The Gods of Dragons (Vol 1)

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Diplomatic Immunity - Drake, 2018

Chapter 15 (v.1) - Diplomatic Immunity

Submitted: May 17, 2018

Reads: 61

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Submitted: May 17, 2018

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The sun had already set when the party entered the Laughing Pony encampment. Shon hadn’t had many dealings with the barbarian tribes of the kingdom, and so he went in trying not to expect anything in particular. However, he definitely didn’t expect a nomadic encampment to look like a small permanent village.

As they walked past the circular dwellings that appeared solid enough to stand the test of time, Master Velona explained to those who didn’t already know that the latticework that held the yurts in place were easily collapsible and transportable when the tribe decided it was time to move on. Shon was admittedly impressed and honestly looked forward to seeing the inside and getting some drawings down during his time here.

But first diplomacy. The group was greeted at the outer edge of the encampment by the soldier they had met on the plains, Gardurth, son of Jahka. He was a large man, taller then Veon-Zih at about 6’3” and as broad in the chest and shoulders as Shon. His dark hair was long and tied in a ponytail that reached to his lower back when he turned around to lead them through the encampment.

Lily leaned near to Shon's ear and whispered, “How long do you think it will take for your hair to get that long?” to which Shon nudged her away and shook his head.

“Not a chance in all the hells Lily,” he whispered but smiled at her huff of mock indignation.

They were moving straight for the center of the circular encampment where a large fire was already burning, and the smell of cooked meat and roast root vegetables could be smelled with each step that brought them closer. Shon was taking advantage of the linear path to look around at the yurts and people coming out of them. Some small movement caught his eye on the roof of one of the structures positioned close to the central fire, and he squinted at it before his eyes were torn away by the sound of Tuth muttering a curse that would’ve had him doing push-ups until the end of time back at Hamerfoss.

“What is it?” Lily whispered to the mage.

“Pseudodragon,” Tuth answered causing Lily to repeat the curse.

Yua arched an eyebrow at the two and leaned forward to whisper, “but Pseudodragons are goodly creatures. Good luck even. At least in the woods...”

Tuth was already shaking his head when she had started talking and whispered back, “If it's real then yes, but most of the time they are spirit familiars to warlocks.” which in turn caused Yua to curse.

Shon didn't have enough time to seek out the offending creature as they entered the central circle where the majority of the little portable village was already waiting for them. Their guide made a show of introducing Lily to the man that had to be the leader, if the amount of jewelry and prominent position was any indication, and her companions just as ‘her escort.’ “This is Chief Jahka, son of Jow and leader of the Laughing Pony tribe.” ah, so he was the son of the leader.

Shon covered his face shaking his head as Lily waved to the man with a happy, “Hi!” before giving a little bow, as if it were an afterthought, and repeating her request from earlier, “we have come seeking an audience with your Shaman.” she still had no mind for decorum or ceremony.

Apparently, her eccentricities weren't too offensive because the leader just let out a loud booming laugh. His voice was deep and carried clearly across the gathering. “We have been waiting for a representative of the kingdom since our young Pia awakened. Am I to assume you are they?” he leaned forward resting one hand on his knee and eyeing each member of the party in turn.

His eye lingered particularly long on Tuth, the only one in a robe, while Lily stepped aside to introduce everyone, “That’s right. This is Tuth the official representative of the Mages guild, and this is Shon, the official representative of the Temple of Heironeous.” Shon bowed at the waist, left fist in right hand, while Tuth glanced quickly from him to the leader then jumped a little bowing as well. Lily giggled causing Shon to sign before straightening, he wondered if they had ever even tried to teach her etiquette or if they had and she had disregarded the lessons.

She continued the introductions, “traveling with us are Masters Velona and Veon-Zih of the Taolu and Ryukyu monasteries and ranger Yua of the southern wood.” each of them bowed as the leader nodded to them.

Chief Jahka stroked his short beard in a motion reminiscent of Veon-Zih and said, “there are an awful lot of you for a simple investigation into an elemental Shaman.” to which Lily shrugged and Shon squeezed his eyes shut rather than continue to watch her.

“Well technically only Shon, Tuth and I were asked to come, but we were already traveling with our groups, so we decided to come together.” it was like talking to a five-year-old. Shon covered his face again, eyes still closed, “I hope it’s not too inconvenient for you. I can not eat if it will help.” but the leader laughed his booming laugh and Shon opened his eyes behind his fingers.

Chief Jahka was slapping his thigh as he laughed and motioned for his guests to have a seat in the place of honor to his right, “nonsense, have a seat and eat all you want! It's not often we get visits by two blessed shaman in one season.” two? They each bowed again and moved to take their seats when the leader pointed to Shon at the end and bellowed, “You lad. You paladins are all the same,” Shon twitched, “don’t let the lass bother you, every tribe knows the best shaman are also the most outlandish.” he laughed again then lowered his volume to speak with Veon-Zih who had taken the seat next to Lily to the man's immediate right.

Slowly the other higher ranking members of the tribe joined the leader's circle while the rest formed smaller circles around the outside of the prestigious group. Only two places remained, both to Jahka’s immediate left, when a young girl appeared out of the shadows between the yurts. She was in her middle teens and of a moderate height. Her hair was the color of rich earth and long with a natural wave most of the way down her back. Her skin was a dark olive and her eyes a stunning green. And Shon hated her.

His fists clenched into tight balls around his eating utensils at the sight of her. It was shocking enough that he tore his eyes away to loosen his fingers willfully before looking at her again. Squinting across the circle, he saw her lip curl as their eyes met. Apparently the feeling was mutual. It made no sense, Shon was not the type to judge people on appearances alone and even if he were there was nothing about her that should set off any internal alarms. And yet he felt a visceral repulsion of this teenage girl.

She took the seat next to Jahka who smiled over at her before looking concerned at the last empty seat and saying, “where is Arver?” to which the young girl shook her head mournfully.

“He says he is still not feeling well,” she leaned forward to smile at Lily sitting on the Chiefs other side, “but he bid me welcome our new guests. He looks forward to meeting with you in person.” Lily returned the smile and reached across Jahka, who had to lean back, to shake the girl's hand.

It was a good thing that Shon was far away from the interaction because he felt a powerful urge to slap Lily’s hand away before the girl could touch her. “My name is Lily.” the girl flinched a little at the first touch of the handshake, it often surprised people how hot Lily’s hands were, but continued her smile and didn’t let go, “you must be the new shaman Pia.” Lily continued, letting go of the girl's hand while she nodded confirmation.

Shon looked away, half angry and half confused as to why he was angry. Lifting his drink to try and clear his mind his eyes went wide when he found the contents of the cup frozen solid. Now he could add scared to the mix of emotions, and he turned his head and arched his neck to see the pommel of his sword over his left shoulder. The gem was clear as glass.

Closing his eyes Shon focused his breathing, trying to pull his energy back into himself. “Are you alright?” Yua whispered. Shon shook his head just a fraction but didn't answer, continuing to breathe until he felt he had regained control of his ki. He looked at the pommel again and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it had turned an opaque white. What the hells was wrong with him?

“Shon?” Yua whispered again.

This time he met her eyes saying, “I’m fine, Thank you.” she blinked at him, but he didn’t comment further, stabbing his roast meat and focusing intently on his plate rather than the two young ladies still holding a lively conversation to either side of the Laughing Pony Chieftain.

The feist continued for some time until Lily let out a huge yawn and stretching stood with a smile. She didn’t need to ask where they would be sleeping, as she had started the yawn the chief had waved over his son Gardurth and had spoken into his ear as Lily stood. The warrior gestured for Lily to proceed him, which she did with a little nod an appreciative smile.

Lily made a little detour, however. As she was passing Shon, she stopped and knelt behind him, resting her chin on his shoulder and stifling another yawn. “I’m tired,” she stated unnecessarily.

Shon snorted, “That's what happens when you show off with fire horses.” which made her giggle and him smile.

“Come to bed with me.” Shon choked, and Lily yawned again.

A few seats down Velona said, “remember we are all sharing a yurt please.” to which Shon hid his blushing face for a moment before running his fingers through his hair. She needn't have reminded him after the previous night. And either way Lily seemed far too tired to explore anything other than her dreams.

Lily whined in his ear, and he reached up to pat her on the cheek before standing. “Alright alright,” definitely like a five-year-old. She just didn't want to lay down by herself.

Gardurth lead them to a moderately sized Yurt one circular row away from the central gathering. Entering the enclosure, Shon was shocked to find no central pole holding up the middle and his hands twitched again with the desire to sketch the design out. It was only then that he realized they hadn’t brought their pacts. He had been so distracted by the girl PIa that he hadn’t noticed that someone had taken them from the dining area and brought them to the Yurt ahead of time because they were already there against the far wall.

Lily groaned and wobbled on her feet after Gardurth left. Shon reached out to steady her, concerned even after she smiled at him. “That really was an unnecessarily big display wasn't it?” she said, referring to her horse.

Shon sighed and nodded, “sit down, I’ll get your bedroll.” she obeyed instantly, plopping down on the carpeted floor over the hard-packed earth with an ‘oof’ while Shon moved off to grab both of their sleeping rolls. He laid them out next to each other and Lily crawled over before standing at the head of her roll and un-tieing her pants.

Shon turned quickly away. Not that it really mattered, her tunic was long enough to cover what mattered even with the trousers off. Either way, he waited until he could hear her shimmying into the bedroll before turning around to see her laying on her side, already breathing slow and even, if not asleep then soon to be.

Striping off his shirt Shon moved to join her in his own, separate, sleeping roll only to find that her eyes had opened again and were staring at him. Suddenly self-conscious of his shirtlessness Shon hurried into his blankets while Lily giggled and closed her eyes again, reaching a single hand out to brush his before he could pull it away. Shon blinked down at her hand before reaching out to gently maintain the contact, closing his eyes to try and sleep.

***

Pia stayed at the feist until all of the guests had retired, then made her way back, not to her yurt but to the other guest Arver’s yurt. Despite claiming ill health the man was awake and waiting for her when she entered.

” he spoke draconic, a language he was teaching her, but she was still struggling with.

.” rolling her eyes she sat down and switched back to common, “only three are official representatives, but there are six total.” Pia leaned an arm on her knees and rested her chin in her hands as she thought, “the shaman, the sorcerer girl, I like her. But there is another… the temple man,” she felt her lip twitch in irritation at the thought of the cold-eyed man, “I don’t like him. There's something about him…”

Arver snorted and continued to speak in damn draconic, “perhaps you are repelled by a follower of Heironeous, your spiritual mother is a known enemy of his.” he was insisting that she learn the language, and also that she was making quick progress despite her frustration with it.

“I don’t know. I don’t trust him,” Pia said, not wanting to talk about the man anymore.

Tell me about the girl.” Arver said, reading her annoyance and choosing to move on, “you said she was a sorcerer. Like you…

“Not like me,” she said, then groaned as he glared at her, switching to draconic, “she is blessed with fire. So much that her skin burns to the touch.

Yours is wet and cool to the touch…” he led, it wasn’t that unusual for a sorcerer to have outward signs of their power, generally the more powerful, the more prominent the signs.

Yes, but she also has red stripes on her face and hand.” Pia ran three fingers across her cheek to mime the location of Lily’s stripes

Arver moved forward, scooting on his crossed legs to get closer to the young Shaman sorcerer, “what?” he spoke in common, “like tattoos?”

“No,” Pia also moved closer, it was as though his curiosity was contagious, “they have a texture to them, like a fish, or a snake.”

The older man leaned back sighing at the cloth ceiling of the yurt, “scales…” he had returned to draconic, “she could be one of Mourndancers creations.

Pia leaned further in, nearly folded over her crossed legs, “who?”

But Arver wasn’t looking at her, he was breathing slowly, his eyes darting back and forth across the ceiling but not seeing it, “Fire was the first to go missing…

“What are you talking about.” Pia didn’t like being ignored, and her frustration was evident in her voice.

You need to bring her to me.” Arver said suddenly, looking at the young sorcerer intently, “she could be our greatest ally,” and then in a whisper as he looked down still lost in thought, “or enemy…

” Pia spoke with punctuated emphasis, “Are you. Talking about?

He blinked at her, obviously not used to being questioned or disobeyed. Grunting in frustration he leaned forward again, bringing his old face only a foot or so from hers, “she may be a dragon. The only reason you and your fellow chosen exist at all.

He had answered her but created more questions. Pia opened her mouth to argue further, but Arver leaned back saying, “If it is necessary I will explain it to you. AFTER you bring her to me.

***

Shon was already gone when Lily woke up. Looking around the yurt, she saw it was only she and Tuth left sleeping, while the bright light from a sun well risen shone through the vent in the roof and around the edge of the cloth door.

She sighed, disappointed that she wouldn’t see him sleep ruffled and shirtless again. But wiggled out of her bedroll to find a clean set of pants and a new tunic. Tuth was still dead to the world and would be for a few hours still if no one went out of their way to wake him. From outside she could hear the laughter of men and the neighing of ever-present horses.

Lifting the cloth door, Lily squinted painfully through the light. She could tell that she had slept too long from the light in the yurt, but the brightness still shocked her. Shielding her eyes, she smiled as the first thing she saw was Master Veon-Zih and Shon working through some of their kata in perfect synchronization. Some of the tribesmen had formed a small group off to the side of the exercise and were talking and laughing amongst each other as they watched. It was almost like a dance, though a deadly one. Lily could watch them all day, but beside the door Master Velona cleared her throat, drawing her lazy students blushing attention. “We should do our own drills.” she said with a smile at Lily’s blush, “we didn’t yesterday.” nodding Lily retreated into the yurt for a moment to emerge with her staff and a stick for her hair.

The ladies moved a little way away to begin their own routines though Lily made a point of positioning herself so she could still see Shon for most of the turning and pivoting form. “Lily,” Velona admonished, using her staff to adjust the young woman into a more realistic direction, “you’re not the only one who enjoys the view, but there will be plenty of time for a private showing in the future.” Lily stuck her tongue out at her teacher, but settled into her stance with closed eyes and a deep breath, before opening them again, focused and ready to work.

They went through the kata from the first she had learned all the way to the most advanced that Master Velona had taught her in recent years. She focused on the movements but couldn’t help but allow her mind to wander every once and a while before forcing it back to the task at hand. She knew of the history of Velona and Veon-Zih, or more accurately the lack of history. And she started to feel a little guilty, had her touchiness with Shon put salt in old wounds? Lily, was not the type to muse over possibilities so between one kata and the next she stopped, turning fully to her teacher, and tilted her head in question, “Master Velona?”

The monk looked her way coming out of the starting stance to lean on her staff, waiting for Lily to finish the question.

“Does it hurt? Being around Master Veon-Zih?” she couldn’t imagine it ever hurting to be around Shon, even if they never went any further then they had before.

Velona sighed and looked at the men. They had just finished their two-man drills and were sitting with the tribesmen drinking water and speaking animatedly. Well, Veon-Zih was speaking animatedly, Shon was sitting quietly watching them all talk, occasionally nodding or shaking his head to something specific. “No.” she answered finally, and smiled at Lily when the young woman had tilted her head in the opposite direction, questioning her sincerity, “it's nice to spend time with him again, and though I still wish it could have been different, I’m happy with what I have.”

Lily took a moment to look from her teacher to Veon-Zih, then shifted her gaze slightly to rest on Shon. She thought she understood. She wanted more, now more than ever, but she also knew she could live with what she had if it was all he could give her. Shrugging, Lily took up her stance again to finish her drills.

***

Yua shook Tuth awake just before noon. The ranger had said she was ok with letting him sleep in, but she had no idea it entailed the entire morning. She wasn’t even sure why she cared just that everyone else was not only awake but fully active hours before. The young mage mumbled but sat up with only some mild grumbling. Yua squatted over him incredulous on how anyone could sleep so much.

“Good morning sunshine,” she said sarcastically cheerful.

Tuth blinked dumbly at her then looking around mumbled, “morning…?”

“Well more like afternoon,” she said patting him hard on the shoulder and standing. He watched her stand then looked down again rubbing his eyes and groaning as he climbed to shaking feet.

“Where's everyone?” he asked, his voice only a little clearer.

Yua ticked off the other members of their party on her fingers as she spoke, “Veon-Zih and Velona are walking around the encampment together, I think they have some kind of history with the amount of time they spend alone together. Shon agreed to wrestle with some of the tribesmen; apparently, they revere Kord and wanted a few friendly competitions in his name, Lily is down at the river with that shaman, Pia, and I’m about to leave with some of the hunters.”

Tuth nodded absentmindedly patting his robes as though he were looking for something but wasn’t sure exactly what it might be, “wait.” he looked up at her, “you're leaving with some of the hunters?” Yua rolled her eyes at the young man, of all the things she had said that was the least interesting in her opinion.

“Yes, we are going hunting. I have some experience on the plains and mounted hunting, but I could always use more so I asked to go along.” honestly seeing the monks and their students going through their drills in the morning made her feel a little guilty about not keeping up with her own practices and training. Not that she was ever the type to get up and do drills or anything crazy like that, but it had been a while since she had had a chance to use her mounted archery and she didn’t want to get too rusty. 

“Oh…” Tuth looked down again, “what should I do?” to which Yua threw her hands up eyes wide and shaking her head. The hell did she know or care?

“You could always investigate that pseudodragon you said you saw last night.” at that his eyes grew intense and the ranger was taken aback, he suddenly seemed a lot older than he had any time before, like the real guild mage he supposedly was.

He looked at her directly, and she blinked still unsure of this change of character, “you're right. Thank you.” he turned to dig through his pack but said, “have fun with your hunt, if you see Lily, please tell her I’m awake and need to see her.”

“Is it important?” Yua asked, wondering if she should seek out the girl before leaving for the hunt. But Tuth was shaking his head and waving her away.

“No no, it’s fine. I can get with her tomorrow if necessary.” he had pulled a book out of his bag and was flipping through the pages, paying the ranger no further mind as she left the yurt.

***

Tuth cursed under his breath again, falling back to lie flat on his back and look up at the darkening sky through the hole in the ceiling. It was almost time for another extravagant supper with the chief of the tribe, and he was not looking forward to it. All his readings pointed in the same direction.

He wasn’t a divination master, but he did have some experience with detection and reading spells, and everything pointed towards a warlock. Lily had assured him that the Shaman Pia wasn’t the one he kept detecting, she was definitely a sorcerer and having met her family she was definitely native to the tribe and not some fugitive from the kingdom. But that only left two options. Either there was a warlock hiding amongst them, most likely that second ‘shaman’ who had claimed sickness the night before, or someone else in the tribe had made some illicit deal with an otherworldly patron.

Tuth would put money on the former if he were a betting man, and if it weren’t such a delicate situation. Half of him thought it might be better to just make a report and leave it to the specialists of the guild to hunt down the warlock but the other half knew that time was of the essence in situations like this. And he had Lily…

He cursed again at that thought, digging his fists into his eyes. Lily was powerful, scary sometimes, but she had never gone up against a warlock that he knew of. He had some anti-magic tools for a situation like this, but it would leave himself and Lily powerless as well. And there was Shon to think about… he was the Temple representative, he wouldn’t be permitted to leave knowing that an illegal warlock was near. He had a duty to uphold the law of the land. That made Tuth roll his sore eyes as he brought his fists down to strike the ground beside him.

He sighed a moment later though. He wasn’t being fair to Shon, he didn’t seem as bad as some of the paladins they had worked with in the past, he didn’t have that ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude and Lily somehow seemed happier, something he hadn't thought was possible. “Copper for your thoughts young man?” Tuth looked across his prone body to the door where Veon-Zih stood with the flap in one hand and his other rubbing his shaven head.

“Veon-Zih!” Tuth shouted then rolled over to climb to his feet, “you're perfect!”

The older man looked incredulously at the mage, confused but apparently willing to take the compliment, “why thank you, I do try…”

“I need your advice,” Tuth interrupted, rushing up to the man and grabbing his hand in his urgency.

Veon-Zih patted the back of the young man's hand reassuringly moving further into the yurt before taking a seat, “calm down young man, what do you need?”

The monk had taken a cross-legged seat in one smooth motion, hardly moving his back at all but Tuth just plopped onto the ground with no grace and a small poof of dust from the carpet, “there's a warlock here. I think it's that second shaman the chief mentioned, but I’m not sure if we can handle it on our own.” he was speaking very fast, and all Veon-Zih could do was nod and wait for him to breathe, “we SHOULD try and bring them in alive to face a trial and to interrogate, and I have the cuffs to nullify his magic if we can get them on. BUT he's either a guest of the tribe or a member of it, and they will be forced to protect him do to hospitality protocols and…”

He gasped, and the monk reached forward to rest a hand on Tuth's shoulder to stall him from continuing, “Tuth, breath.” the mage snapped his mouth shut and nodded, “the chief is no fool. He not only knew that representatives from the kingdom province would be coming but also that we were it and he welcomed us. I highly doubt he would harbor a warlock knowingly. Such is enough to bring down the entire temple and the local militia on his tribe, and that is assuming the province doesn’t get the kingdom involved.”

“But…”

But Veon-Zih held up a finger to interrupt him, “we will speak with Chief Jahka tomorrow morning in private. He will behave differently privately then he would in front of his tribe, and we owe him the courtesy of speaking with him first before making anything this damning public.” he smiled softly at the young man and clapped a hand on his shoulder again with a little shake, “diplomacy is the best policy. Shon will agree, and I will let him know as the official representative.”

Tuth sighed, almost deflating with relief, “thank you. I’ve never dealt with anything like this before…”

“Very few have, thankfully.” Veon-Zih smiled and stood, reaching down to help up the mage who took the hand gratefully. “But now it's time to eat.”

***

Veon-Zih had cornered Shon on the way to dinner to let him know what the Tuth had discovered. Shon had managed to resist cursing, but he did run a hand through his hair as he thought. “I agree, we will talk to the chief tomorrow.” he looked past the heads of the seated tribesmen to Lily who was talking to the shaman girl Pia while the chief laughed between them.

Shon gave a little snarl that made Veon-Zih furrow his brow in concern, “are we sure it isn’t the girl?” Shon asked his master, which just shocked the monk more.

Veon-Zih looked from Shon to the girl and back, “pretty sure. Why?”

“I don’t know. I don’t trust her.” Shon shook his head, he still didn’t know why he felt so negatively towards Pia and was a little ashamed that he had voiced anything, even to Veon-Zih, “like you said, we will deal with it tomorrow.”

The men joined their companions at the right of the chief again that night. Shon managed to get the spot beside Lily, much to her delight and the obvious scorn of Pia. The two glared at each other for a moment, neither wanting to look away first, before Lily placed her head between them breaking the eye contact and obliviously saying, “Shon is my favorite treasure Pia, he's also a sorcerer, though he doesn’t practice.” she smiled at him, and Shon couldn’t help but smile a little in return and shake his head at her. He didn’t like announcing his magic status, but he hadn’t exactly told her not to tell anyone.

“Is that so?” Pia made a good show of polite curiosity but there was definitely a small sneer in her voice that Shon chose to ignore and Lily didn’t seem to notice.

“It is. He's one of the most powerful I know.” she grinned, and the look had a bit of steel behind it that made Shon wonder if she had noticed the animosity between them after all and that she didn’t approve. He shifted slightly in his seat, so his crossed knee brushed lightly against hers.

Lily reached down and placed a hand directly on Shon's thigh, making him jump a bit in surprise. Pia had moved on to focus on her food, and Lily leaned over to whisper in his ear, “are you ok?”

Shon rested his hand on hers briefly before reaching for his drink and answering, “Fine. There’s just something…” he glanced at Pia again but shook his head to clear it and smiled, trying to look reassuring, at Lily again, “don’t worry about me.”

As suspected the second guest didn’t make an appearance, claiming, through Pia again, to still feel ill. ‘Shamans sickness’ she called it, but the fact that the message came through her only made Shon more suspicious. Overall the dinner was uneventful, until the chief announced a toast of kumis, a traditional drink for the tribe and honored guests, made from fermented mare’s milk.

Pia poured the drink into a large communal bowl that would be passed around, whispering a blessing over it. As she chanted and passed the bowl to her left Shon leaned towards Lily and whispered desperately, “don’t drink it.” she furrowed her brow at him, but he held her gaze intently, silently willing her to understand how he felt. Something was wrong, he didn’t trust this girl at all.

Lily gave the smallest of nods, and when it was his turn, Shon brought the bowl to his lips but didn’t swallow. Breathing a sigh of relief, he watched as Lily did the same before passing the bowl to the chief. Shon didn’t think it would be deadly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to the drink and the blessing then there should be.

***

The companions all retired to their yurt at the same time, long after the dinner and conversation had died down and the waning moon had risen. Shon lay awake, trying to sleep and failing while his companions breathed slow and steady around him. He was just considering getting up and doing some drills by moonlight to clear his head when someone entered the yurt.

Shon slowed his breathing, mimicking the rhythm of the sleepers and listening carefully with his eyes closed. The steps were light but not intentionally quite. “Lily,” Pia, she was whispering loudly leaning over Lily next to him, “Lily, come with me, Arver wants to speak with you.” how was she not waking the others? Shon didn’t move, feeling Lily sit up beside him.

“Pia? Now?” Lily didn’t bother to whisper, and Shon grew even more concerned that the others weren’t stirring, though their breathing was still steady.

“Yes, please.” she managed to put a bit of a pleading note into her voice, and that was all it took to have Lily wiggling out of bed and reaching for her discarded trousers.

Shon waited for the two girls to leave before getting up himself. He hesitated, torn between waking the others and following the sorcerers. It was only a brief hesitation, and he grabbed his shirt and silently followed the girls into the dark camp. He was careful to stay far enough away not to be seen but close enough to watch them enter the mystery shaman’s yurt.

He avoided the entrance, moving around the neighboring yurt to the rear of the strangers, listening carefully through the canvas.

fekiikiri ixen ithael” it was a man's voice, and the language was not one Shon recognized.

dout Vs'shtak ui zi bensvelk,” Lily’s voice. Shon cursed, if they spoke in this language the whole time he would gain nothing from listening.

***

Lily entered the dark yurt blinking. The stars had been bright outside, and it seemed that Pia and this other man hadn’t wanted to keep any lights.

Greetings Firewyrm,” a man spoke from the shadows.

Your draconic is very good,” Lily answered in the same language. It had been a long time since she had heard draconic outside of the occasional kobold scream. She squinted into the shadows while the man took a few more steps forward into the light coming thru the roof of the yurt.

You really are she. Tell me, what is your name?” Lily rolled her eyes, this mysterious conversation in draconic and shadows in the dead of night was ridiculous.

Waving her hand she floated four little balls of fire in each of the compass directions of the round yurt. Behind her, Pia gave a small start and covered her eyes while the man in front of her just closed his for a time before slowly opening them. “That's better.” Lily spoke in common but went back to draconic for, “my name is Lily. I am sure Pia told you that already.”

Arver furrowed his brow at her as she tilted her head waiting for him to continue, “you know that is your name?” he asked emphasizing the ‘know.’

Lily rolled her eyes again if there was any sign that this man was the warlock and owner of the pseudodragon it would be this line of questioning. Those at her tower always said she would ‘know her name when she knew it.’ But then Shon gave her the name Lily… “my name is Lily.” she repeated, “I have chosen it.

To her surprise Arver laughed, “independent, powerful, confident, you, my dear, are definitely a dragon.” and he stepped forward and hugged her, patting her back like an uncle who hadn’t seen his niece in years.

Lily was too surprised to move, she tried to digest his words while he finished the embrace, stepping back to hold her at arm's length and study her face in the light of her own fire, “the polymorph could have been better,” he squinted at her slitted eyes, “but it's not unusual with the magic resistance of a dragon, even a young one.” he spoke quietly, as if he was talking to himself.

Slowly Lily rested her hand on the man's chest then pointed her fingers to push him away without taking a step back herself. “I have no idea what you're talking about.” she had fallen into the rhythm of draconic, though it had been so long she would have thought she had forgotten.

“Explain Arver, I brought her as you asked.” Pia moved forward to stand between the other two, forming a little triangle in the light of the stars and Lily’s fire. She was scowling and had turned her body ever so slightly to face the warlock, favoring Lily.

It’s as I said silly girl.” he snapped at Pia who gasped and glared at him, “she is one of the dragons, and the tie your goddess needed to chose you.” he pointed one wrinkled finger at the shaman and Lily looked from one to the other in very quick succession looking like she was shaking her head in denial.

Despite her naivete, Lily wasn’t stupid, and this was the first time she had run into someone who may know something about her and her tower. She had spent the last six years not caring much about what she might be or the group that had cared for her in the north, but now, faced with this man who knew something, she was suddenly curious. “You know we will have to take you back to Lenare for trial right?” she asked the man.

Arver returned his gaze to Lily, but he was shaking his head with a little smile of his own, “yes yes I know your companions will want to take me in.” he stepped forward a half step and gripped her arms again, “but with you here they won’t stand a chance, and we can continue great Io’s work to bring back true dragons.” he trailed off, speaking to himself and letting go of Lily before she could manually remove his hands.

The warlock turned his back on the girls, moving back in the yurt to dig through his packs. Lily moved just her eyes to look at Pia and whispered loudly to the girl, “Pia, what has he told you?” Pia blinked at her a moment, and Lily repeated her question in common.

To her surprise, the shaman smiled, “He came about a month before you did, he explained why I kept seeing this woman in my dreams and who gave me my power.” Lily cocked her head to the side, and Pia continued, speaking fast and distracted by her excitement. “It’s Tiamat! And it’s our destiny to bring back her dragon children.”

Lily looked more than a little skeptical, “I don't believe in destiny…” she managed to say before Arver turned back to them, a little pseudodragon on his arm and a wand in his hand.

That's because you’ve already fulfilled your destiny by existing,” he said before walking past the girls again towards the yurt door.

Pia took a step closer to Lily and whispered, “he's a bit mad, but he hasn’t been wrong yet, and I’ve tested him extensively.”

Lily was only half listening, instead watching the warlock. She didn't like the look of that wand, and a voice in her head was screaming that she had been in a situation like this before, “where are you going Arver?

He chuckled turning part way as he lifted the door flap with his free hand, “to take care of that troublesome guild mage and paladin of course.” Lily’s eyes went wide, and Pia took a step away from her suddenly sweating. But Arver didn’t seem to notice as he continued, again trailing off as if talking to himself, “we can’t have them following us to the tower. If we leave in time, then the tribe will take the fall and…

“What?!” Pia shouted before throwing her arms up with a terrified scream. 

Lily only saw red.

***

Shon went back to rouse the others when the conversation in the yurt continued in that foreign language. He would trust Lily to tell them about it afterward, for now, he needed to make sure he could wake the others, and get any back-up they may need.

It took longer than was comfortable to wake his sleeping companions but soon enough they were all up and blinking at him, Veon-Zih and Velona looking more than a little confused and angry and Tuth rubbing his eyes and groaning. Shon wasted no time in explaining what little he could and if the content of his story weren’t enough to wake them further then his tone would have been.

“Wait, wait.” Tuth said patting the air between them while the others went for their clothes and weapons, “so Lily is meeting with the warlock and they are speaking some foreign language.”

Shon growled at the mage, and Veon-Zih admonished out of habit, “Shon…”

Which made Shon roll his eyes and say “yes, that’s right.” Far from not liking to waste words on unnecessary repetition, he felt they were wasting valuable time.

“And we were put into some kind of enchanted sleep by that weird milk last night?” Tuth continued.

“Yes,” Shon spoke through clenched teeth but was at least glad to see everyone else was ready to go.

Much to his grateful surprise Tuth just nodded and rushed to his pack pulling out a set of silver and gold manacles with different colored gems studded around the wrists. If it weren’t for the chain between them, Shon would have thought them some kind of expensive jewelry set.

Shon had just turned on his heal to head for the door when a distant scream had him frozen in place. The companions exchanged startled looks before the shock wore off and allowed them to move again, rushing for the door and the cool night.

The sky was alight with orange, and yellow and the stars were obscured by billowing black smoke. Soon there was more screaming followed by bellowed orders for water and removal of nearby yurts.

Lily.

Considerably faster than the others the two monks were first on the scene followed by Shon with poor Yua and Tuth left in their dust. ’s yurt was ablaze, the canvas sides having already burned away while the lattice bones formed crisscrossing fire around the two figures still inside.

Shon shielded his face with his arms, squinting through the gap in them. Lily stood in the middle, her hair dancing about her body and her hands covering her face as if she were in some kind of pain. On the edge of the latticework was Pia, she had surrounded herself in a bubble of water, but her olive skin was red from the heat as the steam billowed from the walls of her shelter, boiling away almost as fast as she could keep it built.

The tribesmen and women were rushing from the nearby river and back to the burning yurt again, trying in vain to put out the fire. “Shon get Pia!” Veon-Zih shouted over the roar of the flames.

Immediately Shon fell to his knees as he had done six years before, with the voice of the blacksmith ringing through his memories, make a path. He didn’t have time to feel grateful that he had left his sword behind or that he hadn’t spent the last few hours filling stone after stone with all the energy he could muster. But he was grateful that the ice came quickly to his call, and his vision remained clear while the path shot towards the girl surrounded by water.

When the ice path reached Pia she flinched away from it only for a moment before following it with her eyes and then very quickly with her feet, knocking down part of the crumbling lattice wall to run out of the blaze and sliding as she turned sharply to face it again. To her credit the teenage girl went right to work, moving her arms in a graceful arc she drew the water not only from around herself but from out of the buckets being carried by the tribesmen and circling her hands in the air above her head formed a cloud within the smoke that began to rain down the gathered water on the fire.

Inside the inferno, Lily looked up as the water splashed down. The rain seemed to only have a containing effect because the fire wasn’t going down but it also wasn’t spreading. Tuth and Yua had made it to the group, the mage staring wide-eyed at the fire for a moment before looking around shouting, “where’s the warlock?!”

Shon also looked around and saw an old man in long robes standing not far from the fire amongst some the leadership of the tribe, gaping in awe at the display of pure destructive power. But it seemed the warlock had also heard Tuth shout because he pointed a bony finger at the boy, his lips mouthing something that couldn’t be heard.

Everything happened so fast that Shon wouldn’t be able to say in what order everything had come about. The pseudodragon appeared beside Tuth, it's barbed tail striking the young man in the neck and causing him to crumple to the ground, Lily let out a roar that rivaled her fire in volume and intensity, and the warlock fell to his knees clawing at his throat until he burst into flame, burned from the inside out. The tribe's leaders fell away from the still kneeling corps letting out startled and terrified screams, and Lily started walking to the edge of her fire.

The farthest edge of the yurt from the now moving Lily was finally starting to show signs that the water being rained down on it would put the fire out but Shon hardly noticed while he jumped back to his feet and moved towards Lily.

Veon-Zih and Yua were crouched beside the hopefully unconscious Tuth, the pseudodragon was gone, disappearing with the death of its master. Velona had also moved towards Lily, staff in hand, but Lily it appeared didn’t recognize the monk because long tendrils of fire wiped out from her fingers as her master approached forcing Velona to roll back or be caught in the ropelike flames.

Shon moved past the female monk, letting out a slow breath and wrapping himself in frost as he neared the fire. “Lily!” Lily was on the edge of the burning Yurt now, heading slowly towards the corps of the warlock and the leadership but she turned blank red eyes to Shon when he called out her name.

The fire whip came out again but rather than roll back Shon rolled forward bringing him closer to Lily while the fire grazed his back and feet. She didn’t recognize him, and Shon could barely recognize her. Lily’s face was blank, but her eyes glowed an angry red, and she struck out at him again, her hand forming a spear as she stabbed sharp burning nails toward his throat.

Shon tilted his head just a fraction, taking some of the hit along the side of his neck but coming inside her reach in the process. Reaching up with his left hand he gripped the back of her head, lacing his fingers in burning hair while he knocked her next attack away with his free right. Shon didn’t really know why he did it, or what made him think that it would work. Except that all the children's stories always had a kiss waking up some princess or other. Leaning forward he kissed Lily, breathing as much cold out and between them to protect himself and cool her as possible. Her eyes widened for a moment then cleared, drooping before closing completely, her body going limp in his arms.

Shon lowered himself to the ground with Lily, shaking hands feeling her neck for a pulse he wouldn’t be able to read with his nerves so shot anyway. “You can’t have them,” she breathed barely audible with the continued roar of the dying blaze behind her. A tear began to form at the edge of her eyes only to evaporate immediately away from the heat of the fire


© Copyright 2019 Shawn Cameron. All rights reserved.

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