Dragons are real.
Living, breathing beings of immense power capable of tremendous feats. Some born from the sea; others claimed by the sky but the most truly talented, the most powerful were born of molten fire, lava flowing through their veins. These are the Pyrogon and Ember Sear is their Queen. Though what is a Queen with no lands, no subjects to rule or protect? She had waited, waited in this place for over a century watching the humans grow and thrive, their lands coming ever closer to overrunning Pyrogon territories.
Thus far, the queen had been able to dissuade the humans: a village fire or two here, a few passes and fearsome roars over there, an occasional stolen piece of livestock. Nothing too gruesome, no lives lost. Ember was quite careful with her mayhem. She didn’t wish to hurt the humans merely keep them off her lands until her people were able to “reassemble”.
It seemed as if just yesterday, Human and Dragon were living side by side in peace, respectful of one another’s lands and sharing in each other’s culture. But then, human nature had reared it’s ugly head and the people grew to fear the dragons, mistrust their motives and cower from their great prowess. There was little choice: Go to war with the humans or scatter until their fledgling society stabilized itself. The debate was fierce, all clans except the Pyrogon chose to flee, hide their true nature until their time would come again.
Most of the human rulers still respected the dragons though they were loathe to co-habitate once more. In response to Ember’s antics, they skirted her territories, and some even left small altars with her likeness out of veneration. Yet, there was one kingdom deep in the north that refused to be dissuaded! A greedy, aggressive king obsessed with expanding his lands at any cost lead the kingdom of Estorea. Former knight, King Brom was a rumored to be a great “Dragon Slayer”, wearing the scales of the fallen beasts upon his armor!
When she first caught sight of such blatant disrespect for her fallen brethren, Ember had planned to raze Estorea to the ground; force the king to feel the despair that she had endured for 100 years! Only one thing had stopped her, a force she could never have imagined...
It had been early fall. The foliage had begun to lose it’s color and there was a persistent chill in the morning air.
Brom had begun moving further into Pyrogon territory with each passing new moon, his forces hunting the Queen at every turn for months! It was clear that Ember would need to deal with the murderous human permanently or risk losing all she had fought to preserve.
She was storming through the ruins of her old castle, plotting her revenge, obsessively going over every detail when she picked up a panicked sound deep in the woods.
Two, maybe three miles out someone was screaming, begging for help!
Without a moment’s hesitation, she burst into the woods tearing through the underbrush at breakneck speed, her thick horns tearing through the foliage. She moved with a feral sureness, having become accustomed to moving on two legs over the years, using her abilities to shift into a smaller, humanoid form. She was stronger than any man, over 8ft tall with her wings, tail and talons still present. With skin that glowed like hellfire, the sight of her was more than enough to send most humans fleeing in fear, the smell of urine wafting through the air.
As the screams grew closer she slowed, moving stealthily towards the source of the commotion. Peering through the trees, a distressing scene was playing out before her.
Filthy, rag-covered bandits surrounded a small caravan, wealthy and royal judging from the seals on the wagons and the fine linens in the windows. The forest floor was littered with the bodies of fallen royal guards and there, crouched against the wagon, was a terrified young woman with cocoa colored skin and beautiful dark curls. Clearly, she had been the source of the call as the bandits who murdered her men eyed her lecherously. Ember had seen this before; witnessed firsthand the horrors humans subjected one another to; especially where females were involved.
“Stop all that hollering girly!” One of the men advanced menacingly towards the girl who whimpered in response. “No one can hear you out here. I can give you something to holler about if you’d like?”
The girl shuddered and pulled away, horrified by the implication. This would not end well for her, that much was certain, and Ember had heard enough! Her current form would be sufficient to deal with these filthy cowards but she wanted to send a message, a warning to all who would tromp on her lands and abuse the weak.
With a deafening roar the men found themselves facing a twenty foot long red dragon that appeared from seemingly nowhere! Ember roared again and swiped two men in half before unleashing a torrent of fire upon the remaining criminals. They fled in all directions, trousers soiled and the girl forgotten.
"How? You... you saved me! But you’re a dragon!” The rescued royal stuttered. She still clung to the side of the wagon as Ember circled her before inclining her large head toward the girl and speaking.
“These are MY lands. Those men had no right to trespass here, to threaten you nor kill your men. I have no quarrel with you girl. Go in peace.”
The princess gaped at her. It was a little known fact that dragons spoke the languages of man and it had been many years since anyone had the chance to converse openly with such a great beast. Ember turned and headed towards a large clearing, the forest too dense for her to takeoff properly. She was surprised to hear the girl following behind her.
“Where?” The large dragon stopped and inclined her head towards the frightened girl again as she spoke. “Where shall I go great dragon? I was betrothed to a prince, a man I do not love, so I ran from my kingdom and family and now I’ve no one left!”
Ember considered the girls story. The queen had to admit, she found it truly barbaric the way humans traded their offspring for land. She herself was quite young, barely three hundred years old, yet she knew were she to bear young she could never treat them as currency.
“You cannot return home?” She asked, curiously,wondering why she cared at all. Inky black eyes peered straight into the girl’s, judging how truthful her statements might be.
“If I do, I will be forced to marry Prince Drake! He is a dear friend but I could never love him in that way.”
“Prince Drake? Of Estorea?”
“Yes! You know of him?”
“I know of his father. He has committed many crimes against my kin and I plan to repay him in full. Of what use is such a man to your kingdom?”
“My father wishes to unite our lands.”
“By selling his young to the highest bidder?” The dragon asked with an heir of disbelief. “I shall never understand humans, such heartless creatures. Return home girl.”
“I cannot! My father will not listen to reason!”
“Then what shall you do instead? Live in the forest? Or perhaps, you would run off with a dragon? Reside in my keep while your father thinks you dead?”
The girl ran in front of the dragon, halting her progress, albeit minimally. Without warning she dropped to her knees before Ember’s great talons!
“I beg of you, show me one more kindness! Allow me to stay in your watch for a night or two until word is sent that I have not arrived in Estorea. My father will dispatch men to retrieve me and I will ensure they leave you unharmed.”
Ember scoffed, the game growing old. She wondered why she had spoken to the girl at all. Was she so desperate for companionship that she would befriend a human?
“I have no need of your protection child.” She stated firmly before using her head to push the girl gently aside yet the princess would not yield.
“But I have need of yours! Please, great one. I have no one else.”
Ember stared at the girl realizing just how desperate she must be to throw herself on the queens mercy. Without another word, Ember swept the girl into her talons and took off towards the open sky!
She was certain to regret this.
The princess squealed in glee as she soared over the trees clutched securely in the dragon’s talons. She had always dreamed of flying. The wind whipping through her hair, the countryside unrolling beneath her like an oil canvas. Who would have believed that mere hours ago she was on her way to enter into a loveless marriage and now she was traveling with a dragon!
Far too soon for her liking, the dragon began their descent, beating its wings to slow them to a gentle glide. The dragon set the girl on her feet with surprising gentility and the princess stepped back a few feet to allow the dragon to land beside her. As she watched the great beast settle, the girl couldn’t help but stare in awe.
The creature had to be close to twenty feet long from snout to tail, scaly hide of the deepest crimson. There was a faint glow along its chest and neck, as though a fire still burned just beneath the surface. Its eyes were dark and slick, like spilled ink and the horns sprouting from it’s skull could easily run a man through. The dragon extended its wings toward the sky once more as if to stretch and they glittered like they’d been dipped in gold dust. No wonder the great beasts had been hunted to near extinction for their wings, horns and hide.
It suddenly struck the princess that she was unaware if she was dealing with a male or female. Deeming it impolite to ask, she assumed the dragon was female, as the voice that addressed her earlier had sounded strangely feminine. The dragon began to circle itself, once, twice, three times before settling into the dirt in a large ball. Holding her breath, the princess wondered what to do next. Before her eyes, the great beast began to shimmer and change form until a slightly humanoid figure stood before her. Where there had once been a twenty-foot lizard now stood a female, the princess had been correct, nearly 8ft tall with wings, talons and a tail. She deeply resembled the gargoyles that surrounded the princess’ castle; her horns still massive even in this form.
“What is your name, child?” The creature inquired, those inky eyes once again sizing the girl up.
“Adelaide,” the girl stammered in response. “Princess Adelaide of Ariwyn at your service, oh great one.”
The dragon waved a dismissive talon, rolling her eyes as the girl prostrated herself, falling to one knee, head bowed. It was a very human reaction and it gave the princess pause at how familiar the gesture was.
“Rise, child. And stop calling me, ‘great one’. Your human honorifics mean little to me.” The girl obeyed, rising unsteadily but continuing to avoid eye contact. “My name is Ember Sear. Queen of the Pyrogon, but Ember will suffice.”
“The Pyrogon?!” The girl gasped. “But they are merely a myth!”
Ember smiled predatorily. “And yet, I stand before you.”
“I meant no disrespect, oh great...I mean Queen Ember...I mean...”
The girl stammered flushing bright red and once again staring at her feet. Ember sighed in exasperation, becomingly increasingly frustrated with the girls bumbling. Why had she agreed to this again?
“What makes you say that?” The girl startled at the question.
“That my people are a myth...”
“Um... well... Before today, no one has seen a Pyrogon in nearly 100 years!”
Ember chuckled darkly at that.
“Yes, well, I do try to keep a low profile.”
Indeed, though she had made a great show of keeping the humans out of her territory, Ember was careful to never be seen directly. At the most people had spotted a wing or tail, heard a fearsome roar on the wind. The queen realized in that moment that she may have risked more than she intended by rescuing this girl. Perhaps the word of the bandits would be dismissed when they claimed to be bested by a dragon. Perhaps not.
“Your people...”the girl began hesitantly. “Where are they now?”
Even as the words passed from her lips, Adelaide eyed the keep and castle warily. The grounds were overrun with the forest underbrush and the castle was missing several large pieces, including the entire north tower! The princess wondered idly what this place must have looked like at its height, the center of a bustling society sitting high atop a sprawling kingdom.
Ember was taken aback by the question. It had been so long since she had laid eyes on her brethren, spent time soaring together through a clear blue sky. She swallowed thickly before answering; breaking the girl’s gaze for the first time since they’d met.
“My people? They are in hiding... scattered throughout these lands like vagrants!” She spat.
“Why? What happened?”
“YOU!” Ember snapped, eyes wide with rage. “Man happened. You came to this land and destroyed everything in your path! We were a peaceful race, but men fear all that is different from themselves.”
“I’m sorry...” the princess whispered and she truly was.
Adelaide had seen firsthand the cruelty of men, their stubborn and destructive nature. She was here now because her father had so desired more lands, lands he was unentitled to, that he had sold her freedom.
The dragon was deeply touched. No one had ever expressed sympathy for her people. Most saw the Pyrogon, and all others of their race, as mindless monsters to be feared and wiped away like a stain on the lands.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “You must be tired and hungry. Come. I have been a poor host. Years alone tend to wear on one’s manners...”
The princess followed her inside eagerly as her stomach growled loudly at the mere mention of food and she had begun to feel the fatigue of the day’s adventures. A hearty meal and a warm bed sounded heavenly and she would not turn down such a generous offer. Even if she found her host strange to say the least...
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