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Saturday, January 15, 2011 The Dragon Riders - Part 2

Nefemia Fashon the Dragon Rider
(Illustration: Dragon Rider by Anne Stokes - - )

Three hours later, Iris rides her elf-breed horse at full speed southwards. she has done this before to save Carolyn from poisoning by covering the distance between Mount Hvalgarr in Halethia and Ascension in Valanis in four days. This time, she aims to reach Mallevarte Mount in two days.

The horse gallops on, without stopping to eat, drink end even sleep. Both are blessed with abundant stamina. Two days’ ride without rest, meal and sleep is natural for elves, but they must replenish their energy on the third day, or they will collapse.

Thank goodness, at night on the second day Iris arrives in a village near Grad Mountain Range – a village where weary travelers may eat and rest from all the fatigue of crossing the Great Grad. The Mallevarte is one of the three great peaks there beside the Gryveil (home of the Arcadian Griffin Riders) and Ylbarra (with the dwarven stronghold inside its crater).

Iris doesn’t look tired, but she asks around as she needs not only food and shelter, but also information about the Borgian Dragon Riders. Four houses she knocked, and she only gets info about the location of the food depot and head-shakes for everything else.

Ah, this is the fifth house, and I only got ‘talk to my hand’ as answer. Maybe I’ll get a better luck at the depot.

So, she goes straight to the food depot, fills herself up with nutrients and starts to ask around again.

‘Isn’t the Dragon Rider Clan just a legend? They have disbanded some eighty years ago,’ says an elderly woman in her fifties who looks like an ordinary housewife.

Iris replies, ‘Well, according to a reliable source and my knowledge, the surviving members of the Clan can live to hundreds of years old, still alive until now and hold secret meetings from time to time in the caverns of Mount Mallevarte.’

The woman is shocked on hearing that. She asks, ‘From whom did you hear that? May I know his name?’

‘Sir Heinrich Ratzinger, a Borgian Knight.’

The woman’s face turns angry, showing more traces of beauty from her youth. Her eyes gleam with rage, showing that she is not just an ordinary housewife. She speaks bitterly,

‘Ratzinger... that RAT. He betrayed us by staying loyal to Borgia and serving them after his dragon was killed. And this time he revealed our position and existence to a runt! I swear, I’ll get my dragon rip him apart if I see his face again!’

‘What?’ says Iris with surprise, ‘You’re a Dragon Rider too, ma’am!?’

‘Humph. So I am. My name is Nefemia Fashon, born in Escudia and joined this brotherhood since I was eighteen. I served and fought for years until a traitor, Dakronn von Karlsberg became the King of Borgia and conquered neighboring kingdoms including Arcadia with help from Phillipe Foucault, who turned out to be the Dark Overlord, Vordac in disguise. Of course, we were wrong too for being aggressive, but Sage the Fireheart spared our lives and made us see the light.

Alas, another Dragon Rider, Mildred Urganon took over our clan by force. With his dragon, Omegron he defeated our leader, Galliard and the Ancient White Dragon, Hazmat. A number of our comrades were killed in the fight, and the survivors went into hiding. I and a few others chose to stay here and organize meetings to keep the brotherhood intact...

Oh, no! Why did I tell so much about Dragon Riders Clan to a stranger? I must be going senile. Ah, what the shame, the disgrace... So, tell me! What’s your name and why do you seek us?’

‘Lavennia Iris is my name, and I’m in a very urgent mission. Borgia is under attack by the Dark Forces. We are greatly outnumbered and help is not arrived yet. So, we thought maybe you can help.’

Hearing that, Nefemia pauses in her thoughts.

Iris looks at her impatiently, and just as she opens her mouth to talk, Nefemia speaks up.

‘I’m sorry, young elf. We would like to help you, but we can’t. As you can see, we’re getting old and senile, and we haven’t recruited in years. Just let us retire and live our long lives in peace. About your fight, you can still call the Arcadian Griffin Riders, the Yvais Angels and many others. So, you better head back now. May you have the best of luck.’

‘But, but, ma’am... You don’t understand the escalating situation...’
Nefemia doesn’t want to hear anymore. She just walks out from the depot in a hurry, leaving Iris alone. The elf frowns and grits her teeth in disappointment, yet she has no intention to quit now.

She goes out from the depot and follows Nefemia stealthily from afar. Her experience as secret agent in Thyrine and the elf-nature flexibility – moving along the flow of air, her steps are hardly heard. Yet, Iris can’t help wondering that the powerful dragon riders can’t detect her moves – all that dragon eyesight, dragon super-senses and the bonding of power between human and dragon. Maybe Nefemia was right – the dragon riders are declining to their new low, in the brink of extinction.

Still, Iris follows the old woman into the woods. The eerie elm trees in the darkness of night present no significant hurdles for Nefemia. She still moves normally like a walk in the park. One may assume that it’s no wonder because she knows every tree, every spot in this place like her own house, living here for more years than everybody else.

Nefemia stops in an opening, and Iris spies on her from afar. The dragon rider extends her hands to the sky and no voice comes out from her mouth.

Nothing happens. The woman stays in place and Iris doesn’t even move a muscle – only breathing silently and slowly like elves can. Seconds later, a gust of wind blows. It’s getting stronger and stronger, sending leaves and branches flying everywhere. Some of them hit Iris, but the elf still doesn’t move, staying still like a tough tree trunk.

Later, Iris hears the sound of flapping wings, and a big, winged figure lands on the opening. Yes, it’s a dragon. It’s not as gigantic as the ancients like Algaban, Petra, Barudan or Omegron, yet a fully grown man can mount on the saddle that perfectly fits on its back. Its green scales deflect moonlight, shining in the dark.

Caressing her dragon lovingly, Nefemia whispers, ‘Come, Brimgust. Let us meet up with our brethren. This is an emergency.’

She mounts, Brimgust blows a bit of smoke from its nostrils and kicks off from the ground, soaring high into the starry sky. A second later, both dragon and rider fly away, vanishing into the night.

Iris, of course, uses this momentum to follow the dragon rider to the lair in Mount Mallevarte. Leaving her horse in the village, Iris can still keep up with Nefemia. The terrain of Grad Mountain Range is naturally, extremely tricky even for an elf, yet Iris can still move swiftly horizontally and vertically – an ability even the most skilled mountain climber will envy.

Still, it’s hard to keep the flying dragon in sight, especially when in a certain spot it goes down and vanishes! Iris quickly jumps here and there, and arrives on that spot. But, she sees nothing special there – just rocks, rocks, and more rocks.

Three-headed dragon

Oh, no! I’m too late. There must be a secret entrance here, but I can’t figure out how to get in. What to do? What to do?

Iris ponders for some time, and she gets an idea.

Ah, yes! I’ll just hide somewhere. Since the clan is holding an emergency meeting now, I’ll just wait in case the other members arrive. They must know the way in.

And Iris is right. Soon, she sees three dragons coming. Far up away they are, Iris can hear one of them, an elf, chants something,
‘Mathrakl, vehfatr!’

It’s a strange language, even for the elves. Iris feels that she has heard of it somewhere... It must be some sort of password, like the elves and Valanisians invented to trigger magic spells. It’s actually a Draconian spell, understandable by humans and dragons alike.

The effect of the spell is apparent and instant. The next thing Iris sees is some rocks flying aside, revealing a cavity big enough for a dragon to fly inside. The three dragons fly one-by-one into the cavity. Iris waits until the three dragons all go in and moves swiftly to enter, closing it shut.
Darn! No matter how fast I moved, I was still too late. Maybe I must use a different, drastic approach...

Iris tries the password ‘Mathrakl vehfatr’ herself, but nothing happens. She tries again with the same tone and pronunciation as the elf dragon rider did, and still, nothing.

This is strange... Maybe... Oh, yes! I must say it together with my dragon roaring, and I have no dragon.

And she waits again. Lucky enough, two more dragon riders arrive at the entrance. The password is spoken like Iris has expected, and the gate is open again. Just as the dragons enter the cavity, Iris runs and leaps! She reaches out, and grabs the tip of the second dragon’s tail. Annoyed, the dragon waves its tail to shake the weight off. The tail thrashes violently and Iris is thrown away, hitting the cavern wall and falling on the floor, groaning with pain.

Ouch! At least I’m inside in one piece, praise Enia. But, the riders must’ve known that I’m here. Ah, there must be light at the end of this tunnel.

Iris moves on further inside, thinking of ways to handle these proud people, prouder than elves and are difficult to convince. It’s a long way inside and walking will take forever, so she runs as fast as she can. A strong wind blows from her back and Iris abruptly dives and lies flat on the floor. A dragon passes, not noticing her in the dark.

Iris wastes no time. She immediately gets up and runs again along the twists and turns of the tunnel. Soon, she sees the light ahead and dashes towards it. There’s an opening at the end of the tunnel and Iris slows down into ‘stealth mode’ again.
She leans against the cavern wall, witnessing the happenings going on inside. It’s a vast hall, so spacious as though a village can be built in there. The walls, to Iris’ wonder, are made from crystals that reflect sunlight from the holes on the ceiling into colorful spectrums, illuminating the whole area like daylight. It’s the same principle like Ylbarra, the citadel in the mountain, with a different method.
There’s more than meets the eye. Loud speech and beastly roars indicate that the hall is filled with people – and dragons. The enchantress moves from her hiding spot and crawls to the open. Her action is indeed appropriate because the speech comes from down below. The closer she gets, the clearer the voices she hears. Now it’s one man speaking. When Iris peeps from a ledge, she sees the speaker, a man in his late fifties with his hair all-white and balding, except for a pair of thick sideburns. Now his voice is loud and crystal-clear.

‘... Upon this ‘emergency’ Sister Nefemia told us about, and since we are now separated from the outside world, I say we shall not fight.’

Another Dragon Rider, a lavender-haired elf protests, ‘So, if we don’t fight, what use is our existence, our brotherhood? We have fought for years and years, and now in this hideout we are, doing nothing.

My bones are itching for action, and only in battles we can confirm our existence!’ His dragon roars in support.

The sideburn man replies, ‘Now, now, Kahka. That very thought is the cause of our downfall. Don’t you remember how many of us died because of that? We fought and fought, but what good have we brought? Nothing! We were just killing machines, consumed by our own ambition to rule. One of us did rule, yes, but he turned out a tyrant, pawn of the Dark Overlord. And many of us turned traitors and cut our number in half. Now do we want to repeat the same mistake again? Hell, no!
I’m too tired of all these battles, and all I want is to live in peace. I hope you can understand that, Kahka, my brethren, and that goes for you too, intruder.’
Iris is startled. Who? Me?

‘Yes, you, green-haired one hiding on the top. Just show yourself. We won’t hurt you.’

So, it’s true that the dragon riders develop more sensitivity to their senses than we elves have. They have found me out and they could’ve killed me already, but they didn’t. Their sense of pride is still intact after all.

Iris leaps from the ledge, does double somersaults in mid-air and lands smoothly in a very show-off style. And she kneels before the leader, saying, ‘Pardon my impudence, O’ great ones. I am Lavennia Iris from Thyrine, coming from Freidle with an urgent request.’

‘Well, we have heard of your request from Nefemia and you have heard my view about it. We would like to help, young elf, but we can’t. I suggest you go somewhere else for help. I am Dagmar Langstrom, leader of the Dragon Riders Clan and this is our decision.’

‘Excuse me, Mr. Langstrom, but something about your decision is still bothering me. You haven’t asked your brethren’s views and thoughts and made your own decision as it’s the decision of all. I suggest you ask them now, to convince me.’

‘A thought of one is a thought of all, Miss Iris. All our decisions are unanimous, without doubt. But, if it pleases you, we will take votes now. Anyone in favor for ‘not to fight in Freidle’?’

All dragon riders present there raise their hands.

‘See? We shall not fight. We shall return to our homes and live our lives as ordinary people, with this brotherhood to gather and preserve our way of life. We’ve seen enough, fought enough, bleed enough and lost enough. Now leave, leave these dishonored people in peace, and don’t ever come here again or we’ll kill you on the spot.’

On that answer, Iris only stays put. The next second, she begins to giggle and laugh, louder and louder. Naturally, this irritates Dagmar.

‘How dare you laugh at us! Have you lost your mind, miss? I can kill you for that!’
Iris answers with a smile, ‘If you can kill a quick-on-foot elf, why don’t you kill orcs and undead instead? Huh, I thought the legendary dragon riders are all-powerful, every one of them is equal to ten thousand men? So I guess I came to a wrong place. The dragon riders are now extinct. Instead, here I found a group of old-timers sipping tea, chatting about good ol’ days. So sorry, I can’t stop laughing at that. Well, I better go back to Freidle now to aid my fellow Paladin.’

Iris turns to leave, but Dagmar shouts,
‘A Paladin? Hold it right there, miss!’

Iris stops and lazily turns back. Dagmar talks on,
‘How could you insult us like that! We are the once proud dragon riders, stripped off our honor. Hadn’t it because of our bond in brotherhood, we must have disbanded a long time ago! Just let us be and remember us that way!’

‘But that is just – if I may put it blandly – stupid,’ Iris replies, ‘Don’t you want your pride and honor back? Honor is something that cannot be restored automatically over time. If you want it back, you must fight for it, you must earn it. And here’s a saying, ‘It’s better to die honorably than to live in shame.’

Don’t you see? Nowadays, even a mention of ‘dragon rider’ makes a grown man shake into his bones, and a child sleepless all night. Do you want to change that? If you do, this is your only chance, your one shot. Take that, and glory and honor will be yours whether you prevail or perish. Drop it, and you’ll spend eternity tormented by your guilt and dishonor. So, what will it be?’

Dagmar readily answers, ‘Hmm. Before we can answer that, I’d like you to meet the TRUE leader of the Dragon Riders Clan.’

Sound of flapping wings comes. Iris looks up, and from the biggest, topmost opening of the cavern wall comes a gigantic, winged white figure. From his looks, he definitely is an ancient dragon. He has three heads with nine horns on each. His snouts are covered with beard-like white hair. His body is covered with white fur and gold, leathery plates from the neck to his belly. He has six bird-like wings, each wingspan is about a hundred meters in length, fully stretched. Three tails rest on his back, gigantic, fluffy fox tails, each as long as his torso. Holy white, pearly aura covers him, radiant like the sun.

‘Behold,’ Dagmar continues, ‘Our ancient leader, Hazmat the White. All hail Hazmat!’
All dragon riders in the hall shout, ‘Hazmat! Hazmat! Let be ancient, let be great, let be permanent! Hazmat!’ as the Ancient White Dragon lands in the middle of the hall.

Iris is deeply impressed. Hazmat’s aura makes her fell peaceful and secure at the same time. Hazmat’s middle head stares closely at Iris, and a man’s voice, so gentle and fatherly resonates from it.

‘Why so silent, little one? You let your guard down.’

Iris is snapped from her comfort and replies humbly, ‘Forgive me, O’ Ancient Hazmat, but I can’t help feeling secure and serene from the air of your presence. My charm is nothing compares to yours.’

Hazmat nods, ‘Your answer is too exaggerating, yet you’re honest at the very least. From the fact that I can talk, that’s because my last master’s soul dwells inside me. I am him and he is me, and together we guide and support the Dragon Rider Clan forevermore.’

‘So, you mean, you are...’

‘Yes, my child. I was Galliard the Iron Wall, on the Seven Star Heroes in the time of Fireheart, leader of Dragon Riders Clan. And now, you can call me Hazmat the White. Now, straight to the point.

I have heard about your plea, and since you are the first person ever to enter this lair without a dragon for years, we must require you to answer these simple questions... Before we make our final decision. Are you ready for this?’

Iris readily answers, ‘I am always ready ever since I stepped into this place.’

‘Good. Now listen carefully. If we refused to aid Freidle, what will you do?’

Iris thinks for a while. She frowns, looking up and down, and then she answers,
‘Then I’ll go back to Freidle and fight there. Yet I’ll be realistic. We are greatly outnumbered, four to one, and without help we’ll perish for sure. However, Freidle is not the last stronghold. We have evacuated most of the citizens, and if all else fail we will withdraw, all of us, to Arcadia, and burn Freidle with as many enemies as possible, and they won’t be able to loot from there. We can still rebuild Freidle with the citizens saved. It’s better to fight another day, another place than to die in vain and cannot protect our loved ones.’

Dragons have no expression, so we can’t predict their reaction. Hazmat just proceeds,
‘On the contrary, if we agree to help you and all help you’ve sought comes, what will happen?’

‘If the odds are good, two to one at least,’ says Iris without hesitation, ‘We will fight, yes, fight to the death with everything we’ve got. Even if that will be our last stand, it’ll be our best chance to protect Everna, our world and everything we hold dear. By Enia and Vadis, we’ll fight.’

‘So, if we dragon riders help you and the odds are not improving, we’ll just help you withdraw to fight another day. Is that right?’

‘Yes. In order to make sure your burn-down tactic a success. We’ll trap those undead in the city and fry them to crisp. And yes, we’ll withdraw to fight another day.’

‘Fight to the death, or fight another day.’

‘Yes, exactly. Either way, the dragon riders will regain their honor, except if you refuse to fight.’

Hazmat stares at Lavennia Iris with his eyes widened.

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