Lilith lay on her bed, watching the fire dancing in the ceiling, encased by the obsidian. It glowed red and orange, never flickering, a reflection of the light which burned far below in the great hall, the only part of the tower that outsiders got to see. The great hall was a huge space, the ceiling held up with columns of gold plated obsidian which stemmed from the floor itself. The ceiling too was spectacular, millions of gems implanted into the glass of all different colours, sparkling back the bright glow of the Hearthlight – a great magical fire which lit the tower from within, giving it an eerie glow which carried at night for miles, serving both as a beacon to the lost and as a warning to any who would dare to attack the reputed home of the draconis. This information hadn’t particularly interested Lilith, confined to the tower as she was, nor had many of her lessons inspired her – she had to learn more than anyone else her age, supposedly because she was only a half blood, and she resented it.
It was eleven years, almost twelve, since she had walked out of the cave clutching her egg, and she had matured into a young woman, with piercing golden eyes. At first, she had been wary of the attention from her normally distant mother, but as she had been thrown into studies about the history of the draconis and gained knowledge about how to fight and live under the rules of the dragon lords, she and her mother had seemed to get on a lot more, Lilith throwing herself into every activity she was presented, no matter how boring it was, in the hopes that if she did well, became the best of the best, her mother would stop hating her. Once, she had asked Sara why she hated her so much. Her mother had twitched uncomfortably, unnerved that Lilith could see through her act, and told her the story of how Lilith came to be.
“It’s not your fault I hate you. You just remind me of a bad time, that’s all. I was a journeyman, me and my dragon having just finished our apprenticeship, and we had been sent out into the world to prove our worth – we helped in the imperial army for a time, only getting to act as messengers for the most part. Things looked up in our third year away from Drakeholm, we were allowed to fight alongside one of the battalions, and we guarded the northern border against the Nocci. Those days were some of the best, twisting and turning past the peaks, swooping down on the Nocci tribes. One day however, we rushed in ahead, on our own, and were ambushed. One of the arrows punctured a wing, and I fell, tumbling and twisting before being crushed between the mountain slope and the trembling body of the dragon. We lay there in agony, and I almost went mad from the scream of the dragon that echoed in my mind before the imperials managed to find us, and pull me from underneath. Many of my bones had been shattered, to an extent that the mage who was with us could not heal, and as I was too wounded to survive the long journey back to civilisation, I was left in a village near the base of the mountain, my dragon being separated from me in an attempt to disguise my race, and taken back to Drakeholm to recover. The mage had done what he could, but we were weeks away from any Janouri tower, and I was left bruised and broken in a crassin village. There was one woman there however, who had once been part of a Samata tribe, and who knew herbal magic. With her help, I was healed quickly, my ribs pulling themselves back together until all that was left of my injury were black bruises.
On the twelfth day of being in the village, only a day before the imperials arrived, a band of Nocci raided the village. The first I knew of this were the screams of women, and as I looked outside, I was confronted with a terrible scene. The men of the village, who had provided the village with food and had never hurt anyone, were being mercilessly slaughtered, womenfolk who were trying to protect the men being thrown onto the floor, and in some cases killed too. But this didn’t compare to what happened next, for once all the men over the age of twelve had been killed, and their heads piled in the centre of the village, the invaders came for us. A blonde haired man walked towards us, where me and the healer had been waiting in our hut – too shocked to move. Around him, his fellows were wrestling women to the ground with loud laughs, ripping off clothes as they did so. I shrank back from the door, trying to conceal myself in the darkness. I felt ashamed when the healer did not, but instead calmly picked up a poker from the fire, and stood in a position such that she could not be seen from outside. Wishing I had my equipment, which had been taken to prevent it being stolen, I instead gritted my teeth and decided to act as bait to distract the man from the healer and her intentions, and stood in full view of the light, with my tunic pulled slightly apart nearer the top. I gasped as I realised how close the man had got, and backed up, fear preventing me from doing much else.”
“I don’t really recall what happened next, the scholars think that what I saw behind the man, the devastation of the village, caused my mind to lock the images out, but I know that the man managed to dodge the healers attack, instead running her through with his sword, her blood blossoming out of the wound and spreading through the fabric of her tunic. The shock of this, such violence against such a good person, even if they weren’t an imperial, froze me as the man came closer. There was nothing I could do as he tore off my top, my futile attempts at kicking him in the crotch achieving nothing as I was forced onto the floor, crying in the darkness. I was found there the next day, huddled in a ball with the bodies of the crassin around me. I was one of only four survivors; some of the women had been horribly mutilated and left to die. The children who could escape had, or else had been slaughtered with their mothers. It was then that I swore I would get my revenge on such monsters, pending my full recovery and that of my dragon. The healing magic of a Janouri quickly rebuilt my dragon’s wing, and my broken bones, and for the next month I slaughtered hundreds of barbarians, waiting for them to come down from the mountains to pillage before ambushing them and slaughtering the pigs where they stood. It was around this time I discovered that I was pregnant with you.” Here Sara had paused, unsure of whether to tell her daughter about how she had wanted to be rid of the child, but laws of the draconis prevented such an event – children being a rare phenomenon among those changed so much by the dragons.
Deciding not to, she continued lamely. “I continued to hunt down the Nocci until the pregnancy progressed to the point that it inhibited my fighting style, earning the title of slaughterer and the position of first of the sisters. The Nocci fear every dragon’s wing beat because of me, and they rarely venture down from the mountains anymore. So you see, it is not you that I hate, it is the feeling of helplessness that resides within me from my memories. You could say I hate myself.” The young Lilith had simply watched her mother with shining eyes, and decided that Sara was lying, trying to conceal how much she hated more than just memories. So Lilith had striven to make her mother proud, rather than ashamed, yet every time she seemed to progress, building up her muscles, stretching to allow for the acrobatic type movements that some of her skills required, learning basic magic spells and studying hard, her mother seemed to hate her more, simply for succeeding. And when the dragon had hatched, when she was fourteen, a whole year before any others her age, and it followed her around without causing any trouble, her mother had grown distant again, unable to stand the sight of her daughter with the legendary golden dragon.
Oh yes, Lilith knew the legend of the golden dragon. The story had been passed down the ages, ever since the Tanoi, a race of foul creatures that looked like men, had ruled the land. It was as important a tale as that of the first dragon lord, Elgrad, and how he tamed the dragons, and Felix, one of Lilith’s fellow trainees, had been surprised that she didn’t know it and given her a book to read which contained all the tales of their mighty race. Lilith had read the thick book from cover to cover, and pulled it out again now with a sigh, flicking to the page which described her destiny.
The legend of the Golden Dragon
It is a well known fact that the Tanoi drew upon the power that resided within their mounts, the fearsome dragons. There seemed a hierarchy within the demon’s society – they had a king, of sorts, who was more powerful than any of the others, and they obeyed him to the letter. Yet there was nothing distinctive about this man, save that he rode a golden dragon, and it was from this that he drew his power. Under interrogation, one of the Tanoi revealed the secret – the one who the golden dragon chose would be ruler, imbued with such power from the linked animal. And so the hunt began, our race doing all that it could to gain this source of power, to find our own leader which could help eradicate the Tanoi, and seal our rule in iron. We shall do all that it takes to obtain a golden egg, and utilise it’s might – the king is rumoured to have a large lifespan, and it is the power of the dragon which allows for the Tanoi to be unaffected by the dragon’s curse – infertility. Such power could achieve such great things.
Lilith frowned, hating the words that ink had scratched into the page. It didn’t seem to fit her somehow, and none of the elders had mentioned that she was supposed to rule the race one day. Besides, she never got to spend any time with her dragon – she was always kept busy, and she swore that the other apprentices got to spend time with their dragonlings. They had even been allowed to name them, something which Lilith had not, much to her frustration. Yet the time they spent together made up for all the time apart, the dragonling leaping on the spot whenever she was near, twisting itself around her legs and hissing whenever a handler attempted to separate them. For a while, the dragonling had refused to let go, and had either been carried in her arms around the tower’s apartments, or followed closely at her heels. But as it had got older, and was less able to fit within the narrow corridors, it had stayed confined to the roost. The dragon had grown quickly, in the space of just two years, it had reached a size that comfortably allowed Lilith to fly on its back. Of course, other people had tried to ride the legendary beast, pulling themselves up onto its back, but it would never fly for anyone save Lilith, twitching so that the riders would slide from between its shoulder blades, slithering down the golden scaled flank.
Lilith groaned, and sat up on her bed. It was time for her day to star, and no doubt she would return to her room sore all over by the end of it. It didn’t take long for her to get dressed, pulling on the leather shoulder guards, marked with a blue ribbon to show her rank of apprentice, and stepping into the soft kneel length boots. She ran an ivory comb through her hair on the way out, straightening her tunic as her boots rang out on the glowing corridor that lead to the teaching room assigned to her year. There was no one about at this hour, save for a few crassin, who were preparing quarters for their master’s awakening, opening the heat vents which carried warm air up from the tower’s kitchens at its base. The crassin were careful to step out of her way as she glowered at them through her strawberry blonde fringe, eyes locked on the wooden door behind which lay the room in which she would spend her day, which would probably already contain Master Vorca, an old dragon lord who was second in power only to the dragon lord himself. The door was made up of several wooden slats which overlapped, varnished with in a rich mahogany, and Lilith paused a second to pull a stern expression across her round face, before pushing it open. The interior was lighted not only by the Hearthfire’s glow, but also by a string of candles along one side. Nobody looked up as she entered, despite the fact that her other classmates, Felix, Gloria and Harald were already deep into their lesson.
“Nice of you to join us, oh great and mighty one.” A voice laden with a sneer wound its way from one of the hunched figures, causing Lilith to set her jaw, and hold her head higher. Pulling a cushion from the pile near the door, Lilith sat cross-legged on the floor, raising her eyebrows at the thin eyed man before her. He wore the robe of an elder, with a dark black band that flowed down his left shoulder, showing he was someone who should be honoured and respected. Yet he had never been shown any such respect from the girl who sat in front of him, so full of herself, and resented her attitude. To Lilith it was simple – if he wanted respect, he would have to earn it, and the strict teacher had never done anything for which she was grateful, indeed it was he who kept her busy so she never had a chance to fly her dragon. But neither of them could do anything about the other, Lilith trapped by the requirement for tutelage, and Master Vorca bound by his duty to teach the golen dragon rider, and to steer her in the direction that Elwardo wanted. So he simply glared at her, distorting the tattooed wings that branched from his mouth as it set in a thin line, wishing she would drop dead before him, and handed her a tome. “Read about the taming of the dragons. I want you to come up with a set of guidelines for us as a race, based upon the actions of the first rider.” Lilith simply grunted slightly, opening the book to the required page.
The taming of Dragons
207 B.P. (Before Peace)
The imperials were suffering badly as the year began, having been driven back by the Tanoi, their magic so powerful that none could withstand it for long, certainly not on their own. There were of course many speculations about where the Tanoi drew their power from – yet it was Elgrad, the emperor’s most trusted advisor and military leader, who came up with the most sane answer, one that did not require the wrath of gods, or demons, but rather beasts from their own plane – the dragons from which the Tanoi rained destruction. But try though they might, they were unable to bring the riders off of their mounts, and as they got pushed ever closer to the coast, it seemed hopeless that they would survive. It was on one of the worst days in imperial history that Elgrad came up with a plan, such an ingenious idea that he would later earn the title of Elgrad the wise. Gathering his most experienced men, both wizards and soldiers, Elgrad set off into the world to execute his plan. Passing the Tanoi defences with such a small group was not hard, and the party advanced into the deepest part of the land, aiming to strip the Tanoi of their most important defences by finding the nesting place of the dragons.
The route to the mountains was perilous, and fraught with danger. Many of Elgrad’s chosen perished before they had even neared their destination, falling prey to beasts and infections. It was a long time before Elgrad’s troupe reached the base of the mountains, near a month, and only Elgrad, a young mage named Zalfor, and six maidens remained as they reached the top of the tallest icy peak. There was no sign of the fabled nesting place at first, and Elgrad despaired that all hope for the empire was lost, but while they rested, a great lizard swooped above their heads, and alighted within a hidden cave. The dark mouth of the cavern was littered with bones, yellow against the ice and snow. Yet the cave was heavily guarded, and Elgrad could see no way in which he could enter without being discovered and destroyed. It was Zalfor who came up with a solution to this, and he crept through the rocky terrain, snatching an egg from the cave undiscovered due to his small frame. The two men, both mages, worked upon the egg for three days and three nights, pouring all their magical energy into trying to get the dragonling which had torn from the egg to bend to their will. On the third night, Zalfor fell, exhausted, and was torn into pieces by the beast, his blood flowing over the smooth rock. Yet the death of the young mage allowed Elgrad to bind the dragon’s thoughts to his own, so that they became the one and the same. With the final words of power, he too collapsed, and it was left to the women to keep his work alive.
He awoke two days after his triumph, phenomenal strength flowing through his veins. This power had changed him too however, and his nails grew into talons, his skin became thicker, and his eyes took on a reptilian shape. His core however, remained human, and so enraged was he by the body of Zalfor that he descended upon the cave slaughtering all that stood in his way. No beast survived, save those who were as yet un-hatched. From these eggs, Elgrad bound each of the loyal women to their own mount, creating the hierarchy that we still follow today, and flew back to turn the tide of the war, the Tanoi fleeing from him, and the platform of infallible power that is the draconis.
Lilith finished reading the story, and rolled her eyes. It was another typically overpowered story of imperial dominance. She wondered what had truly happened to bring the dragons under the thrall of the draconis, and whether the dragons had simply come willingly – her own dragon seemed pretty happy to be around her, and she hadn’t had a binding spell cast upon her. Pushing her thoughts to one side, she pulled out a bottle of ink and a talon, scratching the five tenants of the draconis that she knew onto a sheet of paper, tempted to add bragging and cowardice to the list. But she didn’t, simply handing the sheet of parchment to the master instead. The lesson continued, and seemed to drag on for ages, before they were finally let out of the room, and charged down to the fighting pit at the bottom of the roost. They pulled on leather armour, picking up blunted swords and pairing off. Lilith was paired with Felix, which wasn’t so bad – Felix seemed to be the only person who didn’t resent her for having a golden dragon. The blade sat gently in the palm of her hand, perfectly balanced for her to use, as she waited for Felix to initiate the attack, as he had done so many times before. She was surprised when he didn’t, instead lowering the sword and stepping smartly to attention. Straightening up, she followed his gaze, not shocked at all by the presence of Elwado behind her. She sighed and dropped the sword into its wooden holder, at the side of the pit, undoing the ties on her armour with her other hand, letting it fall to the floor, and followed the dragon lord out of the pit.
“Hello Lilith”, the old man said as soon as they were alone. Lilith simply nodded stonily, knowing that she probably wouldn’t get to ride her dragon today, what with the addition of whatever petty errand the Patriarch wanted her to do. “You have progressed marvellously, I am pleased to say, and we believe that you are ready for the next step in your training. There is an enemy of the state, who we have captured. The man was plotting to overthrow us when we found him in the mountains, with a band of Nocci. We’re lucky that it wasn’t your mother leading the party actually, as we do want him alive. But I’m beginning to ramble.” The old man fixed her with a stern gaze. “We want you to find out what he knows. Maybe he’ll trust you. If not, you’ll have to use your magic.”
Lilith smiled slightly. To interview the prisoner, she would have to fly her dragon up to the very top of the tower, out into daylight, to where the prison chamber rested on the roof, scorched by blistering heat so close to the sun, yet simultaneously freezing cold due to the winds that whisked past, and the high altitude. It was not unknown for prisoners to die in the harsh conditions, and those that did had their remains left up there, it was all the other prisoners got to eat. And eat they did, when they got hungry enough. Her heart skipping a beat as she realised that she would be able to inflict her internal pain on someone without getting in trouble, she sprinted to find her dragon.
*the slang name for non-magical humans who serve the imperials.