Chapter 1: The Great Red Wyrm

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By E.T. Hanson

PART 1 – HOW TO BLACKMAIL A DRAGON

CHAPTER 1: THE GREAT RED WYRM

My kind are never heroes.

The title is not exactly becoming of a people known for their, shall we say, destructive habits. Countless tales have been told of our rampaging fire, flattening vast amounts of wilderness and real estate in our wake. For us, for me, to meddle in the affairs of vermin like you for anything other than wealth was unheard of. Yet I did meddle, and now for that sin, no matter how far or high my wings carry me across the land of Haiden, I’m forever chased by people’s cheers.

I am a Saar, that race which conquered the skies of planet Tygan when she was yet untamed. The divine title of Saar is the true name of our people, though you may know me by another name. Your kind call me “dragon.”

Dragon. Ha! Such a quaint little word. You apes have a habit of needlessly convoluting things.

I live along the mighty Phoenix River Canyon in a place called Silent Pass. Some call Silent Pass the most quiet place in the world, and not without cause. Not even the insects dare chirp when I’m near.

If you take a stroll down Silent Pass, you may come across a deep crevasse. Should you decide to climb down this crevasse you’ll find a very unnatural tunnel, the start of a century’s worth of claw digging through stone. Should you enter this tunnel you’ll find a maze of endless caverns leading nowhere and bottomless pits leading to death. Should you traverse this maze to its center, you’ll find me.

As with most Saar, I sleep atop of a lifetime’s worth of amassed treasure. My hoard is enough to overflow a castle, and so it has naturally drawn many thieves seeking a quick fortune, only to find an early grave. I spared some of them, though only ones who didn’t annoy me quite as much as the rest. Those fortunate few have traveled many miles, spreading many tales of my vast power. They generously gave me title after title, each more terrifying than the last. I must have a name given to me by every caste of ape, be it human, elf, orc or dwarf. But out of all these names, one invented by the rrut, or humans, stuck rather well. This name had the power to silence a beating heart.

The Great Red Wyrm.

It inspired centuries of terror, though after my recent deeds it has brought a far more festive reaction. No doubt you’re curious. Just how does a dragon with as fearsome a reputation as I go on to become Tygan’s latest most famous hero? Honestly, it should never have happened, but the deed is done, here we are, and I can see you won’t stop pestering me until I tell the tale.

So sit down little runt, for I’m about to tell you a story of epic battles, high adventure, and maybe even a little self-sacrifice if you’re feeling sentimental. And once I’m done, I expect you to make yourself scarce.

Just telling this story makes my bones ache.

Our story begins on a not particularly unusual spring morning. The last winter snow had melted away, uncovering the new year’s first colorful blossoms. I was enjoying the weather after devouring an entire herd of mountain goats and a large predatory cat. Oh, how sumptuous a feast it was, enough to leave me in want of sleep for a few hours more.

I’d just tucked myself beneath my favorite mound of gold when I first heard their voices.

There were two, and judging by their tones, neither were in a terribly good mood. The first was male, though it was hard to tell because fear had heightened his voice’s pitch. The second one was female, and though she was afraid, the fear was controlled. Her voice should have been higher pitched than her male companion, though her stoic demeanor made it seem deeper.

“Gods. This place is quieter than a quickie with an ex-client,” said the male.

“Nobody cares what you used to do for money,” said the female.

“We don’t talk about the before times,” the male muttered. “Why’s it so quiet?”

“Even the bugs are smart enough to shut up down here,” answered the female.

“Oh. Well at least we didn’t run into any booby traps,” the male answered.

“Hunter, for once, can you say anything without bringing up sex?”

“I’m not talking tits, Major” said the male. “I’m just happy we don’t have to go waltzing through a bunch of trip-wires.”

“They don’t forget things. If it’s not here, it’s because he doesn’t need it.” the female answered.

Both my unwelcome guests tried to keep their hubbub to a whisper. Their courtesy didn’t last long. Soon they found themselves at the entrance to my hoard chamber, where their countless predecessors waited to greet them. The tunnel was wall to wall with corpses, all that remained of those that previously tried to plunder me. There was some diversity in the bodies. The ages had reduced some to powder, others were but a few weeks burned, and all were equally unpleasant to my visitors. The male shrieked at the sight before his voice was smothered under the female’s palm.

“Never seen a dead body before?” she asked.

“Not so many,” the male answered.

“What about the time we-,” said the girl before I assume she was muzzled by a palm.

“At one time,” answered the male.

Following his reply I could hear the echoes of a scuffle between the two due to the muzzling I presume. The female seemed to have won.

“If you don’t like my company, why didn’t you bring Holoth?” asked the shaken man.

“Because he was sane enough to say no,” she replied.

“So he’s not as crazy as you?” asked the male.

“You like your tongue?” asked the major.

“Why yes. I lllll-!”

A muffled gag and Hunter was cut off. The woman had grabbed his tongue, and by the sound of it she’d reached down his throat up to her wrist.

“Want to keep it?” she asked.

The retort was effective.

The pair tried not to disturb the charred carcasses, but it seemed every step cracked a few more finger bones beneath their boots. I squinted my eye at the sound of snapping bones, sprinkling a light shower of minted gold away from my head. Through the coins I could see the tunnel leading out of my sleep chamber. It glowed by the light of a magic staff. From around the corner they stepped, the male sweating much and the female sweating little. That’s when I first saw Major Celice Arietta and Hunter Nightshadow.

Major Celice Arietta Fantasy Artwork

The Major’s face was as chiseled as a mountainside, crowned by a head of unevenly cut brown hair. Draped from her shoulder and across her chest was a bandolier of bolts for the holstered hand-crossbow at her waist. Also sheathed on either side of her were two katar punching knives, both freshly sharpened until they shined as bright as any coin. She was clad in soldier’s apparel. Her armor suit had a curious chest-plate, divided into segments like a pill bug’s back. It allowed her to contort her body with relative ease. On the suit’s chest was a painted emblem of a raven perched on a wolf’s head. A small emerald stood in place of the raven’s eye. It seemed the soldier cared more for this symbol than her own disheveled appearance. It was the only part of her suit that appeared maintained, apart from the joints that is. The suit still moved as quiet as a breath.

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While Major Arietta was at best disinterested in her appearance, Hunter turned his into a profession. I found it strange that the elf wore no armor when I first saw him. Rarely did anyone ever come down here without hiding behind at least one layer of tin. Instead he squeezed himself into a too-tight pair of stretched hide slacks. They rode his torso so tightly it was a wonder he didn’t turn blue. Over his body was a button-up shirt more green than a freshly watered garden. His black hair was streaked with bands of white, and it was so flooded with gel that it looked as if his head were decorated by a dead skunk. Over his shoulder hung a new leather satchel, still fresh enough to smell the finish. Above him he held the magic staff that lit their way. I use the term “staff” loosely. This creature’s tool looked more like a pruned tree branch.

This one was a wizard. The tip of the tree branch was aglow with a spell I recognized as “Molunious,” a favorite of novice spell casters who lacked more traditional torches. I could see his skin was growing subtly paler, even as the light of his staff grew ever dimmer.

Though I flattered myself thinking his loss of color was due to fear, in truth he was showing the early signs of Arcane Fatigue. Arcane Fatigue is an ailment common amongst new casters. Using magic is like working any muscle. It takes a while to build, and overuse will result in exhaustion. Arcane Fatigue is that exhaustion. Like someone wearing out their heart after running too many miles, using too much magic too quickly can lead to death.

The female took a whiff of the air.

“Sulfur. He’s close.”

The elf shrugged. “Welp, guess we’ll have to find another dragon.”

The soldier grabbed the elf by the throat as he tried to leave.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the Major said.

“You didn’t tell me we were stealing from the Fire Tempest until we were knocking down his damn door!”

The Major rolled her eyes. “Really? Fire Tempest? You elves turn everything to a poem. I like what the dwarves call him. ‘That Big Red Sunuvabitch.’”

“I spent half my childhood cleaning bedsheets because of this guy,” the male said.

“What was the other half?” responded the Major.

I never learned what the other half was, though the elf’s fear flattered me.

“Take another dose, man,” the Major ordered. “You look whiter than those corpses back there.”

“Saves me time prepping for my mime act,” Hunter said.

The elf reached to a pouch at his waist. He pulled out a small glass jar. It was nothing impressive. About the size of a small ink-well. But contained within was the sinister secret of every spell-caster. Even with its cork twisted on tight, I could still smell the fumes of the sacred blood of Saar.

The elf uncorked the jar, unleashing a small puff of red mist. When it cleared, the elf swallowed the blood with a single stomach-churning gulp. As the light of the elf’s staff grew brighter, so did the fire in my breast burn hotter. It took me everything I had not to hiss what he was.

Lahaar’rie’vrrick. Blood drinker.

All spell casters take their power by drinking the blood of Saar, though I’d never seen it myself. I’d been told many a tale of their habits, and had found many corpses of my dear dead people, empty of both spirit and blood so these beasts could perform their little parlor tricks. To a Saar, a wizard is but a leech. Like leeches, it had been some time since I’d salted one.

The pair walked into my hoard. Watching an ape in the middle of a hoard is a curious thing. Greed is expressed many creative ways by the primate body. I expected any moment the two would pull out a pair of sacks and shovel my treasure in with the same fervor as a pack of wild dogs. Only they touched nothing. They just looked. The Major’s scanned the chamber. Her hungry eyes swept through the piles of gold like a hawk stalking a field mouse, until they found one specific piece of treasure.

“There,” said the woman.

Atop the mound where I slept was a single blue crystal, glowing with bright cyan light. It was a mineral known as lunar quartz, a once common gem that had been dispersed and destroyed by the coming of the seafaring age. They’d been used as torches for lighthouses and the ships at sea, each used up until their glow was drained away. A crystal that still shines is more sought after than the largest diamond, and my piece was one of the precious few that still shined.

“Grab it, Hunter,” the woman ordered her friend.

Hunter turned his glowing tree branch towards my crystal, and uttered another spell.

“Velitus.”

It was the spell of levitation. The cyan gem shifted as the wizard’s selfish magic tried to steal it, but it did not give. I’d prepared.

Some time ago yet another band of plunderers came to fill their sacks with gold. Among them was another wizard. I offered the creature his life in exchange for a few modest spells of protection for my belongings. It was a decent agreement, if I do say so myself. Alas, the wizard didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. He attempted to kill me with an ice bolt to the heart, so I canceled our agreement with a blast from my furnace.

“Must be an enchanted,” guessed the Major.

“Crap. Some dragons are just so paranoid,” Hunter complained. “We ought to just take something and split. You remember what Blondie told us. These things are vindictive. No matter what we walk out of here with, he’s still coming after us.”

“Yeah. But this way, we’ll have leverage,” she answered.

Interesting, I thought. Most were reduced to maddening euphoria after a mere glance at my wealth, but these two looked through the golden mounds with only a passing interest.

I wondered if they were dragonslayers. Perhaps they came to sharpen their reputations against my hide. I’d lost count of the number of times I’d been challenged to the death. The ensuing fights were always as irritating as they were brief. But if that was the case, why were they so interested in my lunar quartz? Dragonslayers never left with loaded pockets. Glory before gold, or so went their mantra.

The woman grabbed the elf by his shirt collar.

“If he catches me, you grab the crystal and go where we planned,” the Major said.

“Can we just go now?” Hunter asked.

“This is serious, you damned pointer.”

“I know,” Hunter said. He tilted his head towards my pile. “Go.”

The Major released her companion and walked into my hoard. She almost slithered between the piles, not disturbing a single gold piece as she approached my favorite mound. She planted her boots into the coins, climbing them side step by step towards my prized crystal. Its bright cyan light washed over her body, lighting her as pale as a ghost.

Fitting, I thought. In a few moments I’d make her into one.

The Major’s focus was something approaching impeccable. I could see nothing of the world in her eyes. There was only my crystal. That’s what separated her from the hawk, because a hawk would never miss a larger predator. That focus blinded the Major to my squinting left eye right in front of her.

Hunter looked around the chamber for the any sign of movement.

“What if we’re wrong about this?” he asked.

Major Arietta turned back to him. “Glaive wouldn’t tell us unless he was sure. I believe him.”

She turned back to my crystal. The cyan light washed over her face again, only this time that wasn’t what made her pale. Before the light even touched her, her face had drained of color. She whispered something private to herself, and though the elf couldn’t hear, I did.

“Assylyl is coming back.”

My heart crawled up the back of my throat. Assylyl. That was a name I’d not heard for centuries, nor did I ever think I’d head again. For her to speak it now was enough to make me stand.

The elf watched as my quilt of gold shuddered. A flow of coins sprinkled away, exposing the wall of red underneath. The elf looked up and down the pile, watching as flow after flow of gold fell away, revealing more and more red. When he realized the mound was but a quilt for something much larger, he was driven to near instant madness. Before him was that which his nightmares were made of.

His body vibrated like a tuning fork. He tried to warn the Major. With every step she climbed, he tried to scream, but his words clung to his tongue as if they too were trying to hide. He barely managed to force them out.

“Major Arietta!” he shrieked.

The woman turned to the elf and saw his fear. She looked to her feet as more of the gold flowed away. When she saw the mass of scarlet scales beneath her, that fear became her’s. She turned back to the pile, right into my squinted left eye. Right as it finally opened.

The mound of gold rumbled. I flexed my wings, casting countless coins into the air that rained back down as a shining monsoon. As I stood, my sheet of riches flowed from my back like golden honey, taking the Major with it. She fell on her belly, sliding down my side head-first with the crystal tumbling after. She made a grab for it, but the gemstone tumbled out of her reach, hitting the cavern floor and rolling to a nearby mound coins.

When she hit the ground, the shard was too far away for her to snatch it.

“Hunter!” she ordered.

But the elf was gone. The soldier had been abandoned by all but his footprints. It seemed his legs had more smarts than his head. At least they knew when to leave. The sight of Hunter’s vacant footprints angered her. Her skin flushed an angry red that, dare I say, was comparable to my own color.

I rested my hand next to her, rhythmically tapping my finger against the stone.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Zhyx The Giant Red Dragon

Even my index finger dwarfed her. When the Major saw my hand, her angry red faded into fearful white, growing ever whiter with each inch her gaze climbed up my body. She was such a terribly tiny little thing. From the talons on my toes it would take sixteen of her standing on the other’s shoulders to reach the top of my crown. Standing upright she could barely reach the bottom of my chin to the tip of my snout. Even my teeth dwarfed her forearms.

I knelt down against her. My angry fire came to life, lighting the Major orange like a dawn. The walls of the chamber trembled when I spoke, as if the rock itself were afraid.

“Well well well. What do we have here?”

Her lips danced like strings on a harp, but they were stretched too tight to sing. She wanted to tell me something. I could see it in her. There was a desperate need to reveal everything she’d planned and the reasons why, but she managed to keep her tongue in a knot.

I looked to the empty set of footprints where the elf had been. “What a pity. It appears you’ve been forsaken. Since we’re alone, perhaps you’ll tell me what brings a rodent like you here?”

“I wanted some cheese,” she joked.

“How adorable, thief,” I said.

“I’m a soldier, not a thief,” she protested.

“Oh, you’re not a thief? The creature that slinks through darkness seeking to take that which isn’t theirs says it’s not a thief? A yhivux? How adorable,” I said. “Though you are a curious thief and you speak of curious things. So tell me, runt, why do you dare speak Assylyl’s name in front of me?”

The woman still refused to answer, I blew a cloud of smoke in her face, filling the air with whips of black and gray. Smoke had always been a sort of partner in crime of mine. It’s touch was soft, but all my enemies felt it. Its vaporous coils always made them shudder, as if they could feel the fire behind the fumes. The woman did shudder, but she still did not speak.

“Fine,” I said. “If you’re unwilling to tell me, perhaps that pointy eared leech you brought with you will. Now, since I’m feeling charitable, your death will be quick.”

I held the flame until my insides were searing. When it refused to be held anymore, I heaved it free. A cascade of hot colors punched from my throat and onto the chamber floor, scattering gold coins and melted stone. The Major however proved nimble. There was no smoldering corpse when the flames cleared, only a vacant patch of melted rock. I heard the Major’s running feet, as well as some rather colorful vocabulary she shouted as she fled.

“Oh dear,” I said with the clock of my tongue. “This would be so much easier if you just surrender so we can get this over with.”

Then, to the Major’s surprise as well as mine, a voice cried out to her.

“Major Arietta!”

It seemed Hunter didn’t forsake his companion after all. Peering over my golden bed, I watched as he stepped in front of his friend from behind a gem encrusted pillar. He spread his arms as if expecting an embrace.

“Bet you thought old reliable Hunter went and…”

Major Arietta’s grabbed the elf by the dead skunk on his head and placed one of her steel katar against his throat.

“You asshole. I told you to get it!” she said.

“Fine. It’s yours.”

He shoved his satchel in her face. A familiar cyan glow seeped out the top.

I looked to where my lunar quartz crystal had landed. It was gone.

The little monster had taken it. While I’d been distracted, he’d plundered me right under my nose. That he dared put his hands on that which was mine brought my blood to a near literal boil. The nerve of him.

“Yhivux lahaar’rie’vrrick!” I roared.

“Ah crap. Run!” yelled the Major.

The pair just barely managed to dodge my fire.

“You had it! Why didn’t you run!?” demanded the Major.

“Because if you escaped, you’d just kill me anyway,” said the elf.

Desperate for rest, the two hid behind a small mound of gold. As they bickered, the coins next to them shifted, exposing them as well as a decomposing hand still clutching a half-melted dagger.

The two looked around at the other mounds, and saw the corpses in the hall were but a sample. Bone after bone poked out from beneath my disturbed fortune.

“Oh shit,” the Major hissed as she and her companion once more fled.

“You want my treasure?” I called out. “Fine. I’ll bury you in it!”

As I stepped forward, a loud sickening crunch sounded under my hand. Flattened against my palm were the remains of a mummified corpse, recently unearthed from one of the coin mounds. The dried husk burst, soaking my hands in rancid bone marrow. It smelled as vile in death as it did in life.

“Ugh. Disgusting.”

Apart from deterring intruders, I could see no use for these corpses, but I kept them for form. That and, if I may be honest, I just didn’t want to touch them.I ran my hand across the wall to clean it. When I looked up, the pair of thieves have vanished.

The chamber filled with smoke and silence, disturbed only by the sounds of shifting coins and my own beating heart.

“Rah,” I roared before turning to the smeared remains of the corpse. “Some use you turned out to be.”

Though I couldn’t see or hear them, I could smell them. The body reacts strangely to fear. It smells, expunging many foul concoctions that always make prey easier to find.

“Let us not partake in this farce anymore. Come to me, verodu, you and that lahaar’rie’vrrick pet of yours,” I said. “Tell me, leech, how does it feel to know that all your gifts come by virtue of you choking down the blood of a Saar? Does drinking the blood thrill you, as this thrills me?”

I followed the trail of sweat through my hoard all the way back to the tunnel. Charred corpses still guarded the only exit. The pair hadn’t escaped yet. Major Arietta and trembling little Hunter hid in the shadow of a large painting, unaware they’d been spotted.

“Verodu? Reizeek? Come out. I wish to congratulate you,” I said. “You’ve successfully plundered me. I’d like to…discuss the matter with you. Fear not. I’ll be merciful as you clearly aren’t well-versed in the Saar. If you were, you’d know…”

I turned my glowing lava eyes straight into theirs.

“…I see everything in the dark.”

I unleashed a ball of fire, with restraint of course. I didn’t want to damage the painting.

The pair avoided the flames, but still couldn’t outrun the shockwave. The blast tossed them through the air. Major Arietta landed on her feet, only to be toppled moments later when Hunter came down on top of her.

Even though I never liked the taste of ape, after what these two had done, I thought I’d give it another try after what these two had done. Revenge after all had traditionally proven a very sweet seasoning.

As I bore down, Hunter aimed his staff at my head. Tiny, flickers of electricity danced around on the tip. The elf’s hair stood on end, and a bolt of lightning appeared at the staff’s tip.

“Derthanous!” he shouted.

Just before the bolt was released, Major Arietta pulled his staff back, sending the lightning strike harmlessly into the ceiling, and showering them both with dust. The major shouted, and through her shout I knew for sure this was more than a routine burglary.

“Don’t! I want him alive!” she yelled.

The elf ripped his satchel free and tossed it in the air.

“Okay. Screw this plan!” He shouted.

I snatched the satchel out of the air. The elf bolted into the tunnel, feebly leaping over the corpses as he went. Major Arietta had slightly less regard for the dead as she charged after him.

“Elf, you are dead!” The Major shouted.

“Well, that was easy,” I said, quite pleased with myself.

Sadly, my pleasure was short-lived. I opened the satchel only to find myself once more swindled. That blood-drinking elf had weighed it with a golden bar. In the tunnel, Major Arietta caught Sparks by his hair.

“You’re going back to get that!” she said.

“Relax! I still got it!” cried the elf.

“Where?” shouted the soldier.

“I don’t have pockets!” the elf cried angrily.

As the two rushed out of sight, I noticed two things about the elf. He now ran with a curious limp, and a familiar cyan glow was seeping out the back of his too-tight pants.

I roared, so loud that the sound itself nearly knocked them down.

And so, propelled by the sound of my voice, the pair went on. Hippy happily down the tunnel like a pair of panicked rabbits. Though I could still smell them, they made the chase easier. Their path had been marked with a series of white Xs, carved into the tunnel wherever it branched. This pair had been precise in their planning.

I followed their foul smells and their white Xs all the way to one of many obstacles that separated them from the outside world. The two reached a fifty-foot wide chasm that opened into endless dark. Hardly a threat for a Saar seeking leisure, though the same couldn’t be said for my guests. A rope dangled from a grappling hook wedged into the ceiling. The Major grabbed the frail thread as her blood drinking friend held onto her back.

“Hang on!” she shouted.

Across the chasm they swung, but as they weren’t well-versed in the Saar, they also apparently needed brushing up on geology. My lair was carved largely of a fragile type of stone that wasn’t exactly good at bearing weight. Though the grappling hook held them before, this was one swing too many. The rock crumbled and the hook came loose, dropping the pair into darkness.

I’m not sure why I grabbed the rope, but it doesn’t matter now. I leapt across the gap, snatching the rope and the thieves it held from blackness. I landed on the other side with a loud crash. The two clutched the rope rightly as it swung idly back and forth in front of my maw. In all my centuries, I’d never seen a pair of apes so confused.

“Oh no you don’t. No one robs me of vengeance, not even gravity,” I said.

Hunter laughed.

“Well that’s nice but…MOLUNIOUS!”

In a flash of blistering light the cave around me vanished. My sight was overcome with white, and the rope slipped from my grasp.

“Hcraa!” I cursed. “You insolent little bastard! I’ll kill you!”

In the few seconds it took for my sight to recover, the thieving pair covered much ground, but their bickering still left a decent trail.

“Save the magic for us, Hunter!” the woman said.

“Fine! If you want to see which of us looks better on a rotisserie!”

I hurled myself after them as we neared the outer walls of my lair. Though the countless yards of rock that caged us, I could hear the roar of the mighty Phoenix River. It raced overhead, opening up just beyond the wall into a spectacular waterfall. The roar of the river’s tonnage grew louder as the two ran into what may have been the most dangerous obstacle in my humble abode.

Centuries of weathering allowed the river to seep into the caverns. The water raced through the tunnel as a fast moving stream, with only a few narrow bridges offering safe passage. Anything that fell in would be sucked out a tube to the waterfall outside. Many had escaped from my lair this way, though the act of escaping always proved fatal. The tube did lead to the outside, but it was three hundred feet above the ground.

Major Arietta dragged the weakened Hunter to the water’s edge. His use of magic had once more left him pale with Arcane Fatigue.

“Better have enough juice for this. If we die, I’ll kick your ass!”

“Be careful when you do that,” the elf muttered struggling to get to his feet. “I hear lunar quartz is pretty hard.”

Of course. The elf was a blood drinker. If he still possessed the power, he could slow their descent. They’d survive.

“You’re not going anywhere!” I roared.

The two hoped into the water just in time to dodge my fire. As I leapt forward to grab them, the current sucked them into the tube and out of sight. I watched as the glow of my prized crystal grew dimmer and dimmer. Then it was gone. They shot down all several hundred feet of the tube out into the falls. As they fell, through the tube I could hear the blood drinker shout the incantation that saved them.

“Velitous!”

And then there was silence. They landed so quietly, it didn’t make a sound.

The wall before me was as thick as several lengths of my body. It would take far too long to melt through. I’d no choice but to traverse the remainder of the labyrinth, out to my lair’s entrance at the bottom of the deep crevasse in Silent Pass. When I arrived, I found a cut rope ladder dangling from the ledge above, a little keepsake my visitors had left. I tore it free, smashed it underfoot, and set it on fire before I climbed out into a Haiden dawn.

The morning sky was still a sunless violet. A spout of flame from my maw lit the land around me, frightening any nearby creatures back into their holes. After that came the stillness for which Silent Pass was known. There was not the chirping of a single cricket, nor the flutter of a single wing, and most importantly, not a sound from one single, skittering thief.

The five moons were just retreating behind the mountains. The sun sliced into the sky with beams of scarlet, but it did little to illuminate where my plunderers had gone.

“Hcraa! Verodu! Reizeek! Do you think you can escape me? Saar Uz’uyi. Uz’ vlut ae’cha!”

Not even the morning breeze dared answer.

Below me spread the canyon of the Phoenix River, its waters churning in a soup of white foam and mist. Through the mist on the opposite shore I saw where the two had left the water. Their footprints lead to a tree where a freshly cut rope swayed back and forth on the trunk. At the base of the tree were the shifted footprints of beasts. A pair of griffins had been there, waiting to carry the thieves skyward when they returned. Whatever scent they left behind had been drowned out by the smell of the river. They could have been anywhere.

I roared. I roared long and loud, enough for even the mist itself to retreat and even when it cleared, they were nowhere. The two had escaped with something that was mine. Nothing like this had happened for almost one hundred years, and never had anyone dared walk away with my most precious centerpiece.

I made a vow, then. By the long and prosperous history of my people I’d track them. I’d look down every hole and scour every sea until they were found and made to suffer. Only I knew not where they were going, and had no idea where to begin. Needless to say I was quite angry, and as with anyone, whenever a Saar gets angry, they wish to find a way to vent their woes. Ways like, say, start a little fire or two. Where I was going next wasn’t based in any way on my search. This was purely for revenge. Had they taken any other treasure, I may very well not have gone, but you must understand. I didn’t simply take my lunar quartz. It was given to me by someone, and that someone was taken from me by someone else.

Someone named Davies the Kind.

That was where I’d go.

“You took all that I had left of her?” I roared. “Fine. I’ll take all your people have left him.”

I spread my wings just as the sun peered over the mountains. The membrane between my wings’ slender fingers was tickled by the wind, as if the air itself were goading me to return. With a leap from the canyon’s head, I was aloft, venturing out east above my native Haiden land.

Of course, all of this still begged the question, why. Why had the two come seeking my treasure? Why had they mentioned Assylyl’s name? And beyond all of that, for what reason could the two possibly want me alive?

Thus began my journey to the title of “hero.” In my anger, I couldn’t have possibly known that the most significant event on this little journey still lay ahead. As I raced across Haiden towards the Tomb of the Selfless, I could not have imagined what would happen upon my arrival.

When I met…him.

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