Chapter 11: Calm After the Storm
Little Breeze smirked slightly and answered the Harpy Queen with its chirping voice.
“True, it is indeed a shame that Little Flame isn’t here today. Are there any other matters to take care of today, Madame?”
The madame in question smiled at the green dragon and took another strip of the roasted meat on the stone table, using both of her wings to pick it up. The fat of the meat would never cling to her white feathers and could only drip cleanly off the immaculate wings.
The dragon had no choice but to wait for the queen’s reply. It was well acquainted with her two daughters, and she was also more powerful in mana and aura than its siblings and itself. Nonetheless Little Breeze did not mind waiting for an answer, since their domains were maintaining friendly relations through trade of goods .
Little Breeze didn’t know about the classification of the power into different ranks and was merely comparing different strengths of pressure monsters gave off individually. The oldest sibling Little Flame was stronger than itself, yet Little Flame also felt stressed in company of the two harpy and fairy queens, who were often visiting. Talks like these were usually taken care of by the red and black dragon, so Little Breeze felt a bit strained from the negotiations with rulers of other domains, but it also knew they wouldn’t take unfair advantage of the [Dragon’s Den] after many years of coexistence. The answer of the harpy pulled the green dragon back from its wandering thoughts.
“Don’t be so formal, we’re almost family after all. How are my daughters? Do they still love to play pranks on you?”
The human face surrounded by a ring of feathers was showing the dragon a kind smile, the harpy trying to induce some small talk, the business having been taken care of. She was as well impressed by the progress the emerald lizard had made in the beast language they both spoke.
“You’re too kind. And the two of them are fine, they are currently out hunting for prey, just like Little Flame. I think they’ll return later today. And it appears that the two of them grew out of playing pranks on me.”
Indulging in the idle chatter with the harpy, Little Breeze bent its head down to snatch a piece of meat too. From Little Breeze’s remembrance of the head maid’s report, this should be the meat of a [Slender Cinder Panther], a monster barely weaker than itself.
The meeting continued in such a fashion until the Harpy Queen finally took her leave. With a sigh of relief, Little Breeze went back to the deeper part of the the den to find the [Water Nymph] who assumed the position of the head maid. Her strength had increased slowly but steadily since she moved in, and she had came to be only a single step beneath the three younger dragon siblings.
Their strongest brethren had gone out five days ago, and had notified the nymph before heading out. The green dragon couldn’t handle all of the politic decisions without its sibling’s help, and neither could Little Terra nor Little Stream. Their older relative had walked out of the hideout and it had missed several meetings with other dominion’s managers since then, something that had never happened before. As one of the wilderness’ power, the young dragons were recognized amongst animals, and they themselves held positive impressions towards the various domains’ leaders because of their lineage and strength, as well as their tolerance. Indeed, even thought that as dragons they would grow up to be an even more powerful force to be reckoned with, currently, they were about one or two steps below any strong monster or beast holding a certain influence in the area, and the presence of their black and red leader was solely assuring that the [Dragon’s Den] had the same status as stronger creatures’ territory.
The other siblings were already talking to the nymph in front of Little Flame’s chamber when the green dragon arrived, inquiring once more about the exact words their leader had left behind. The nymph was repeating the words her master had pronounced before its departure to the other two, so Little Breeze didn’t have to waste much time.
“I’ll go out and pursue the faint trace left behind. If I’m not back in two days, come out together to search for us.”
After having heard these words again, the emerald beast retired to its own chamber, forgetting the two harpies who usually accompanied it everywhere.
Fending through the air, Little Breeze focused on its own power to reveal traces of other power-users who had passed in the area before. Although it couldn’t see the lights Little Flame could detect, the flying dragon was able to perceive different kinds of smells. Within five days this skill wouldn’t work on the other siblings’ trails, since quite an amount of the monsters passing by shared their attribute, but the feeling associated to its black and red sibling was fairly unique, and Little Breeze had failed to ever encounter another living being with a similar scent.
Circling the [Dragons Den] once, the emerald animal found a small reaction of the heavy and musky fragrance belonging exclusively to Little Flame, and flew in that direction.
Whenever the indication of the proper path disappeared, the emerald dragon had to search the area to find it again, and subsequently after a day of tracking its older sibling, it was able to discover where it had landed. On the ground the signs of a battle were visible, as well as traces of blood from three different species, and three corpses.
Enraged by the sight of its beloved family member’s sanguine fluid, Little Breeze trashed the remains of the dead creatures, who were already showing signs of having been ripped in pieces by smaller animals. Luckily no larger animal had claimed the delicious flesh rich in vitality so far, or the dragon would have had no idea of who was responsible of Little Flame’s absence.
After having calmed a little, the raging beast stored away the corpses in its soul space, and looked for more clues. Unfortunately, the path leading to the red and black beast didn’t only continue in the air, but traveled through some patches of the forest, preventing Little Breeze from pursuing the tracks anymore. The presence of blood stains on the ground revived the hope of finding its older sibling in the emerald dragon’s heart, but it lacked the affinity with water to keep on chasing its target. Unwillingly, it realised that it had no choice but to turn around and return to the den, to fetch Little Stream and maybe Little Terra, to rescue the injured Little Flame. With this resolution, Little Breeze marked the location in its mental map and took off again, to the [Dragons Den].
The noble mage Ashton stormed back into the city after his elven guards had warned him not to fight the ranker called [Water Serpent].
When he wasn’t even born the old man had supposedly already made a name for himself attending the royal court, and his skills as a high ranked adventurer were also well-known.
Ashton however couldn’t feel a single speck of mana on that old man, only the high class enchantments on the exquisite staff and on the sturdy looking robe the elf had been wearing, making him quite dubious on the matter. On top of that, the old man had the audacity to tell him off, calling him a spoiled brat and threatening to remove him from the surface of the earth if he didn’t turn back.
Replaying the conversation in his head over and over again, the burning anger setting his bones on fire slowly turned into a cold and calculative rage, composing a plan to pay back that sack of old bones and obtain the young dragon for himself to gain ultimate glory and fame.
Instead of returning with his knights to the Silverwood house straight away, he left them in an inn of a village close to the border of the Wilderness and arrived alone at the gates of the capital, bribing the guard to let him in without registering his guild card. Ashton took the main street to the noble district, passing the other two gates without any trouble as the guards recognized his mage emblem on his grey overcoat. Upon reaching the third sector, also called the noble sector, he turned into a cramped alley, averting the main path to the Silverwood family compound.
Avoiding the primary entrance, he entered the main family’s building through the servant’s door and quickly hid in one of the hallways for retainers to work behind the scenes running throughout the mansion.
Soon after, an attendant entered the corridor where he was standing, and Ashton pulled him aside, pushing a silver coin and a sealed notice into his hand.
“This is for you. If you manage to deliver a message to Cedric Silverwood, there are more rewards for you.”
Trusting the servant with this job, Ashton moved through the hidden staircases until he arrived at an abandoned meeting room on the third floor. A fire had broken out in a previous meeting there, and the chamber had yet to be refurbished.
Taking a seat on one of the remaining unscorched stairs, the mage waited for his cousin. As an important warrior of the main house who was receiving various resources and a lot of attention in regard of his potential, meeting at any given time with him wasn’t possible for Ashton. Based on Cedric’s fifth warrior rank strength alone, he couldn’t be eligible to receive this much care, however he had bought an lottery egg from the guild store when he had wanted to acquire his first companion at the age of twelve and luckily managed to obtain a [Bloody World Hellhound]. The monster grew up to be at the seventh rank, and through their master-servant bond, he was collecting refined aura at a faster rate.
After the hellhound had fully grew up and rumors had begun to spread throughout the branch houses, the head of the main house had decided to consider its owner with utmost interest as he would reach the status of a level seven powerhouse in the near future, since his companion already had.
Edmund and Ashton had been jealous for a long time of their cousin’s luck, but later managed to drown their sorrow and forget about their bad luck in picking monsters from the lottery when it had been their turn a year later. As part of a branch family they did not have the resources to keep on buying mystery eggs and hence decided to purely focus on the path of a mage, before succumbing to the allure of alcohol and fleshly pleasures. Nevertheless the two brothers had been able to maintain a somewhat cordial relationship with their cousin, so the message he had passed to Cedric was likely to grant him at least the favor of a meeting.
After the amount of time needed for Cedric to display his superior position had passed, but not long enough for Ashton to take offense, the door opened and the warrior entered with an amiable smile, without his monster as the hellhound had grown big enough to require a sleeping spot in the stable.
“Greetings, cousin. Your message said it was urgent, what can I do for you? Also, don’t worry about the servant, I already paid him for his services and reminded him to keep quiet about this … meeting.”
Ashton managed to return the smile, although he would have liked to frown. By paying off the servant Cedric already did him a small favor, putting him in an even worse position for negotiation, however he was still sure that he would convince him with his plan. Nothing would ever prevent him from realizing his dream.
“Long time no see, Cedric. I’ve come to see you today since Edmund and me ran into a … certain problem, you could say.
During our exploration of the Wilderness we ran into an old man, who we invited to share our campfire and stay for the night. He turned out to be Eldrin, the Water Serpent, the former court magician and he had just discovered a high ranked dungeon sheltering a wild beast. Since we treated him so well, he invited us along to explore it with him and promised us to share the spoils.”
Ashton closely observed the reaction of Cedric who had sat on another one of the broken down chairs as he was telling his tale, looking for a sign of warning that he knew Eldrin or any other signs of distrust. But to his relief, the warrior only motioned him to continue his story with a hand sign.
“I don’t want to reveal what kind of beast we encountered, it was however an A class existence. With the help of the elf, we managed to defeat it, Edmund however got injured and Eldrin broke his staff by saving him. He now demands payment for the staff and won’t hand over any of the items we looted from the beast, keeping Edmund as a hostage, but we can’t pay up. I hoped to borrow your [Bloody World Hellhound] to ambush him in secret, he’s only at the seventh rank, so together with Edmund, your beast and me I’m one hundred percent sure we can take him down.
Naturally, if we succeed we’re willing to hand over the elf’s share of the spoils and half of the valuables he has on him.
Do we have a deal?”
Cedric’s fingers drummed thoughtfully on the table as he was contemplating on the offer. Based on his doubtful countenance, he knew he couldn’t trust Ashton’s story word for word, since he would have just needed to appeal to the main house openly if someone had abducted one of the household’s members. He probably thought that the two brothers had accompanied Eldrin and were now greedy for his part of the spoils, or maybe that there was no beast at all and they simply stumbled upon his home in the Wilderness and wanted to rob him. Yet all these speculations were still within the scope of Ashtons calculations, he had especially dropped the hint about a mysterious beast to incite caution on the side of his possible accomplice, and wanted him to take precautions against getting swindled.
With a smile, the warrior presented his terms to the mage.
“Alright, I’ll lend you my hellhound. However I have no interest in a beast’s remains. How about this, your brother and you can take all of it, and I will in turn take all of the mage’s possessions. I think that’s fair since the biggest part of the fight will be done by my monster anyway.
If you can’t even tell me what kind of secret beast this is about, your surely won’t make a loss from this deal. And to make it fair, I’ll owe each of you a favour in the future, how about it?”
Presenting an innocent smile Ashton reached out his hand for a shake to seal the deal, the negotiations didn’t take long and went along his plan. With this agreement Cedric gave up all rights to the dragon, and even if he wanted to complain he couldn’t go to the family head and publicly admit that he agreed to murder a court magician through a hidden deal.
“I’m prepared to make a trip to train on the day of earth, so I’ll take my monster with me in 5 days and meet you outside the gates. Where do you want to meet up?”
Faced with Cedric’s inquiry, Ashton was slightly unsure if his cousin would keep his word on the agreement and just lend him his monster obediently, without following the other party to take all of the spoils himself.
Still, this was a risk he had to take in order to obtain a legendary class beast, a dragon.
“Alright, I’m staying in Silverburg with my knights, I’ll meet up with you in front of the main inn on the day of earth then. I’ll head back now before anyone recognizes me.”
With their talk over, Ashton quickly left the capital again, rushing back in the direction of his desires.
After being stuck inside the house for two days Little Flame was able to enjoy hunting once again on the thirteenth day.
Hiding in a tree it watched the large [Mad Yellow Spider] building a serie of strings on the ground to create a trap for other monsters. From its conversations with Eldrin it had learned a lot about local monsters and their habits, so today Little Flame had set out to hunt something different dinner.
Waiting for the monster to place itself right below its claws, the black and red dragon sealed its presence, silently peeking down at the bizarre creature, appearing to the outside world as a set of golden eyes in the darkness of the tree crown.
When the perfect moment to strike came, the beast dropped straight onto the carapace of the spider and dug with its claws into the yellow back. The spider tried to put up a fight, but Little Flame used its special vision to sever particular spots, corresponding to some of the glowing lines within the body of the spider, and the latter half of its legs collapsed. Unable to fight off the predator, the yellow arachnid stood no chance and entirely fell on the ground after the dragon struck its back over and over again, stripping away its protective armor and exposing the tender flesh beneath it.
Satisfied with its haul, Little Flame collected the dead body into its soul space and slowly returned to the clearing where Eldrin’s house was situated.
During the long rainy days the elf had introduced a new concept to the curious creature, a system called ranks, to help it understand strength better. After the scaled beast had described the two different energies it could perceive with its eyes to Eldrin, he had tried to move both of the things Little Flame mentioned around in his body. Upon confirmation that these were indeed the phenomena the dragon was talking about, he had named them with an incredulous look on his face. The vitality he moved first was a thing called aura and virtually any creature could train it like their muscles, after having taken it in its body a first time.
The different feelings the dragon grasped from these auras should correspond to the various elements.
The second type of power was called mana, and likewise the multiple colours were revealing the element they represented. Training mana was also harder since the air and earth contained much more natural aura than mana, and required meditation or eventually cultivation resources to advance faster.
As for the different strengths wielders, humans or other humanoid species such as the elves cultivating aura to battle were called ‘warriors’, while mana users prefered the title ‘magician’. The two types of energy were existing everywhere, and kingdoms highly valued strong practitioners of either type.
Animals on the other hand were usually called monsters, however if they managed to achieve the first mana rank they would earn the appellation ‘beast’.
The creatures Little Flame had named ‘power users’ so far should have all been beasts. The ability to see these powers was something even Eldrin couldn’t explain.
As a rough evaluation the old elf had guessed that the dragons rank in aura should be around the peak of the fourth level, while its mana should have advanced to the third rank a short while before their meeting.
With this as a base, the scaled beast estimated the spider it had hunted this day to be a monster of the fourth rank, yet it was still weaker than itself. Puzzled by this difference, it decided to return earlier than usual to ask Eldrin more about ranks, aura and mana, something the dragon had been taking for granted, without even thinking that the strength could have been ranked in different classes . None of the dragons and residents in the [Dragon’s Den] ever questioned the might of a power wielder or put a name on the strength of an individual, each and every animal possessing the natural instinct necessary to tell if someone was weaker or stronger than itself.
When Little Flame arrived at the clearing, a loud roar shook the trees and the protective [Water Screens] around the house shattered, revealing the elf sitting in front of the house, carving a piece of wood with his knife.
Alarmed by this turn of events, the dragon guardedly looked for the source of danger as the elf picked up his staff and circulated mana around the enchantments on his robe and the weapon.
At the other side of the clearing, where the longear knight had been hiding before the storm, a group of three shorthairs walked out into sight accompanied by a large flaming red monster.
From its interaction with Eldrin, Little Flame knew that two of the shorthairs were called elves, while the third one should be a human, but no matter how much questions the scaled beast had asked during the storm, Eldrin had been unwilling to give any answers regarding their goals, only saying that he was stronger than them and there was no reason to worry.
However in Little Flames perception, the aura of this monster didn’t lose out in any way to Eldrin’s mana, and there were three additional enemies.
Today a calamity had arrived.