Dress for the Occassion
He glanced at the group in the woods. Emilia and three strangers. They smelled of gunpowder and leather. A female and two males. He heard voices, but barely cared. He watched them move. Emilia was pulling away, fear flickering around her. Fear of him or of them
Weapons were drawn, pointed at him, and soon enough a bolt burst from the crossbow. It hit his flank, barely left a dent on the scales there, but inside, he jumped to defences. The roar was enough to startle his opponents. Teeth were bared, fire began seething up within him. But he paused. Because of her. Because he saw her pull back, trembling, he heard her heart flutter like the tiniest bird. She was terrified. This was not how he wanted to be remembered. He did not want to confirm her fear, by burning these insolent strangers. So, when she shook her head ever so reluctantly, he pulled in his wings and in one swift leap left the group behind. He knew they would follow him, so he made sure to leave a trail away from his hoard, deeper into the forest in a confusing course.
Yet all on his mind was her. Every thought, every second. When he closed his eyes, he saw her face, when he opened them, she was still there, in the back of his mind. He could still feel her small hand, the compassion she managed to convey in that simple, so human gesture. So very, very human. So beautifully insufficient, her human ways, compared to dragonkind. Yet the fugacity of their very existence made it all the more admirable that humans felt this instinct to comfort others.
He stayed in the shadows, contemplating. And in the end there was nothing he could think of to soothe his restless mind. Only flying. Only the thought of cold air under his wings, in his face, to reach the thinner layers of the atmosphere, above the clouds until he would almost faint for lack of oxygen. He spread his wings and took flight.
He was flying with no destination and his mind refused to clear. She was still there, and he saw the fear on her face. What by all the ancestors had come over him back there?! That outburst, just because of a girl? She pushed his buttons and he had no reasonable explanation for it. Everything she had said to him had just hit close to home, like she had voiced everything he had felt deep inside. That he had abandoned her people when they needed a leader – just like he had abandoned his own people now. It was absurd how personal it had gotten, considering she had not even been alive then. She could not know anything that had happened during the Great War, even if these eyes she had may have seen it all once before.
But of course she lived in the aftermath of decisions he had made a thousand years ago. The dragons were supposed to lead the lesser people, and they had failed to do that. They had chosen isolation instead of affiliation. Just as the Adarre had, long before them. They had made the same bloody mistake! And when an enemy had proven too powerful to fight them alone, they had ended up with no allies to support them. His people had been destroyed just the same way they had destroyed the Adarre before: with an absolute defeat. And her words just made him more aware of the mistakes he had made, then and now.
And this connection between them? It had terrified him. He knew he probably did her a terrible injustice, knew he had probably terrified her just as much, maybe more. He had not even meant to hurt her. Yet in this brief moment where he had known exactly what she felt, it had scared him. He had seen her entire life flash before his eyes, every face she had ever met, every scraped knee, every tear she cried, every laugh she laughed, he knew her deepest traits – her foolishness, her selfishness, her kindness, all the strengths and flaws of her kind, condensed in a tiny vessel of flesh and bones and heart. He knew it had worked both ways, that she had seen just as much of his life as he had of hers, and it was a miracle the 2000 years of memories condensed in a fraction of a second had not torn her to shreds.
Dragons were not supposed to connect, not to mortals like her. They were supposed to be above this. But she was different, and it was time to find the truth. Find the reason for that magical barrier protecting Par’bain, because someone with a bond was a very real threat to his people and easily something worth protecting.
Finding the Jester was near impossible. Summoning them would do the trick, but he had none of the required ingredients for that ritual on him. He needed to learn of any unusual events that might have happened in this region, any clues as to when and why this spell had been cast, and what the true nature of that spell was. And the easiest way to start his search was to question another trickster about it.
He changed course from pointless circles over barren, frozen wasteland and turned west, along the coast and as the hours flew by, the lights of Par’fost grew nearer and nearer. Clouds of industrial smoke above the towers of the city indicated another busy night in the shortear capitol.
Eraiyo did not get too close, but headed for his hoard hidden in the hostile canyons of the wastes. Once his claws set down on the cool gold, he let the ancient magic flow through him. He was not particularly pleased by the thought of donning humanoid form again, but it was a matter of necessity. Wrapped in his wings, magic was flowing out of every pore, engulfing him in light until his body began collapsing. Like a snake would shed its skin for a new one from time to time, the form of the dragon, the majestic creature, remained as a faint shimmer of light for a moment longer, then dissipated into smoke, leaving only the figure on his knees.
Chainmail and golden armour hung heavy to his now so much weaker body – even with the magic adapting the gear as well. He wasted little time to rid himself of the armour, dropping it among the rest of the treasure as he walked – stark naked – towards a large, beautifully framed mirror. The gold was pleasantly cool under his bare feet. Once, he almost slipped on it (and was grateful there was no one there to witness the embarrassment). He looked down to inspected the stubby little toes he called his own now. Even if his nails were still vaguely claw-like, his feet were now covered in golden skin and were just ridiculously tiny compared to what he was used to. It would take a while to get used to walking on these little feet again.
Looking back up, he saw himself in the mirror for the first time in… had it been a thousand years since his ‘pirating’ days, since the war against the Mad King?
The figure looking back at him now had not aged a day, still looked to be the young man, with the short, black hair, the gold shimmering skin and more golden eyes. His skin was marked with black lines – a tattoo to the unwitting eye, an intricate shape of many lines spreading all over his body, artful and random at first glance, but at second, there was a purpose to every line. And every line was alive. The markings of black, magic infused ink formed his true form on his skin, moving under the surface, scales whispering as they rubbed against each other. As he watched, the image of his true form shifted until his head covered his chest, wings fanning out over shoulders and back and the tail trailing down, wrapping around his right leg with the last spike ending on his heel, while the tip of one wing seemed to caress his neck still. There, it stilled for the time being and he nodded in approval. His humanoid form was slender, muscular, not burly like many of his fellow dragons had chosen. He had always been more the rogue, less the warrior, always more for agility than for brute strength, and it showed in the form he chose to have. Fine, almost effeminate if it were not for the broad shoulders and narrow hips, a graceful body that moved with precision, and sharp as a knife.
There was only one item of clothing he had left on him when the armour had come off. The fine little necklace now dangled over his chest, the silver band wrapped around his neck felt warm and alive with magic. The pendant he took between his now so small hands was a tiny silver vial, intricately beautiful, with a crystal glass containment trapped in silver whirls. There was liquid inside, just a few drops of silvery essence of magic. The magic of the ruling line of Drakyrioth. His grandfather Eros, his father Era, his brother Eradin. And now, it was his. Now he carried the burden of the essential magic, the very reason why his people had been attacked and wiped out. All this, for something so small.
He inspected his hands. Like his feet, they were now covered in skin with that light, golden shimmer to it. His fingers were long and elegant, fingernails too almost claw like. There was room on these fingers for rings. When he looked up again to inspect his face, he leaned a little closer. His jawline was sharp, cheekbones high. A straight nose split the face in two symmetrical halves and softly curved lips hid slightly to sharp. His eyes were almond shaped, curved ever so slightly up towards the edges, and of seething gold with black slits for pupils. He pulled up his brows. This was not right. This would give him away. He blinked, allowed for a little more magic to do his bidding and when he opened his lids again, the slit pupils pulled into dark circles in the centre of the gold. Better.
He turned from the mirror towards a large, wooden trunk with intricate carvings painted with beautiful, historic scenes. Inside piled fine garments – surely out of time and out of fashion now, but he could live with being viewed as ‘eccentric’ by the shortears. A rich, eccentric merchant, mind stuck in ancient history, that was as good an alias as any, really.
He pulled out a stiff collared dress shirt with ruby cuff links, a pair of breaches and sleek leathers over them, pulled over his narrow hips. He wrapped a traditional skirting around his waist, many layers of fine fabric – embroidered silk with golden ornaments and sequins stitched into the heavier brocade covered by fine, light gauze. Black and gold, the colours of his true form, with a few accents of red, the colour of house Drakyrioth. He wrapped the traditional cloth over one shoulder, tied them in with the skirting’s, then went to a different chest entirely. Inside piled jewels – heavy regal necklaces of which he put on several to further hide the essence of magic pressed to his heart now. Rings for every finger, clunky and heavy, and a number of golden rings for his ears, including golden clamps that gave his ears the appearance of being pointier than they were, to make him look like a common shortear. He took a diadem of gold, rubies and bloodied onyx, shaped like flames meshing into his dark hair. With a pen of black kohl, he lined his eyes, bringing out the gold further, and painting a finger wide line of red down the mid of his lips and his chin.
Lastly, he took two daggers to attach to his belt, handles encrusted with gold and jewels, the leather sheathes crossed, dangling over the right of his hip to complement a fine rapier on the left, more ceremonial than for actual combat, but good enough. After slipping into high boots with ever so slight a heel, he returned to the mirror to inspect the end product. Eraiyo Drakyrioth was nothing if not unspeakably vain.
He picked parts of his armour up again – the gauntlets to hide his claw-like fingers, the chestpiece to protect his vital organs – and moved his limbs a few times to see if the gears adapted well to the new movements so different from what he was used to. Once satisfied with the result (well, as satisfied as he could get with what he had available to him) he turned away and strode back down the gold.
His magic, concentrated within this small body now compared to flowing freely in his true form, facilitated travel, so it took just the blink of an eye to leave behind the hoard and find himself near his destination. He did not materialise in Par’fost directly, did not want to draw any suspicion to himself in a city that was known to not take kindly to magic. Instead he appeared away from the main gates to the city, hidden in shadows from whence he made his way towards the guards with light steps.
“Ho there strange-” they began, but a wink with his hand and a whispered spell made them forget that he was even there instantly, they did not even question why they had opened the gates, simply closed it and shrugged it off.
The streets of Par’fosts low town were filthy, mud and excrements in the cracks between the cobble stones. The creaking old buildings were high and leaning towards the centre of the street, blocking out the patchy sky where the stars were blurred by chimney smog. Warm oily light shimmered from windows or through gaps in doors. Few people were on the streets this late – drunkards, whores, city guards on lazy patrol. No one paid much mind to the stranger. A few glances here and there, like magpies attracted by the shiny trinkets on his hands and dangling around his neck, but then instantly repelled by the blade on his belt. Or something else they could not quite name.
Narrow, uneven stairs led up through the city, where the houses turned nicer, the streets cleaner, where the foul smell made way for stuffy rich perfumes, fruity scents to mask old stenches. The walls where white here, the beautifully intricate architecture a testimony to some of the greater shortears. The steam-powered monorail was connecting districts up here, the metal tracks bending through the air, held up by support beams with beautiful patterns. In these more noble quarters, he found the seemingly abandoned manor, windows planked up, lights out and the magic around the place a powerful repellent for wandering eyes. He could feel the spell, suggesting politely that there was nothing of interest here and he wanted to turn around and go the other way. A form of subtle mind control that worked on beings with only very limited magic in their blood, like he had used to repel the prying men from Par’bain. It did not, however, work on creatures of magic as high as he was, and on creatures who were void of magic, like the Adarre had been – no doubt why it had never worked on Emilia.
He walked through the barrier and knocked. No one answered.
“You will want to open this door, spider. If you like the door, that it.”
There was a brief silence and he was almost prepared to tear that door down, when he heard a distinct click. As the door swung open, the golden shimmer of a fireplace shone through, betraying the visual illusion of an abandoned place. Czeliya Dragisrae did not look at him, simply stepped aside to let him enter. He tipped his head with a smirk and walked inside, heard her close the door behind him. The inside of the house was warm, cosy even. It smelled of herbal teas, bound books, timber and cat.
She followed him into the tea parlor.
“Had I known you would stop by I would have put the kettle on,” she said and took tray of teacups from a little cupboard. Uninvited, he dropped into the chaise nearest to the fireplace.
“I need information.”
“I am not a library,” she snapped. Clearly still angry for their last conversation. She gestured to the toor. “It’s the big, imposing building in the heart of the city, you can’t miss it.”
“But you are a trickster. The Jester cast a spell over a town east of here. I need to know why.”
“The Jester? What makes you think they tell me anything they are up to? I have not spoken to them in centuries,” Czeliya calmly responds after pouring tea into his cup.
“Maybe. But are you not Czeliya Dragisrae, the spider of Par’fost, claiming to know everything and everyone?” he declared.
“In Par’fost, yes,” she corrected.
“Someone in Par’fost would know why there is magic in the Teran’cill.”
She looked up at that mention of the forest, brows raised high. “Ah. So you do know something.”
“Nothing… concrete, I’m afraid. I know that region was ravaged by a terrible plague 14 years ago. Several villages were wiped out completely, others had devastating losses and nearly did not make it through. You will find ruins of hundreds of towns in that forest, all wiped out by that plague. Then the disease mysteriously vanished, seemingly without any outside influences. Some people did suspect magic was at work. The Inquisition investigated, but no proof was ever found, so eventually the case was filed away and… just forgotten. Like it never happened.”
“Of course the Jester would not leave traces the Inquisition are qualified to detect…”
“No, they would not,” Czeliya confirmed with a slow nod.
“But what business do they have curing a few villages from the plague? Why perform a cloaking spell as elaborate as the one I found?” he asked.
“I don’t know. But I do find it rather… curious that this plague happened around the same time as the Purge of Deist.”
Eraiyo stayed still, features stiff as a mask, not betraying the thoughts that shot through his mind. The Purge of Deist had been an act of war with no equal, committed by his own people unbeknownst to anyone outside the island that had been its target. The brutal annihilation of an entire generation of Dragonslayers ordered by the Raayi himself. They had come in the night, set the glass city on fire, taken every child and slaughtered them without mercy, all because of an ancient prophecy about the Legacy of the Adarre. But there was a rumour that some of the children had survived, had been warned and smuggled out of the city in time. And now he found an Adarre girl living in a town hidden by a powerful cloaking spell. No coincidence. Never coincidence.
He uncrossed his legs and stood quickly, adjusted his hat.
“Well, this was a pointless visit, but thank you anyways.”
“Oh. Manners. That’s a first for a Drakyrioth. Losing your people must have humbled you greatly. Have you contacted them yet?” Czeliya asked, before he could leave the room. Eraiyo stopped abruptly in the doorway.
“Why the hold up? I’d have thought you would fall all over yourself to finally take that crown you always wanted.”
He stayed still for a moment, then slowly shook his head.
“Not like this.”
Czeliya Dragisrae nodded quietly, but he did not turn back towards her.
He stopped, waited for her to continue. “Why the costume?”
“Restricting, isn’t it? Imagine a thousand years trapped in that. Just imagine it.”
He sighed and glanced back over his shoulder.
“I will not return you to your true form, Czeliya. Not now. Not ever.”
He left, because that was a conversation he did not want to have. Not with her, not with anyone. He understood where she was coming from. Being in this body, he knew how wrong it felt and the thought of being trapped in it for all eternity was something that would make him consider suicide, if that were even possible for his kind. But that was what it was supposed to be, in her case. A punishment for unspeakable crimes against their people. She had brought it on herself, as had all the tricksters. And though he may formally be the new Raayi, he had no right to decide that she had atoned. Once his Imperium was restored, the Mother defeated and the golden city restored, he might revisit the case. But that was a long ways away. He had more important things to do right now. It was time for him to pay a proper visit to that cloaked town, and to Emilia Baines.