"I am Jia," I told him. "I am Jia, blue dragon of Althena!" My words came swiftly, confident and smooth. They did not betray the outrage and disdain I felt in my heart. Evil's pawns had no place setting foot in a dragon's lair.
"If you think you can get away with such treachery then you have learned nothing from your defeat at the hands of Alex." I hunched forward on all fours, wings spread wide but swept back to create the illusion of size. My long neck allowed my head to snake forward and I regarded the mortal with suspicious eyes.
He was a strong one that man. Though I had never met him before now, I knew. Magic roiled unchecked from his person like spray from the bottom of a waterfall. The vague memory from a previous blue dragon came to me, warding me away. Acwalandar, my grandfather, I thought. It was he who had lived those thousand years ago just before the time of Dragonmaster Alex and the reign of terror this mortal once sought to begin. But how? How had this mortal returned to life? Althena's Sword surely did not strike him down in vain.
"Relax, little one," he told me, feigning a soothing voice. "You are the youngest of your kind, though certainly not the least in power." He smiled mirthlessly. "Especially now that I hold the auras of Ebony and Nall."
No! I thought. In my mind I could see the two of them, bereft of their power, scarcely the black and white dragons of legend and lore. Oh, Ruby. Please don't let him get Ruby too! The baby red dragon had come far from the days when "mufu" was the sole word she could utter. Though older than me, she had yet to claim her power and was ignorant of the rest of her tribe. Ruby--she had wanted to stay a child for so long. And we had let her. Now she may never have the chance to grow.
I lifted my head in a haughty angle, rolling my eyes down to keep him in my sight. "Age only sets the stage for experience. Though you have returned unwarranted from the dead, I still have weathered centuries more years than you." I raised a paw and delicately pointed a single talon at his chest. "Dragons, not humans, are guardians of this world for a reason. You presume too much, Ghaleon."
There, I said it, the name of the dreaded man who had caused Lunar so much agony. It had come surprisingly easy to my tongue, though I had never spoken it with such tempered fury before. If he had truly caught both Nall and Ebony then I knew I stood little chance against him. They had possessed their auras for almost a millennia, whereas I had not. I could not understand what power allowed a mortal to surpass the strength of gods, but I knew that Ghaleon had reached that level, and if being dead had not influenced his might, I would have better luck trying to crush Zophar with a flyswatter.
Ghaleon shrugged, giving me an easy smile. I could almost believe it was genuine. "Maybe. You say there is a reason dragons guard the world and not the mortals who live here. I say there is a reason there are only four of you at any one time to attempt such a task."
"To allow people like you the chance to destroy it?" I curled my lips back, bearing my razor teeth in a frightening sneer. I played for time, hoping that he would yet give me something worthwhile to know before the inevitable came.
"No, no," said Ghaleon, shaking his head. "Though I admit that does make conquering the world easier, Althena is not all that shortsighted. You need to open your eyes." As he said this he reached up to his left eye. It was surrounded by a patch of cracked purple-blue skin, something I could not recall him having before he died. "We all pay for shortsightedness," he said softly, "even dragons."
I thought I heard a tone of wistful regret in his voice. I wanted to be sure, but how could I feel for a man who had just stolen the essences of my two friends? Some people have said that Ghaleon was never evil, merely caught in a web of events beyond his control. I wanted to believe in the good nature of all beings, even one such as Ghaleon, but here he was! He spoke again of power and might, that which lead to his downfall. Yet I could not shake the feeling that there was something more. Was I seeing within him or a facade too detailed to perceive?
My wings folded slightly as I brought myself up to a less threatening position. I did not know what I thought to accomplish, only that I must know more about this most curious of men.
"You have my attention." I inclined my head slightly. "Have you anything else to say?"
"Can you hear between words?" Again he smiled, puzzling my thoughts. I had been told that Ghaleon rarely smiled, if at all, since Dyne's death. To now see him so greatly as ease with himself was unnerving even to one such as myself. "My message is given," he concluded, bowing his head slightly. "And if you don't understand it at the moment, then I suppose you'll have time enough in a short while."
I did not miss the sharp implication in his voice. My tail lashed out behind me as I leaped to all fours. Let it not be said that I would be caught without a fight! A massive pool surrounded the main ledge to my lair and as I spread my rainbow wings twin pillars of water erupted through the pool's surface, scattering pink and green lilies in all directions. I swept my wings forward, hurling the crushing power of the torrent at him.
Ghaleon was ready for me, teleporting even during the midst of his spellcasting. The water thundered where he once was, spilling off back into the pool below. I swung my head around and caught sight of him higher up on the stone walls of my cave. He shouted the final word to his incantation and the stone beneath my feet rose to engulf me.
I snarled and leapt free of the trap, spreading my wings as I sought footholds on the rocky walls above me. I snapped my head in Ghaleon's direction and let loose a bolt of lightning from my mouth. He teleported again and my breath left only a charred spot where he had stood. I berated my luck then howled as a fireball struck my left flank. My lair was no place to fight! I needed space.
"The way this world is going it won't last much longer, you know that?" He spoke nonchalantly as he tossed a fireball up and down slightly above his hand.
"Do tell," I growled, landing myself back on my sleeping ledge now that the earth spell had dissipated. Helpful person trapped in a web of fate my eggshell! I doubted fate required Ghaleon to singe my loins. And yet, I knew he could have done much worse. Dragon hide was thick, and my fur would grow back.
"Lucia shall be coming soon from the Blue Star."
I said nothing, though I wondered what made him so certain of that. My reply came in the form of lightning breath. I was proud to see that he did not escape entirely and sported a blackened hole in his armor. The electricity fazed him as well, though not for long. He recovered quick that one.
"Hmph. No intention of hearing me out?" he asked, shaking his head.
"Ah, the impatience of youth. I've learned to regret that impatience. Will you?"
I shot lightning at him a third time, this time as I edged towards the aerial exit from my lair. If I made it to the open skies I could fight him on my terms, or perhaps flee and recover Ruby before he could get to her.
Ghaleon dodged, bowing down as the lightning crackled over his head and he loosed his fireball at me. I knew my size made me a target, but I used the opportunity to jump through the arch leading to my exit. My talons scrambled for footholds, tearing huge gouges into the soft rock as I darted up the tunnel. The passage widened and I flapped my wings eagerly. Ghaleon would not catch me! I felt the sting of fire burn my tail, but I accepted the pain stoicly.
The patch of blue sky appeared before me. The exit. I gathered myself, and with a surge of strength, hurtled skyward.
I never made it past the landing ledge on the outer lip of the tunnel.
Something seized me, shaking my body so terribly I could hear my teeth rattle. It was like a net of electricity, for I knew I now shook like those poor creatures struck by lightning. But it was magic, not the element that aligned itself to my power, that inflicted such pain.
Exhausted, I felt back, tumbling down, down, through the tunnel I sought to escape. I could not spread my wings. I could not roar. I barely could keep my eyes open. And as I fell, scraping fur and feather on the uneven rock, I could hear the rising voice of Ghaleon, chanting as he cast his magic.
I rolled out of the tunnel and into my pool with a splash. I thrust my head out of the water with energy born of the need to survive, and in doing so heard the final syllable to his spell.
I cannot describe fully the horror a dragon feels when its aura is taken, but it is a terrible fear I should not wish on anyone. It is as though one's soul is being torn apart, for in essence, that is what happens. I felt a part of me, that which made me what I am, leave. And the emptiness in its wake could never be filled by anything else.
I might have screamed. I do not know. But I remember collapsing, resting my head against the sleeping ledge as I closed my eyes.
Ghaleon did not leave immediately. I thought he would have. Instead I felt his hand on my head, gently stroking my fur as he would the hair of a child. "Ah," he said, "it's hard isn't it? Some lessons must be learned the hard way. But you'll understand someday. For now sleep, and dream about what has happened here. Perhaps when you wake you'll understand. You will in time, as your guardian Lucia must."
He stood up to walk away, out of my lair. "Thought, like rivers, flows from a source. And like the still pool of water, needs to be stirred for it to live."
If he said more, I did not hear it. Something was rising around my body, hard like crystal. But I did not care so much. I was tired. I really did want to sleep. Even so, Ghaleon's parting words would not leave me, and I felt something tingle inside me. Barely conscious, a thought came to me, and I made it a solemn vow.
I, Jia, blue dragon of Althena, promise... to listen, and to understand.
Back to the Library of Vane.
Back to the Shrine to Ghaleon.