Prologue – Part 5 of 6

*Shifting once again, this time from Shadows Reach to the mist shrouded heights of the fabled Tiam Meet, you should all know that this has not been through the same editorial process as the previous four parts.   She is done with the edits for the third part but is currently four states away.  So I hope you enjoy this despite the roughness.

 

The enormous amphitheater’s craggy rim gaped wide, its stone surface bare under a star filled sky.  The large open area was the ruined remnant of a blasted mountain peak, its apex shattered long ago in a conflagration of dragon fire and mortal sorcery.  The heat from the flames had seared the stones atrous, forcing the dark stain deep into the stone’s core.  Centuries of adamantine-like scales rubbing against the rock had worn the surface of the chamber smooth, in sharp contrast to the walls of the Meet. They rose in pitted and jagged spires, a visible display of the rock’s memory of desecration.  The wounded stone stretched up in appealed to the night sky.  This remote mountain location was the fabled Tiam Meet, the sacred gathering place of the Tiam, self-proclaimed rulers of dragon-kind.

 

Shessstorath’s wings buffeted the surface of the Tiam Meet, the great dragon’s wings swooped down to cancel its forward momentum abruptly.  The huge creature dropped the distance from the lip of the sharp maw, past the clawing walls to the smooth floor.  The damaged stone of the mountain absorbed her weight with a groan of protest.  Scree ran from the dragon, its pressure wake forcing an age’s worth of dust and tiny stones away in a briefly expanding ellipse out from its body.  The dragon’s bulk was easily swallowed by the vast darkness that pooled and gathered in the wall’s overhangs.  The bowl of the Tiam Meet was large enough to hold a host of the great beasts, so the presence of Shessstorath was easily consumed.  The creature’s onyx scales caused its outline to fray and dissolve into the inky shadows as she awaited any others who would answer the summons and perhaps even the mysterious one who put out the call that drew her here.  She did not have to wait long.

 

Shessstorath’s leathery eyelids blinked, her vertical pupils widening to absorb any and all of the limited ambient light.  The dragon focused on the incarnated silhouette of a humanoid form silently moving in from one of the chamber’s grand entry tunnels.  Though the tunnel would easily have accommodated the bulk of three dragons walking abreast with room for their mob of slaves and attendants, its size was unneeded.  The vastness of both the tunnel and chamber overshadowed the newcomer, who was revealed to Shessstorath’s uncanny sight to be an elf, or at least currently of elven form.  The lithe figure strode into the Meet as if he had every reason to belong here among the ghosts and memories of dragons long gone.  He was stunning in the terms of beauty used by the mortal races, fair skinned coupled high cheekbones that cut up and back under celeste eyes.  His bearing and smile contorted the chiseled lines of his face, drawing them into a haughty cast.  He was wrapped in fine woven silk robes the color of the celadon pottery cast by the High Elves of crystal spires of Meniat.  As he entered fully into the chamber, the dragon could see the elf’s long blonde hair was pulled back into an elaborately pleated braid bound with silver clasps and wrought with fine gems.  Agates, sapphires, rubies, and polished myiar all shown from the silverwork along the elf’s corded hair.  But what captured the Shessstorath’s attention was that the majority of the gems were shining.  They were invested with power, especially the myiar, which was prized for its ability to soak in enchantments like a sponge and retain their potency indefinitely.  By all forms and outward appearances, Shessstorath had been joined by either a supremely arrogant or extremely foolish High Elf.  But when his face turn towards the long shadows where the black dragon hid, it was evident that the elf’s eyes pierced the pervasive darkness as easily Shessstorath’s, something no normal elf could do unaided.  The elf’s lips pulled back into a sneer as he moved to stand within reach of the dragon’s taloned forelimbs.

 

“Shessstorath,” his mouth rolled the syllables in as close of an approximation of her name as was possible for non-draconic tongues to achieve, “So, you managed to survive the purge.”  The Elf’s tones were light and mocking, for he was filled with a desire to bait the rival dragon that had been honed from dozens of confrontations.  Theirs was a rivalry that had spanned multiple centuries.  Although she had yet to recognize him, he had known her from the moment she had entered the Meet.  “To be honest, I am disappointed that I am not more shocked.  You always displayed an uncanny intellect and the ability to circumvent the direst circumstances.”  His haughtiness barely softened as grin spread across his face for a recollection rose slowly to the surface of his thoughts.  “The last I had heard of you, I believe the Knights of Qin had you and some of the other Matrons trapped in the Creche.”  His right hand raised, enabling him to tap his lips with his index finger and thumb as if struggling to recall the details.  “As I remember it, from the few times I have visited it, that place is a death trap.  A network of warrens that burrows deep underground, spiraling in out with all the logic of a mad prophet’s scribbles.”  His mouth spread wide in a sanctimonious smile.  “However did you escape?”  His accent was refined, courtly and noble, but his tone held a hidden disdain that most would have missed.  But Shessstorath was familiar with it, as it was the tone most dragons let slip into their voice when speaking to those they held in contempt.

 

“Terranox.”  Her rumbled reply was indicative that she saw through his disguise.  It was true that when her kind took the form of lesser beings the transformation was perfect.  So complete was the incarnation that draconicly-produced half breeds had roamed the face of Ta’nar since time immemorial.  This ability to transform themselves was the only thing that kept the dragons from total extinction at the end of the Fifth Age when the mortals they had subjugated had thrown off their shackles and cast down their draconic overlords. But she knew the subtle tells, the secret quirks, and mannerisms that allowed one of her kind to identify another no matter their form.  It had been whispered among her kind that draconic aid had been given to the various knightly orders of hunters, and it was this betrayal that had allowed the knights and sorcerers to pursue her kind to the ends of the world, hunting them down with terrible efficacy.  Her lips pulled back, revealing row upon row of sword length teeth.  The contempt held in this elf’s voice for a fellow dragon and the knowledge the stranger revealed about Shessstorath’s near death experience revealed his identity to her. There was no doubt in her mind that she stood in the Meet with her ancient rival, the dragon Terranox.  With a growl, she revealed the nature of her escape from a trap that she was certain he had engineered more than twelve and half centuries ago.

 

“The Creche is a tangle of caverns and secrets known only to those who have born clutches in its depths.  The other Matrons and I allowed the brunt of the slaughter to fall against the younger males.”  She hissed out the rest of her reply, the accusations flowing to fill the darkness with their sharp ringing.  “We escaped their fate, a fate you had planned for us, and have remained hidden in this Age.  As have you.”  Restlessly, she paced back and forth.  Her rising gall was expressed through motion instead of violence.  Their history was a thorn in her side, but purpose of his call stayed her hand.  But not her voice.   “Quite effectively, it seems.  Till this summons, I felt no whisper of you.  All assumed you to be dead.  Tell me Terranox, how is it that you were not slain when the gods descended on Rothin?  When they entered the sanctum to slay the Dragon Emperor, the emperor you were sworn to protect?”  Her sinuous pacing shifted, taking around the diminutive elf.  Long powerful limbs carried her circuitously around him fast enough to force Terranox to continuously whirl to prevent his back from being exposed.  Shessstorath’s lithe form snaked around Terranox, spine snapping back and forth with each turn.   Her tone was quiet, as if she didn’t care to know the answer or knew it already, but it was filled with threat.  She suspected his secret role in the deaths at the Creche, and while it seemed to her that they were the least of the secrets that Terranox carried with him, she didn’t care.  The fact that her enemy had the temerity to answer this call and that stood here, now, it infuriated her.  No longer did she care why or who had sounded the call.

 

Her steps echoed ominously, each footfall shattering the silence with echoing beats that amplified in the bowl-shaped Meet.  Her talons screeched against the stone, throwing sparks of power that slipped past her control.  Terranox kept pace with her, his face filled with prideful scorn.  Her words and their delivery had had the intended effect on her rival, stirring deeply buried memories, embers of wounds long covered by the ashes of time. The Dragon-Emperor had indeed been slain, his bones and soul bound so they could not be freed.  They were cast into a dark tomb by the kings of Panthihn, earning the Half-Elf line the eternal hatred of the majority of dragon kind.  Terranox had been Zenhir’s drackenyth, the emperor’s life-bound protector.  Yet here he was, Ages later, when by all tradition his dead body should have been the one that the mortals had to cross to get to Zenhir.  Shessstorath’s words stabbed and lanced into him just as the dragon-slayer’s blades and arrows had once pierced her hide millennia ago.  Her own personal feelings on Zenhir were irrelevant; now she only cared about wounding Terranox.  Her vicious attack was answered in kind.

 

The elf bristled with indignation, defensively reacting to his rival.  Her accusations were barbs of truth that hooked deep with Terranox’s soul.  Their pain feed off of the rage that was found there.  Power blossomed around him, sending incensed snaps of magic along the floor of the Meet.  His fists clenched tight, growing pale from the pressure Terranox bore down with as he struggled for control.  Only her, only her, after all this work.  Did Fate think so little of him that she was to be his only possible ally?  The imperative of his need was submerged under the rising desire for violence.  Perhaps he was doomed, and if he was, he would at least have the satisfaction of drinking hot blood from her broken form before the world burned.  His voice began low and dangerous; the words that rolled off of his tongue were saturated with disdain, each on enunciated to a biting edge.  “When the warrior-priests of Qin led the armies of the Panthihn against us, lead them all the way to the Emperor’s throne on a road paved with our dead, and cast down Zenhir, Lord of the Tiam Meet, where were you?  Not cornered in the siege of the Creche. You had winged free by then.  When we were slaughtered in the halls like cattle by god and mortal alike, Where Were You?  You dare to question my role in the fall of our people when the same oaths and powers bound you? WHERE WERE YOU?” His voice rose with each utterance, ending high and screeching.  Boulders shook free from the walls of the Meet, forced free by the tremors of Terranox’s outrage.

 

Shessstorath’s power blossomed in response to his.  But where he bled force that threw and crashed, she dripped puissance out in waves.  The stone beneath her bubbled and popped, blistering as if lashed with caustic liquids.  Shessstorath threw back her head, and her answering roar shattered the silence of this grave of power and drowned Terranox’s outrage through sheer volume.  Riled beyond reason, beyond curiosity, the eons of loneliness and frustration of self-imposed exile shattered all restraint.  Flames black as pitch roiled free of her maw and bathed the Elven form of her enemy in vitriol that carved troughs around him.  Only the manifestation of his own power saved him.  Bright flames exploded from his form, sheltering him in fire.  It lapped up the shower of venom that churned up from Shessstorath’s gullet.  His eyes blazed like living coals, shining fiercely against her sudden attack.  His fire built higher and higher, spreading out to consume the rivers of pooled ichor that now cut through the once pristine floor.  He raged like a bonfire, his power forced Shessstorath to back away out of fear of immolation.  The floor fared no better against his power than hers, as the combined might of but two dragons now reduced ancient stone to liquid slag that began to churn around his feet.  Shessstorath retreated back towards the far edges of the Meet, continuing to pour her putrescence out at Terranox.  While she ate away at his flames, her efforts only created a small shelter for her to move within.  She could not get close enough to harm him, as his power consumed all around him.  But her stream of deadly magic kept him from rending her to ash.  The explosive meeting of their innate magics seemed doomed to shatter the mountain top for a second time.  Stone bellowed in pain as it was violated again, the memory of the first cataclysm still too recent an event as the mountain reckoned time.  But both of the dragons where deaf to the fears of the stone, so intent was their desire to scourge the other from the face of the world.  The toll of their self-imposed isolation found outlet in irrational rage against their ancient rival.

 

“Was this your plan?” Shessstorath screamed as she ceased her spew, barely forcing back Terranox’s pyre with hastily erected shields.  She pushed the flames back as far as she could manage, hatred fueling her eldritch might.  The shielded space revealed ruined stone, pitted and scarred.  Her shrieks threatened to bury them both under whatever weight the mountain top still possessed.  “Lure any of us that you could here?  To what end? Consumption of our power?  Slaying us?  What purpose could drive you to try to gather us here, after all this time? Or was this about slaying me alone?

 

Her words forced his dire purpose to pierce through the fog of his rage.  And once past the red haze, fear and dark peril blossomed to consume his thoughts.  His power contracted abruptly, retreating back into his mortal frame.  The vacuum of power threatened to collapse the Meet’s western sheer and left clouds of steam rising from the desolate floor.  Darkness rushed back into the Meet, the ruddy glow of rapidly cooling lava providing the only an ember of light.   Terranox’s whole frame shook from the effort of restraint, the floor directly beneath his feet the last pristine piece of antediluvian rock visible within the light.  His shoulders rose and fell in quick succession from the strain.  Terranox’s eyes closed, his mind attempting bringing his body back under his control.  Vaguely he realized his vulnerability.  He recognized that Shessstorath could strike him down at any second, and that he should defend against her imminent attack.  But something broke inside him.  The emotion that prompted his desperate gamble flooded past his lips. “It doesn’t matter.  Don’t you see?  None of the past matters.  Only what is coming.  Surely you can’t be blind to that.”  Closed eyes were opened by the deep throated laughter of Shessstorath.

 

“Fool.  You leave yourself exposed, vulnerable.” Glee filled the dragon’s throat, as she readied to crush her foe between her jaws, to feel the crunch and rupture of his body before she consumed his power.  “The centuries had addled your brain and rotted your spirit.  You are not the dragon I once knew. The rival I had is dead.  You are a weak creature, something to be pited.”  Her voice turned into a deep growl as she shifted her weight back to pounce.  “It will be my pleasure to end your existence.”

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