“You think it’s that weird that I can talk?” the huge crimson Dragon chuckled. The vibration shook every bone in AsaHi’s body from where she lay flat against the massive beast’s neck.
“I guess not, now that I consider it,” the girl answered slowly. “I’ve just never talked to a Dragon before.”
The second Dragon – a smaller bronze — winged in alongside them. AsaHi could see SoYa’s slumped form held safely between the Dragon’s claws. The bronze’s eyes narrowed upon the crimson Dragon, voice barking out sharp insult, “You dolt! What are you doing? Shooting the breeze? We don’t have all day – Zento’s kid needs treatment, ASAP!”
“Go on ahead, gem. I’ll catch up,” the crimson replied, seemingly unconcerned. “Morh-AsaHi and I were just having a little chat.”
“Call me that again and I’ll knock that brainless look right off your half-wit face!” the bronze Dragon growled before winging off through the cloud banks.
A huge chuckle rose from within the crimson’s chest, “I love doing that to her.”
“Her?” AsaHi squinted as the bright point of bronze slipped off across the backdrop of indigo treetops. “You mean, there are girl Dragons?”
“Unfortunately,” he replied with another deep laugh.
It seemed that everything about the crimson Dragon was oversized, even for a Dragon. From the massive claws, to the wide snout, to the great hearty laugh. However, rather than giving the creature an air of intimidation, the collective largeness made him a feel all the more jovial and friendly. His easy manner reminded her of a cheerful big brother.
Really, really big…
“That’s just Islay,” the crimson caught an upper draft, meandering along through the clouds effortlessly. “She’s my little sister.”
“Sister?” again, AsaHi caught herself suspended in surprised.
Why should that be impossible? I mean, if Dragons talk, why can’t they have family?
“She says that gives her a permit thrash me,” there was a smile to his voice. Then he added ruefully, “I think she believes in that just a bit too much.”
AsaHi smiled a little, thinking about her own brothers and sisters. “That’s just how sisters can be sometimes.”
“You’ve got some too?”
“I’m the youngest of eight,” she answered. It was too odd to comprehend. Her, there on Dragonback, conversing so easily with this huge mythic beast that she knew nothing about.
“Eight!?” the Dragon gave a whistle. “How’d you get out of that one alive?”
AsaHi was too busy grappling with the idea that Dragons could whistle to reply.
The Dragons seem so much like us? At least… this one does.
The girl tightened her grip on the thick black mane, feeling strength even in that. AsaHi had never been much for riding Rhawns, despite SoYa’s love for them. So riding a Dragon for the first time was quite the awkward feat – especially as high above the earth as they were.
If I were to fall, that would be it.
Not that she was really afraid of heights. It was just hard to get a grasp on keeping her balance as the Dragon moved since the way of Dragonflight was absolutely new to her.
Though the land below is very pretty from up here.
She decided it must have been a silly sight – a tiny girl, lying flattened against the beast’s vast neck. It was so thick that there was no way she could have reached her arms around to the other side – it would have taken three of her to accomplish such a thing. So she was resolved to cling to the Dragon’s mane, wrapping her fingers through the silky length of black, knees pressed against the crimson hide.
He seems to be taking it slow. Maybe for my sake?
AsaHi could feel the powerful ripple of muscles moving under her palms — the rise and fall of wings. Wings so huge that when extended to full length, their shadows could shelter fifty people each. Maybe more.
And yet he seems to act as if it’s as normal as can be.
“Do you have a name, too?” AsaHi called to him over the racing winds.
“Sure do,” the Dragon replied. “They call me Brunswik.”
“Brunswik and Islay,” she repeated to herself, hoping not to forget.
“I’ve never heard names that sound like those before,” the girl said. A question hidden in the statement.
Obviously a talkative type, Brunswik picked up on it instantly, “You ever been beyond the borders of the Inner Realm before?”
“No, this is my first time,” AsaHi replied. In that moment, soaring high above the indigo sea, the girl realized just how far from home she really was. Her hands clung more tightly to the black mane instinctually.
“That would be the reason, then,” the Dragon cheerfully reasoned. “Islay and me, we come from the Eastlands originally.”
Just how big is this world? Every time I turn around there’s a new place being talked about.
“I tell ya, you just can’t get smoked perth the same anywhere else,” Brunswik continued conversationally. “You ever ate smoke perth before?”
“N…no…” She didn’t even know what perth was. But for fear of embarrassment, she didn’t tell him so.
“Well, it just doesn’t get any better than that!” There was an excitement to his voice, as if he was mentally reconstructing the taste, “All dark and crispy on the outside… all flakey white on the inside. Then you dip your bread in the juices when it’s all gone. Ah, what I wouldn’t give to give it just one more try.”
“Why can’t you?”
“There are some things that you just can’t do as a Dragon,” Brunswik replied. The slightest twinge of nostalgia. “Not much I miss from my person days. But eating perth is one.”
AsaHi leaned closer over the great arch of crimson neck. She found the Dragon’s hide to be smooth and warm, much like very thick skin. “You mean you were actually like us once?”
“That’s right,” the Dragon chuckled. “We were people-persons before we were Dragons.”
“All of Zemi’s Dragon Servants were?” there was a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. She knew that Kudako had lived a life as a man before he vowed his services to Zemi, but it never crossed her mind that the rest of the Dragons might have been the same.
“You didn’t know that?” he seemed a little concerned at her reaction.
“There’s a lot… I don’t really know about… I guess,” AsaHi answered, feeling once again like a tiny speck floating in the grand scheme of things.
Just when I think I do…
“Hey, buck up, little one,” Brunswik encouraged. “You’ve certainly got the time to be learning it all once we get to Wyndor. We’ll be coming up on it shortly now. Just keep watching those mountains there on the edge of the land. You see them?”
“Yes,” the girl answered, though a million more questions sprung to mind. Namely, “What’s Wyndor?”
“Now, you are who you are and you’re saying to me that no one’s told you about Wyndor yet?” the Dragon asked, a hint of disbelief in his voice.
‘You are who you are’…? What does he mean by that?
“No, but I’ve been to the place called Ceiswyr. Is it anything like that?” AsaHi asked, trying to show she wasn’t totally ignorant about the way things worked.
“Ah, yes. Lord Zemi’s Cyngan colony, that would be. I’ve never seen it myself – I work chiefly here in the Outterlands, you know. I’ve heard Zento did a fine job on setting the place up,” Brunswik chatted.
“So is Wyndor similar?”
“Nah,” the Dragon shook his head out. The ripple of motion jolted her slightly where she still hung to the mane. “Wyndor is what us Dragons call our home. It is the realm where all Lord Zemi’s Servants gather.”
“Really?” For the millionth time that day, AsaHi was taken aback. She never thought about a home for the Dragons. “Then it’s like a city, except for Dragons?”
Okay… What’s next?
“I wouldn’t really call it a city,” he mused before giving a short laugh. “Could you imagine the size of the buildings for something like that?”
AsaHi stared down at the colossal creature. Then she shook her head, “Impossible.”
“Not impossible, maybe just unlikely,” Brunswik grinned. “After all, we’d have to have buildings that fit Lord Zemi, too.”
“You mean Zemi’s dragon form?”
“Yeah,” the crimson swayed slightly, pushing his way downwards through the clouds, “You want big? Just wait till you see that. None of us can hold a flame to him.”
AsaHi swallowed, “Not even you?”
“Light, no! And I wouldn’t try to!”
Totally overwhelmed at the thought, the girl fell silent. Even though Brunswik seemed friendly enough, and she was sure the others were probably just as kind, there was still something scary about the idea of arriving in a city of Dragons.
As if he could sense the girl’s troubles, Brunswik’s voice rose to her ears, jovial once more. “Hey, you’re not scared are you? I know we seem a big, brutish lot. But truth be told, we’re here to look out after you and Zento’s boy.”
“I know,” she fought to keep her voice steady, eyes fixing on the silvery-hued mountains that were rising in the distance. That’s when it occurred to her. “I never got to thank you and Islay for coming to our rescue in the forest. We had no idea that those men were there… and SoYa… he’s just been sick.”
“It’s no problem,” the Dragon said cheerily. “Islay probably has the boy back at Wyndor by now. He’ll be tended to.”
How? If you’re all Dragons, then…
“I told her to go on ahead of us. So you’d get a chance to try some riding,” Brunswik told her. “If you’re going to be staying among the Dragons, you better have an idea of how to hop on and fly.”
“Wait,” AsaHi blinked. “Who said we were staying among the Dragons?”
“Lord Zemi did,” he answered. Before she had a chance to react to his words, he was already off on another tangent. “There they be! The Whitbourne Mountains. What a sight to see, you think? I remember my first time…”
Brunswik’s chatter faded to the winds as AsaHi found herself lost to the stretch of magnificence that shown brilliant from below. The mountain range unfolded out of the forest land, a sweet silvery-white standing against the deep blue of sky. Instantly, she was reminded of Ceiswyr.
It was not snow atop the mountains that gave them their color, as the girl might have first guessed. It was simply the color of the stone itself, shimmering in reflected sunlight as they drew nearer. Small winding streams ran rainbow rivulets down the cliff faces, lending a certain grace to gravity and feeding the pale green-hued valleys that slumbered between the hills.
Can such a place really exist?
The vision did not vanish when she blinked. Instead, it grew more inspiring the closer that Brunswik flew. He was still talking, but her mind was tracing the stone, looking for any signs of a Dragon city.
“Hold on tight, now,” he instructed, the first serious tone to his voice so far.
AsaHi felt them bank about. Then they were facing the side of the mountains, flying directly at it, head-on. The girl’s hands clamped even more tightly to the Dragon’s mane as the reflection of sun flamed off of white stone, leaving her vision a dazzled array of impossible colors.
When her eyes adjusted, AsaHi realized they were no longer in flight. Somehow they had passed through the stone, into the Great Chamber of Wyndor.