By Alicia Steen
Read the First Story! Reaching Jeshrun
Parkr. Jeshrun Below. Second Cycle, Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
In this moment everything changes.
This is Jeshrun. It is no surprise to see Mykl here, for I have come to understand we were all called here for a very specific purpose. This place creates a crossroads where men chose their paths. Though separated from Mykl by stone in this winding underground, I can see through the volcanic glass that he has chosen a very different path than I.
So be it. I will wait for my brother to return.
How did this crazy journey begin?
Parkr. Jeshrun Below. First Cycle.
Whoa. Only a few moments as a true dragon rider, and already I never want to go back. I haven’t even ridden Shem yet. This confidence too is exactly what I’ve been searching for. I always knew, but didn’t really know I am the Dragon Lord until this moment. I reach just underneath Shem’s wing where it meets his silver-white scales and run my hand along the pleasant warmth.
So James, Mykl, and Synrn arrived here too. That means Jeske and Kyle are around here someplace as well.
“That’s an impressive frost dragon you’ve managed to bond with, Parkr.” Synrn congratulates me while admiring Shem from an appropriate distance. “I’ve never seen a dragon this big.”
“You won’t either. Shem’s been awake under here since shadows appeared,” I respond. “That makes him the oldest dragon alive.” Dragons keep growing as long as they live, but their growth stops if they go into hibernation, which is what all other dragons were doing until Gathyra came along.
“You already know his history,” James laughs. A ball of deep blue near his feet shifts.
“What’s that?” Mykl asks. The ball uncurls, revealing a small serid. Its entire gleaming body seems to glare at Mykl as it does an impression of Shem’s threatening pose. Unfortunately for the serid, it has the opposite effect. We all couldn’t contain our burst of laughter.
“Apparently he isn’t a ‘that’,” I manage between laughs. If Katherine were here, she would describe him as ‘positively adorable’. Apparently our mirth is contagious, for the serid soon forgets his wrath to laugh with us.
Once he breaths again, Mykl asks the serid, “What’s your name?” The serid puffs up, almost resembling a dragon ready to breath out fire. However, when the serid lets out his breath, sparks fly, accompanied by a hiccup that bounces him at least a foot into the air. Mykl quickly jumps out of the path of the sparks, barely avoiding them. Dragon fire may not burn everything, but serid sparks most certainly do.
“Pip, then?” Synrn asks after our second round of mirth subsides.
“That’s what I heard,” I agree.
I look at my brother’s smiling faces; then dark scales fill my vision. A black abomination has burst through the stone that formed the floor, scattering us so suddenly that I have no time to link with my brothers before we are separated.
Parkr. Jeshrun Below. Second Cycle.
It was then.
As my brothers fell into different parts of Jeshrun’s underground, their fates were no longer in my hands. Not that I could have changed their path. That decision was and always is for them to make. I watch their backs, making sure they are still around to make it. Just as they do for me.
We’ve always been together.
Parkr. Jeshrun Below. First Cycle.
The black abomination roars through the stone floor. The dragon is pitch black, not like Mystery’s dark sheen, but an absence of color that devours the light. Only the dragon’s eyes burn a dull red.
A rage rises in my soul, both familiar and foreign. This abomination is no dragon, not any more. With Shem at my back, I draw my sword and walk purposely toward the black. “Your name is Nothing, and as nothing you shall be consumed.”
His red gaze challenges me. “Fool! Your hope I shall make into nothing. Nevermore will you see another dawn.”
As Shem matches the dark creature’s growl, I leap for the creature’s head, and he counters with fire. Fire so black I truly believe the sunrise is a futile hope.
An oft repeated phrases claims my soul. I keep my sword swinging as I shout it to the black.
“My hope lies beyond the dawn!”
Shem’s white fire ignites my sword. Freezing flame and metal blade easily pierce the dark scales, making Nothing into nothing. Shem’s fire consumes the last trace of the abomination of a dragon.
My anger dies with Shem’s waning flame, but embers still snap. Dragons do not turn evil on their own; someone else presents them with the choice. “Who did this?”
Shem draws me to his back with magic so strong I don’t realize what has happened until I feel wind on my face and warm scales at my hands.
Parkr. Jeshrun Below. Second Cycle.
Mykl turns away first and walks forward, away from my sight. I move forward as well, though in the opposite direction.
His decision is set, as is mine. It has been set since that first flight with Shem.
May I look into those eyes and see Mykl once again.
Until the next crossroads, my brother.
Parkr. Toledoth, Jeshrun. First Cycle.
This connection, unique to riders and dragons, makes flying an entire new experience. It’s like instead of parting the air I am the air.
Shem flies directly toward our destination, making no turns. As I revel in our first flight, a foreboding about the answer to my question troubles me. Do I really want to know? I’ll never be able to turn back after this.
Is that even a question?
I lean closer to Shem, deepening our acceleration. In no time Shem begins circling, signaling our arrival. As he performs the swiftest decelerated landing I’d ever known possible I catch a good look at a legend.
Ariel, the shining city.
It has more green than a stone city possible should, but it looks remarkably intact. It is definitely more magnificent than legends had hinted. The city is massive, and a strange sort of quiet is settled over it all.
Shem lands on one of seven large tall towers. I slide off his back as a reflex, but I don’t notice the moment my feet touch stone.
Two details of the scene in front of me leave me speechless.
A fire once burned here, a fire the previous tenants tended.
The soot is covered with stains of dull red.
Both the stone and the red stains are saturated with magic. Even so long after the event, they tell my senses exactly what happened here. This is where the shadows started. This is where the one who turned that dark dragon made his own decision.
A voice I don’t know, yet still recognize, completes my thoughts. “Right on time. It’s amazing how accurate that old prophet was.” The voice is as old as the magic here. In spite of the strength that still runs through the words, I would not call him alive. Life may flow through his blood, but his soul died long ago. Two thousand millennia ago, to the day.
I am angry.
I draw my sword and face him. “You destroyed your existence, Lord Dragon. You betrayed and twisted your title.”
He calls his own sword. Just how alike are we? We even use the same weapon. “The title doesn’t come with an instruction manual, young Dragon Lord. You can use it as you like.”
Metal clashes as I find my answer. “Our title was given by a guide who whispers as a voice on the wind. You may have forgotten, as you blasphemed him lifetimes ago.” I dodge as he adds magic to our fight. I miss certain defeat by a scale’s width.
“I can quote that prophet as well as you, young Lord. He said you’d remove my abomination. But you are nowhere near strong enough to challenge me.”
Well duh. Every wizard I’ve ever beaten was too strong for me. It’s the weak ones I lose to.
“Your friend and fellow Lord was just the messenger. The promise came from Ancient of Days, and he is not so weak that your will can supplant his.” Sam roars, summoning his freezing flames, but another dark dragon meets his challenge. White and dark fire split our battleground in two.
Lord Dragon laughs. “Victory won’t come that easily, young Lord.” As the flames subside his expression tells me he’s about to bring this fight to a new level. “Nevermore.”
Darkest night claims the tower.
Okay, stop for a second. Despite the fact that I’m fighting an ancient evil Lord, this situation feels extremely familiar. If I were a perfect wizard, I’d pull out an awesome spell that blows Lord Dragon, his dark magic, and his dark dragon away while relighting the fire this tower once held. Problem is, I don’t have such a spell. I don’t even have a single idea of what dark magic he just activated.
Thus the reason this situation feels familiar.
This time, though, Mykl and James are nowhere in sight.
I feel Sam at my back and shake off my hesitation. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the foe, my hope does not change, for the Ancient of Days has promised it.
I fight on through the darkened battleground as though the sun were still shining. Lord Dragon seems to sense the reason for my confidence, as he practically hisses, “The Ancient of Days is a legend, boy! A myth!”
I parry his onslaught. “Even if he is,”
His next blade moves with speed, but I match it. “If I embraced your darkness,”
I use an attack developed against Mykl. “Where would my hope be then?”
That’s it. The weakness Lord Dragon’s darkness cannot overcome. Hope does not depend on outward circumstances. “Judgment Flame!”
This time Shem’s fire consumes everything. The darkness, the black flames, the red stains. Everything. And, after cleansing Lord Dragon’s treachery, it consumes the tower itself for good measure. Shem catches me before I fall too far. A single mighty beat of his wings takes us above the action. To my relief, the flames stop at the base of the tower.
Shem hovers above where the tower used to be, saying nothing, not even a smirk. I think he’s enjoying the results. To be honest, so am I, but still. “We’ll need to work on that.” I don’t really want to be responsible for destroying Ariel. That said, Jeshrun seems to be a tougher place than I give it credit for.
I think I’ll like it here.
Ariel didn’t need that tower anyway.