Baylor and Daelon flew west to the river clan of Fire Dragons in Pippenwich, just beyond the waterfalls of Ashbrire. The quicker they could beseech other clans for help, the better. While the Atranoch had the numbers, one dragon could kill as many as four Atranoch, but if overpowered, the beasts could also gain the upper hand by sheer numbers alone. They needed to band with other clans to beat these creatures. The moonlight guided them as they flew upriver to where the water spilled over the falls.
The Fire Dragons lived in the caves behind the falls. They were unique with their multi-chromatic scales and fiery orange eyes. Like giant chameleons, the dragons were able to blend into their surroundings, making them deadly hunters. The size of a war horse, their fierceness made up for their smaller stature. They had short, thick limbs with three splayed digits on each foot that ended in very short, but razor sharp claws. A bony plate started at the top of their skulls, running down the length of their spine to the blade-like tips of their tails. Thin, needle sharp horns ran down the plate in rows of three, protecting the back and sides. Their best defense; fire breath. They could ignite the air in a short burst of flame, scorching their enemies faces with fire, thereby blinding them. Baylor and Shapira explained to the smaller dragons the situation, inciting them to join the battle and rid Killacomb of the Atranoch once and for all.
“We are asking for your assistance,” Baylor entreated Grindle, the leader of the clan, “not only for us, but for the safety of all.”
The young males, always ready for battle, agreed with enthusiasm, especially when it came to killing Atranoch.
“We will fly with you to the desert and gather the Deathtails,” Grindle offered, “They’re always looking for a good fight.”
Grindle turned to the seven oldest juveniles, telling them to prepare to fly and fight. Jubilant, the seven youngsters, strong and fast, stretched out their powerful wings and gnashed their teeth with happiness. This was their chance to prove their strength and prowess.
Baylor and Shapira gathered the eight Fire Dragons and headed out to the Tephra Desert to recruit the DeathTails, a group of dragons who made their home in the ancient Mothdrow ruins. A secular group, they kept to themselves, barely following dragon codes and laws. But they had a particular and terrifying way to subdue and kill their victims. At the end of their tails, which they held curled over their backs like a scorpion, was an intimidating stinger. When activated, it released a paralyzing venom into the victim’s flesh. The Deathtails color was pale and creamy to match the desert sand. Mottled with brown and black spots, one could walk right up on a Deathtail and never know it was there until they practically stepped on it. Their main meal was the Dama Gazelle and an occasional coyote. Before the treaty with humans, their diet also included livestock. Known for their love of a good battle, they would be a welcome addition to the fight.
Baylor and Saphira decided to settle down and rest for one night in the desert before heading back to the Crystal Caves with their army. With the sand still warm from the heat of the day, the two talked quietly together away from the others under a blanket of twinkling stars. They were pleased at the numbers , but knew they’d need more than twenty-three dragons to defeat a hundred Atronach, they concluded the only way to defeat the beasts meant seeking help from the most elusive dragons of all, the Dirgewvorm.
The Dirgewvorm were rarely, if ever, seen by human or beast. They were the only type of dragon that wasn’t a monotreme, meaning, they weren’t warm-blooded animals that laid eggs. Instead, they gave birth to living whelps and suckled them till they became fledglings. On the small side, they were lightening fast, able to fly by without even being noticed. Their scales were the color of opals, milky white with a rainbow opalescence. They were the only dragon hunted by poachers primarily for their scales. Sold to the far east for medicinal purposes, they fetched a hardy purse. With wings as see-through as glass, some called them mirror dragons or glass dragons. Another peculiar trait was their retractable talons. Like a cat, the Dirgewvorm could control their talons, sheathing them, keeping them razor sharp. They were also without horns making them lightweight for faster flight. Their dragon’s breath was a bolt of electricity, shocking their victim with 50,000 volts.
“Where is the Dirgewvorm’s lairs located, Baylor?” Shapira asked her mate, “Last time I knew they lived in the Bangesh Temple ruins to the south. Have you ever seen them?”
“Only once, when I was a very small child,” Baylor told her, “My father took my brother and I out hunting one night. We had our sights on a fat deer when this white streak flew by us and a bolt of lightening dropped the deer like a stone. My father told me it was Dirgewvorm. We’ll be lucky indeed if we get a glimpse of them.”
“Do you think our Star is okay? I miss her so much!” Shapira moaned, “Those gashes! By the Elders! I cannot wait to dig my talons in an Atranoch .”
While waiting for a response from Baylor, she instead heard a soft snoring as her mate gave up consciousness and let sleep take over. Yawning herself, Shapira did the same.
The Bangesh Temple ruins was an hour of winged flight over amazing landscapes. Flying high over carved rocky outcrops, waterfalls fell like skeins of soft ribbon ending in a bubbly spray of whitewash. Over mirror-like flashes of lakes and winding, snake-like rivers, valleys ringed by snow-capped mountains trapping the sun behind them, the dragons flew in search of the ruins. When finally they reached the crumbling structures of moss covered stone, they all descended slowly just in within the treeline. Woody vines wound around leafy trees with mottled trunks, malachite moss covered toppled stones and behemoth elephant ear philodendron sprung from rock crevices. Suddenly, a growl pierced the air. Then another and another until the jungle reverberated with screams.
“What is that, Baylor?” Saphira asked, getting into a fight position.
Baylor heard that sound years ago with his father and was shocked to hear them here. Howler monkeys. With the canopy above providing excellent camouflage, the monkey’s eluded them without so much as a glimpse, then were gone. Saphira felt a chill run up her spine at the sudden silence. She didn’t like it here. It was almost as if she could hear the echoes of yesterday animating from the crumbling stone walls.
“Over here!” they heard one the Shadow dragons call out, ” I’ve found something!”
Azrial, one of the juvenile fire dragons, stood over by a tall, tower-like temple partially covered by creeping liana vines. While one side of the tower was deceivingly intact, the other side had collapsed in a pile of broken stone and rubble exposing a hidden staircase leading down into darkness.
“This is it, I think,” Azrial told them, “I can smell them down there.”
“Okay, this is their entrance,” Baylor said, “Remember, no fast moves. They’re very shy and unpredictable. Let me speak. Only two accompany me or they’ll think we’re hunting them. Saphira and Grindle, come with me and the rest stay here. Listen for any sounds of distress in case things go sour. We might need you.
Though disappointed, the young dragons obeyed, a sign of maturity on their part. Grindle was proud of them. The three dragons headed down the spiraled stone staircase, careful not to step on parts that were crumbling or cracked, until they reached the bottom after three rotations. Grindle found an unlit torch on the moss covered walls and with one puff, ignited it. The eerie, yellow glow cast dancing shadows on the incredibly preserved walls, revealing an ancient chamber that held many rooms within its cavernous space. Remnants of paintings from an indigenous people still etched the stone walls telling ancient stories of their lives. Surprisingly, gemstones of every color and facet remained intact, forever embedded around the oval doorways. As they walked, peering into each separate room, they found one that contained the bones of hundreds, maybe thousands of small to medium sized animals, picked clean of their flesh.
“Dirgewvorms!” Baylor announced, “come out from your hiding for we have important news to tell you!′
You could hear a pin drop in the chamber after the last echo faded. “Dirgewvorms! We’ve come in peace, come out and listen, for it concerns all those in Kilacomb! Atranoch are on their way to desecrate our land and murder all they encounter and we are petitioning you for help to stop them.” ”
Three doorways facing the trio were suddenly filled with opalescent scales as the populace of the ruins revealed small, lithe bodies, silent as they moved.
“Who are you, ssssspeaker?” one of the temple dwellers hissed.
“We are three of twenty-three, from different clans,” Saphira answered in Baylor’s place, “the rest are outside waiting for our return.
Baylor saw the sense in that if the Dirgewvorms felt threatened and decided to attack, they knew they would be outnumbered. He silently praised his mate’s wise thinking.
“Why we should care what happensss in Kilacomb?” the voice, as dry as old parchment paper, asked, “We have no kinship with you.”
“You like to eat, am I correct?” Baylor asked, “That much is obvious by your bone room. Think about it! You know what the Atranoch do, you know their blood lust. If they are allowed to return to Kilacomb, there will be no game left to feed on!”
More than one angry hiss echoed through the temple as static electricity pulled on the visitor’s flesh. One of the Dirgewvorms stepped forward, revealing beautiful, pearl-like scales that danced and shimmered in the yellow glow of the torchlight. She blinked heavily, her violet eyes watering with the brightness.
“Ssssssoooo, they’ve returned,” she said more to herself then the visitors, “Were they not banished?”
“Yes, to Darkmoon,” Baylor answered, “but in a recent attack on the Chimarian people, whom they slaughtered, we were able to gather evidence of their present whereabouts. They’re residing in the caves on the cliffs of the Sargonian sea. The beasts senselessly slaughtered a whole village, not for food, for fun. May I ask how many of you there are?”
“Ahhhh, but of coursssse, Shadow dragon,” she said, “We are sssseven. How did you find usssss?”
“We were told you would be here,” Baylor explained, “in the ruins. We weren’t sure where until one of our companions found the stairs by mistake. We are not here to harm you, we’re only seeking brothers and sisters to build a defense for the arrival of the beasts and seeking help. Can we count on you, my underground brethren?”
More Dirgewvorms slithered out from their hiding places, curious to get a glimpse of the visitors and to listen to what they had to say.
“Please, don’t be shy,” Baylor assured them, “we come in peace. We cannot stand by and let these vile,
unholy creatures have reign over Kilacomb!”
Three more of the shy dragons came into view, the beauty of their shimmering, opalescent scales, dazzling in the glow of the torchlight. Curiosity overcoming shyness, more of the Dirgewvorms showed themselves until the three visitors were surrounded by the beautiful dragons.
“S-s-soo,” the female hissed, drawing out the 's' as she spoke. “You’ve come here to our sanctuary to ask for help. We are never asked to attend gatherings, yet here you stand before us seeking help. Interesting.”
“I am Shapira, may I address you?” Shapira broke in, “do you have a name?”
“Pretty name for a pretty dragon. I am Albion,” she answered. A larger dragon sidled up next to her. “This is my mate, Alrath. We have four sons. Come forth, children!”
Four more of the dragons stepped out of hiding. Larger than their parents, the four males were different shades of opal with eyes the color of turquoise. Around their longish ears and chins were not horns, but feelers, helping them to ‘see’ in the dark. Dirgewvorms scales shimmered in different degrees of light, making them seem to ripple and change before ones eyes. The males gathered around their parents protectively, waiting to see the outcome of the unexpected meeting.
“Albion, it’s been said among the other clans that it was your choice not to attend yearly gatherings. If we had but known, we would have come ourselves to accompany you.” Shapira said truthfully, “It’s been rumored that the sunlight harms your kind, is this true?”
“Ah, rumors,” Albion scoffed, “the bane of us all. The fact is, sunlight does not harm us, it’s just uncomfortable on our eyes.”
She stretched out her front legs, unsheathing razor-sharp claws. “unlike most of our kind, our talons are kept hidden till needed. Our eyes can see through the darkest of places, as well.”
“You are the last of the ones enlisted to help, ” Shapira answered,“We will come up with a plan of action together. Meet us at Flat Rock Falls tomorrow night when the moon is at its highest point in the sky. We will be over thirty strong, an undeniable force to be reckoned with. Thank you, Albion, your undeniable talents will be an asset as we attack in the dark. They won’t even know what hit them.”