Threshold, Liyeland. Early Summer, Dragon’s Accord Year 303

 

Vetheltli smiled as he walked across the open-air garden atop the Shrine Island palace, towards the door set into the structure’s spire. The Dame Herald was a pleasant enough human to talk to, and kind to him, which put her over most of the High King’s retainers in his eyes. He reached the door and looked back, seeing her leaning on her signature musket as she looked out across the city. He could grill her for hours on her thoughts and the relations between their two races, but knew deep down she’d rather be nowhere near this city, and her frustration tended to surface as the day ended. Perhaps someday he could find an excuse to escort her on one of her many missions abroad as the royal messenger. I’d do something actually diplomatic for once in my training.

Sighing, he turned back towards the door. A ring of silver flame appeared before his face as he tapped the index in his helmet. The spell it called drew the faintest amount of life-force from him as the door swung open. Once within the broad spiral of the spire’s staircase, he flicked the door closed with his tail, closed the spell in a faint shower of silver sparks, and descended. As he reached the room at the bottom, made out of as much glass as stone, he paused. He still had some time before the ambassador he reported to should be awake. Would he rather suffer the indignities of drake-human relations, or the constant deference required of a young drake, a mere twenty-eight years, by his seniors?

Shaking his head, he paced directly across the empty room, towards one of the doors that led to the Great Hall. Another silver ring appeared to pull this one open, though this time he made sure to extinguish the spell as soon as the door was open. Even still, one of the guards inside glanced at him with narrowed eyes.

Though the High King rested in his personal chambers, the hall still hosted many people. Not members of the court – they had more private rooms to discuss their business – but pilgrims, seeking to visit the Shrine. To Vetheltli’s left, a massive pale gold altar sat at the back of the hall behind the High King’s throne. Under this single piece of metal lay a roughly worked slab of marble, as different from the rest of the polished granite floor as the Great Hall differed from the surrounding architecture of the palace.

It was to this slab the pilgrims migrated, kept in order by the palace guards, though both the pilgrims and the guards glanced askance at Vetheltli now and then. Some stopped at its base and bowed their heads to pray. Others stepped atop it – a small step, one shortened by three centuries of the altar’s weight sinking that slab into the earth below – and laid a hand on the altar itself, concentrating. In truth a spellplate of preposterous size, those with even the least magical talent still felt a faint trickle of power flow through them, saw the telltale ring of fire that hovered in front of the face of anyone priming a spell. A member of the Diamond Conclave, the human’s magical authority, watched this second group of pilgrims closely, waiting to pull out of line any who showed potential. None would be able to actually cast it; even the Patriarch needed help, but humans always wanted an early start for those who hinted at ability.

Behind the altar, facing the throne from its opposite side, stood a statue in a dragon’s likeness of pure and unblemished iron, filling as much space as the altar itself. It was to this monument Vetheltli moved. He always felt self-conscious when near it, displaying for all the pilgrims present how unlike their sire a drake was, with their feathered wings and chests and tail-tips, their slender build compared to the dragon’s bulk, though the difference in size was not apparent here. But here, thanks to the human’s need for monuments to remember their own past, Vetheltli could pay his respects to his own sovereign. And for that I am grateful for the humans’ short lives. The Senex, the first creatures who could be called drakes, all still lived. Since their history was living and known, the drakes never built memorials as humans and reytra did.

An inscribed plate adorned the statue’s base. Dedicated to the God-King Luchaine, Sovereign of Perkusab and Savior of Humanity, who gave his immortality and his life to deliver his people from oblivion, and Patriarch Dėherodase, the Last Dragon, Warden of Stars, who assisted Luchaine in his miracle at this place. Despite the humans’ central object of affection, they chose the Patriarch’s visage for this monument, and only partially because it was the Patriarch who had used this massive spellplate. The truth, and the source of one of the Patriarch’s five great questions, was that no human had ever remembered what their savior looked like, except for a single piece of armor he was known to have worn.

But the Patriarch was still honored. How many of the pilgrims around Vetheltli still gave the dragon the respect their forefathers had shown here? It’s probably easy for a them, a race who had to sacrifice their Patriarch and everything they’d known to forge a new life out of disaster, to hold us in contempt, we who still know our Patriarch and have never been threatened. Reytra history told a similar tale, an exile from their arctic home and a long southward journey led by a great figure named Belan, to the safety of the Sunthravale. Drakes lacked such historical hardships.

Speaking of contempt…

He turned away from the statue, and exited the Great Hall by the closest side door. The third door in this passage’s outer wall led to a diplomatic suite set aside for the drake delegation, and the guards flanking that door opened it for Vetheltli when he arrived. He paced straight ahead, towards the central chamber that was their usual center of activity. To his surprise, the other three drakes of the delegation were already awake. He ignored the urge to thrash his tail in consternation, and waited patiently at the door.

A minute and a half later – enough time to enforce the difference in seniority between Ninth and Third Children, Dėherksė returned his gaze through the gold filigree of his ornate mask. “What wind brings you, Vetheltli?”

“A stale wind, Ambassador. The human kings again couldn’t decide anything of consequence. The Marshal once more drives south at nothing. Another Council passes without any cause for concern.”

“Of course it does,” one of the ambassador’s two aides sneered. “These pathetic savages can’t stop killing each other long enough to get anything done.”

Both Dėherksė and Vetheltli shot the aide a glare, who softened his expression just enough to maintain decorum. Vetheltli looked away and composed himself when he realized he made the same mistake.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Dėherksė said when he returned his attention to Vetheltli. “Two of our brethren have vanished. They were last seen heading west. It could be, this time, that the Marshal had found something.”

Vetheltli straightened in surprise. “Sefeldri’s?”

“No, Lireysvu’s. Guards, not scouts. Ones who could be expected to fend for themselves alone, never mind two together. These two were known to depart for extended periods of time, but Lireysvu said their most recent assignment was a short one. He already mourns their loss.”

“Does he believe recovering their masks to be a lost cause?” Vetheltli said carefully, as he tried to avoid calling a Prime’s judgment or ability into question.

“He said they were two of his best. If he went himself he believes he’d need help-” at this the second of the two aides looked astonished- “and he doesn’t want to risk any more of his own. Sefeldri has been ordered to send one of her agents to investigate, but only when she feels it safe.”

Vetheltli dipped his head low enough to the floor that the lower edges of his helmet clanked against the stone. “May I make a suggestion?”

“You may.”

“I don’t doubt Sefeldri is already aware of the reytra movements, but she and Lireysvu might appreciate confirmation.”

“A good idea. Not like we’re doing anything else while we put the word out about our missing. I’ll write the report myself. Are you fit to deliver it?”

“Of course sir,” Vetheltli said, dipping his head again.

“Good. Make your preparations. Swift winds send you, Vetheltli.”

With one more bow, Vetheltli turned and left.

As a drake on his First Service, his quarters were plainly furnished compared to the rest of the diplomatic entourage. Almost all his sparse personal effects fit in a pair of saddlebags he lifted onto his back with magic. He cinched the bag’s sturdy straps with a bite and a yank, then rocked side to side to test the balance. it was good enough to start; the motions of flight would even out the rest.

He almost collided with Dėherksė, skidding to a stop and dropping his whole front body flat against the stone floor. The ambassador looked down at him – not that Vetheltli dared try to meet his gaze – then dropped a piece of paper to the ground in front of him. Once he left, Vetheltli gently grabbed it with a foretalon and placed it in one of his bags. He exited the diplomatic wing of the palace as fast as his magic could open doors for him.

Retracing his path back to the palace roof, he found Dame Dalei still looking out over the city. He crossed the palace’s length to her, stopping only when he reached the parapet. “It’s getting late,” he said to her, still looking out across the city beyond. “Don’t you have to report to the twin princes?”

“I have a little more time.”

“What is it you see out there?”

Dalei didn’t respond at first, still scanning the cityscape. Then, slowly, “Thousands of walls.”

“Being above them all doesn’t help?”

She shook her head. “Hardly.”

Only after another silence did he look at her again. “I was given a courier job. Think you can find some excuse to deliver a message of your own to Zidhizalye?”

She sighed and shook her head. “As much as I want to get back out there, and as nice a traveling companion I think you’ll make, I can’t. The worse the High King gets, the more I’m needed here. I only ever make trips to the other capitals, anymore.” Then, finally meeting his gaze, “So, a run to Zidhizalye? Are you coming right back?”

“Unless told otherwise, yes. I should be able to do the whole trip in around a month.”

“Oh please, you can do better than that.”

He eyed her sidelong, with a draconic grin. “Fine, you got me. Give me a time.”

“Beat three weeks.”

Vetheltli looked to the south. “If the currents are good.”

“Power through it.”

With a short laugh, Vetheltli replied, “You drive me even harder than my kin would. I’ll give it my best.”

“Do it for me, since I can’t go. I’ll be praying for you.”

“With your well-wishes, I’m sure I’ll make record time.”

He drew a small but stiff plate of silver from his pack, held firm in a magical grip edge-on. Slowly turning this way and that, he measured the wind by the amount of power flowing through him to keep the object fixed in front of his face. Impending nightfall brought calmer air, and he got an early start to the night anyhow. He could shift his sleep pattern during the journey to take advantage of more active daytime air and make faster progress.

“Alright, send me off.”

Dalei’s weapon looked like quite the improbable firearm; the bright silvery alloy that comprised its barrel vanished halfway down its length, with the back half of the firearm covered in a shroud of white porcelain enamel. Colored glass insets decorated this bulkier rear, the longest running almost the full length of the session, ending at the flash pan. The pan itself, and a corresponding fixture on the other side of the weapon with unclear purpose, were decorated with intertwining gold and silver filigree. Despite its unwieldy appearance, Dalei still readied it faster than he could imagine.

He strode to the southern edge of the roof, and gathered himself up on the parapet like a cat ready to pounce, balancing himself with his outstretched wings and tail. He heard Dalei follow him over, before a tense silence took hold.

When her musket’s crack split the air, he leapt.

Swift winds, Dėherksė said. Lets see how swift.