There weren't always dragons in the valley. The lush crescent shaped isle of Avira was home to many creatures, but dragons only arrived a few millennia ago, when a crackling portal opened on the northern crest of Mount Myokin. At least, that is what the stories of old say. Scrolls worn by age, stashed away in the Temple of Roe, tell of the emergence of the large winged shapeshifters who sought a new home in these lands after being cast out of their own by a vengeful deity.
The forsaken, power hungry god of the sun, Nemiio, turned on his siblings and kin. A deadly battle that cost the life of the exalted goddess of the night, Roe, resulted in the dragons of Myokinin being exiled. Hundreds of scrolls in the temple are solely about that battle and the rest are mostly of the beauty of Myokinin with its supposed purple skies and endless flowering trees of all colors.
Avira is beautiful too, Lysandra thought as her legs became unbearably numb from crouching on a tree branch for almost... she surveyed the placement of the bright sun overhead. "Three hours? This is absurd." She clenched her teeth.
"Quiet, Lys, they could come any time now." Lysandra's companion and best friend, Brina, whispered from the adjacent arching tree branch, her golden hair tied into two buns atop her head. Her longbow is strapped to her back, a dagger sheathed on her thigh, and a silver sword on her hip.
The same, standard issued weapons that Lysandra carries on her. Except for the silver dagger with a golden sunstone hilt that she keeps sheathed on her other thigh. The only object that was with her when she was found as an infant almost twenty-two years ago on the doorstep of the castle. A rare material, Lysandra was always surprised that the dragon King and Queen let her keep the dagger. Surprised, but always grateful.
Lysandra scoffed, readjusting her position, and ignored her friend's comment. Her knees ached, screaming to stand. She pushed her white braid over her shoulder, the black streak laced within standing out, as she looked toward her friend, her ruby lips turned down in a frown. "Bri, they aren't coming. That asshole gave us false information." She pointed beyond Brina, as if the human peddler that they had questioned earlier was standing right there.
Brina's lips curved into a sly grin. "Maybe you shouldn't have pushed him so hard with your questions."
Okay, maybe interrogated was the better word. She shrugged. "Maybe I should have pushed him harder." The peddler wore simple cotton clothes, the sigil of the human kingdom on the sack of his bag of vegetables. He was on his way to the nearest town for market day no doubt when they stumbled upon him. He all but spat on the two of them, even though they were clad in their black armor. Humans and dragons alike know what this armor signifies.
Umbra Pueri. Children of shadow. The dragon crown's personal assassins, trained since birth to wield all manner of weapons. Most were orphans, though some were given to the crown by families who owed a debt or wanted to gain favor from the gods.
She had to hand it to the human, though. He didn't balk at who she was, like most do. Her unusual white hair with that black streak gives her identity away. Most humans, even many dragons, stare at her wide eyed and give her plenty of space as they pass by. The usual scowl splattered across her face probably doesn't help to make her more approachable.
Lysandra carefully stands, her bronze toned feet gripping the rough bark of the oak tree's branch. Aside from the slitted irises, the constant bare feet is a tell of who she is. Dragons are deeply connected to nature—even so on this planet that they were not born on—that they cannot bare to have something that covers that physical connection. Sometimes, for jobs that are more discreet, where they have to blend as a human, the assassins wear feet coverings. Lysandra shivers at the thought, at the discomfort that they give. She stretches, pushing her shoulder blades together, the ache of her hidden wings a hum in her back.
Brina watches her friend, her movements all indicating that she is done waiting. She clicks her tongue but doesn't say anything as she stands and stretches her tired limbs as well. Lys may be her best friend, but she is also her superior. The only other who could tell them to stay is... "Shit, Lys. If we return to the castle without any intel, the King will be furious." She doesn't dare say what he'll do if he is furious.
King Quithar, the mighty silver dragon with the rare power of starlight. He is a direct descendent of the first king of Avira, the one who conquered the human lands after they tried to kill all the dragons off.
At her friend's words, Lysandra winced. She knew what the King would do if they returned without so much as a name. Especially considering that it has been almost two weeks since he assigned her unit to identify and eliminate the elusive human group of Knights. They haven't even been able to learn the name of a gods damned low ranking squire. She pinched the bridge of her nose as she ran through possible moves before returning to the capital. They most certainly could not go find that peddler, since he would probably be in a human village by now. Not unless they wanted to risk losing a limb. A story of a dragon sneaking into one of the human villages only to be caught and forced to shift, where they then cut off his wings circulated the isle for decades. It was a great deterrent for dragons to stay away.
"The King is expecting us by midnight," Lysandra said, drawing out a long breath. "Let's take this road to the capital instead of the usual path. Maybe we'll come across the traveling Knights." So much for their plan of surprise. There are humans that have magical abilities, and are equally as good at sensing enemies as the dragons are. That stupid peddler said that a group of Knights usually passes this road on their way to the human village of Hystro on market days. Market day is almost over. Their chances of running into this group is severely dwindling.
Brina nodded her agreement, her lips pressed into a thing line. "And let's hope that we notice them before they notice us."
Had the two dragon shifters been in an open meadow, they could easily overwhelm the group of Knights by changing into their other form. But, like most of Avira is, they are in a forest. Not to mention that shifting in the middle of a fight can be a deadly mistake. Unlike in Myokinin, shifting on this planet takes longer than a breath. For almost an entire minute, the dragon is susceptible to an enemy's attack, where any blow could be fatal. For many dragons, fighting in their lesser form—astonishingly human-like—is better any way. For not all dragons have magic. Brina and Lysandra haven't reached their matured age where magic begins appearing. For Lysandra, that time comes during the autumn equinox, when she turns twenty-two. In one month, she'll know. She'll know whether or not she is to remain a lowly assassin who reports to the King or whether she will be able to choose her own path for her future. Brina still has to wait another six months for that birthday.
With easy footing, Lysandra jumps from her branch, Brina following. The leaf littered forest floor absorbs the sound of their feet hitting the ground. A light late summer breeze whistles through the canopy, leaves dancing in the invisible element. Lysandra inhales deeply, letting nature's calmness enter her body, chasing away any jitters about returning to the capital.
If she ends up being an air elemental dragon, she could summon winds ranging from small breezes to devastating storms. Air is a common element for dragons to acquire, just like fire, earth, and water. Others like starlight, lightning, shadow, and magma are more rare. Whichever she gets, Lysandra would be happy. Anything would be better than being a nil-uhn, or nonmagic dragon. If that were to happen, she would be deemed a lesser citizen and stuck working for the King for the rest of her miserable life.
Freedom. She wants freedom.
"When was the last time that you shifted?" Brina's lilting voice said from behind Lysandra as they continue walking in a northeast direction. The path would eventually take them to where they need to be, but closer to the eastern human border where they hope to find a group of Knights. The lands they are in now, called Nuexis, are in between the two kingdoms. A place not belonging to any one people.
Lysandra could feel her friend's eyes on her back. Brina no doubt observed all the times that she flexed her back muscles to ease the ache of her hidden wings. "Not that long ago," Lysandra answered with a shrug, hoping to end the conversation.
Her friend blew out a tight breath. "Lys, you know that's dangerous. It could--" Brina stops talking at Lysandra's raised fist. A moment later, she feels what her commander senses.
Both dragon shifters jump to either side of the wide, dirt path. Most of their missions require more stealth than up front assault, but this will be one of those exceptions.
Lysandra nods to Brina. By the stale scent that is slowly emerging from the direction that they were heading, there is probably a handful of humans. Lysandra can just barely hear the clinking of armor as they make their way closer to her. Knights or town sentries. Either way, there will be blood shed. More deep breaths. She silently unsheathes her sword, the silver metal glinting in the bits of sunlight. She crouches to keep hidden, waiting like a panther for her prey.
The Knights must assume that they are too close to the human lands for an attack, because not a single one of the four waltzing toward her take notice. No indication of sensing the two dragons hidden in the leaves of the shrubs.
Lysandra almost feels bad for them. Almost. Maybe if their kind weren't so malicious. In the past thousand years, there have been five wars between the two species, each started by the humans seeking to destroy dragons.
As if their minds were linked, Lysandra and Brina jump out of their hiding spots at the same moment. They move at a quick speed, blocking each direction of the path, the humans in between.
The Knights, clad in their typical brown leather armor, recover from their shock and pull their swords from their sheaths. The iron metal seems to hiss at the dragons. The two Knights in the back of the group spin around so that they face Brina. Lysandra could have sworn the ones in front stilled as they beheld who it was that they were facing.
"Umbra Alba," the shorter of the two whispers. The White Shadow.
Lysandra's feral smile only grew wider.
About the author
Author and ecopsychologist. A writer of magical stories influenced by nature.
Published my debut book, Rising Ember - a dark contemporary fantasy with magic set during a vampire civil war.