We reached a large cave in the side of the mountain and the purple dragon dove neatly in to land on another large ledge. I breathed out in relief, legs shaking and stomach roiling. I clumsily unbuckled the straps round my legs and quietly watched to see how Storm dismounted.
Finally, I was standing upon solid ground again. Nyssrin, still sitting on the dragon, waved me a cheery goodbye. “Thanks for the ride,” I told her, and meant it.
She laughed. “Don’t thank me, thank Darad!” She patted the dragon, who made a contented rumbling sound.
“Thanks, Darad,” I managed, hoping it didn’t sound too much like a question. Nyssrin laughed again, before telling me that she’d come find me and show me around the city. I was going to tell her something else, but my words were stolen when Darad leaped off of the ledge and they both were gone.
“Well,” Storm said, from behind me. “Shall we go and meet the Masters?”
I shrugged. “Any point in resisting?”
He laughed. “Well, not if you want the whole story on what you’re doing here. I’m sure your little human brain’s full of confusion. But Mister Storm! you’d ask. My college graduate brain can’t comprehend how we’re all speaking the same language! But Mister Storm! I just want to go back to my normal life on Earth with my dead brother! But Mister Storm!”
Before he could say anything else, I punched him in the jaw. I had never really punched anyone before, and my hand hurt like a bitch afterward, but it seemed to throw Storm off balance and I got a sick sense of pleasure as he tripped backward and fell unceremoniously to the ground. “You deserved that,” I told him. “And I actually was wondering about the language thing. And the lack of technology. And a whole bunch of other stuff that you, as my Assigned, or whatever the hell that is, are supposed to tell me! It would be nice if you were actually helpful instead of just being a cocky bastard all the time!”
Storm slowly got to his feet, holding one hand to the red mark on his cheekbone. His white hair had gotten mussed up and his eyes were cool. “Yeah, I deserved that, Ivy.”
“Damn right you did. Now let’s go and meet the Masters you were talking about.”
When we exited the ledge through a wooden door, we found ourselves in a large circular room. The walls were made of stone and large windows let in bright sunlight. Bookshelves filled with old tomes lent a smell of old paper to the place In the center, a small group of people were talking around a large circular table. One of the largest, an Orc in muted reds, noticed Storm and I and gestured us over. “Welcome to the Masters’ Hall,” he said, standing. “What can I do for you?”
It might have been my imagination, but Storm stood a bit straighter, clasping his hands behind his back. “She is Unchosen," he told the Orc, gesturing to me. “The Council has judged me to be her Assigned and her teacher, but…”
“But what?” asked the Orc. “Spit it out, small elfling.”
Storm seemed to bristle, but growled his sentence out just the same “But I have no idea what I’m doing.”
The Orc stood stock-still and silent for a moment before bursting into guttural barking laughter. Storm, for once, looked rather unsure of himself. When the Orc had finishing laughing, he smiled at Storm, showing long curved fangs. “Well, of course you don’t, little elfling! That’s why you’re here! He put a large meaty hand on Storm’s shoulder. “Come. We’ll show you what to do.” Storm smiled at him and let the large Orc lead him back to the table to where the others sat. I lingered behind, not sure of my role. Was I supposed to go with Storm? Stay behind and wait? A round of introductions was made, and then everyone sitting around the table got up, and the Orc led them, and Storm, out another door to the side that I hadn’t noticed. Apparently, in my indecision, my choice had been made for me.
Storm and the others were gone for hours. In that time, I had made a circuit of the room three times, climbed up the stone wall to look out the windows, and discovered all of seven books in languages I could understand. When the door opened and Storm re-entered the room, I was perusing the seventh and most interesting book I had found, On a History of Dragons. I looked up when the door slammed, and saw Storm standing there, sighing, running a hand through his hair. “It seems, dear one, that being a teacher is harder than I would have expected.”
This I did laugh at. “Of course it is, Storm! What did you expect? That I would magically learn everything?”
He frowned in confusion. “There’s… there’s no way you can learn everything with magic.”
When I laughed again, he looked all the more lost. “It’s a human expression,” I told him, and he nodded absentmindedly. I stood up and walked over to him, unnatural weight of the cloak falling over my shoulders awkwardly. “Well? What are we doing? I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”
He shook his head, dislodging a few strands of hair, and looked down at me. “We’re going to meet your dragon, and then we’re going to the armory. Then, your lessons can fully begin.”
I nodded, and we began to walk towards the doors, falling into step. Suddenly, he remembered something, and laughed. He dashed back to retrieve a green knapsack that he’d set on the floor, before handing it to me. “This is yours,” he told me. “I think you humans call them textbooks.”
After another courier whom I didn’t know, and another harrowing dragon ride later, we arrived in front of another wooden door, next to another ledge. Storm glanced at me before throwing the door open and stepping inside. I followed suit, but as soon as I walked into the room, I stopped short, gaping in wonder. This room was massive, even bigger than the cavern at the bottom of the peak. It was green and lush, filled with grasses and wild plants, lit by so many orbs of light that it seemed almost like daylight. The waterfall I had seen below seemed to start in this room, a glistening pool trickling down through a huge carved hole in the rock, directly in the center of the room. The walls were lined with caves of varying sizes and one great entrance through which I could see open sky. That wasn’t the most impressive part, though.
The room was entirely, utterly, filled with dragons.
Big ones, little ones, reds and golds and blues, they lounged in caves, they snapped and bit at each other, they flew lazy circuits about the cave ceiling, high above. One dragon that was larger than any I had ever seen, a creature warm silver and nearly twenty feet long, spotted us when we walked in, turning one blue eye onto us. I felt caught and trapped, evaluated in that gaze, a gaze so old and so wise. I felt something in my mind, then, a presence, before a deep voice rumbled: Welcome, Ivy Whitehall, to the Cavern of the Sky.
My mouth dropped open, and I elbowed Storm. “Is he… is he talking to me?” Storm shot me a sideways grin. Loud, rumbling laughter echoed through my mind. Yes, young Green. I am talking to you. My name is- in the name of Raja the First, small thing, could you wait? This last part was because, as the silver dragon was speaking to me, a small green dragon no bigger than a cat had scampered in from the side to trip to a landing in front of me. It sat on its back haunches, observing me with grey, grey eyes. Another voice joined the chorus in my mind, one young and female. No, Korel, I cannot wait. I’ve been waiting already, my entire life, for this one moment. I waited three hundred years in my egg for this moment! You cannot tell me to wait any longer, because I will not.
The silver dragon laughed again, a sound like rocks crashing together. Very well, small thing. Go and meet her.
The green dragon glanced back at the silver, seemed to nod. Then, it turned back around and fixed me in its grey stare. Ivy, it told me, female voice wavering just a touch. Ivy. I stared at it for an instant, not sure of what to do, or even what was going on, before it joyfully cried Ivy, Ivy, Ivy, Ivy! and launched itself towards me, flying directly at my chest. I shirked back, covering myself with my arms, but the little dragon bowled me over just the same, knocking me flat onto my back. It climbed on top of me, lying down directly on top of my stomach. It blinked at me, and I studied it. The dragon was a brilliant jeweled green, dark, like a forest. The scales that covered it were small, its entire body was the size of a Chihuahua, but when it extended its wings I could see that they were almost six feet wide. Ivy, it told me once more. I have waited a long time for this.
So I’ve heard, I thought, and I felt the little dragon’s rumbling laughter. Warmth from the small creature was seeping through me, sapping my will to move, like I was being slow-cooked in a small, dragony oven. What is your name? I asked it.
It looked at me, blinked. First, it told me, gentle annoyance clear. I’m not an it. I’m a she. Second, you’ll have to name me. I was waiting for you to.
Don’t you want your own name? I asked her. Surely one you think up is better than any I can give, you seem fully capable.
I don’t feel like it, was her only response. So I think you’d better name me or I’ll just go unnamed. How would you like it if your own dragon went unnamed?
Suddenly, I realized. Oh my god, I thought. This is my dragon. This is my dragon. What do I do?
You name me, you oaf, said the little dragon. I blushed. Sorry, I told her. Forgot you were listening.
Suddenly, I heard loud laughter and I turned my head just enough to see Storm doubled over, holding his stomach. He was laughing harder than anyone I’d ever seen. “What’s so funny?” I asked him, and he gave a helpless little shrug before laughing even harder than before. I turned away and stared at the little dragon. Well? it asked me. What’s my name?
Goodness, I’m thinking, calm down. What was a proper name for a dragon? I’d never read any fantasy books, the only name that came to mind was Legolas, and that certainly wasn’t right. Suddenly, I knew the name that was right, to remember and to know. Your name is Sam, I told the little dragon. I knew that it was right, it felt right, I could imagine it.
No it’s not, the small dragon told me. You’re useless at this, but I like you anyway. She hopped off of my chest and twined around my hand. I sighed and rubbed her face with my fingers. Just my luck to get the most free-thinking dragon in this city.
The little dragon laughed in my mind. Just your luck indeed. I think I will just pick a name for myself. I sat up and the little dragon climbed onto my lap, curling up. What’s that green plant you humans have? Ivy, isn’t it?
That’s my name, you can’t have it, I told her. I could feel her gentle presence in my mind, young and full of boundless energy, and it made me smile.
It would suit me better, she replied. Oh well, what a pity. I’ll just have to settle for one of the lesser green plants. Fern, perhaps.
Fern… I mused. Yes, that seems right. Fern. The little dragon on my lap made a contented humming noise and closed her eyes.
“Storm?” I asked.
He came up beside me. “Yeah, Ives?”
I glanced down at the sleeping dragon in my lap, no larger than a cat. I felt a surge of adoration for her, for Fern. All of a sudden, I wanted to be a Skydancer, I wanted to start this new life. Finally, I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my days. I looked up at Storm, this annoying elvish bastard. In truth, I could come to like him. Blue eyes met green. “Will you teach me everything I need to know?”
“I can’t make any promises, but I’ll try my best.”