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[center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/33#post_37953539]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953563]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center] ----- [right][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47550037][img]http://flightrising.com/rendern/coliseum/portraits/475501/47550037.png[/img][/url] [size=2][color=#9494A9][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47550037]profile[/url] • back to[/color] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/26#post_34811535]main post[/url][/right] [columns][center][item=depleted sacridite][/center][nextcol][color=transparent]..[/color][nextcol][color=#75A8FF][font=garamond][size=7][size=4][b]legends of the undestroyed[/b][/size][/size][/font][/color] [size=2]written by Disillusionist [color=#9494A9]2,779 words[/color][/size][/columns] [color=#454F69][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=32181477]Origenes[/url] never went exploring with an itinerary in mind. What he had instead were fragments: sketches and stories, a pamphlet hastily copied from larger tomes, perhaps a tiny artifact or two. What they all had in common was this: They were pieces of bygone ages and civilizations, or were purported to be, and Origenes wished to determine for himself that these eras and places had once existed. His interests were personal rather than financial, with dashes of adventure and science thrown in. If someone told him a story about encountering an archaeological mystery, he would decide he wanted to have the same experience. If he could find and bring back physical proof of that mystery, so much the better, but he would be satisfied with an encounter of his own as well. He often hired companions, guides and guards and the like, but more often than not it was just him; his Guardian and mate, [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=31549106]Ashes[/url]; and their friend, Zubeida the Raptorik. Ashes was perpetually stoic and content to accompany him wherever he went; Zubeida was more outspoken and inquisitive. Today, as they settled down to camp for the night, she demanded, “What’re we doing out here in this gods-forsaken wasteland, Origenes? It’s outrageously hot, and this sand keeps getting everywhere.” She flicked her ears, shaking off dust and dirt. “It does wonders chasing away parasites, but personally I prefer oil and a comb.” Origenes laughed gently. “Settle down, Zubeida. We’re looking for an ancient city, remember?” “We’re [i]always[/i] looking for ancient cities. I swear, the way you keep on jabbering about them, I’m absolutely [i]flabbergasted[/i] Sornieth isn’t just [i]crawling[/i] with ancient cities. Buildings upon buildings, stacked on top of each other.” She clicked her beak irritably. “I can remind you, if you’d like,” Origenes suggested. He poured servings of food into her and Ashes’ bowls before taking some for himself. As they settled around the fire, the Pearlcatcher adjusted his cloak and looked out across the dunes. They were encamped atop a promontory of rock that lifted them above the ground, but even then, there was only sand as far as the eye could see. “You might’ve noticed it’s a lot cooler than usual. The heat is less biting, don’t you think?” “It’s still biting pretty hard!” But Zubeida shrugged and admitted, “Still, it seems more...humid, I think? Is rain approaching?” “I believe so. We are quite near the sea. Now, I don’t know all the details,” and Origenes sighed, “but then, I suppose no one ever does. Anyway, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been chasing stormclouds, going to where the sky is darkest. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with them on foot, but it can be done. And it’s when you’re down there, closer to the ground, that the city becomes visible. It’s said that many eons ago, the Shifting Expanse was not covered by dunes. It was instead a flat plain that was much easier to traverse and build upon, and so an ancient civilization raised its cities here...”[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/nk3jx6iuz7bgutw/icemid2.png[/img][/url] [color=#454F69]Days later, Zubeida gave Origenes’ story more thought. She often dismissed his tales as fanciful ramblings—she accompanied him for the excitement and adventure of traveling, and the chance to accrue wealth besides. But this time, Origenes’ enthusiasm was contagious. And besides, their surroundings invoked the story he’d told them atop the promontory.... Zubeida looked around warily. Tall crags of rocks thrust up from the sand, looming on either side. It was one of those rare days when the sun was obscured by clouds, and in the wan light, the crags gleamed with a dull black sheen. There was no wind, but it was unusually cool. She turned up her collar and puffed up her feathers in an effort to stay warm. “Are we going to camp here?” Ashes inquired. She didn’t look too pleased about their surroundings. Origenes said, “I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of good places to shelter, but...bandits, you know. Or monsters. We might get ambushed out here.” Zubeida privately agreed. Any of those crags looked like good places to launch an ambush from. She held her bolas in one hand; the other rested on her knife hilt as she and the dragons wove between the rocks. Origenes was no longer animated, but quiet, wary, and Zubeida and Ashes both remained on tenterhooks. Ears and eyes wide open, all senses alert... When they heard the earth-shattering boom, Zubeida instinctively took to the air. Ashes spread her frills. “What is that?!” “It’s just thunder.” And then they heard the rumble that followed. Longer than thunder—and perhaps even mightier. Origenes turned. “Zubeida, get down—it’s a storm. It’s beginning to rain!” They needed to find shelter—the rocks could be struck by lightning, and if it rained hard and fast enough, they could get caught in a flash flood. Zubeida would be in trouble, and Origenes, with his magnetic abilities, would attract electricity. Origenes was already unfolding his cloak. It doubled in size, and he draped it over himself so that he was completely covered in a thin rubber mantle. Ashes picked him up, and Zubeida clung to the Guardian's scales as she turned and galloped back the way they’d come. They’d found a cave in the crags earlier and had marked it in case of incidents such as this. It’d be a good place to ride out the storm. The rumbling continued—not from behind them, but from before them. “Look out!” Zubeida squawked as a wall of gray water came thundering around the bend. Origenes gasped, and Ashes roared as the water smashed into her chest, briefly sweeping her feet out from beneath her. The Guardian clenched her teeth and managed to stand, and she forged grimly ahead, leaning against the rocky wall at her side. The rain was coming down so thickly it was nearly solid, almost impossible to breathe. The world had vanished into a mass of rushing silver water, and the crags were murky shapes looming vaguely on either side. Ashes’ shoulder slipped: she had found the cave. She waded inside, and as the ground sloped up, Origenes and Zubeida jumped down. They turned and watched the water lapping after them, while it rushed in a stream just outside. “That’s quite a storm,” Origenes muttered. He took off his rubberized mantle and draped it over a nearby rock. Zubeida started to strip off her vest and tunic so she could dry out her feathers, and Ashes simply hunkered down to rest. Origenes went to snuggle against her while the Raptorik got to work building a fire with the spells they had. The storm passed quickly—storms always did, out here in the desert. But they were thorough, “As thorough as wind,” Origenes explained to his companions later on. He was telling stories again, coaxing them through the boredom of waiting. “Much is made of the wind erasing footprints from the desert, but rain does that, too. It washes away scents, obscures any signs left behind; if there is a river nearby, the floods might carry any evidence there, and thence into the sea. They could then wash up on islands we’ve yet to discover....Who knows?” “Do you have any plans of exploring lands across the sea?” Zubeida asked, and immediately wanted to kick herself for it. She had a brief vision of herself huddled aboard a fish-stinking ship, sailing into unknown waters while Origenes chattered about [i]other[/i] lost cities [i]beyond[/i] Sornieth. To her relief, the Pearlcatcher laughed and shook his head. “Sornieth is already more than enough for me, Zubeida. It might become a possibility in the future...but for now, I’m quite content with our homeland and the wonders it holds.” “The rain has stopped,” Ashes reported laconically. Origenes perked up. “Ah, and about time, too. Well, ladies, we’ll dry out better where the sun shines. Shall we go?” The sun remained behind the clouds, and the ground was still very mucky, but that didn’t stop Origenes. He glided ahead, looking quite sure of himself; his magnetic properties also helped him stay oriented, so despite it being cloudy, he still knew which way was north. Ashes and Zubeida trailed after him. They came out from among the crags and found themselves looking at another open expanse of desert. Zubeida frowned. “It’s quite late in the day. I don’t think we should try to cross that. Let’s just go back and spend the night in that cave.” “You’re right, Zubeida. Anyway, I—” Origenes broke off. As he’d turned away from the desert, something had caught his eyes. Ashes and Zubeida noticed it too. They quieted down, and as one they peered across the expanse, trying to make sense of what they were seeing. The sun was beginning to burn through the clouds. As it did, it put down pillars of pale gold light, which stalked across the desert sand like the legs of a mighty colossus. Between those pillars lay utter blackness. And there were shapes in the blackness: angles, sharp edges...Phantom crags, taller and straighter than the ones behind them, rose from the ash-colored sand. The distance was so great that it was difficult to make out details, but they seemed to shimmer—heatwaves, maybe? They twinkled with internal light, bits of frigid blue and green, like ice chips in a cold northern sea. “Someone’s out there,” Ashes whispered. Origenes and Zubeida briefly blinked out of their trances. “What?” “Someone...” She trailed off. And they could see it now, too. The sunbeams wove back and forth over the sand, and striding just beyond them, as if stepping through curtains and veils of light, was a huge creature, about the same size as Ashes. Another dragon? Perhaps a Guardian? It was impossible to tell. Whatever it was, it moved unhurriedly, strolling between light and shadows as if it were in a park. Lightning flickered within the stray clouds that remained, and in that brief instant, they saw more lights, webs and blotches that shone upon the phantom crags and the great creature striding in their midst.... The vision disappeared gradually as the clouds burned away. It seemed to them that the creature simply strode into the light, taking the phantom city with it. The sun shone upon the explorers once more, and Origenes let out a rather shaky sigh. “Never seen anything like that before,” Zubeida admitted. She found herself saying that more and more often these days. “Was it another dragon?” Origenes asked. Ashes looked gravely at him, and she shrugged her wings. They trudged back to the cave. Zubeida remembered Origenes’ story from days before, about the phantom city and the beast. Other dragons had seen it, told the same story—but something about it hadn’t sat right with her. The sightings were all [i]recent[/i]. They had started only a few years ago; prior to that people had only reported the usual mirages, desert spirits, and so on. Something this huge and distinctive—why were reports of it surfacing only recently? They’d actually thought it was just a hoax or mirage, but they’d just had a sighting of their own, too. It had vanished like a mirage, but mirages were never consistent—not with that level of detail. [i]“If the sightings all started recently, then it must be because something recently changed...or arrived...in this area. Nothing’s changed here in recent times. Except...”[/i] Zubedia recalled with a shiver how the continent had been rocked by magical anomalies, bursts of magic the dragons now called the [i]Bounty of the Elements[/i]. This part of the desert seemed unchanged, but only on the surface—what if something had been disturbed, deep below the ground? Deep underneath the sand...or perhaps there was something else involved, something they couldn’t perceive, let alone understand... “Origenes?” “Yes, Zubeida?” It was nightfall, and Origenes was preparing to cook their dinner again. Zubeida said to him, “Earlier you were talking about how floods might sweep away evidence of old civilizations, right? There might be lost artifacts from Sornieth that are now across the sea....” “Yes, that’s right.” “What if the reverse is true? Maybe there are other lands out there....Is it possible for their artifacts to get swept here instead? Their...anomalies?” Origenes looked gravely at her. “You know, that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t quite thought about it that way. With the Bounty of the Elements shaking things up, I suppose it’d be possible. Hmm. We’re all talking about how the Bounty’s affected Sornieth, but you’re right; it might’ve had repercussions on other lands, too. Lands we don’t know about...beyond the sea...maybe even beyond the world.” The fire was burning nicely now, but Zubeida still shivered. “Beyond the [i]world[/i]?” “Beyond the stars, or beyond reality...Who knows?” Origenes placed the lid on the pot, and while waiting, he took out his journal, prepared to write about what he had seen. He had made a sketch of the phantom city and the beast earlier, though the beast’s head was conspicuously absent, just a wash of vague, dark colors. Zubeida thought it was a little sad: All those anomalies and cryptids, whether from Sornieth or beyond, being chased or whispered about just because of how strange they were. Did they get tired sometimes? Did they just want to settle down and find a home? [i]“But then it’s possible”,[/i] another part of her whispered, [i]“that some of them enjoy it, too. It’s not the thrill of being chased, but of being ahead of the pack, ahead of all speculation, and knowing that it’s yours to feed and fan or dispel whenever you please. Maybe it’s the thrill of wandering, and knowing that there are others who are on the same journey as you, just travelers without a destination. Maybe to them it’s an adventure, a chance to discover a new land; maybe we’re the anomalies and they want to chase us, too.”[/i] She was used to being the hunter, but strangely enough, the thought of being chased by something made her feel a bit good. She thought back to Origenes’ story, some days before.... [i]“Ancient civilizations raised their cities here, in this desert,” he said, waving at the sand. “They were said to be far more advanced than we are, putting our magic to shame. But as these things go, competition developed between the thriving states, till there was war and they were all fighting one other, tearing those sparkling buildings down. In their mad race for power, they began to wipe each other out, extinguishing their people and the civilizations they’d worked so hard to raise. Hard on the heels of war came famine and disease, and while there were those who survived the battles, they soon fell prey to these slower deaths. “Nobody knows if they were dragons. They could have been forerunners of the Beastclans or something else entirely. There are no depictions of them, and as you can see, none of their cities remain. The ruins stood for but a few moons, till a flood came and wiped the whole land clean. “Only traces have been found—enough to fuel speculation. Bits of odd black rock and materials, devices that contain fragments of data. Whispers, echoes, voices heard just after a storm. And, of course, the sightings. Now, the question is, who or what is it they see?” Origenes poured a handful of sand onto the stone before him. His runes glittered darkly upon his sides, and the bits of iron in the sand rose and shifted, forming miniature buildings and grid-like roads. Zubeida and Ashes leaned closer, watching the Pearlcatcher’s musings come to life. “They say one of those people survived, and that up until the end, she stayed with her city. Some say she cursed the place because of the wars that had devastated it. Others said that she stood there in triumph, for she remained standing while the city and all others had fallen. Whatever the reason, she was the last of her people, and remained alive while all around her turned to destruction and dust.” The sand buildings collapsed, and a desert wind blew them away. Origenes watched them go, and he concluded, “That is why, regardless of what investigators believe her to be, she is always called[/i] Last the Undestroyed[i].”[/i] If that was her...or it...or him...Zubeida somehow didn’t doubt that they were all right. Mirage or spirit, demon or beast—the desert seemed to be their home now; they hid between light and darkness as easily as bandits vanishing into the shadows. Showing just enough of themselves to fuel speculation, maybe a bit of fear, but not enough to conjure an explanation. Thus the mystery would endure. Timeless...and undestroyed.[/color] [right][font=Copperplate Gothic Light][color=#75A8FF][size=5][b]~ The End[/b][/color][/size][/font][/right] [columns][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/qnc/2508316/1][img]https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/230703094357295106/479361604928929823/ff18_writing.gif[/img][/url][color=transparent]..[/color][nextcol][color=#9494A9][b]Note:[/b] This story was originally written for and submitted to [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/qnc/2508316/1]The Historian's Collection[/url] writing contest, where it won second prize ("Changes in Sornieth" prompt).[/color][/size][/columns] ----- [center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/33#post_37953539]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953563]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center]
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.. legends of the undestroyed
written by Disillusionist
2,779 words
Origenes never went exploring with an itinerary in mind. What he had instead were fragments: sketches and stories, a pamphlet hastily copied from larger tomes, perhaps a tiny artifact or two. What they all had in common was this: They were pieces of bygone ages and civilizations, or were purported to be, and Origenes wished to determine for himself that these eras and places had once existed.

His interests were personal rather than financial, with dashes of adventure and science thrown in. If someone told him a story about encountering an archaeological mystery, he would decide he wanted to have the same experience. If he could find and bring back physical proof of that mystery, so much the better, but he would be satisfied with an encounter of his own as well.

He often hired companions, guides and guards and the like, but more often than not it was just him; his Guardian and mate, Ashes; and their friend, Zubeida the Raptorik. Ashes was perpetually stoic and content to accompany him wherever he went; Zubeida was more outspoken and inquisitive. Today, as they settled down to camp for the night, she demanded, “What’re we doing out here in this gods-forsaken wasteland, Origenes? It’s outrageously hot, and this sand keeps getting everywhere.” She flicked her ears, shaking off dust and dirt. “It does wonders chasing away parasites, but personally I prefer oil and a comb.”

Origenes laughed gently. “Settle down, Zubeida. We’re looking for an ancient city, remember?”

“We’re always looking for ancient cities. I swear, the way you keep on jabbering about them, I’m absolutely flabbergasted Sornieth isn’t just crawling with ancient cities. Buildings upon buildings, stacked on top of each other.” She clicked her beak irritably.

“I can remind you, if you’d like,” Origenes suggested. He poured servings of food into her and Ashes’ bowls before taking some for himself. As they settled around the fire, the Pearlcatcher adjusted his cloak and looked out across the dunes. They were encamped atop a promontory of rock that lifted them above the ground, but even then, there was only sand as far as the eye could see.

“You might’ve noticed it’s a lot cooler than usual. The heat is less biting, don’t you think?”

“It’s still biting pretty hard!” But Zubeida shrugged and admitted, “Still, it seems more...humid, I think? Is rain approaching?”

“I believe so. We are quite near the sea. Now, I don’t know all the details,” and Origenes sighed, “but then, I suppose no one ever does. Anyway, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been chasing stormclouds, going to where the sky is darkest. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with them on foot, but it can be done. And it’s when you’re down there, closer to the ground, that the city becomes visible. It’s said that many eons ago, the Shifting Expanse was not covered by dunes. It was instead a flat plain that was much easier to traverse and build upon, and so an ancient civilization raised its cities here...”


icemid2.png

Days later, Zubeida gave Origenes’ story more thought. She often dismissed his tales as fanciful ramblings—she accompanied him for the excitement and adventure of traveling, and the chance to accrue wealth besides. But this time, Origenes’ enthusiasm was contagious. And besides, their surroundings invoked the story he’d told them atop the promontory....

Zubeida looked around warily. Tall crags of rocks thrust up from the sand, looming on either side. It was one of those rare days when the sun was obscured by clouds, and in the wan light, the crags gleamed with a dull black sheen. There was no wind, but it was unusually cool. She turned up her collar and puffed up her feathers in an effort to stay warm.

“Are we going to camp here?” Ashes inquired. She didn’t look too pleased about their surroundings. Origenes said, “I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of good places to shelter, but...bandits, you know. Or monsters. We might get ambushed out here.”

Zubeida privately agreed. Any of those crags looked like good places to launch an ambush from. She held her bolas in one hand; the other rested on her knife hilt as she and the dragons wove between the rocks. Origenes was no longer animated, but quiet, wary, and Zubeida and Ashes both remained on tenterhooks. Ears and eyes wide open, all senses alert...

When they heard the earth-shattering boom, Zubeida instinctively took to the air. Ashes spread her frills. “What is that?!”

“It’s just thunder.” And then they heard the rumble that followed. Longer than thunder—and perhaps even mightier. Origenes turned. “Zubeida, get down—it’s a storm. It’s beginning to rain!”

They needed to find shelter—the rocks could be struck by lightning, and if it rained hard and fast enough, they could get caught in a flash flood. Zubeida would be in trouble, and Origenes, with his magnetic abilities, would attract electricity.

Origenes was already unfolding his cloak. It doubled in size, and he draped it over himself so that he was completely covered in a thin rubber mantle. Ashes picked him up, and Zubeida clung to the Guardian's scales as she turned and galloped back the way they’d come. They’d found a cave in the crags earlier and had marked it in case of incidents such as this. It’d be a good place to ride out the storm.

The rumbling continued—not from behind them, but from before them. “Look out!” Zubeida squawked as a wall of gray water came thundering around the bend. Origenes gasped, and Ashes roared as the water smashed into her chest, briefly sweeping her feet out from beneath her. The Guardian clenched her teeth and managed to stand, and she forged grimly ahead, leaning against the rocky wall at her side. The rain was coming down so thickly it was nearly solid, almost impossible to breathe. The world had vanished into a mass of rushing silver water, and the crags were murky shapes looming vaguely on either side.

Ashes’ shoulder slipped: she had found the cave. She waded inside, and as the ground sloped up, Origenes and Zubeida jumped down. They turned and watched the water lapping after them, while it rushed in a stream just outside.

“That’s quite a storm,” Origenes muttered. He took off his rubberized mantle and draped it over a nearby rock. Zubeida started to strip off her vest and tunic so she could dry out her feathers, and Ashes simply hunkered down to rest. Origenes went to snuggle against her while the Raptorik got to work building a fire with the spells they had.

The storm passed quickly—storms always did, out here in the desert. But they were thorough, “As thorough as wind,” Origenes explained to his companions later on. He was telling stories again, coaxing them through the boredom of waiting. “Much is made of the wind erasing footprints from the desert, but rain does that, too. It washes away scents, obscures any signs left behind; if there is a river nearby, the floods might carry any evidence there, and thence into the sea. They could then wash up on islands we’ve yet to discover....Who knows?”

“Do you have any plans of exploring lands across the sea?” Zubeida asked, and immediately wanted to kick herself for it. She had a brief vision of herself huddled aboard a fish-stinking ship, sailing into unknown waters while Origenes chattered about other lost cities beyond Sornieth.

To her relief, the Pearlcatcher laughed and shook his head. “Sornieth is already more than enough for me, Zubeida. It might become a possibility in the future...but for now, I’m quite content with our homeland and the wonders it holds.”

“The rain has stopped,” Ashes reported laconically. Origenes perked up. “Ah, and about time, too. Well, ladies, we’ll dry out better where the sun shines. Shall we go?”

The sun remained behind the clouds, and the ground was still very mucky, but that didn’t stop Origenes. He glided ahead, looking quite sure of himself; his magnetic properties also helped him stay oriented, so despite it being cloudy, he still knew which way was north. Ashes and Zubeida trailed after him.

They came out from among the crags and found themselves looking at another open expanse of desert. Zubeida frowned. “It’s quite late in the day. I don’t think we should try to cross that. Let’s just go back and spend the night in that cave.”

“You’re right, Zubeida. Anyway, I—” Origenes broke off. As he’d turned away from the desert, something had caught his eyes. Ashes and Zubeida noticed it too. They quieted down, and as one they peered across the expanse, trying to make sense of what they were seeing.

The sun was beginning to burn through the clouds. As it did, it put down pillars of pale gold light, which stalked across the desert sand like the legs of a mighty colossus. Between those pillars lay utter blackness.

And there were shapes in the blackness: angles, sharp edges...Phantom crags, taller and straighter than the ones behind them, rose from the ash-colored sand. The distance was so great that it was difficult to make out details, but they seemed to shimmer—heatwaves, maybe? They twinkled with internal light, bits of frigid blue and green, like ice chips in a cold northern sea.

“Someone’s out there,” Ashes whispered. Origenes and Zubeida briefly blinked out of their trances. “What?”

“Someone...” She trailed off. And they could see it now, too. The sunbeams wove back and forth over the sand, and striding just beyond them, as if stepping through curtains and veils of light, was a huge creature, about the same size as Ashes. Another dragon? Perhaps a Guardian? It was impossible to tell. Whatever it was, it moved unhurriedly, strolling between light and shadows as if it were in a park. Lightning flickered within the stray clouds that remained, and in that brief instant, they saw more lights, webs and blotches that shone upon the phantom crags and the great creature striding in their midst....

The vision disappeared gradually as the clouds burned away. It seemed to them that the creature simply strode into the light, taking the phantom city with it. The sun shone upon the explorers once more, and Origenes let out a rather shaky sigh.

“Never seen anything like that before,” Zubeida admitted. She found herself saying that more and more often these days.

“Was it another dragon?” Origenes asked. Ashes looked gravely at him, and she shrugged her wings.

They trudged back to the cave. Zubeida remembered Origenes’ story from days before, about the phantom city and the beast. Other dragons had seen it, told the same story—but something about it hadn’t sat right with her.

The sightings were all recent. They had started only a few years ago; prior to that people had only reported the usual mirages, desert spirits, and so on. Something this huge and distinctive—why were reports of it surfacing only recently? They’d actually thought it was just a hoax or mirage, but they’d just had a sighting of their own, too. It had vanished like a mirage, but mirages were never consistent—not with that level of detail.

“If the sightings all started recently, then it must be because something recently changed...or arrived...in this area. Nothing’s changed here in recent times. Except...” Zubedia recalled with a shiver how the continent had been rocked by magical anomalies, bursts of magic the dragons now called the Bounty of the Elements. This part of the desert seemed unchanged, but only on the surface—what if something had been disturbed, deep below the ground? Deep underneath the sand...or perhaps there was something else involved, something they couldn’t perceive, let alone understand...

“Origenes?”

“Yes, Zubeida?” It was nightfall, and Origenes was preparing to cook their dinner again. Zubeida said to him, “Earlier you were talking about how floods might sweep away evidence of old civilizations, right? There might be lost artifacts from Sornieth that are now across the sea....”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“What if the reverse is true? Maybe there are other lands out there....Is it possible for their artifacts to get swept here instead? Their...anomalies?”

Origenes looked gravely at her. “You know, that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t quite thought about it that way. With the Bounty of the Elements shaking things up, I suppose it’d be possible. Hmm. We’re all talking about how the Bounty’s affected Sornieth, but you’re right; it might’ve had repercussions on other lands, too. Lands we don’t know about...beyond the sea...maybe even beyond the world.”

The fire was burning nicely now, but Zubeida still shivered. “Beyond the world?”

“Beyond the stars, or beyond reality...Who knows?” Origenes placed the lid on the pot, and while waiting, he took out his journal, prepared to write about what he had seen. He had made a sketch of the phantom city and the beast earlier, though the beast’s head was conspicuously absent, just a wash of vague, dark colors.

Zubeida thought it was a little sad: All those anomalies and cryptids, whether from Sornieth or beyond, being chased or whispered about just because of how strange they were. Did they get tired sometimes? Did they just want to settle down and find a home?

“But then it’s possible”, another part of her whispered, “that some of them enjoy it, too. It’s not the thrill of being chased, but of being ahead of the pack, ahead of all speculation, and knowing that it’s yours to feed and fan or dispel whenever you please. Maybe it’s the thrill of wandering, and knowing that there are others who are on the same journey as you, just travelers without a destination. Maybe to them it’s an adventure, a chance to discover a new land; maybe we’re the anomalies and they want to chase us, too.”

She was used to being the hunter, but strangely enough, the thought of being chased by something made her feel a bit good. She thought back to Origenes’ story, some days before....

“Ancient civilizations raised their cities here, in this desert,” he said, waving at the sand. “They were said to be far more advanced than we are, putting our magic to shame. But as these things go, competition developed between the thriving states, till there was war and they were all fighting one other, tearing those sparkling buildings down. In their mad race for power, they began to wipe each other out, extinguishing their people and the civilizations they’d worked so hard to raise. Hard on the heels of war came famine and disease, and while there were those who survived the battles, they soon fell prey to these slower deaths.

“Nobody knows if they were dragons. They could have been forerunners of the Beastclans or something else entirely. There are no depictions of them, and as you can see, none of their cities remain. The ruins stood for but a few moons, till a flood came and wiped the whole land clean.

“Only traces have been found—enough to fuel speculation. Bits of odd black rock and materials, devices that contain fragments of data. Whispers, echoes, voices heard just after a storm. And, of course, the sightings. Now, the question is, who or what is it they see?” Origenes poured a handful of sand onto the stone before him. His runes glittered darkly upon his sides, and the bits of iron in the sand rose and shifted, forming miniature buildings and grid-like roads. Zubeida and Ashes leaned closer, watching the Pearlcatcher’s musings come to life.

“They say one of those people survived, and that up until the end, she stayed with her city. Some say she cursed the place because of the wars that had devastated it. Others said that she stood there in triumph, for she remained standing while the city and all others had fallen. Whatever the reason, she was the last of her people, and remained alive while all around her turned to destruction and dust.” The sand buildings collapsed, and a desert wind blew them away. Origenes watched them go, and he concluded, “That is why, regardless of what investigators believe her to be, she is always called
Last the Undestroyed.”

If that was her...or it...or him...Zubeida somehow didn’t doubt that they were all right. Mirage or spirit, demon or beast—the desert seemed to be their home now; they hid between light and darkness as easily as bandits vanishing into the shadows. Showing just enough of themselves to fuel speculation, maybe a bit of fear, but not enough to conjure an explanation. Thus the mystery would endure. Timeless...and undestroyed.


~ The End
ff18_writing.gif.. Note: This story was originally written for and submitted to The Historian's Collection writing contest, where it won second prize ("Changes in Sornieth" prompt).

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[center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953563]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953582]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center] ----- [right][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47576623][img]http://flightrising.com/rendern/coliseum/portraits/475767/47576623.png[/img][/url] [size=2][color=#9494A9][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47576623]profile[/url] • back to[/color] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953572]main post[/url][/right] [columns][center][item=leopard coralclimber toxin][/center][nextcol][color=transparent]..[/color][nextcol][color=#8B272D][font=garamond][size=7][size=4]{ a story for coral }[/size][/size][/font][/color] [size=2]written by Disillusionist [color=#9494A9]687 words[/color][/size][/columns] [color=#005F49][i]Coral[/i] was as good a name as any. It was what had sheltered her egg, shielding it from the battering waves; and as she’d grown, it had given her grottos to rest in and corridors to dance through, gardens and forests that gave her sustenance. The corals sheltered her, and after she’d come into her inheritance she had taken it upon herself to shelter them. She was safe inside her fortress of living stone....But it was hard not to feel sympathy for those myriad beings that floated past like flowers on the wind. Coral’s home sat like a great knot amidst a winding network of currents and tides. It wasn’t uncommon for her to find poor, soft things flung by the sea against the walls of her reef. Many of them were already gone when they reached her, their flesh and fins ripped to tatters. Others, however, still clung tenaciously to life. Their hearts fluttered against her great fingers, thrumming a tattoo of words: [i]Save me, save me, save me...[/i] A reef welcomes all that seek shelter within it. Indeed, something would have to be done.[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/2360rrbawqe4flt/lightningmid.png[/img][/url] [color=#005F49]The [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=36130890]Spiral[/url] cast a long, twisted shadow over the reef. Coral’s first thought was that he was swimming; so gracefully did he rock within the swell of the waves. And then she saw his eyes: golden...but glassy and glazed. His face was bereft of expression or thought. She plucked him out of the current with a delicate touch. He draped limply over her fingers: [i]Save me, save me, save me...[/i] A fire awakened within Coral. It did more than sharpen her focus: The coral reef’s gift, distilled by generations of breeding and magic, thundered through her veins. Without such a potent serum, life beneath the waves might have been unbearable. Coral had heard stories of land-bound savages who took hours to dispatch their quarry. But the reef’s gift made it so that death came swiftly, mercifully, to her prey. A brush of her venom-filled fangs — that was all it took. But Coral had learned a way to make the gift bestow [i]life[/i]. The Spiral and his prayer fluttered in her left paw. She lifted her right, pressed it to her heart. It thundered in response to that primal cry: [i]I will, I will, I will...[/i] The liquid that passed over her heart brightened to orange, and then to gold. Its brilliance filled the water. The ocean creatures, spying it, did not flee; instead, they turned to stare. They watched the Guardian arch her neck, and life-liquid gleamed on the tips of her fangs before sinking onto the Spiral’s tongue. Life-liquid, not venom — not as red as blood or death, but gold like the dawn, like the Spiral’s brightening eyes. Coral clasped him close as she swam, and swam, and swam. The shore was some distance away, but she made it. The waves carried him in. He washed up on the glistening sand, and by the time she left him, he was already stirring, blinking in befuddlement. Soaked and weary — but alive. She hoped he would be safe. All the creatures she had saved so far had belonged to the sea, and it had whisked them away again. But this dragon belonged to the land and the sky, and she could only hope he once again found a place among them. As for her, she already had her place in the ocean’s embrace. She returned to her nest of polyps and lime, where the fish clustered about her in rainbow shards and the seaweeds wove their strange dances. It was rare to find land-dwellers here, but if any of them were ever sent her way again, she would pluck them out of the current and listen to their prayers. Some she would not be able to answer; for all her power, she was only a Guardian of the reef and could not cure all ills. But perhaps she would hear that whisper from the heart again — [i]Save me, save me, save me...[/i] And the gift of life would answer, [i]I will[/i].[/color] [right][font=Copperplate Gothic Light][color=#8B272D][size=5][b]~ The End[/b][/color][/size][/font][/right] ----- [center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953563]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953582]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center]
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.. { a story for coral }
written by Disillusionist
687 words
Coral was as good a name as any. It was what had sheltered her egg, shielding it from the battering waves; and as she’d grown, it had given her grottos to rest in and corridors to dance through, gardens and forests that gave her sustenance. The corals sheltered her, and after she’d come into her inheritance she had taken it upon herself to shelter them.

She was safe inside her fortress of living stone....But it was hard not to feel sympathy for those myriad beings that floated past like flowers on the wind. Coral’s home sat like a great knot amidst a winding network of currents and tides. It wasn’t uncommon for her to find poor, soft things flung by the sea against the walls of her reef. Many of them were already gone when they reached her, their flesh and fins ripped to tatters. Others, however, still clung tenaciously to life. Their hearts fluttered against her great fingers, thrumming a tattoo of words: Save me, save me, save me...

A reef welcomes all that seek shelter within it. Indeed, something would have to be done.


lightningmid.png

The Spiral cast a long, twisted shadow over the reef. Coral’s first thought was that he was swimming; so gracefully did he rock within the swell of the waves. And then she saw his eyes: golden...but glassy and glazed. His face was bereft of expression or thought.

She plucked him out of the current with a delicate touch. He draped limply over her fingers: Save me, save me, save me...

A fire awakened within Coral. It did more than sharpen her focus: The coral reef’s gift, distilled by generations of breeding and magic, thundered through her veins. Without such a potent serum, life beneath the waves might have been unbearable. Coral had heard stories of land-bound savages who took hours to dispatch their quarry. But the reef’s gift made it so that death came swiftly, mercifully, to her prey. A brush of her venom-filled fangs — that was all it took. But Coral had learned a way to make the gift bestow life.

The Spiral and his prayer fluttered in her left paw. She lifted her right, pressed it to her heart. It thundered in response to that primal cry: I will, I will, I will...

The liquid that passed over her heart brightened to orange, and then to gold. Its brilliance filled the water. The ocean creatures, spying it, did not flee; instead, they turned to stare. They watched the Guardian arch her neck, and life-liquid gleamed on the tips of her fangs before sinking onto the Spiral’s tongue. Life-liquid, not venom — not as red as blood or death, but gold like the dawn, like the Spiral’s brightening eyes.

Coral clasped him close as she swam, and swam, and swam.

The shore was some distance away, but she made it. The waves carried him in. He washed up on the glistening sand, and by the time she left him, he was already stirring, blinking in befuddlement. Soaked and weary — but alive.

She hoped he would be safe. All the creatures she had saved so far had belonged to the sea, and it had whisked them away again. But this dragon belonged to the land and the sky, and she could only hope he once again found a place among them.

As for her, she already had her place in the ocean’s embrace. She returned to her nest of polyps and lime, where the fish clustered about her in rainbow shards and the seaweeds wove their strange dances. It was rare to find land-dwellers here, but if any of them were ever sent her way again, she would pluck them out of the current and listen to their prayers. Some she would not be able to answer; for all her power, she was only a Guardian of the reef and could not cure all ills. But perhaps she would hear that whisper from the heart again — Save me, save me, save me...

And the gift of life would answer, I will.


~ The End

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[center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953582]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=NEXT]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center] ----- [right][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47957929][img]http://flightrising.com/rendern/coliseum/portraits/479580/47957929.png[/img][/url] [size=2][color=#9494A9][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47957929]profile[/url] • back to[/color] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953588]main post[/url][/right] [columns][center][item=dandelion seeds][/center][nextcol][color=transparent]..[/color][nextcol][color=#CD000F][font=garamond][size=7][size=4][b]moonlighting[/b][/size][/size][/font][/color] [size=2]written by Disillusionist special thanks to Barrdwing [color=#9494A9]5,111 words[/color][/size][/columns] [color=#863290]"Perhaps you would like a vacation in the Viridian Labyrinth, ma'ams? The Everbloom Gardens are warm and fragrant this time of year." The Skydancer unfolded the brochure, and she and her mate bent close together, whispering and giggling. Across from them, Tobias slumped down slightly behind his desk. He allowed his smile to slip off his face, and for a moment, he relaxed. [i]"Play it safe,"[/i] he warned himself. By carefully interviewing his new clanmates, he'd learned that the most popular destinations for honeymoons were the Viridian Labyrinth, the Sea of a Thousand Currents, and Windswept Plateau. He made a mental note to ask around further; it had been a long time since anyone in the clan had gotten married, so perhaps travel trends had changed since then. He'd heard that the Starfall Isles were gaining traction as a vacation spot... "We'll think about it. Can we come back next week?" the Coatl asked. "Of course." Tobias had to work hard to keep his face in a pleasantly neutral expression -- business had been slow as of late. [i]"Don't be disappointed, and [/i]never[i] look too needy...."[/i] As the door clicked shut behind the pair, he breathed a sigh that was equal parts disappointment and relief. He fluttered out from behind his desk and picked up the teacups they'd left behind. [i]"It would've been easier if they'd drunk everything,"[/i] he thought. He fluttered into the back room, where he kept his ingredients, and poured the tea carefully down the drain. He couldn't help looking into the cups; because they hadn't drunk everything down, the signs were only half-formed. That could've been a flower...or maybe it was a star.... [i]"Starfall Isles?"[/i] He was tempted to puzzle things out further, but there was no use crying over spilled milk -- or tea, as it were. The rest of the morning passed quickly. There were no more customers. The lunchtime chime rang out, followed by an announcement: "To all customers, please note that the lunch hour is beginning, and many offices may be closed." Tobias was already flipping his office sign to [i]Closed[/i], and he was out in the great hall before the [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=47183700]Dispatch Officer[/url] finished her daily announcement. It wasn't a pre-recorded message but a live one, stated every day on the dot. Tobias wondered how she managed to sound so [i]perky[/i] all the time. Around Tobias, doors opened and closed -- many Disillusionists and outsourced employees took their lunches at this hour. Some of them flew to out-of-lair venues, but the vast majority of Tobias' lairmates streamed towards the south. He joined them -- they could eat inside the main lair, though many of them preferred to congregate around the east entrance of the [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=28592608]Crispy Phoenix[/url], where the Bamboo Grove grew. On his way out, he noticed a knot of dragons. Some of the newer clerks, by the look of it, unsure where to go or what to do. They whispered uncertainly among themselves as the other dragons streamed past. Tobias approached them. "Hey, uh...D'you need help?" They hesitated for a moment, seeming a bit embarrassed. One of them ventured, "We started working here yesterday. We heard there was a restaurant...?" "Oh! You must mean the Crispy Phoenix. Follow me; it's right this way....It's better if we use the Bamboo Grove, but it's a bit hard to find...." The clerks trailed along behind him. They were once again chattering brightly, at ease and assured. Tobias envied them. They relaxed so quickly; [i]he[/i], on the other hand, had been on the move since before he was born.[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#B23B07]It sounded like a strange thing to say, but it was accurate, once one knew the whole story. His egg had been left in a treasure cache that'd belonged to some unscrupulous Corven. The centaurs who'd chased them off maintained good relations with dragonkind, and they immediately recognized the egg for what it was. They brought it back to their matriarch. "Shall we hatch it?" they asked. They didn't seem to be looking forward to the prospect. The egg was quite big, and it'd taken them much time and effort to lug it safely back to their home. Matriarch Cepheid considered it carefully. Her children inched forward and peered at the egg. One of them poked it curiously with a stick. "It would probably be better if we took it back to its homeland," she mused, "but it is a Nocturne, and the eggshell's so thick we can't tell where it's from....Diana, stop tapping it; you'll hurt the baby." "I wasn't hurting it. It tapped back!" The young foal guiltily snatched back the stick. She was about to tell her mother that she thought the egg would hatch soon, but the matriarch was speaking again: "Our best bet, I believe, would be to take it back to Crystalcourt and put out word from there. It will be easier to get into contact with dragon clans or find a home for this young one. But for now, it shall be in our care." The centaurs nodded. They had dwelled in Dragonhome for many centuries and they knew its dragons well. They would be able to care for the egg; after all, it wasn't as if dragon eggs [i]did[/i] anything much. They constructed a cart, which they lined with fabric and soft leaves, and then they placed the egg inside and drew a blanket over it. They could take turns drawing the cart, and it was a very well-made device; they expected it to hold up for many months, for Crystalcourt was far away. Imagine their surprise, then, when the egg split open with a thunderous [i]crack![/i] only a few days later. "It hatched!" they screamed, and the whole herd doubled back to look at this strange new miracle. The centaur drawing the cart sighed and stamped his feet as the others lifted away the blanket. A little Nocturne baby lay amidst the broken shell. It cleared more yolk from its face with its wings and let out a plaintive peep. The centaurs awww'd. "It's adorable!" many of them gushed. Little Diana muttered, "I [i]told[/i] you it'd hatch soon." Cepheid let out a soft gasp. "Goodness, it has Shadow eyes!" The herd looked at her, not understanding her consternation. The hatchling peeped again. The matriarch explained, "This egg was laid in the Tangled Wood, and we are in Dragonhome -- it's much too far away!" "Poor thing; it's come so far. How ever shall we get it back?" "We don't," Cepheid sighed, "Not within this month, at least. We're too far from the Tangled Wood -- Crystalcourt is closer, so we'll hold our course. In the meantime..." They all looked back at the hatchling. It was teetering on its hind legs now, leaning against the side of the cart. Diana was feeding it dried jerky. It gulped down some meat, and she laughed and chided it, "You greedy thing!" "Greedy thing, greedy thing," the hatchling chirrupped, like a parrot. It nuzzled Diana's hand, hoping to win more food from her. [i]"I suppose it'll be all right,"[/i] thought Matriarch Cepheid -- and that was how a Nocturne became part of the centaur herd.[/color] [center][url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/6kg6r3b1h333p6k/arcanemidsmall.png[/img][/url][/center] [color=#B23B07]Life with a hatchling wasn't as difficult as the centaurs feared it would be. They named him [i]Tobias[/i] after a bygone patriarch, and they reared him alongside their own foals. It might have been more trying had Tobias been some other breed, but he was a Nocturne, and like most of them he instinctively mimicked his herdmates. He ate the same things they did, for example (though he didn't like some of these much), and since he often imitated their body language, they found it easy to understand his moods. About the only thing they struggled with was his size. While Nocturnes are a small breed, they're still much larger than centaurs, and dragon hatchlings grow very fast. Tobias' cart, optimistically projected to last for decades, smashed apart under his weight after only a few months. He crawled out from under the wreckage to find his pilot unhooking the harness he was wearing. "That's it, we're through! We're not building another cart just so you--" "Time to walk, little one," came Cepheid's cool voice. It cut through the pilot's whining like a knife, and Tobias promptly shook off the splinters and skittered after the rest of the herd in a weird, stuttering gallop that used all six of his limbs. Tobias was some weeks old when his magic began manifesting. While on the move, the centaurs mostly lived off the land, making food and drinks from what they could gather. Among these were teas brewed from various leaves. Cepheid was very fond of these; they did much to ease her headaches. But it was inconvenient to have to sieve out the dregs sometimes. She was frowning down into her cup one day. Only a thin film of liquid remained; the rest was just clumps of soggy dark leaves. Tobias came up behind her, twisting his neck to peer over her shoulder. "Dark. It is so dark. Much water." He blinked brightly at her. "It will rain!" Cepheid blinked back. "I...suppose it might." She tilted her cup to look into it. The tea clumps did sort of look like clouds, though there wasn't much "water" left, and...then it hit her. She squinted suspiciously at the sky. It was blue and clear, but these plains bred strange weather at this time of year, and dragons [i]did[/i] develop strange abilities sometimes.... [i]"I suppose tea leaf-reading isn't that exotic, when one thinks about it. It's a lot more helpful than, say, setting various things on fire,"[/i] she thought later, as she directed her herd to higher ground. There was a cave up there, a communal shelter used by whoever happened to be passing by. Later, as the sky darkened and sheets of rain splashed down, she brewed more tea while the clan's children watched curiously. She spent the rest of the day testing Tobias, asking him about the pictures he could see in the leaves. The foals were a big help, taking turns chugging down cups of tea; some of the adults joined in, too. As the centaurs continued their journey, they met other dragons. Tobias was encouraged to talk with these travelers, and they, too, were curious about his abilities. Tasseography can be used to learn many things, but a curious thing about Tobias' second sight was that it seemed to be focused on places: Rather than discuss a drinker's future, he was able to talk about places they ought to go to. A hot spring for tired muscles, perhaps, or a school where they could learn certain spells... There's also one other limit to tasseography: the diviner can't interpret their own future. "Is this the place I...need?" young Tobias asked one day. It was morning, and the herd was standing on the crest of a hill. Ahead, frequented by friendly Beastclans and dragons alike, lay Crystalcourt. Cepheid patted his haunch. "Yes. There, you will find other dragons. A place among your own kind -- that's what you really need."[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#863290]Outside the back of the restaurant, Tobias unfolded Diana's letter. It'd arrived at the lair this morning; perhaps it was why he was a little bit spaced-out. [i]Dear Tobias,[/i] she'd written, [i]I am nearly finished with my studies. I will qualify as a diplomat soon! If at all possible, I would like to work with your clan. Are they accepting centaurs? At the very least, I would love to visit and meet your clanmates.[/i] He missed his adoptive sister, but he hadn't been here that long. He would feel so presumptuous, asking the [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=26546969]Beastclan Ambassador[/url] to hire her. He wasn't even sure if they [i]were[/i] hiring. Should he tell her that? [i]Could[/i] he tell her that? And furthermore... [i]Dear Diana, actually I haven't really settled in; work is so hard and everything is just so fast-paced. I'm kind of regretting signing up....Maybe I should've applied somewhere in the countryside.[/i] "What'll it be today, Tobias?" "Mmh?" Tobias looked up at the Skydancer. "Oh, hey, [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=40627252]Bel[/url]. I'll have the, uh..." The letter went down, folded and slipped into a belt pouch. He picked up the menu Jezebel offered instead. "Um, I'll take the Hardshell Poppers." "Anything to drink?" "Just water, thanks." As Jezebel fluttered off, Tobias sighed and laid his chin on the table. He was already tired, and noontime hadn't even run its course yet. He wondered if he ought to just take the rest of the day off, maybe grab a nap back in his den. He was giving serious thought to writing back to Diana. If she was still in Crystalcourt by the time his letter reached her, she could ask around, find a new clan for him. Someplace less hectic. Quieter. Easier to deal with... "Is this seat taken?" "No, [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/dgen/dressing-room/dragon?did=44676429&skin=0&apparel=28799,22694,20559,1865,2318,9815,28802,24067&xt=dressing.png]Headmistress[/url], it's just me here." Tobias raised his head and managed a faint but genuine smile. The Wildclaw who sat down across from him was much older than he was, and though she was not, at present, handling classes, she still wore her scholastic robes and sashes. Tobias relaxed visibly. He'd been one of the many dragons who'd answered the Disillusionists' recruitment ad; few among those dragons, including him, had signed up to actually join the clan (instead of just leasing an office or getting a day job in the Commercial Wing). Headmistress Olympe had become part of the clan in a similar manner. She'd walked Tobias and other newbies through lair rules and protocol, and he had been astounded to find out that she'd joined up only shortly before he'd arrived. He envied her -- only a few months in and she was already comfortable. "Tough morning, I see." Olympe's words were noncommittal, but her gaze was sympathetic. "Yeah, business is slow." "The tasseography travels? Why, I thought you had a surefire gimmick to rake customers in! Rhaplanca was very impressed with your sales pitch." "Well, you see, I haven't been reading the tea leaves..." The sales pitch had worked better with an expectant audience. With the actual customers, not so much. On his first few days, Tobias had explained how his magic worked, pointing out the posters and charts tacked onto the agency walls. "Oh, but I'm not thirsty," various customers had politely objected. "I mean, it says 'travel agency' outside....I didn't think it was [i]absolutely necessary[/i] to drink tea. Can't you give travel advice without the leaves?" Yes, of course he could. He'd traveled a lot in his youth, hadn't he? (Except it was only in Dragonhome.) He'd received a respectable education in Crystalcourt, hadn't he? (Mostly having to do with basic draconian manners, since he [i]had[/i] been raised by [i]centaurs[/i].) "Certainly, Madam!" Tobias had plastered on a fake grin. "Let me get you a map..." And the tea had grown colder and the leaves had gone unread. Now, over lunch (Olympe had ordered her own food and was kindly sharing it with him), the Headmistress frowned and advised him, "You really should lean into your gimmick more, Tobias." "But it's so weird. No one else is doing it! Whoever heard of a dragon dishing out travel advice with [i]tea leaves[/i]?" "Nobody." And she shrugged and told him, "But that's why someone has to be the [i]first[/i]." "But...But..." So weird, [i]too[/i] weird. "I'll look like a fortune-teller at a tacky carnival. Nobody'll take me seriously!" "Fortune-tellers are taken very seriously, Tobias. But only if they take [i]themselves[/i] seriously." She arched an eyeridge. "No one will trust a tradesdrake who doesn't believe in his own trade. The sales pitch that got you hired -- how [i]did[/i] it go, anyway?" "Well..." The [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=43634405]Commercial Director[/url] had reminded him of his adoptive mother. She'd been stylishly dressed to the point of being scary, but even without that she was quite stern. The gaze she pinned him with, however, was not unkind, and her voice was cool, not cutting. "A little nervous? Relax, we're not here to eat you. So I have to drink this tea, right? What if I don't want to?" Not a challenge, just a question. It was one of the blends Tobias had brought from Dragonhome, too. Cepheid had mixed it for him. "It's [i]very[/i] good tea, ma'am. A Dunhoof matriarch prepared that specially for you." Rhaplanca had raised her eyeridges. "Really, now?" "Yes. It's had quite a long journey. The leaves were gathered from all over Dragonhome, and they've dried and aged nicely. They probably have as many stories to tell as the centaurs do." "I see." And Rhaplanca, playing along, had leaned forward. "How do we find those stories out, then?" "You drink the tea. Smell how nice it is! There's a hint of sweetgrass, and some sugary prickleaf...and now you've gotten a taste of Dragonhome! But maybe that's not the place for you. That's all right; everybody has their place in the world...." He'd taken the cup, softly describing the symbols and their meanings. Gears turning in motion, seeming almost to move beneath the thin liquid. But just turning in place, not traveling like wheels... "You're not going anywhere." "Excuse me?" "Uh, I mean, you don't need to go anywhere. I think you're very happy here, ma'am." The Commercial Director had broken into a peal of laughter, spreading her inky wings wide. And at that moment, Tobias knew he'd landed his first job.... Now, however, his own words tumbled through his head: "Everybody has their place in the world...." But on the other hand, he'd also said, "You're not going anywhere."[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#863290]Tobias returned to his agency. The Crispy Phoenix waiters, noting his despondence, had been especially nice to him, and one of them had pressed a package of tea leaves into his paw. "Compliments of the whole staff," she'd explained. The afternoon wore on. It didn't look like there'd be other customers, and Tobias began to get bored. He looked at the bags of tea, which he'd absently tossed onto his desk. It didn't look like any of the usual blends; the labels were rather hastily scrawled. That wasn't odd, since the clan brewer was always testing new mixtures. One label read, [i]Perk-up Blend! (Perky Pomegranate? Pomegranate Power? Pom-pom something?)[/i] It was probably an energizing blend....The other one read, [i]Soothing Blend (Soothing something? Sweet dreams? Dream draught? etc.)[/i] Other dragons might've been offended at being chosen as guinea pigs, but Tobias knew [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=35793310]Hesperides'[/url] teas were harmless. And hey, free drinks. He considered the "perk up" one, but decided against it -- why perk up when it didn't look like there'd be customers? Probably better to try the "soothing blend"; he would clock out in an hour and go straight to his den, where he could sleep, sleep, sleep. He brewed a cup for himself. He could finish it here, in the back room, before going back to the front of the agency. The tea in the cup dwindled as he drank and drank, and his eyelids began to droop. It really [i]was[/i] a soothing ble--[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#863290]Tobias awoke slowly, squinting through the darkness. With a slow gasp, he sat up. Nighttime. The last thing he recalled was drinking the tea and... [i]"Have I been drugged?"[/i] Nope, just a good, old-fashioned soothing drink. [i]Very[/i] soothing. He groaned and made a mental note to tell Hesperides about it. He opened the door and peered into the front of his office. It didn't look like anyone had come in; his clanmates had probably thought he'd left early for the day. It was about nine in the evening now -- he'd been asleep for around four hours. Tobias turned off the office lights and fluttered out into the hall. There would probably be guards around, but he wasn't afraid of them; he could just explain, show them Hesperides' tea. He poked his head out the entrance and squinted at the main lair. Much of the building was still lit; plenty of the Disillusionists stayed up well into the night. It would be awkward explaining things to them. It didn't seem like he was making a good impression on... What was [i]that[/i]? There -- approaching the building from the west: a strange shape. It moved furtively, slipping from shadow to shadow. Tobias squinted, his Shadow eyes piercing the darkness. There was...something off about it. The way it looked was... It stepped briefly into the moonlight, and a chill washed over him. Something was [i]wrong[/i] with the thing. Its skin rippled oddly, and there was a pale gleam...Was it bone? As the shape turned its head, he saw its eyes. They were impossibly huge, almost completely covering the sides of its head. Just pits of blackness, empty eyeholes... [i]"An undead!"[/i] he thought. Whatever it was, it had designs upon the main lair. He needed to prevent it from getting inside! Most undead were susceptible to fire, and there were plenty of lanterns hanging from the walls. He could douse it in flame, then fly off and scream for help....The flames would slow it down until the guards arrived. He grabbed a lantern, unhooking it from its chain. And then he flew low, gliding quickly through the shadows. He couldn't hide the light, however, and as he hefted the lantern, the shape turned.... The wide eyes grew even wider. "Tobias, stop, no, it's only me!" "HAAAAAAA[i]Urghlll[/i]!!" Tobias' yell twisted into a startled yelp as he braked to a halt. The undead...Wildclaw?...was backing away from him, claws held out fearfully. He recognized the shimmery sashes and robes. "H...Headmistress [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=44676429][i]Olympe[/i][/url]? W-What's happened to you? Your face is..." He swallowed. "...gnarly." "I got into some trouble when I was a youngster. I'll explain, but please, please don't let the others find out. I'll lose my job if they know!" "You will?" "Hallo...?" The ground shook -- one of the larger guards was approaching. Olympe skittered backwards beneath the shadow of an arbor just as [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=25629154]Auspice[/url] came around the side of the building. "Oh...It's you. Hey, Headmistress, where were you today? You were supposed to be back--" "I was delayed while running my errands." Olympe's voice, fortunately, remained unchanged. "And I fell asleep in my office," Tobias chimed in. His mind was racing.... "Uh, the Headmistress isn't feeling well. She thinks she might've caught a cold. Hesper gave me some tea and it's in my office; I'll give her some first." "Oh. OK. See you later." And Auspice ambled away, absolutely none the wiser. Olympe exhaled slowly. "I thought she could see better at night." "Her helmet probably needs maintenance." Tobias watched as the Headmistress draped her sashes over her head, forming a makeshift hood. "I wasn't lying about the tea, though. Let's go back....No one else is in there, so it should be OK."[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#863290]They had Hesperides' "Perk-Up Blend" to drink, and as they sat across from each other, Tobias snuck a surreptitious look at the Headmistress. The kindly old Wildclaw still retained her general shape, but her neck and face were...[i]gnarly[/i], as he'd said. Almost literally -- her skin was gone, and it was as if the bones within had been changed to glass and then heated in some great fire. They were black and gleaming and twisted into gnarled shapes, almost like interlocking tendrils of thorns; her face was a featureless plane of black, shiny bone. The huge eyeholes were dimly lit from within by pinpricks of icy light. Over the cups of tea, Olympe told her story: "I was born many years ago...centuries, in fact. I was apprenticed to an alchemist in the Southern Icefield. Like many researchers of that time, we were searching for a key to immortality." She grimaced briefly. "We found it." "So you are...immortal?" "Sort of." She shifted uneasily. "My body can be damaged, and if it becomes too weak, then I'll expire. But if I keep myself in shape, I suppose I'll exist indefinitely. There was some magic involved -- not just chemistry -- and while I appear normal in the daytime, a side effect of that botched formula is that the moon exerts its influence on my appearance. The stronger the moonlight, the more visible my, ahem, other shape becomes. I take special pains to hide it, but as you can see, that's not always possible." "How'd you get stuck out here?" "I visited another clan's library to borrow some books -- school will reopen soon, so I need to make sure our curriculum's updated. I was supposed to be back well before sundown, but the cart I'd hired broke down. I knew that if I waited for the repair crew, I'd get caught, so I endeavored to travel back on my own. I overestimated my running speed, however." Tobias frowned at her. "So you didn't tell the clan because you're afraid they'll fire you? But you seem pretty chill, and you know your stuff as a teacher..." "No, no, no, you don't understand." Olympe pulled her sashes over her head again. "I look [i]horrendous[/i]. Nobody wants their children to be tutored by such a gross-looking beast! They'll come after me with pitchforks!" "Umm, I think times have changed since then. We don't do that here. Or if they did, Lady [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=25521457]Veritas[/url] would throw a fit." Tobias considered it. The tea was racing through him now, waking him up. The gears in his head began turning.... [i]"You're not going anywhere."[/i] This time, the words were tinged with relief. He informed Olympe, "You have to lean into it." She recalled their earlier discussion. "This is not a [i]gimmick[/i], Tobias!" "I wasn't talking about your gimmick. You didn't get yourself hired with a gimmick, did you? You got yourself hired with your skills. And that's what you gotta lean into." He spread his claws. "Look, Headmistress, we have all sorts of really weird clanmates already. I mean, have you [i]seen[/i] some of them? What I'm saying is, I'm sure your, um, other face isn't really that freaky when you view it against the bigger picture. But you need to be honest with your clan. Once they know about how the moonlight affects you, they'll be able to protect you." "What were you saying about my skills?" Olympe slowly poked her head out from under her sashes, like a wary snail. "It's not likely, but if anybody objects to your staying here because of how you look, you need to remind them just how good at your job you are." Tobias clenched his jaw. "That could work really well for you -- you have the wisdom of [i]centuries[/i] to back you up. Those snappy little kids can't ask you, 'How d'you know? Were you there?' because you actually [i]were[/i]! We could even come up with a good cover story for that -- maybe you're a really good scrier, or you're reincarnated or whatever....You can really make this work for yourself, Headmistress. You just have to--" "--lean into it." The old Wildclaw was nodding, nodding. Her claws, around the teacup, were steady now. "These old bones of mine still have a lot to learn," she sighed at last. Her smile was absolutely ghastly, just two rows of razor-sharp teeth, but the brightness of her eyes was genuine. And Tobias grinned back. "Hey, we're part of the clan now, right? And helping each other is what clanmates do."[/color] [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?p=lair&id=30450&tab=dragon&did=2177898][img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/gbitdarq80yxhw1/arcanemid.png[/img][/url] [color=#863290]The following week, the Skydancer and the Coatl returned -- not to Tobias' Tours but to [i]Tea Leaf Travels: The mystic art of tasseography shows you the way![/i] The formerly staid-looking office had been given a facelift, with brighter colors and tea leaf stencils swirling across the maps painted upon the walls. The shop owner himself had changed; he had left off his plain clothes and was now dressed in bright sunset colors. "Welcome back!" he greeted the couple. "I remember you from last week. Would you like to book a tour? Or you could get a more precise assessment today if you'd like. Choose a blend of tea and drink up, and let me interpret the symbols for you. Tasseography will show you the way!" It was a welcome change from the rather anxious young drake they'd met last week, and they listened to his explanation more carefully. And after that, they were more than willing to give this strange new method a try. After Tobias had read the signs, he pulled out several brochures. "The Viridian Labyrinth might suit you...but perhaps you'll have a more, um, [i]stellar[/i] time in the Starfall Isles? They have some lovely plant life, too" -- and then it clicked in his brain -- "but the difference is that, since Arcane flora glows, you'll be able to enjoy it even at night." "We'll take it!" the couple enthused. They bent over the Starfall Isles brochures, chattering excitedly to themselves as Tobias waited patiently. Olympe's advice had been excellent. It had been kind of awkward at first, switching to a more showdrake-like presentation, but his new clan had many other performers who were happy to give him assistance. His concerns about his new image being outlandish had been quickly quashed: "Outlandish? It's [i]unique[/i]! And 'unique' [i]sells[/i]!" Rhaplanca had declared. And sure enough, while business wasn't exactly booming, it was much better than it'd been last week. [i]"Gotta keep learning. Gotta keep up with the trends...weather, festivals, new destinations..."[/i] Tobias remembered Olympe's words: "These old bones of mine still have a lot to learn." Afternoon. He was closing the office for the day; as he stepped outside, Olympe sprinted past. "Oh! Errand again, Headmistress?" "Yes, Tobias, I really must return these books." In the afternoon sunshine, she looked like her usual grandmotherly self. He couldn't help teasing her, "Better be back before sundown." "It won't be a problem. [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=43645416]Keilim[/url] has agreed to fly me back to the lair." "Could you help me with this?" He offered her a folded letter. "Please give this to [url=http://flightrising.com/main.php?dragon=38799346]Khamsin[/url]; it's a letter for Diana, my sister. She's been asking about a job--" "Another clanmate! How wonderful!" "Yes, if she makes it, it'll be great to see her again. Thanks for your help, Headmistress." "Of course, dear boy. Anytime." Olympe went on her way, and Tobias headed back to the main lair. He'd relax in his den, maybe grab some tea...just to drink, not to read. Not that he could read his own future, but even if he could, he was sure he wouldn't want to. The gears were already in motion, and he wasn't going anywhere -- and it was the best feeling he'd had in a long time.[/color] [right][font=Copperplate Gothic Light][color=#CD000F][size=5][b]~ The End[/b][/color][/size][/font][/right] [size=2][color=#9494A9][b]Credits:[/b] Special thanks to [i]Barrdwing[/i] for selling Tobias, and for the encouragement and travel agent/tasseographer headcanon! [/color][/size] ----- [center][color=#BBBABF][size=1][b]PREV.[/b][/size] [size=2][url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/34#post_37953582]Dragon[/url] | [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_2323941]Contents[/url] • Characters [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507351]A-M[/url] [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941/1#post_30507353]N-Z[/url] • [url=http://www1.flightrising.com/forums/cc/2323941#post_30507364]Stories Pt. 4[/url] | [/size][size=1][b]NEXT[/b][/size] [size=2][url=NEXT]Dragon[/url][/color][/size][/center]
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.. moonlighting
written by Disillusionist
special thanks to Barrdwing
5,111 words
"Perhaps you would like a vacation in the Viridian Labyrinth, ma'ams? The Everbloom Gardens are warm and fragrant this time of year."

The Skydancer unfolded the brochure, and she and her mate bent close together, whispering and giggling. Across from them, Tobias slumped down slightly behind his desk. He allowed his smile to slip off his face, and for a moment, he relaxed.

"Play it safe," he warned himself. By carefully interviewing his new clanmates, he'd learned that the most popular destinations for honeymoons were the Viridian Labyrinth, the Sea of a Thousand Currents, and Windswept Plateau. He made a mental note to ask around further; it had been a long time since anyone in the clan had gotten married, so perhaps travel trends had changed since then. He'd heard that the Starfall Isles were gaining traction as a vacation spot...

"We'll think about it. Can we come back next week?" the Coatl asked.

"Of course." Tobias had to work hard to keep his face in a pleasantly neutral expression -- business had been slow as of late. "Don't be disappointed, and never look too needy...."

As the door clicked shut behind the pair, he breathed a sigh that was equal parts disappointment and relief. He fluttered out from behind his desk and picked up the teacups they'd left behind. "It would've been easier if they'd drunk everything," he thought. He fluttered into the back room, where he kept his ingredients, and poured the tea carefully down the drain. He couldn't help looking into the cups; because they hadn't drunk everything down, the signs were only half-formed. That could've been a flower...or maybe it was a star.... "Starfall Isles?" He was tempted to puzzle things out further, but there was no use crying over spilled milk -- or tea, as it were.

The rest of the morning passed quickly. There were no more customers.

The lunchtime chime rang out, followed by an announcement: "To all customers, please note that the lunch hour is beginning, and many offices may be closed." Tobias was already flipping his office sign to Closed, and he was out in the great hall before the Dispatch Officer finished her daily announcement. It wasn't a pre-recorded message but a live one, stated every day on the dot. Tobias wondered how she managed to sound so perky all the time.

Around Tobias, doors opened and closed -- many Disillusionists and outsourced employees took their lunches at this hour. Some of them flew to out-of-lair venues, but the vast majority of Tobias' lairmates streamed towards the south. He joined them -- they could eat inside the main lair, though many of them preferred to congregate around the east entrance of the Crispy Phoenix, where the Bamboo Grove grew.

On his way out, he noticed a knot of dragons. Some of the newer clerks, by the look of it, unsure where to go or what to do. They whispered uncertainly among themselves as the other dragons streamed past.

Tobias approached them. "Hey, uh...D'you need help?"

They hesitated for a moment, seeming a bit embarrassed. One of them ventured, "We started working here yesterday. We heard there was a restaurant...?"

"Oh! You must mean the Crispy Phoenix. Follow me; it's right this way....It's better if we use the Bamboo Grove, but it's a bit hard to find...."

The clerks trailed along behind him. They were once again chattering brightly, at ease and assured. Tobias envied them. They relaxed so quickly; he, on the other hand, had been on the move since before he was born.


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It sounded like a strange thing to say, but it was accurate, once one knew the whole story. His egg had been left in a treasure cache that'd belonged to some unscrupulous Corven. The centaurs who'd chased them off maintained good relations with dragonkind, and they immediately recognized the egg for what it was. They brought it back to their matriarch.

"Shall we hatch it?" they asked. They didn't seem to be looking forward to the prospect. The egg was quite big, and it'd taken them much time and effort to lug it safely back to their home.

Matriarch Cepheid considered it carefully. Her children inched forward and peered at the egg. One of them poked it curiously with a stick.

"It would probably be better if we took it back to its homeland," she mused, "but it is a Nocturne, and the eggshell's so thick we can't tell where it's from....Diana, stop tapping it; you'll hurt the baby."

"I wasn't hurting it. It tapped back!" The young foal guiltily snatched back the stick. She was about to tell her mother that she thought the egg would hatch soon, but the matriarch was speaking again: "Our best bet, I believe, would be to take it back to Crystalcourt and put out word from there. It will be easier to get into contact with dragon clans or find a home for this young one. But for now, it shall be in our care."

The centaurs nodded. They had dwelled in Dragonhome for many centuries and they knew its dragons well. They would be able to care for the egg; after all, it wasn't as if dragon eggs did anything much.

They constructed a cart, which they lined with fabric and soft leaves, and then they placed the egg inside and drew a blanket over it. They could take turns drawing the cart, and it was a very well-made device; they expected it to hold up for many months, for Crystalcourt was far away.

Imagine their surprise, then, when the egg split open with a thunderous crack! only a few days later. "It hatched!" they screamed, and the whole herd doubled back to look at this strange new miracle. The centaur drawing the cart sighed and stamped his feet as the others lifted away the blanket.

A little Nocturne baby lay amidst the broken shell. It cleared more yolk from its face with its wings and let out a plaintive peep. The centaurs awww'd.

"It's adorable!" many of them gushed. Little Diana muttered, "I told you it'd hatch soon."

Cepheid let out a soft gasp. "Goodness, it has Shadow eyes!"

The herd looked at her, not understanding her consternation. The hatchling peeped again.

The matriarch explained, "This egg was laid in the Tangled Wood, and we are in Dragonhome -- it's much too far away!"

"Poor thing; it's come so far. How ever shall we get it back?"

"We don't," Cepheid sighed, "Not within this month, at least. We're too far from the Tangled Wood -- Crystalcourt is closer, so we'll hold our course. In the meantime..."

They all looked back at the hatchling. It was teetering on its hind legs now, leaning against the side of the cart. Diana was feeding it dried jerky. It gulped down some meat, and she laughed and chided it, "You greedy thing!"

"Greedy thing, greedy thing," the hatchling chirrupped, like a parrot. It nuzzled Diana's hand, hoping to win more food from her.

"I suppose it'll be all right," thought Matriarch Cepheid -- and that was how a Nocturne became part of the centaur herd.

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Life with a hatchling wasn't as difficult as the centaurs feared it would be. They named him Tobias after a bygone patriarch, and they reared him alongside their own foals. It might have been more trying had Tobias been some other breed, but he was a Nocturne, and like most of them he instinctively mimicked his herdmates. He ate the same things they did, for example (though he didn't like some of these much), and since he often imitated their body language, they found it easy to understand his moods. About the only thing they struggled with was his size. While Nocturnes are a small breed, they're still much larger than centaurs, and dragon hatchlings grow very fast. Tobias' cart, optimistically projected to last for decades, smashed apart under his weight after only a few months. He crawled out from under the wreckage to find his pilot unhooking the harness he was wearing.

"That's it, we're through! We're not building another cart just so you--"

"Time to walk, little one," came Cepheid's cool voice. It cut through the pilot's whining like a knife, and Tobias promptly shook off the splinters and skittered after the rest of the herd in a weird, stuttering gallop that used all six of his limbs.

Tobias was some weeks old when his magic began manifesting. While on the move, the centaurs mostly lived off the land, making food and drinks from what they could gather. Among these were teas brewed from various leaves. Cepheid was very fond of these; they did much to ease her headaches. But it was inconvenient to have to sieve out the dregs sometimes.

She was frowning down into her cup one day. Only a thin film of liquid remained; the rest was just clumps of soggy dark leaves. Tobias came up behind her, twisting his neck to peer over her shoulder.

"Dark. It is so dark. Much water." He blinked brightly at her. "It will rain!"

Cepheid blinked back. "I...suppose it might." She tilted her cup to look into it. The tea clumps did sort of look like clouds, though there wasn't much "water" left, and...then it hit her. She squinted suspiciously at the sky. It was blue and clear, but these plains bred strange weather at this time of year, and dragons did develop strange abilities sometimes....

"I suppose tea leaf-reading isn't that exotic, when one thinks about it. It's a lot more helpful than, say, setting various things on fire," she thought later, as she directed her herd to higher ground. There was a cave up there, a communal shelter used by whoever happened to be passing by. Later, as the sky darkened and sheets of rain splashed down, she brewed more tea while the clan's children watched curiously. She spent the rest of the day testing Tobias, asking him about the pictures he could see in the leaves. The foals were a big help, taking turns chugging down cups of tea; some of the adults joined in, too.

As the centaurs continued their journey, they met other dragons. Tobias was encouraged to talk with these travelers, and they, too, were curious about his abilities. Tasseography can be used to learn many things, but a curious thing about Tobias' second sight was that it seemed to be focused on places: Rather than discuss a drinker's future, he was able to talk about places they ought to go to. A hot spring for tired muscles, perhaps, or a school where they could learn certain spells...

There's also one other limit to tasseography: the diviner can't interpret their own future.

"Is this the place I...need?" young Tobias asked one day. It was morning, and the herd was standing on the crest of a hill. Ahead, frequented by friendly Beastclans and dragons alike, lay Crystalcourt.

Cepheid patted his haunch. "Yes. There, you will find other dragons. A place among your own kind -- that's what you really need."


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Outside the back of the restaurant, Tobias unfolded Diana's letter. It'd arrived at the lair this morning; perhaps it was why he was a little bit spaced-out. Dear Tobias, she'd written, I am nearly finished with my studies. I will qualify as a diplomat soon! If at all possible, I would like to work with your clan. Are they accepting centaurs? At the very least, I would love to visit and meet your clanmates.

He missed his adoptive sister, but he hadn't been here that long. He would feel so presumptuous, asking the Beastclan Ambassador to hire her. He wasn't even sure if they were hiring. Should he tell her that? Could he tell her that? And furthermore...

Dear Diana, actually I haven't really settled in; work is so hard and everything is just so fast-paced. I'm kind of regretting signing up....Maybe I should've applied somewhere in the countryside.

"What'll it be today, Tobias?"

"Mmh?" Tobias looked up at the Skydancer. "Oh, hey, Bel. I'll have the, uh..."

The letter went down, folded and slipped into a belt pouch. He picked up the menu Jezebel offered instead. "Um, I'll take the Hardshell Poppers."

"Anything to drink?"

"Just water, thanks." As Jezebel fluttered off, Tobias sighed and laid his chin on the table. He was already tired, and noontime hadn't even run its course yet. He wondered if he ought to just take the rest of the day off, maybe grab a nap back in his den. He was giving serious thought to writing back to Diana. If she was still in Crystalcourt by the time his letter reached her, she could ask around, find a new clan for him. Someplace less hectic. Quieter. Easier to deal with...

"Is this seat taken?"

"No, Headmistress, it's just me here." Tobias raised his head and managed a faint but genuine smile. The Wildclaw who sat down across from him was much older than he was, and though she was not, at present, handling classes, she still wore her scholastic robes and sashes.

Tobias relaxed visibly. He'd been one of the many dragons who'd answered the Disillusionists' recruitment ad; few among those dragons, including him, had signed up to actually join the clan (instead of just leasing an office or getting a day job in the Commercial Wing). Headmistress Olympe had become part of the clan in a similar manner. She'd walked Tobias and other newbies through lair rules and protocol, and he had been astounded to find out that she'd joined up only shortly before he'd arrived. He envied her -- only a few months in and she was already comfortable.

"Tough morning, I see." Olympe's words were noncommittal, but her gaze was sympathetic.

"Yeah, business is slow."

"The tasseography travels? Why, I thought you had a surefire gimmick to rake customers in! Rhaplanca was very impressed with your sales pitch."

"Well, you see, I haven't been reading the tea leaves..."

The sales pitch had worked better with an expectant audience. With the actual customers, not so much. On his first few days, Tobias had explained how his magic worked, pointing out the posters and charts tacked onto the agency walls.

"Oh, but I'm not thirsty," various customers had politely objected. "I mean, it says 'travel agency' outside....I didn't think it was absolutely necessary to drink tea. Can't you give travel advice without the leaves?"

Yes, of course he could. He'd traveled a lot in his youth, hadn't he? (Except it was only in Dragonhome.) He'd received a respectable education in Crystalcourt, hadn't he? (Mostly having to do with basic draconian manners, since he had been raised by centaurs.)

"Certainly, Madam!" Tobias had plastered on a fake grin. "Let me get you a map..."

And the tea had grown colder and the leaves had gone unread.

Now, over lunch (Olympe had ordered her own food and was kindly sharing it with him), the Headmistress frowned and advised him, "You really should lean into your gimmick more, Tobias."

"But it's so weird. No one else is doing it! Whoever heard of a dragon dishing out travel advice with tea leaves?"

"Nobody." And she shrugged and told him, "But that's why someone has to be the first."

"But...But..." So weird, too weird. "I'll look like a fortune-teller at a tacky carnival. Nobody'll take me seriously!"

"Fortune-tellers are taken very seriously, Tobias. But only if they take themselves seriously." She arched an eyeridge. "No one will trust a tradesdrake who doesn't believe in his own trade. The sales pitch that got you hired -- how did it go, anyway?"

"Well..."

The Commercial Director had reminded him of his adoptive mother. She'd been stylishly dressed to the point of being scary, but even without that she was quite stern. The gaze she pinned him with, however, was not unkind, and her voice was cool, not cutting.

"A little nervous? Relax, we're not here to eat you. So I have to drink this tea, right? What if I don't want to?"

Not a challenge, just a question. It was one of the blends Tobias had brought from Dragonhome, too. Cepheid had mixed it for him. "It's very good tea, ma'am. A Dunhoof matriarch prepared that specially for you."

Rhaplanca had raised her eyeridges. "Really, now?"

"Yes. It's had quite a long journey. The leaves were gathered from all over Dragonhome, and they've dried and aged nicely. They probably have as many stories to tell as the centaurs do."

"I see." And Rhaplanca, playing along, had leaned forward. "How do we find those stories out, then?"

"You drink the tea. Smell how nice it is! There's a hint of sweetgrass, and some sugary prickleaf...and now you've gotten a taste of Dragonhome! But maybe that's not the place for you. That's all right; everybody has their place in the world...." He'd taken the cup, softly describing the symbols and their meanings. Gears turning in motion, seeming almost to move beneath the thin liquid. But just turning in place, not traveling like wheels... "You're not going anywhere."

"Excuse me?"

"Uh, I mean, you don't need to go anywhere. I think you're very happy here, ma'am."

The Commercial Director had broken into a peal of laughter, spreading her inky wings wide. And at that moment, Tobias knew he'd landed his first job....

Now, however, his own words tumbled through his head: "Everybody has their place in the world...."

But on the other hand, he'd also said, "You're not going anywhere."


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Tobias returned to his agency. The Crispy Phoenix waiters, noting his despondence, had been especially nice to him, and one of them had pressed a package of tea leaves into his paw. "Compliments of the whole staff," she'd explained.

The afternoon wore on. It didn't look like there'd be other customers, and Tobias began to get bored. He looked at the bags of tea, which he'd absently tossed onto his desk. It didn't look like any of the usual blends; the labels were rather hastily scrawled. That wasn't odd, since the clan brewer was always testing new mixtures. One label read, Perk-up Blend! (Perky Pomegranate? Pomegranate Power? Pom-pom something?) It was probably an energizing blend....The other one read, Soothing Blend (Soothing something? Sweet dreams? Dream draught? etc.)

Other dragons might've been offended at being chosen as guinea pigs, but Tobias knew Hesperides' teas were harmless. And hey, free drinks. He considered the "perk up" one, but decided against it -- why perk up when it didn't look like there'd be customers? Probably better to try the "soothing blend"; he would clock out in an hour and go straight to his den, where he could sleep, sleep, sleep.

He brewed a cup for himself. He could finish it here, in the back room, before going back to the front of the agency. The tea in the cup dwindled as he drank and drank, and his eyelids began to droop. It really was a soothing ble--


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Tobias awoke slowly, squinting through the darkness. With a slow gasp, he sat up.

Nighttime. The last thing he recalled was drinking the tea and... "Have I been drugged?"

Nope, just a good, old-fashioned soothing drink. Very soothing. He groaned and made a mental note to tell Hesperides about it.

He opened the door and peered into the front of his office. It didn't look like anyone had come in; his clanmates had probably thought he'd left early for the day. It was about nine in the evening now -- he'd been asleep for around four hours.

Tobias turned off the office lights and fluttered out into the hall. There would probably be guards around, but he wasn't afraid of them; he could just explain, show them Hesperides' tea. He poked his head out the entrance and squinted at the main lair. Much of the building was still lit; plenty of the Disillusionists stayed up well into the night. It would be awkward explaining things to them. It didn't seem like he was making a good impression on...

What was that?

There -- approaching the building from the west: a strange shape. It moved furtively, slipping from shadow to shadow. Tobias squinted, his Shadow eyes piercing the darkness. There was...something off about it. The way it looked was...

It stepped briefly into the moonlight, and a chill washed over him. Something was wrong with the thing. Its skin rippled oddly, and there was a pale gleam...Was it bone? As the shape turned its head, he saw its eyes. They were impossibly huge, almost completely covering the sides of its head. Just pits of blackness, empty eyeholes...

"An undead!" he thought. Whatever it was, it had designs upon the main lair. He needed to prevent it from getting inside! Most undead were susceptible to fire, and there were plenty of lanterns hanging from the walls. He could douse it in flame, then fly off and scream for help....The flames would slow it down until the guards arrived.

He grabbed a lantern, unhooking it from its chain. And then he flew low, gliding quickly through the shadows. He couldn't hide the light, however, and as he hefted the lantern, the shape turned....

The wide eyes grew even wider. "Tobias, stop, no, it's only me!"

"HAAAAAAAUrghlll!!" Tobias' yell twisted into a startled yelp as he braked to a halt. The undead...Wildclaw?...was backing away from him, claws held out fearfully. He recognized the shimmery sashes and robes.

"H...Headmistress Olympe? W-What's happened to you? Your face is..." He swallowed. "...gnarly."

"I got into some trouble when I was a youngster. I'll explain, but please, please don't let the others find out. I'll lose my job if they know!"

"You will?"

"Hallo...?"

The ground shook -- one of the larger guards was approaching. Olympe skittered backwards beneath the shadow of an arbor just as Auspice came around the side of the building.

"Oh...It's you. Hey, Headmistress, where were you today? You were supposed to be back--"

"I was delayed while running my errands." Olympe's voice, fortunately, remained unchanged.

"And I fell asleep in my office," Tobias chimed in. His mind was racing.... "Uh, the Headmistress isn't feeling well. She thinks she might've caught a cold. Hesper gave me some tea and it's in my office; I'll give her some first."

"Oh. OK. See you later." And Auspice ambled away, absolutely none the wiser. Olympe exhaled slowly. "I thought she could see better at night."

"Her helmet probably needs maintenance." Tobias watched as the Headmistress draped her sashes over her head, forming a makeshift hood. "I wasn't lying about the tea, though. Let's go back....No one else is in there, so it should be OK."


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They had Hesperides' "Perk-Up Blend" to drink, and as they sat across from each other, Tobias snuck a surreptitious look at the Headmistress. The kindly old Wildclaw still retained her general shape, but her neck and face were...gnarly, as he'd said. Almost literally -- her skin was gone, and it was as if the bones within had been changed to glass and then heated in some great fire. They were black and gleaming and twisted into gnarled shapes, almost like interlocking tendrils of thorns; her face was a featureless plane of black, shiny bone. The huge eyeholes were dimly lit from within by pinpricks of icy light.

Over the cups of tea, Olympe told her story: "I was born many years ago...centuries, in fact. I was apprenticed to an alchemist in the Southern Icefield. Like many researchers of that time, we were searching for a key to immortality." She grimaced briefly. "We found it."

"So you are...immortal?"

"Sort of." She shifted uneasily. "My body can be damaged, and if it becomes too weak, then I'll expire. But if I keep myself in shape, I suppose I'll exist indefinitely. There was some magic involved -- not just chemistry -- and while I appear normal in the daytime, a side effect of that botched formula is that the moon exerts its influence on my appearance. The stronger the moonlight, the more visible my, ahem, other shape becomes. I take special pains to hide it, but as you can see, that's not always possible."

"How'd you get stuck out here?"

"I visited another clan's library to borrow some books -- school will reopen soon, so I need to make sure our curriculum's updated. I was supposed to be back well before sundown, but the cart I'd hired broke down. I knew that if I waited for the repair crew, I'd get caught, so I endeavored to travel back on my own. I overestimated my running speed, however."

Tobias frowned at her. "So you didn't tell the clan because you're afraid they'll fire you? But you seem pretty chill, and you know your stuff as a teacher..."

"No, no, no, you don't understand." Olympe pulled her sashes over her head again. "I look horrendous. Nobody wants their children to be tutored by such a gross-looking beast! They'll come after me with pitchforks!"

"Umm, I think times have changed since then. We don't do that here. Or if they did, Lady Veritas would throw a fit." Tobias considered it. The tea was racing through him now, waking him up. The gears in his head began turning....

"You're not going anywhere." This time, the words were tinged with relief. He informed Olympe, "You have to lean into it."

She recalled their earlier discussion. "This is not a gimmick, Tobias!"

"I wasn't talking about your gimmick. You didn't get yourself hired with a gimmick, did you? You got yourself hired with your skills. And that's what you gotta lean into." He spread his claws. "Look, Headmistress, we have all sorts of really weird clanmates already. I mean, have you seen some of them? What I'm saying is, I'm sure your, um, other face isn't really that freaky when you view it against the bigger picture. But you need to be honest with your clan. Once they know about how the moonlight affects you, they'll be able to protect you."

"What were you saying about my skills?" Olympe slowly poked her head out from under her sashes, like a wary snail.

"It's not likely, but if anybody objects to your staying here because of how you look, you need to remind them just how good at your job you are." Tobias clenched his jaw. "That could work really well for you -- you have the wisdom of centuries to back you up. Those snappy little kids can't ask you, 'How d'you know? Were you there?' because you actually were! We could even come up with a good cover story for that -- maybe you're a really good scrier, or you're reincarnated or whatever....You can really make this work for yourself, Headmistress. You just have to--"

"--lean into it." The old Wildclaw was nodding, nodding. Her claws, around the teacup, were steady now.

"These old bones of mine still have a lot to learn," she sighed at last. Her smile was absolutely ghastly, just two rows of razor-sharp teeth, but the brightness of her eyes was genuine. And Tobias grinned back. "Hey, we're part of the clan now, right? And helping each other is what clanmates do."


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The following week, the Skydancer and the Coatl returned -- not to Tobias' Tours but to Tea Leaf Travels: The mystic art of tasseography shows you the way! The formerly staid-looking office had been given a facelift, with brighter colors and tea leaf stencils swirling across the maps painted upon the walls. The shop owner himself had changed; he had left off his plain clothes and was now dressed in bright sunset colors. "Welcome back!" he greeted the couple. "I remember you from last week. Would you like to book a tour? Or you could get a more precise assessment today if you'd like. Choose a blend of tea and drink up, and let me interpret the symbols for you. Tasseography will show you the way!"

It was a welcome change from the rather anxious young drake they'd met last week, and they listened to his explanation more carefully. And after that, they were more than willing to give this strange new method a try. After Tobias had read the signs, he pulled out several brochures. "The Viridian Labyrinth might suit you...but perhaps you'll have a more, um, stellar time in the Starfall Isles? They have some lovely plant life, too" -- and then it clicked in his brain -- "but the difference is that, since Arcane flora glows, you'll be able to enjoy it even at night."

"We'll take it!" the couple enthused. They bent over the Starfall Isles brochures, chattering excitedly to themselves as Tobias waited patiently.

Olympe's advice had been excellent. It had been kind of awkward at first, switching to a more showdrake-like presentation, but his new clan had many other performers who were happy to give him assistance. His concerns about his new image being outlandish had been quickly quashed: "Outlandish? It's unique! And 'unique' sells!" Rhaplanca had declared. And sure enough, while business wasn't exactly booming, it was much better than it'd been last week.

"Gotta keep learning. Gotta keep up with the trends...weather, festivals, new destinations..." Tobias remembered Olympe's words: "These old bones of mine still have a lot to learn."

Afternoon. He was closing the office for the day; as he stepped outside, Olympe sprinted past. "Oh! Errand again, Headmistress?"

"Yes, Tobias, I really must return these books." In the afternoon sunshine, she looked like her usual grandmotherly self. He couldn't help teasing her, "Better be back before sundown."

"It won't be a problem. Keilim has agreed to fly me back to the lair."

"Could you help me with this?" He offered her a folded letter. "Please give this to Khamsin; it's a letter for Diana, my sister. She's been asking about a job--"

"Another clanmate! How wonderful!"

"Yes, if she makes it, it'll be great to see her again. Thanks for your help, Headmistress."

"Of course, dear boy. Anytime."

Olympe went on her way, and Tobias headed back to the main lair. He'd relax in his den, maybe grab some tea...just to drink, not to read. Not that he could read his own future, but even if he could, he was sure he wouldn't want to. The gears were already in motion, and he wasn't going anywhere -- and it was the best feeling he'd had in a long time.


~ The End

Credits: Special thanks to Barrdwing for selling Tobias, and for the encouragement and travel agent/tasseographer headcanon!
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