Lysander escorted her inside, and Mother Iwilanga sat stooped over her small fire, bunches of pampas grass clutched in her frail fingers. The old woman tossed the bundles one by one into the fire, which ate them ravenously but refused to grow larger. Iwilanga rubbed her swollen knuckles, massaging away pain, and reached for more bundles before Arliss stopped her with a gentle hand on the old woman’s wrist.
Someone had restacked a number of thin logs in a neat pile tucked away in a corner of the hut, and the mage fetched two of them, nestling the logs into the burning embers of the fire circle. She leaned close to the coals and brought her hands near. Arliss began to draw heat from the dying sun that was clawing at Iwilanga’s canvas hut, sapping warmth from the air and condensing it in her palms. After a moment, a tiny spark flared to life between her fingers. As she drew her hands apart, the flame swelled in size, gorging itself on magic. The fire she held grew hungrier for energy, so Arliss quickly let it spill from her palms and into the fire pit where it could feast on the gnarled logs.
“I never knew that dragons had the ability to use magic,” Lysander commented from his seat opposite the fire circle.
Arliss nodded slowly. “For reasons unknown, it does not manifest itself in our blood as it does in that of humans. I have not heard of another possessing the power other than myself. However, I have not been in contact with anyone other than my own Flight, so my perception on the number of dragon magic-users may be somewhat inaccurate.” Arliss extended her palms close to the warmth of the fire as Iwilanga fed it more bundles of kindling. It always surprised her at how cold the nights could grow without a coat of scales to ward it away.
“Your Flight? There are more dragons? I thought that the 70-Years-War forced the remaining dragons to the far north east?” Lysander asked hurriedly, voice quivering with excitement.
Arliss snorted bemusedly at the chronicler. “Of course there are more dragons. Though our numbers were diminished, yes, the 70-Years-War only forced us into smaller assemblies that have gone unnoticed for the most part. The Faylore Flight is only one of those assemblies, and from what I know, we are the only Flight to inhabit an area so close to a human settlement. Perhaps twenty of us make our home west of here in a secure place away from contact. Sometimes, though, an itinerant dragon will happen upon our territory, stay for a few days, but then leave soon after. Such an occurrence happens so rarely that we almost never hear news from any other Flights.”
Arliss suddenly snapped her mouth shut, realizing that she had gone too far with divulging information. She eyed Lysander cautiously; there was something about the man that made talking so easy that information spilled from her lips as if it were the fire that kindled in her draconic chest.
“Faylore Flight,” Lysander murmured incredulously under his breath. At some point, he had taken out his journal, a quill, and a tiny pot of ink, and he was now writing furiously upon the pages.
The incessant scratching of the quill unnerved Arliss, and she twisted and untwisted the material of her dress fretfully. She had not come here to give away details of her Flight to a passing chronicler. Rather, she wanted to speak with Iwilanga concerning the black smith’s request for apprenticeship. She somewhat regretted indulging Lysander in chatter instead of discussing her concerns.
“Mother?” she began tentatively, silently berating herself.
When Iwilanga did not look up from her fire, Arliss called again. “Mother? I need to speak to you about something that occurred today.” Iwilanga continued to stare into the flames, giving no indication that she had heard the mage.
Arliss continued, saying, “I need your council, Mother. It is important. It concerns an apprenticeship that was asked of me, and I do not know--”
The old woman gasped sharply, startling Arliss into silence and causing Lysander to spill some of his ink. Iwilanga scrambled fearfully away from the fire circle, kicking a few of the encircling stones and throwing embers into the air. Arliss rushed to Iwilanga’s side and seized the woman’s hands in her own. Mother tried to pull away, to crawl farther away from the flames, but Arliss held fast and attempted to calm her with soothing words. The old woman jerked away forcefully, though, and grasped Arliss’s face with hands as gnarled as the logs burning away from within the fire's ravenous hunger. The mage stilled, eyes wide with concern.
“You must listen to me, hatchling!” Iwilanga gasped, urgency in her strained voice. “You must listen carefully!”