Chapter Six

Life on the road was simple and repetitive.

Familiar.


Whether the town has a name or not, Thæon avoids it, unless he has no other choice when he in need for supplies and food. It’s not often he can’t hunt long-ears or shoot down birds from the trees, but the further south he travels, into the territory of the Gledaibelann veld where the world rolled out into a pale meadow of sandy-blond grass, Thæon found his hunts to be less and less fruitful, forcing him to venture closer to villages that he would wish to visit.

Before too long, there were hardly any trees or bushes; only those that grew sprouting up amidst rock outcrops and decorated with coloured sashes, acting like road markers where there was no road through the veld; only that which travellers made themselves, following the trail of sashes between tree and rock spire alike until they were to come to a village.


The veld was beautiful in its own right, but when Thæon sat astride Bröder and looked out across the swaying grasslands, and saw how the distant horizon seemed to stretch on unending and forever out of reach, he felt very alone in the world.

To his right, the Tvawklaad Mountains continued to reach for the sky, (only now they were in Nadhras, the mountains were known as Kustedaiveron, ecumenically; Kustdutedai Tveirown locally), a black wall of rock stretching as far south as south could go and would accompany Thæon’s journey alongside a hundred dotted rock outcrops, of which had been decorated with colourful ribbons and the odd bird that would circle overhead for a while, before moving on; always keeping far out of range of Thæon’s arrows.


Hunting became more and more time consuming; plains hunting for small game best to be done with snares and traps and an afternoon of waiting. But Thæon wanted to reach the coast before Harvest and while he didn’t like to parade the gossip of a Medellin Clansman so far from his home, Thæon detested an empty stomach all the more.


And so, when he saw the smoke pillaring into the sky, Thæon bit his tongue and pushed Bröder onwards, trying not to think about the want of his winter cloak with its hood and how in the colder climates he could cover his face and it wouldn’t earn him a second glance or suspicious eyes.


They were still too close to Ered Naur’s border for him to lower his guard to any degree, not wanting to open himself up to the possibility of letting Bröder get carted off to work the fields for the rest of his life; himself gutted and left to bleed out in a ditch near a village wall, all because some suspicious greedy filth wanted the fat coin purse that hangs off his belt, right next to his swords.


But as the days folded into weeks, and the weeks gave way a parade of reds, golds and royal bronze, Thæon found there to be less and less Naurn, finding himself to be surrounded by hard working Nadir and Droll alike, his guard settling one evening of unexpected heavy rain to pull Bröder underneath a straw-woven shelter that was the Nadir’s version of a stable, tossing a coin to the Droll kid that had tending to his herd of goats after he had offered to rub the calf down.

Before setting off to find food for himself, Thæon dug into his satchel and plucked the last of the fruits from within, ignoring the way they gave a little under his fingers from where they’ve been off of the tree too long—Bröder was never picky when it came to fruits, but Thæon is sure that Obí has spoiled him with how many times he fetched him a peach or two whenever he was asked.


It’s been two weeks since Thæon left his dragon behind.


The weight on his chest is getting no easier to carry, but at least Thæon’s knows its name and knows the reason for it to weigh upon him. He finds himself wondering, as he sits with his back pressed up against a sleeping Bröder, as to whether or not he had made the right decision.


He’d been angry when he had left, in those few fateful minutes of Obí having told him no; of having crushed his thoughts of the two of them together, fighting side by side and he hadn’t thought about stopping to talk or to listen or anything else and had just grabbed everything and packed up. They’d said farewells, Thæon’s anger flickering brief enough to not storm from the valley like a spoiled child, but still he’d let himself get swept up in emotions and disappeared. Of course he had been hurt by Obí’s refusal; rejection bitter and twisted inside his own chest, cold as it raced down his cheeks, hurting even now, two weeks passed. But Thæon can’t help but wonder, over and over, his mind coming back to the same thought that he shouldn’t have left at all, spurred on by dreams.

Not dreams. Nightmares.


They had started the night Thæon left; each night since waking up with only Bröder and the stars for company.

They weren’t so bad in the beginning; just a restlessness that held him tired and saw him withdrawn for an hour longer than usual that would see Bröder a little gentler when it came to curious prodding; Thæon pulling himself into his saddle instead of walking the first stretch of the journey after breakfast; the lingering ghost of unsettlement slow to be chased off with the warming day.


By the end of the first week, the nightmares were waking Thæon in the middle of the night; body pressed against Bröder’s map of rough skin instead of smooth scales, a fire in his throat as he shoved the heavy-tog blankets off of his body, feeling suffocated and confined underneath the rain shelter with little more light than the dwindling campfire, his spark in clammy palms and the millions of stars that blinked and shone and whispered in fractured light.

More often than not, Thæon wouldn’t bother to return to his bedroll afterwards; simply drawing his cloak tighter around his body, tugging on his magic to pool beneath his skin to combat the wind and the chill of the night, and listen to the gentle sounds of his kioea snoring.

It reminded him of home; of nights snuck out from the feasting hall with Torra and Soln, meeting Eidan in the fields away from expecting eyes; of the farrow plains rolled out around him much like the veld, held in vigil by the kioea herds that roamed and the stars that watched from above.


But the week progressed into two, and now it feels as if every night, Thæon jerks awake with panic in his lungs and a scream suffocated in the back of his throat; Bröder’s trunk gentle and wrong when he nudges the boy’s shoulder, flinching back when a volley of sparks erupts in Thæon’s hands when he can’t see his calf, only blank faceless knights that had stood before him in his nightmares, their swords levelled at Obí’s neck, his dragon crashed in the grass, scales glistening around him as his colour bled across the grass until Thæon was stood in an crimson ocean, Obí whimpering on pained breath, the knight raising his sword—


Thæon shook his head roughly, pushing down his fire where he could feel emotion burning in his chest and smoke cloying the back of his throat. There was no point inviting the nightmares to unsettle him when they haunt him in the twilight hours regardless.

But Obí remains a fixture in Thæon’s thoughts he can’t so easily pull his attention from.

They’d been together for the better part two seasons; the only humans venturing close having been the bandits that already knew of Obí, maybe having chased him, having hunted him after the found tracks or a sighting. There had been plenty of time since to be attacked again, but no one else made the journey up the mountain. And besides, Obí was strong enough to fight back now, or to fly where he hadn’t been able to before, so it’s not like he’s defenceless and it’s not like he needed Thæon to stay….


The thought feels like a stab wound to the gut.


The ration of dried meat Thæon had been chewing on is tasteless in his mouth, the ground beneath him cold and he can’t curb the rising anger that sharpens his movements like punches; food shoved back into his pack, cloak snatched to wrap tighter around him as he curls into Bröder’s shape and scrunches his eyes up tight, willing his mind empty and hoping sleep would find him soon.


That night, he dreams of flying; of open skies and the world stretched out around him, of the feeling of smooth scales beneath his fingertips and the gentle crooning of Obí’s voice, twisted in pain, pleading for Thæon to return.

 

By the time he reaches the city on the coast, Thæon has been forced to spend all his remaining coin on food and an extra blanket to stave off the cold, because while the days are warm in the south, it is the season of Harvest and the nights are still bitter where Thæon refuses to lower his guard and settle for a bed behind four walls, preferring to bunk besides Bröder in the long grass or tucked down amongst rocks that keep the head wind off of them.

The Gledaibelann grasses are dry this time of year; their bi-yearly rains still a few weeks off and Thæon has already stood witness to how quick a plains fire can catch so there’s no chance he’ll risk a campfire, or even a faint wisp of flame to warm his skin, meaning that he could spend the extra coin to chase away the chill and ache with each sunrise. Or he could give a finger to the God of the Fields and set Nadhras to burn until the entire steppe is nothing but smoke and ash.


The choice isn’t as easy as it once would’ve been, but is made easier each night with the strengthening scent of salt on the breeze that marks Thæon’s destination.


It is there, in the coastal city of Finœves, (or in native tongue, Firnurwaeœves; the Nadir sticking to their habit for choosing really long names) that Thæon comes to the realisation that his path into Ægilruin will only allow him to reach Glo’ir, the fourth island in the archipelago chain.

He could go further of course, but that would mean having to leave Bröder, stabled or set to wander the wildlands of Glo’ir in hopes that no predator would catch him or a local would lure him with treats, saddle him up and claim him as their own all while Thæon chased thoughts and prayers on the decks of fishing boats of which he could hardly afford in the first place.


It’s this realisation that finds him when he’s stood on the headland, looking off beyond the crashing waves of the sea to the distant shadows of the distant isles, knowing beyond those there would be no one willing to take him further anyway; not when the Sommeil ocean is temperamental at best, malicious at worst.

Even without asking, Thæon knows no one will risk the open seas, not even with the insurance of a Tidebreaker to fight the ocean currents or pull the ship to safety, should Eloustun release one of his children from the depths.

And that was only if they’d survive travelling through Oturna Dovyelun: the eternal storm that swept the horizon from dawn to dusk and all the hours before, after and between.


And so it is, seven weeks since the valley and Thæon’s journey comes to an end.


Or, it would’ve, if the barbarian heir was anything if not stubborn.


Stood on the headland, eyes on the eastern horizon, he makes a decision there and then.

Because as much as he wants to return to the valley and drag Obí all the way to the clanlands, instead Thæon will set out for the rest of the world where he will search every plateau, every canyon, every mountain pass and coastal cave that is big enough and isolated enough to give sanctuary to a clutch of dragons that could very well be Obí’s family.


Thæon will scour the nine kingdoms of Nivíend for any sign, keeping an ear out for warnings of large creatures in the area; word of bears or wolves, or wild predators having strayed onto farmland and snatching livestock, or the tales of people going missing, said to be the work of a beast in the woods or something that hides in old, abandoned mining caves; searching for anything that could stand to be a clue that will lead him closer to the dragons.

He will search everywhere he can, and if he still was yet to find them—yet, because Thæon knows they are out there somewhere—then he’ll go marching right back to Obí’s valley in the Tvawklaad Mountains and give him a sharp kick up the backside, curse a few times, maybe cry, maybe apologise, and then he’ll drag the stubborn stupid lizard out by the ear, and they will return here, to this headland that watches the storm swell on the eastern horizon, and they will search together, taking to the skies and the islands out of reach.


Bröder steps closer, his trunk coming up to paw lightly at Thæon’s arm, pulling him from his thoughts in question; Thæon turning to the young calf with an unforced smile.

“You up for another adventure?” he asks, a hand coming up to palm at his brow, just like he would do to Obí. Bröder grabs a hold, gurgling. “It’s going to be a long journey,” he says cautioning. “We’re going to be travelling for a long while. Maybe for months. Maybe even years. You think you’ll be up for that?”

Bröder chirps happily, as if he couldn’t care less, batting his ears and shaking his head, leaning in to Thæon’s ministrations. “That’s my boy. We’ll do this together, yeah? We’ll find Obí’s family for him, and then we’ll come back.”

Bröder chirps again, tugging on Thæon’s arm, pulling him back from the headland, as if he knew the true meaning of Thæon’s words and wanted the pair of them to set out right away.


“Alright, alright I’m coming,” Thæon laughs, reaching down to grab his bag, hoisting it onto his shoulder, and with Bröder hanging off his arm, the two of them began their journey back towards Velvala and the road that will take them to lands unknown.

 

The second week of Argent gifts Thæon an unexpected familiar face when he and Bröder are pushing their way through Tangek’a; Falathren’s dense jungle brush; both tired from the constant onslaught of heavy rain or heavy heat, or both at once with an intensity that has pushed them off the road on more than one occasion, forcing them to take shelter until the rain spell moved on or rained itself out.


The south of Falathren was very much a difficult country to navigate with its dense rainforest alone; the air thick with heat and the scent of flora blooming in the afternoon heat, despite it being the twenty fifth of Toda, less than a week from Deep Snow which would see Brærn and the northern kingdoms buried under snowstorms from Pale Sun to Rising Star. The south might have it easier with only the coldest days hounded with bitter winds and an ever-present frost that freezes the ground.


Falathren doesn’t play by the same rules, what with her dense southern jungles and arid deserts, meaning her climate is always hot come the winter months. Of course in the Summer it’s drier and far, far hotter; the heat changing the world to become nocturnal just to beat the sheer heat that swamps the jungle like a blanket and scorches the desert, as if a gateway to the fiery Realm of Eldr has been opened that makes living unbearable for those that don’t have a defence against all the insects and the heat.

Thæon would fare well with his inherent fire magic, Bröder’s thick skin keeping away the irritance of bug bites, and the scorching heat of High Sun certainly beats the winter’s heavy rains and mugginess that soaks into Thæon’s clothes more than his sweat, but it’s not like he can waste away the weeks until the celebration of Agoutíma’s Dawn that marks the first light of the new year and the turn of the seasons simply because the journey is comfortable.


And besides, even if it weren’t simply just the weather, Thæon would still have to combat Falathren’s jungle either way.


South of Tsaulpayora—Falathren’s largest lake that marks the border between jungle and desert—was shattered into thousands of plateaus, all of varying sizes; some large enough to house ginormous living cities, while others were thin and small, so much so that they were barely home to a dozen trees, left to be claimed by the paradisiacal birds or adorned with tangek’awm: small structures normally woven with canvas sheet and branches to form little tent-like rooms that the nearby Limuli broods would use to take shelter from the heat, weather or aerial predators without having to descend to the dangers of the rainforest floor.


Connecting many of these plateaus were bridges, where the natives and Limuli alike made use of branches and limbs of the growing cliff-face trees; weaving walkways and paths out of the thick vines that would hang from the tree’s canopies.

Most of the Fal’a and Mel’a—natives of the four territories of Lefnui—were Greenseeds and deeply woven with life and earthen magic, choosing to build alongside their jungle home than to cut it down and work around it, meaning all of their houses and cities were alive; trees pulled to grow in a certain way, woven in and around one another to form walls and columns and giant halls with interwoven leaves that keep away the Weeping Season’s thunderous downpour; sunlight leaking into the gaps and holding stones of feyepatan: light magic caught in crystals, created or mined from deep within the plateaus and far safer to use than fire in a city made entirely out of living, breathing trees.


All in all, Falathren and her sister, Falas, were wonderful countries; rich with culture, ingenious creations and welcoming natives. Thæon’s journey would be far easier if they were seven-hundred feet up, following the woven bridge platforms and passing through the breathing cities.

Except he’s not.

Because while Bröder is a calf, he far too large and cumbersome, not to mention heavy, and Thæon isn’t about to trust some plaited vines to hold him above a seven-hundred-foot drop. Not to mention that he’s not too keen on heights himself.

If he had thought Obí’s cliff edge was bad…


So no, they’re not crossing the plateaus, and they’re not following the easier path through the canopies, but instead pushing through the deep winding paths of the rainforest floor, Thæon’s arm aching with the weight of his sword that he holds, drawn in preparation for the inevitable encounter with an eanwan lizard and saving himself the time it would take to draw his weapon and most certainly saving him and his mount from being a predators’ lunch.

The rainforest bed is riddled with dangerous predators, and Thæon is sure that more than one foolish traveller had fallen prey having been caught unawares by whatever had lured them to the jungle floor, but that will not be him, he thinks decidedly; one arm holding his sword and the other tangled with Bröder’s trunk to keep the foolish beast from sniffing and snuffling at every sweet smell he can find.


It hasn’t even been a moon’s full cycle before Thæon comes to the conclusion that Falathren and her sister island would not be suitable to house a dragon, let alone a clutch. Disregarding the weather, the heavy rains and the cramped space of the jungle floor; there are too many sights and sounds and smells, and having picked up on Obí’s enhanced senses, Thæon knew that it would drive even the most patient of the gentle giants insane.

And that’s not even mentioning the way his magic reacts whenever he does try to combat the stark changes between humid days and frigid nights.


Every child, be them from the clans, from the south or the lands between, know of Falathren’s war-torn history.

No matter the version of the story they have heard, they know of the war that destroyed the Cythicus kingdom in the sixth era and that the battle waged corrupted the vey nature of magic; the threads interwoven within the earth itself left chaotic and entangled, creating giant pools of magical energy—the dense jungle and large predatorial animals that roam it’s floor being a consequence of such concentrated magic—and leaving vast expanses where the blanket of magic is thin or non-existent in other places, one such being the Iskí desert that stretches from Tsaulpayora to the northern shore.


When Thæon tugs ever so lightly on his fire, it flares up near-incontrollable despite the years he’s spent mastering his own inherent flame, and so he’s somewhat thankful for the mugginess of the jungle air that protects a wildfire from breaking out whenever Thæon’s control slips and sparks burst to life in his hands and igniting his skin.


It makes him adverse to the idea of lighting a campfire come sun-fall, exhausted after another day of pressing on through the jungle, past the buried remains of a dead civilisation as he and Bröder mapped their way through the dense undergrowth with a wary eye for predators; picking their way around large fallen trees and tumbled stone that is too clean-cut to be natural rock formations, and squeezing through narrow gaps of the plateau’s roots that pushes them back and forth and never in one direction for too long.

But after a long day and a near-constant downpour that joined them from the moment the sun reached its peak, Thæon’s patience finally begins to fray and he sets his spark to ignite a mound of deadfall he’s scraped together from the surrounding jungle floor.


He makes camp in the shadow of a large plateau in the corner where rocks have fallen to give he and his calf protection on two sides while not completely penning themselves in should an eanwan think they’d make an easy snack.

It takes more effort that Thæon would like to admit to get the campfire into a decent size, enough that it dries the ground around it and casts a warm orange glow on the tree trunks and lures fireflies to swirl and dance in the air currents like living sparks that create intricate patterns. Bröder is unbothered by their beauty and instead is content to drop himself in the damp grass and doze lightly after a long day, leaving Thæon to take his fill of berries, knowing the dangers of roasting meat and deciding a fire was signal enough to the predators and he wasn’t about to draw them in with the scent of a delicious meal.


Which is why he is understandable startled at the sound of approaching footsteps through the darkness; his battle sense seeing his hand find a firm grasp of his father’s spearhead while his left crackles to life—


“Aren’t you a bit far from home, Mundanaï?”


And of course, because Thæon’s nerves are wired from trekking through dangerous jungle trails, with his calf clutching tightly to his arm and an anticipation to be jumped by giant lizard-creatures or a pack of tusked-dogs, and not at all expecting the familiar voice to greet him, his first instinct is to conjure his flames in a mighty explosion of light and sound.


The intruder stumbles backwards instantly, his own magic a breadth beneath the tug of his fingers and he’s barely taken a step back before his Shadow Soul manifests itself from the darkness in a cloak of twilight, swooping down from the branches to cover her master in a protective shroud despite her weakness to light.

And yet for her sake, and her master, Thæon’s attack hadn’t been to harm, more simply to frighten whatever opportunistic predator had thought to try its hand at an ambush, so thankfully, when the Shadow Soul pulls back, exhausted, she and her master are unharmed.


Morak?”


It is Morak; shrouded in his trademark obsidian cloak, his long black hair tucked into a loose braid and glittering with his silver charms; familiar silver lining his gauntlets and stained leather armour; his familiar midnight-indigo sash peaking up from beneath the collar of his cloak and a worrisome length that looks like it’s been torn off in haste to tie around his right leg. His hair is messy and tangled in places, stray strands plastered to his face from the muggy jungle air, the dark and concentrated light of the campfire casting stark shadows across his face to obscure his image enough that Thæon forgives himself for not having immediately recognised the man.


An expression of amusement bled across Morak’s confusion, leaning against one of the trees he’d half taken shelter behind with an apologetic chuckle. “Okay, that’s my bad. Maybe I should’ve announced myself differently.”

“You think‽”


But Thæon isn’t angry, (shocked, certainly; but not angry) and oddly amused when the Shadowcast bent his head low—lower than decorum decreed—a fist beating his chest twice in clan custom. “It is a surprise to see you so far from your home, Mundanaï,” he says, voice dripping in a smug grin that he doesn’t bother trying to conceal, because he, of all people, knows how much it pisses his friend off to be addressed by his formal title.


“I thought you said that you were heading to Ost’Aura the last time we spoke,” Thæon says later, after the two of them hurried their way through rushed greetings and a fair few more curses; the Fireheart inviting Morak to join him in his camp and accepting the help of the nomads’ magic to conceal their camp from would-be and could-be predators.

Gryka, Morak’s Shadow Soul, helps to hunt young eanwan lizards from the upper branches of the trees to roast on the campfire; the smell of roasting meat no longer a threat to their safety while Thæon entices a few branches overheard to tangle themselves, providing the pair of them better shelter for when the rain inevitably returned; the pair content to settle around the small fire with both keeping half an eye on Bröder who sought to fill his stomach on the long grass that grew in the plateau’s shadow.


“I wanted to,” Morak nods in answer to Thæon’s question, almost wistfully as he chews at his portion of skewered meat, (meat being the polite term for that which the pair are chewing on) his eyes shadowed in distant desire. “Ost’Aura’s aggregation of knowledge, all recorded in the Golden Athenaeum within the cities walls.

“I was heading there when I left Arkeríon. Met a scholar in Thalor, at the border, and we got to drinking,” he says, his voice taking on an edge, “and he told me not to bother. “He said knowledge on the Shadow Realm and of Shadowcast mages was a waste of time, even for simple curiosity. Everything I’ve read everywhere else—books and archived accounts—had much the same opinion of everyone else outside the clanlands. They had nothing worth reading. Just the same old shit, warning about Shadowcasts’ and their bonded Souls being a danger to those around them.”

His eyes flicker to where Gryka is tearing meat off the carcass that she claimed for herself, preferring to eat it raw; lifting her head with an amused glint where she had been eavesdropping; far more intelligent than any other black-feathered bird where their bond gifts her intellect in return to tie Morak’s source of power to the Shadow Realm.

She fluffs her feathers at him, wings shifting to catch the lambent light of the fire on her oil-slick wings and clacks her beak. Morak just clicks his teeth back, smile growing warmly.


Thæon nods, unaware of the words the pair of them share; not having any of his own to contribute anyways.

He already knows Morak’s desire for knowledge about his inherent source of magic—that the same longing to understand more about something so intrinsic to his being was what brought him to Arkeríon in the first place, not four years passed.


They had met when Morak sought the Medellin Clans, having arrived with merchant ships and near-begging an audience with the Tæ’adanaï: Thæon’s mother.

At first, he had been met with suspicion; Thæon having shared the same thoughts while he watched on from the sidelines, opinion hidden behind the proprieties of diplomacy as he watched the man, but a little older than himself, with his head bowed and what he thought a voice full of greed as he sought out magic that would make him stronger. Magic that could be turned on the clans.


And yet, Narímisa had accepted Morak’s story.


Thæon hadn’t understood why his mother had, or why she allowed him to read through archived knowledge of histories and stories when he was no one but an outsider; a nomad that chose not to anchor himself to any of the nine kingdoms, but drift between them like leaves in the wind: without attachments and without loyalties.

But over the course of the following months, Thæon had found the Shadow Mage more often than not buried in scrolls and texts, leaning close to stone-carved murals in Angrenost’s clan hall as if he could understand more than the base of what had been carved.


They had been cordial with one another when their paths crossed, be them in the moments when Thæon would take himself to the book-filled chambers to hide from expectant eyes, or the rare occasions that Morak would accept an invitation from mother to join them for a meal; the two of them simply heir and an unexpected guest, only breaking that formality when Thæon had corrected a translation Morak had muttered aloud in confusion, leading to an afternoon of Morak asking question after question, and Thæon’s self-esteem soothed by the attention towards his knowledge rather than his bloodline. It wasn’t long after that the pair formed an easy friendship.

And now, meeting in the wilds of Tangek’a three years on, the two of them fall back into the same easy conversation that they would share over a book or two, tucked away in one of the archive’s alcoves where Thæon could escape notice for hours at a time; the pair trading stories and jokes and the like.


“How did you even know I was here?” Thæon asks, finishing the last of his meat, throwing the carcass into the campfire and using the skewer to poke idly at the flames.

“I didn’t. Not until you used your magic to light the fire,” Morak says, gesturing, using his own skewer to pick at his teeth.


The very reason he is in the depths of Tangek’a instead of her canopy is the same reason that he ventured to Arkeríon, because every child, be them from the clans, from the south or the lands between, know of Falathren’s war-torn history and Morak is no exception.

For him, there are secrets that lie buried in ruins of Cythicus; secrets tangled amongst the web o magic that has long been knotted since, Syryon, the sixth era, when Ered Naur wiped out the branching kingdom before their threat could grow too strong, so sayeth the Naurn scriptures. Medellin’s own accounts of Syryon tell of a different tale: how Cythicus was born from the purged magics Ered Naur no longer deemed worthy of their white walls; their teachings of magic and the gods shaped to their liking until only eight were left in reverence. Those who didn’t fit in the structure of the progressive city were forced to be Magikless, or forced out.


Cythicus wasn’t the only city to grow from Ered Naur’s purge, but it was by far the largest; growing brighter until the Naurn were blinded by their fear and suspicion, until they razed the kingdom to dust and ash and memory.

And it is here, amongst old ruins and in the depths of winding caves that Morak has turned his eye in search for hidden knowledge tucked away in the darkness, or an answer in the tangled threads of magic deeply interwoven beneath the jungle’s roots.

It was these tangled threads that shone with golden light like filament sunshine when Thæon had summoned his spark to light a fire in the growing twilight; a beacon that guided Morak from the shadows and back into the Realm of Day and Night, and here to this camp.


“And what of you? Why are you so far from home?”


Morak’s question isn’t quite accusing, but there’s an edge to his voice, because he knew more than most; Thæon having taken his company to escape the pressures of being Mundanaï; and if there were nights when Thæon dragged Morak to the cellars and chased him to the bottom of a wine barrel with truth he’d barely spoken aloud to his friends, then that was their secret.

With Torra, with Soln and I’dl, perhaps Thæon’s let an insecurity slip between tired-drunk lips, but with Morak it had been easier. He wasn’t a clan-brother, but an outsider that saw only what Thæon allowed him to; their friendship born through mutual interest and curiosity while Thæon had grown up with the others, no secrets between them until duty and responsibility and the preparation came for the trials interrupted their childhood.

It’s similar to how Thæon had spilled his secrets to Obí, and yet with the dragon, Thæon had poured his heart and soul. Morak may know Thæon’s hatred of the five clans’ expectancy of his reign, but only Obí knows the depths of his fears.


Thæon doesn’t give the same explanation as he had given to his dragon; the same tale and the same truths, but specific to the facts and narrated in a way that Thæon hoped Morak wouldn’t think his behaviour to leave the clanlands was childish; being in no want of a discussion, or a lecture on the matter.

All he tells Morak is that the elders and the Adanaï wanted to push the title of Tæ’adanaï onto Thæon’s shoulders sooner rather than later; that the pressure to hold himself to their high standards was exhausting and debilitating rather than encouraging and he needed an escape, not just for his own sanity, but to find something that would prove to himself—not to anyone else—that he was still deserving of his inheritance.


Now his journey is more important than his own pride and ego.

And although Morak is a friend, Thæon finds himself holding the secret of Obí close to his chest; not quite able to bring himself to share word that dragons are not extinct, like Nivíend thought them to be.


Morak shares Thæon’s camp that night, and his company; the two talking deep into the night and long after Bröder’s snores rose in melody to the sounds of the jungle that surrounded them. Gryka took a perch on low branches and the first watch, even if Morak’s shadow magic conceals them all from the predators that prowled the darkness beyond.

In the morning, conversation turns to future plans; Thæon showing his curiosity towards the caves that Morak has been exploring in wonder to whether or not they could house a dragon, but as soon as he sees the entrance; the jagged stone and jungle plants thriving in the damp shadows that would be torn and churned by the passing of a creature as large as a dragon.


There are carvings here; murals sculpted into the stone but they’ve been damaged by time; by rain and water erosion; by roots of giant trees burying themselves into the soil; digging through walls of chambers sealed hundreds of years ago by accident or deliberate magic, but now filled with the rotten remains of books and mulch and thriving ecosystems of cave flora that fills the space a dragon might sleep in the depths of the tunnels.

The inner chambers are large enough for Obí to stand, some caves capacious and tall enough that would allow him to spread his wings; some even larger that might even allow flight if it weren’t for the fact that they’re submerged beneath Falathren’s underwater rivers where water has filled the caverns of Cythicus’s roots.


Morak has been exploring and searching for answers here for months now, digging deep into the shadows to uncover some semblance of understanding to any of the thousand questions, not simply just Cythicus’s true history, but the turmoil that tangled the magic threads with enough strength that, even now, nearly a thousand years later, they’re still ensnared with one another.


But digging around in the dark and the mud can only do so much, and when Thæon shares his plans to head north, into the Iskí desert and beyond in search of somewhere a clutch could hide (the truth of which he holds tightly to his chest), Morak asks if he can tag along.

“It’s better than wandering around by myself for how many more months, and I’m running out of places to search for answers.”


Regardless of the reason, Thæon was glad that he and Bröder would no longer be journeying alone.

 

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