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Dragon Shadow

By Subzero Dragon All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

Prelude

The wind felt good tonight. I sat on my haunches, letting the cool evening air flow across my silver scales. I rustled my dark back-spines in pleasure and stretched my paws out in the grass. This was a perfect night, a night well-suited for a flawless creature such as I. Stretching my wings and coiling my tail about my feet, I lapped my tailspike against my legs and surveyed the valley below my perch: a vibrant forest arching beyond the horizon to the north and a bountiful plain to the east, both surrounded by tall peaks that humans rarely dared venture past.

Who am I, you might ask? Who is this majestic display of beauty and power made flesh? I shall enlighten you; I am Emberwing, lord of my people and the leader of my clan, the Eyrith of the Glendale Valley. Humans have many names for my kind: wyrm, wyvern, drake, and other even less dignified words. In actuality, I am none of these. I am the most noble, most elegant, most powerful of my kin: a dragon. I am about three-hundred seasons of age, and a perfect example of male vigor. My size is enough to shadow a human’s house easily. None of my clan surpass me in intelligence, strength, or majesty. I am perfect, in all senses of the word.

Come to think of it, it had been two weeks since I last saw a human. The last one I saw took one look at me, the mighty king of the Eyrith clan, and nearly wet his silly metal armor. He begged me to take his offering and spare his little village for another month. He was kind of annoying, but that’s how humans are. He did give me a rather lovely ruby, easily the size of my claw, so he was an okay human, as humans go. It’s kind of irritating how humans see us dragons as terrible, baleful beasts who pillage and rampage as we please. Some dragons are primitive like this, but not the Eyrith. We Eyrith are far smarter than that. It is pretty funny to see them run about, screaming and begging in the most pitiable way. But not for food, oh no. They’re far too bony and far too feisty. All the trouble for not nearly enough meat. It’s far more worthwhile to relish the tributes they bring me, and eat the pigs and deer of the valley instead. I have the Glendale humans convinced that I won’t eat them if I am satisfied with my tributes, the silly fools. They have no idea that I have bigger problems to worry about than what eating them would bring.

It was this concern that brought me to this perch tonight. I had to stay vigilant. No king was without his enemies, and mine was a foe as ancient as the earth itself. The hydras of the far northern Shadefen were encroaching on my territory again. Did I mention I hate hydras? Disgusting mockeries of dragonkind, all of them! I loathe Avarice with the fury of a thousand suns, and I will never forgive what she has done to me, and to the Eyrith. She and her brood have been harassing the Eyrith for about six-hundred years now. In fact, it was she who slew my father when I was a whelp, and our last king just three months ago. A growl of annoyance escaped my lips, and sparks trailed out of my nostrils as the notion crossed my mind, followed by a grin at the idea of finally slaying their queen, Avarice. The only problem with that plan was that annoying habit of their heads multiplying when I bite one off. That meant that the only way to truly kill one was with a breath attack while only one head exists. Not that I was lacking in that particular talent. My thunder had seen the end of hundreds of Avarice’s brood, and I long for the day that she tastes it for herself.

Perhaps, if I was lucky, that day, that night, would come today.

“Lord Emberwing?”

I turned over my back, recognizing the voice behind me instantly. Sure enough, it belonged to Flarepaw. She’s an attractive looking female, with snowy scales, long ear fins, emerald eyes, a smooth back, and a black tailfin. Her spiraling, ebony horns are twisted in tight coils which trail down to her jaw. Flarepaw’s right horn is broken halfway down her face, lending her a wizened look, even though she is actually half of a century my junior. She had taken to wearing a human’s spear tip on her broken horn lately, which I thought was a clever idea. It makes her look quite a bit more dangerous to them, or so she thinks. She is an odd one, but that’s exactly what I like about her.

“Flarepaw,” I nodded in greeting, “good to see you. Did you need something?”

“Lord.” Flarepaw lowered her head, staring up at me from behind her nose-spike. “It’s Frostfang. He… he still hasn’t come back from this morning’s hunt. I cannot help but be concerned for him.”

I wrinkled my snout. “He said he’d be back by evening. The night is still young, Flarepaw. We needn’t worry just yet.”

She tilted her head at me, a cloud of frost trailing out of her nose. “But lord, isn’t he your brother? I thought you’d be more upset than this.”

I gave her a comforting smile. “That’s exactly the reason why I see no reason to be troubled. He is second only to myself for a reason.”

She fell quiet for several moments before continuing, “Very well, lord. If you are not bothered, then I too shall not fret anymore.” Flarepaw settled down next to me, draping a wing around my back. “In all honesty, it’s a good thing. I have had no chance to speak with you lately…”

I shifted my position, leaning into her playfully. “Oh? And what would you say to me?”

Flarepaw looked up at me again, meeting my night-black eyes with her own emerald ones. “Do you remember the promise we made?”

I nodded once. “I never forgot. Once Avarice is dead, we shall become mated before the ancestors. I never break my promises, Flarepaw, you know that.”

Her smile brightened. “I do, Emberwing.” She snorted a cloud of mist and her cute face showed a brief moment of alarm. “Ah! I mean ‘Lord Emberwing’! Forgive me, for I have yet to become accustomed to your title.”

I chuckled at her. By the gods, she’s adorable when she’s flustered! “How many times have I told you, it doesn’t matter how you address me. We grew up together, and my becoming king of the Eyrith changes none of it. Think of me as you always have.”

She rumbled deep in her throat, still not breaking eye-contact. “Lord, you are our strongest and wisest. If the others caught me being uncouth, I’d be disgracing you and the Eyrith. I will not allow myself to stain our honor.”

I leaned my head into her shoulder. “Why should you worry about formalities now? It’s just us and the stars tonight.”

“Lord… I respect nobody more than you. Please understand.”

“If it bothers you that much, then I should be more aware of your feelings.” I straightened up, casting my studious gaze to the north. “Care to join me with the watch? I could use your company.”

She nodded once in compliance. “As you wish, lord.”

I gave her a look again. “Flarepaw, I asked if you wanted to join me.”

“Truth be told, I wanted this.” She folded her wings, situating herself more comfortably on the ledge. “Even guard duty is enchanting when it’s with you.”

“Remember to keep your eyes on the task, Flarepaw,” I warned.

“At least hydras are predictable, if nothing else.” Flarepaw grinned happily, “As long as Avarice’s brood stays to the north, I believe we have little to fear from them.”

I nodded once more, letting the conversation end. As much as I wanted to just curl up with Flarepaw, this was hardly the time for cuddling. This was the time of night when hydras often try to attack, and I could not let them advance on us again.

Three months ago, those beasts got the better of us. They came from the usual direction, through the north forest, and they struck without warning. We fought them as usual, but the hydras had a nasty plan. I was with the nesting females at the time, helping feed the brood, when she appeared. Avarice herself somehow managed to pierce our front ranks, and she was attacking our whelps! That was when our late king, Lord Thunderfang, engaged her. Flarepaw and I joined him, but we were blindsided by two more hydras. We were forced to deal with those green-skinned demons while the foul, black queen fought our king. She and Thunderfang were fiercely matched, and not showing the other any sign of weakness. Then, she used her foul, poison breath on us. I was the closest to her when she struck, and the first to fall unconscious from the venom. Flarepaw tells me that Thunderfang struck at Avarice when she had my head in one of her mouths, ready to end me.

In that moment, Avarice had struck him down instead, tearing him apart with her twelve, terrible heads. Thunderfang had protected me that day, but paid the ultimate price for it. Thinking back on it makes me seethe in anger. The one battle I lost, the one scar on my prowess… was this. I ran a paw down the wound on my face, leading down my forehead and down my snout, ending at the end of my jaw. That mark was where one of Avarice’s heads bit me, and the sole reminder of the day I wanted most to forget.

Avarice… if I ever find you again, it shall be you who falls! I shall never give in until you are mine!

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