There weren’t always dragons in the valley. No one was sure why they had descended on the region so suddenly after generations of dwelling on distant mountaintops, but the realm was suffering from their constant depredations. Our professor at the academy, selected us to deliver some papers to an Orgallan research center, in hopes that they could ameliorate this plague. We pressed on in a mountain pass, hoping the red banded badlands would discourage the flying monstrosities.
“Rolando, look out!” My thoughts were cut short by Atarja’s warning. He lowered the sail and fell to the floor of the platform, fumbling with his chalk. Overhead, a cerulean ribbon of scales and fangs dove towards the barren sands.
I drew my arcblade and prepared for the inevitable combat. Atarja finished the glyphs. He was rotating slowly in a standing position, employing the meditation technique practised hundreds of times at the academy. He had never needed it outside of the classroom, however, and the panicking donkeys caused our platform to shudder. Nevertheless, a glowing ward surrounded us, including the beasts of burden. The dragon flew closer, and my body flew into a kata, muscles mobilizing faster than thought. I closed my eyes to visualize the magical forces, aether smelt into an elemental manifestation. I forced the chakra into the metal conduit and struck at the monster, which was now forcing its way past my partner’s ward. There was no need to open my eyes, I could sense the beast’s soul matrix as if it were a blazing bonfire. The edge of the weapon pierced the beast’s throat, The bloated air reverberated through the canyon. A surge of magical force seared the dragon’s flesh as its life force dimmed. The smell of ozone and burnt lizard filled the air. A shout from behind got my attention. I opened my eyes.
Atarja had been knocked onto his back. He jumped up with a look more savage than the dragon. “Rolando, you idiot! Of all the elementals at your disposal, that was the worst one you could have chosen!” The young man looked slightly singed, and his hair was disheveled.
“My apologies,” I caught the base of my skull and dipped into a civil bow. I had just sent lightning through his protective field. Lightning was a very potent streza in the hands of skilled practitioners, therefore it was a favorite of duelists, but it rarely saw use outside the dueling circles. This was because was also one of the most capricious of the elemental forces, potentially as perilous to the wielder’s side as to the opposition. To wit, it had a tendency to be diverted by metal, and it traveled freely through other magical fields, such as wards.
Atarja said nothing as his eyes smoldered. He examined the moving platform for damage and raised the sail. The donkeys stood fast, examining the corpse of the dragon. We dismounted the platform and walked towards the draconic remains, glassy bits crumbling under out boots. Holding our noses, we examined the mass of riven flesh and bones. “This could have been a valuable specimen, had someone not blown it apart.” Atarja said. I grunted softly and took out my knife. Enough of the specimen’s scaled hide was intact to get a sample, which went into one of the heavy, scientific jars that Atarja insisted on dragging along with us.
After the dragon had been lain open, I stared at the mess of viscera before me. “What are we looking at here?”
Atarja considered the exotic organs before us, scratching his chest. “Well, alchemists pay well for some of these structures, but we didn’t bring the means to preserve them, so it would be an empty endeavor.
I peeled off some of the fresh muscle tissue from the corpse. “Hey, Atarja! Is dragon meat edible?”
He visibly contemplated the question. “Normally, but sometimes magically attuned creatures can have strange effects on the constitution.”
“I didn’t sense anything off when I was soulscrying it.”
“How many live dragons have you experienced firsthand.”
“One,” I said, scratching the back of my neck. “Come on.” I held the seared meat up to his nose.”
“Very well. Let’s take a break. I’m hungry,” Atarja said. We stripped some of the edible portions of my kill. I placed my hands upon the meat and invoked the streza of fire, in case the previous blast hadn’t cooked it sufficiently. Soon a stream of smoke rose into the sky, bearing the aroma of fresh barbecue. We took a bite. It was slightly leathery, but after our trek through the desert, anything would taste delicious.
“You know, it’s odd that we were attacked, as this narrow route was chosen bec ause it could not afford a dragon’s wingspan.”
“This was obviously a fledgeling.”
“Why is a single dracoling just flying around by itself.” According to the professor of Naturalistics, young dragons lined up behind their mothers like waterbirds gliding on the surface of a lake.
“Something’s interfering with their migration patters. That’s why we’re here, remember?” Atarja shook his head. “We should be fine as long as the mother doesn’t-”
He didn’t have the time to finish his sentence. The sky darkened under the wings of a mother who had smelled her child. The canyon trembled with a deafening roar. An enormous set of jaws wedged themselves between to walls of rock, dislodging boulders that tumbled into the passage.
“Run!” I shouted.