The Dragon Harvest
Night had fallen quickly. Over the snowy plains of buried grass and whitened trees, a blanket of stars shone with a crescent moon.
The winter months were cold and bitter but the wild had been rendered lifeless and still; a vision of perfect stasis and raw beauty. The silence, combined with swirling snowflakes and the breaths of winter, wove a tranquil and enchanting atmosphere.
The gruff voice shattered Arlahne's peace and she pried her eyes away from the vast fields of snow. A giant minotaur towered over her, blowing plumes of frosting breath from his wide nostrils. "What is it?" the Dreamwalker asked impatiently.
"I bring a message from our Lady, the Plaguebringer."
"Let's hear it."
He raised his arm, opening his fur cloak slightly. A small serpent slithered out from beneath and hissed before draping itself across the minotaur's broad shoulders. It bared its fangs but did not strike. Instead, a mysterious voice emanated from within.
"Our troops have guided you to the caves, Arlahne," the voice began. "But it lies with you to retrieve the eggs. No one else may do so or accompany you; this will be your test."
Arlahne knew it was useless to protest to a message that would not respond. Still, she found her orders absurd; to steal the giant eggs from a dragon's nest was folly.
"The troops shall return to me," the voice continued. "Resistance has arisen and I require aid. You may walk through the D'ehamas to return to me once you are finished with your task. Otherwise, do not return."
With that, the snake coiled around the minotaur's thick neck and sank its fangs into his arteries, pumping venom in. Surprise was replaced by fear as he tore at the serpent in vain. Soon, he crumpled to the ground and it slithered away.
"Steal dragon eggs, she says," Arlahne mocked the Plaguebringer. "And don't come back without my breakfast! Stupid snake woman. Wouldn't be surprised if she was a quarter pig."
She trudged through the snow and reached a cliff overlooking the hidden war camps of her troops. Her presence alone commanded silence and everyone glanced up at her.
"Return to our Lady," Arlahne yelled. "She requests your assistance. I shall journey forth alone!"
The ones nearest to her conveyed her orders to those who were farther away until the entire camp knew her words. Just like that, tents collapsed and items were gathered. Soon, they were journeying towards the horizon as a soft breeze began to intensify.
"A blizzard approaches," Arlahne mumbled to herself. "Or it could just be wind. I don't know. Weather was never my thing."
She turned back and waded through the snow once more. When she reached the mouth of a giant cave, dread sent shivers down her spine. Strange sounds echoed through the darkness and Arlahne's imagination began to run wild.
No. I am Arlahne, Sorceress of the D'ehamas and a... beastwoman's bitch. Gods, I'm bad at giving myself pep talks.
With a deep breath, Arlahne offered a quick prayer to Iheras, the deity of dreams, and delved into the shadows. They were dispelled when the sorceress summoned a blazing ring of arcane energy; purple wisps dotted with flecks of golden light fizzled wildly.
"A strange presence," a deep voice growled at her. Arlahne stumbled and collapsed into a mound of bones with a loud yelp. When she sat up, she found mountains of dried and yellowed bones towering around her like a dragon's twisted treasure trove.
Arlahne raised her palm upwards and her ring shot to the cavern's ceiling. Like a star, it blazed even brighter and illuminated the lair; aside from the mound of bones, she found three giant dragons perched atop the three tallest mountains, all staring down at her.
Red scales. Green scales. Black scales. If they had dragonlings she needed to deal with as well, she was doomed.
"I am Arlahn-"
"We care not for your name," the green dragon huffed. "What is your title?"
"Title? Um... sorceress of the D'ehamas?"
The dragons glanced at each other before gazing back at her. "An acolyte of Iheras? Does the deity require something we can provide?"
They were surprisingly civil. Arlahne almost felt bad for attempting to steal their children.
"No, see," Arlahne started. "I'm not exactly on the holy, divine path of life. I come on behalf of the Plaguebringer, paragon of Ehomssoth."
"Plaguebringer?" The red dragon huffed. "Never heard of him."
"Whatever. Ehomssoth, we know. What would a dark god need of us?
"I mean," Arlahne clasped her hands before her. "It's more of what the Plaguebringer wants and she wants your eggs."
A moment of silence passed and Arlahne mentally prepared herself to warp out of there. However, they simply bellowed in laughter.
"Who is this lowly mortal that she demands our eggs?" The black dragon roared with laughter, though he still terrified Arlahne. "And is she so pathetic that she sends you, an acolyte of a minor deity, in her place?"
"She is the vessel of His Majesty," Arlahne retorted. "The passage to a new age of darkness and bringer of the solemn dawns!"
The dragons bellowed once more. "We have lived a thousand years and many more. Ages of darkness pass in the blink of an eye for us," the red dragon huffed. "We have faced many adventurers and stand undefeated. Israph himself granted us his respect."
"Oh, damn, that's actually good."
"Indeed," the green dragon seemed to glow with pride. "But we digress. We will allow you to steal our eggs on one condition."
"You slay us," the black dragon growled.
Arlahne felt fear ripple through her like a seed falling into a calm lake. She prayed Fate walked with her, for if her destiny ended here, she would soon walk with the fallen and join the ranks of the dead laying here.
They bellowed in laughter, believing she could never defeat all three of them. Arlahne herself believed that. However, she had to try; she had already come this far.
"What is wrong, woman?" The red dragon wheezed and smoke blew from his nose. "Having second thoughts?"
I am Arlahne Ganathro, walker of the Inner Realms and Seeker of the Plaguebringer. I am the daughter of a mighty carrot farmer- ah, damn it.
"No, not at all," Arlahne lied. "I was simply wondering how much your bones would be worth in the market."
"Oho, she seeks to best us!" The green dragon roared. "How arrogant! How foolish! How-"
"Look who's talking," Arlahne snapped. With that, she thrust her palms out and conjured a ring of her height. The dragons merely watched in amusement as she stretched her arms wide and summoned forth arcane circles that surrounded her.
"And what do you plan to do with your rings?"
Arlahne had a very, very stupid plan. It involved stretching the capabilities of her powers and possibly exploding; the latter was what truly concerned her. Channelling vast amounts of arcane magick at a time placed her at risk of spontaneously combusting but what choice did she have in the face of three dragons?
"Ifando," Arlahne declared. Her rings transformed from purple loops into blazing circles of energy tinged with a menacing red hue.
"Igfa," Arlahne raised a hand to the sky. The three rings around her levitate and began widening. Larger and larger they grew until they were wide enough to surround a manor with ease. At this, the dragons began watching in curiosity and growing anxiety.
The circles threw themselves over the dragons, who roared in surprise. Gouts of flame from their jaws did nothing to deter the arcane rings. When a loop surrounded each of the three dragons, runes flashed into existence around them.
"What magic is this?" The black dragon attempted to squirm and stretch his rings but the circles had paralysed him and his kin. "This is not black magic!"
"Arcane," the red dragon grunted. "Very advanced, as well."
"Thank you," Arlahne said, slightly taken aback.
"It was a simple observation, not a commendation."
The green dragon breathed twin gouts of fire from his nostrils in anger. "Release us! We will not be humbled like-"
Arlahne simply strode past the dragons, winding around mounds of bones and mountains of ancient armour.
"You cannot steal our eggs!" The black dragon roared. "Not until you slay all of us!"
"Name a single witch that has obeyed the terms of an agreement that didn't magically bind them," Arlahne retorted. When silence answered, she smirked and finally stumbled upon their nest.
A large pouch forged of jagged stone and welded bones sat before her. Within it were giant eggs as tall as Arlahne; four in total. They were all nondescript in colour; off-white, like a normal egg that was oversized.
"No! Our children!" The green dragon took on a pleading tone. "Please, our eggs take a hundred years to hatch! They are close to the day of birth - only six months remain!"
Sympathy filled Arlahne's heart and she hesitated. No parent would ever be the same if their child was stolen from them. It was clear the dragons had already lost their mates; what more their own offspring?
Then again, the Plaguebringer's promise of a world ruled by darkness and death where she was seated at her right hand was appealing...
"Six months?" Arlahne spoke softly. "Good. That means the Plaguebringer can execute her plans sooner."
A twisted pun ran through Arlahne's mind but she held her tongue; the atmosphere was tense and solemn. She suspected the dragons and the gods themselves would not appreciate her joking about their eggs and the word "execute".
All she needed to do now was transport the eggs to the Plaguebringer. Such a task was easy; moving portals was a skill she had mastered rather quickly. She stretched her hand over the nest and a ring fizzled to life above the eggs. As it descended over them, a portal materialised within its boundaries, ready to-
"Ah!" Arlahne screamed as white-hot pain seared her. Heat crawled through her skin and practically melted her destabilized magical core. The rings around the dragon and above the eggs exploded, as did Arlahne. A burst of raw magick emerged in the form of a destructive blast from the sorceress.
When Arlahne came to her senses, she paled at the sight around her. Aside from the charred earth and blackened bones, the eggs before her had been...
They had shattered. Giant, yellow, shiny yolks had broken and spilt out of the cracks, pooling in the nest. Only one egg remained intact; the one farthest away from Arlahne.
What truly worried her, however, were the dragons. Their robust scales resisted the explosive blasts of arcane magick and they were livid.
"Gods damn my luck," Arlahne mumbled. Her reserves had been completely emptied in the explosion as well.
"You... Our eggs!" The red dragon gasped.
"Pay with your blood and flesh!" The black dragon crouched and opened his mouth. The glow of fire painted the back of his throat. With haste, Arlahne stretched her hands out. Thin wisps of magick glowed around her fingers but eventually faded out.
"Oh gods, no!" The drained mage threw herself behind the last egg, splashing around in the slimy yolk of the other dragon eggs.
Flames surrounded Arlahne and the only thing between her and certain death was the egg; surprisingly, it held together rather well. Was this how the dragons kept them warm?
Oh. Oh, no.
The breath of fire halted and Arlahne quickly crawled away from the hatching egg. It was cracked at the top and a small claw poked out. Strange growls reverberated from the dragons' chests. Their hostility faded as they crowded around the baby dragon that clawed its way out of the eggshell.
It was a glorious scarlet red and bronze dragonling. It stretched its jaws and... purred? The noise it made melted Arlahne's heart; it was so cute!
The mage quickly threw a glance up and noted that the dragons were completely distracted. The green dragon's tail even curled behind Arlahne, as though unaware of her presence.
A perfect opportunity had been presented before her; she just had to make sure she didn't botch it.
Arlahne waded through the yolk and thrust her palms up. With all the energy she could muster, she managed to conjure a portal ring and brought it down on her head. As she did so, she quickly latched onto the broken eggshell and was whisked away by her portal.
The last thing she heard was roars of pure rage and sorrow as darkness enveloped her.
"Where is that useless ring woman?"
The Plaguebringer snarled between her rotting teeth and curled her tail. She traced a claw along the edges of her mask, impatient and, frankly, pissed.
"Perhaps she has perished, my lady," another gorgon, male, bowed before her. The Plaguebringer was aware of the rivalry between Ta'ethess and Arlahne; for now, it was not worth her attention. If Arlahne did survive and return, she would have to watch them very closely.
Of course, when a portal fizzled into existence upon the unholy circle at the centre of her throne room, she was pleasantly surprised. She had not actually expected Arlahne to return; this meant the sorceress had more potential-
"Here," the slimed, yolk-covered mage spat. "Is your damn egg." She dropped a hatched egg and from within, an adorable baby dragon with red and bronze scaled poked its head out.
"It hatched?" Ta'ethess asked in surprise. "Dragons are very protective-"
"Yes, it hatched," Arlahne hissed. "As you can see here. Oh, or are your eyes too diseased now?"
"You are covered in yolk," the Plaguebringer frowned. "Were there more eggs?"
"None that remain intact now, my lady."
She nodded. "Ta'ethess, bring the dragon to my chambers. I shall nurture it personally."
"Of course, my lady." However, when the gorgon approached the dragon, it squealed and crawled towards Arlahne instead, tipping the egg over.
"Oh, no, no, no," Arlahne nudged it away as it crawled up to her leg. "You go with that rotting shit nugget of a gorgon. I mean, I can see why you wouldn't want to but you'd die otherwise."
When it glanced up with shiny, brown eyes, the Plaguebringer sighed. "It thinks you're its mother now."
Arlahne's eyes shot wide open. "M-Mother? I didn't-"
"Whatever happened," the Plaguebringer interrupted Arlahne mercilessly. "Does not matter now. It won't respond well to another's touch. Henceforth, you shall raise it as yours, Arlahne."
The mage's jaw dropped open and so did Ta'ethess'.
"B-But, my lady-"
The Plaguebringer slammed a fist on the arm of her throne, silencing the entire throne room and frightening everyone. "Do not defy me, Ta'ethess. You are expendable; do not make me dispose of you."
He bowed his head, silent and humiliated. Arlahne fought back a smirk and coughed awkwardly. "So, my lady, shall I take the-"
"Take it to your quarters."
A smile brightened her features and she picked her dragonling up in her arms, cradling it gently. "Don't worry about the fact that I'm coated in your "stillborn" siblings, little one," Arlahne cooed as she turned and walked away. "Everything will be alright!"
The Plaguebringer knew Arlahne thought she would not hear her words, but she heard them rather clearly as the mage passed by Ta'ethess.
"I got the baby dragon and you didn't, you immature worm. Go find a fucking plush doll and cry into it, you child."
She really needed to watch them closely.
A/U: Check out my Instagram account, world_of_arnad , where I will post short bios and illustrations of my characters, among other things like excerpts and future concept characters!