9th Stavinburg King and a former Ash Knight, himself. Unlike most locations within Verlendia, the population of Stavinburg is almost entirely Marband.
    • Eloine |
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      Eloine is a small village west of Stavinburg, overseen by Casin Koulek. Yearly, Eloine is home to a farming festival, where citizens of Verlandia come from all over to sell and buy their wares.
    • Keiris |
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      Located deep within the Everpines outside the Brosenkeil, Keiris is home to the Fire Tribe of the Nera, led by Fenthar Ulliel. While difficult to find during daylight hours, Keiris is nearly impossible to miss at night, the fires within each rustic, primitive structure a beacon in the dark forest.

      The people of Keiris are considerably timid regarding outsiders, but should one earn their trust they are a highly useful ally to any cause.

TAZ'DIEN

West of Verlendia, Taz’dien is a cooler continent, mainly comprised of mountains and ice caverns, as well as unsettled tundra-like lands spread between the ranges. Reaching Taz'dien is an incredibly difficult task, particularly by sea, as the oceans surrounding the continent are rife with sea creatures.

  • Lore |
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    Beautiful and frigid, the Range of Lore is located closer to Taz'dien's eastern shore. Crystaline and cool, the twisting river of Everglean cleaves through the snow capped jagged slate monuments before spilling out into the Therabor Sea. Lore remains one of the few places within Taz'dien not to see near yearly snowfall, and is home to many festivals, markets and inns for travelers to find rest in.

    Villages are speckled throughout Lore, the largest of which is Ambriel. Caves are prominent within the mountain folds and beneath the river, creating a complex infrastructure of weaving tunnels. Hugged beneath Lore's highest Twins lies The Temple of Eternal Light, dedicated to N'amiel, the Mother of Light.

    Within the valley, mountain crops are plentiful and rich and farmlands are maintained with independent freedoms from the government and play a large part in the selection of the ruling head of Lore and its villages.

    The Earth tribe of the Nera is also found in Lore, though their location and details of the tribe remains something of a mystery to those outside the Nera people.
    • Ambriel |
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      Ambriel is a cozy, welcoming town central to Lore's Deep Valley. Thatched cottages lines the road and thick pines surround all sides of the village, creating both a natural armor and a way of life. From early childhood, all villagers within Ambriel are taught to hunt and trap, as well as how to work in lumber. Because of its independence, these trades are never enforced upon the village patrons, yet through a sense of camaraderie only the infantile, elderly or infirm deign not to work.

      Ambriel is overseen by a small council of elected officials, but all matters of importance are voted on by the populace. This, Ambriel boasts, is the nature of the village's success and peaceful relations.

      One inn sits central to the city, the Buttered Biscuit - a quaint establishment, run by Haversin Quarterel.

  • [Hopps |
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    Higher in the mountains, Hopps sits cupped between Saber Peak and the Deep Reach, as dark as the snow capped mountains are light. Here, thatch-roof buildings of pine and stone form a central ring about a statue of the great wolf Sendrigor, who fought the Titan of Coal and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.

    The people of Hopps are both deeply private and traditional, and while not entirely unwelcoming, the village boasting both the Inn of Deep Reach and a hot springs bathhouse, it remains common knowledge that the people cling to each other and have very little use or desire for outsiders beyond the occasional revenue.

    Hopps is ruled by Chief Rein Calthrow, an imposing man with no great depth of patience or yearning for conversation.
    • Trench |
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      The city of Trench appears to be little more than a winding path through the mountains of Eidenmore, unless one chooses to delve deeper. Carved beneath the rocky hills, the city winds and weaves throughout the mountains, remaining one of the largest settlements of true Dracoric in existence.

      Overseen by Lackri Grabclaw, the city is something of its own system among Taz'dien, primitive and harsh, with little to no relation to the rest of the land.

  • Upper Prell |
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    Upper Prell is a marvel to any who come across it. Sitting high in Mount Hemsing, the village stands out both for its magnificent gravity defying buildings, as well as its dirigible port. These airships, exclusive to the mountain village, are a marvel of science and engineering.

    While they remain tightlipped regarding their spectacular accomplishments, the people of Upper Prell remain some of the most prominently peaceful and welcoming the continent has to offer. Several inns sit within Upper Prell, the most popular being the Misty Tent.

    The city is also fairly known and revered for its brand of whisky and many have come far and wide to sample the fiery treat.

    Not far from Upper Prell, high in the mountains is the settlement village of G'nis where the Air Nera make their tribe.
    • Lower Prell |
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      Cast in the shadows of Hemsing, Lower Prell is a small, quaint reflection of Upper Prell. Overseen by the jovial queen Katherlynn Fortuis, Lower Prell is perhaps not as advanced as her sister city, but no less beautiful and welcoming.

      Lower Prell boasts two inns - the Roaring Kitten and Tamrin's Haunt. As well, they possess their own private brewery, where they craft several ale drafts, and the infamous Fire of Prell whiskey.

      Lower Prell has a strongly fortified wall which surrounds the village, kept by the People's Watch. To date, the city's wall has stood as a resolute guardian against opposition.
    • Joris |
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      Joris is located high within the Stalwart Crags, a fortified citadel, resting abandoned since the days of the Reckoning. Most avoid Joris, if not for its harrowing climb, then for rumor that it is, in fact, haunted.

  • Labyrinth |
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    Not far from the citadel of Joris lies the cavernous entrance to Labyrinth, so named for its complicated maze-like structure. It is said that at the heart of Labyrinth lies a mysterious and remarkable treasure, but none have survived the dangerous trek through its deadly halls.

MAGLIN

Maglin, south of Verlendia and Sor’len is an arid landscape of deserts and plateaus.

  • Ordell |
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    Ordell is a tight knit community of desert-dwellers who are well known for their artisanship and expression. The town itself is tasked for storage of surplus food, clothing, and weapons for neighboring cities. Ordell handles mainly exports of their jewelry and fine silks. It is a mainly quiet existence, run by the charismatic clan known as The Dune Lords, who have been known for their bartering ability. There is a central temple in which other desert dwellers come to visit, acting as a main revenue for the town itself. The temple lies within the center of the town and gives access to an underground tomb, which supposedly contains a hidden treasure that had been hidden by thieves several decades ago. The temple is dedicated towards worship of Joresh, the Lord of All and High Creator.

    Ordell is made up of complexes, rather than individual houses. Two families tend to make up each of the complex. The complexes themselves are lied against steep hills, which gives them a strong foundation in their structure. Besides the clan leader’s home is the blockade, where many surplus items are kept, as well as prisoners who may have disturbed the peace. Ordell houses a single Hostel, pleasant in its own right, if not crowded.

    Peace is very important in Ordell. Remember that
    • Brander |
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      Brander acts as an industrial capital for the country. While it’s not necessarily run and conducted in a modern sense, Brander does utilize oil and has sections throughout the desert where reserves are held. Rumor has it that Brander does not get oil from their homemade rigs, but rather from the Dragon graveyard where they grind up bones and use the excess to power their cities power system. Brander, while composed mainly of natural materials such as stone and clay, uses magic and oil to create a sort of electrical grid. The electrical grid mainly acts for light and generators for storage.

      Brander has been accused of using some of this “magic storage” as a method of selling magic to other resources. Brander, however, has an incredible track record in their success and kindness to the surroundings cities, constantly offering their resources to fellow cities throughout the country.

      Brander is run by a Scalefeld family, who, while giving into the “industrial” feel of their city, are considered to be very traditional and very religious. Many temples are held in Brander, as well as religious festivals. Brander is known for their exotic fruit and beautiful weaponry that resemble sickles.
    • Simberlin |
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      Simberlinn is an oasis a few days off from Brander. It is home to the Nera water tribe and provides a safe and quaint location for the people. Wildlife is plenty here, giving a unique environment for the Nera people with flora and fauna found no where else in the continent. Legend has it that water from the oasis can heal wounds and brink back people from the brink of death, making the Nera tribe vulnerable to raiders and thieves. In response to this, the oasis has been lost to the desert landscape, and can only be found by the Nera people and those they find worthy.

      Simberliin is ruled by a matriarchy, with each tribal leader being ascended by a female relative. The matriarchy is known for their fairness, wisdom and kindness, but the Nera tribe in this location is particularly wary of travellers. Some travellers who grow too close have been found lost, wandering in the desert, confused on how they got to their current location.

      The Nera live in familial huts and are known to get together as a large cluster for special events, celebrations, and feasts. They are close and loyal. One Nera lost means the fury of dozens.
    • Braxin |
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      Braxin is a quaint town, known for its collection of healers and preachers. While not the center of religion in the area, as Brander and Shalmarin contain much more of that history, Braxin has been known for its hospitality and advancements in medicine. Braxin is built upon several sand dunes and is nestled besides the continent’s largest mountain range.

      Braxin does produce several metals and basic materials to spread along the continent, using the mountains resources as a foundation for their economy. The mountains contain a variety of dangerous wildlife, which Braxin takes great joy in both hunting and taming.

      Legend has it in Braxin that there is a creature upon the highest peak who will grant you one wish if you are able to survive the journey there. There is an annual competition to do such a thing, although it ends with the competitors turning back or ultimately ending up lost within the range.

  • Shalmarin |
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    Shalmarin is considered to be the traveler’s port within the continent. It is the second largest city within the continent, next to Brander. It is filled with exotic shops and is known for the various spices and goods. Their “taverns” are similar to apartment complexes, four stories of rooms toppled on top of each other. It is the closest the continent knows to be a “tourist trap” and attracts travelers from around the world to show off what the desert life has to offer.

    With the largest settlement of Sol’dien taking up residence there, Shalmarin is also known for their dancers and performers, who use different props such as their own silk and even fire to create a dazzling performance. The city also contains “The Grand Theater” where competitive games, live shows, and a variety of activities take place.

    Beware, however, since Shalmarin has a rash string of robberies that have been occurring of late. Rumors have it is the local children running amuck and taking advantage of tourists, while others suspect a more sinister purpose-

    There is the legend of the Sand Dragon, whose body supposedly supports the entire foundation of Shalmarin , and will only arise to protect the citizens. The Sand Dragon is more of a local boogeyman for the children,warning that bad behavior will have the Sand Dragon swallow them whole.
    • The Parched Dunes |
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      The Parched Dunes contain the Light Tribe of the Nera culture. While not as reserved and wary of strangers as their sister Water Tribe, the Light Tribe of the Nera people are still cautious. The Parched Dunes are hidden within the deeper parts of the desert, often times described as the most unbearable environment within the continent.

      The Light Tribe themselves take great pride in meditation and the idea of soul exploration. Unlike the Water Tribe they are more focused in the idea of individualism, rather than a community experience. The tribe is close in a familial sense, but does not go past this, and prefers for an individual to venture on their own journeys. The Light Tribe’s journey consists of traveling the continent and ending their adventure at the mountain range, where they then spend several weeks praying and self reflecting.

      The Light Tribe is associated with the Water Tribe, but they do not know the location of the oasis. Rather the Water Tribe will venture to the Parched Dunes and conduct trading of certain goods.

      The Light Nera is also known for the fantastical library, consisting of the Nera history as a whole. Only select few are allowed to see the library, mainly consisting of the Nera on their lifetime journey and the elders of the tribe. Oral and written history is vital for the tribe and their culture.
    • Painted Mountains |
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      The Painted Mountains is a vibrant, small mountain range that oversees a variety of crops unknown to the rest of the world. The colors range from magenta to a gorgeous sun-kissed yellow, granting the small farm village its name. It is a warm and welcoming town that is a common stop for many travelers. Along with the most diverse crops, the painted mountain contains the most diverse population of races and work. It is a cozy town, run quite separately from the rest of the continent. The Painted mountain people vote in their senators, and have a democratic constitution that determines the rights of farmers, land owners and other various workers.

      The Painted Mountains is also home to what can be considered a historical museum, which is filled with magical items, paintings, and preserved crops. It is open to all, but heavily, heavily secured.

      The Painted Mountains also contains an organization that teaches local children to read, write, grow crops and practice lighter forms of magic. It is a very progressive landscape and is welcome to all. This does not mean nativity, however, as the Painted Mountains has one of the most well trained and uniform law enforcements in the continent.
    • Mon’Mriel |
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      Mon’riel is popularly known as “The Dragon Graveyard.” Mon’riel in its early days was a beautiful, radiant city, filled with treasure, art work and magical items. The oral history of its origins have been passed down through generations and how it became such a desolate wasteland is still unclear. One legend suggests the leaders of Mon’riel stole dragon eggs and planned to use their shells and content for armor and magical weapons. Another rumor suggests that they were betrayed by a political figure who allowed several dragons to storm the city and it ended up in disaster where dragons, and deeply buried humans, were laid to rest. Regardless, Mon’riel is now considered the most dangerous land in the continent and is overrun with rogue dragons, and some suggest undead creatures roam the area.

      Mon’riel supposedly still contains several pieces of dragon hoard and miscreants have been known to become horrible meals to the rogue creatures.
 
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Verran

Illogical
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A Chronicler's Collection of Published and Unpublished Works

“What you here for, girl? Unless you’re buying me a drink, I’ve no interest in…Mattek’Kel? You want to know the shipbreaker? Tamer of the sea serpent, master of old One-eyed Grin’Gashiir. Heheheh, explains why you’re talking to me. Any other sailor worth his salt would tell you to sod off. And they’d be right to do so. Lucky for you, I’ve no salt left in these bones nor any beer in my mug. Buy me the latter, and I’ll tell you his tale. Long sunk he is, that once king of Taz’Dien. Years before fever or plague smote the dragons from our blessed skies. Mighty was he, Mattek’Kel. It was said, that he could lift one of his people’s longboats with both his hands and carry it across the mountains to the other ocean, without resting. And sang with such a voice that the mountains couldn’t help but echo it for miles. Yet most of all, he was a Shalmi. He sang to nature. Sang to sea. And the sea saw fit to bestow upon him the sea serpent, Grin’Gashiir, for his song. Such a beast was as mighty as the yet to be king. With it as his side, he sailed around Taz’Dien. Smiting any and every vessel that stood before him. Breaking many petty kings or clan lords upon the mighty coiling might of Grin’Gashiir. The inland forces may have resisted him for a time, but Mattek’Kel knew they needed the fish from the sea to live. So they bowed before him when his serpent spat a quarter of the sea onto the last free port of the land, wiping it from the world. The new king, as all such souls are, was still hungry for conquest. Verlendia, in its splendor and kingdoms, stood as a beacon. Calling Mattek’Kel to feast upon it with fell Grin’Gashiir. Amassing the whole continent’s armada, Mattek’Kel took to sea. The winds blew him, the sea rode with him, and the king declared his conquest to blessed by both. The day he was to rain ruin upon our land was bright. Not a cloud in the sky with a blazing sun. Suddenly, a shadow fell upon the whole fleet. Mattek’Kel looked up and bellowed one word, ‘dragons!’

“Hidden by the blazing sun, our mighty monsters and their riders drew upon the ships without notice. Now hear the songs of battle as our dragons brought destruction from on high. The sea boiled under flames, bolts of lighting, and the beat of wings. Scorpions flew bolts, darts hurled, and spells incanted against our riders. Yet this too was a diversion for off fell a glamor, a mirage! Fleets of our continent’s kingdoms had sailed, hidden, under one banner. That of salvation of our lands! Bright white were our sails as we sailed into battle against the stunned enemy. Still, Mattek’Kel showed himself master of men and sea. Rallying his forces in rage, he drove his fleet on into bloody battle. Grin’Gashiir, too, showed itself undisputed. Not settling for mere ships, he dove and wove beneath the waves to launch and snap dragons and riders whole from the sky. Brutal boarding melees ensued while archers, mages, and artillery set ships ablaze. All day did the battle last and well into the night before, at long last, the Captain Calladan of Atheno, rider of the great Belthardran the Red, withstood the might of Mattek’Kel’s fell song. Flying as one, they lanced to his flagship and, with a mighty dragon breath, set the entire vessel ablaze in such a fire that only dies when there is nothing left to burn. Yet for a moment too long did they remain close to the sea and Grin’Gashiir, enraged as his king, master, and companion died, erupted from the sea and grabbed great Belthardran from the sky. As one, Captain Calladan and Belthardran fell to a seaside grave, but not before the former gave a final bellow of defiance. Lancing lightening from his fingers, he popped all the eyes from Grin’Gashiir before falling into the sea. All but one. Mattek’Kel, who had lived the blaze but knew himself to be doomed, saw his ships breaking. Some fleeing, some simply splintering under the might of our flames. The king bellowed out a curse upon all of Verlendia. That not a single ship nor dragon will ever sail or fly straight to Taz’Dien and live. He bellowed and sang it for all ears to hear above the tumult before burning to ash.

“Now some say that such a man of his magic could never invoke such a curse. One must be a psychomancer to even have a chance. Yet I tell you this, girl, that such men and women have a better command of the world than we will ever pray to have. Such words ought to be heeded, for I say this: not a soul from our lands of Verlendia ever has. Ships have tried, never to be heard from. Dragons flew, never to be seen. One-eyed Grin’Gashiir never died in the battle of a Thousand Blazing Ships. Out there, he waits, even though all ships from our lands sail far around and dragons no longer fly. To this day, we mariners of Verlendia’s nations fear the sea. For fear that, one day, Grin’Gashiir will move and devour ships along our lands. Honoring his king’s eternal wrath. Why do you look at me so, girl. As if I could have been there to see such things. This tale is older than when your grandfather’s father was a mere babe. No, I’m just an old man. Who’s in need of another drink.

“I don’t see anything.”

“Shh…”

“I still don’t see anything!”

“And I said shh! They won’t come if we’re noisy.”

“What won’t come?”

“Shh.”

“Hmph!”

Yetta crossed her arms and pouted. Her brother, Rentia, had dragged her out into the woods. He had promised that it would be exciting. But all they were doing was sitting in some stupid bushes waiting for something. The day was going down in kindling. Soon, ma would be hollering for chores and pa would be dragging Rentia to rounding up the animals. If nothing didn’t happen in five minutes, she was going home. Better to play with her dolly than this. The girl almost said this, but her brother had already shushed her three times. Going farther risked him deciding she didn’t need to see it and sending her home. And she definitely needed to see it if it was worth seeing.

Four minutes had past before, finally, something happened. Yetta had begun drawing in the dirt, before Rentia nudged her arm. Looking at him, he pointed out of their hiding spot while pressing a finger to his lips. Rolling her eyes at him, she peered out to where he was pointing. There was nothing interesting there, just a bird among the flowers. She glared at her brother, suspecting a trick. It was his turn to roll his eyes as he jabbed his finger out again. Squinting, Yetta stared at the little songbird. And then, suddenly, out from around it strode…something. It looked like a little knight. Like the toy Bradvik had except not wooden. Not so, alive. Covered in bits of plate with a miniature sword, the little knight walked about the bird, seeming to look it up and down. Transfixed, Yetta now noticed that the bird had a tiny saddle upon it. The little knight, satisfied with its bird, began striding up and down the little glade. Examining the grass and ground while pulling out a miniscule notebook, making marks. Mutely, the siblings watch the fellow before, after almost half an hour, the person mounted the bird, shot into the air, and out of sight.

“What was that?!” Yetta squealed.

“I don’t know,” Rentia whispered back, “but it comes every week.”

“So next week too?”

“Yes, but don’t tell ma or pa.”

“Why not?”

“Cause we’re not to go out this far.”

It was only then that Yetta realized that they weren’t near the edge of the forest, but in the forest proper. She clapped her hands to her mouth. Everybody knew the stories of ghouls and ghosts. Of fairies and pixies. Of the forgotten forest dragon and the moving trees. Everybody did and knew how dangerous it was. Reinforced by their parents’ warnings and forbidding decrees. But her hands hid a smile. After all, no danger was too scary for Yetta and Rentia! Who had beat the other children at crossing the stream in high spring, though she needed her brother’s help on crossing some of the slicker stones. Or who had told off the robbers that one day in town, though the guard were the ones who chased them off. No, nothing was beyond their bravery. Even breaking a silly rule or two!

After swearing their traditional oath to secrecy, the siblings set off towards home. Yetta gabbling about all the things the little knight could be. Streaming off questions and wonderings as to how it befriended the bird, what adventures the little knight must have had, and why on earth it would be in that little glade. Rentia listened and spoke replies as they went along, but he knew only a bit more than she did. It was a mystery that they’d solve together as the team they always were. What fun! This had to be better than when Mardibell had gotten a litter of kittens last year and let everyone pet them! When the woods broke, Yetta hushed up at once. After all, a promise of secrets was only as good as one’s silence. Home was only a short way off and she wouldn’t risk pa and ma hearing them.

The week pasted arduously slow for the child. Waiting and waiting for the day when they’d slink back off into the forest and see the little knight again. She’d been making plans. They had to talk the little knight somehow! Imagine what stories it had to share! What adventures they could go on together! When the day arrived, the siblings slipped into the woods with nary a word to their parents. Quickly and without speaking, they rushed to the bushes and settled down to wait. It felt ages, but suddenly, in a rush, the little knight arrived. Dismounting with the same agility of the sparrow he rode; the little knight surveyed the scenery again before making some signal. Suddenly, in a flurry of fluffy wings, what Yetta could only believe was a positive brigade of knights atop birds came sweeping down. Eyes as big as saucers, she watched them dismount. Far more nervous were they then their obvious leader, the one who landed first, their heads swiveled about, hands straying near weapons.

“Attention!” the little knight leader ordered.

Immediately, the whole group, including the birds, snapped as smart as any dream she had of knights into salutes. Or, well, the birds simply stood tall and proud.

“Cadets! Tell me this: what is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a wing knight?”

As one, they replied, “sir! To be grounded in battle without a weapon, sir!”

“Exactly! Now, disarm!”

While they complied, Yetta couldn’t help but notice the hesitation in some of them. As if they could only just bare to strap their blades to their mounts.

“Step forward, cadets! Today we will start training to deal with just that. Starting at the basics and moving, step by step, to full crash landings. Questions?”

“No, sir!” they chorused.

And so, they began. Yetta devoured every moment. These were real knights! Learning how to fight battles and deal with real dangers! Ooooh, if anyone could see them, they’d be so jealous. Without realizing it Yetta was leaning forward. Inch by inch, until, suddenly, she slipped. Rentia tried to steady her but, too late, a branch snapped. A sound that made every little knight in the little glade whirl, grasping for weapons weren’t there. All save the leader, who simply turned his head and shouted one word.

“Hold!”

Everyone froze. The other little knights in the act of bolting for their mounts and weapons and the siblings, half risen from their leafy hiding place.

“Be at ease, please,” adapting an elegant manner, “they are merely Marband children. Nothing to be fearful of. Be at ease, children, we Triflings soldiers mean you no harm. For I knew that you, elder, were there as soon as you found me four weeks ago.”

“You did?!”

That was amazing! Her brother was the best at hide and go seek out of everyone in the village! For someone to find him so simply meant they had to be great at the game. She wondered how long it would take for them to find the little knight leader if they decided to play together.

“Indeed, but your presence is of great use!”

“It is?” she asked.

“Yes, for my cadets are in need of better training than this mere open space. To that end, would you do us the honor of helping us?”

“Yes!” Yetta shouted without even thinking about it.

“Of course!” her brother followed only a moment behind.

Then, in unison, “you can count on us!”

“Excellent,” commended the little knight leader, “now, please run about and try to capture or grab any cadet you can. No stomping now.”

And with a cry of delight, the children shot off at the little knight cadets who, for a single instant, were stunned by the turn of events. They recovered in the next second however and were leaping, diving, stepping, running out of the way of the children’s snatching, though gentle, hands. By the time the nights were to head back, they were exhausted, but before they left.

“Good children, would you do us the honor of meeting us again next week for further training?”

Eager to continue helping in such a noble endeavor, the children agreed. And so, keeping the secret, they continued to play with Trifling knight cadets training for five weeks until, on that last day, the little knight leader, sitting upon Yetta’s shoulder addressed them.

“Rentia, Yetta. Tell me, would you like to see our home?”

Eyes growing wide, Yetta immediately replied in sync with her brother, “yes! Yes, we would!”

“Then prepare yourself!” he ordered as he swept his arm into the air. The winged brigade descended upon them in their winged glory and, in a mighty effort, lifted the laughing children up into the air and off, deeper into the forest.

***​

“That day was the last day I ever saw my children,” the man said as I, sitting across from him, took notes, “I followed their trail, of course, but it just ended in a small glade a bit into the forest. They seemed to have made it their playground, but the only signs of them leaving are to head back home. No other tracks. As if they were simply plucked from the ground and flew away.”

“I see,” I simply replied.

“Chronicler, you have to believe me! I told them time out of mind how dangerous it was inside the forest. The sprites that steal children or wolves that eat them! I watched as best I could while giving them as much freedom I could as a father should! I, I …I need to know, must know, is there a hope that they’re alive?”

“Oh, I’m quite certain they are alive.”

“Then,” eyes brightening, “there’s a chance to…”

“No,” best to squash such hopes early. If I had the right of what happened to them, then there’d be no chance. It was hard enough finding Triflings on accident, let alone on purpose. And besides, my sister was expecting me at home with more stories to share by next month, not next year. Continuing, “be content in the knowledge that they are quite safe and, likely, quite happy.”

My deadpan seemed to have stunned him. No matter, I, a Chronicler, rose and left him to his misery. The job was to collect stories and, as the situation demanded it, draw them to conclusion. This one was finished. Onward to the next.

“I have a tale for ye, Chronicler! I have a tale.”

It was late. The inn was dying down. The woman was drunk and, while I was rarely one to simply roll with a stereotype, this was an exception. A Gatskin up this late was almost always drunk. And drunk Gatskin always had tales. Most of them useless to me. Still, it was best to humor drunk Gatskin. Another stereotype of history that generally turned out to be true, most were annoyed at being ignored and decided to be aggressive about it. And this particular woman had arms almost as broad as my head. Resigning myself, I said, “begin.”

“Wow, yer a stiff ain’t ya. … Geez what a dead eye. Creepy as hell for a Chronicler. Ya should get it looked at. Nobody needs no stiff of a face. Anywas, I was scroungin’ food when it happened. But, gotta roooolll back to the beginning. Just after the Pale City fell it was. We ran and we dug an’ dug. Cause we had to hide, ya see? See, hidin’ was real important. So we dug an’ dug into de Curoet mountain range. Cause it was so important to hide. Dug tricksy twists an’ turns an’ traps. We needed ta hide from the world for what we was doin. Real important, see. Ta hide.”

I think I’m beginning to grasp that, my mind deadpanned. Still, it looked like that, at some point, I would actually be getting a story. I took out my book, quill, and ink.

***​

The alchemic house burrowed through the ground better than badgers. Invasions swarmed the lands after dragons were smitten from the sky by plague. They had to hide. Their research was too important, too grand to risk falling into enemy hands. There may come a time when it would be save all, or so they believed and, perhaps, still believe today. Still, they dug such a labyrinth with their Earth magicians and alchemically enhanced, pick swinging members that, unless one had been told its secret, none could find their way to the buried settlement. Even then, finding the entrance to the labyrinth itself is a feat and a half. Covered in stone looking mesh and tucked in inhospitable cliffs, truly it goes beyond all shadows of a doubt that this place was hidden from the invaders of Verlendia.

And to them, what should they care? A few Gatskin, despite being mages and alchemists, hidden away was nothing in comparison to the still hanging on prizes of the Iron Citadel and Stavinburg. If they even realized that these Gatskin existed. Still, the secret that was only summoned up by liquor was simply this: to create the elixir of Life-Force Manipulation. It’s easy to understand why such lengths were called for. Dragons dead, the land swarmed. Desperate times, desperate measures to win the war. Soldiers immortal, soldiers eternal would be all they needed to turn the tides. Even just one, to prove the theory, could turn the fortune and bring eternal hope to the people. Just one soldier, was all they thought as they worked.

It was a very tight setup. Enough space and pillars were made just so that everyone had room to sleep, one room, to eat, the same room, to store food, a second room, and to work. The last made for a network of cramped chambers for brewing and incanting. Individuals went out to gather, steal, and barter for every demand of the small settlement. Quietly they worked throughout the invasion to create the elixir, suffering endless setbacks in mistakes, lacking material, and lacking personnel to follow down every lead properly.

Now feel how fickle fate is. For, as is natural of such fervent, if not pathological, dedication, they succeeded. That divine tincture that many mortals overwhelmingly desire. Seeking it with all their hearts and fortunes. A simple confirmation drink was all that was needed to ensure its effect. Better still, they managed to nigh on mass produce the stuff.

Now feel fickle fate. For they celebrated their success. Why not? They could save the land. Bring immortal soldiers into the world and unyieldingly win every battle. Oh, the splurge in supplies. Who cared? They would no longer die. Could no longer starve. They had all they needed. The party was raucous and rowdy and, in their high energy, caused a detonation. An alchemical explosion from knocked over supplies is the most likely case. The nigh on ramshackle construction broke the supports as the concussive shockwave rattled the labyrinth. And it caved. Crushing, scorching, ripping, rending, and pulverizing the Gatskin inside an infernal home of flash molten stone. Written is ‘home’ for no tomb could it be called. Though, ‘prison’ is the best word. The sole escapee was out on the hunt for food when the tincture was completed and never received the dosage of immortality. When the sole survivor returned home, only part of the labyrinth stood standing and the survivor was forced to find other ways around until, finally, the sole survivor heard screaming. Wailing. Screeching seeping between cracks of broken stone as whispers of wind heralds hope for lost miners. Naturally, it was the exact opposite for the sole survivor. Crushing despair of eternally trapped friends, family, and lover. A mockery of untouchable salvation. The alchemical house had lived, of course. After all, they couldn’t die. Spent their whole fortune of skill, time, and dedication to make sure of just that.

***​

Pressing my ear against the wall of the cave, I listened. Squelched screams reached my ears of weeping wailers in hell. Soft but confirming the truth of what the Gatskin woman said. Well what do you know? She was telling the truth after all. How she had begged me to take action. To use my Chronicler job to convince someone of importanc to take action. Save them all.

I’d slipped some Forget Me tincture in her last drink. While severe drunkenness was utterly useful in having people forget you, some help never hurt. After all, I wasn’t sure if I would make a report of the story. Or even share it beyond some legend. Tweak it to fit proper and all. Sure, it would save them from eternal torture. But some secrets deserved to be buried. Well, whatever, I thought, sister of mine is undoubtedly going stir crazy without me. I’ll just consider it awhile.

I used to be Sol’dien.

***​

“One day when the sun was merry and bright,
And the dragon was flying high.
I went to market to dance and sing,
Whilst the dragon was flying high.

Oil and spice and all that’s nice,
with pretty gems delight.
They’re the apple of my eye
When the dragon was flying high.

Gold and silver on our minds,
For which I dance to own.
Verlendia wanted all our gems,
To feed their dragons’ souls!

That day with the sun, so merry and bright,
The dragon now flying low.
Murder and flames and broken babes,
Came when the dragon flew down low.

All our gems lost meant naught to me,
Since the dragon flew down low.
I lost my own true love to them,
Cause the dragon burned down low.

But, when, the, day next burns and wind calls death.
And Verlendia burns the ground!
I will spin, dance and sing
And charm the dragons down!
Charm the dragons down!”

Cheers and applause met my performance along with a healthy number of glares at our ‘honored’ guests. Dragon riders. Bound and properly gagged with all the restraints upon their magical abilities that could be placed. They still looked infuriated. Outraged that our Sol’dien Shalmar magic was enough to bargain with the spirits of charm, spirits of the wind, to knock them out of the sky. It had been a long time coming, this day, a long time. The curbing of such eternal greed began tomorrow. Stepping off the stage, I sashayed across the carpets lining the floor. Afterall, it was my boy’s bedtime and, without a father to call upon, it fell to me to ensure that the time was enforced. It cut work hours, but it was as it was. Fortunately, family and community were generally intertwined with my people and, since I was loath to let anyone save myself and my late husband see to my boy, it meant that the Chief was pretty understanding. My departure was replaced with an adequate bard.

Still though, I mused as I walked barefoot over the cool night sand, who would have dreamed we would have gotten this far? Certainly not me one year ago when the raids were at their height. Everyone knew that they were merely the prelude to invasion. ‘What Verlendia wants the dragon takes,’ so it is said. And the wealth of Maglin was certainly blossoming. Ripe for the plucking. Finery and gems were flowing from the mines. Trade was being borne on everyone’s backs as we journeyed the sandy lands. In short, it was a wondrous time to be alive before the dragons came. When the dragons came… I staunched the memories of the roasted and pillaged village our tribe had been travelling towards. The one we had repaired and resided in until this day. I blocked the memory of rushing ahead of the main body of the tribe. Desperate as we saw the smoke on the horizon. Rehg’ixahl, my husband, had gone ahead a few days to begin trading. Flying through the scorched and burning streets of charged corpses until I found him. I would always find him. Even charred as he was, he was still beautiful. Ruddy face and emerald eyes, both now shine within my boy. Of course, I say all that, but the memories wormed through anyway. Bloody, burned cradled against my smooth amber, I held his corpse and despaired.

Staggering, I slammed into a wall. Passing my hand in front of my eyes, I forced myself to breathe slowly, deeply, and focus on something else. Anything else. Home. I had to get, home. Step by step, I broke into a haggard run. Fortune favored me with empty streets so none would see my shameful desperation as I turned into a doorway and tore through the curtain.

“Mama!”

Immediately as a sunburst in a sandstorm, I was better. The world was better. And the dancer, the singer, the seducer, the actress, and Mother was back.

“Rexahl’dro!” I cheered as he rushed into my arms, “my little sandstorm, how are you?”

“Great, mama! I ran about all day singing! Just as you do! An’ then big Chief Gorba’dron came an’ played tag with me. Oh! He also said I was suppos’d to give you something.”

“Oh?” I asked as I carried him over to the far wall and settled down onto one of the cushions, relaxing with him tucked in my arms, “what did big Chief Gorba’dron entrust you with?”

Untangling himself, he pattered off towards his secret hiding spot that I wasn’t supposed to know about, before stopping with a gasp, “you’re suppos’d to close your eyes! He said that. When I give it to you, close your eyes ‘till I say.”

“Alright,” I said, closing my eyes. What, under the sun, could this dainty be?

A bit of shifting and some pitter-pattering later, and Rexahl’dro’s breath returned as he stood in my lap.

“Okay! Open your eyes!”

Peeking through I…oh my…that was indeed quite the dainty. Fine silver petals that must have been spun magically stood upon a stem of leafy gold with a single sapphire delighting the center of it all. Easily pinned into the hair, the bauble was a fit gift for a princess. Where did he come by this?

Well, I certainly couldn’t forgo the Chief’s advances for much longer. He had been courting me for quite some time. Flowers, an uncommon enough thing in the desert, the odd pearl, making excuses to walk me hither or thither and, not the mention, ensuring that he caught every dance and song of mine. And he certainly didn’t leave out my little sandstorm. Playing with him. Teaching him when proper. Then bringing up to me in conversation how he was growing into a fine lad and, in a few years, getting him properly apprenticed. Indeed, Chief Gorba’dron had been pursuing me quite forwardly and, maybe, it was getting time to letting him catch me. Perhaps, after the ritual. It was important, after all, to have things to live for outside of revenge. Both for myself and my boy.

“Well,” I said as I took the flower and added it to my hair, “you, my little conspirator, can tell big Chief Gorba’dron that I like his gift. Very much.”

Rexahl’dro looked just a hint abashed being called out for his part in the gift giving, looked up brightly as the gem flickered in the candlelight, “mama looks so pretty! I’ll tell him! I promise!”

“Good, and now it’s time for this little sandstorm to rest.”

“Oh, but mama!”

“No buts! Mama has a big day tomorrow and needs lots of rest for it.”

“Yes mama.”

I carried him across the small open room to the tiny bedroom we shared. Laying down upon the mats and cushions, I snuggled him close to me. Holding my greatest gem to my heart.

“Sing me a song, mama. Pretty please! I’ll go to sleep right after, I promise!”

“Alright,” I agreed, “just one song.”

“Oh little sandstorm,
my bright ruby.
Shine for all to see.

Play all through the sunny day.
Don’t you worry.

Oh little sandstorm,
my bright ruby.
Shine for all to see.

Don’t you fret.
Don’t you fear.
For I am always here.

Mama will keep you safe and sound.
All day, all night, till you’ve grown up.
Mama will keep you safe and sound.
Through storm, through blaze, till you’ve grown.

Oh little sandstorm,
my bright ruby.
Shine for all to see.

Play all through the sunny day.
Don’t you worry.

Oh little sandstorm,
my bright ruby.
Shine for all to see.

My bright light.
My bright heart.”

And just like that, he was out. Slumbering peacefully as I stroked his ebony hair. My hair. I had been so despondent after his father died. Unaffected by the world as he cried out for me. Day after day. The Chief had taken care of him and forced me to eat during that time. Until the being came. After then, revenge drove me. I still held to it as fuel to keep pushing. I will avenge my boy’s father. My love, my second heart. But in continually thinking of him, my thoughts returned me to the fruit of that love: Rexahl’dro. Oh, my shame at being away from him for so long. In the same house, yes, but not with him. Not there for him. Many of these past weeks had been spent working to just spend time with him. To try and start making it up. I know he’s afraid, under all that cheer. Afraid I’ll disappear into the dark depths of my heart again. He believes that if he’s just a good boy, I’ll never go away. And I won’t. Not because of him being good, but because I need to be a better mama, the best mama, for him.

Morning came, bright and full of promise. Rexahl’dro scampered about. Eagerly wolfing down breakfast as soon as it was placed in front of him. I set him loose after, but not before giving him strict orders to return home at sundown and remain there until I came back. The ritual promised to last all day and into the night. I wouldn’t have him running about while it concluded. After he left, I set about dressing myself into my finest dancer garb. A flowing, translucent ocean blue silk to bring out the color of my eyes. Two pieces to show a healthy amount of sun-kissed skin and bordered with white strings of beads. Ebony hair free flowing down my back as I place my silver strung veil. The entire attire had been passed down to me by my mother. And her mother before. And her mother and so on. While Rehg’ixahl and I had talked about having another child, a daughter to pass this on to we…well that wasn’t a possibility anymore. After a moment’s consideration, I added the flower. Let the Chief see it. Besides, it was a special occasion. Grabbing my sash, I strode through the village.

My apprentice was already there, stretching and bubbly. Vele’telcia had been an energetic child who had fallen in love with my yellow silks as much as my dancing. After she’d proven herself my apprentice, I’d hemmed and given her the silks. Though in the years since, she had since purchased new ones. While there was time still before her womanhood ceremony, she was almost ready to leave my care.

“Mistress,” she chimed, “mistress, you look divine! Is that from…”

She whipped her head to look quickly at Chief Gorba’dron. He’d been watching while half-talking with the other men. Preparing for the Psychomancy. As soon as my head turned to match my apprentice’s he waved. I flashed him a coquettish smile, freezing the wave as heat rushed to his face. My my, so the Chief could be properly abashed. It certainly was quite a statement of my own, to be wearing his ornament and behaving so. I must be letting him catch me soon. Men were fickle sometimes in sudden shifts of desire. Speaking of, they all began slapping him on the back in congratulations. I rolled my eyes as I turned back to my apprentice.

“Mistress! That was so…! I mean, for dance and stage we do it all the time, but off! Oh my!”

Ah, I must be getting old if this desert mite was blushing over my smiling. Perhaps, after this was over, I ought to take her to one of the cleaner city’s ‘silken gown’ districts just to get her used to such looks off the stage. It wouldn’t do for her to go to pieces when men began to desire her more openly.

“My my, don’t you look ravishing.”

My soft smile curled to a bright grin as the sultry satin of Drena’lisha washed over me. Turning to meet the green silken dancer, I embraced her. Before all this, we had been bitter rivals. Each competing for the stage, on the stage, and off the stage. The raids had changed all that. She’d lost a husband too. Together, we had worked through the grief as our children played with each other. We’d even amused ourselves, over wine, of marrying them to each other and becoming sisters in proper. Her own apprentice, Treydel’fya in deep purple, trailed behind her with her customary shawl. Easily known as the blind prodigy, she was a timid girl who, despite not being able to see, had an almost unnatural feel for dancing. Able to sweep across the stage the few times she had appeared with her mistress. It wouldn’t be too long before she made her solo debut.

“Mistress Drena’Lisha! Treydel’fya!” Vele’telcia cried as she embraced her fellow apprentice, “you just missed such a display of romantic proclamation that…”

“Hush child,” purred Drena’lisha, “I can see the bauble and guess the rest. So, finally letting him snare you?”

“Considering it.”

“Considering it?! Mistress, you all but shouted it! You’d need a horn to be any louder!”

I rolled my eyes again. Indeed, a trip of some of the more worldly places would do my apprentice good. All the same, I looped an arm over her shoulder and one over my best friend who snared Treydel’fya into the circle. We were the best dancers in the tribe. While others would dance in the ritual, we would be the ones at the start and at the end.

“Today, we finish the steps we began so long ago,” I said, “a dream and a nightmare away it seems. But even though we finish these steps, it only begins the next. We will fly on the backs of living wind after this. Though, no matter what, we shall be friends to each other. Sisters and mothers and daughters in one.”

“I’d have balked at such words that dream and nightmare ago,” said my now dearest friend, “but now I love you for it.”

“I’ve always loved you, mistress!” rang my apprentice.

“And I too,” whispered Treydel’fya.

“Apprentice!” Drena’lisha feigned shock, “is this a betrayal!? How could you withhold such knowledge from me? Hath not my patronage, my teaching, my own love for thee meant nothing!”

“I…Mistress, I…”

My apprentice broke into giggles first, who knew my one-time rival well enough to see her joking. We two, Drena’lisha and I, also joined in as a flush crept up her apprentice’s face who had, apparently, not realized her Mistress’s faux tone.

“Come,” Drena’lisha appeased her quivering apprentice, “say that I have your love still and all is forgiven. Yes? Good. And look, feel the quake of the sand. The dragons approach.”

Indeed, they were. Titans of scale, these beings of magic made manifest stalked across the sand. Eternally proud in their gate with sweeping, craning heads that seemed eternally upright. Even when they dipped low. Majesty waiting to be set free as a coiled serpent waits to spring. Eager to heed and lead their riders to glory. Red, White, God, Yellow, Iron, Brown, and one outrageously Pink one of differing sizes that, nonetheless, dwarfed my people in nigh on every respect. But soon, my thoughts crowed, they will be ours!

Led by their riders out from caves within the cliffs our village resided at the foot of, who were in turn led by our warriors. While the satisfaction of what we were about to do alone was enough to keep them alive, the far greater reason was so that they would keep their dragons under control without us continually using our sparse, though potent, magics to charm them. Which was my and the other dancers’ purpose. To work in concert and then charm the great beasts to our will while the mage-men enacted the other half of the ritual. It had been explained to us in no small detail as to why it was important to do so. Such bookish details went over my head as a vulture does a living being. My Shalmar magic was as inherent to me as blood and no amount of scholarship would ever define it.

The dragons were led to a dune in the sand. A hilltop to begin the ritual upon. As one, we sauntered over to the men-mages who stood at the lip. No overly flirtatious moves though. The Chief needed to be in the saddle of his camel to start this properly as, naturally, the whole village had turned out to watch the start of the ritual. Lounging in the shade of buildings and palms that were fed from the nearby oasis.

“Friends, comrades, my brothers and sisters,” began Chief Gorba’dron, “years ago, we, our tribe, suffered such a horrendous injury that left us malformed, tormented, scorched! But we have seen ourselves prosper! Our harm sharpened us to courage, and, with the teachings of our friend, we have not succumbed, but risen above!”

Cheers erupted around and behind me throughout the crowd. My, he was handsome when speaking so. Face grave but his grey eyes blazing as the sun twice over with pride and determination.


“To this end we have come so that we may begin again on a footing that equals Verlendia! Too long have their dragons dominated the sky! Too long have they blackened our sun! Too long have they burned our people! It is said that, ‘what Verlendia desires, the dragons take!’ Well I say, no more! By this time tomorrow, it is we will also have dragons! And our dragons will not spill blood for baubles and gems, but only for the sake of others! No longer Verlendia have all the might of the sky, for we too shall ride, born anew upon their wings! Now, praise the gods! Give thanks for our friend! And give thanks for your own great courage and our bonds as family!”

“To the gods! To friend! And to you!” I shouted with the rest. Then folded my hands in prayer. An immediate silence fell upon everyone.

Oh great gods, I prayed, keep us whole and as one for all the rest of our days. May we never need to turn again to such measures as to keep our loved ones safe. May we succeed in bending the dragons to your will. May Drena’lisha, Vele’telcia, Trey’delfya, and I be worthy of all your affections in our dance today and as pleasing as the sun is upon our skin. Guide our steps in in fulfilling your will and balancing the scales of justice too long tipped to Verlendia. Continue to teach and lead Chief Gorba’dron in your ways so that he may properly bestow thy wisdoms upon us all. And last of all, please let my son, my ruby, my little sandstorm grown into a world of peace. Let this be my prayer.

I controlled the tears before they sprung to my eyes and, while she masked it, I knew Drena’lisha also felt the same. Our apprentices were not so apt. Everyone had lost someone in the raid. And some had lost everything. To be here. Recovering from how far we’d fallen. It was…just so…I… It was incredible. None would have dreamed it before and soon after the raid. Yet, here we were. Closer than we’d ever been and stronger. More tender to each other, yet ready to face the world. We were able to now begin.

Striding as queens to the front of the assembly, the men fanned behind us. As one, we began. Raising our left hand to the dragons, singing. The men began incanting. Immediately the air became charged. Magic permeated it as both Shalmai and Psychomancy mixed into a blended ceremony.

“Tro fatta noi. Don yorha torya.” I and Drena’lisha sang as our apprentices vocalized background music.

“Moi trashman hya. Hlei har.” Our arms swept in great, hypnotic circles, but not yet did we begin to sway.

“Tra kashta mir.” The first step. And each beat did we step, starting to sway and sashay. Playing off each other, we danced, dipping, weaving, and swirling around each other as we sang our steady cant. Weaving and willing the spell into existence as our men flowed from backing to leading the spell. On and on we went as the sun began its mighty assent into the sky. While ever more did the growing palpable tone of magic pervade into the air. Mesmerized, the dragons and their riders fell, one by one, into our ritual charm. Unable to truly question what was truly going on any longer. I to you, I thought along with the strange incanting words, staring at the dragons, and you to me. I will be thou, and thou to be me. I ride upon thy wings. Thy lead me upon my weak feet.

Finally, a sudden arrival of four more dancers signaled our rotation out. With gratitude, I did. Thank the gods that a pair of palm trees were about to provide us some leafy shade as we worked, else we may have all collapsed. We walked away from the site and towards the houses of the village, exhausted. It had only been a half-hour. Again, fortune favored us with a strong number of trained dancers within our tribe who could at least carry on the ritual. We’d rest four times as long as we’d worked and would need every minute of it. Drena’lisha lead Treydel’fya by the hand, who looked to be halfway to nodding off already. Vele’telcia attempted to look peppy, but even she dragged along. I knew I wasn’t much better, but we two mistresses had our pride well and intact to straighten our backs as we walked for the darker shade.

The men were no better for ware as they too rotated out, but I was distracted by a pair of speeding balls of untarnished energy. Rexahl’dro plowed into my waiting arms with a ‘hello, mama!’ that, had I not been ready for it, may have just knocked me flat. Drena’lisha’s daughter, skidded to a halt in front of her and gave a far more formal greeting.

“Elen’ciata,” Drena’lisha toned, “be relaxed and merry.” With that, she scooped her daughter up in her other arm and our little party made their way to the deep shade of the buildings.

“We made a place for you!” Rexahl’dro clamored, “see, I got our big rug an’ some cushions an’ Elen’ci grabbed some broad food mats so you all could relax through the day an’ big Chief Gorba’dron set up an overhang for you.”

“Really?” I said, still walking with and half carrying my sudden appendage, “when did he set up that?”

“Last night. He told me to set up anythin’ else here!”

Oh, that man, I thought. He really was being rather sweet. It hadn’t occurred to me to truly set any place up near the ritual site. It had been busy enough all week leading up to it with keeping the dragons calm, dancing, planning the final steps of the ritual, singing, playing with Rexahl’dro, and I had mentioned dancing and singing yet?

One by one, we flopped down in the shade. Except for Vele’telcia, who declared she’d get us food and water from the communal stand set up precisely this day.

“Nonsense,” I rejected the idea outright, “you’re as tired as any of us. Sit.”

“Don’t worry, Mistress, I’ll be fast and still rest plenty.”

A spark of stubbornness reflected her yellow silks and, not feeling to pushing the matter, waved her off with a “fine, fine. Rexahl’dro. Be a dear for your mama and help her.”

“Elen’ciata, you too.”

Off as arrows from bows chimed two yes mamas as they ran circles around Vele’telcia’s dogged, slow gate. When that had finished, we lounged and aimlessly talked while Drena’lisha combed her daughter’s hair and Rexahl’dro played a clapping game with Treydel’fya. So the first relaxation period passed by.

Then we were up again as the blazing sun considered out-doing dragon fire as we danced and sang. But we stood with the might of the sun and held to the incantations. Keeping them strong and sturdy as the ritual slowly progressed on. Yet, at the end of this cycle, Chief Gorba’dron was there, waiting for me. I waved my compatriots on.

“This will only be a second.”

“Oh?"

“That is, once you’ve rested, I would like to request an audience of you. At the oasis. If you’re willing.”

By the windy dunes, while the man certainly had a flare for speeches, he had no hope in verbal courtship. Though Gorba’dron was generally clever enough to realize it and kept much of it to actions and gifts. I’d find it a nuisance if I didn’t find it so infernally endearing at the same time. I paused as if to consider the matter.

“I believe I could accept such a request.”

“You would!”

Don’t be looking so sweetly relieved!

“I mean, uh, excellent. I will see you in an hour?”

“Half-hour.”

“Half-hour.”

Despite being drained, I sauntered away, certain that his eyes were tracking my every sway as I moved as a mirage to the shade.

My apprentice was on me in an instant. “Mistress! What did he say?”

“Never you mind,” I replied as her eager face fell to a pitiable kicked puppy. Too late for that, my apprentice. My ruby has a sweeter face than that to sway me. “Drena’lisha?”

“Hm?”

“In a half-hour’s time, would kindly keep an eye on my son for me for a while?”

“Naturally.”

“Is that when you’re going to meet Chief Gorba’dron?” demanded Vele’telcia.

“My, we haven’t had such a fine day since yesterday.”

“Mistress! Please!”

I continued to deflect her probing words for the half-hour as my friend read and Trey’delfya sat attempting to appear dignified and above her fellow apprentice’s actions. All the while straining her ears to catch every word of it. Leaving them as the time drew close, I made my way over to the oasis while watching the rotation of the next set of dancers and chanters. The oasis was a pleasant spot with palms and little white flowers surrounded by a scattering of cacti. All of it encasing a broad, deep pool that sapped up ground water as it flowed from the cliffs and caught the rains as they swept by. It was mighty enough that, perhaps, in time the village could have grown into a town and maybe even a city without having to fear losing the clear, clean pool. But the dragon raid had wiped out its original inhabitants and it was cause of quiet discussion if we would settle here after the ritual was complete. It was an equally quiet agreement that all debate on the topic was to be held after the ritual. Still, it was a pleasant place, despite the memories. I could raise my boy here and slowly cover each horror with bright memories of love.

And speaking of, I thought with an internal grin. Chief Gorba’dron’s reflection had appeared in the pool, staring intently at me. “My, my Chief,” I smiled as he approached, “who taught you to sneak up upon women so.”

It was to my quiet delight as he flushed and stammered, “I…I didn’t mean…No! That is…”

“Come,” I interrupted, “let us walk.”

Taking my offered way out, we began to slowly circle the oasis. Keeping a space of a few feet between us. Silence ruled for our first circuit and for much of the second. I let him muster his courage to say whatever he needed to say.

“We’ve known each other awhile, haven’t we,” he began at last.

I hummed in agreement.

“And in that time, I’ve always found, no, known you to be an invaluable member of the tribe. You’ve commanded my respect for your skill and, uh, energy in everything you do. But, these past few years, my respect has changed. Not lessened! Never lessened. Grown! In fact, but still changed. You’re very beautiful! Did you know? Of course you do, stupid thing to say. Your hair dark as midnight, but still shimmering with starlight. And the way you move! Lithe and slender while commanding attention of all around you. Not to say that looks are all. No! You…you’ve got a generous spirit that shows with your apprentice and in how you cherish your son! I…”

“Stop,” I silenced him mid ramble with a hand raised up, while the other one covered my mouth. Burn me. If he continued much more I would… Well why, by the sands, would I! I who had danced for princes and chiefs. Walked the midnight silken district of Shalmarin turning all manner of heads while not a one turning mine. I who had listened to all manner of bardic delights in my honor, to profess eternal love of me and not let one even flutter my heart. Yet when this man bumbled about with clumsy words of affection… It wasn’t that I wanted him to stop. In fact, I could well stand to hear a good bit more. Perhaps over a glass of wine. In the evening. Lounging together on a day I sent Rexahl’dro over to Drena’lisha’s. I squashed that line of thought right there as I was now all but a few words from blushing as fierce as a new maiden who had received her first flower. It wasn’t fair! He didn’t deserve to command such betrayal from my face. There was just one thing left.

“Let us finish this later. Tomorrow night. Dinner in my home.”

“I, good! I would love to see you and Rexahl’dro again. To discuss everything”

Oh, this blessed fool of a man! That was it. He had me well and caught and didn’t even realize it. It meant the world to me that he had included my ruby so passively. As if he never even dreamed we would be separated. I knew now, for certain, that the Chief would never forgo including him. Would love him as a son no matter how many children we had between ourselves. I loved him for that if for nothing else. I closed the distance and looped my arm around his. Smiling in a way I hope was demure and not too gleeful I said, “now, walk with me some more and tell me of all you see in the tribe.”

That sunburst of a smile I knew I would cherish for through the years to come when I took his arm told me well enough of his joy. And he continued to elaborate on his joy in his bumbling manner. Talking of this and that. Of Xal’dria’s cousin’s first word. Vertan’tria’s naming ceremony last week. And all manner of simple things. Yet, in these simple things, he was so bright. So alive that I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in it and lose myself for the remainder of the break.

My sweet apprentice was staring her best daggers at me as we moved to take over the ritual again. Returning arm and arm with the Chief had undoubtedly sent her mind spinning with questions she ached to ask. I gave nothing away as we swept into the dance. Though, it seemed far easier that half-hour of work. Throwing Gorba’dron another coquettish smile as we finished the next round, my little troupe of dancers strode all the way to the shade of our pavilion before Vele’telcia pounced.

“Mistress! Please tell us everything!”

I pulled Rexahl’dro into my lap then nabbed a couple pieces of fruit. “Lunch! And there’s nothing to tell, Vele’telcia.”

“Nothing to tell!? Mistress, you can’t come back, arm in arm with Chief Gorba’dron and say there’s ‘nothing to tell.’ There’s everything to tell!”

Trey’delfya whirled, abandoning all pretense of pretending not to listen, and stared avidly at me with her blind eyes.

“No, nothing,” I maintained.

“Hmm, well my dear,” purred Drena’lisha. I glared at her. She wore a look from our days as a rival. One she wore whenever she knew she was either one-up on me or about to be, “one thing is for certain. You’ve been caught.”

That got the blush rushing up my face as both Vele’telcia and Trey’delfya surged around me, clamoring all at once.

“Oh, Mistress! That’s simply sublime!”

“Are you going to marry him?”

“Marry?! Trey’delfya! That’s so…so, EEEE!” squealed Vele’telcia as she suddenly crushed her fellow apprentice in a hug.

I ignored them, instead looking down at my little sandstorm in my lap. Despite knowing his thoughts. Knowing his heart, it was with some trepidation as I asked him, “and you, my little sandstorm. What do you think?”

“Does he make mama happy?” I could smother him kisses for that.

“Does he make you happy, my ruby?”

“Oh, yes! I like him very much! I could call him papa.”

Joy brought tears to my eyes as I squeezed him tight. What had I ever done to deserve such an angel for a child? For such a great man who had been his father and for another to become one again? For three great compatriots to dance and sing with? Nothing at all, yet here they all were, blessed upon me. “Thank you, Rexahl’dro,” I choked, “Yes, big Chief Gorba’dron will make me very happy indeed.”

“Mama, you’re squishing me!”

“Hmm, mama is going to keep squishing you awhile longer though.”

“Noooo! I’ll be buried!”

We continued in this manner throughout the day. Working ourselves to the bone for half an hour before resting, teasing, and enjoying the day about us. Taking intermittent walks with Chief Gorba’dron. A few times with Rexahl’dro in tow. Once with Vele’telcia and Trey’delfya attempting to secretly follow. All the while sharing knowing remarks with Drena’lisha as we watched over our children. Evening came and night soon followed with me putting Rexahl’dro to bed during one of our last breaks. Fires were lit to stave off the desert chill and, at long last, our final dance came.

We strode across the moonlit sands to make ready to take over. Magic coursed through the air as lightening jumping between clouds. So palpable that, despite our mighty charm, both dragons and riders occasionally glanced here or there in response to some, unspoken pull.

Blue and green, purple and yellow. It was time for us to begin the end, end the beginning, and bring a new dawn for our people and the world. A dawn of dragons for all.

Drena’lisha and I sang the first note, the second note, and the third note. Heralding the change. Then we four began to move. I started the stanzas of song as we swung and moved to this sudden increased tempo as the other four dancers departed. “The Request” we called it. But a pleading command may be more apt. Begging their dragon minds and hearts to turn to us and us alone. To live with us and dwell within us forever. As we would in them. A call to their souls. Similar in many ways to the incanting throughout the day, but that had been far more building the prayers. The opening acts of a play to all set up a climatic conclusion. The command came from a raw desire of our people. A refusal to fail after having come so far. It came as we swept, twirled, and dipped across the stage of sand. So much for such a small audience. So much for the audiences to come and I would stand upon this stage and make it ours.

The baritone of my dear friend slipped to replace my song as our apprentices continually vocalized around us. Harkening to the might and majesty of the beasts before us. Promising eternal glory if they but only took to us instead of their former masters. Driving a wedge between them and gradually tapping it deeper and deeper. Separating their entwined souls. A pale light flooded the hilltop. Glowing as the magic in the air, so well built and maintained, was channeled towards the dragons who began shaking their heads drunkenly, as if to rid themselves of burdensome thoughts. We pressed on, eternally determined as the strain of simply holding such magic, let alone directing it, wore at our will and fortitude while the men continued to chant behind us. And then, with one final note, it was over. We stood there, chests heaving, our hands outstretched in offering. The pale light shone brightly from the dune, outshining the moon above.

It was as if someone loosed a pebble that caused a sudden avalanche. One moment, the dragons and their riders were staring at us, and the next they were screaming. Wailing into the night a singular, though many, screech. I staggered back, ramming into the nearby palm tree. Drena’lisha was forced back as she pressed her hands atop Trey’delfya’s ears. Vele’telcia was crouching low, trying to stop her ears in much the same way as us, but the screeching pierced such fleshly barriers.

Suddenly, I felt as if groping hands sought to claim me and, reacting upon some instinct, wrapped my arms around the tree as did two of my compatriots. Vele’telcia was an instant too slow. We were yanked up into the air, as if in a sudden gale. A sudden tornado with our clothes streaming out and hair whipping. Except that there was no wind to raise it. Nature had created a silent night for us. Our only cling to life were our arms around the tree. Screams erupted into the night as people flew through the sky, tugged by an unseen, horrific force that gripped and yanked at something that we could not see but all were within.

“Mistress!” Vele’telcia screamed, “Mistre…”

And then she was gone. Out of my sight as she reached for me and into the now terrible pale light from which the dragons continued to screech into the night. Except her screams didn’t die. They continued to pierce the night and rip through my heart in utter, wailing despair and pain. Adding to the discourse of dragons and riders. She wasn’t the only one for, a moment later, Gorba’dron, and the other male chanters hurled by. Men and women the village, many of whom had stayed up to see the completion of the ritual, shot by. Some were pulled through windows that faced the spot. Others through doorways. All fell in, feeding the night and the pale light with cries of terror that ravaged my ears.

“Elen’ciata!” Drena’lisha suddenly cried, reaching for something. But letting free one arm from the tree allowed the pulling force to whip her around. She swung above my head and launched free before plummeting into the light.

Next to me, Trey’delfya was crying, “Mistress! Vele’telcia! Mistress!” without ceasing. I could only weep and whimper as the unseen hands try to yank me from my hold and the horror assaulted my ears. Then, all at once, it stopped. We plummeted the few feet to the sandy ground, exhausted. The light faded. I let go of the tree to look at where the ritual had been.

Suddenly, a dark pulse of energy flew out as a concussive shockwave. I was launched, flying through the air before crashing down upon the sand. Somewhere nearby, Trey’delfya landed too, but I didn’t have time to consider the matter, for something was squirming, worming inside me. I tried to rise, but pain erupted within me, striking me down in haggard screams. I crawled, clawing myself through the sand as if to escape the pain, the burning pain as each breath drew a wail and each wail a breadth. I was burning, scorching, filling up with fire. Two holes were being drilled in my head. My skin was turning a deep, ruby red. Ages seemed to pass, before it was over as suddenly as it began. I lay there, in the dark, in shock and pain until a murmur brought me back.

“Mistress…Vele’telcia.”

A weak cry that awoke within me a singular thought, Rexahl’dro! With strength I never knew I possessed, I crawled. Clawing through the sand, trying to periodically rise as his name echoed again and again in my head, Rexahl’dro! Rexahl’dro! Rexahl’dro! I didn’t know when it became a raspy wail of a chant in the night. His name. He had to be alright. He must be! He was a good boy at home! Undoubtedly hurt! I put him to bed, I know I did. Mama was coming. Mama would make it right. My head felt unnaturally heavy as I finally clawed to my feet with the help of one of the buildings at the edge of the village. Soon, I could hear other voices joining me. Whimpers of pain, of loss, and cries of names.

Ah, I’ve done this before, haven’t I. The thought invaded my mind. I could distinctly recall running, staggering through these streets before. Crying out a name. Rehg’ixahl. I had found his burned away corpse and… No! I screamed back against my mind; this time is different! This time he’s safe at home! “Rexahl’dro!”

I staggered into the doorframe of my home. Pushing on in, he wasn’t in the main room. The bedroom! Right where I left him. He must be there! A final surge brought me through the other curtain, plowing through the dread and ready to sweep him up into my arms.

Only.

He wasn’t there.

I bit back a wail of despair; he must be near! Not far, but where? Pulled by the force outside but pinned terribly against a wall! Yes, that must be it. In pain, afraid. Hang on, my ruby! Mama’s coming! Mama will be there to kiss it all better! Mama won’t leave you again! “Rexahl’dro!”

Back out and into the streets. I had to find him, to track him. The road just outside our house had enough foot travel as to obliterate any sign of him. Quickly looking around the house, I saw little prints in the sand. They must be his! Onward I went, following them as close as a bloodhound on the scent of a rabbit. I’d find him at the end. I’d find him and hold him such as he had never been held before. They met up in one little alley with another set of small footprints. One set, two sets, it didn’t matter if all the children in the village suddenly joined Rexahl’dro’s trail. I’d find and hug them all if it meant having my child in my arms again.

The tracks left the village, went to some bushes at the edge of the oasis with the perfect view of the ritual site, shuffled a bit, sat down a bit, and disappeared.

I screamed, tearing at the plant, at the ground, anywhere around looking for my son in the fervent prayer that he had clung to something. Some plant, the sand, the very air itself! Nothing. There was only one place left. I stared in dread out at seven malformed shapes in the sand. Their shadows illuminated by the moonlight. If I didn’t find him there, then he was safe, somewhere. I’d tear the entire village down to find him. He wouldn’t be there, he couldn’t be there, he mustn’t be there. Through dread and terrors I plunged forward in a stuttering, staggering charge at where the dragons ought to be before, suddenly, I tripped headlong over a crawling form.

“Vele’telcia…Mistress,” it murmured as it struggled to crawl forward.

Trey’delfya, I thought, but it didn’t look quite right. In fact, there was something horribly off about her appearance that, had I met her in the street, I may not have recognized her. Faint though the moonlight was, her skin was darker and two strange silhouettes stuck up out of her head. But her whispered plea brought the reminder to me. They were over there, somewhere. I grasped down and dragged Trey’delfya to her feet. She unquestionably hung on me, only half standing. Though one arm swung blindly forward, looking for her best friend and mistress. Half-dragging, half-walking, we made our way closer and closer to the dragons. Before I could look at them properly, a fresh scream rent the night, coming from up ahead.

“No, no!” it cried, “You can’t be there! You can’t be there! Come on out, darling! You’re chanting is done! Come out of it and home to rest! Come home to me! Come out!”

A moment later, I saw what the crier meant. I staggered back, crashing down into the sand with the still whimpering and sobbing apprentice. The next moment, I turned and wretched. Vomiting into the sand. The dragons weren’t there with our people. Our people were in the dragons. Blood-curdling clear faces and bodies pressed from the inside of scaly hides. Colored to match their skin, their hair, as though some sculpture had carved them from stone. Frozen in eternal agony as they pressed over and onto each other, trying to pull free as if in a final act of desperation. And I recognized them. Many of them. Crawling forward a few paces before turning back and hauling Trey’delfya with me, I moved in amongst the bodies.

I began to search among the faces in the dragon, horrific as it might be, I clung to the slender thread of hope. If Rexahl’dro isn’t among them, he’s safe somewhere else. If Rexahl’dro isn’t among them, he’s safe somewhere else. I repeated to myself again and again as others joined in the search, despairing as one face after another was found by a friend, family, or lover. All had those strange silhouettes. Silhouettes that I came realize where horns. I kept Trey’delfya close and did my best to ensure she didn’t touch any of them. I didn’t think she was even fully aware of what had happened as she continued to moan.

I searched one dragon, nothing. Then another, still nothing. He’s not here. He’s safe, he must be safe. Another and another, still nothing. I strained my ears for his voice, his own calls for Mama. Surely, he’d have woken from wherever he was now. Surely, he’d start searching for me. Another down. And one more. The last one. Just one more dragon. Just one more horror of the faces, and then I’d be free to search for him elsewhere. Hope had never been stronger as I hadn’t even found the faces of Drena’lisha, Elen’ciata, and Vele’telcia. Of Gorba’dron. Maybe some strange part of the ritual had simply sent them elsewhere! Maybe it was supposed to work like that! I’d tear the whole country apart until I did find them, just to be sure.

I found them. I found them all.

They were just like the rest. Carven faces of my loves, my gems, my heart. Frozen in absolute pain and terror in the scaley outsides of the dragons. My mind was a void. Obliterated as I beheld…

“Why…we’ve stopped. Have we found? Mistress? Mistress!” Trey’delfya cried. Suddenly, she surged forward, breaking my slack grip with ease. Crashing into the body, she stumbled back before feeling around in the sand and, finding the hide, spidering up. Shivering all the while until, suddenly, she stopped at the face of Drena’lisha.

“Mistress!” she cried, and it took me a second to realize it was joy she sounded, “I’ve found you! I’ve found you. Please come, I’ll…I’ll go set the table and get you something! Ah, and here’s little Elen’ciata! Were you out playing with Rexahl’dro today? Oh, I see you’ve brought him along with you. Hugging him so tightly, what would his mother think? Now let me feel his face. What did you two do? … Why won’t you answer me? Why won’t any of you answer me! Vele’telcia! They won’t answer me! Tell them to listen! Vele’telcia? No, not you too! Answer me! Someone answer me!”

With a scream, she threw herself at them, beating upon the unflinching faces before exhaustion collapsed her, weeping into the sand.

I had fallen to my knees. I couldn’t comprehend. Couldn’t comprehend! Why was he here? I put him to bed. I knew I put him to bed!

He must have snuck out, the darkness supplied.

No! He’s a good boy! Rexahl’dro wouldn’t have done that!

He must have snuck out with Elen’ciata to watch you perform at the end.

No!

Wanted to see his Mama change the world.

No!
I thought as I lunged forward on my knees, dragging myself to him. Tears ran as rivers down my face as I stroked the back of his head. “Rexahl’dro.” I didn’t want to change the world. “Rexahl’dro.” I didn’t want revenge. “Rexahl’dro!” I just wanted him back. “Rexahl’dro!”

I screamed it to the night. Mingling with the voices of the surviving lost ones as our grief swelled to a mighty crash of a dune turned into a tidal wave. Smashing down upon me as the faces and memories of all I loved stood before me and turned to stone every time I reached to grab them to only appear alive and hale a mere foot away as I turned to another face. Chief Gorba’dron, with his simple kindness and passionate strength, now forever spent. Vele’telcia in her sun-filled energy, frozen forever. Elen’ciata, a bubble of a girl who ever wanted to please her mother now a cold distance from the world she could never explore. Her mother, Drena’lisha, a fierce rival and fiercer friend, now unfeeling as scale. And my ruby, my sandstorm, my little boy, my Rexahl’dro who was all I could ever ask for, all I’d dare to dream, and all I wish I had cherished more. Held more, sang more. Loved more. Darkness claimed me and I fell, away from the faces, and into the night.

It was the sun that woke me. High already, though not yet noon. Sand clung to me as I forced myself to sit up. In front of me still were the faces and bodies of the dead. Lifelike in appearance, but horribly, eternally still under the sun. Trey’delfya lay collapsed nearby, but what I wondered at in the night now became clear under the sun. Her skin was obsidian and a pair of matching horns curled around her forehead and stuck up off the back. My own skin was red, as though suffering a horrendous burn or condition, though it didn’t hurt. I wished it did. Touching my forehead with my hands, I followed the curvature. So, I have my own set of horns too, I thought.

Slowly, I dragged myself to my feet. With ragged eyes, I looked upon the faces of my loved ones one last time. It was tempting. To sit there, under the sun, and let it wither me away. But I had made one promise to myself. One final promise to not ever let the darkness claim me again. So I walked up, gave my little boy a kiss upon the forehead, and turned my back. I almost left then and there, but the soft, sleep-ridden moans of my once dear friend’s apprentice caught my ears. It was all I had left, so, to put it bluntly, I seized it. Dragging the poor girl upright and along. She realized in short order what I was doing.

“No!” she screamed, the loudest sound that morn over the quiet moans and despair of our tribe, “no! I don’t want to go! I can’t leave Mistress’s side! Let me stay!”

“You will come.”

“No, I won’t! Let me stay!”

“No.”

“I hate you! I hate you!” she shouted and repeated it over and over. Beating me with a child’s fists but was powerless to stop me as I strode across the burning sand. Halfway through town, Trey’delfya quieted, already exhausted by both her actions and the ritual the day before. Into my home we went, horribly empty. I placed her in a corner on some cushions before crouching down.

“Trey’delfya.”

“…”

“Trey’delfya!”

“Wha- yes?”

“Trey’delfya, listen to me. You cannot succumb, you will not succumb.”

“Take me back to my Mistress.”

“Drena’lisha is dead.”

“She’s not dead!” Trey’delfya shouted and tried to fly to her feet.

I forced her to remain seated, “she is beyond your reach.”

“If we just pulled her out! If we pulled all of them out!”

“We can’t pull them out.”

“We can! Please just take me back to my Mistress!”

“They’re dead! Dead and gone!”

“No! No, no, no!” she cried as she broke down again. Sobs wracking her body as, where she had just fought against me before, now buried herself into my arms. I held her close, rocking her as she wept and, as the sobs died down again. Asleep again. Gently, I placed her upon the cushions. The strangest thing happened next. My stomach growled. Laughter tried to bubble up. Hysteric and high pitched, but, combatting the urge, I simply grabbed the money pouch from is hidden place, counted out some coins, and went to market.

Unsurprisingly, no one was there to sell me anything, but stealing felt wrong without properly distributing the wealth of the dead. Even then, I had little clue who was dead or alive. So I paid the empty fruit-stand, the forsaken bakery, and drew some water. For the first time, I got a full look at my reflection in the pool. Gone was my amber skin, replaced with red. My blue eyes shone through, though, dull as a darkened gem. Still moving though, still alive. My horns curved up in two, swooping waves that came to fine points. Darker than my skin. Dark as blood. I decided that they must look majestic. Fine as a dra… just quite fine indeed. And, sweeping my fingers across my skin, I could feel that, underneath all the sand that clung to it for sleeping in the desert and working all of yesterday, it was smooth as carved alabaster. If vanity were a cloak then, by the gods, I’d cling to it. I’d cling to anything that helped me take a step forward.

Returning home, I found Trey’delfya sitting up. Awake again, but despondent.

“Mis…” she brightened for an instant, before falling back into shadow.

I set the mats for breakfast. Forcing myself to eat, even though, like her, I’d much rather do nothing.

“Eat,” I commanded after I’d taken some bites.

“Not hungry.”

“Eat. You must.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

I sighed; this was to be most unpleasant. Grabbing a flat-bread, I strode over to her. She looked vaguely in my direction at the sound but, blind as she was, wasn’t prepared for when I suddenly grabbed her by the hair.

“Ow! Stop! Stop! You’re…” she whimpered.

“Eat,” I repeated as, taking advantage of her speaking, stuffed a piece of the flatbread into her mouth. Forced her to chew and swallow it. Releasing her and sitting back down, I watched as Trey’delfya’s survival instincts finally overrode her grief. Suddenly she was devouring everything her hands could find. Fumbling through fruits, breads, and three bowls of water. Gorba’dron had done much the same for me when I first fell into the darkness years ago. For everyone. Going from house to house, paying merchants with coin they were hardly fit to accept, and forcing everyone to eat. To survive. Dragging us out of the darkness one by one.

Suddenly Trey’delfya was crying again. Even as she made herself eat me out of house and home, she wept. Pulling her close, I stroked her head, allowing her to grieve into me.

She wailed, “Mistress gave it all to me. Home for poor girl, fit for naught, blind as a sand-slug with only half its skill to feel. She cared for me whilst having her own daughter! Brought me to friends! Taught me to dance and sing! I’ve nothing without her! Nothing!”

“No, dearest,” I soothed, “no, you still have me. I’ll not abandon you. I’ll not leave you. I’ll teach you to dance and sing. I will give you all of me. I claim thee. I claim thee as daughter. My daughter. My obsidian, black and shining fair.”

She hugged me all the tighter and sobbed the harder, before weeping a “yes, Mist…”

“No,” I cut her off, “I am no Mistress of a daughter. Mother. Call me that.”

“Yes…Mother. Mother.”

And just like that, she fell into slumber again. Picking her up, large child though she was, I walked out of the house. Undoubtedly, there were others, wasting away in the desert. Waiting to die. It was time to drag them, one by one, to survival. We would survive.

***​

Bolting upright, I shivered despite the blankets and furs. It was always so infernally cold here and it certainly had nothing to do with the buckets of sweat coming off me. The sun blind that infernal bard. Singing some bleeding songs about the birth of the Klerion. And the sun blind me for being fool enough to listen to his tale even though I knew all stories of Klerion brought me and my sister nightmares. My sister!

A wracking sob broke through the house as I bolted out of bed and into the foyer.

“Madam is…” the maid began, but I ignored her. I paid her for silence and taking care of my sister while I was out, nothing else.

Up the stairs I shot, three steps at a time while the maid doddered behind. Exploding into her room with the window to feel the mountain breeze and hear the bustle of the town from, I immediately saw her. Trapped in the darkness of the nightmare, bandages across her eyes damp with bloody tear stains.

Sun curse me thrice over for my infernal curiosity! I rushed to her side, wrapping her into my embrace, cooing softly. Slowly, her shivers stopped, as did her tears as she woke.

“Sister? Is that you?” I let her run her hands over my face, “oh yes. It is you. Good. I wanted to stay up, you know. See you when you got back. But you were so late in coming that Melldris sent me off to bed saying that you’d be enraged if I’d caught cold for such foolery.”

“I’m sorry I’m so late,” I whispered, “I won’t do it again, I promise.”

“Good,” she replied sleepily, “I think I’m better now, sister. Especially now that you’re back. Only, could you maybe, sing me a song? Just one and I’ll go to sleep.”

“Always.”

“Oh little sandstorm,
my bright ruby.
Shine for all to see…

Above the fields of Verlen, we ride.
For the eggs! For the eggs!
For the eggs we die!
You shall not break.
You shall not bind.
For the eggs! For the eggs!
For the eggs we die!
Above the fields of Verlen, that we ride.

-Battle Cry of the Sowers’ 5th​ Aerial Squadron


***​

Brushing down Broad-Wing at the end of the day was always a relaxing time, despite the bruises. Still, he’d only plummeted once from her back and that only into the dirt instead of rocks! Progress was the beauty of the world, it truly was. Humming happily, Falls-flat Clawborn of the Nettle-eye tribe scraped the day’s grime off the ashen, Snow Wyvern’s scales. It wasn’t really usual to be this dirty for a day of work work. But he couldn’t help it that, on the rare occasion that they found a mud hole in these mountains, Broad-Wing would dive right in. Regardless if her rider had dismounted or not. Undoubtedly he looked horrendous, but the sudden swoop and plunge was rather fun for him.

Entering the Aery, his Dad greeted him with his usual guffaw. “Took you for the dip again, did she!”

“Yah,” I grinned, “she’s been a real firecracker today,” giving her an extra scritch on her neck. Affectionately, she chomped down on me. Flailing madly as Falls-flat got the full experience of having his head and shoulders stuck inside a wyvern’s mouth as his Dad bellowed with laughter, she lifted him off the ground before giving him and friendly shake before placing him down and releasing him. Drool dripped horribly off him as he stood, frozen.

“Well,” his Dad finally spoke through the wheezing laughter, “I supposed she decided to ‘double-dip’ you.”

He renewed his roaring laughter as Falls-flat’s head slowly turned incredulously toward him and said, “Dad, that was utterly horrendous.”

Eventually controlling himself, his Dad said, “well, anyway, I’ve got some news.”

“News?” This has to be bad, Falls-flat thought. Everyone knew the war was drawing to a close. Only a few strongholds still held on desperately as siege gradually wore down their supplies. Most everywhere else was under occupation of nations from either Taz’Dien or Maglin. Everyone knew that, while the sieges may last a good number of years more, it was only a matter of time.

Still, his Dad looked around, as if making sure they were alone except for the other herders’ wyverns. Even after, he bent close and whispered one word, “eggs.”

“Eggs?"

“Idiot boy! Don’t shout it to the world.”

“But why…”

He silenced Falls-Flat with a look. “Get finished here and then wash up. Dinner’s almost finished roasting.”

***​

Falls-flat fully admitted to not being the brightest ember when it came to this. In fact, it was commonly regarded among the small tribe of herders, that he was more like a dead coal than even an ember. So it took him the evening, the night, and until he was sky high the next day before he figured out what it meant.

Eggs, he cheered as Broad-wing soared through the sky.

Eggs! he rejoiced as the sun warmed his auburn scales.

“Eggs!” he laughed as, as yesterday, Broad-wing took a sudden dive, scattering the herd of mountain goats, and plunged into a mud hole. Emerging from it together, Falls-flat cheered inside his mind, Dragon eggs! How many? Where were they?

Unspoken within him was the seed. Hope, slowly germinating beneath the soil. Verlendia to fly to her beauty, her majesty, and be reborn again.

***​

“Where have you been!” Falls-flat’s Mother cracked as loud as a whip when he closed the door late a week after he had first learned of the eggs.

He winced. It was said that Dracoric hailed from dragon stock and his Mother certainly had inherited their anger. Few could withstand her fury should she ply it. Right now, she was still building her fire, considering to unleash it upon Falls-flat’s answer. Understandably, he treaded very carefully and equally honestly.

“I was with the other herders…” he began.

“Doing what so late?” she snapped, eyes already sparking.

“We were discussing…” Falls-flat continued to plod forward slowly.

“And speak up!”

“About dealing with the Taz’dien garrison.”

Falls-flat watched her eyes suddenly flash with naked fire and immediately braced himself.

“Dealing with the garrison! Is that what you called it?” she roared. Thank goodness they lived pretty much alone with the garrison in the local village a good three miles away. Still, her voice probably covered half the distance. But the hope of eggs was too strong to back down.

“Yes! That’s what we called it!” It was the first time he had spoken back.

Taken aback, she quickly rallied, “well you’ll have no further seditious conversation!”

“This ‘seditious conversation’ is about freeing us all!”

“Getting yourself killed is more apt!”

“Maybe it’s worth dying for!”

“Why you…!”

“I’m tired!” I headed her off, “tired of it all! Tired of having to pay these ‘tithes’ to them. Spoils that bleed us dry! I’m tired of them when they come around to press someone into service, or binding them to their hokey beliefs! And it’s time that someone did something! So why not me? Why not us? Sure, I fall off Broad-wing more than all the other herders! Sure I’m as bright as coal, but I can still do something!”

It was silent for a moment before she drew a mighty breath, only to have it headed off again.

“Dear. The boy’s made up his heart,” my Dad said, “don’t try and cut him from it.”

“What, his life isn’t more impor…”

“As the boy said, there are some things worth dying for,” he said, “and family’s one of them.”

The man rose to his foot. Hopping over to Falls-flat’s mom, giving her hand a squeeze. He’d lost his leg in the Black Years War. After the plague finished striking down the dragons. Fighting to protect his family. Protect their freedom.

***​

With a roar, the wyverns dove down, pouncing across the village’s palisade. Weeks of training in formation flying, thrusting with prodding hooks into straw dummies, and pouncing down and launching into the sky after a shock impact. It all came down to this, liberating the village. The big step. A burly warrior, whirling to see the sudden commotion, was crushed to a broken, bloody pulp. Falls-flat couldn’t give it a second thought, they were already airborne again. The bell rang as the scattering of soldiers on patrol drew weapons and others began to spring from the guardhouse.

“Falls-flat, keep up!”

“Sorry!”

He spurred Broad-wing on, shooting into the heavens. A second later, arrows flew lazily past, already reaching the top of their arc as the wyverns slipped out of range. The lead pointed with his herding crook, directing the flight back down to another target. This time, the arrows tracked closer. Fear shot into his throat as the arrows whizzed by, one skimming off Broad-wing’s hide before they crashed down again. Another warrior gone. This time, as they shot into the air, an arrow stuck Airy-breath, smiting her from the saddle. Again, before Falls-flat had to think about the hole in the flight, they were off again in the air, missing one.

Another harrowing flight down again, but this time it was worse, far worse to behold. Although, it was ironic that this was exactly what they had hoped for. With the wyvern flight causing chaos, picking off the scant garrison one-by-one, the locals had risen up. Taking pitchforks, shepherd’s crooks, torches, rocks, and the occasional hunting bow, they swarmed the invaders. And were being cut down. One group managed to pin down one and were tearing him apart, but most of the weapons were a poor match against the well trained and armored soldiers. Blood flowed into the dirt, making it mud, as one after another fell. It was on them to ensure the tide was turned while the soldiers struggled to shoot at the wyverns properly.

Crashing down marked the fall of another foe and they were off again, closing the gap in their ranks when, suddenly, Broad-wing bucked. Too focused on not focusing on the bloodshed going on around him and simply staying in formation to properly balance. Bucked free, Falls-flat fell flat, crashing down into the earth outside of the village and knew know more.

***​

Wincing in pain, Falls-flat didn’t dare complain as his Mom aggressively wrapped his head in a bandage. She looked ready to breath fire on half the village.

“Honestly,” she snarled, “it’s a miracle your head didn’t cave in!”

Deciding the wisest course of action was to let her seethe without interrupting, Falls-flat was amazed they had succeeded. The garrison had been wiped out with only two prisoner survivors. And they had only surrendered after a wyvern pounce had broke both their legs. 18 out of 20 foes, dead. It was a chilling thought. Even more chilling had been the blood price of the village. Thirty people dead and twice that number wounded as the Taz’dien soldiers got into their stride despite the best efforts of the wyvern flight. Of which two were dead and nigh on all injured. He waved in sympathy over to Beak-breaker, who just had an arrow removed from his shoulder.

Still, his mind rallied, it’s a start. No one was under any illusion that this was over. Taz’dien would not stand by and simply let them have their little rebellion. Nor could they stand by and let Taz’dien have the rest of the continent. Not to mention the myriad of forces from Maglin that rode hard across the lands, claiming all they could. No, it was going to be a very long road indeed.

***​

“You know,” Falls-flat Clawborn said, “who would’ve thought that goatherds make for some bloody great riders?”

“Well, no one seeing you would think that.”

He chuckled as his lead commented. It was true enough. Falls-flat still maintained the record for falling flat off a wyvern. Broad-wing, of course, was as incorrigible as ever. Dancing here and there and enjoying the local pond. Or, more likely, the mud at the bottom. She was growing too. The battles long fought strengthened her muscles as what had begun as a little rebellious village joined up with more and more forces. Growing and shrinking as they clashed with the enemy across the land. While each battle cut their forces, less and less were dying each time. Veteran fighters were forming out of farmers. Armor and weapons scavenged from the battlefield kitted out the forces far faster than any blacksmith could, but left them a hodgepodge of geared and ungeared troops. Mostly professional fighters by now, but still a worrisome number of peasants.

Peasants, Falls-flat thought, listen to me. I’ve gone soldier. It wasn’t a insult to call them such. Merely an acknowledgement of the difference in skill level. They were fresh, bright eyed, and horrendously ill-prepared for life in their little division. The word division still surprised Falls-flat every so often. They really were that large, 10,000 strong. Containing multiple squadrons of which Falls-Flat belonged to the 5th​ Aerial. It was strange to look into the mirror of the pond with his two surviving friends from home and see himself. Once there had been a mildly responsible teen who played at being a man. Now, after several years of war, there were a grim set of eyes that stared back at him underneath a steel cap. A mail hauberk and padded furs covered up a scar on his chest where a javelin had missed his heart and been healed too quickly by magic to set right. Resting upon his shoulder was a mighty halberd while a thick wooden shield rested upon his side. A veteran soldier. For, while it was true that Falls-flat had the record of falling off his wyvern, it was also true that he had developed a potent skillset at survival and combat.

“Tomorrow, huh?” he said aloud.

“Yah.”

“The citadel awaits.”

***​

A massive fortification stood barely in sight throw the trees that the 5th​ Aerial Squadron had placed itself, awaiting the signal. The Iron Citadel had been besieged time out of mind throughout the two wars. A symbol of Verlendia’s continued defiance that had, somehow, miraculously, not been starved out yet. It was anyone’s guess as to exactly why, though most guessed magic. Falls-flat guessed they were right, but he had little knowledge of such things. It was just enough to think about leading his own flight into battle.

“Steady,” he said as the freshest member of the flight’s wyvern bounced uneasily.

“Yes, sir!” Calming his mount, he looked as young as when Falls-flat started. With a pitchfork and no armor to speak of. Nobody in the flight wanted to talk to the boy, Falls-flat included. He was unbloodied, and anyone unbloodied seemed far more likely to die than one bloodied. Suddenly a horn sounded. The division had been successful! They’d snuck up on the enemy!

“Fly!” Falls-flat shouted with the rest of the squadron veterans, shooting into the air with the rest of the wyverns. They were off, soaring through the sky, above the trees. The outer defenses of the Iron Citadel had been breached as massive stood dotted across the landscape as strange abandoned skeletons of impossibly large trees. Battle was ongoing at the second later as engines moved through gaps knocked down, undermined, or some way broken walls. As the 5th​ Aerial Squadron approached its objectives, the defenders seemed to catch the flying banner, that of the Sowers’, and gain heart. Redoubling their defensive efforts with horn blasts, raising of banners, and a frenzied counter assault as they tried to repel the enemies from the walls.

With a sweeping gesture of his halberd, Falls-flat brought his flight low, under the squadron as they shot to engage the enemy aerial elements. His flight’s job was to scour the walls clean. With a dive, he lead the formation down in a V, raising his shield and peering over the edge. An arrow thwacked into it from the archer group that had been firing within from the section before CRUNCH! Crushing their enemies beneath them, the wyverns began to thrash and chomp while Falls-flat focused on protecting Broad-wing’s flanks. Cutting down the lightly armored and unprepared Maglins with ease for a few seconds and then, with a jab, they were airborne again. Long before any enemy force could mass a volley of arrows at them. Assessing the damage dealt, he was grimly pleased that the archers on the wall were broken from the shock. Some scrambling in retreat while others stood and tried to continue to fight. To the next target.

He further registered that one wyvern from his flight was soaring away, roaring, its rider lying dead upon the wall. The lad’s pitchfork stood sticking out of a Maglin corpse.

***​

I slumped in my desk as I tried to muster the energy to continue, then gave up. Writing about the war was always exhausting. Scanning the rest of my notes, it was apparent that Falls-flat had survived the rest of the war, settled down, and had a family in his home village.

Lucky him, I thought as I tried again to drum up some focus, maybe I could skip… Immediately I dismissed the notion. War stories in favor of Verlendia were popular these days and this one promised to be a brilliant gem. A farmhand turned soldier turned war-hero all to save the continent before taking no real glory, no real prestige, and simply returned home content to have done his duty. Who wouldn’t love it? Especially when it involved Cobrol, The Iron Citadel and the Battle of the Broken Circle. It marked a turning point in the war from which there had been no recovery from the invaders. The Center Army of the Maglins had been broken and the Sowers’ 1st​ Division would serve with distinction for the rest of the war, helped especially after the citadel’s defenders had recouped enough to rejoin the war proper.

My mind danced around dates and stories as my eyes strayed to a spot on the wall. Hidden behind it were some rolled up tapestries along with a family portrait. Soft creaking entered my ears and a smile graced my face. She was practicing again. I wish she could have had a proper first dance. Perhaps I’d leave this for tomorrow night. What was the time anyway?

Oh, by the sun! It was late! I had to practice too before hitting the sack and who knows how long it would take! Abandoning the page, I shot off to join my sister.

I poured the tea. It was rare for me to entertain anyone in my home. It was better to keep most people out, but this was an exception. Amalfi rarely left their homes and were even less likely to stop in other creatures’ settlements unless they were traders or some more important purpose. With a bribe of free lodging and supplies, I ensnared him. Already having dismissed the maid for the day, it was only me and my sister, who was dancing upstairs. The creaking ceiling had the man’s cat-ears twitch. He seemed to have realized, too late, that this was a trap. I was a Chronicler, which meant I would draw out a story from him.

Still, he sipped the tea. “Who’s upstairs?”

“My sister. She’s dancing.”

“Do you dance?”

“Naturally, I’ll practice later.”

“Tis after nightfall.”

“I’m used to it.”

He took another sip of tea, eyes slightly narrowed as he cast around for something else to pull the conversation from where he wouldn’t have to answer the questions in my eyes. Too late.

“Still, I’m very curious as to why you would venture away from home to our little neck of the world.”

“Don’t we all have our own business to keep?”

I continued to speak as if to myself, “Not to trade, surely. And there isn’t a war…ah! An Honor Quest!”

He glared at me. I offered my most ingratiating smile.

“Chroniclers,” he sniffed through his minute nose, “always knowing more than they ought.”

“Merely a job,” I soothed, taking a sip of my own tea.

“To pry into every corner of the world for a story.”

“Nay, to preserve and record every corner of the world. ‘Never again will this moment come to pass,’” I parroted.

“‘So all moments must be written,’” he finished for me, “is that it?”

“Indeed,” I purred, “scones?”

“…As your curiosity seems to be as infernal as my species namesake and undoubtedly as deadly…”

“Excellent! So why are you on an Honor Quest?” I slid the scones onto the table.

“Not just any Honor Quest, one that places me within society. It will ensure my position in my tribe and allow me to work to claim greater feats.”

“And all your people go on…respective Honor Quests, yes?”

“While crude, your guess in indeed accurate. Upon coming of age, we must all produce something of worth to the tribe to be fully accepted. These quests cannot be failed and some will spend their whole lives to produce the necessary results.”

“What happens if you fail?”

“We return.”

“Home?”

“No.”

“To what then?”

“Just return.”

“Interesting,” I shifted the topic, “so what will you provide, armed as you are.”

“A Rettakar.”

“Which is?”

“It doesn’t truly translate into the common tongue. The best description would be perhaps a cross between a royal guardsman and a babysitter.”

I almost spew tea across the table, but I got the gist. It seemed that Amalfi placed their young above all else. “For such a position, no doubt you must have an onerous task ahead.”

“Indeed.”

I didn’t push it. Given his haste, the mountains in which I lived, and his gear, there was little doubt he was wyrm hunting. Dangerous beasts with a keen intellect that would seek to slay most any sentient mortal they came across. Though not necessarily immediately. They may connive a dangerous plan to only be unleashed at the worst moment. There was no envying the task, especially with the first snow rushing to meet us any week now. Sun-forsaken freezing lands.

“I pray for your success then.”

“Thank you.”

He personality continued to match the nippy air, but I had my knowledge. It told a fair bit and, well, to at least appease my feline house guest a bit, I said, “would you like to watch my sister and I practice? It’s cultural.”

The royal guard to-be considered the peace offering to my interrogation, then nodded and, together, we ascended the stairs.

While I’m not certain I’d call Ledris ‘Wyrm Slayer’ Gadlrain a friend, we’ve a letter-exchanging respect for each other and, in these times, I’d take what I can get.

Day 35 of the Great Disease: Ambulans Cadava Putridum.

The disease continues to baffle me at every turn. I cannot begin to fathom how it passes from dragon to dragon, nor why it affects them alone. Their distant cousins in drakes, wyverns, and wyrms remain unaffected by the continual spread of the plague. As far I can tell so far, the disease takes root within the dragon, gradually spreading across the body ad hoc, affecting random points as it progresses. What it does rather simple. It causes rot. Splotches across the body simply rot away, as if that section of it simply died. Once the rot hits enough vital organs, the dragon dies. It remains that simple and that random. Cases can last as little as one day or still be ongoing even today, thirty-five days after the we first began to truly track the cases. So far, basic precautions are being placed across the continent, working on tracking down every known dragon and ensuring they begin isolated from each other. Or, at the very least, they stay where they are.


Day 40 of the Great Disease: Ambulans Cadava Putridum.

I’ve begun working with a network of healers, doctors, alchemists in search of a cure. Together, if we tackle every aspect of the disease, I’m certain we can find a cure.


Day 50 of the Great Disease: Ambulans Cadava Putridum.

Dragons are beginning to drop left and right, despite the isolation measures. Riders are dying too, not due to the disease outright, but due to grief born from what strange and archaic bond they have being broken. Still no progress on a cure beyond eliminating numerous methods. Thus far, no regenerative tincture or spell seems to have made an inkling of an affect upon ill-dragons. Nor have many other traditional cures. However, we must also accept that this disease is just beginning. There must be a cure out there. All plagues have a cure, all curses a counter. This is the core of all our medical studies and beliefs.


Day 100 of the Great Disease: Ambulans Cadava Putridum.

The plague continues to spread and I begin to fear the worst. How does it work? Why can’t I or any of my comrades nail it down? It’s as if it knows we are trying to understand its secrets and slips, just out of reach! We still have nothing more than when we started!


Day 132 of the Great Disease: Ambulans Cadava Putridum.

This plague cannot be natural. There is no way to explain how it almost jumps from dragon to dragon across the entire continent without magical methods. It must be actively avoiding our attempts! It must! It uses our efforts to track all the dragons to find them! We of the league need to meet. I know for certain we can discover the cause of the rot and how it jumps from dragon to dragon without faults. I just need to get them to listen!

***​

Three days later, Dr. Lendria was found raving in a corner of their home, severely dehydrated. The doctor never recovered. I shivered. The diary I had literally dug up to find whispered danger to me. Lendria had no history of any mental illness and no cause to suddenly develop one. Certainly, the strain of the cases and the unspoken overwhelming pressure placed upon the healers of the land to save the dragons, but it didn’t add up. No, I had the unshakeable feeling that something else had driven Dr. Lendria mad. Something I wasn’t too certain I wanted a part of. Something because the good doctor had become convinced that the plague wasn’t natural in any way shape or form. Which, if true, meant that the most likely culprit involved in driving the doctor mad, was somehow involved with the plague itself. And that was too hot for a Chronicler living with her sister and a maid. I picked up my work and tossed it into the fire without a second thought.

While students of the Libraries of Prell are only gifted their magical quill upon graduation, that didn’t stop the little tykes from stealing their Mother’s quill every chance they got.

“Where’s the baby?”

“I dunno,” the youngest student said as she refused to look into her Father’s eyes. Twisting her hands behind her while trying to appear innocent.

“What are you hiding behind your back?”

“Nothing.”

“Really?” The Father gave his parental stare. Wearing down his daughter’s defenses in a quick and gradual manner. He held out a hand. Slowly, the girl brought forth and released into the Father’s open palm a slender, though sturdy, quill of runic magic. “Now, where is the baby.”

Pouting in a last ditch effort to forestall punishment, the youngest daughter stepped to the side and mutely pointed at a bundle of clothes. Delicately, the Father unfolded the top layer. There, sleeping soundly as if nothing were wrong with the world, was the teeny tiny Baby Boy. However, he should have only been teeny and not both teeny tiny. There, scribbled upon his brow was, while the Father couldn’t read it, a diminishing rune. The Father decided it was simply best to keep watch over his baby and not move him. Simpler and safer that way. Sitting down, he turned to the last order of business.

“Why’d you scribe the rune?”

She continued pouting, not looking at him, yet drummed up the energy to burst out, “it’s not fair! Everyone else can hold the baby, why can’t I?”

Because you’re too little, the Father thought. The Baby Boy was almost half her size, when his size wasn’t diminished, and dropping him could be disastrous. However, he gathered his pouting child into his lap and then with all the delicacy of glass blower, lifted the Baby Boy in the topmost layer of clothes and placed it in both their laps. “Until you get beg enough, whenever you want to hold the Baby Boy, come get me and we’ll sit like this.”

“Anytime I want?”

“Anytime you want.”

***​

The Father heard eldritch incantations softly permeating through the cracks in the floorboards upstairs. Which could only mean one thing: his Eldest Daughter who had just graduated from the library, was angry again. And it was likely about a boy. That boy. He made his way upstairs and, after giving a quick knock, entered her room. As a graduation present, she got her own room and desk. Which was, unsurprisingly, dashed with crumpled parchment all over the place. She hadn’t seemed to hear him enter as she ripped and crushed a sheet of parchment before sweeping it aside.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

So intent upon her work, the Eldest Daughter didn’t even twitch in surprise, “working on inventing a rune.”

“I can see that,” he replied, toeing one of the crumpled sheets where he could just make out the swoop of some glyph, “and why are you working so…intently upon creating a new one.”

“I’m trying to turn someone’s insides out.”

“That’s it! No more quill for you!” I said, snipping the object right between her fingers. Like her Mother, it took a second to notice it missing as she tried, twice, to draw a runic shape.

“Dad!” she exclaimed after the dots connected in her frazzled brain, “c’mon! Give that back!”

“Not until you tell me exactly who you are trying to turn inside out.”

She fired up. “That skiving, cheating, rash’talkat!”

The Father was impressed. It had been at least a year since she had last sworn in the ancient script.

“Now, is it really worth turning him inside out over?”

“Yes! Maybe…no. It’s just! He’s just! UGH! I hate him!”

“I know,” the Father said, wrapping an arm around his still sitting daughter, “what if we took a daylight rune, removed the fire, and simply made it a blinding flash so he could see nothing for the day.”

It took but a mere moment for her to consider the matter, “Yes! Brilliant! I just need to…”

Daintily the Father slipped the quill back into her hand as she began to scrawl upon empty parchment again. He had never liked the boy anyway. As if such scum could be worthy of his Eldest Daughter. Of either of his daughters.

***​

The Mother flopped down into a chair with a groan. She had been up all day, scribing rune after rune after rune. Hunched up in a cramped armory.

Immediately, the Father was beside her, massaging her writing hand. Which had all but clawed up in the intensity of her work.

“Dear, if this is your idea of trying to set the mood, please don’t. I’m exhausted,” she said.

“I’m not trying to set anything. I’m just helping my wife relax after a long day of putting bread on the table.”

“Of which you cook and manage the monstrosities that came out of me.”

“Of which I put there, so I call it even,” the Father said as he moved to the Mother’s shoulders. Easing them out of their still hunched state. She sighed in content.

“So what was it today?”

“100 ice blade runes on 100 arrows. Do you know how hard it is to properly scribe down a good rune on those heads!”

“I can only begin to imagine.”

“And it wasn’t just me, it was at least a dozen of us, all etching a 100. Does our lord want to rain hail as arrows down upon the enemy? And why so many?”

“Do you think it’s war?”

“I don’t know! Well, no, I don’t want to know.”

“We’ll be safe here. Our family has too much runic blood to be worth risking.”

The Mother stared at her three children. The Baby cooing in the Eldest Daughter’s arms while the Youngest Daughter scampered around, asking for a turn, “yeah. We’ll be safe.”

***​

I was very lucky to come by this piece. Stupidly lucky, in fact. By the name of the sun, why did I have to keep finding pieces that were so hot when compared to all the evidence! Was I just good at my job? Or did I passively have a death wish. See, when one looks at it from a blind standpoint, it all looks perfectly random. Dragons get plague. They die. Other nations realize dragons are dead and go ‘oh look, if we team up our nations, we could gain Verlendia.’ They go to war at somewhat different times and then get in each other’s way enough that it helps prevent total conquest until Verlendia effectively sacrificed an incredible portion of its population into a repulsing army of its invaders as they realized there still were dragon eggs. All together, it made for a nice, neat, package of a history. Until one took into account for the discrepancies. In this case, ice-blade runes were, as a rule, notoriously fragile and difficult to store. Hence their one use. Especially for long periods of time. Meaning that the various clan lords and ladies of Taz’dien had to have set up such means of properly transporting them across the ocean and then properly deployed in vast quantities to their troops. The timing needed to pull that off was, for all intents and purposes, was incredibly precise. So precise that Taz’dien must have known one thing:

The dragons were about to die out.

Verlendia wasn’t foolish. While they couldn’t hope to hide the plague, they did all they could to forestall the knowledge that all dragons were dying out. And certainly the obfuscated exactly when they had.

Yet over 100,000 ice arrows loosed in the war told otherwise.

I’d publish the piece. But all the thoughts I had. Madness, perhaps, I’d keep to myself. I had my sister to think of.