This is book two of The Prophecy of Shadow series. If you have not yet read Rise of the Darkness, please read that first.
Please note that The Dragon of Charred Scales is darker in theme than Rise of the Darkness. Subjects such as violence, kidnapping, and death will appear at some point in this plot (though nothing too gory will appear). If these subjects bother you, please do not read on.
Chapter 1- Distant Threats
Three Months Later
Even in my dragon form, even with a fur coat designed for a spirit dragon's form, even with a warmth spell I have maintained almost constantly for the last two months, I shiver as I stand at the exit to the Sky Building. Winter means something cold here in Hasinji. In Kucho winter meant occasional cooler days preceded often by thunderstorms, especially here in February. I kind of miss the thunderstorms.
Frozen lake, frozen slopes, even frozen buildings. Some days do reach above freezing, but never by much. And certainly not during the mornings. Certainly not now.
Most days I am too tired to care about the weather. Woke up, read a little, eat breakfast, go to academic training, go to physical training, eat dinner, read a little more, go to sleep. Sometimes me and Novayar spend our evening reading time flying instead, but not that often. Between the cold and earlier workouts, we tend to just stay home.
Today is a rare day off, not just for us but for the whole clan. Every two months there is such a day so that everyone here can attend to matters elsewhere, rest up, or do whatever. Novayar has chosen to spend his day napping and reading. I feel like leaving for a bit.
A cold breeze asks me to reconsider. My wings do not need stretching; training has kept me fit and in shape. I really do not need another book to read. After the declaration that I will not be able to read anything pertaining to Anyle, my mind has not fixed on any one research subject. Instead I only choose books on subjects I am struggling on.
What I really want is some company, some other dragons who I can talk to and joke with, just like with my old friends in Kucho. But even that is impossible. The only other youngling here is Novayar and I do not dare distract him too much. As intense as my training is, his is more so with more to learn and less already known. No one else here is pushed so hard I would guess, but everyone else is stiff and focused on their reason for being here. No friends among them.
That only leaves me with one other option. I can fly beyond the borders of the clan, exploring the lands nearby. No one ever said we had to stay within the bounds of the shield or within a few miles of it. No one said we could not explore our surroundings. After all, we can hunt for ourselves. One day Novayar will have to fly well outside the clan when our Masters decide it is time for a true marathon flight and not just circles around Hasinji. They may bring me for that session too, testing my endurance. I certainly could use it.
But which direction? My wings carry me in lazy circles around the lake as I think. Go far enough south and the mountains get taller and then greener. The other directions have more of the same sights as here. But this is just what I have been told of the local geography. Only my eyes can really prove what is and is not around.
I could go explore some of the nearby human settlements from above. All are small, though. Nothing like any of the large cities we passed through on our way here.
I snort. So many things even out in the middle of nowhere. I could use some warmth and the south might be close enough to give it. Maybe when the weather warms back up, I will fly over one of those villages. The promise of warmer weather past the mountains to the south lures me. Warmth, greenery, and humidity. Who would ever think I would long for those after living so long in Florida? Not me.
The bounds around Hasinji are wide, but I turn invisible long before the borders. I let my wings settle into a partial glide, flapping only when I descend too far. I also put more magic into my warming spell, though as my body heats up from flying, I will need the spell less.
Tall mountains lie in my path. Giant, snow-covered monoliths that dwarf pretty much anything I have ever seen. The air thins higher up on their slopes, which I avoid. I know of spells to condense the air around me, but I would rather conserve my magic.
The sun sits overhead as a valley lies just ahead. Soon I ought to turn around. Spirit dragons are the slowest fliers and that trait has only gotten me this far. Coupled with the slow pace I have kept to conserve my energy, this flight would have Master Cadall shaming me in front of everybody. I might have made it to the country border between China and Bhutan, but not much farther. Novayar can fly faster than me, and once he builds up more endurance, something he is already close to, he could fly much farther.
Regardless, the scenery is breathtaking. I thought skyscrapers and large sculptures were the greatest things to look at. And Sharloka, somewhere far to the west, stands even taller.
Sharloka, the Spirit Gate. Mount Everest as Novayar keeps referring to it as. The last conjurer Greatest Elder flew to the great mountain seeking spiritual aid prior to the Joining. My academic Master promised one day we will visit Sharloka as we learn all the details of dragon kind's attempt at reshaping part of the world. Now I cannot wait.
An increase in the magic around me snapped me out of my thoughts. Someone is near and invisible. Approaching, too. It feels higher up so I fold my wings a little to descend. Probably another dragon traveling from one place to another on wings much faster than my own, though not as agile. Such is all a spirit dragon has.
Despite descending out of the way, the magic gets stronger. Whoever it is must still be getting closer. In the back of my mind I recall Elder Bakal chasing me down the day I met Novayar. Am I being chased? If this Lakis is a seer, then it is possible. Or should I say, if the dragon is a seer. The feeling of magic is too strong to be much else.
"Land, Oculeera," hissed a feminine voice. Not far below a ridge in the mountain rises to meet me. Not knowing who this dragon is, I decide to obey. She knows me, though.
Footsteps and disturbed snow are the only markers of my location to a nonseer. Out of caution I retain my invisibility spell. The other dragon does the same when she lands, leaving much larger footprints. Only two. A swift dragon.
"Hello, who are you?" I ask.
"Relindi daughter of Cosen. I need to take you back to Hasinji."
"Why? Have you not been told to stay in the clan?"
"No? Huh? Maybe they haven't told you yet. But I need to take you back. We'll talk on the way."
Usually when a dragon scolds me, they yell and get angry. Mother has many times, as well as Master Wukro. Even the Masters here have a little. But Relindi does not seem mad. Maybe that is why I do not hesitate to feel my way up her slippery, invisible hide to her back. A little help would have been appreciated, though.
Paws on one spike and tail intertwined between more, I signaled I was ready. Relindi jumped powerfully and quickly accelerated to top speed.
"A few days ago, we learned of two rogue clans that have plans we find disagreeable. We knew the clans existed before, but knew little of what they want to do. Whether the clans are related or not is unknown. But both seem to have a desire to have a conjurer among their ranks. And maybe a strong spirit dragon such as yourself."
I do not speak as I digest the news. We always knew there was some danger of being the duo of the prophecy. We could be targeted. Why else go through such measures to get us here quickly? Not counting our abilities, we had Dunen's physical strength and Nikola's magical ability. Even here, in dragon kind's greatest clan, we are surrounded by the most talented of dragons. Danger had little chance to threaten us and regardless, the intensity of our training helped to drown out those thoughts.
But an actual threat? Rogue clans? "How much is known?" I ask.
"Not much, sadly. At least From what I have heard. We do not know the location of these clans besides general areas. One out in the American West, the other in the Middle East. That does little to narrow things down. We only know of them from two informants in the American clan. A Phoenix and a Zhenniao who do not wish to reveal themselves as informants."
"Zhenniao? A Dragon Foe?"
"Yes. Not all Dragon Foe individuals oppose us, just as not all Dragon Friend individuals support us. That makes knowing who to trust difficult. I trust you two have been instructed not to trust anyone at face value?"
"Good. But everything means that you two will not be allowed to leave the bounds of the clan without escorts. Without knowing the nature of the threats, we do not want to risk having you two fall into the hands of those who want to hurt you or kill you. Or even to use you."
A pit formed in my stomach. Trapped in the clan by hard boundaries. No ability to even go a few miles to hunt, a privilege both Novayar and myself have seldom used but enjoyed nonetheless. Or at least I have. Clans plotting something around us. Could this be the darkness of the prophecy?
"Do you think they would try to get into the clan to take us?" I ask.
"Unlikely. We have guards on heightened alert now, which is why I found you so quickly. You two have been learning to fight already so if the worst happens, you can defend. I might recommend some fighting lessons in human form too, but that is not for me to decide."
I nod, though she cannot see it. Trapped as we may be, and continuously pushed to and beyond our limits daily, we at least are cared for and protected. I still do not think our time here is as bad as I had feared it would be. And it is certainly safer than most places.
"May I ask, why you left? Some are angry that you tried to escape."
I sighed. "I did not want to escape. I just wanted to explore, and maybe find somewhere a little warmer."
"That's what I thought. I've been to Florida, where you grew up. This place is a polar opposite from there. Hasinji has its own beauty, but I figured you might be bored of it. I'll help you explain to Xanmet-kal when we arrive. She is furious."
Well, crap. Though expected. At least I have an ally. "Does she ever leave the clan?"
"Yes, when duty requires it. But even she leaves with an escort for her safety. I expect individuals from the Greatest Elder guard will be the ones to escort you two if you ever need to leave Hasinji."
Whoa, elite guards. I did not know Hasinji had such a thing.
"These dragons seldom lose a fight and have sworn to use any Forbidden spell needed to protect, despite the consequences of the Turn they will receive. They are hardened individuals, able to block out any distraction that keeps them from doing their duty. Even in Hasinji, a few look over the Greatest Elder wherever she goes, hidden but ready to act. I would think the same will go for those protecting you two."
Again, the pit in my stomach. "Wait, is that threat that bad, or is Xanmet-kal that worried?"
Relindi waited several minutes before answering. "I don't know."