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Stellar

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Stellar last won the day on March 17 2017

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About Stellar

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    Sexycakes

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    Male
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    Gay
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    New Zealand
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    movies, music, gaming, online gaming, writing, finding purpose and meaning in all facets of life

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  1. On this auspicious solar rotation just gone, it's Appreciate A Dragon Day! I'd like to take a moment to admire those wonderful creatures from beloved fiction; Smaug, Glaurung, Fafnir, Saphira, Alduin, Drogon, and more besides. I aspire for my creations to be as memorable, even if some of them intend to resurrect an insane god. #FlyingPyromaniacMurderLizard

    1. Show previous comments  1 more
    2. Stellar

      Stellar

      @Valkyrie you could say it's posted here and in the works. I would be referring to this, which is what I've been doing for the last year and a half, or so.

    3. Valkyrie

      Valkyrie

      Cool :) I'll be sure to check it out.  

    4. Stellar

      Stellar

      if you like contemporary fantasy with a young gay protagonist thrown in, you might enjoy it. Though, the plot is as much of an enigma wrapped in a mystery as my other works on here, so you've been sufficiently warned. I'll say no more than that. <_<

  2. It's after midnight.

     

    Happy New Year. 2019! ❤️

    1. ancientrichard

      ancientrichard

      We've still got more than 12 hours of 2018 left in the English East Midlands, and our friends in the USA will still be in bed :-))

  3. Stellar

    Midnight Hour

    Why are you so convinced Mikom will die? Tbh, the humans are far squishier and easier to kill, not the Mishith. Glad you enjoyed it. When Spirit of Fire is completed, this is a possibility for what I do next, though it won't be the only possibility.
  4. Stellar

    Another Language

    Hmm, are you expecting Ygzardîl to appear for round two? Interesting!
  5. Stellar

    Another Language

    Something 'needs to be done'? I have no idea what you're implying, exactly, but consider that every recurring character aside from the protagonist has a reason for existing in the plot. You may find that wanting someone to 'vanish' simply because you don't like them, would in actuality be game-ending.
  6. Stellar

    Flame And Frost

    Hmm, 'bad choices'. I don't know that I'd describe Torsten's decision-making as being bad. He's in a tricky position with incomplete information being forced to act by supernatural creatures that could kill him as easily as look at him. Knowing the 'right' way to react to these things is hardly intuitive, specially with no way of knowing the longer term consequences. I do have to wonder -- at this point in the story -- why you think he's weak, when this very chapter he stood up to both Theo and then not longer after that, Araziah. Also, why exactly he'd want to make Araziah his boyfriend when he literally just killed Theo right in front of him.
  7. Stellar

    Another Language

    Devastated is probably a good description to use for how Torsten feels -- and also Lucy, to a lesser extent. Araziah, though, is angry. Not through any fondness for Sebby, but because of what Sebby means to Torsten. There's a lot to be angry over and to direct his ire at, and for Araziah this is both a tactical disadvantage (the most capable allied player is removed from the battlefield) and a reason to rage (causing hurt to someone he cares about).
  8. Stellar

    Another Language

    Part of the problem with a godawful amount of narrative slush is corralling it into a meaningful anything. This chapter was a headache, in authoring terms, because there wasn't a clean way to bring together several plot strands that didn't involve excessive dialogue and characters sitting around talking exposition at one another. As it was, the more character-focused romantic carryon involving Torsten in the first couple of scenes and the accompanying meeting was easy enough to produce, but felt so much like weightless drivel that consumed too many words and produced comparatively little that furthered the story. Contrast this to the latter stretch (flying to Overmountain and after) which was almost unreservedly 'things happening in a concrete sense' and delivered much more punch for its speed, and the timing of the entire thing comes across as quite wonky. Curious bit of information here: I was considering making this cliffhanger utterly horrible, and not including the final scene with Sebby. This would have left y'all believing he was actually dead -- a trope I am certainly no stranger to (Hidden Sunlight fans take note) -- and wondering why this author could be so abruptly cruel. Well, cruel, maybe, but everything is definitely not always how it seems.
  9. Stellar

    Another Language

    Nero certainly seems to think she found it -- though nobody else is any the wiser at that particular point. Strange indeed! Ygzardîl has been hibernating in the Overmountain facility for some time and seems to have gone quite bananas long ago. Do you think that the possible proximity of the Fear and the Spirit of Fire's influence might have made any difference to the earth dragon's state of mind? Madness begets madness, or so they say. Poor Sebby is in some trouble, though I caution to add that his wound is much worse than what Araziah received the previous day. It wasn't a shallower cut or a glancing slice of tissue, and there is no quick alcoholic remedy and personal care on hand. He has been properly stabbed -- blade fully into the body to the hilt -- and is losing a lot of blood to the injury. In simple terms, he is bleeding out. If there isn't a solution coming in the immediate future, he will certainly die for real. So! Your postulations about who will end with whom might have to wait until the situation is more certain -- a love triangle exists until one point is removed. Until then, the triumvirate will continue, and the competition inherent also. Lastly ... Torsten does indeed hold all four pieces that Triskeleth inferred he must. At least something is going right for him and his companions. His sole advantage is that the Conclave still has no idea what his position is, and so he must combine the reagents before the point of her death, and complete his preparations -- but that's far away yet ... isn't it?
  10. Stellar

    A Place For Updates

    And now 16!
  11. Stellar

    Another Language

    Blank. For the first few seconds, my mind was completely blank. Then reality set in. The couch beneath me, his shoulder against mine, his hand on my cheek, his hair brushing my neck, his lips sliding on mine. We're ... kissing. There was no more rational thought after that, just the tang of Kentucky caramel, the mesmerising slip of skin, and my anxiety evaporating away into the joy of our unexpected kiss. We separated a dozen seconds later, though hardly at all; his face was close to mine, a few inches apart as we gazed at each other. His eyes had gone wide, the intense red of the irises seeming to glow with an inner fire that was part reflection of daylight and part a supernatural warmth. "You ... do." His voice was a whisper and it was the most disarmed, the most surprised, I had seen. "You feel it too. It is true. I- ... did not know, that humans could desire their own gender, or that ... we ... might also." His attention shifted, meandering downward, to focus on my lips with a childlike wonder. "It is excellent. Does it ... always feel that good?" I could not think of a single thing to say. Not a word. "Torsten," Araziah murmured, "I will surpass him. I will win you, and then ... we will mate." It was said with his typical absolute certainty, the decisiveness returning. His eyes trailed back up in a smouldering glaze, to mine. "Deny it and stop me now, if I am wrong." I did not deny anything and I did not stop him. As he leaned closer again for another, I was for a moment motionless, but then ... I was moving to meet him. Still, even as I did, a particular concept, a word he used, was lingering in my mind. Mate. In the emotional confusion of the situation and the exploratory sensations of parting lips and brushing tongues, one thing was painfully obvious. The experience was electric, and through eyes pressed studiously shut, I could feel the material of my jeans tenting in what had to be a ridiculously obscene bulge. Mortified, disoriented, aroused beyond belief, my heart was beating rapid-fire and I was as dizzy as I imagined my half-inebriated partner to be. There was no mistaking it. A switch had been flipped in my head, and I couldn't un-see it. Not now. Not anymore. I was very attracted to Araziah. It took something wet touching my neck to bring me out of the moment, and I gave a little jerk as I came to my senses, breaking the second kiss off cleanly, if slightly abruptly. It was blood. The reminder of what was going on brought me fully back to the present. "I- ... we- ... we shouldn't," I stuttered, rambling, pulling his left hand down from my face, all while trying desperately to avoid drawing attention to what was going on in my lap. "You're hurt, and messy, and, uh, you n-need to relax, and- ... and ... anyone could walk in-" "Bleeding is stopped, healing started. Can feel the wounds mending. The old lady gives clever advice." His other arm pulled free, then he lifted it, draping it over my shoulders, his eyes not leaving my face for a second. "Help me to my room. Tend to me." His voice dropped a notch. "Please." "I, uh ... okay." I stood, pulling him up with me, and together we lurched awkwardly through the kitchen and on to his room. Pulling the bed's covers back with my free hand, I eased him around and he fell heavily onto the sheets, managing to stay sitting upright. "I'll be right back." Okay. I can do this. Just like the day I found him in the basement, I was running on autopilot. Though I was fully aware of the situation and reacting to my surroundings, there was a part of me a million miles away. Shocked. I was a zombie, fetching the items I needed to clean him up. Not thinking about what we had been doing, the turmoil and chaos of my mind, the ease with which I had gone along with it, nor the fact that I was still so hard that it almost hurt. I arrived back into the room with the required supplies in hand only to be greeted by a breathtaking sight. He was lying down, hair splayed across the pillow, bottom half beneath the partially drawn-back covers, upper half now barechested, the shirt discarded on the floor. Wow. Apart from the cuts on either side of his neck, there was a puncture where a knife had gone in just under his left collarbone, into the fleshy part of his shoulder. On the right side there was a long horizontal gash that followed his ribs almost to the side of his body. Though the skin around the wounds was wet, it was starting to dry, with only a little blood still seeping through. Celeste was right. The alcohol isn't just pain relief. It's really helping. His body has already shut down the bleeding. Her words from after he was shot came to mind, as relevant as ever; 'they can regenerate faster than we can and survive wounds that we wouldn't.' He was much more resilient than I realised. Carefully, I sat on the bed next to him, placing the bowl of water and disinfectant on the bedside table. Wordless, I dabbed the cloth in the water and began to clean him. As my brain was finally starting to consciously process what was happening, I immediately admitted to myself the truth, now done with all the emotional hedging and indecision that had plagued me for the last couple of months. I liked what had happened. A lot. It had taken something this dramatic to get me to catch on, but there was no way to undo it. Araziah was as attractive to my crazed teenage hormones as Sebby, and I had, either through denial or willful ignorance, completely misread all the signs that would have told me this was coming. In retrospect, there had been a few of them. How the fuck was I so BLIND? Their personalities, their attitudes, their physical appearances, even their kisses; everything about the two dragons was night and day, direct opposites, but ... I wanted them both. "Don't be troubled." The low tone was an interjection to the room's quiet, and a glance told me he was still giving the same sort of rapt attention that had begun with the first kiss on the couch. Through heavy-lidded eyes, with a peculiar half-smile, the now-relaxed Araziah was watching me finish cleaning him. He was following my hands' movements with a satisfied indulgence that couldn't hide how pleasing he found the treatment I was giving him. "I've no regrets. Not for a second." "Araziah, I- ... I don't want this to go wrong." Wiping the last of the blood off his shoulder, I dropped the cloth on the table next to the bowl. "What if I d-" "You won't." He took my wrist, stopping any further action, and forcing me to look at him. "Nobody could be as loyal. Nobody could be as true." His hand slid up my arm, the fingertips caressing the skin, his smile calm and convinced. "You won't betray me. I believe it. I've seen it. I know it." He tugged gently on my arm, wanting me to come closer, his voice dropping again to a whisper. "Lie with me, Torsten. I must rest." I didn't resist. Climbing onto the bed, he drew me down next to him, my head on the pillow, pressed against his shoulder, his hair silky against my cheek. His arm went around me, pulling me so I was cuddled up against him, his hand resting on my hip. My racing heart slowed, and my anxiety and stress began to subside. Araziah sighed, then spoke one last line before he closed his eyes fully, so quiet I could barely hear him. "The voice. It fell silent." Moments later, he was asleep. -o-0-O-0-o- It must have been an exhausting afternoon, because I woke maybe an hour later, to a dry mouth and the surprise that I had dozed off with him. With care, I slipped out from Araziah's embrace, though he hardly stirred, and pulled the covers higher. Exiting the room, I eased the door closed as quietly as possible, and made my way through the empty house to the kitchen, in search of something to drink. Except, it wasn't empty. Sitting on the couch, having stacked my grandfather's journals neatly together on the lounge table, gazing placidly out the window at the yard as he waited, was Sebby. "Oh, you're awake." He noticed me before I could say anything, his senses perfectly acute. Standing, the air dragon came round the couch to greet me. "The lady Celeste informed me what happened to Araziah and that you might need assistance. I returned early from my task to check on you." "I- ... I'm s-sorry, I- ... I didn't m-mean to-" I stuttered and began to shake, locked in place in the middle of the kitchen floor by a sudden uncontrollable fear that Sebby knew what had happened and would hate me for it. "I- ... I d-don't want to hurt-" "Torsten." He understood immediately that something was up, rapidly closing the gap, and taking my hands in his, the welcome dissolving into concern. "Why are you upset?" Sebby frowned, an eyebrow raising, and his eyes flicked to the side in momentary thought, toward where I had come from, then back to me. "Are you worried because I saw you close to him, and you are afraid it will anger me? Is that it?" Nail on the head. That was exactly it. Sebby was perceptive, and he understood me. He could read my reactions far too well. I had to be honest with him "Y-yes, he ... he kissed me, and I-" "Hush." He interrupted, squeezing my hands, then he let go, and reached up to cradle my face. "I always knew this would happen. I am not angry." "You ... knew?" "Of course. Araziah's interest was the same as mine, from the beginning. He was just too young to understand it. Well, until now, it seems." "B-but ... I didn't stop him! He wants to 'surpass' you, and I just ... let him!" "Torsten. Listen." Sebby was composed, mellow, even as I felt hysteric at the prospect that I might have damaged the trust I had with him. "The reason this does not concern me is because I know you. You have a deep heart for those you are close to, and a considerate mind that thinks of others' feelings as much as your own. You would allow yourself injury before willingly letting harm come to us, despite that we are far better equipped to receive it. You won't betray me. It's not in your nature." Betrayal. Araziah's sentiment was nearly identical. "He- ... he said the exact same thing to me; that I wouldn't do anything like that." "Then we are both right. Whatever happens in the future, I have faith you will act wisely. As much as I want you to myself, it is not my choice, nor his." He leaned up and gave me a very gentle kiss on the lips. "Be as close to him as you wish. You will do right. You are my arusklîn, and I could never hate you." I sniffed, blinking away the tears that been forming, and Sebby pressed his forehead to mine, reassuring me. "That word," I murmured, "I haven't heard it before. What does it mean?" "It is not human. It is Celestial, the language of air and water. There is no equivalent in English, but it translates to something like ... 'the one to whom my feelings are devoted in hope that they may one day be returned.'" "And when they are?" I whispered. "What then?" "When they are, I will tell you more." With that, he kissed me again, longer and slower, and as soon as we broke apart, I pulled him into a hug. The sensation of Sebby's slim body pressed against me, wrapped up in my arms, was a comfort I didn't know I needed and I instantly felt much better about the severely mind-bending last hour or two. I'm so glad he came back to check on us. "Your day has been stressful," he hummed, his arms around my shoulders, "and much more so than mine." "Yeah," I sighed, "it was, though I found out something very important. Something that I should probably share." "So has the Order, going by Celeste's message, and I also have things of my own to report. It seems that we are all due a meeting to compare our notes." "Then we should have one," I agreed, "as soon as Araziah is awake and ready to tell his story too." -o-0-O-0-o- His recovery was even quicker than I anticipated, and by the middle of the following day Araziah was out of the bed and on his feet again. He allowed me to do a brief examination of his injuries. The cuts on the neck were almost fully sealed, the tissue in the process of knitting back together, though still tender, while the shoulder puncture and gash along the ribs were still coming together. It seemed my quick response to his situation had greatly reduced the recovery time needed, and his respect of this and what had happened between us was clear. In the presence of others, with the effect of alcohol removed, it was subtle, but to me? I could feel the change in attitude. I could tell the difference in how he looked at me. It was just before noon when Celeste and Agent Crawley arrived. Lucy had come over earlier, and Sebby had stayed the night, though he had maintained an intelligent separation from me in Araziah's vicinity. They walked through the front door just as Mom had finished preparing coffee. Greetings were exchanged, drinks served, and once all seven of us were settled in the lounge, the talk began. "Let me begin," Celeste said, "by offering an apology to you two, Natalia and Torsten. The Scourge should never have had the opportunity to attack this house. The Conclave's timing was precise and meant to occur when both of us were busy and the Order's security detail in transition between shifts. It was good fortune and quick thinking that you came out of it alive, and we have primarily Ms Atkinson to thank for helping." She tipped her brow to Araziah. "And you, also, of course." His acknowledgement was cool, but gracious. "It was for Torsten, and his mother." "So I was told. I am glad you chose to join him." She nodded primly. "As for what I have been up to, these past days? I did not get a chance to return here for more than a couple of hours before the Order's Grand Secretary requested I depart again. He wanted me to finish investigation into a European matter related to the avatar, and I was only done with that today." The avatar? "What happened?" Crawley asked. "Been waitin' to hear what Fineas wanted with you." "Well, the Order had been trying to narrow down the candidates. We had the list reduced to just three potentials that fit the criteria. It has to be a dragon of the Seventh House, with the physical and magical stature that a god would find acceptable as a vessel, and within the age range prescribed by the prophecy. It wouldn't be an individual the Conclave would normally place in harm's way, so the dragon in question would have to be more reclusive and not directly involved in the Conclave's subterfuge. It happened that the Order caught wind of a rendezvous between two of those three candidates in Europe." "Wait a sec," the agent interjected, "was that anythin' to do with the 'accident' I saw on cable? The one in Spain?" "Indeed it was." She nodded again. "It is unusual to see any of the Seventh actively engaged beyond the United States in recent times, and they were obviously not expecting any intervention, because we caught them completely unawares. Both of the candidate dragons were killed during our ambush, though another unrelated dragon narrowly escaped, and they made a hell of a mess fighting at the meeting location. If you heard something on the international news about a major fire at an industrial chemical processing facility outside Barcelona, that's the cover story." Both of them were killed. Then that means ... "Um, do you know who the avatar is?" "By reasoning that the real avatar would not be meeting in such a way and through process of elimination, yes. There is only one remaining dragon that fits the conditions well enough to be seriously considered. You see, Nero, Darren and Theo, are the human aliases you are familiar with, but like all fire dragons, they managed their interactions with human society's rules around a concern that is rightfully paranoid. However, one small administrative indiscretion with Theo's school registration revealed an alias surname that their family uses when it is absolutely necessary to provide one: Irving. Through this moniker, we were able to positively confirm and identify the avatar." Celeste withdrew a polaroid from a pocket and placed it on the table in front of everyone. "It is their eldest brother. His name is Michael and he is none other than the sire of the Seventh House." The image was taken from some distance but it showed a man in an expensive tailored suit about to enter a building. It was blurry because of range and motion, and I couldn't see any detail of his facial features, but what I could tell of his build and posture definitely reminded me of both Theo and Darren. Yeah, that's got to be him. Michael, the oldest brother. The one who would become a god. "He is in Mirrorvale," Celeste continued, "and it is he who brought his family here, and has been both the sire and mastermind of the Conclave's efforts ever since his father perished in the late 1800s. We know precious little else about him, other than that he owns significant wealth through human proxies, he's an esteemed psychic by the Conclave's standards; a skilled magic user and a cunning strategist." "If you've identified him and he's here," asked Mom, "can't you plan a raid or trap him somehow?" "Ain't that simple, ma'am." Crawley took the question. "'Scuse my language, but someone like him fucks with the minds of everybody around him. Even Darren is hard enough to keep tabs on, so tryin' to follow this guy is like grabbin' quicksilver. They use human laws and customs to hide themselves, and they can vanish into a crowd at a moment's notice. If we try somethin' to nab him, and it ain't watertight, then he'll be gone and we might not get a second chance. He'll have a backup plan even for his backup plan." "Then what?" I looked between Celeste and the agent. "What's next?" "This." It was Crawley's turn to pull out an object. It was a glove, made out metal and mesh, with a series of stones attached to the finger joints. "This is a weapon we've been workin' on. May not look like more than a prop, but it's got oomph. Custom tuned to only hurt dragons of the Seventh an' mess with their magic. When powered up, it may be able to kill in one hit. Problem is, we need the blood of five different dragons of the same family to fully charge it. We're at three, so far." He tapped the three stones on the top of the glove that were glowing a dim red, then looked pointedly at Araziah. "I hear yer one of their long-lost relations, so ... maybe you'd consider donatin' to make it four?" "This ... gauntlet?" Araziah glared impassively at the object, before his attention was back on Crawley, and the response was attrition. "You are making a device that could be used to kill me, and you want me to help you?" "It's for Michael, to kill him and break the prophecy. End the war." The agent didn't back down. "Won't be used on ya so long as yer with us." "And if you make a mistake, and the Conclave is to acquire it somehow?" His aversion was strong, direct. "What good would your assurances be if they wield it against me?" "Araziah." I caught his attention, before Crawley could respond. "I think this could be an important tool to fight them with. Would you do it? Please?" For a long moment, he stared back, perhaps not expecting the question from me, but, finally, he relented. With a tiny dip of the head, Araziah accepted my suggestion. "Only for you." Then, to the agent: "When we are done here, you will have my blood." "Works for me." Crawley agreed. He took a mouthful of his coffee, now cooled enough to do so, a pensive expression crossing his face. "I've got an old buddy out on the Corridor with his team, lyin' in wait to catch anyone from the Seventh so we can get another blood sample. Minato has been campin' for days, but ... so far, nothin'. All the traffic has been another house, or two." He placed the coffee mug down on the table, and looked across at Sebby. "Perhaps you can fill us in about what's goin' on there." "Of course, agent." Sebby smiled. With a flourish, he produced an orb seemingly from nowhere, like a magician playing a card trick. Placing the little silver ball onto the table, his fingers slid over the surface in a criss-cross movement, drawing a pattern. Whatever he did must have activated it, with a burst of white light shooting out the top, and an image projecting into the air about two feet above the orb. It was a detailed map of the eastern United States. He pointed to a series of connecting lines drawn on the map, running north-south, inland and roughly parallel to the seaboard. "This is the Corridor, a travel network that allows the Conclave's members to move with effective anonymity along these lanes. Their court was located here," he indicated a point close to the terminus of the primary northern route, in what would have been New York state, "until it was recently destroyed by the Tempest. Order intelligence has implied that the majority of the court's inhabitants -- the First, Second, Third and Fourth -- have fled west to California or the Rockies, in order to not endanger what is going on here." "Shrewd move," remarked Celeste. "The Seventh is the critical house, and if they are isolated from the others in the late game, we can't pursue the rest of the Conclave as an information source against them." "Indeed," concurred the air dragon. He traced the bottom part of the Corridor with an index finger. "I have mapped this half of it in relatively precise terms, and with Araziah's assistance had begun the process of pinpointing and deactivating the magical nodes that provide the enchantment effect, though a lot of work remains for it to be dismantled completely." Then, the upper portion. "There is a side branch of the Corridor somewhere here," his fingertip hovered over a spot in southern Ohio or West Virginia, "that contains a fortified haven of the Seventh. Considering that the sire of the Fifth reportedly left Brazil with many of his kin just days ago, and that this haven is the only guaranteed safe place left in the Americas because of the Corridor's effect, then it is likely the traffic your friend has witnessed has been dragons of the Fifth in transit. By legend, these two houses have always been close, since the beginning and the bond between Xajarkith and Ushgorim." "Then where're the dragons of the Seventh? Sleepin' on the job?" "They are here already, Agent Crawley, presumably in preparation for whatever Michael has planned," Sebby told him, with a sly grin, "or staying put at their stronghold for security, or elsewhere in the world on whatever errands their sire wishes. In any case, if dragons of the Seventh have used the Corridor in these last days, they have avoided my notice." "Perhaps your eyes are not as keen as you say." Araziah raised a nonchalant brow to Sebby, the disagreement sharp. "Of the three that attacked me, two emerged from within the Corridor. All of them were cousins of Thyndorag; Mordred, who styles himself as 'the Grey Prince', and his siblings, the Ash Sisters." He snorted, a flicker of amusement passing by. "Or maybe that should be 'Ash Sister' now that Faye is dead. They thought me easy prey for vengeance. A few meagre cuts is proof enough of their poor estimation. They were wrong." "Wait." Crawley's eyes went wide, and the cigarette packet he had been distractedly turning over in his fingers stopped moving. "It was those three? You escaped from those sadistic bastards and killed one of them?" Wordless, Araziah reached over and dropped two items on the table; a torn necklace chain which was a mess of interlinked overlapping gold, several garnets suspended in settings within it, and a short sharp knife with a gleaming blade and ornate ebony handle. "No shit." The agent shook his head and then sat back. "Spoils of war from a goddamned notorious serial killer. Maybe y'ain't so bad after all." "So the Grey Prince and his sisters came to Mirrorvale? That's a number of the Seventh gathered in this very town. They are either waiting for something, or as you say, preparing for an important eventuality." Celeste was studying the Corridor's lines on the map, a frown forming. "I wish we knew the location of their hidden sanctuary. I'd bet anything that's where they took Triskeleth, and I still think it's important we try to save her too, as well as finding the Fear." Triskeleth. This was my moment. I had to tell them. "Um, there's something I should say, and it's kinda serious." I cleared my throat, and everyone gave me their attention. "About her, that is. My grandfather had a sapphire in his collection, and it turned out to be a chip from one of her scales." "To be expected." Celeste shrugged. "She was very fond of him, and that is a valuable gift. They were close friends." "Well, Triskeleth contacted me through it, in some kind of psychic connection. They're using a magical torture device on her to get the information they want. She couldn't tell me where she was, because she didn't know, but what she did tell me is that, um ... I don't know how to say this without it sounding kinda crazy, but ... when she dies -- and she was sure she would die -- I'm going to replace her. I'm going to become the next seer." Silence. The reactions in the room were a mixture. Mom already knew, Lucy was confused, Celeste shocked, Crawley with a 'oh brother, are you kidding?' look, and the two dragons both unsurprised. "What?" Celeste said, flatly. "This just got weird," muttered Crawley. "I knew it." Araziah's utterance was low, and he glanced to the air dragon. "So did you." Sebby's answer was simply a nod, confirming. "How? Why?!" She was staring at me, flabbergasted. "What you say is impossible. It's unprecedented! A human receiving divine magic? A human having any kind of native magic at all, period? I ... don't understand!" "I don't either. Did you think I asked for this?" My snappiness caught her off guard, and Celeste checked herself immediately, calming her surprise. "She told me that I need to be prepared for it before they kill her, or her power will scatter and I won't get another chance for several years. She said I need to fortify myself with magic from the four elements so that it can find a home inside me." I opened my palm to show where I had been nervously gripping Triskeleth's sapphire. "It has to be dragon scale, or something similar with magical properties from a dragon. This is water. I was hoping that you two can provide me air and fire." "What you require is latent within the gift I gave you." Sebby flashed a small polite smile. "When the time comes, you can draw on it." Oh. The ring. Again, wordless, Araziah reached up and plucked a strand of hair off his head. Coiling the filament up, he wove it around a finger until it was condensed into a tight circle, which he then clenched in his fist. Concentrating for a moment, Araziah opened his hand and it was transmuted into a sliver of ruby, only an inch long, which he took in forefinger and thumb, and offered it to me. "It is yours." "Thank you." "Then you still need earth." Celeste regarded the ruby sliver with curiosity, adjusting to this new information. "We have none of their dragon scale and no magical artifacts from their kind, and there is only one known instance of interaction with earth dragons in human history, and that's ... Overmountain." She focused on me, eyes narrowing. "You asked me about it yesterday, but this wasn't the reason, was it? You were looking into Terry's research and Prometheus. Did you find something?" "Yes." I swallowed, still anxious, and kept talking. "Uh, you guys -- the Order, I mean -- have been looking for the ninth piece of the Fear, right? You've got six of them locked away, two more are somewhere else, and the Conclave thought that my grandfather's work might tell them something new about the last shard, the one everybody is after." Crawley shrugged. "Yeah, that's the gist of it." "Okay, so, I didn't find anything concrete about the ninth, which he believed was lost in Thailand or Laos, nor the fourth piece, which is, uh, somewhere in the middle of Asia. What he did mention is Prometheus indicating places in the United States that were NOT Northwood. One of these has to be the location of the fifth shard, the other one you all thought was gone. According to him, Prometheus gave several locations in the southern states, but only one really caught his notice, and that was-" "Overmountain." The older woman drew in a breath, briefly removing her spectacles and pinching the bridge of her nose, before she slotted them back on. "That Prometheus indicated the laboratory there cannot possibly be chance. This is an excellent lead. That's two very strong reasons for investigation." "I- ... I don't have any other way to put it. I need to go there. If they get what they want from Triskeleth and kill her before I'm ready? I won't be able to guide anyone." I made eye contact with the two dragons on either side of me, making sure they both understood. "Not the way I'm supposed to. Not the way you saw me. I have to do this, and very soon." "You will. I shall make sure of it." Araziah's insistence was unbreakable, and in a first, he touched me in front of other people, his hand on my left forearm. Then, something even more astounding; he self-corrected, reluctantly, to include the other. "We shall make sure of it." Sebby's hand was on my right, verifying. "Yes, we shall." I, uh ... wow. "Dragons bendin' over backward to help a human. Maybe it really is the end of the world, 'cause now I've seen everythin'." The agent stood, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lip, and made his way to the rear slider, and the yard. "I need a damn smoke." "Torsten, if you think you're going on some quest without me coming along?" Lucy's reprimand was quick and her involvement settled before I could offer any kind of argument against it. "No way. Nuh-uh. I'm not letting you hog all the experience and loot." Experience? Loot?! What is she, the official group treasurer? This is NOT an RPG. "If time is essential, then this needs to occur as soon as possible. Are you intending to go today?" Celeste asked, preventing my rejoinder to Lucy's self-insertion. "Overmountain isn't too far, but the route's not direct. It'd take a while to drive there, the site is in the Tennessee backcountry." At that, Sebby laughed, a melodious joyful sound. "Oh, Ms Rothberg-Cartier, why would we travel by ground, when we can fly?" -o-0-O-0-o- It didn't take long for everything to fall in place after that. Araziah gave Agent Crawley the donation he was requesting, while Mom fretted a little about the dangers of what we were doing, though she had accepted, with her typical practicality, that it was something I had to do. She also made sure to impress on Lucy how this wasn't to be treated as any kind of game and needed to be taken seriously. For her part, Lucy actually listened without complaint to the lecture on responsibility, as my mother was one of the few adults whose words she wouldn't ignore. Before we departed, Celeste had been busy. In the few minutes prior, she made a quick call to the Order and acquired a basic schematic of the Overmountain facility. The images were transferred to my phone, and to Lucy's, along with a little additional information about the facility and the events that caused its abandonment, though it wasn't very comprehensive. The Order's censors hadn't allowed much to be released at short notice, both because of the Order's own secrecy protocols and it being classified material by the military. Since urgency was important and super-precise knowledge probably wasn't going to change anything major, it was decided to not wait around for more. Both Celeste and Agent Crawley were going to be staying in Mirrorvale, for multiple reasons; in case something unexpectedly bad was to happen, to give Mom some moral support, and for the simple reason that they were still Order associates and Overmountain was one of a handful of explicitly forbidden no-go locations. For me and the others? No such restrictions applied. After the goodbyes were said, we left the house on foot, as Sebby was quite clear that our takeoff needed to happen out of sight of the town. So we walked, with me leading the way, until we reached the same field just over the forested hill, where Araziah and Theo had fought. Though revisiting the place brought back a few unpleasant memories, I had managed to come to terms with what had happened, and the emotions it conjured were strong, but I dealt with them. The past was uncomfortable, but I wasn't going to let it haunt me. The decision about who was to be the passenger of whom was unquestionably decided by Araziah as soon as it was mentioned. He would carry me, and nobody else, which left Sebby to take Lucy. It turned out this was just fine with both of them, as they seemed to get along very well; her tendency towards blasphemous flippant behaviour amused him, with all of her sassiness and profanity taken in stride, and from her perspective? I knew immediately by their interactions that she thought he was 'super cute' and fun to be around, and I could see a 'puppy love' kind of non-romantic crush happening right in front of my eyes. "Alright, I'm not a fan of heights, so you're gonna have to take it easy in the air, okay?" She was stressing about it a bit as we entered the clearing, but Sebby put that idea to rest. In one quick movement, he stepped in front of her, took her face in his hands and delivered a continental-style platonic kiss to the lips. "You have nothing to fear, I promise." Then, an about-face, and he walked a little further away from us, with Araziah also doing the same, though at a tangent to Sebby. She grabbed my arm, cheeks flushed. "Torsten," she whispered, "omigod, I fucking love him. He's perfect." "Yeah, I thought you'd get along," I tried not to smirk too widely, knowing full well why the others were putting a little distance between us, "but wait 'til you see ... this." My timing was good. On cue, both of them assumed their natural forms and I made sure to watch her face the entire time. Lucy was totally starstruck. I could almost see the cartoon sparkles and the girlish delight. It's like she's met a unicorn, or the fairy godmother. "So shiny. So pretty." She breathed it, unable to look away from the gleaming piece of artwork that was the platinum dragon. "I- ... I get to fly on him?" As if to answer her, Sebby turned on the spot, coming close to us, his bodily movement fluid and smooth. The ground trembled slightly from his weight so near, his head and neck curving around us as he brought himself right down, his left forelimb and shoulder lowered as far as they could go for her ease of access. Even that close, his back was easily more than twice my height off the ground. I hope the climb is not too great? Taking passengers is a first. Always the tease, with a comment at the ready. We do not sell tickets. You must be special. "I do feel special right now." She was smiling broadly, and she stepped across and began to ascend. Torsten. Araziah? His phenomenal growth hadn't slowed, and in the time since I'd last witnessed him at the Barents-Whitehouse building, he had continued maturing rapidly. Now around the same size Theo had been when they fought, the red dragon was sitting on his haunches, and with my attention on him, he chose an alternative method of boarding to Sebby's offering. Instead of lowering himself, he picked me up just like last time, his clawed hand wrapping with meticulous delicacy around my backpack and everything else. Bowing his head, Araziah placed me on the bridge of his shoulders. At the same time, he slid forward to drop onto fours so my seat became horizontal, allowing me to get settled, as Lucy was with Sebby. Now, we are ready to leave. Sebby pushed himself off the grass, standing, and swivelled again on the spot so he was facing us. It was weird for me to see them together in a visual comparison, and while the air dragon was still noticeably larger, he was decades old to Araziah's mere months. The speed and scope of what was happening was the evidence, and it was unquestionable their matchup would not be uneven for long, and the memory of Triskeleth's vision of Xajarkith was a reminder of just what was in store. Oddly, as intimidating as that thought was, there was a part of me that wanted to see where Araziah would be at full adult size when his growth slowed, just to know the Conclave's fear at their god's challenger. I know our destination's bearing and will extend my aura to you while we are aloft. No stray eyes may spy our journey. He was addressing Araziah, though Sebby turned yet again as he was saying it, and in a series of quick bounds was away, once, twice, three times, and then into the air and rising. We began to move also, Araziah's body undulating as he followed along, Sebby's voice echoing slightly as the gap opened up. It will fade at distance, so keep close! That is, if you can -- the flame is hardly as swift as the wind! I could hear Araziah's snort of annoyance even over the rushing air, a throaty draconic growl of warning after it. I am more than capable, child of the breeze! In response, the platinum dragon banked, ducking in a swift drop to the left, then rising again in a soaring roll to the right, accompanied by a series of rippling swerves that were as agile through the sky as a dolphin in water. My transportation rumbled audibly again, irritated, not wanting to put in the energy, but beating his wings faster, the ground shrinking as we ascended in a determination to prove that he could. In front, cruising with ease through his home, I was sure I could hear Sebby laughing. -o-0-O-0-o- It took a couple of hours to get there, and by the time we spotted the facility it was mid afternoon. From the air, the perimeter chain fence and guard posts were still in place, though a bit worse for wear after decades without maintenance. The administration buildings and some basic facilities were all that could be seen from the air, though that wasn't what I was interested in. We landed outside the building housing the entrance to the facility proper, a construction that the map had designated as a 'materials transfer and personnel transit' point. It had multiple large sliding cargo doors in the exterior walls, and though it was less than than two stories high, it was spacious, covering a generous floor area, with a large grimy perspex dome letting sunlight in. One of the fire exit doors was ajar, and Sebby took the lead, the rest of us following after, the grating of metal on concrete as it swung open seeming so loud in the stillness of the complex. The interior was scattered with machinery for loading heavier objects, most of it left as it was, the facility's occupants having departed in a hurry. Beneath the dome, however, was what we were there for. A pit, around sixty feet wide, was directly under it, and the opening went straight down. It had a guard rail around it, and a cargo elevator was parked at the top, with cabling snaking off into the abyss. On the far side though, was something I was not expecting. A man. He was watching us from before we saw him. Sitting on the far side of the pit, his legs dangled over the space, forearms resting idly on the middle bar of the railing. As we got closer, he pulled himself up, standing, and began to walk slowly around the pit, counter-clockwise, toward us. He was tall, even more so than Araziah, probably about 6'6, with Latino colouring, shoulder-length unkempt black hair, and a short grizzled beard. In his 50s, he was built like an ageing ex-soldier; weatherbeaten face, thick limbs, broad chest, and was dressed to match; dirty camouflage pants, heavy boots, singlet and a serviceman's jacket. "Who're you?" His voice was gravelly and deeper than even Agent Crawley's, though this was all natural and nothing to do with excessive smoking. There was a slightly-crazed look to him, a wide-eyed suspicion that made me think of PTSD, military veterans, and the undisclosed trauma of warfare. "What're kids doing here?" "Stay your ground," Sebby told him, warning not to approach. Araziah stepped up to reinforce the statement, the two dragons now both in front. "We are not children." He stopped, a dozen feet away. "Not all of you." His glare shifted to Araziah, and there it stayed, boring into him, his eyes seemingly about to bug out of his head. His cheek twitched, a distasteful wrinkle of the nose, then it was back to Sebby. The head tilted back, eyes narrowing to a slit, as if appraising the air dragon. "Only one reason to visit." Uh, I think this guy is a veteran, and I think he's maybe a bit ... um ... 'damaged'? "We were told this place was abandoned." Sebby pointed at the man's filthy uniform. "Were you stationed here?" For a long second, he didn't reply, continuing his wordless evaluation, then abruptly, he burst into a wide grin, the change so sudden it was downright creepy. "Yep. Sergeant Ybarra is the name. Discharged and forgotten. Here now, making sure no-one takes a tumble." He shrugged a shoulder to indicate the pit, just feet away. "And no-one is eaten. Unless you're searching for a dragon?" "As it happens," the air dragon nodded, reasonable and polite, though it didn't escape my notice that his hands were free, "that is one of the reasons we are here." "One of them." Ybarra repeated. Again, his eyes went to Araziah, the disturbance clear. It seemed to centre around the fire dragon, like there was a prejudice ingrained, though there was no obvious reason why. Then, again, back to Sebby. "He sleeps below. Don't want to interrupt at the ... wrong time." Ybarra shook his head. "Not worth the danger." "I have seen some history." Sebby pressed his palms together, an appeasing gesture. "He went berserk. That is why the laboratory is deserted. We just want an audience. A friendly audience. Is that possible?" "Berserk!" The veteran chuckled, finding humour in something that wasn't funny at all. "An audience. Possible? Maybe. I don't trust strangers, but if you follow carefully, perhaps it can happen. If you don't, you're suicidal." "I don't trust strangers either." Araziah's body language showed it. "So whatever you do, stay where I can see you." "Orders?!" Ybarra snapped it, swift and angry, not appreciating Araziah's comment, but then his mood reverted instantly, the attitude ignored, and he was back to the placidity he addressed Sebby with, only now speaking to all of us. "Follow. I'll take you where he sleeps. Get you an audience, if we're lucky." With that, he strode over to the cargo elevator, the metal clanking under his boots, and stood next to the controls. "Come on. It's safe. Backup battery still works." Lucy and I exchanged a look, uncertain, and the two dragons glanced back, gauging our reactions. I knew Araziah didn't like this guy, nor did he believe it was secure, but I also knew he was fully devoted to our protection and ready to go along if it got results. Sebby seemed more confident -- maybe -- though his reservation and caution were better hidden, and he acted like it was a calculated risk worth taking. If Sebby thinks it's workable, then we should try. We have to do this. Together, we joined the sergeant on the cargo elevator. Smartly, the air dragon positioned himself closest, keeping the rest of us at an arm's length. Any concern I had over our questionably-sane new companion was quickly overtaken by the rumble of the elevator starting, the cabling creaking, metal juddering, machinery grinding as the floor trembled and we began to descend. Down, into the darkness. According to Celeste's data, to conduct the sort of experimentation that was most relevant on an earth-type dragon, the laboratory section needed to, of course, be underground. It was both a scientific consensus from the human scientists, and the insistence of the individual dragon involved that this be the case. I didn't quite understand the reasoning, but it was something along the lines of what my grandfather had been referencing in his notes; a relationship existed between the physical and chemical makeup of the ground itself and magical energy, and that relationship was all the more significant given the natural domain of this particular dragon. But ... what happened to the dragon in question? It was unexplained. The very brief amount of information about the 'incident' that led to the forced withdrawal of all human staff and effective quarantine and foreclosure of the facility, was unsettling. All it stated was that the subject dragon had become increasingly uncooperative and bellicose over a longer period of time. Despite this behavioural change, there had been no sign that he was going to become violent, until he snapped very suddenly, killing half of the resident corps and chasing the rest off the premises completely. The map showed the laboratory section was located 200 feet below the surface, and though the pit was an artificial excavation created by the military's engineers, it did not immediately bottom out at the elevator's base, instead connecting to a subterranean cave system which spread out and continued deeper. There was a reception platform for the elevator to dock at, which led into the primary interior concourse, a wide straight passageway tunneled through the rock. It split into a Y intersection, and along the left branch were the academic workstations and offices, a communal dining hall, and sleeping quarters. Along the right branch were the test chambers -- the actual laboratories themselves, larger rooms packed full of heavy expensive equipment -- and at the far end, the 'subject housing', which sounded like it was the designated spot for the dragon's lair. "In here." Ybarra exited first, the rest of us following after him. Sebby had produced two little orbs that he activated with another clever twist of the fingers, giving one each to me and Lucy. They glowed like a miniature lamp, casting silvery light over everything nearby. Ahead, the sergeant stepped carefully through wreckage of the entrance blast-door, which was jammed three quarters open, the metal guides bent as they thrust up through the floor. Then, the corridor. It was messy, the walls showing the facility's age and lack of upkeep. Ybarra trudged forward, the passage splitting three dozen feet in, into the two branches. Scrapings of soil, human boot prints, and clawed gouges lined both paths, the dust disturbed in the past by both the sergeant's previous visits and the draconic inhabitant himself. "He sleeps this way." The sergeant motioned at the right branch. "Going there with me if you want an audience." He jerked a thumb to the left branch. "And there if you have other reasons." "I will take Torsten to meet this dragon. His advice," Araziah indicated Ybarra, "has been accurate to the old lady's map so far. We will see if it holds." "Then Lucy and I shall search the other route." Sebby agreed. "We're splitting up?" I wasn't sure I liked the idea. "This is how everyone is killed in horror movies. I ... uh, don't know about this." "Torsten." Sebby's voice was soft, reassuring, and his eyes secretly promised me he wouldn't let anything happen. "Araziah will not let you be harmed. We won't be far. Do not be worried, and go where you need to." "Okay." I took a deep breath, and nodded in assent to Ybarra, and we began to walk along the right path. With that, Sebby and Lucy did the same, disappearing along the left, out of sight. Here we go. -o-0-O-0-o- Lucy Atkinson was on the adventure of a lifetime. While she certainly knew the stakes and the seriousness of what they were doing, there was still a large part of her imagination that was swept up in the marvel of it. In short, it was an actual fantasy novel brought into the real world, and she had a part in it. A bit part, just a side role, but that didn't matter at all. There was magic, dragons -- fairy dragons! Gorgeous Disney-esque dragons! -- and prophecies, secrets and quests, and ... romance. She was watching not just one but two of these awesome creatures pursue her best friend's heart. He deserved the attention, she wanted it for him, and the shift in Araziah's treatment of Torsten had been totally obvious to her. It was a competition now, between him and Sebby. Sebby. Nothing bothered him. He was wise, but innocent. Kind, but mysterious. His charm was persuasive and infectious, and his humour was fast and witty. Though she didn't want to pick sides in what was happening, it was very difficult to keep from imagining Torsten wrapped around this little platinum nymph in a variety of extremely gymnastic positions. The idea was far too interesting to ignore. "Here." At the door of the first office, he handed her a small device, another magic bauble. It had a strap attached to it, and he was attaching one of his own. The strap was fastened around his hand, an oval gem sitting over the palm. "It is an arcane detector, like the human invention for radiation. What was it called, a Geiger counter, I believe?" "Oh. Yeah." She attached it to her own hand. "So, like that, will it make a sound if it detects magic?" "A sound, no. It will vibrate and grow warm. The warmer and more frequent the vibration, the nearer and stronger the magic signature is." Sebby cocked his head, a brief smile appearing, and he reached out, squeezing her shoulder. "You are enjoying this, I know." His perception was immaculate, and it was bewitching and strange to meet someone that could read her and anticipate her answers better than anyone, including her own father -- and he was good at it. "Do not be embarrassed, I have witnessed humans since before your grandparents were born. Your insecurity is hidden behind your exterior, but you love him. We will be good friends. So, explore this place with me, and let us find whatever hints there are of the Fear." "O-okay." She followed him into the first office, flustered unlike ever before, the silver orb illuminating it. Like outside, it was dusty, but mostly undisturbed, with things like coffee cups and clipboards still in place where the original occupants had left them. Sebby walked around, inspecting the room, holding his hand in front to let the detector do its work. Imitating him, she did the same. In no time at all, the sweep was done, and the device had given off no more than a faint jitter. Following that, it was the next office, and the next, and then another. It was the fifth room, with Sebby having to break down the door with a heavy lean and kick, that her detector began to play up. In a display case, there were a bunch of sandstone and igneous samples, and it started to steadily vibrate, a tepid warmth emitting. "Hey. I got something?" He came over to check, and glanced at the display. "None of them are remarkable." Sebby looked over the contents. "These are regular stones." "Maybe the Fear touched them? It can leach into stuff it comes near, right?" "Yes." He agreed. "This is not evidence, but it is a hint the Fear might have been here. Come, let us check the next rooms." They continued on. Of the final three offices, two had traces of magical signature, but it was also inconclusive. The dining area was after that, and apart from some thoroughly decomposed organic remnants in the fridge and pantry, there was nothing of any interest. After that, it was onwards to the sleeping quarters. The room had a television, a pool table, and several dozen bunk beds. There were more than three dozen wall lockers, and military footlockers for each bunk. The two of them scanned the room, having developed a rhythm for screening, but they did not get to finish. "Maybe we will have to search the test chambers." Sebby sounded perplexed, not expecting so little in the way of results. "I suppose it is not inconceivable the Fear was mistakenly involved in testing, but I was hoping-" He was stopped, abruptly, by an interruption. Through the ground, a distance away, there was a thud. It was the tremour of something very heavy impacting a surface. After it, a rapid series of aftershocks, smaller, but still noticed. "That was ... where they are, or close." His eyes darted as his thoughts raced, and his mind was made up. "Something is wrong. We are done here. They need us!" In a flash, Sebby was dashing to the door, his silhouette fading slightly in the gloom of the facility's unlit interior before he turned to urge her to join him. "Lucy, we must move. Come!" As he spoke, in the same moment, the detector in her palm began to vibrate, just from the simple act of turning her body, her hand drifting closer to the last foot locker in the row of bunks. Is something there? She thought it was nothing, another dead end, a quivering pulse that was just a fruitless suggestion and no more, but ... it picked up speed, the device heating against her skin. Can't ignore this. Have to see what it is. "You go," she called to Sebby, "I want to check this, but then ... I'll be there!" -o-0-O-0-o- Sergeant Ybarra led the way, his pace constant but measured. Each door we passed he would utter the name of the test chamber's purpose, and glance into the interior, either through a window, or through open space. The map had informed me that there were ten, though not what their functions were, but apparently, the man knew them all. Some were descriptions like 'silicate tensive cross-allocation' which was at least understandable, while others were Latin scientific terms and jargon that I didn't recognise at all. Between the second and third door, Araziah slowed slightly, having kept himself between me and Ybarra, then he dropped back so he was walking next to me. With no ceremony at all, he took my free hand, his fingers threading neatly between mine, and held it. Not a word about why, we continued following our guide. He knows how nervous I am, but … not with him doing this. I wanted to look at him, say something about how uncomfortable this place -- and this guy -- made me feel, and that we were about to bother a potentially hostile dragon from slumber, but ... there was nothing. Instead, I focused on his hand in mine, and what he was watching; the sergeant's progression, a few feet ahead. After the ninth chamber, our branch angled slightly to the left again, entering the final stretch of the Y. Passing the tenth door, Ybarra spoke its purpose; 'energised crystalline ablative resistance', before motioning us to halt. The branch ended two dozen feet away in an empty rectangle with only darkness beyond, the silver light of the orb not penetrating into the last part of the facility. "Stay here." He was speaking to me, ignoring Araziah, the animosity from earlier still strong,the stare comparably deranged, though just balanced out by whatever rational mind kept him functional. "Making sure there are no ... surprises." "Be quick. We are waiting." Araziah answered for us, a growl, and Ybarra flinched, disgusted, before he turned and tread warily on, his shape disappearing into the black. As soon as he was gone, Araziah came about, and in one motion, pulled me to him. Momentarily lost in the surprise and the wet silky feeling of his tongue brushing mine, he pulled back straight away, the kiss fast but no less expressive. "Do not fear." He whispered it. "If anyone -- dragon or man -- tries anything, I will kill them." Um, it's not only me I'm worried about. The scuff of Ybarra's boots drew our attention. "No danger. Come in." He was motioning us on, and into what lay beyond. The dragon's lair. It was a proper cavern. We stepped off the artificial floor onto actual rock. The light wasn't enough to touch the further edges of the chamber, but it was big and I could just make out the dimensions. The ground was a little uneven but mostly flat dry rock, a mixture of solid, granulated, and soil. Roughly circular, it was approximately a hundred fifty feet across and about half that high at the apex, the sides tapering lower, to about forty feet at the walls. Cautious, Araziah let go of my hand, his attention flicking all over our dim surroundings, and keeping close, I followed, venturing out a little, the light still in hand. The sergeant was further ahead, reaching the centre. There were impressions in the rock from where a large creature had slept, but ... it was empty. Nobody's home? This can't be right. "Don't see him." He looked around, seeming confused by the missing tenant, his voice bouncing off the cave’s stubborn silence. "Can't be far. I'll see if I can do a little trick ... summon him." Crouching, he knelt on his right knee, his left arm resting on the left thigh, right hand touching the rock, head bowed. We watched, Araziah's shoulders tense, arms straight, eyes fixated on the man locked in a pose of prayer. I felt just as anxious, my stomach churning, wondering if this would work, and where the dragon could appear from. Ten seconds passed, then twenty. Half a minute. "Sergeant." Araziah called. "Nothing is happening." The man did not stir. He did not move. Forty seconds. Fifty. "Ybarra!" His patience was exhausted, and the volume had risen to a shout. "What are you doing? Where is the dragon?" On that, he rose, coming to his feet, straightening fully, and turned to face us. His eyes were glowing, filled with a brilliant emerald-green light. Oh ... god. "The sergeant is gone." His tone was different, sharper and surer, and it was a snarl. "Ygzardîl is here. You seek his audience, yet you come to his home with demands." An arm was thrust out to point at Araziah, head forward, ire concentrated, eyes agog in pure madness. "Humans, and sky children, and demands, but you -- YOU -- you bring the voice! The VOICE!" "I bring nothing! I am not your foe!" "You LIE!" He yelled, an enraged shout, his arm shaking. "Always ash and fire -- FIRE AND ASH! -- and doom, doom to behold, the surface alight with it! Kingdoms broken, kingdoms BURNING! Through it all, the voice!" He slowed a moment, calming for a few seconds. "For a time, it faded, a peace, a short-lived peace, but then ... YOU!" "I did not-" "NO!" Boomed Ygzardîl. His arm dropped, and both hands moved in a downward pulling motion, green light sparking from his fingertips. Behind me there was a rumble from the cave's roof, and a cascade of rock fell, smashing into a pile in front of the passage back into the facility, blocking us in. "You LIE! The voice is in you. The voice, the voice, the VOICE! You bring fire and doom and death to my home, and for that? Your end comes." The earth dragon clapped his hands together, then thrust both arms down. A ripple of force smashed into the rock, then continued along in a burrowing straight line, a shockwave. Araziah was knocked off his feet, and I barely dived to the side before it tore through where I was standing. Scrambling up, I glimpsed Ygzardîl backing away into the darkness, the supernatural glow of his eyes fading and vanishing with him. Oh fuck. Instantly, Araziah transformed, righting himself, and before I could move, he was above me, shielding, chunks of rock bouncing off his back, piles of it thudding to the ground from his flanks as the last of the roof’s debris came raining down. Angling to the side, he moved free of me, then leaned on his legs, attacking the rubble that blocked our way out with his front claws, tearing at it. The exit must be cleared! Torsten, he is an elder. He is old, cunning! Watch the ground! Watch the walls! Watch for any sign! He w- From close behind, an enormous clawed hand, far larger than even Sebby's, thrust up through the rock. Yanking Araziah's tail, the limb pulled backwards with incredible strength, moving through the ground as easily as water. It threw him across to the far wall, his whole body tossed with so little effort. Erupting through the floor, a hulking shape rose, dark brown, chunky, a massive tank of a creature. Ygzardîl's wings flexed, so immense the extremities slapped the cavern's walls, and his gaze fell on me, Araziah momentarily forgotten. You first, human. His eyes glowed, maw snapping open, preparing a breath attack that would douse me, and everything for dozens of feet around where I stood, with pure death, but there was a sharp sound. Araziah materialised directly above the earth dragon, the size differential that of a pre-teen attacking a fully grown man. He fell onto Ygzardîl's back, lower limbs straddling the larger dragon's upper body, half pinioning the wings, the front claws anchoring onto the ridges at the base of the skull. Araziah's jaw was stretched wide and he bit down on Ygzardîl's neck, fangs trying to pierce the plating on the earth dragon's neck. It was too tough, too thick. Wretch! I shall rip the voice from your HEAD! Backing up against the cave wall, aghast, I stared as Ygzardîl whirled, trying to dislodge Araziah, who was furiously and ineffectually biting at the throat. Through the din, I heard a muffled sound coming out of cracks in the rock behind me. A voice. "Torsten? What's happening?!" "Sebby!" I yelled. "He trapped us in here! Help!" "Torsten!" He shouted. "Stand back! I'm coming!" Staggering, Ygzardîl crouched down, the fire dragon still attached to his back, and sprang up in an almighty leap, slamming into the cave's roof, the entire chamber shaking from the impact. As they fell, he dragged Araziah sideways, pulling him around, the fangs knocked loose, the claws drawing furrows through his armour, chips and splinters of scale flying off. Scales. I NEED that. The earth dragon flung him in front, but Araziah was faster, clinging back onto the chest plating. The mouth opened, and the room lit up, fire spraying back and forth across Ygzardîl's head and neck. Fuck it. In the distraction, I dashed forward, the two dragons locked in combat just a couple of dozen feet away, and snatched up the nearest shard. Retreating, stuffing it away into the backpack, moments later the larger gave a deafening roar of pain and anger, finally stopping the smaller, tossing Araziah again to the cave wall. Ygzardîl was hurt, his upper body glowing from the heated barrage, but he was a large dragon and Araziah was still too young. It was too little to slow him. Enough! Your bones will melt, your flesh dissolve! The dragon elder drew back, once more preparing to unleash a tirade of breath on the prone Araziah, when- -there was an blast of light and rock from the obstructed exit. An electrical discharge stabbed through it, ejecting all the blockage in an explosive crackle that sprayed stone and gravel across the floor next to me. It was followed by a white blur, a figure moving at speed which, in a blink, was the attacking form of a platinum dragon. Yes! Sebakâli launched up, slamming into Ygzardîl's side, only the first second of the earth dragon's breath releasing, a brief smatter of acid onto Araziah's front. The momentum was powerful and fully used, the earth dragon skewing in place as he was hit, his opponent's tail flicking around whiplike in an arc to smack heavily into the face, a stunning blow. Using his advantage, the air dragon rammed the other into the wall, and while the larger was restrained, unleashed the full fury of his own breath onto Ygzardîl's head. WOW. It was a gale of buffeting air, laced with dancing spikes of forked lightning. A flurry of bolts jabbed out, sizzling across the surface of Ygzardîl's skull, leaping and flaring and flickering. He roared, the lightning's pain much greater than fire, the exposure unbearable, and in a furious haste, thrust himself through the wall, slipping through the rock as if it was water. Gone. Araziah! Sebby turned, calling the fire dragon to us, switching back to human form in a heartbeat as he scrambled to where I was by the exit. Araziah was upright, then leaping across, and in a moment was back in his human skin too. "Come on!" Lucy was beckoning us from inside the facility, the light clutched in her hand, breathing hard. "You saw it! That thing can swim through land. Let's get the fuck out of here!" We didn't dawdle. I was through first, the two dragons following and we ran. As fast as we could run. Feet stamping on the concrete, dust flying, door after test chamber door zipped by. Sebby and Lucy ahead of me, Araziah behind, and we were almost at the intersection split when Ygzardîl's hand crunched through the floor, just behind us, grasping at the air, then the other in front, right before the final door, clutching at us in the enclosed space. Lucy skidded to a stop, Sebby also, and he rapidly unsheathed a dagger, a glittering diamond blade, and stabbed it into the finger joint of the massive searching hand. There was a muted rumble of hurt from under the floor, like a seismic disturbance, and the limb withdrew. "Go!" Araziah shouted, and we skipped over the corrugated mess of broken floor and out the door, onto the landing platform. "The elevator! What if he tries to-" "No time!" The fire dragon cut me off. Grabbing both me and Lucy, he roughly hauled us forward, and with no hesitation, he pulled us along as he jumped off the edge. For a second, my heart was in my mouth with nothing beneath, and then we were rising, Araziah's wings beating swiftly as he fought to gain altitude with little room to negotiate the ascent. The pit's sides swept by in uneven jerks, faster and faster as the upward thrust increased, until at last we shot out the top, swinging around in a tight curve to avoid hitting the dome, and smacking into the ground. We were released, dropped onto the floor, Araziah assuming human form on the ground next to us. Where's Sebby? As if answering me, the platinum dragon came speeding out of the pit, transforming in the air to somersault and land in an acrobatic pose, arms outstretched for balance Well, that's a rel- "Nobody move." My left arm was grabbed, pulled behind and up my back, the voice coming from next to my right ear. "Resist and one of you dies." The other three froze, eyes wide, and swiftly, from the shadows near Araziah, a tall male with grey hair strode. Before anyone could react, he slapped something onto Araziah's neck -- a jeweled metal collar -- and it clicked shut, like a trap. Fuck! Conclave?! "Mordred, well done. Kaia, the other." The one holding me hostage called it. "Take him." A woman approached Sebby, appearing from nowhere as Mordred had, but in a blink, he ducked, dodging the incoming restraining device. His punch to the jaw jolted her, then with a shift of the feet she was tripped, falling on her back. He moved to strike her again where she lay, but Sebby jolted, going still where he stood. Mordred was staring at him, eyes lit up, a low thundering reverberation starting, somehow paralysing the air dragon where he stood. "No more of this." Kaia flipped back to her feet, brushing herself off. "Nero. We don't need him. Just the other three." "You're right. Too slippery. Not worth the trouble. I'll allow it." Nero's response was indifference, his grip on my arm still tight. "Kill him." Right then, several things happened, almost in the same moment. Mordred stopped his magical paralysis, the sound and psychic attack ending. Sebby dropped a little silver orb on the ground, that was hidden in his sleeve. Kaia drew her blade and stabbed it right up to the hilt in Sebby's abdomen. The orb exploded like a flash grenade, blasting all of us with shock and blinding light. I was sitting up, head ringing, dazed, the hands grabbing to restrain me a second time. Sebby was gone, moving fast even so debilitated, a trail of blood dotting to the nearest door, the fleeting shape of his back disappearing outside "I'll finish it." Kaia growled, shaking off the effect of the orb's detonation. "He won't go far." -o-0-O-0-o- The trail was easy to follow, and in mere seconds she had reacquired him. Struggling to move, he had slowed, and she caught sight of him between the administration buildings, limping as quickly as he could. Too slow. She reached him before he was halfway to the next building. She spun him about and shoved him to the ground, where he sprawled, unable to get up.. His hand was clutched to his side, red staining the immaculate blue-white of his costume, the porcelain of his fingers. The wound was serious, and deep. There was no escaping it. She crouched by him, blade in hand, and he did not struggle, recognising the futility, his body trembling from the simple exertion of his escape. "I've never killed a child of the breeze before." Kaia spoke softly. "Are the humans and a turncoat worth dying for?" "I would do it again," he rasped, "in a heartbeat." "How touching. What a shame it's all for nothing, but at least you get to die beneath your mother's grace." She lifted the blade, holding it level with his chest, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Want to know a little secret about the Grey Prince? Just between us?" "I-" She pushed the knife right in, interrupting him. "One day, he will be king." The light faded from his eyes, the life leaving his body. It was done. -o-0-O-0-o- Blood. I heard Kaia return, saw her casually wiping her knife with a strip of cloth, heard her confirming it to Nero, but it barely registered. All I could see was blood. Sebby’s blood. She killed him. She killed Sebby. My face was wet and my head hurt. Dead. He’s … dead. Out of the fog, Araziah's voice woke me. He was quiet, feather soft, but so cold and so deathly serious. "Your fate is sealed." To Nero, a chilling whisper. "For this act, you have earned the most painful descent into oblivion." "Brash as always." Nero told him. "Still making unfulfilled threats, I see. So much for your grand rebellion. My future is bright. Yours, though? Death is too good as punishment for a heretic kinslayer. That’s why I decided to keep you alive. You will see much worse." "I will survive whatever you do." "I think not, but, you will try." Nero addressed the other two. "Cousins, let us leave this trash heap. The girl has done our work for us unknowingly, as these poor fools have not even realised what she carries. Today is a day for celebration. We have secured the last piece of our victory, and the prophecy nears completion. Take the humans and prepare them for transport. It is time to go home." -o-0-O-0-o- The sound of wingbeats and sun-cast silhouettes were moving away, growing fainter as the Conclave's disciples departed. Quiet settled across the Overmountain facility, the overcast afternoon lying heavy on the newly vacated buildings, abandoned for a second time. All was still, but for the sighing of the wind, and the background hum of nature. Peace. Yet, not for long. On the ground, between the buildings, the spots of blood shimmered and faded away. The illusion was dropped. The real trail appeared, leading on a different slant, into the low bushes in the lee of the administrator’s office. Ten feet away from where Kaia stabbed his hallucination, the dragon Sebakâli finally let go his concentration, gasping as he faded fully into view. He fell back on the grass, his bloodied side soaking the material; gravely wounded, but still alive. Eyes open, he could but stare at the vast clouded expanse of the sky. Alive, but dying. Lady, grant me strength. He could not give up. Not while his breath remained.
  12. You know you're getting bored when you recreate your characters in The Sims and set them loose to wreck havoc. Highlights so far: Natalia being rapidly promoted because she's a go-getting businesswoman, Araziah setting the stove on fire on his first attempt at cooking (I swear I'm not making that up!) and Sebby taking Torsten on a date to the local library at midnight (why?!?) only to mention in casual conversation that he wears boxers with hearts on them. Real smooth line there, buddy.

  13. For some reason, I've had this recurring fantasy about a dragon running for president in 2020, eating both his opponents live on stage during a debate, advocating a 'Burn Everything' philosophy and subsequently winning in a landslide anyways because he's 'tough on foreign policy'. I blame the current climate and Spirit of Fire, but it's still a nice thought, right?

  14. Stellar

    Alternatives

    Hi David, thanks for commenting! Sasuga indeed! I try to fulfill expectations of a varied and fascinating world, though such efforts are not always fully appreciated. In this case, however, I am glad. Torsten's heart could go more than one way, it is true. As usual, I would play the devil's advocate and say that it could be one, it could be the other, or indeed, as you postulate, it could even be both -- in that instance I believe the correct relationship term is polyamory, though I have heard of many variations on the theme. With regard to this, poor Theo was a catalyst and a red herring for what would come after him, and how the situation and entanglement plays out between the three individuals will be a central pillar of the narrative moving forward. Indeed, I don't kill major characters for no purpose, and my love of Chekov's Gun can ensure that whatever minutiae you see happening will have a point to it. The book is entering the final quarter or so of the plot, so you picked it up at a point where it's mostly done. Rest assured, I am trying to get this thing produced in a reasonable time-frame! Hopefully the next chapter will be finished soon.
  15. Stellar

    Divine Sin

    Thank you for reading! If you were to read my other work on GA (to be specific, the sci-fi Aspects of Dawn series), you would find a similar complexity of background lore. While the mythological context exists prior to me writing the prose -- that is to say: the world design is there before I begin the books -- a lot of little detail morphs and evolves during the course of the narrative's construction. The important plot milestones will still ultimately occur as I intend them, but many things get added or changed on the fly or redesigned during edits because I think (or feel) that something needs to be done differently. Many random things about the book so far -- most of them quite inconsequential, but some relatively major -- are deviations from what I'd originally envisaged, some in rather unexpected ways. Likely I will leave some trivia in the forum about this sort of thing after the book's conclusion is posted to give you some idea.
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