Arnai cussed, shivering against the cold as he paced the hard ground in a feeble attempt to keep warm. He couldn’t use his magic powers, even though they had developed vastly in the six years since he had first set out alone, because some horrible mage had spun a spell that didn’t let his mind focus enough to pull the power and form the words. He could feel it, tingling across his back and humming in the air around him, as it danced its teasing melody. Yet here and there the notes were discordant, and Arnai let his mind wander in and out of these gaps, slowly widening them and breaking the chains. Stick-like men watched him as he paced the small enclosure, waxy skin pulled taut across their features, eyes squinting within their skulls in the bright light and their tattered rags flapping off of arms that barely had any flesh on them. Arnai reached the edge of the black stone, and paused a moment at the tall iron rail which encircled him and his new comrades. The wind howled past his ears, and he shivered again as the bright sunlight warmed his face momentarily before icy air whisked the heat away. The light stayed though, and he could feel that his face and any other bare skin had begun to burn under the sun’s bright gaze, too high up were they for the clouds to offer any shade. In fact, other than the shadows of people, there was no shade on the flat prison holding, and even the bones and corpses had become translucent.
He resumed his pacing, kicking smaller debris out of his way, and was still working on freeing his mind when the distinctive wumph of dragon wings sounded below. The interval between the sounds told him that the dragon was in no hurry, so probably wasn’t going to fly out from underneath his feet, but was more likely to hover just within hearing distance for a while, or worse, land at the edge of the prison area. His memories overcame him for a moment, of the long journey to where he was now, of being tussled up and carried in the air, tossed between dragon claws at their rider’s discretion. It had not been that worrying, the dragons had caught him as if he was naught but a feather as they gently flew with him, and the riders would not have gone to so much effort to catch him if they planned to drop him. What he hated however was the feeling of falling, and the constant spinning which came with each toss, forcing him to shut his eyes. And when he had finally arrived at this hell on earth, there had been much prodding and poking, and asking of questions. But the dazed young man had kept his mouth shut, and kept his secrets so they went away disappointed – he could handle pain, he had done enough times, and nothing would make him give up the ones who he loved. So he had waited, biding his time until he was left alone and could unravel the spell. Yet in two days he had not eaten, and his stomach growled to remind him of this, as he unwittingly thought of roasted boar, and of the flavoursome white rabbit that had been his last meal. The dragon got closer, and he prepared himself for their questioning, wondering at the same time whether or not they would notice were he to continue unravelling the mage’s spell.
Far below, Elwado paced down a corridor, Sara struggling to keep up, as it was his aim to escape her whining protests. “But Elwado, we don’t even know that she’s ready for this! And he’s such an important prisoner! If she goes beyond what he can withstand…!” The dragon lord stopped abruptly, almost causing Sara to crash into his back, and spun on his heel so that he towered over the woman, fixing her to the spot with his furious gaze.
“My dreams have told me that she is ready, do you understand? I had a vision, as clear as day, of him telling her everything, having crumbled to nothing before her. She is rider of the golden dragon, and she has more power than all of us put together. If any truth spell is going work on a member of the old race, it will be hers, born of her magic. We have to know where he came from, and whether there are others. The empire could depend on it!”
Finishing his rant with a raised voice, the dragon lord stalked off again, this time leaving a shocked Sara behind him. The most powerful dragon lord considered the Tanoi to be such a threat that the Draconis may not be able to face them, yet he sent a mere girl, and her own half blood daughter at that, to extract crucial information from the man. Yet as Sara hurried back out through the luminescent corridors and saw the roost, her heart chilled further. Lilith was the only person going up – there were no guards that were going to oversee her actions, and the golden wings were the only ones that forced air out of their way, every other dragon remaining on the ground with its head turned to the rising beast in reverence, admiring the dragon’s first rise as it gently floated out into the open air.
Lilith closed her eyes, and simply felt the might of each wing beat, letting her mind visualise her own scene of a shimmering scaled beast, and golden haired rider that rose upwards towards the sparkling sunlight. In her mind, she saw the talon on the ends of each wing fall as the wing membrane stretched and pushed on the air. She felt too the muscles move as each action was carried out, as if they were a part of her, and the dragon was simply an extension of her body, replacing her legs which were locked tight around its neck. A deep sense of joy thrummed through the dragon, and up her body until it settled directly over her heart. With a smile, she opened her eyes, feeling free for the first time in several years, and the dragon leapt out of one of the openings, leaving the distant yells of handlers who were trying to get their dragons to air, far below. As they flapped out into the air, Lilith shuddered against the gusts of wind that buffeted her, remembering from her lessons tales of the wind whisking away riders, never to be seen again. She didn’t even have to try to direct her mount, every thought forming in her head being acted out before she even realised, and the beast landed gently on the un caged platform which extended from the cylindrical prison cells. She slid off of its back as it curled up, wings raised slightly to keep the wind off of her, but not too much in fear of being blown off. There was a slight trench in the obsidian below her, which reflected the sun’s gaze like a mirror, and Lilith stepped into this to prevent herself from losing her footing as she walked towards the double gate that was the entrance to the prison.
At the gates, she pulled out a thin silver key, inserting it into the lock with a deft twist that unlocked it with a smooth clink. Careful of the guard master’s warnings, she locked the first gate behind her, casting an illusion over the first key before pulling out the second, mad of heavier brass. This second key was not the conventional type of key however, and she slid it into its slot at an angle of about forty five degrees, having to use her fist to hammer it first to the left, to activate that lever, then to the right before finally twisting it anti clockwise, the lock clicking back and black iron spinning on its hinges as Lilith strode through into the compound. She spotted her target almost instantly – he was one of the only healthy looking people in the area. He was quite tall, about six foot two, with dark hair, and he currently had his back to her, pacing up and down a stretch of ground like a lion that is trapped somewhere it doesn’t want to be, and is searching for a way out. Something about him seemed familiar, and she was surprised to find that blanking out the human suffering around her was quite easy. Reaching him, she kicked the back of his knee, driving him to the ground, and pulled out a dagger which she held at the man’s throat. She smiled grimly, pausing for a second as the man realised what was happening, then gently tipped the blade, using it to lift the man’s chin.
She gasped at what she saw, for the face before her, with its crystal blue eyes, was one she had seen many times before in her dreams, and once before for real – albeit the young man’s face was now peppered with dark splotches that were recognisable as bruises. Arnai gazed up at the face above him, he had expected to see another hated dragon rider yet instead he found himself looking into eyes that glowed with a golden hue, and which were strangely familiar. It didn’t take him long to locate the memory, of hiding in a dragon hatchery as children chose their eggs, and for some reason he was saddened to find that the girl had grown to be just as vicious as her kin. Both of them snapped back into reality at the same time, Arnai’s face never betraying his thoughts as he slipped back within the shell which would protect him from the pain that was sure to come. Lilith didn’t hide her emotions so well, and Arnai registered the flicker of surprise that crossed her face with interest, wondering if he had imagined it as her face flashed back into the harrowing one of an angry draconis. “Where do you come from?” Lilith demanded, pushing the blade into his flesh just enough that it should hurt and draw blood.
Arnai winced as the cold steel cut into his neck, but did not answer the question, his eyes closed as he felt the weave of the magic surrounding him pulse slightly in response to his momentary flare of anger. Lilith did not seem to notice however, only pressed the knife closer to his throat, a thin trickle of blood emerging from between the blade and the flesh. She asked the question again, as something inside her began to rebel against her actions. Once more, Arnai didn’t answer, aware of an unidentifiable sound that had begun to rise up to their left. The noise rose in intensity, a great hum that made the air vibrate and their skin crawl. Lilith scowled as the inside of her head began to itch, a crawling sensation that seemed to bounce around in her skull, and she noted how her heart rate had increased. Arnai too was feeling the strange effects of the humming, as it wrapped itself around the colourful weave of words that prevented him from using magic, slinking in between the holes he had created and collecting around his head in a colourful cloud. He stayed motionless, sure that it was his captor that was causing such agony within his head, feeling his eyelids get heavier and heavier, as the thrumming became a roar. Lilith had begun to sway on the spot, pulling the dagger away from Arnai’s throat as soon as she became aware of the involuntary motion , and spinning to stagger back towards the cage door.
She kept her eyes low, feet dragging on the floor, and each step she took was with a precarious tremble. Her breath came in short gasps of icy air, and her head rolled every time her eyes closed. All the muscles in her body felt like they were turning to lead as they vibrated at the same frequency that the throbbing pressure induced. The frequency was in fact dropping, although each wave was more intense, penetrating to her very core. She finally made it to the door, almost tripping over the fresh corpse of a prisoner who had been unable to cope with the roar, and who had blood flowing out of his eyes and ears. The iron door closed behind her with a dull clang, that was barely audible, and she fumbled with the key, locking it. It took almost everything that she had left within her to dispel the illusion on the first key and fit it into the lock, stumbling out onto the bare obsidian and collapsing on the ground. Arnai had barely noticed Lilith’s hasty exit, as he knelt on the floor seeking a way to prevent the roar from overwhelming him. He felt the world spin as the prickling sensation rose upon his skin as he tried to break down the magical barrier that prevented him from doing anything – either creating his own barrier to withstand the attack, or to seek out the protagonist and silence them. The mage’s barrier had begun to crack as both his own will and the unknown source of power thundered against it, and with his mind’s eye he could see it shake with each new impact, pieces of shimmering purple breaking off and fading into nothingness.
As the fragile barrier broke down, it became thinner, until there was barely enough of it to hold itself together. With a final flash of light, it shattered, and Arnai was hit with the full impact of the crescendo of noise. He fell over sideways, curling up into a ball and clutching his head, which felt like hundreds of needles had been driven into it. All at once, the roaring stopped, leaving a ringing in the ears of all those affected, and Arnai slowly raised his head, at last aware that the draconis girl was no longer stood behind him. His head shot round, like that of prey searching for a threat, and was relieved to see her outside the compound, being gently nuzzled by a large golden lizard. As it became aware of his gaze, it lifted its head from the still body of Lilith, with her golden hair hiding her face, and looked in his direction with curiosity. The reptilian eyes were encircled with an array of softer scales, which reflected light from the uncovered sun above, adding to the intensity of the large dark eyes, huge pupils resting upon Arnai which seemed to draw him in and look into his very soul. His head still pounding, Arnai pulled himself to his feet, stepping forwards in a trance like state as he did so. A calm, soothing feeling enveloped him as he slowly walked towards the beast, which lowered its head and front of its body in a gesture that resembled a bow. The young man reached the limits of his environment, and stood with his hands pressed against the black railings, where the dragon reached out to him, air from its nostrils gently warming him and giving Arnai a good view of the magnificent creature.
The white light from the sun glistened on the scales closest to Arnai, and he could see the ivory teeth as the dragon pulled back its gums in a grin of sorts. Each scale was perfectly positioned in an arrangement that offered maximum protection, attached to the hide of the animal by a thick membrane that was barely visible. The nostrils were raised slightly, and steam rose from them in the cool air, although Arnai was sure that it would be capable of breathing fire should it wish. As it withdrew its head, the thicker scales on the underside of its body could be seen, huge slats of armour that extended down its neck, overlapping and sliding to allow for movement. The huge chest muscles that drove the wings stretched broadly across it’s chest as it unfurled its wings, as if hearing his admiring thoughts. Each wing had a thick muscle limb that broke down into a smaller bone rod from which the membrane hung. The yellow flesh that stretched outwards, a talon on each end, was slightly transparent due to the lighting as it cast a shadow upon him. The relief from the blistering heat that Arnai had experienced for the best part of two days was immense, although soon Arnai was shivering from the bitter wind, and the dragon again seemed to sense this, furling its wings back up against its flanks. The fore claws of the dragon scratched gently on the obsidian as it stepped back slightly, thigh muscles rippling. It twisted to nuzzle Lilith again, seeming to lose interest in Arnai, and he saw its tail whip round from behind it, thinning from where it joined the rest of the beast’s spine to a pointed end, spines running down its length. At the dragon’s gentle pushing, Lilith began to stir.
She woke up slowly, with a groan and a stunning headache. Colours danced before her eyes as she tried to push herself upwards, and she ended up collapsing back onto the ground with a moan, bile rising in her throat as the world solidified again. Her whole body shifted to the side as a cold and scaly nose lifted her up slightly as it tried to roll her over. The next time it tried, the dragon managed it, and she ended up looking through red eyelids at the sky above. After her head had settled down to a dull throb, she opened her eyelids a crack, to see a pair of eyes staring down at her in concern. She lay still for a couple more minutes as her body regained its feeling, then sat up. Her head spun but she managed to stay sitting with the help of her scaly friend. It was some time later, when she finally managed to stand up without swaying, that she noticed Arnai, stood watching just behind the fence. His face changed quickly into one of anger as she cussed at him, obviously blaming him for her weakness – after all she couldn’t think of what else could have caused it. He wasn’t too surprised by this, and neither was he surprised when the dragon’s tail whipped round and caught Lilith with a glancing blow to her back. She tripped forwards, and turned her angry gaze on the dragon, slightly hurt at the betrayal of the giant beast, tears forming in her eyes purely from the shock. “Whaddya do that for?” She demanded of the animal, which was attempting to look innocent. The expression it managed was so comical that Arnai would have burst out laughing if he wasn’t sobered by the thought of the blade at Lilith’s side.
The memory of the blade cutting into his throat reminded him of his own dagger, and he wondered if the Draconis had kept it, or whether they had smelted down the only reminder of his father that he owned. It had stayed with him since his twelfth birthday, and through the six winters that had followed, unerringly by his side. His heart hardened as he remembered what the Draconis had done to the Tanoi all those years ago, and remembered what he had overheard on the way to the top of this dreaded tower – the only reason he was still alive was because they wanted to know where he came from in order to prevent his race from ever emerging again. Closing his eyes he began to reach for his magic, but paused in puzzlement as he saw the magic that wove its way around and inside the dragon. As if knowing his intent, the dragon threw itself off of the edge of the tower, sweeping the surprised Lilith off too, safely in its grasp. She screamed as the dragon dove into the narrow gap between the roof and the tower walls, tossing her upwards as it did so such that she landed upon its back as they quickly shot down the roost and alighted at the bottom. Lilith climbed down with shaking legs as her dragon wrapped her within its left wing, shielding her from judging eyes.
Lilith threw herself against the comforting body of the dragon and sank to her knees, the dragon wrapping its tail around and forming a protective nest for the girl as she slowly cried herself to sleep.