A dragon meets up with an old friend to learn some new information.
This acts as a scene-setter for my next fantasy novel, Wolf's Curse, as well as introducing one of the plot elements. This is set over 1000 years before the events of Destiny of Dragons, so things may not necessarily be as you'd expect.
It was not a night of mystical portents. Lightning didn’t arc across the sky, and no prophecies had ever been told of this day. It wasn’t even a full moon. No great deeds were to be done, but a meeting was about to take place that would change the fate of Farenar for centuries to come.
A lone dragon walked. White scales hid him almost completely against the deep snow that had built up on the mountainside with just his black horns and scales betraying his presence. He had crossed the invisible boundary that placed him within the human Kingdom of Aegia. Few dragons went there anymore, having ceded that territory to the weak, short-lived humans several centuries ago. Some Aegian’s refused to even believe in the existence of dragons anymore.
The white-scaled dragon didn’t care about any of that now. He just held his wings close to his back to stop the strong, mountainous winds from teasing them open. He had no desire to be dashed up against the looming cliffs around him. Snow crunched and melted beneath his paws as he walked towards a deep, black cave. From within, flickering firelight could be seen.
“Well met, Ruatha,” a voice called out from within. Human.
The dragon ducked his head inside the cave and let his eyes adjust to the dark. The cavern was dark and deep, water dripping down from the roof and pooling in a large puddle that trickled away into some narrow crevasses in the stone floor. Half hidden behind an alcove to protect it from the biting wind was a large fire, sparking blue with magic, a large pot of food cooking above it.
“You’re early, Alain. I wasn’t expecting you until Dirus showed The Lady,” the dragon said, approaching the fire and looking down at the two figures around it. One was human. An aged man, stooped over in his weathered cloak, wrinkled hands extended towards the warming fire.
The second figure was clearly not human. Despite the cold, the creature was barely dressed at all, instead using his thick pelt of silver fur to protect himself from the chill wind. Two pointed ears curled inwards as the dragon approached. This was one of the kaur, a race of feline creatures that usually lived in the mountains, using their thick fur to protect them from the elements, and their sharp claws to hint and kill their prey. It was rare for any of them to associate with a human.
The kaur looked up at the dragon through narrowed eyes. “Sometimes we can’t wait on the phases of the moon. No matter which face she shows, Dirus doesn’t wait on us.”
The dragon growled. “I am unfamiliar with you, kaur.”
The kaur smiled, showing off an impressive display of sharp teeth. “My name is Gyus, shaman of my people.”
“And why are you here, Gyus? I expected to meet the human alone.”
“Relax, Ruatha. The kaur is an old friend of mine,” Alain said, raising his hands up to the dragon’s snout to lightly touch the small, black horn between his nostrils. “He is here at my invitation.”
Ruatha snorted and nodded his head, slowly laying down and resting his head on his snow-white paws. He kept one eye on the kaur at all times, not once lowering his guard. He knew about the snow-cats and the ferocity of their claws. They had been known to take down a dragon unawares. He didn’t trust the human’s words enough to risk looking away. The kaur seemed to be aware of this too, his toothy grin wide as his thick, bushy tail swayed from side to side.
“I am no threat to you, dragon. I am a shaman, sworn to protect and conserve, never to cause harm to others. Even dragons are safe from my vows,” the kaur said. His claws were extended, but only so he could inspect them, not a demonstration of aggression.
Ruatha sniffed down at the kaur. He didn’t know much of their culture, finding it primitive and simple at the best of times, but he knew enough to know that the cat was being genuine. Their shamans never used their arcane powers for harm. Instead they were magnificent healers, and were said to help control the weather and the growth of their crops – a great boon in the mountains where they generally lived.
“What news do you have for me, Alain?” he asked, slowly turning his attention towards the human.
“That’s so like you dragon. Always needing information right away. What’s wrong with sitting by the fire and warming up from a cold, winter night?” the human replied. He didn’t look up at the dragon, instead stirring a ladle through the big pot of stew that was cooking over the fire.
Ruatha turned his head and snorted. “Do not keep me waiting, Alain. Why have you summoned me?”
Alain waggled his finger at the dragon, not answering the question and turning back to the cooking food. Ignoring the grumbling dragon, he simply dished up a bowl for himself and the kaur, not bothering to offer the dragon anything. Not that Ruatha would ever debase himself so much to eat any of the human’s cooked food.
Ruatha flicked his tail and paced around the cavern as he waited for Alain and Gyus to finish their meal. They took their time, and the dragon went to sit down outside the cave while he waited. The cold winds didn’t bother him at all, his own internal magic keeping him warm. The sky above was still clear, but snow drifted down around him, whipped up from the cliffs to drift slowly down the mountainside. It melted as it touched his scales, small rivulets of water dripping down his body.
He looked up to Dirus, the name given to the spirit who was said to reside in the moon that orbited Farenar. Little was known about her, but every species on Farenar had their own myths and legends about her. What most agreed on at least was that she had four faces that rotated as she waxed and waned each month. She currently looked down on Farenar with the wolf, her face half hidden in shadow.
It was certainly true that some form of magic emanated out from Dirus, but just what exactly it contained was a mystery to all on Farenar. Not even the werewolves, who were most affected by her magic, knew just what caused their monthly transformations. Not that many sought to discover the reasons. Most werewolves lacked the mental faculties to properly worry about the workings of their world, and few other races wanted anything to do with the bestial creatures. In that regard, Ruatha was very much an exception. He had been fascinated by werewolves for many decades now, but had made remarkably little progress in unlocking their secrets. He had hoped the human mystic had been able to discover something.
Distracted by his musings, the dragon didn’t notice Gyus until the kaur sat down by his side. The feline creature still held a steaming bowl of stew in his hands. A few dangling totems jangled from the kaur’s wrists.
“You know the lykans will never accept your help,” the kaur said with a low growl. His long, thick tail thrashed behind him, stirring up a small cloud of loose snow.
“Of course,” Ruatha replied, glancing down at the kaur beside him. The feline was less than half his height, but the dragon had grown to be wary of the kaur’s claws. He’d underestimated one of them before, and still bore the pink scars on his foreleg, blemishing his otherwise pristine white scales. “I don’t seek permission to help them. I just desire the knowledge of how they’re so altered by Dirus. If they choose to use my knowledge afterwards does not bother me.”
Gyus sneered. “Maybe we shall discover a way to declaw the threat they pose to our people.”
The dragon didn’t answer that, instead just directing his gaze upwards towards Dirus again. He had no desire to use any of his knowledge to control or restrict the werewolves, but he acknowledged the danger they routinely posed towards the kaur, who called the shapeshifters lykans.
“Perhaps they can at least be civilised,” Alain said, the human stepping out from the cave. Unlike the dragon and the kaur, he was troubled by the cold air outside, and was wrapped up in several layers of thick clothing. Even so, his face was still ruddy red from the chill wind.
“Perhaps,” Ruatha rumbled in agreement. It was not his responsibility to help develop the other races of Farenar, after all. None could match the glamour and wisdom of the dragons, and that was how it should be.
“Dirus sent us a gift a few nights ago,” Alain said, sweeping aside some snow so he could sit down on a jutting rock and face the dragon from a similar height. His arm gestured upwards.
Ruatha blinked and stared down at the human, before following his gesture up towards the stars and the half-hidden face of the moon goddess. Finally, this was what he had come for. A gift from the heavens was rare indeed, and for one to come straight from Dirus was a once in a lifetime opportunity, even for one as long-lived as a dragon. “Are you sure?”
“A light streaked across the sky and landed nearby. It came from her, I’m certain,” the human replied.
“I felt it too,” Gyus added. The cat fondled one of the charms around his wrist. “I am surprised you did not, dragon.”
Ruatha growled, but otherwise ignored the vocal jab from the kaur, instead swinging his head back towards the human. “And where did it land? Is it close by?”
“It landed in the outskirts of Vuost,” Alain said. His words were followed by a silence from all three. Ruatha’s eyes had darkened as he looked down to the ground, glaring into the snow as though it had caused him great offence, but instead it was the insinuation Alain’s words had made. The human knew well to keep quiet until the dragon spoke again. Gyus had wisely remained silent as well, picking up on the sudden tension in the cold air.
“Then the traitor will likely have it,” Ruatha growled. He looked to the east, towards where the human village of Vuost lay.
“I would expect so,” Alain confirmed with a nod of his head. The human avoided the fierce gaze of the dragon, instead casting his eyes back up towards Dirus. “She has sent us a great gift, a small piece of herself.”
“But why did it go to him?” Ruatha said, before standing up and shaking the snow from his wings and tail. “Thank you for your information, Alain. Perhaps I am not too late, and can pry her gift from the traitor before he steals it away for good.”
Alain and Gyus both stood up when the dragon did. “Going so soon?” the human asked.
Ruatha nodded. “I can’t risk the traitor using Dirus’ gift. I must go straight to Vuost and claim it for myself,” he said. He tested his wings against the wind, but even in this sheltered part of the valley, he could feel his membranes get tugged and pulled. He would travel on paw again. “You know how to call me should you find something new.”
“Of course,” Alain said, bowing his head. For a moment, the human reached out to place his hand on the dragon’s white scales, but at a glance from Ruatha he wisely pulled his hand back again. “Travel safe, great one.”
Ruatha scoffed and pushed past the human without a second thought, stepping around the still-silent kaur in one stride. Not once did the dragon look back, and soon he had vanished into the snow, his white scales blending him in perfectly. Ruatha knew he didn’t have much time to claim Dirus’ gift. The traitor could not be allowed to keep it.
Vuost lay in wait for him.