Wind flew in playful tugs and eddies up and around my wings. I nearly sighed with pleasure and gave in to the sensation, but just then my destination came in sight. The mainland had disappeared behind me several hours ago and I’d flown swiftly through a world of perfect blue, lost in the caress of the air and the burning touch of the sun – the two elements that made up the soul of a dragon.
Time had passed peacefully during my flight, my wings neither tiring nor faltering, but rather, buoyed up by the power of the draconian elements. I’d let my mind drift, allowing myself to summon up the ancient tale of the beginning of our current Age. Perhaps somewhere in there lay an answer to solve the current dilemma I was facing.
The island grew closer, individual features becoming distinguishable. It appeared quite barren, surrounded by rock cliffs and little shore. A thin line of lush forest surrounded the main part of the isle, a looming cone that jutted out proudly, a dead volcano echoing the legacy of its fiery past.
Focusing my will, I pushed at the wind to speed me along, hoping to somehow have an answer for what lay before me, something that would quickly resolve what was becoming an unfortunate and embarrassing problem for the Dasodraksion, the Dragon Council.
As one of the drakoniers, dragons couriers who ranged over the world attending to the affairs of the Council, I was deemed the most suitable for the assignment. On the surface, it was simple.
A cult had sprung up on one of the island chains of the southern continent. Every six moons, they sacrificed up one of their virgin daughters, lashing her up on poles and leaving her out for a dragon to devour, in return for the dragon’s protection.
Only the dragon wasn’t eating them. He was bringing them back here, to this island. There was, according to the few reports I’d been given, a growing collection of females. It seemed this dragon was looking for a mate – and it was not voluntary.
I was to investigate and learn the truth, to see if such an aberrant practice did exist. It made the humans on those islands fear us, even worship us a little, which went against the decrees of the Council. We were always to give the choice to our chosen female. Taking away that choice and using force violated our most sacred laws. It was not to be allowed to continue.
Thus, my clan leader and father sent me in to discover the truth and report back to him. And if needed, to the Dasodraksion. It was of supreme importance that I find the truth and report back as soon as possible.
Yet I wished I hadn’t been chosen.
Because this supposed Devourer, cult god, and breaker of laws wasn’t any normal dragon – he was also my only brother.
My father had waited a long time after my brother’s birth to mate again. He was one of the few dragons who’d sired two sons – the first out of necessity, the second out of love. Though he hadn’t loved my brother’s dam, he had raised my brother to be a strong leader for our clan after my father died. For his sake, I had no desire to kill Wrethrian, the only other living descendant of his Blood.
Somehow, I hoped to find my brother’s cult was but a myth and my father could remain proud of his lineage.
Scanning the mountain, I spied a large cave opening that looked as if it might lead inside. It was, I hoped, an entrance, for other than that, the ground below me was smooth and featureless I glided closer, the night serving to camouflage me. My mother had been a wind priestess of the griffins, and I’d inherited her eagle coloring. My face was light silver, and I was white all through my underbelly. But my scales gradually shaded from dark gray on my wings up to black on my spine. This allowed me to fly unseen at night and to blend in to nearly any environment, except for open, green meadows.
Hanging in front of the edge of the large opening, I searched it for any sign of life, closing my eyes and using my Fire to sense other living beings. Other than a few birds, there was nothing but the wind. My eyes snapped open and a gust of air blew around me. I clamped down on my emotions, wary of giving my presence away, and the breeze died down.
My mother had also gifted me with her ability to manipulate the wind. All dragons could already control Fire and Air, but my elemental control of Air was nearly subconscious. It responded readily to my emotions, requiring a higher level of control than other dragons needed. I had only to want a stronger updraft and it was there, strengthening my flight.
Thus, as I approached the dark area, Air again blew around me. I willed it to calm as I flew closer to the opening, which grew larger than it had first appeared, hidden by the angle of the slope. The approaching maw giving little away, demanding I bow at its immensity. Terror spread tiny tendrils through me, surprising me with its presence.
Fire built inside my chest, and I snorted out fumes, obscuring the black opening. The dragon spell faded, and I cursed my stupidity for thinking that my brother would have left the entrance to his lair undefended. Nearly any other creature – including many dragons – would have flown away as the overwhelming fear intruded.
But I had greater defenses than most beings. My connection to Air expanded the sensitivity of my Fire, so that I was able to sense everything from the tiniest spark of life to the fleeting echo of a smoky spell. The wind in me had sensed the wrongness of the fear, and coursed to my Fire in alarm. The spell faded as my fire powers flared out, burning it to nothingness. The fire then settled back, awake and aware, searching the rock around me, pulling my defenses in place.
After closing off the link to my frustration, I commanded the wind to drop me onto the ground. I spread my wings and floated down, making no sound with them, letting the air do all the work. The wind deposited me soundlessly in front of the cavernous opening, the air stilling around me, ready to respond to any more threats. The vast opening yawned around me, appearing empty and dead. No light leaked out. Not a hint of features peeked from its darkness. It rose above me, three times my height and half as wide. I reached out one of my forelegs and felt the edge. It was as deliberately smooth as the slope. Created, not natural. Hints of old fire and something green and muddy lingered in the stone.
A dragon’s lair.
I had originally thought I might settle in and observe the island the next day, as well as restore my energy from the sun. But as the last bit of sunlight began to stretch its fire into the sky, lightening the sky to a bright orange, I decided to enter the cave and see where it led.
The barest whisper of air went before me, weak and harmless, a warning beacon more than anything else. It detected nothing, so I crept in, my wings tightly furled against my back. Uneasy about walking along the floor, I unsheathed my claws and climbed up one of the walls, moving forward from a position of greater strength, ready for attack.
But nothing stirred. Had my brother’s arrogance given him the belief that his fear spell was enough?
An inner voice chided at me, reminding me that I had, despite my abilities, almost given in.
I returned my gaze to the bare rock around me. It was hard to find purchase in the even walls, forcing me to dig my claws in deeper. I wanted to call the air to hold part of my weight and ease the burden of my claws. But even as wind started to swirl around me, I pushed it away, not wanting to upset the balance of stillness around me, in case that, too, was another part of a trap.
Still, as my eyes strained to pierce the utter darkness, I saw nothing. Realizing my open eyes were lightening the area around me, I closed them, unwilling to give away my position in so easy a manner. Instead, I focused my Fire sense outward, searching for the heat of living bodies. Finding nothing nearby, I continued forward.
Wind drifted around me and past me. Before too long, it found a small opening ahead. I reached it and realized it was a chamber of misdirection, as it branched off into several directions. For several moments I remained against the wall, clinging there as I sent my awareness down several of the tunnels. Finally, I caught the heat of other beings, but they were small and isolated.
A mass of heat down a larger tunnel caught my attention. I turned and started down it, surprised that I hadn’t encountered any living being in any of the corridors. Perhaps they were all together, engaged in some activity, except for the faint heat I sensed in other directions. But none of the life energy I sensed was strong enough to be my brother.
Unless he already knew I was there and was hiding from me.
Deciding to head towards the largest mass of life energies, I climbed up to the roof of the corridor, hanging upside down to gain tactical advantage in case my brother was waiting to attack me. Letting the wind swirl on the ground as I distraction, I approached the end of the tunnel, my eyes slitted open. Light began to pierce the gloom, dull and gray. Sounds, too, began to echo around me – screams and moans. I sped up, afraid I was about to witness a massacre.
Scrambling the last few dragonlengths forward, I entered a huge room. Dim light filtered down from high above, centered on a space in the center of the chamber. Unable to understand the tangled heat signatures in front of me, I finally opened my eyes completely.
Air seemed to freeze in my lungs as I took in what I was seeing. Naked bodies writhed over each other, groaning in pleasure and abandon. There were about a dozen, and they all appeared female. I shook my head and took a deep breath, then searched further, noticing that they ducked under each other constantly, circling a particular point on the floor. Each female leaned in, caressing some thing there, kissing it and begging it for release.
A body moved slightly, and large, male hands came up to grasp one female’s bottom, while another pushed a head down below its chest.
Again, I sent my Fire out, and felt the familiar touch of dragon magic.
That man was a Sending.
It was time to stop the twisted, lust-filled scene in front of me. Air poured from me, chilling the wind in front of me in a widening arc. Time to announce myself.
“Wrethrian. I feel you here.”
My voice echoed with the sibilant syllables of draconian speech. A few moments passed, then an answering voice came out of a darkened corner, away from the press of bodies in the center of the chamber.
My brother’s voice hissed out of the blackened corner of the cave. My gaze shifted from the mass of writhing bodies to the source of his voice.
Wretharian’s eyes opened, gleaming out of the darkness, lighting the darkened cave.
Even now, they startled me. They were the same luminosity as my own, clear and nearly a colorless blue, as sparkling as the aquamarines our clan was named for. Only, unlike mine, which could reflect the shades of my surroundings, my brother’s pure white coloring enhanced the clarity of his eyes, leeching them of any possible hue. This left them cold and hard to read, without the appearance of any emotion.
His mother had been one of the rare wolvenkind of the north, a giant snow wolf and mage of her pack. From her he inherited her coloring and earth power. This gave my brother the rare ability to manipulate stone. He was, as far as I knew, the only dragon capable of twisting the earth element. I had not thought him so strong in his ability, but the carved entrance and perfectly rounded and shaped corridors of his home echoed with the feel of his powers.
He closed his eyes a moment, and I felt his fire powers flare as he pulled his Sending back into himself. The bodies tangled in front of him shrieked, crying out in fear.
“Where have you gone?”
His eyes blinked open, shining even brighter than before, and he surged out from the crevice in which he’d wedged his body. More screams rung out, this time of terror and adoration, and the females flung themselves face down on the ground in front of him, prostrating themselves for worship. Their naked bodies glistened with sweat, and I saw that they were a mix of race, with a few elves, humans, dwarves, and even a snakekin mixed in.
Wrethrian breathed on them, wreathing them in smoke.
“Arise, my chosen. Another Lord has come among us. Greet him.”
As one, they stood up, turned and faced me, and prostrated themselves on the ground again.
“Very good. Leave now, and do not return unless I call for you.”
One by one, they crawled upwards, protest in every movement. They filed out, some still crying with need. I watched them until they were out of sight, my mind still trying to come to terms with what I’d just witnessed. My head turned to find Wrethrian regarding me calmly.
I settled back on my haunches, straightened my neck, and brought my tail up to arch over me, unfurling my wings halfway – the classic drakonier pose that said I came at the command of the clan leader. Our father.
“You know why I am here.”
Wrethrian moved further away from the wall, approaching me much as a lion stalked a deer.
But I was no prey.
“Little brother, come at the will of the Council? No, our father.”
Air eddied around me, and he stopped his advance.
“So it is true. You’ve created a place for the races to worship you.”
“And what concern is that to you?”
”The cult of the Devourer is an abomination.”
He chuckled, interrupting me.
“Is it, little brother? So you want to wipe it out? To destroy me?”
“I have issued no Challenge.”
He threw his neck up and a whirlwind rose up in front of me. But Wrethrian only shot a short flame upwards before settling back down to face me.
“No, little brother, you have not. Nor will you, once I show you how futile that would be.”
The ground rumbled beneath me, and in the span of an eyeblink, the air shot me upwards, away from the trembling.
“Impressive, little brother. Your wings haven’t even finished unfurling.”
“You know who my mother was and what she could do. You remember her, even if I do not.”
“Oh yes, the mighty Rothsarien, master of fire and lord of air.”
He looked at me almost lazily.
“But do not forget who my mother was.”
A spear of rock flashed in front of me, shooting out from one of the walls around me. I ducked away, barely avoiding it. Angrily, I pushed the air away from me in a menacing arc, hitting the spear and hurling it towards the ground. It clanged down beside my brother, who looked startled.
“I did not come here to talk about our mothers or the abilities they left us. I am here to discuss your actions and those of your cult. Man is learning to worship us, which is wrong. And worse, they carry out murders and other atrocities in your name. They burn innocent children and smash helpless animals under rocks, all in homage to you and your gifts. This must stop!”
“You truly don’t understand, little brother. I do not care what those short-lived people believe. And I am not here on this island purely for pleasure, though that is an agreeable perquisite. In truth, I was called here, to create this place, to become the Devourer. I alone will save our kin.”
“Dragonkind has already been saved. What is it you expect to do? And what do you mean you were called?”
“A vision spoke to me.”
“Wrethrian, this is madness.”
A call out from the mouth of the cave interrupted us. A voice spoke, using the common dialect of the Pact.
“My Lord, there is trouble.”
A trembling girl appeared, her face pinched and white with fear.
“The… the sythren-”
Wrethrian turned his head to look at me.
“We will continue this… discussion after I’ve dealt with this problem.”
The wind deposited me back against the ground.
“I will come with you.”
A glint of his cold humor showed through an upraised lip, exposing a long fang.
“As you will, little brother.”
The ground shook slightly as he turned away and began walking towards the corridor from which I’d entered, his power rippling in the rock around him. My Fire and Air flared out to just below my scales, ready to fight.
Because somehow I know our battle had just begun.