The day had arrived, the 'Mount now behind him, the silent spread of a midnight blue below him. He had said his goodbyes, the last seam of the cliffs that had been his new home were no longer visible. His wings pump in a kind of strange anticipation, towards the unknown glory of the future. A blur of membrane is at the corner of his eye. Turning his head from the oncoming wind, Shodan looks at Thevanin.
His auqamarine form seems strange against the backdrop of near-night sky and blue sea, almost like Thevanin's form had been grown from it. Like a definite shape formed from constantcy. Shodan feels a sudden pang of sadness that he will probably not see his friend again. The Weyrmount Dragon had insisted on accompanying Shodan even after the Council had determined that Shodan should travel alone towards the anomaly that would serve as the re-entrance to his home.
An anomaly. That was their name for it. A bloody blister infecting the boundry of the sky and sea. Swirling, shifting, a lance of lightning flashing in a tiny forked line. The maelstroms of the seas of Britannia abounded with dark facts and darker rumors, of their horrible power and link to the underworld. Many a ship had been sucked into their spiral, and niether survivors nor pieces of the craft were found afterward. The 'Mount's mages had determined that the differences between magical flow in the two worlds caused the violent clashes, with the sea providing a sufficiently maleable substance to warp and create the whirlpools now plaguing Britannia. The lake he had entered the new world would have been an impossible attempt; the waterways below the surface branched off into aqueducts that went on for miles. Finding his way back would have been impossible.
His limp front paws below him tighten into nervous fists, trying to find an outlet for the mounting tension. Shodan realizes what a moot point he was pondering. The decision was already made, the entrance was within sight. He takes a deep breath of the sweet air, wondering if he would taste it again, and the variety of smells upon it. He smiles, realizing how often he had been thinking such thoughts about the things he had come to love- The the sunsets, the clouds, the library, the grinning faces of fellow Kin.
I'm not even there yet, he thinks to himself, and already I want to weep. He forces himself to chuckle into the wind.
The traces of lightning become more defined, graceful webs of power. Their blue-white ferocity seems very strange against the ugly redness of the maelstrom clouds. The wind increases, whipping angrily in the wild currents driving the moving storm. The crimson blotch on the horizon gave no indication of the storm's size... Shodan feels he has been travelling towards the anomaly for hours, yet he and Thevanin are still miles away, the width of the storm gradually growing. Shodan feels a strange knot of awe in his stomach.
The boundry of the storm appears remarkably definite, even the water darkens into a rusty blur of filth along a sharp boundry. The clouds thicken and change their color along the same circle, but the wind seems to leak into the surrounding air, fighting with the Dragons' wings. Nearing the edge of the storm, Shodan can see the sloping of the water as the spiral of gloomy liquid rushes into the center point. The dark water grows even darker toward that point, almost to the point of becoming the midnight sky. The wind whips by Shodan's nose as he slows, and suddenly the taste of stale air strikes him. Cold stone. Half-dead plants. Stagnant water. Home.
Thevanin slows as well, less than two dozen yards from the boundry. The wind howls in Shodan's ears, and his wings maneuver him closer to Thevanin. They hover under the angry clouds, buffeted by the unpredictable currents. They look at each other, the fear of the storm evident in each other's eyes.
"I should go no further," Thevanin shouts over the wind. "The rumors are that inside the boundry none can escape."
"I know..." Shodan yells back. His eyes are drawn back to the vortex's swirling darkness. The goodbyes he had said to his lifelong friends were no more than screams of anger and pain, the farewell to his home had been a salute to his former master. He simply did not know what to say to his newfound companion.
Thevanin speaks before Shodan has a chance to continue. "I pray to the Spirits for thy well being. And the success of thy mission." The second comment comes more as an afterthought, but Shodan can tell it was no lie. They both turn away and look again at the vortex. Neither of their voices rise against the wind for more than a minute.
"I should go... we should waste no more time. I will... see you soon, Thevanin."
"Yes. Two weeks before we assume you have... that you are not returning. As the council said."
Shodan moves slowly toward the edge of the storm. He pauses.
"Thank you, Thevanin. For being... a friend." Shodan feels surprised that his voice remains strong, even in the wind.
He turns away, and flaps his wings forcefully, moving into the storm. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Thevanin move slowly back, watching the green be buffeted by the storm's anger.
Inside the boundry, the intensisty increases tenfold. The winds grabs his wings, then release them, repeatedly and blindingly quickly. Their size makes them much more difficult to keep control. He fights his way toward the center, the lightning lancing around him like spectral hands. The light begins to dim, like an early sunset, but there are no stars, no moon. The crimson darkness begins to overtake the other colors of the sky and sea, as if Shodan's eyes are beginning to fill with diluted blood, clouding his vision.
Concentrate, he thinks, I must focus on my flight, else this storm will control it for me...
His body snaps from side to side, trying to compensate for the chaos of the storm, moving closer to the black center hole. The power of the storm bombards his muscles with fatigue, weakening him. Almost there, he thinks. He drops suddenly as a burst of wind from above seemingly strikes at him. A bolt of lightning roars above him, his eyes shutting a split second after. A huge wave of water strikes his legs, splashing him with dark-hued brine, knocking him off balance. He veers wildly for a moment, control lost. His wings snap wide, catching the moving air and luckily moving up and clear. Moving slow seems to be getting me nowhere, he thinks, just giving the wind more chances to throw me to the water.
The hole in the sea is only 50 or so yards in front of him, the water sloping down into the inverted cone. He snaps his wings in a burst of anger, 'Grace warming his blood like a familiar voice. He jerks toward the center, folding his wings behind him into an arrow. The wind buffets him feircely, renewing it's combat with Shodan.
The vortex centers in his vision, enlarging as he races towards it. The wind diverts him; he alters his trajectory with small changes of wing placement. His muscles tighten as he concentrates on keeping his aim true. The thunder roars in his ears.
A sudden upwards splash of water strikes his eyes, the salt burning them. He contorts in pain. The wind siezes its chance and flings him sideways. He expands his wings in an unconcious attempt to regain balance. Clearing his eyes, he can see the dark water approaching insanely fast. The center is not water, but some black mouth, pulling all it can into its body. The Dragongrace screams, urging him towards an impossible battle. Somehow he controls it, he does not lash out at the liquid.
He crosses his arms in front of his chest. His legs come up and tuck against his underbelly. His wings contort around him, enveloping him like a cloth.
He shuts his eyes, saying something silently to the mountain he had seen on that fateful dawn, something he had remember being called a prayer.
He hits the moving water, getting sucked away like flotsam, curving towards the center, and another world.
* * *
The dream he recalls from his journey through the water to the new world occurs again as he returns to it... colors of red and black beside him, graceful arcs of flight through grey familiar caverns. But he does not feel pleasure, only a sick scream of terror and reversion to infancy from his own mind at every instant. The stimulus is the same, the response is not.
A disgusting presence enters his nostrils. He gasps, and it splatters through his trachea and throat, he coughs and retches simultaneously, thrashing wildly. Hard foreign arms strike at him. The darkness around him has a hint of outlines, of spiderwebed emanciated horrors and a sea of decay. He forces down instinct, fighting angry muscles. He tries to observe his surroundings.
The sea is sticky, and he can feel it slowly absorbing him. Broadening his eyes, he can feel them glow brighter, assisting sight. The monsters were not monsters at all, but the dead limbs of the warped underworld trees, the spiderwebs hanging off them mere moss and plants. Slowly recognizing his surroundings, the sea of filth resolves into a swampy pond, the foul water and algae making a thick soup. Kicking angrily, he grasps a low branch of the biggest nearby tree, pulling his torso free. The muck holds his legs like glue, but he finally thrashes them free, pulling himself farther into the branches. The tree wobbles dangerously under Shodan's weight, and a branch supporting his right hand snaps.
He catches himself just in time, and grasps the trunk with fear, shivering. The filth covers most of his body, and he tries to smear it off with one paw. The fluid in his throat and lungpipe shift, blocking passage. He contorts, maw opening wide, and vomit strikes the pond below. He coughs twice, trying to clear his insides. He gasps spastically, and vomits again. He sits quietly, hanging his head over the shifting dark water, drops of stomach acid dripping down.
Minutes later he purposely coughs, spitting the remaining liquid from his throat. Water, he thinks. A long drink of water would help more than anything. He stares down at the filthy pond and sighs, remembering the clear waters of the rivers of Britannia. He lifts his head and gazes slowly around the cavern. The familiar weak light dribbles from the streaks of moss on the walls. The dead silence of the world pushes in like solid night, and the air... He winces, realizing the reason he vomited so harshly was the dead air, as stagnant as the fluid that had infected his lungs. His stomach twists again, and his lungs nearly revolt, but he forces it down and away. Breathing purposely and slowly, he becomes used to the air again, as he had been so long ago. He promises himself that if he ever... that -when- he returns to the world above that he will take a deep breath and cry in happiness at the bright sky.
He slowly spreads his wings, checking for damage. The middle section of his left wing sparks in pain, and he glances closer. There is a darker bruise of the membrane, where it must have stretched abnormally. Moving it sends pain along his wing limb, but he knows the bruise will heal quickly. Another bruise runs up along his side, amost like he had been slapped there. Other than those two wounds, he is apparently uninjured. The swamp must have absorbed the impact, he thinks. I was lucky not to strike a tree... he glances up at the stark, harsh limbs of the tree he sits in and winces unconsciously. He spends several minutes simply sitting, regaining his composure and strength.
He gives his wings an experimental flap, then releases from the tree, satisfied that he can fly. He hovers above the murk, stretching cramped muscles. He then turns, surveying the distant walls. He remembered hunting long ago near this spot, after... an ettin? It had been so long ago, and the thought had been pushed farther and farther back in his mind. The slopes of the walls clue him to directions, and he heads north, toward the Drokkhen'mochla.
* * *
The blur of stone is terrifyingly familiar, the blur of grey like a false reality. Dipping over the gentle hills and low ceilings that enclosed the swampy area from the rest of the watershed of the underworld, allowing it to stagnate even in a stagnant environment. Bursting through the relatively narrow areas, the floor dropped and the ceiling soared, and the lake of the Dragon was before him. Such a familiar sight, seen so many times during his upbringing... now struck such a unnerving chord within his being. A mere month in a alien place had dissolved so many years of indoctrination and obligation... he shook these thoughts from his mind. A mission. There was a mission to be done, he thinks. And this mission I believe in. One I must accomplish for myself as well as the good of those who truly deserve it. Unlike some...
He wheels around the half molten island in the center, the black-blue lake a spread of glass below. He cannot resist but wheel down and streak just above it, dipping his tail low enough to send a sheaf of droplets into the air. He can feel his blood warm against the cold stone. He remembers an old tale, that Varashn'klor had tamed the walls to give the true Dragon warmth in his blood, but the Dragon must always revere his home, regardless of what it may do to him. He feels a moment of revulsion, that the inner strength of a Dragon could be ignored and misplaced with such demoralizing intent. But all that was past, was it not? he thinks. His old home was wrong, his new home was right?
The walls seem to contract the tiniest fraction.
A low, quiet howl washes through the cavern, his earflaps shivering slightly.
He suddenly jerks up from the water, inhaling sharply. The mission.
He arcs around the island, until he faces west, toward the entrance to the Drokkhen'grech. His eyes stray southwest, toward the pointed rock he had spent many an hour upon, watching a faintly rippling lake. He forces them upwards, and twists his body in the same direction. He flaps his wings angrily, feeling a burst of speed. The ceiling approaches quickly, and he suddenly folds his wings, his inertia just topping the ledge to the platform there. He lands gracefully, almost frightened of his familiarity. He crans his neck backwards at the huge cavern behind him, then forward to the slope of the 'Grech. This was his last chance to turn back. He could find another way home, through the same caverns and waterways. But once his presence was known...
"Shodan?" The surprised cry startles him from his uncertainty. He knew that cry. Shodan smiles, realizing that his decision had been made for him, and had at least been made by someone he knew.
Cress bursts out of the darkness of the 'Grech, his face a surprised gleam of happiness and excitation. "SHODAN!" The shout echoes on the walls in a familiar manner, although he cannot remember ever hearing his name called in the same way.
"Thou hast returned!" Cress scampers across the shale platform, and skids to a stop in front of Shodan, dancing left and right. Shodan thinks for a moment that they may embrace, but he remembers Sept members never embrace out of friendship, a lacking he had learned to forget during his days in the Weyrmount.
Cress continues his dance, flexing his wings and waving his arms. "Where are Denvoln'k and Juxar? Did you find the other world? Was it full of the Losnikosh? Were your Hunts successful?"
Shodan laughs in spite of the serious questions, spreading his palms outward to try and calm the excited young Dragon. "I can answer all these questions, my friend, but they must be to our master, thou shouldst know that. They are important facts indeed, but recognitions must be made." He is glad he catches himself before discussing it openly with the fledgeling.
"Yes, yes, yes, I am sorry, but this such an amazing event... none of us imagined you'd return, after so long... come, come, we must tell Sedin!" He spins and trots rapidly across the shale, hopping into the air, wings catching the air and shooting into the Drokkhen'Grech without even checking that Shodan was following. Shodan grins to himself and leaps after his young friend. Even the angled curve of the entrance tunnel is familiar...
The scene bursting into view is the same as he can remember, dull grey spires and arches swing across the dark walls of damp granite. A few Dragons move above the arches or along the scarred gouges, slowly, without pride. Shodan can remember the proud grace and life that the Weyrmount Dragons had shown, simply moving through their home... he shakes his head, dislodging memories and concentrating on the grey walls before him, and the fast-flying light-blue Dragon in front of him.
"Cress! May I inquire of anything new in our home?" he shouts ahead of him as he skirts the floor of the Drokkhen'trych. Other Dragons lift their heads to notice the familiar green Dragon moving among them once again. He hears several cries of greeting as they move behind him, but not stopping his trek to see Sedin.
Cress pauses up ahead and hovers, looking back in genuine confusion. "No... should there be?"
Shodan catches up with the blue and blinks. "I... was just expecting... nevermind. Let us proceed."
The homecoming continues on, sweeping over the fields of the drakes, who duck their heads in fear of the collection of cheering Dragons. Shodan finds he cannot keep up with Cress, who streaks excitedly in front of him. The fall into mine home has taken a lot out of me, Shodan thinks, I hope I can rest before my formal inquisition begins...
The entourage skirts up the curve of the Sept home, whooshing past a gouge in the side, a young Dragon upon it shreiking confusedly. Another two levels blur by, as Cress and Shodan let gravity slow them as they rise above the edge to Sedin's cavernhome. The drake standing guard, who had been watching the swarm of Dragons approach his location, widens his eyes as the group centers its collective gazes on the stunned drake. The withered creature opens his mouth to chirp a query, but no sound comes out.
"Shodan has returned! His story must be told, go, tell our master, quickly!" Cress bursts to the drake, arms spread emphatically. The drake sputters, babbling an attempted, but failed, reply. Cress grabs the shoulders of the animal, spinning him around and toward the curtain. The drake almost trips, but quickly slthers behind the matted fur barrier. Shodan frowns, remembering Thevanin's anger at hearing of the mistreatment and subjugation of the drakes. I suppose that does not matter now... horrid deeds are already deeds, and cannot be taken back...
The group, all but Shodan and Cress, hover beyond the edge of the walkway, speaking no words. All ears are turned toward the covered cavern before them. There are few moments of silence, and a few threads of a whispering voice, obviously the drake talking to their Master.
Another silent second follows.
Then, the air seems to jump as a roar bursts from the cavern. The group starts violently, jerking back simultaneously. A huge clawed hand appears at the edge of the curtain, and a blur of red muscle tears it from its hammered pins. Beyond stands a huge rusty red mass of scales and power.
"SHODAN." The name comes in a single growl, and Shodan cannot tell whether it is in anger, in appreciation, in hatred, in satisfaction... any emotion and feeling had been cleansed from the name. As if the dead stone itself murmured his name.
The hesitation he feels disappears as soon as it appears, and instinct resurfaces. His legs buckle, his neck bowing to the sandy floor of the catwalk. His forehead touches the stone. "Mine master." The corner of the eye shows Cress doing the same, and he knows that the swarm of Dragons behind him are bowing their heads as well.
Another terrifying silence follows, Shodan wonders if Sedin perhaps knows of the mission, if heavy stained claws are descending toward his exposed neck as he thinks...
* * *
Shodan sits alone in his cavernhome, exhausted.
His discussion with Sedin was a blur of voices, mostly his own, and the sad heavy eyes of his perhaps former Master locked on him. He felt the tight knot in his stomach the entire time, his scales remarkably sensitive to movement. He is amazed he did not crumble under Sedin's gaze, his soul tested just by watching. Shodan's descriptions of the deaths of his friends came surprisingly easy, a mere relating of facts. Removing emotion from his tone took less effort than he had first thought. The old Dragon's expression did not change in the least as Shodan recounted them. Neither did he ask one question until the end, and even then, the queries were mere clarification. Shodan was dismissed, Sedin saying he must think about this tale and that Shodan will know when he is needed again. A Trial, Shodan thinks. To decide mine fate and the fate of the Sept. And of the world above.
He leans his head back, resting against the cool wall of his home. Simple, sparse, containing more personal objects than objects of ritual. His first hide, a piece of shale he had fallen on during his beginning training flights, a strangely colored stone Juxar had found once...
It somehow still seemed like home. His own mind, his own things, but... every home was only a home because of the way one viewed it, and now...
He wanted out of here, to escape, to burn it away intentionally this time, let it all disappear behind him, his gaze set on the promises of potential, things possible. Not this, this dry, static, oppresive world of apathetic hatred.
A shape moves outside his archway. Shodan's earflaps move reflexively as the form lingers, pausing outside. Another curiousity seeker. There had been at least a dozen since Shodan had come to try and find sleep that would not come.
A moment later and the shape moves away. Like all the others. But there was something to be said, Shodan thinks, curiosity is still present in his comrades... could it be harnessed? Could he find them, and turn them to his side and take them away, give them new lives, -true- lives? His stomach turned again, in excitement. Could it be done? Does he dare?
His jaw grinds in thought, wondering if he should take this step, and involve others. 'Tis not fair that I should leave the yet oppressed to suffer under the rule of the tyrannical... He holds his head, feeling the tips of his claws dig in. If it was to be someone... that someone would have to be someone he knows, trusts, and returns that trust...
Oh, by the spirits...
The need for sleep vanishes as he rises smoothly from his mat of furs, sore muscles grinding but not complaining. His hands shake now, tailtip flicking at the ground like a nervous snake. He pauses at his cavern archway, gripping the frozen edges, murmuring to all he had learned to hold as sacred, that he was making the right decision. One hand sweeps away the dilapidated rag over the entrance. He steps forward and launches himself off the narrow ledge, letting his wings expand and catch the still air, like a living leaf freed from a tree. He wheels to his left, scanning the immense cavern for his young friend.
Sedin would prefer I stay among my mattresses, Shodan thinks. Bah... if one is ever to take steps, the time is now...
He queries several of the drakes attending chores among the fields for the whereabouts of the fledgeling blue, and finally one signals Cress is among the firepits used for timekeeping. Shodan is airborne in a second, heading for the central floor of the Sept.
Seeing a small blue Dragon near the second of four contructs, Shodan wheels and doubly checks for other Dragons in his flight space. He is determined not to let his nervousness interfere with his mission. The ground rises up to meet him as he sets down on the row of granite stones the large braziers are stored on.
The pits are not much more than blackened bowls of beat metal, spires of rust arcing slightly above them. Inside were burnt piles of fur and wood that had been used to keep the flames going, providing the Dragons with a rough semblance of time.
Until their second naming, young Dragons were given chores normally given to the slave drakes, such as the lighting of the braziers. Cress carries a armful of bloody skins and oil-soaked scraps of wood to the pit, dumping them in. Shodan chirrups a greeting. Cress jumps slightly, turning, eyes wide.
"Shodan... oh. Mine nerves have been on edge ever since thy return. I am certainly not used to hearing thy voice. "
"Mine apologies, Cress... I merely wish to speak with thee."
"Doth Sedin know thou art away from thy home?"
"No... the words I come for are important, Cress. Would you have the time and patience to listen? As a friend, and as Kin?"
"Of course, Shodan... thou taught me many things, and I have been doing well in my Hunts. Didst thou hear I struck down my first ettin? Thou shouldst have heard the scream his heads made." A toothy grin.
Shodan smiles in spite of himself, a strange feeling of misplaced pride rising in him, along with the excitement. "Tis good to hear, my friend..."
Cress leans into the pit and arranges the fuels carefully. "What didst thou wish to tell me?"
"Cress... are you happy here?" Shodan winces, suddenly wishing he hadn't begun with such a strange question.
Cress cocks his head quickly. "How do you mean, Shodan? Where else is there to be happy?" He turns and walks toward the first brazier, Shodan following closely behind. Dragonfire tended to blow the fuels out of the pit, and Sept ritual required the lighting to be done by the fires of the previous quarter-cycle's flames. Shodan remembers Blujar say once, long ago, 'And such is our home, from the past into the future, there is no change, by necessity of the fire...' He was not sure what she meant at the time.
"I mean... if there was somewhere else you would live, and live the life you wished to lead and be open to whole new possiblities and outcomes... would you move there to live?" Oh, please understand mine words, Cress...
Cress stops beside the first brazier, holding a length of wood into it to catch a flame. He looks strangely at Shodan, although the green Dragon cannot tell whether it is suspicion or mere curiosity. "I do not know... I am a Dragon here, first, I cannot understand how I can not be a Dragon here last. The Sept is home, home is the Sept. Sedin taught me that." The wood burning gently, orange flames flickering meagerly. The acrid stench of the burnt oil reaches Shodan's nose. Cress begins to step back to the second firepit, but evidently concentrating on what Shodan was saying.
"But it does not have to be... there are millions of opportunities open in a lifetime, ones that our home here cannot offer..." Shodan sees Cress's dark blue earflaps flatten, eyes narrowing again. He did not stop, though. Shodan decides to forego hesitation, and plunge into what he hoped would persuade the young Dragon to join Shodan in his abdication.
"Sedin does not have to be your Master... you can be your own master, and choose to do what you wish, to dream your own dream, to love your own loves, without the stone hand of control over your neck, waiting to crush it... I have seen it, I was there, there is a place, where one's eyes are truly open to the world, not just in sight, but in feeling... where one can live and love and learn, flooding the mind and body with things that would never be possible here... that place is called the Weyrmount. I was born again there, Cress... I am my own master now... as you could be, of yourself."
His words spilled, Shodan feels a strance satisfaction and release, but waits to see Cress's reaction. The blue's eyes are open and blinking, his mind obviously churning furiously. Please understand me, please...
"This... Weyrmount... is where you were over your absence?"
"Partially... Juxar and Denvoln'k and I encountered horrors I didst not believe possible, and they did not survive, and I am not sure I would have, either... had it not been for the denizens of Weyrmount who rescued me. Please understand me, they are not hurtful of our race, they only wish to understand and grow. And I trust them. I have to trust them."
Cress stares at the floor, eyes narrowed. Shodan tightens his front paws into fists to calm his shivering. Let him understand...
The young Dragon suddenly blinks and looks at the burning length of wood clenched in his claws. He stares at it a moment longer than necessary, and reaches over the edge of the rusted metal bowl to drop it in. The oils and fuels crack and sputter as they are ignited. A flickering glow reaches over the edge, lighting Cress's thoughtful unfocused gaze and Shodan's worried and hopeful face. As long as he thinks for himself, just once, he will see...
Cress looks up, still thoughtful. But his face betrays some aspect of decision. Which decision, Shodan cannot tell. "I obviously need time to decide, do I not? T'would be a new birth, as thou dost say... so... might thou excuse me? And let me decide?"
Praise be to the Spirits, he thinks for himself... Shodan murmurs silently in relief. I have more hope, now... what a pleasure it will be, to see someone I once taught, learn all over again... Cress again stares at the firepit, eyes still narrowed. "Yes, yes, of course. The decision is always your own." Cress blinks in confusion, but Shodan does not catch it as such. Shodan bows deeply. "Thank thee for thy time, please tell me when thou hast decided. I await thy words."
Cress nods slowly, turning away and taking flight without a word. Shodan lingers, a smile on his face, watching Cress arc towards his cavern. Shodan turns away, spreading his wings and lifts off in the opposite direction, hoping his release and relief would be enough to allow him some needed sleep.
Shodan crans his neck back to take a last look at Cress. His blue shape does not seem to be where it should be. Frowning, Shodan quickly swivels his head, looking for the young Dragon. He could not have reached home that quickly, and where else could...
There he is...
Near the upper balconies...
Heading for Sedin's cavernhome.
"CRESS!" His own roar surprises Shodan, his body shifting in midflight as Dragongrace explodes through him like a blue spear of lightning, his wings snap into action, propelling him forward. By the Ancients, NO...
The young Dragon looks back, a wide-eyed expression of fear covering his maw. He quickly turns away, moving faster towards his Master's cave. The two are in a race, Shodan thinks, for the green's life and for the blue's conscience...
A conscience one cannot alter, he thinks. A Master is always a Master, unless one experiences otherwise, mine words, no matter how eloquent, could not have changed him... his wings snap furiously.
Cress has too much of an advantage. He alights on the edge of the cavern, shoving the guard drake out of the way and quickly ducking behind the curtain. That expression, the green thinks, I have no hope now, I was a fool to think I could change a Dragon of the Sept with mere words...
He does not know what he can do now, but flies onward regardless. A frenzied moment passes as he crosses the width of the Sept. He scrambles to a halt on the catwalk, glancing quickly at the cowering drake near the edge, huddling in fear and expectation of being struck. We are all like that. Puppets to Masters. We are no different from them. They give us nothing but an illusion of supremacy... The thought is chaotic amid many others, fear, Grace, hatred and the loss of hope... He shoves the door cover aside, staring in.
"...claims to be one of them now, and has forsaken us, and thou, Master, trusting their Daemon magic and lies of..." There is a squawk from the blue as he notices Shodan in the doorway. Cress leaps back, cowering. Sedin, unmoving on the mass of furs, turns to stare at Shodan, a slow grin of anger and power spreading over the huge red's maw. He raises a front paw, claws extended, and begins to rise from the pallet of furs, like stone moving of it's own accord...
Shodan turns away as fast as he can, scrambling off the edge and spreading his wings before gravity takes hold. Flight is all he can think of. That power, that grace, that no Dragon has ever stood up to... He suddenly feels the jagged claws of his former Master rake the end of his tail. How can he move that fast...
Shodan's vision swims in a sea of Grace and fear as he frantically makes his way towards the exit, only knowing that staying is certain death, and outside the Drokkhen'Grech, there is uncertain death... his hind claws trip against the edge of a bridge of stone, and he almost stumbles to a halt. The Grace seems to concentrate into his stomach, a heavy tight knot pressed against the rest of his organs. Is Sedin following? Would I not have felt it?
But Shodan remembers the red does not need to. He has other limbs, ones not connected to his body...
A scream breaks the dull silence of the air of the Sept.
And there it is. Mine condemnation of betrayal to mine kind, he thinks bitterly. The walls of his home change subtly. The Dragons around him turn their attention to the lone fleeing green. He can feel their immediate icy stares afix their hatred upon him like claws digging into flesh. Hatred born of a lifelong servitude to one who teaches them how to hate, how to love, how to die. All on his terms.
The notion of escape burns hotter in Shodan's mind.
A swarm of Dragon begins to form around him, like flies descending on rotten meat.
Their hisses and growls reach his ears, boiling his blood in anger. I am not one of you anymore, damn me all you wish... but the pain of rejection is still there. Something echoes in his mind, murmuring that their damnation is justified. Curses, insults, more shreiks of justice and righteous excecution. He sees faces he remembers; a teacher, a friend from long ago, a hunt leader... their faces blur, no longer individuals, but part of the mass of scales, claws and wings that make up his home, now cursing his name and desiring to spill his blood upon the soil of his birth.
His spirit weeps, knowing his own Kin despise him for wishing for their improvement. He falters, a sudden urge to die then and there washing through him. But he moves as he did a moment before, knowing the Kin attacking him now did not have to be the only Kin. There was hope, above this stone, away from this hatred, contained in a mountain.
He feels the claws of a nameless Dragon slice at the corner of his right wing. He moves as frantically as he can, towards the 'Grech. He arcs over a curve of stone, and for a moment, realizes this archway was where he first met Denvoln'k.
There is a blur of white as Kalithd'noshahnaktym, the third Presbyterate member, leaps up from beyond the far edge. Her lips are curled back in a snarl of rage, shallow yellow eyes glazed and bloodthirtsy. He reels, snapping his tail forward, feeling it glance off a swinging set of claws. Her forward motion is stalled, but so is Shodan's.
Wildly shrugging off the grasping claws behind him, he dives under the bridge toward a dimming freedom.
He makes it under the bridge, and feels a hand dig into the skin of his tail. He cries out as his descent is abrubtly halted. The jerk loosens the hands grasping him as well, but Shodan falls to the stone floor below, unable to regain posture and wing motion.
Vision reeling, he staggers onto all fours, clawing his way up the slope to the entrance tube only a few wingspans away. Someone slams into him from behind, his breath escaping unnaturally. He sinks back onto his stomach, trying to lift his head. A thick section of tail thuds dullly against it, his snout grinding into the grey stone. Several hands suddenly grasp his arms, pressing them down, holding him. His legs thrash almost involuntarily, until they are grasped as well. He feels the particular Dragonic sense of helplessness and terror as his tail is held fast. His wings are frozen, their motion now stopped. Immobilized.
He hears a heavy thud over the din of insults, which quiet immediately. The claws, none too gently, roll him forcibly onto his back, letting him stare upwards.
Into Sedin's stone face.
A clawtip presses into his side, not allowing him to expand his firesac and loose his flame.
"Thou art undone. Traitor." Sedin speaks the words slowly, as always. Stone grinding, drowning Shodan in their oppresive power. He forces his face to betray no emotion, his breaths coming slow and labored, as Sedin speaks again.
"I send thee out with thy Kin to prove thy worth and bring the Sept glory, and you fall prey to a society of lies and trickery. You let thy Kin be destroyed with foolishness. And you return in hopes of spreading thy perverse, diseased ways among our ranks."
Shodan notices Cress out of the corner of his eyes, standing close behind Sedin, shaking with fear, eyes wide with confusion, save his loyalty to his Master. Shodan's eyes narrow as rage boils within him. He thrahes wildly, trying to free himself. The clawtips dig a little deeper, biting into his flesh. A dozen hisses and growls from his captors reach his ears. A semblance of a grin appears on Sedin's lips as he steps closer, leaning over Shodan.
"Thy betrayal of Kin is not a simple punishment. Not mere death, never mere death. A heart black as thine must be burned away, lest it spread to others. Thine spirit must be ground between our teeth, thy name forgotten from our mind. To this end... I declare a Ritual of Condemnation at the end of the next cycle."
Shodan feels his eyes betray his sudden terror, and he somehow knows Sedin sees it as well.
"Until that time... you will be imprisoned, to mull over the dissapointment and pain you have wrought the Dragons of the Sept."
Sedin's hand rears back, and swings in a blur of rusty red.
It impacts, the meager colors of the Sept draining away in a pool of tears and blood. Consciousness slips away.
Shodan dreams he drowns repeatedly in a sea of rust with a stone-grey
sky, harsh flakes filling his lungs over and over and over again.
The soft plink of a drop of water dimly reverberates through Shodan's disoriented mind. The dreams of rusty blood spark, their details becoming soft and pliable as the slivers of reality peirce their weakened boundries, like the tooth of a predator into the belly of prey. But the results are more surreal than the mental violence; the life of the dream being torn and filled with the sharp edges of true existence. Freedom changes form, life rearranges itself, the hints of the subconcious fading into lost remnants of another world.
Shodan pulls his eyes open, the crust of sleep clawing weakly at the motion. His first sight is pillars of corroded iron, lined in a rough order before him. Beyond them, the grey wall of stone flickers in the dim light filtering down from the long tunnel to the Drokkhen'trych. He moves his head, feeling the cost of the motion in the form of the throbbing pain of his lifeblood pushing itself through the damaged section of his skull, where something had impacted.
Memories flow back like honey, but never as sweet. Sedin. A Ritual... of... oh, Spirits preserve.
Shodan's eyes wince shut, remembering the reason for his setting. The Ritual of Condemnation, something that perhaps only the Sept could devise. He had never mentioned it to the Weyrmount Dragons, but he could imagine their reaction. Horror, perhaps personal revulsion. If they truly would act so, Shodan could not blame them. The Ritual was so humiliating to his new state of mind, something that simply was now so alien that it perhaps made the Sept Dragons... not Dragons. The thought seemed to fit in Shodan's mind, like another peice of the puzzle softly clicking into place.
He moves slightly, testing his muscles. Tension and soreness burn under his skin, causing him to groan quietly. His wings reflexively stretch, bumping into stone. Shodan turns his head again, trying to see the entirity of his cell. It was obviously made for smaller animals, or else had been designed to be discomforting for Dragons. The area behind the bars provides only a few yards of space, the back wall of the cell curving up in a slope, forcing Shodan to lean upon it uncomfortingly, his wings pressed beneath him, and the cieling only a few feet above him. An urge to lash out at the offending barriers of stone builds instinctively in his mind, and his clawed fingers flex in response.
A deeper breath suddenly alerts him to something binding his midsection. He raises a hand to touch his scales there. Claws brush rusty metal, a cone of iron pressed into his flesh, a band of cracked but thick leather connected to it and circling around him. The dulled spike grinds against his left side, just above his stomach. A firesac spike, keeping him from expanding it enough to loose flame. Just as he remembers being taught. Providing the Dragons him his flame, and also serving a point of the Ritual.
Stretching his neck slowly, Shodan tries to at least calm his anxious mind and prepare himself. But he remembers being told, and even telling fledgelings himself, that such a Ritual wasn't something any Dragon could prepare for. His mind fights for control again, trying to come to terms with his fate. Terms... he thinks. I have no terms. Condemnation in the eyes of the Presbyterate does not allow such freedom. Only the freedom to submit...
His eyes begin to wet at the thought of the word. His claws flex a bit faster.
He reaches out, curling a paw around the shaft of a bar. Thick as an old Dragon's wrist, it was not something he could bend. And the cell did not allow enough freedom of movement to slam against them. He looks up at the locking mechanism at the roof of the tunnel; the locking bar held the cell bars in place, and was only removable at the other side of the tunnel. Out of reach. And at least two drakes stood 'guard' farther down the tunnel. If he attempted escape, they would at least be able to alert the rest of the Sept. And considering the length of the tunnel, a dozen Dragons would be rending his limbs apart before he got to the timekeeping flames.
Sighing softly, he moves back, leaning his head against the back wall and closing tired eyes. What could he do? Die with honor? The concept sounded hallow in his mind, and the Ritual was not something that allowed honor, simply because that was what it was designed to strike down. Or whatever remnants of that virtue still remained within the hearts of his fellow Dragons.
Thoughts flowed troublesomely through Shodan's battered mind, trying to find peace where it would not come.
Hours slowly pass, the slowest he remembers experiencing. He wonders of the time outside his dim cell. He is neither in a rush nor desires more time. I at least understand the futility of it, he thinks bitterly.
The soft scraping of feet and gravel reach his ears, his scales itching slightly at the noise. Someone coming to his cell. He tenses up and shifts positions. The condemned usually did not get visitors, especially ones without Presbyterate permission. But perhaps it was Cress, come to reconsider and help him escape this pit...
A slow form edges into view. Far too large to be the young Dragon. In fact, far too large to be any common Dragon...
Sedin stares at him with a stone expression of patriarchal supremacy, almost lost in millions of cycles of separation from personal contact. Instinct burns brightly for a split second, and he almost bows his head. The strength of his new teachings is enough to prevent it. A true leader, Shodan supposed. He holds Sedin's gaze for a moment, then drops his eyes away, not understanding why.
"Thou hast another half-cycle. I thought thou might like to know."
Shodan stares at the floor, neither looking at Sedin nor replying.
Sedin moves closer, slowly curling his massive hands around two iron shafts. His head leans toward the inside of the cell, resting his forehead against the bars. Hands grind softly against the metal of the bar, tiny flakes of rust tinkling through the air, dust of ages settling once more. For a moment, Shodan cannot tell whether the rust drifts from the iron or the dimly lit Dragon before him. Sedin sighs quietly in the shallow light, eyes tired and heavy, drilling into Shodan like slow spears of old metal.
"Shodan..." The grinding stone is thoughtful, not something Shodan remembers experiencing. His scales itch again, tiny cold sparks rippling through his skin. "Thou dost not understand me, dost thou?"
The question remains in the air, held by the old Dragon's raspy breathing. Shodan does not remember being this close to Sedin's huge form, either. Shodan's tongue moves softly, trying to find his voice.
"I understand enough." His voice his cracked, dry. He wishes he could respond more powerfully, denounce this mad Dragon for what he was, a killer and a slavemaster.
The red visage scrapes against the old iron. Flakes drift down to settle on Sedin's facial scales. "No, thou dost not. Thou thinks thou dost understand the Sept, but thou dost not understand me. How can thou..."
Sedin pulls away from the bars, gaze still locked on Shodan's eyes. A thoughtful gaze. His own interpretation of the expression is enough to make his scales itch again. Why is he here? Shodan asks himself. Why should he care?
"I suppose I should have recognized thou for what thou are, Shodan. Before I sent thee to 'discover' the new world." Sedin's enunciation of the word 'discover' made Shodan's eyes narrow. Almost... sarcastic... "Denvoln'k, I knew, would act properly. And the other... Juxar, I knew her for what she was. But thou..."
Sedin grunted heavily in the dim light. Shodan simply stared at him, trying to peice together everything the ancient Dragon was saying.
"Sitting on that rock in the Drokkhen'mochla. The way your eyes churned during trials and rituals. Those eyes gave thee away, thou knowest." Shodan feels himself blush in spite of himself. He did not know anyone would have been able to see that. "Don't act surprised. It is... my nature to notice, I suppose. Which thou still doth not understand."
Sedin leans back against the wall opposite the cell, body creaking quietly. "Shodan... why didst thou do the things thou did? When you were among us?" The red cocks his head very slightly.
A soft silence, the flickering light filling the lack of sensory input.
"I was told to. Same as any Dragon." The words, again, grate on Shodan's throat.
Sedin lowers his head, shaking it. The motion is personal, and a chill pulses through Shodan's spine and tail. "Thou dost begin to understand the Sept, then... but not me."
The red's head leans closer, peering through the bars. The urge to flee or bow rises again within Shodan. "If what thou say is true... why dost thou think I do the things I do?"
Shodan's intuition flares brightly for a moment, letting him know he is getting closer to something. Understanding, perhaps? Sedin's question remains in the dull air for a long moment.
"I... do not know. Tradition. Or duty."
"Close, young one. Close. Tradition, yes. Duty... only in that it is my nature. Or the nature of any creature in my position."
Sedin stares motionless at Shodan again. The pauses only serve to make Shodan's instincts grow hotter. Sedin's voice breaks the silence again.
"What I am... I came to know. As all have before me. No one ever told me a word of it, but I learned it. I came to understand what was possible. Varashn'klor understood it, all those cycles ago. Amazing that is has endured, yes?" The grunt emerges again, almost like laughter. Almost.
"You are a monster." The bitterness rises like bile, hot and singing and bitter. Strength, from some forgotten reserve, gives power to the words.
Sedin's glowing red eyes widen, drilling into Shodan's. Shodan somehow holds the gaze as the red's neck moves back from the bars. "A monster... a monster..." As if tasting the word for the first time. "Tell me, then, Shodan. What defines a monster?"
The green's response comes quicker, hatred fueling it. "One who kills. One who exploits. For the pleasure of it. One such as thyself." Shodan feels his weeks of new experience welling up, exciting his blood. His hands shake softly as the mental battle continues.
"A proper answer... one I might expect from an 'enlightened' one such as thyself. If this is a monster... how can one keep from becoming a monster? I should like to hear thy answer, although thy particular wording is all that is not known to me, most likely."
The patriarchal supremacy returns and Shodan's answer stick in his throat. As if Sedin knows a response to it, bringing Shodan's defense of his new way of life crumbling down, the causal flaw in his own foundation placed by the red long ago. "One... who does not take pleasure in the pain of others. Who chooses for himself, not for others. Never for others." The bile burns again in his last sentence. Shodan keeps himself from screaming it.
Sedin nods. Slowly and deliberately. Shodan clenches his fists. "I was right. Same as the answers of the others above." Shodan's mind whirls. How does he know? What is going on?
"So then, Shodan..." Sedin reaches up, curling a huge paw around one of the bars. Shodan ignores the instinct to cringe away from it. "I choose to rest my hand here. Canst thou? In the same spot?"
The question again sits in the air, Shodan's mind trying to grasp it and it's meaning.
The grunt rolls through the space in between them again.
"If I choose to gouge thy eyes out, canst thou choose to see your sky again?"
The sky... how can he know? Shodan's mind burns. "No, I cannot..."
"If Juxar was here now and alive, and I choose to kill her, canst thou choose to mate with her?"
The question is too much, Shodan's face curling into an angry snarl, uncaring as to how or even -if- the ancient Dragon knows. Perhaps he does not... he said 'mate', not 'mate again'... but it was too late. The stone smile on Sedin's face betrays the knowledge, or at least, the suspicion of the feelings that had been between the two younger Dragons. But perhaps Sedin already suspected it. He knows more than I understand, even now...
"No." Shodan forces himself to say through clenched fangs. "I could not."
Another stone nod. "Art thou beginning to understand? Any choice has consequences. Those consequences have consequences. Things I do limit thou. Things thee does limit me. The simplest action entails a lifetime of limitations on what others desire. The significance of them can be as simple as recognition of short-termed desires, or a Dragon's reason for living..."
Sedin spreads his arms, grasping bars far on either side of Shodan. The tip of the red's snout is painfully close to the interior. Shodan's instincts course through his veins, as the fire of his mind tries to understand where Sedin is leading.
"Tell me... how canst thou say that we must limit our choices? Intentions are empty when dealing with choices. They are made meaningless. Any choice already limits more than we would wish it to. Thou canst attempt to prevent thy becoming a monster, but... there is no way to prevent it. You are a monster, Shodan. I am a monster. Ever creature thou hast met is a monster. By nature. Whether one choses to admit it, and understand the meaning behind the nature... that is left to the one who choses."
Shodan's limbs feel weak, his soul at long last coming to understand his former Master. And, perhaps, all Dragonkind. Or beyond.
"One can choose to exist futilely. Holding oneself back for no reason. Or one can break free of that. Go beyond the limitations some hide behind in a defense of 'morality.' To choose without morals. To choose, as the word truly means. Truly. Varashn'klor knew this. He understood the meaning of power. He gave it a form..."
"The Sept." Sedin's eyes seem to flare with the word.
"Canst thou understand now? The power that exists? The power I hold in my hands every moment of my existence? Mine talons around the throat of every Dragon here... letting just enough air for them to breathe... By whim. By fancy. By pleasure. By choice. Power, Shodan, is our nature... We, the true Presbyterate, understand this... we choose to take it."
The words impact on Shodan's brain, the implications tightening his throat. He prays his legs support him.
But Sedin leans back, a few inches. Another pause sits between the two Dragons.
"But there are always ones like you, Shodan. Who are convinced of limitation as righteousness. Of choking yourself instead of others." Sedin's lip curls back in a bare sneer, his massive head shaking back and forth slowly. "Who then decide that trying to choke me makes things better. Bah. Thou canst not see thy own hypocripsy? Thy defense is built on a mistake, Shodan. False beliefs, turning thou into a walking contradiction. A mistake in my way, nonetheless. That was always the problem with Dragons such as thyself, Shodan. Irritation."
"I wish I had seen thy clouded mind before sending thee up there, Shodan. Things would be easier without thy interference. But for now... thou wilt still serve a purpose. The minds of the masses follow, as was the will of our ancestor. They need 'reasons', but they do not care what they are. Not as a group. Thou wilt prove, dying slowly upon our altar, that the world above introduces the stench of infection into our pure blood. That an attack is needed before another falls to lies. An expansion of territory... spreading our wings and claws to grasp new lands..."
The almost-laughter reaches Shodan's ears again.
"When I am simply grasping more throats. Enjoying my nature. No more. No grand goals, simply because there are no grand goals. And thou... thou wilt be the blood and ashes upon the path of my life..." The red's head leans back, closing his eyes, dreaming of the blood spilled, the spirits broken.
Shodan manages a quiet word. "How?"
Sedin brings his head back down, the gaze settling onto Shodan once again. "Didst I know? Know about the sky, and the righteousness, the other world? 'Twas no simple matter. I knew my place here. I killed Volteshn'k for believing what I am saying to thee now. But something helped me to understand that nature, and the destiny I must fufill, that goes beyond just these stone walls..."
"Perhaps you'd like to meet it..."
Sedin steps back from the bars, head bowing slowly.
His eyes close, front hands coming together.
His mouth utters three syllables, not audible to Shodan.
The air shifts, softly, almost inperceptibly. The space to Sedin's right flickers, as if heat were playing with the dim light in the room. A cold bluish streak of darkness runs vertically, outlining something not present. Sedin remains still, Shodan's eyes widening, pressed against the opposite wall, cold stone caressing his spine.
Another streak. Another. Shards of black begin to gather, the flames of nothingness coalescing into a soft velvet texture, utterly black. Humanoid. Almost as tall as Sedin, and no less imposing and producing no less fear in Shodan's heart.
Twin pinpoints of red where the eyes should be.
Overworld tales are recalled out of the fear, remembering the plague of the cities in the new world, a plague of the spirit, not the body. Beings of darkness, whose appearance had brought the doomcrier's prophecies true. No one understood them. No one had fought with them, no one had been able to. Toying with minds, with souls.
Sedin looks up slowly, gazing at Shodan, never glancing at the dark form beside him. It's mere presence seemed to be enough for the ancient Dragon.
"Shodan... meet the cause of thy adventures of late. The Shadowlord, Faulinei. Shadowlord of Falsehood. Awakened by the fears and instincts of a being trapped within our stone walls. I believe you've met him." A tooth-filled grin widens on Sedin's maw. "The Losnikosh, correct. It took the strain of a stranded, weakling Losnikosh to awaken these beings. Borne of the power of a long-forgotten Losnikosh who... perhaps would have even understood the meaning of the Sept. Then again... it doth not matter. Once they were alive, as only they can be, and they entered my dreams... caressed my thoughts, teased my heart with the power that could be mine... it was so beautiful, Shodan... I felt as if I was being born again..."
Shodan's eyes are locked upon the robed Shadow. Dark as night, a million times more deadly... he could feel it's icy touch reaching out to his mind, probing softly, like rain at night... The phrasing Sedin had used stirred a feeling of familiarness in Shodan. But it was lost in the folds of the abstraction before him.
"From that cycle forward I knew my destiny. I knew my nature was more than what this... cave offers me. They told me of the stranded Losnikosh, and I realized its value. I sent thee and thy friends as a formality. To formally give that news to the masses. Thy 'mission', to the above world, was merely one of conveinence for the masses's spirit. The public require slow stirring, thou dost know that, Shodan. Suggestions for war... empty promises... half-statements of undefined value... If thou returned, thy words can be twisted to suit my needs. If thou didst not... I would send another band. Until every member of this stone prison yearned to break free and dig its claws into the unsuspecting flesh of the new world... and all the while, my hands around their throats..."
Sedin cocks his head slightly, coming out of his reviere of hunger. "Alerting Cress to what thou had learned was a mistake. But thou knowest that. I know not why thou returned, but... ah... perhaps a test is in order."
Sedin closes his eyes, and the gentle probes from the shadowy being begin to push harder. And harder. Shodan grits his teeth, attempting to block it. But there was no use. As futile as trying to stop an avalanche. The probes slice into his mind, an unbearable sense of helplessness and violation washing over him. I should forget... not let it know... he thinks painfully. His eyes squeeze shut over tears as the probes move through his mind like unfeeling ice. Or stone. His being feels stripped, laid naked, the heat of fire moving closer...
The Weyrmount... Thevanin and Akaierth... rumors... the mission...
He collapses, a whimpering cry escaping his lips. A wing jamming painfully under him. The stone of his former home reeling beneath him.
"Ahhh..." The exclamation comes from Sedin. "They knew, or at least suspected of our plans... I suppose Blackthorn's security is not as perfect as he would like to believe. No matter. Thou wilt serve my purpose even more than if thou hadst not arrived at all. Thank thee, Shodan."
Out of the corner of one tear-stained eye, Shodan can see the robe fade away, folding silently, making his vision twitch. The abstraction was gone. But the pain of the violation was still there. Very real.
The heavy tread begins to move away, rusty red blurring by. Tail dragging slowly behind.
"Faryesh will attend to thee in one half cycle."
* * *
For a long while, Shodan does not move. He lies twisted upon the stone of his cell, jammed between the rusty iron bars on one side and the stone slope on the other. He does not care of the physical pain, the mental anguish was enough to still any movement he might try. Memories flow back, meekly, daring the violated areas of his mind. He remembers lying upon a bed of leaves after a long oversea trip, his anger and sorrow weighing him down. What else is there to do, now...
He remembers his muscles and gently clenches a fist, then the other. Slowly repeating it.
The cycle helps. He remembers the flow of blood and somehow it helps him recover, simply by the memory. He forces himself up into a sitting position. It is easier than he expects. Perhaps the effect on his body was limited by the effect on his mind. His scales squirm on the rock, twisting himself into a more comfortable position.
To fight a Shadowlord... was there anything he could do? The wisest Dragonic sages knew none of their weaknesses, if any. The Losnikosh realm was crippled by their rule, both directly and indirectly. Their substance was nothing like any Dragon could understand, from the little they learned from the Losnikosh. More as if... they were a force than a being. How to fight something that can push harder than I ever could? Or will?
But it was a moot point... there was still the Ritual to deal with. The condemnation of his kin. The feeling hurt worse than the thought of fighting the Shadowlord. But why? he thinks. They are my kin no longer... The thought's truth does not ring out. Shodan knows it to be wrong. He was born among them. They will always be kin. There was, perhaps, no escaping that. Best to envelop himself in the adopted brotherhood of the Weyrmount.
What to do about the Ritual? It was designed to totally smother the life of a Dragon... no one, in his lifetime, had ever undergone it. No one had needed to. Could he be a martyr? Not without a follower... no one would believe what he says. Not in a Ritual such as this. Cress, perhaps, a full cycle ago... Their friendship now seems unreal, so far away.
Shodan gives a soft sigh. There must be something...
He remembers the Ritual contains a point of freedom, but it is dominated by submission... That point is, perhaps, the cummulation of the preceeding steps. The ultimate result of the smothering. But could he...?
The faint flicker of hope buds softly in his heart, alone and weak. But alive.
He hears footsteps along the dusty, dark passageway.
And so it begins.
* * *
Faryesh hadn't said a word. Opened the doors and led Shodan out in silence. His face was submissive, and Shodan knows who the Master is in his mind. The Presbyterate was a farce. There was only one leader of the Sept, now. Perhaps earlier... but no. Ever since the Sept's conception, the Presbyterate ruled as Sedin does now. Only now... with the mind of one, corrupted...
The thought of a rampaging army of bloodthirsty Dragons makes Shodan's blood run cold. Somehow they must be stopped... if not by him, by someone. But now he was alone, with only a candle to fight a blizzard. He could only hope that if his blood did truly and permanently stain his stone homeworld, that somehow the world above would stop such an army. But with the power of the Shadowlords providing a constant edge...
Would his kin be overcome in the same way Sedin had been? Thirsting for blood, when the puppetstrings of the evil wraiths tugged subtly at their souls?
Another moot point, Shodan thinks. Whether pulled by the Shadowlords or Sedin himself, the control was there...
As he emerges from the long tunnel, he is stunned by the silence. No flapping of wings, no talk amongst his kin. A line of older Dragons flanks his right, toward the exit. Flight was not permitted at this point. If he did so, they would descend upon him, and murder him outright. Not now, he thinks. The candle needed perfect timing. And they would be expecting it here.
He begins to trudge up the slope towards the Pit, overshadowed by the scarred wall-face. It looked so old now... its items like old treasures of some long-forgotten passerby... but their power still very real. He could see that upon the faces of the line of Dragons. Puppetstrings of the soul... the thought makes the candle flicker angrily, burning brighter for a moment.
The audience upon the steps gaze upon him, as he rises above the edge, followed by Faryesh and the line of guards. A mixture of emotions reach him. Suppressed anger. Cold hatred. But not compassion. No pity. No hope. The condemnation is already set in stone, he thinks. The Ritual is almost a formality. Almost.
The ring of the firesac spike grinds against him painfully as he steps over the edge of the Pit.
He paces across the flat floor of the Pit quietly. Trying to maintain what dignitiy would be shattered soon. A cold fear creeps up his spine. The urge to flee is very real. The candle wavers, but stays lit. The emotions of the crowd wash over him. Shodan clenches his fists, feeling the claws press in. The pain steadies the candle. For now.
Drakes had moved in the device to be used. A strange rack of old metal. An X, with a long bar horizontal through the middle point, and a circle touching each leg of the X but inside the length of the bar. If there was any symbol of the Sept, Shodan thinks, perhaps that is it. It is tilted slightly toward the stone ceiling, facing the fully assembled crowd. The rack sits behind the stone face of the obsidian altar, arcing over it like a rainbow of rust and decay. Long tapers stand in their holders at the altar's four corners, their dull flame sputtering and hissing angrily at Shodan.
With the rack now sitting in his place, Sedin sits in silence behind the rack, emotionless eyes following him across the floor of the pit. The silence is deafening. Kalith, the white dragon, now the third Presbyterate member, sits on his right, watery eyes much like the crowd's. Much like Faryesh's. So very unlike Sedin's.
Shodan steps closer, eyes locked on the rack. He stands between it and the altar, and slowly turns around, facing the crowd. A semicircle of hatred and damnation, every Dragon of the Sept before him.
Their silent eyes stare back at him. Cursed traitor.
Each and every step in the Ritual burned very real in Shodan's mind, as it does in every Sept Dragon. One does not forget it. Ever.
He can feel Faryesh's hand around his wrist, yanking it back onto the rack, binding it to the rough metal. Shodan offers no resistance. The other is bound. The tip of his left wing is pulled to a moderate extension, a clamp jamming it in place at the end of the horizontal bar. A moment of silence as Faryesh crosses again. The other tip is bound, membrage taut. Faryesh forces his right hind foot into the bottom lock. He rises up, lying uncomfortably back onto the rack. The other foot is bound as well. Total submission was the requirement. He has no room to argue.
He leans his head back, averting his eyes from the silent audience and staring at the ceiling. He had been taught this... should he follow it? Did this submission already make him so much more dead flesh? Prove that he was still... of the Sept? But what else can I do... he thinks. Nothing, his bound mind replies. The line between the teachings of his home and the practicality of his new knowledge blur subtly, his newfound indivuality threatened at the very core.
Exactly how the Ritual works...
He does not see it, but Faryesh returns to his position on Sedin's left. Shodan can imagine him wriging his hands.
The quiet movement behind him he deduces as Sedin rising up.
The impact of Sedin's tail roars thought the silence, coursing through Shodan's home.
The crowd begins to murmur. Quietly at first, then louder as each Dragon draws on the hatred of their neighbor. A chant. Constant rythum.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Shodan almost repeats the words himself, teachings urging him on mechanically. He bites the words down with the bitter taste of bile. Their meaning makes his heart burn.
Sedin's steps echo softly as he moves toward the rack. The chant continues.
The great red's form moves into Shodan's range of vision, just at the edge, beside the altar. Sedin begins to speak as the crowd continues it's quiet chant. His voice is as always. Slow, hard, the creeping of stone upon stone.
"Members of the Sept. Shodan's crimes are great. His fate now lies with the demons. He must be cleansed. From our home. From our minds. We do this not out of hatred, but out of hope that his taint will be exstinguished, and our home may live on."
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Sedin's words course through Shodan's mind. Their meaning clear, Shodan's instinct is to follow it. Blindly. Like the crowd's coincidental response. The dichotomy of his soul and his dogmatic teachings strain him. He suddenly wonders what it will be like, once he dies. Will he be frozen, in accordance with Sept belief? His soul set free to join the whole of the universe, as he heard once in the Weyrmount? A permanent sleep, a simple blackness over all things... the possibilities echo strangely in his mind. He can feel another part not care. A wish to simply die.
Yet another part flickers again, trying to stay lit.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
"For the crime of treason, Shodan, thy claws will never again sink into the meat of prey, as is proper, just as thy mind no longer follows out beliefs, and moves against thy kin."
Sedin turns and Shodan can feel the red's powerful hands press hold down Shodan's fingers. The shaft of obsidian Shodan knows the master holds descends, smashing into his first claw. The pain roars along Shodan's arm as he feels the nail crack and break, now useless. A quiet pause, only broken by the chanting. Another crack. Another broken claw. More pain.
Shodan closes his eyes. Fight it, some part thinks. Thou cannot, another part replies. The steps will occur. Thou dost have no say.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Each claw is smashed in turn. Shodan feels three of his fingers be broken in the process, misplaced landings. Perhaps. His jaw is clenched, trying to force away the pain. Tears begin to ball at the corners of his eyes.
'Tis only the beginning...
"For the crime of deviance, thy mouth will never again taste the blood of the hunt, as is proper. Thy belly will hold lesser food, just as thy mind holds lesser goals."
A sudden fist slams Shodan's head to the side, holding it there. The initial instinct curls his lip back, baring his teeth, a low growl emerging from his throat. The cylinder blurs in with fierce speed, ramming into his mouth. Several of his his teeth break off, namely the fangs of the predator, a muscle spasm thundering through his body in pain. His head is again shoved now to the other side, the stone slamming again into his teeth. More are lost to the rust-gripped obsidian. His head is released, swinging painfully downward. The encrusted artwork of the surface of the obsidian altar swimming beneath him.
He feels chips of bone drip from his mouth, a line of saliva and blood flowing out. He watches a fang fall and dance, for the briefest moment, upon the black stone of the altar. Joining the fluids of those who had endured pain as he does. The watery blood spatters quietly.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Has he failed? His mission over? There was still the candle... but oh, it is so small... what warning do the Dragons of the Weyrmount have? Shodan knows his mission would perhaps fail... but it was something he had, nay, still has to do...
"For the crime of forsaking Dragonkind, thou will never feel the pressure under thy wings, as is proper to a Dragon. Thou will walk upon the earth as lesser creatures do, just as thy soul rejected the nature of Dragonity."
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Shodan readies himself for the next step. But he cannot. He doubts any Dragon could.
He feels the pressure of a clawtip dig into his stretched wing membrane, near the joint.
He feels Sedin's claw break through, a ribbon of pain lance along his wing muscle.
He feels the claw descend, tearing through the membrane, to the base. His broken mouth clenches shut, the tears welling up further. The pain floods his being, unbearable...
The bottom tendon is snapped like a twig, the membrane glistening blood along it's edge, fluttering in the stale air's whisper of a breeze, useless.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
He feels the same sensation, in another section of his wing. Its slicing is horrible, Shodan can feel his mind weeping...
Each membrane is broken thusly. Like paper, under the stone clawtip of Sedin.
The last tear is too much. Shodan's broken maw emits a cry of pain, echoing chaotically through the strained echoes of the Sept's chanting. His breathing is ragged.
Each section of wing waves gently, flight now impossible. His nature striken. Fated to watch and dream of touching the clouds... the tears flow freely, mixing with his blood and saliva upon the altar, swirls of red and silvery shine. So much of his nature... torn away, so fragile, so much pain...
His mind cries out, unordered images washing through. The smell of the aboveworld air. The spin of the clouds as he and Juxar arc through the night sky. Warm stone of a mountain, so far away...
The chant continues.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
Sedin steps before him, eyes calm. Tired. But with the power of a million frozen souls hidden behind it. Staring into Shodan's. Shodan cannot tell what emotion he betrays to the red. The candle wavers again, almost disappearing.
"For the crime of defiance... Thou will never again breath the fires of the soul, as is proper. Never again will your fire appear from within you, your resisting nature forever broken."
Sedin's hand rears back.
And rushes forward, slamming into his side. Upon the spike pressed against Shodan's pained flesh. Sending a shockwave upon his organs. Shodan feels the twisting internal pain rush through him again, and knowledge that the sac which holds the fluid of the Fire is broken. The pain is unlike anything imaginable. He screams, loud and long. Bloodied mouth risen to the ceiling. And to the sky beyond it.
His head falls down, rushing past Sedin's visage. It had not changed in the least. The spattered mess of Shodan's fluids blur, like in a dream.
"So the Sept commands."
The candle goes out. All that remains is a small ember, waiting and wondering if it will survive. To overcome all the pain. And burn again.
Shodan reels in pain as the chant continues, and Sedin steps away. He feels hands unclamp the restrains, freeing his limbs. As the last clanks free, he slumps forward, collapsing upon the black altar, smearing the blood upon his broken hands. His wings are numb with pain. They feel like branches of dead flesh, spindles of fractured life.
Upon all fours, Shodan breathes painfully, the broken firesac permanently warping his face into one of pain with every breath. He forces himself to lift his head, staring at the chanting crowd. He spots Cress, eyes closed, murmuring the phrase over and over.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
The crust beneath him. He remembers wondering what it felt like, as a child, watching Rituals. Now he felt it. A strange comradere with those who had opened their bodies to the Presbyterate. Hollow companionship in one respect, the deepest bond in another.
Sedin moves to stand beside him. Shodan can imagine his gaze, uncaring, powerful, assured.
A strong hand graps the nape of Shodan's neck, dragging him from the altar. Falling onto the stone surface of the pit. The crust and smeared fluids beneath him grind and slip against his forehands and knees. He lies slumped on the floor, his four limbs barely supporting him. With Sedin standing like stone beside him.
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
"Thou art damned before all our kin."
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
The ember dims silently, still hoping.
"You are no longer of our blood."
"Mind of one. Blood of none."
"Your mind is alone."
The chanting stops.
Silence once again reigns within the Sept.
Sedin's stone voice seem to leak from the walls.
"Speak a phrase. Before thy end. So that all may remember thy treachery."
Shodan's ragged breath and the rush of his blood is all he feels. One phrase, before Sedin would flog his body to a broken mass of flesh. Dumping his broken dying body upon the altar once more. His limbs then freed and placed upon iron spikes at all corners of the Sept, before their decay no longer gave evidence of his existence, only the condemned fate and nature within the minds of each Sept Dragon.
What to say? What would possibly convince any of these souls to remember not treachery, but hope? And freedom? Anything he can say would be drowned out by their unthinking minds, believing only the lies of a Master, truth and hope buried under the stone of their own home...
Shodan remembers the candle.
The ember flares as he turns his head to look up at Sedin's stone gaze. Shodan's broken mouth opens.
His mind clears with amazing speed and ability, pain somehow dying away. Staring into red eyes of his Master.
My moment has come.
"IN SANCT LOR."
The transformation begins immediately. His vision wavers, the colors of the world burning away into the darkness of grey. His limbs shiver and disappear. His skin tingles, energized with the magic of the Weyrmount. He is infused, pain transformed into energy.
Sedin's face registers the shock of unbelief. The vision is precious, frozen in time for Shodan. For however long he can survive.
His limbs churn rapidly, propelling him off the stone and toward the crowd. Every second counts.
The members of the crowd register the same shock, maws open in surprise and confusion. He rushes through them, driven by hope, propelled by fear. He shoves his way through the Dragons, their forms shrinking back in horror as invisible limbs push them aside. Shodan's feet and hands scamper up the steps, shouts of surprise and anger reaching his ears. Sedin will realize what has happened quickly, Shodan thinks. Speed is a necessity.
The edge of the dias rushes into view, and the greyscale image of the empty Sept laying before him. He propells himself over the edge, tumbling down the slope toward the mound of the firepits. His wings flex uselessly, their impotence ringing in his mind.
Sedin's roar causes him to wince, the anger something he cannot imagine facing.
"STOP HIM! DAEMON MAGIC WILL NOT SAVE THEE, DAMNED SOUL!"
He hears the cries and shouts of Dragons taking flight, trying to find him. Their ignorance of magic playing against them. He dashes onward, praying he can reach the Drokkhen'grech.
A lance of flame impacts the spot beside him, coming from a wiser Dragon from the rest, no doubt. But they cannot know where he is, unless they use magic of their own... and Volteshn'k had graciously given Shodan that advantage. The irony is somehow enough to itch at the corners of his mouth in a wry smile.
His limbs burn with pain and fatigue. He endures it.
"TORCH THE LAND! INCINERATE HIM!" Sedin's cry urges the Dragons on. Many of them, no doubt, do not understand that Shodan is still in the Sept, merely unseen by their eyes. But more columns of flame land near him, some farther away than others. The advantage was still his. For now.
He passes the chaotic crackle of the firepits, their light reaching his eyes for what he imagines is the last time.
He dashes through the small fields of greens, the flames around him igniting the dry plants easily. Still he rushes onward.
"BLOCK THE 'GRECH! THY HIDES WILL BE TORN APART IF HE ESCAPES!"
He reaches the final slope up to the exit. The pumping of blood is timed with each of his footfalls, breaths still arcing pain through his chest like lightning. The curve of the tube begins to come in view...
A blur of another hissing Dragon comes into view, attempting to block him, but unknowing of his position. Shodan rears back with a clenched, broken fist, swinging it towards the shape as he comes near. It impacts upon the shape, knocking it away in a startled cry of pain and surprise. The tube of the 'Grech lies before his still pumping limbs.
The magic wavers, broken by his attack on the Dragon. The blurs of his limbs begin to come into view. Oh, Spirits, not now... last till I am free...
He flings himself into the 'Grech, pained digits scraping along the stone.
His breaths bounce around the stone walls of the tube as he escapes. He remembers thinking about how no prey would ever escape from a chase inside the narrow tube. He prays he would prove himself wrong.
Screams of anger get closer, as the Dragons cram into the narrow tunnel to stop Shodan's improbable escape.
A lance of flame sears along his side, he feels scales wrinkle and twist. The fire is not close enough to hurt him beyond that. Limbs begin urging him onward even faster. Shodan notices that the Dragongrace is not present in his blood, only hope. And the fire it brings.
The cries inch closer. The magic wavers more, green smears making their way into his vision, more clearly now.
And suddenly he is out. Scampering like common prey across the platform above the Drokkhen'Mochla.
The edge of the plateau rushes towards his vision.
He remembers, with sidden clarity, the image of Juxar falling over the edge. Her lithe form outlined against the blackness.
No turning back now...
He flings himself over, curling up into a ball as he sinks toward the ground. The feeling of helplessness washes through him, a chilling realization. Dragon after Dragon rushes out of the 'Grech, trying to find their prey. The world spins, the flat plain of the stagnant lake surging toward him. The air roars in his ears.
He impacts. A brilliant spray of water rising into the air.
A wingbone snaps, his breath forced from him. He forces himself to stay underwater, to prevent the Sept Dragon's eyes from spotting him. His mind reels with pain. His lungs burn, needing air. He thrashes through the water as well as he can, moving hopefully away from the near edge of the lake.
His lips dip just above the surface of the water, sucking in sweet air, praying he is not spotted, and the waves he creates do not lead his pursuers on. A breath taken, he sinks down once again, slithering his way through the black water. The darkness and shade of the water would, he hoped, be enough to allow him to move to safer grounds.
He swims on, rising for short breaths of air at a time. His lungs protest, taking in a mouthful of water more than once. He recalls his friends' journey through the watery passages of the Underworld, and forces himself to control his instinct to surface.
Ears catch fragments of cries of Dragons as they search for him. More than once, he thinks, a Dragon spots him, searching the water for his presence. Shodan changes course through the water, hoping they do not see him or at least cannot follow his course.
Finally the muddy underwater banks of the shore dirty his hands. He takes a final surfaced breath and hugs the bank, creeping along it. His bursting lungs urge him onward, towards dry air. The upper half of his head rises above the surface, eyes opening, blinking away the burn of the putrid water. He turns slowly, trying to spot a pursuer. He notices he has swam nearly the length of the lake, now near the far northern shore. Most of the Dragons, the blackness offers, seem to be at the end of the lake near the Sept, thinking he had fled there. He slowly creeps from the water, watching the opposite side of the mass of water. Rivulets of liquid stream over his body, pooling in the mud beneath him. He slips from the water, hiding behind the curve of a boulder.
He sits hunched in misery, shivering and moving sluggishly from the cold water. He breathes deeply, the breaths making him drunk with oxygen. Images of the Ritual rise back, pain of the body and of the mind. Somehow he had escaped it. Somehow he had escaped their grasp.
His hands shake angrily, trying to free them from the caked mud and from the experience he had undergone. His fingers hurt horribly.
Now what, he thinks. Where can I go?
No way to signal to Overworld... even if he could, what could he say? The threat of the Sept was still real. But he could no longer fight it. Not without healing. And more hope. What can I do?
He moves to peek over the edge of the boulder, towards the darkness beyond. No Dragons visible, but their angry cries reach his ears. They would find him eventually.
Then one form catches his eye.
Large, and red. Heading toward him.
* * *
He does not understand why he goes where he goes. There is some kind of pull, but he takes it as fear, urging him on and on. He moves sluggishly around the rocks, creeping over ledges and under twisted trees. The grey of his homeland mocks him, inviting him into their dark apathy, to let death overcome him. Somehow he moves on.
Squeezing through the narrow crack in a granite face, Shodan looks back. The rusty red form is closing on him, still heading right for him, wings pumping rythmically. Shodan pushes himself onward.
A flat area stretches before him. Polished river rocks make up its surface, and he wonders where the water had gone. He trots quietly along, hoping for some place to allow his hope to grow. Only grey walls and stale air and deadly silence reach his mind. His breathing is rythmical, somewhat recovered.
He reaches a large face of faceted granite, and he feels pulled towards it. He does not resist the urge, and begins climbing it, hoping his damaged fingers allow him support. The wall of granite allows entrance about 30 spans up. He begins cramming himself inside. A dull, continuous roar reaches his ears from the other side. He cannot tell what it is. Just as he slips into the crack totally, he glances back. The crevice through which he had entered this section now betrays movement, a faint dot of red inching through it.
Fear grips his heart as he moves onward. Praying only for escape. Somehow.
The narrow confines of the crack press at Shodan as he pushes onward. Glacing up, the faces rise up to infinity, meeting at some faraway point. He pulls his gaze back down, looking forward into the dark. His eyes can only stretch a span or two. The granite walls waver, ever so softly.
They move in, then out. They breathe.
Shodan's fear rises in his throat, he clenches it down. Squeezing his eyes shut and dreaming of home, wherever that might be.
He opens his eyes. The stone is again immovable. Solid.
He continues through.
* * *
The far edge of the crack came in view, with it a bizarre sight. Stopping at the edge of the crack, far above the floor of the cavern, he takes in the view.
The roar is a waterfall, stunningly like the one he had seen in the Overworld during his pained arrival. But this one is much larger, extending far above and below where Shodan now sits. The cavern is partly cylindrical, granite faces in a circle rising into the gloom. The source of the water is a narrow crevice near the roof of the cavern, the gush of water an unspottable force. Even if he was able to fly up to that point, there was no exit there. More cracks in the walls might offer further passage, but the final sight that draws his eyes is the small island in the center of the small lake. It is simple enough, rocky, low, and moist... but something about it draws his mind, like a magnet. Pulling him forward.
Home... you want to go home...
He begins a difficult descent down.
Inching his way along the wall, he manages his way down to the water, falling the last few spans into the cold water. His muscles shiver, trying to maintain body heat. He feels no bottom, and he wonders where the water goes, if it does not fill this cavern from the continous supply from the waterfall. His numb limbs paddle onward, tail slithering in assistance, toward the island. His eyes are locked.
Finally he reaches the island, and feels no embankment. Almost as if the island itself is a pillar in the water, the mere surface able to breach the water's edge. He creeps onto it, shaking the water from his body.
You will have your dreams...
He creeps over the polishes stones, toward the collection of stones in the center. Too strange to be natural.
His mind feels struck, as his gaze swings to the source of the echoing voice.
Sedin stand in another of the crevices. Able to get here faster with the aid of his wings. They spread, an umbrella of rust and age. He launches into the misty air, flapping the red towards the shore of the island. Sedin lands easily, huge muscled legs absorbing the landing.
Shodan feels the muscles of his own legs begin to shake.
"Thy spell was a wonderful trick, Shodan. At just the right moment." Sedin steps gingerly, almost softly, across the stones. Approaching the green Dragon.
"And you knew thy kin would never know what had happened. I suppose that is the price of enforced ignorance, is it not?" The congeniality of his tone made Shodan mind race, wondering what Sedin was preparing.
"Unfortunately, mine cohorts in their black robes provided me with direction... I didst not think they would lead me here. Where it all begins. And ends. I suppose they guided you here, as well? They seem to work in such ways. Urging fate onward. Almost as if they were... warriors for destiny." He chuckles softly, sad, purposeful. The lack of anger made Shodan's blood run cold.
"But... now. To the purpose at hand." Sedin assumes a fighting stance, creeping towards Shodan. Claws reach out, prepared. Lips curled back.
Shodan stumbles back, unbelieving. Following the wet shore.
Sedin laughs, low and unforgiving. "Thou knew thou wouldst die today, Shodan. Surely you cannot lie to yourself on that point, of all others?" He moves closer, tail flickering in serpentine patterns. "You will die. And I will kill you. Tear your throat open and watch the blood mix with the water. And know that mine rule is complete."
Shodan moves away, trying to think of a plan. None comes. "Thy rule? People will fight you, you can never truly rule a soul..."
Another laugh, stronger this time, anger rising more and more. The fear in Shodan's heart begins blooming wildly. "LET THEM! I will enjoy their blood slaking my thirst! No man can be a peaceful ruler... blood is where it begins. And where it must continue. I pray there will always be those who fight me. But there will never be someone who canst beat me. I know how the world works, Shodan. That gives me a distinct advantage."
Shodan stumbles upon the rocks, squirming away on his back. Wondering how to fight this monster.
"Souls such as thyself are all the same, Shodan. You inch along, weighed down by morality, and call yourselves righteous. You are pathetic, weak, and will never know the meaning of life."
"Thou wilt die, one day, Sedin, you cannot waste..." Shodan stammers, fear and pain all his mind seems to know. The great red is dangerously close.
"Everyone faces their death, Shodan. Yours, I promise, will be more painful than most."
Sedin lashes out, claws raking Shodan's snout. The sharp pain is enough to being his mind about, clamboring to his feet, to make a final stand.
He steps back, waiting for an opening. He barely ducks another slash of Sedin's and swings a fist towards the red. Sedin dogdes it easily. A twist by the older Dragon slams the back of his monstrous fist into Shodan's head, knocking him down. Shodan slithers backwards in a blur of dancing stars before his eyes.
Sedin allows him time to recover, but Shodan knows that the red is merely playing with his opponent. Shodan rises to his hind legs and backs away more, trying to think of some way to fight. His weapons are shattered, claws, teeth, fire... nothing of his body to save his body. Hope dwindles more and more.
The red leaps forward, attempting to dig his claws into Shodan's side. The green twists barely enough to dodge it, and manages to bring his tail up into Sedin's movement. The motion stuns the red for a moment, but that is all.
The rusty hands curl around the end of Shodan's tail, gripping it painfully. Shodan struggles chaotically to pull free, fear overcoming reason. A sharp pull from Sedin sends Shodan sprawling to the ground, gouges from the older Dragons's claws allowing blood to flow from the tail. Shodan attempts another retreat.
Sedin does not allow it. He leaps around the green, bringing the back of his fist into the side of Shodan's head. His skull thrashes painfully, a burst of stars and the red of a broken blood vessel from his eye leaking into his vision. The will to fight weakens, hope disappearing as well. He crawls desparately towards the water, his brain lusting for the sweet fate of a frozen corpse.
The older Dragon leaps forward angrily, and with a snarl of triumph slashes at Shodan's closest leg. Scales rend, the muscles tear apart, and the white of bone comes into view. The green emits a scream of pain. Shodan can feel the nerves stumble, and he realizes his leg is now useless. Tendons snapped. No hope left. No options. His mind relents, simply waiting for death.
Shodan's head leans back, exposing his unprotected throat. Asking for death.
Sedin rears up, tilting his head back and roars, the thunder of an avalanche of stone tearing at Shodan's ears. The scream of victory. The roar dies down as Sedin lowers his head at Shodan, face composed and ruthless after the noise.
"Thy valiance is naught compared with mine. May the darkness of power overwhelm the world as it does here, and upon the supposed light of thy heart, Shodan." His hand rears back, ready to strike.
Shodan does not flinch. He merely waits.
"No... not this way."
The greens eyes open slowly, gazing up.
Sedin stands silently, eyes closed, concentrating. Head bowed slightly.
To his left, the air blurs. A smear of darkness brushes into existence. Another. Then another.
After a moment of cold realization, the Shadowlord Faulinei stands beside the great red. As silent and unnatural as ever. As anything could be.
"Shodan... thou wilt be the first member of the Overworld destroyed by the power I wield. You soul will wither, your mind will melt, and your heart will weep unto itself, into oblivion. You will die, utterly. This, my power promises."
The cloak raises a sleeve, pointing toward Shodan. Fear at his very core, lies of his own soul, and blind hatred creep into all that he chose to call himself. Seeking escape and knowing none was possible. An ethereal hand forms at the end of the sleeve... some part of Shodan's mind notices it is Draconic in some blurred, subjective way. A sliver of cold blue-white light shimmers into existence at the tip, pointing at the green's unprotected chest.
The arrow spins like ice, white flames whirling around it.
In an instant, it flashes forward. And buries itself in Shodan's chest.
His head rears back, eyes wide, mouth open... no scream would come. No scream would describe it.
He feels frozen. After a long moment, his head strains back down, staring at his own wound. Embedded deeply, he can feel it burn against his heart. Life seeps from him, his skin and body suddenly feel cold and very inorganic. His mind reels, memories cracking away into the past that was no more. Feelings and emotions decay.
He looks up.
Sedin and the Shadowlord stand before him, unmoving.
"Such is the way of life, Shodan," Sedin murmurs softly. The great sadness and fatigue had returned. The Shadowlord blurs, a seeming trick of the eye, disappearing into the air without a sound. Broken up into smears of reality, then smears of the imagination.
"Blujar died the same way. I offered her what I was given, but still she refused. Patriotism can be such an annoying inhibitior at times." Shodan stares again at the wound, and the white shaft emerging from the blackened, corroded hole, his expression a mere hint at the loss of being he was experiencing.
"And such will be the fate of all who stand in the way of true power. Perhaps if thy ethics had not interfered with mine plans, you would not be here, dying slowly before me." Sedin spreads his wings slightly, stepping back. "May the Spirits grant me mine every lust... for I will control them, someday as well." A wry smile appears on Sedin's lips, curling back to expose rows of teeth. "But for now... I am content to watch thee die."
Shodan's mind still burns slowly away. Trying to think. Trying to overcome the decay the arrow brings.
His arm rises and moves toward the shaft.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Sedin lift into the air, slowly circling Shodan, watching him from different angles, at his whim. Shodan's fingers curl around the arrow, his flesh adhering to it, burning against him. He summons all he has within himself to pull it free.
He can feel it scrape the sides of his chest bones. Rub against his very heart. But somehow he manages it. Wondering how.
Sedin hovers in front of him, staring at the dying green, wondering the same thought.
The Dragongrace suddenly seems to flow from the wound, coursing through the remainders of his body.
Shodan pulls the arrow free, the lingering blood upon its surface boiling away in a hiss of power.
Every muscle in his arm burning, he forces it towards Sedin, the tip shaking.
"Kal Ort... In Vas Grav... IN GRAV POR..."
The string of syllables rises unbidden in Shodan, his voice gaining strength, raw strength, untempered. The awakening of magic within the Weyrmount manifesting itself like the sun at dawn. The arrow pulls itself from his skin and rises to the tip of his finger. A helix of dark shades curl around his battered arm, spinning from the arrow's tip. It begins to spin.
Sedin stares in unbelief, as if his mind cannot register the fact that this is occuring. The power continues to grow, every word assisting that power.
The long column of words approaches a climax as the power now roaring along Shodan's arm flourishes from the arrow and his magic. The Dragongrace flares just as brightly, his heart providing as much energy as his mind.
Sedin screams a denial, his wings snapping him forward to stop the Dragon's spell.
It is too late.
"KAL VAS... ORT POR FALLAX!"
The final word, and the power is unleashed. The raw force of the Shadowlord tamed, if for an instant. Somehow.
The arrow instantaneously roars forward, into Sedin. His face open, hands raised to attack, is frozen in Shodan's mind. The spear of power blazes into the red's side. The grimace of victory and anger becomes one of rage and pain. The great head swings up, hands moving to the impact point. Wings become spread and freeze, pain stopping their muscles.
The impact point is familiar to Shodan. He suddenly remembers the ring of leather around his form, a dulled metal spike still pressed into...
The arrow suddenly flowers, an explosion of flame erupting from Sedin's peirced and ignited firesac. The red's flesh rips itself apart, fire blossoming outward, consuming his side. The exposure tears Sedin from the inside, and Shodan's stunned eyes catch the sight of wet pink organs, and broken bone. The roar Sedin emits in his firey pain thunders from side to side of the cavern, threatening to deafen the green. The pain of cracking stone.
The noise dies to an wild gurgle as the rending of Sedin reached his throat, tubes of lifefluid bursting open.
Sedinn'kreftarkalmokq'nvornwen falls to the ground, crumpling into a heap of flesh. His own fire consuming him.
Flickering flames begin to eat at his body, the scales blistering and peeling.
Shodan leans his head back, touching smoothed stone.
The taste of vengence is strong.
* * *
Shodan cannot tell how long he has laid there.
The flickering flames of Sedin's pyre burn on. Longer than Shodan would have thought. Shodan watches it calmly, watching the skin and muscles be eaten by the wild flames. Such a sweet sight...
He leans his head back, suddenly aware of his own dying state. Broken fingers. Broken wingbone. Vision blurred by a bloody hemmorage. His internal organs becoming flooded with the fluid of his own firesac.
His fingers angrily tear at the strap, freeing himself. The spike clanks quietly on the stones, the sore area sending pain through Shodan's midsection. He wonders why he did not do that earlier.
No more pain...
A voice whispers quietly at his mind. No... more of a force. With language.
Dreams will be yours...
He claws at the stone, pulling himself with his hands. Away from the pyre.
He cannot fight the pressure of the voice. Sweet music beckoning him onward. Juxar is suddenly in his mind.
Be with her...
The stones scrape against him. The pain does not reach his mind. The music changes it, somehow.
No more pain...
He inches towards the stone formation in the center of the island, limbs struggling every inch. His broken body is forgotten. The roar of the waterfall is Juxar's cry of pleasure during their mating. The wetness of the stones is the blood of prey, all he can dream of.
All you can dream of...
The stones rise before him. He pulls himself up their sides, inching towards the center.
All I can dream of...
What he sees is perhaps not in his mind, only an image ignored.
A sliver of crystal, black as oil. Part of something once, now a mere shard. Of Falsehood. The material source and cause of the Shadowlord Faulinei. Placed by some black magic, far from all eyes. It now holds Shodan's mind in its musical tendrils, sweet pleasure stroking his thoughts.
I am almost there...
All my dreams come true...
His broken fingers reach out for the shards surface.
He grasps it in his palm. It adheres to his flesh. And his soul.
All my dreams...
there is within, and there is without
there is no without
one part screams in horror
one part screams in ecstacy
one part lies in apathy
The air is dead, the stale taste of stagnancy.
The weak, near flavorless nature of the greens give you no pleasure. Your small flat molars grind them quickly and quietly. Long, tufted ears swivel involuntarily, searching for sound. The hairs upon your skin prickle nervously. Eyes wide and black.
You feel a short neck jerk up, looking ahead.
A huge, lithe form racing toward you, glowing red eyes, a line of saliva dripping down from an open maw, somehow familiar, thin and quick like a female, but angry, hungry, need to feed, on him, on your flesh, hunger, more hunger, run, run now now run faster turn run teeth monster please please no no no feed live please
A hot cavern encloses around you, fangs sinking into your muscles, darkness descending.
* * *
Your head snaps sideways, the gray world spinning around you. You recover quickly, seeing two faces.
A huge stone face ascending to the ceiling, pocked and scarred.
Another stone face, this one rust colored and angry. Memory forces itself upon you falling boulders. A Trial. You are fighting. Your skin is black. You need to kill, to live, and gain the glory that you deserve for your ambition. A new world will be yours, all you need to do is-
-a set of claws rake your chest. You stumble back, dreams of power reeling like plants in the wind. You try to fight the rust Dragon. You fail.
You are on your back, helpless, dazed and confused, physically and mentally. The rust Dragon turns to stare at the ranks of statues behind him. He turns and stares at you. He lunges at your neck, row upon row of teeth exposed. More than is physically possible, a growing slab of horrible spikes. You scream, contradictory memories tearing your now fragile mind apart. You feel your larnyx give a popping noise and your scream dies, your life a moment later, and darkness finally descending.
* * *
Your back hits a stone wall. Nowhere to go.
Your arms are stumpy, blind, but strong, you think. You look forward. An immense form bears down upon you, shiny black skin taut over muscles. Dragon. Young, but very deadly.
His claws swing at you, slicing your skin open on a dozen places. Your fear paralyzes you. The pain blinds you.
He laughs loudly in the dark, the power of predator over prey. His hand descends one more time, stealing your life in a blind fit of pain and violence. You manage naught but a whimper.
* * *
You stand upon a plain of water.
Feet touch the surface, it seems frozen. A droplet of water strikes it a distance away, and the water ripples, and you wonder otherwise. The surface bends slightly, and you feel the tension along the skin of your feet. Your skin is green, but tinged with grey, that of dead flesh. You do not see your eyes, but you know they no longer glow.
A form slowly inches out of the water, rivulets of glossy drops slither over the tight red scales. The body is sculpted, fantastically proportioned, erotic, something from an adolescent dream, the curl of the lips professing desire. Your body does not respond.
The body's content changes as it stops, her feet resting on the surface as yours do. It is now the perfect replica of a memory, too real, making your mind fight for the label of unreal and the product of remeiniscing.
Your mouth opens to speak, hers does as well. As the words come, you hear her speak them as well, two mouths, one noise.
"I am dead."
Her eyes burst, blood flowing out freely. Her jaw opens with gravity's pull, blood spouts out, mixing with the clear water of the lake below you. Her body shivels as it empties itself of an impossible amount of blood. The water around your feet rise, the freezing reddish liquid embracing you. Your body is perfectly still as the red female form empties itself. The blood-water caresses your thighs, your torso, your neck...
The bloodwater eases slowly into your mouth, filling your lungs as the water level passes over the surface of your eyes; the contorted, crushed husk of the Dragon's drained face is the last sight you see.
* * *
Alive and whole.
You move forward, feeling her scales over your hands, whole hands, a whole and healed body. Your eyes never leave each other as your bodies come together upon an obsidian altar. Your forms lock in passion.
Your cries of pleasure echo through the empty Sept on the flight of wind.
* * *
You lie together, the intimacy of mating holding you tenderly together. You can hear her breathe slowly beside you, as real she has ever felt. Your attention turns the Sept itself.
It is empty of life. You can hear the fires of the pits over the edge of the audience rings. They don't seem to dim, or go out. The bridges are empty. The catwalks are empty. Juxar stirs quietly beside you. Her eyes open, looking up into yours.
She smiles softly, eyes glinting in the afterlight of shared pleasure. They close again, and she drifts back to sleep.
A moment later, you do as well.
* * *
When you awaken, she is not be your side. Moving your head, you see she is at the edge of the audience seats, looking over the Sept. You rise slowly to your feet, feeling joints stretch. You stretch your wings lazily.
She nods her head towards the exit. Her feet leave the edge as you watch her take flight. You step after her.
Your wings open, whole and unharmed. They catch the wind and lift you into the air, moving them slowly, urging you forward. The wind rushes into your face, tears forming. From the wind, or from the wings.
She leads you out into the world, swinging down onto the grey floor. She leads you to the prey that your stomach is suddenly hungry for. You both feed, watching the pain of prey as it dies under your claws and teeth. With your bodies filled, she lifts into the air again, moving homewards. You follow.
She lies on the stone floor of the pit, eyes enticing you toward her. You come together again, in flawless pleasure. Sleep follows, like the flowings of the tide.
* * *
She leads you to prey, easy and delicious.
You move into each other's arms again, the mating constant and perfect.
Sleep then descends, carrying you away to a dreamless state of rest.
The process repeats. You make no move to stop it.
* * *
You cannot tell how many times you have repeated the cycle. It does not seem ritualistic, and yet bears all the marks of one. Boredom does not reach you, after the many cycles.
But you awaken one day to see her standing on the edge of the steps. Before she can nod towards the exit, you speak.
She turns, looking at you questioningly. You move toward her, a strange feeling in your heart. A pressure. Against... something.
You stand upon the steps, looking up at her lithe form, poised to take flight. You find questions are hard to form. They are pressed against a barrier of the mind, as if their asking makes no sense, a block between the potential in the mind and the actuality of the voice.
"Where... am I?"
She stares at you, the question seemingly making no sense. Her head shakes negatively, mouth parting slightly. "Do not ask. I could not answer even if I wished."
She turns and takes flight. You mind tries to struggle with the answer, trying to understand all that you can see. Your heart and mind move together, fighting blindly and weakly. They fail, and you take flight after your lover.
You feed upon the flesh of prey, feeling instinct flow in satisfaction.
You return to the empty Sept.
The mating fulfills your body, another need satisfied.
* * *
More cycles pass; you cannot tell how many.
Arching your neck as you tear the muscles from a cave wolf, you pause. Fluids drip from your mouth as instinct suddenly vanishes. The pressure is felt again. A strange warmth, and dullness. You spit the flesh from your mouth, the blood suddenly bitter. You turn to your mate.
"Why is... are... we alone?"
She turns to you, staring. Confused. She speaks, finally.
"How can you not be alone here?"
She stares another moment, then turns back to her feast.
Your stomach suddenly demands flesh. You lean down, tearing another tendon from bone, feeling it slide down your throat. Sweet, satisfying.
The cycle continues.
* * *
You awaken for a moment, feeling the hotness of your lover beside you. You stir the tiniest bit. She opens her eyes, tilting her head to look at you. The sharp pressure of the heart rises again, pushing sleep away. Pressing at the edges of the flesh.
"How do I leave?"
She stares blankly at you.
"You do not leave."
Her eyes close again.
Exhaustedness rises, urging you back to sleep. Your eyelids feel heavy.
You forces your eyes open somehow. Her eyes open as well, something new added to their emotional content. The planes of the stones and curves around you blur like in a dream, perhaps brought on by the impossible fatigue. You tries to stay awake and demand an answer, but the exhaustion hits you like a wave, and your eyes close, the last sight seeing her eyes open...
* * *
The rush of stone moves by as you exit the Sept. The platform of the entrance spreads out before you. You suddenly stop, wings under an angry control.
She turns in midair, hovering quietly, wings pumping.
She lands gently on the edge of the platform, staring at him curiously.
"I.. need.. an answer."
She stares blankly at you.
She shakes her head very slightly, turning her head, tears suddenly balling at the corners.
"Do not ask... never ask..."
She turns away.
The pressure is stronger. You can almost feel your skin in a new way, it is different from what nerves and memories insist. It feels... as if it was being licked at by the flames of... what?
"I need to leave."
Her shoulders slump, and she turns back. The normally vibrant and firery face is streaked with tears, mouth shaking.
"No... please... I need you..."
Your mouth parts slightly, staring at her. Reality reforms itself, the pressure is suddenly very wrong, and your mind retreats. She turns away and spreads her wings, toward prey and blood and satisfaction.
* * *
More cycles pass.
Ritual, and yet every one perfect. Fulfilling.
Your wings flap following her after a successful hunt. You can still taste blood between your teeth.
Your heart screams somehow, the pressure returning like a blow. You pause, crying out in confusion and... near pain.
The red form in front of your turns, looking back. You move away, toward an outcropping of stone, hanging out over the smooth surface of a mirrored lake.
You land, cool stone beneath your feet. She lands a moment later, looking at you, a hint of fear at the corners of her eyes.
"Please... answer me. Something is not right. I do not know what it is. Or even what this is... in the... first place. Tell me. Help me understand."
She stares, uncomprehending.
"It is... inside you. And you are inside it. And so am I. So is it. I think."
She suddenly shakes her head. "No more. There is no more."
You feel a heat beneath your feet, as if someone had once stood here, their heat warming the skin of your feet. It somehow gives you strength, your heart pressing against a devourer. Your hands shake.
"Tell me, NOW."
She angrily shakes her head, turning away and moving as if to take flight.
A lust appears in your mind, suddenly distracting you. The desire to mate rushes through you. You watch her form, lithe and tight and...
She takes off.
Your eyes look back at the rock, but it is not there, and perhaps never was.
* * *
More cycles pass.
The blood of prey tastes delicious on your tongue, the pressure of wind on wings making your heart sigh in pleasure. Every need satisfied.
You hold her against you, the passion of mating flowing through your muscles. Feeling the pleasure mounting, spiraling upwards like a growing scream. Her moans reach your ears as well, feeling her skin beneath you...
Your movements increase, the scream beginning to truly blossom.
Your spirit unlocks itself again.
The climax is forgotten. You only feel the pressure of your soul straining at the boundaries of existence, like fire in the belly of a Dragon. You stop your motions, staring down at her, your eyes wide and angry.
She looks up, blinking in confusion, her own pleasure washed away. Her hands still locked around you.
Your hands descend down, curling around her throat. In another time, she might have fought back, but the surprise and intertwined position incapacitate her. You hold her head to face yours.
Shocked eyes and an open jaw is all she can manage. Looking up at you incredibly.
"Tell... what..." She tries to turn away. You jerk her back to your eyes.
"Where I am. What is wrong with this place."
"There is... nothing... but inside..." She falls silent again.
Your hands tighten, trying to squeeze an answer from her throat. She cries out in pain. Bloodlust drifts into your eyes. A haze of anger washes over you, your spirit lashing out, against the devourer.
Her form wavers slightly beneath you, green tinges rolling over her red skin momentarily. Her eyes open, not rubies, but instead blazing emeralds. You jump back in surprise. She quickly rises to her feet, facing you in front of the black altar.
Your heart cries out continuously, refusing to bow down once more.
"Why do you fight it?" Her voice is angry and confused, perhaps lit with the fire of your defiant spirit. "You cannot. Why? How can you...?"
The question strikes you as mysterious, you search yourself for an answer.
"One part... cannot live this way... I cannot understand beyond that."
Her lips curl back angrily. A snarl. The green hues wave over her again. She changes...
"Why? Why let that one part win?" You hear the form say. Reality swims about you, spirit thrashing angrily. "Sex. Prey. Food. Sleep. There is no more."
"There IS. Something..."
"There is no more. You have not been blind to the pleasure. The satisfaction. You felt it. You knew it. What else can there be?"
"I feel it. I cannot deny it..."
"Yes you can. You have. Only by deluding yourself into the imagination of the heart can you forget this pleasure. What of Her? Was she not all you have known? How is she different? She pleasured you, and hunted as she always has. What more can your senses realize? How can She not be more than what you feel? The Dragon body does not input more than what the senses give it. She provided all that, here, now. And you deny it. Why?"
"Something I cannot define... Something that is not defined in any of my memories, something you cannot give me, that only I feel... My memories provide one part, the present defines another, and the future... the future is what there is not here. I need it. I cannot be who I am without it. Neither can She."
The Shodan-form growl angrily. "Future? All it has brought you is pain. And loss. Why leave here? There is what all else craves. You do not need more." The form narrows it's eyes, slits of green staring. "No one needs more."
"I do. I need it. To be who I am. And who I come to be."
The form screams in anger. Wings spreading. The green fading, fading... into blackness. The waving folds of a cloak. A tall, shadowed robe of nothingness. Twin pinpricks of light gazing angrily at you...
...across the floor, in front of a stone altar where you died, died for a home you rejected.
A hand rises out of the robe, pointing at you.
You feel tendrils of magic take hold of your limbs, lifting you into the air.
You feel your claws snap, one by one.
You feel a blow to your mouth, teeth dripping out, riding a river of blood.
A ribbon of pain rides the membranes of your wings, you feel the bottom tendon snap, waving softly in the dead air.
The shadow-form flickers, you see the red body of your lover. Asking for your body. For satisfaction. For the blood of prey to fill your mouth. To forget what you remembered.
Your Spirit screams, fighting the pressure. The burning. Slow and steady.
Slow burning of your flesh.
Fight it, fight it...
The pain you remember is still there, just as it was when it first happened. You suddenly feel the eyes of a thousand Dragons around you, sitting upon the steps, humiliation boring into you. You try to shut your eyes but cannot. The shadowform flickers into the huge red form of your Master, hands tight around your throat, but from a distance...
The pain increases, inching along every one of your nerves. You scream, long and loud, impossible pain, drowning out all thought...
...but not hope...
The tendrils of magic strain at your spirit, trying to bind it and enclose it in the body...
The fabric of the world twists, the Dragons around you writhe, consumed in flames...
The altar glows, and melts, dribbling away...
The scarred face upon the wall weeps, the tears dissolving its very nature...
The grey of the stone walls begins to drip blood, flowing from the heart of Dragons...
The inside of the Sept twists, and contorts, columns and bridges crumbling into nothingness...
A wall swings by you, the bleeding stone rushing by...
Knots of truth unbind, those of lies negate themselves... your Spirit holds.
Blackness, all around. No more.
The Shadowform's arm is still held forward toward your broken body, the pain still real. You raise your weakened head, staring into those eyes. It's arm wavers.
You strain against your own body, fighting the power of instinct. The pain thunders in your mind, but your Spirit holds.
Threads of the robe of the shadow begin to unwind.
Flashes of all those you have known flicker around him in the blackness, Dragons of the Sept... of the Weyrmount... Of Losnikosh... your parents, a mere flash of birth... and the face of the sun, burning all that away, leaving... leaving...
The threads shread themselves apart, blasting the creature feeding on your soul away...
The blackness rushes around you, the pain still there... you feel yourelf rising, millions of tons of stone blurring by...
... my past to mold me ...
The grey of the rock lessens, a blur of brown passes you.
... the present to define my actions ...
The organic shades of deep-rooted plants.
... the future to make me more than memory, more than action ... more than instinct ...
* * *
He lies silently. The soft tendrils of grass supporting him gently. The soil of Britannia cool and wet beneath him.
The sun is bright in the sky, a blinding sight. He moves his head slowly, eye cracking open, looking around him.
Trees. Brush. Waving very gently in the sweet wind, dotted with the drops of new fallen rain.
The overworld. Thrust here by the power which had held him. Had he done it alone? Thrown off the shackles of control on his mind alone? Was that possible, considering what the shadow truly was? But if not... what had helped him?
He moves slowly, getting to his feet.
His wings are still slit. His claws are still crushed. The pain of broken bones still present. But he knows he can heal. With time. And with the power of...
He looks up, seeing the slope of browned stone rise close by him. He recognizes the angles. The mountain of his new home. He begins trudging toward it, pain real but now bearable.
For a moment, he wants to laugh at the pain, within the pain, joy rising in his chest. His smile is pure and strong enough to last forever.
Soon he would rejoin his family. The old home, now, was never a home. To break free meant to redefine himself. He had done that, or at least started down upon the path.
With the warm sun overhead, Shodan climbs the stones, anxious to rejoin those he understood, and who understood him.
To rejoin his Kin.
He murmurs quietly to himself as he climbs.
"Welcome home, Shodan."
eight days past the downfall of the tyrant Blackthorn
Ratufidh'hdh, the Ken'sha home, was some miles away by now. Good. The cliffs along the northern border of Sosaria were the best place to experience a storm, and few Ken'sha dragons would be close by.
Watching the northern sea buck and roll, Kletak'la roars in pleasure as waves crash against the cliffs. So visceral, so purely and proudly violent. So very Ken'sha. Lifting his head to the clouded sky, Kletak'la lets the drops splatter his skin. His nose tastes the sweet, wet air.
Alone, he strolls the edge of the cliffs.
Hearing the thunder drift away to the west, an outcropping of rocks borders the cliff edge. They do not seem to be wholly rocks, there is apparently something else upon them.
Stepping closer, he notices wings. Clawed limbs. Scaled skin.
But it was definitely different from the larger, more bulky Ken'sha. Or even the Pesstro'shal of the Weyrmount. Very different...
Kletak'la forcibly nudges the form. The figure groans quietly, shifting in it's unconcious state. Distinctly female. The Ken'sha examines the body further, eyes narrowing hungrily over the lithe curves, exotic to his eyes. Idly, he wonders if she was mated, and if it mattered to her.
The strange Dragon's eyes flicker quickly, a soft glow of deep red luminescence shining on the wet rocks. Kletak'la feels a shiver run up his spine and down his tail, wondering what kind of creature this was.
Lifting her soaked head from the rock, he stares at it silently. The eyes flicker weakly open.
"Where..." The sound is little more than a croak.
"My name is Kletak'la, of the Ken'shansharasha. Tell me your name, creature. And your alliance."
The Dragon's mouth moves weakly, trying to form the words. Exhaustion, and perhaps more, forces her eyes closed. Her head limp in his hands.
Kletak'la growls quietly to himself. The elders needed to see her. She might be from the Weyrmount, or perhaps even a leftover experiment from the castle of the human Blackthorn to the north, across the sea. Whatever she is, Kletak'la thought to himself, she is now part of the Ken'shansharasha.
He grunts as he lifts the form into his arms, beginning the trip back to his clan's mountainous home.
The rain pours on, steel grey clouds rolling silently on in the sky.