-------- Part III – ZHUBOTAU --------

The night air was cool across her scales and it felt good, after so many months, to stretch her wings. Thin membranes creaked and stretched as she glided over the darkened countryside.

Despite the turmoil in her heart, Aquiel enjoyed the freedom of the air. It had been too long since she'd wandered aimless through the skies.

Still, her heart weighed upon her heavily. She hadn't wanted to leave him. But, it was better this way. He would not have to choose between his letting go his hatred and embracing his love. It was not an easy decision and certainly not something decided in the space of a single night. A single incident.

She understood how strong hatred was, and how hard it was to let it go. After a while, it becomes a palpable thing, an entity with a life of its own that will overshadow everything until it blinds you, right before it consumes you utterly.

It was not something she wanted to do to her soul's mate. It was entirely possible he'd choose hate over his love and attempt to kill her...

Tears sprang to her eyes and they beaded away from the rush of the wind. She still had a thousand years left on her lifespan, she would eventually move on. However, she'd never forget his scent and her heart would never forget the happiness.

By morning, she was over the valley of Gilenstaad, her home. The valley was a lush green in the throes of spring and bright patches of color splashed around the crystalline blue lake. Mountains, still capped with winter snow, rose up on all sides to surround the valley and Aquiel swooped low over the water, wingtips dipping into its calm.

She landed on the shore amidst a field of wild honeysuckle and slid effortlessly into the water. Sunlight filtered downwards but she didn't need the light to find her home. Soon she threaded her way among the rocky bottom to a cavern opening that lead to a dry cavern.

Home again, she looked around her lair...and sighed. She'd been away too long. Her piles of soft straw were rotten now and matted with dirt. Any food left behind was gone, absorbed into the soil. Magical enchantments had kept away rodents, insects, and other animals and her treasure still glittered in neat undisturbed stacks. A mirror system had been set up to allow natural light into the cavern but the mirrors were dirty, tarnished, and she spoke a word of enchantment to cast a pale light.

She had lots of work to do.

It took her two full days of cleaning to return her home to its natural splendor. Fresh straw lined the floor, and directed sunlight bounced over the shiny gold and silver. Aquiel smiled happily. It felt good to be home.

Just as she'd finished and curled up for a well-deserved rest, she sensed a presence nearby, on the lakeshore. Powerful wards protected the entire area from visitors and they now alerted her and raised the alarm.

It was a Feathered-One.

Anger filled her then. Was there no escaping them? What did they want with her so badly they would send out so many for her? Silently she slipped into the water and made her way back to the shore to face this threat.

As her head broke the surface of the water, she saw the Feathered-One sitting amidst the honeysuckle. The dragon was just slightly smaller than she was with flame red scales beneath glistening silver gossamer-like feathers. Four bony horns curved out from behind its earflaps and its tail ended in a bony scythe that waved idly in the air. It turned slowly to gaze at her.


Lips curled away from its toothy maw in a smile. "In the scale. Glad you came outside, I hate getting wet..."

An Elvin woman appeared then, who walked around the dragon's body to regard Aquiel with a respectful bow.

Aquiel came up on the shore and sat across from the other dragon. This must be his bonded, she thought. Typical for an elf...china white skin, platinum hair in a multitude of braids, eyes like two portals to the abyss, but graceful and wearing the typical toga of her people.

Decades had passed since she'd met this Feathered-One. They were younger then and she'd come across him dying. Left for dead from the talons of Ohanzhee, he'd not asked her for help. Indeed, he'd expected her to cut short his misery immediately, but she had not. Instead, she tended to his wounds, healed what she could, and saved his life. She'd asked for nothing, simply flown away. For a long time, he couldn't understand why his enemy would do such a thing, but he'd sworn an oath on the spot that he'd find her and he'd pay back his debt to her.

They'd met sporadically over the years, secretly of course. It wouldn't do for either to be with the other, but their friendship had grown. Eventually they'd joined; a ritualistic sharing of their bodies, their memories, their experiences before they'd moved on again, their lives typical with the fickleness of dragons.

It made sense now that he'd seek her out.

"I suppose you're here because of the truce?"

Zhubotau nodded his face uncharacteristically somber. "Yes. You need to return to Halai. The Council needs you."

So she'd heard. Pity, she'd just gotten her lair comfortable again. "Fine. Let us go."

The Feathered-One nodded once and the two of them took wing, the elf with Zhubotau.

The flight to Halai was long and uneventful. Most creatures were not brave or strong enough to attack a full sized dragon, much less two of them. Along the way, Aquiel discovered that the elfin woman was Zhubotau's bonded; her name was Cáraire, and she was an assassin by trade. The Child of Bahamut was impressed. Zhubotau was one of the most fickle of their kind. He'd settled down, so to speak.

Halai was located in a mountain range made of sheer peaks that disappeared under a constant blanket of clouds. Thousands of years ago, dragons and their humanoid servants hollowed out the mountains so much it was hard to see them as natural formations. Hammer and chisel, along with dragon magic had so thoroughly shaped the summits that the mountain simply melted into a sculpted city that spanned over a dozen peaks. Towering spires reached ever skyward topped by colorful banners that proclaimed the noble houses in winds that never stilled. Wide-open aeries designed for wings were set beside smaller passageways meant for their human and elfin servants and friends.

Despite its size, Halai was not an easy location to visit by foot. Powerful glamour hid the city from magical scrying and the blanket of clouds hid it from the ground. Young dragons, under spells of non-detection patrolled the skies regularly. Halai was nearly an impregnable fortress inhabited by pinnacle predators. Intelligent creatures understood that to search out Halai without an invitation, was to search out one's own death.

To a dragon, this was paradise. This was true home. It was also a place of sanctuary.

Long-standing rules made Halai neutral grounds, for all of Dragon-kind. There was to be no fighting within the peaks of the city outside of the arena. Child and One alike were welcome in the city, and Child and One alike would endure exile should they break this ancient edict.

Exactly how this was enforced was a myth lost among the dragons. Nevertheless, the punishment was all too real. It had happened many times before, and would likely happen many times again. Those that broke the edict found themselves outside the city peaks, on the rocky ground, with the City of Halai forever vanished from their mind. They could not see it, they could not touch it, and they could not remember it.

For Aquiel and Zhubotau this was the end of a long flight, and the start of something more complicated.

Servants, intent upon tending to their every need, surrounded the two dragons the moment their talons touched the marble floors of the aerie. Scales were polished; they had their talons cleaned and filed. Servants buffed each horn to a shine and filled their stomachs with food and they carefully oiled each wing. For Aquiel and Zhubotau, their lives fraught with hardships and difficulty, this was a luxury almost too good to be true.

Too soon, escorts brought them into the main hall before the council. It was an enormous semi-circular chamber with each of the eight council dragons on their own raised platform.

The council dragons were not the only wyrms present in the chamber. Indeed there was at least a dozen other dragons scattered around the marble floor of all shapes and types. However, the circular chamber stood divided with the Feathered Ones on one side and the Children of Bahamut on the other; no love was lost between the two.

It was only the threat of the Scale-rot looming over the group, combined with the ever-present Chingari guardians that kept the two groups in line, but there was no shortage of growls and glares and posturing that went on. Aquiel and Zhubotau found themselves standing between the two hostile groups of dragons. It was not a pleasant place.

Aquiel scanned the snouts of the dragons around her. Most of them she didn't recognize, but there were several that she did.

One of them was a council member; a female Child named Kel'ess'enn sat on the second tier serenely. The elder was covered plates of shiny white armor, like those of a war machine that protected a muscular squat body that had three ragged membranous crests running along the length. She had been the closest to a mother Aquiel had ever known.

Another was Teronarn'Mryl, one of the oldest of the Children still living in Halai. His sandy colored scales were interspersed with patches of dark brown with a large and blocky head. A double row of sharp bony plates ran from the tip of his tail up to the base of his skull. He sat among others of his kind, gazing serenely at Aquiel.

Like Kel'ess'enn, Teronarn'Mryl had had a hand in Aquiel's upbringing. It was the way, in dragon culture, for an entire society to raise parentless hatchlings. Teronarn'Mryl had played a large part in that. Aquiel saw him as a grandfather figure and he'd always been the first scale she'd turn towards when she wanted a story.

The last of the familiar faces was one that Aquiel wished she didn't know. Ohanzee. While he didn't actually sit upon the tiers of the Council, he was old enough and powerful enough to do so. He wielded tremendous influence upon his fellow Feathered Ones without ever seeming to.

The elder Feathered One had hounded Aquiel throughout her life. He had never directly attacked her, but he'd always found a way to harass her. Now, standing here, with all eyes upon her, she felt his soulless grey orbs the most.

She didn't look up as she heard sharp talons approaching her. Beside her, Zhubotau bristled and her nostrils filled with the acrid scent of Ohanzee. "Hello princess."

Aquiel didn't answer him. She had no reason to, but Zhubotau snarled slightly and faced his elder. "Go away, Ohanzhee-ko."

Despite the use of the honorific the younger dragon used, the elder ignored him, ignored the scent of his rage that surged outward. Aquiel was much smaller then he was and she seemed to pull inward at his approach. Good, thought Ohanzhee, let her fear me. It is as it should be.

"We are under armistice here. You cannot –"

Within a blink, Ohanzhee had charged Zhubatau; his snout mere inches from the smaller dragon's neck. "Silence, koji." He hissed. There was no mistaking the venom in his voice. "You haven't earned the right to speak."

Aquiel tensed up. Ohanzhee's bitter scent caused her nostrils to burn. She made a motion towards her distressed friend with the intention of making him leave Zhubotau alone. Koji, he'd said. It meant worthless bastard; a word she hated. She hated Ohanzhee.

Her slight movement instantly caught Ohanzhee's eye and he turned on her quickly with a snarl, causing her to shrink back. "It's not nice to interrupt, little Chiyo." He said, almost affectionately. He couldn't contain the smirk that crawled over his lips at her reaction. It pleased him to cause her so much discomfort.

"Enough, Ohanzhee." Kel'ess'enn said from her station on the dais, "Return to your place." There was a touch of steel in her serene voice. "We have called Ah'kuielarhnn here for a specific purpose. It is time to begin."

As the Council called the room to order, it instantly quieted down and Aquiel listened to the words of the council. When it was over, a strange feeling washed over her.

They told her about the Scale-Rot pandemic, and how the seers bespoke an ancient cure. However, the cure lay in the remains of the athenaeum of Cesenea, perhaps the greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient civilizations. The new city of Risonia now stood upon the bones of the ruins.

Only a dragon could be trusted to go, they'd told her, but only a human would be able to traverse the tiny streets, the passages, and the buildings that were surely still intact. There was no room for the bulk of their kind within the human city.

Of all the dragons, only Aquiel had shown the ability to change into the human form, the ability to take the body of a Keheen. Once stated, a murmur of growls and other sounds noting distaste had risen slightly. What dragon would willingly tether themselves to the ground and two legs like their servants? It was odd indeed.

Therefore, the council concluded that Aquiel would be the one to retrieve the cure. Kel'ess'enn had expressed her displeasure at the choice but even she had to agree there was no other choice. They would give Aquiel the remainder of the day to rest, and she would leave in the morning.

Aquiel wandered down the hallway away from the council. They gave to her a room with a host of servants and fineries but she had ditched them in favor of a long walk. She had to put Rhys out of her mind. He was the past now. Now, charged with saving her race, she had to look forward.

It bothered her that she'd not seen B'rithael among the dragons. He was her oldest and best friend, and struck with wanderlust like her. It wouldn't be difficult to track him down; she could use his companionship for this journey. Moreover, he'd enjoy hearing about Cesenea. Was he still with Daffryn?

The wily bard had quickly ingratiated himself to the dragon with his quick wit, charm and ability to work magic in a kitchen. It was B'rithael's biggest weakness...his stomach. Aquiel had to admit, she could use a song right about now.

Nevertheless, she wasn't going to be alone. When the council had charged Aquiel with this deed, Zhubatau had immediately stepped forward to be her escort. Her protector. Many of Children had protested that immediately. She should go with another Child.

The Feathered Ones, while approving of the use of one of their own, protested Zhubatau himself. Known to be a 'trouble-maker', a non-conformist, he was barely more than an adolescent by their standards. Filled with teenage vim and vigor he was more worried about his next meal then any grand scheme and his contempt for the petty squabbles of his own kind was well known. After all, here he was, obviously friendly, even protective, of the enemy. He'd stepped forward against Ohanzhee in full view of the council and all its attendees.

How repulsive! However, all parties agreed that no one faction should hold all responsibility for the cure. The Children couldn't be trusted; every Feathered One knew that. The Feathered Ones were traitors and subversive. It was common Child knowledge.

Ohanzee had protested the loudest. He wasn't fearful the runt couldn't protect Aquiel; he knew Zhubatau was difficult to control and that worried him. It wasn't the first time he'd crossed horns with the youth. He spoke against the youth but when Th'Chetin, the Ghan Tayiji, had approved the choice of escorts, it forced his silence. At that, Ohanzhee had stormed out of the council arena leaving behind several grunts of support by other Feathered Ones.

Predictably, Aquiel heard the telltale flap of wings approach from behind her. The scent was familiar and benign. "Hello Zhu—"

He didn't let her speak. "Aki, you simply HAVE to get your horns carved!" The excitement was apparent in Zhubatau's voice. "They have this guy, and a ton of designs. See?" He moved in front of Aquiel and shoved his horns in her snout.

Zhubatau had four horns on each side of his head curling back from behind his earflaps and carved into the top horn on each side was an ornate swirling pattern. As Aquiel looked deeper, she could see that they had even gone so far as to rub some sort of soft red wax into the smaller grooves. She had to admit, even silently, that it looked quite elegant.

He rubbed up against her briefly and the slight scents of vanilla and cinnamon wafted around her. His flame red scales glistened in the soft light of the aerie with an oily sheen. "Did you try the baths?" He said proudly. "There are humans here that will massage your scales and make you pretty."

"So...I'm not pretty now?"

The Feathered One blinked and stammered an answer. "Uh...Hey are you hungry? There is a feast in the coliseum and a show to which we could go."

Aquiel turned her head towards him slightly, they'd eaten not too long ago. His enthusiasm was infectious. "You don't mind hanging out with the enemy?"

Zhubatau smirked. "Well...I do think you have a strange sense of companionship, but enemy is a word I reserve for eggs like Ohanzhee. Now...make a decision daan'ken, food or bath."

The Feathered One hopped from one foot to the others unable to fully contain his excitement and it made Aquiel smile. She was hanging out, and enjoying it, with a Feathered One...something she'd never thought possible. He'd even called her daan'ken – equals. She could feel the eyes of her fellows upon her as they took wing together across the city towards the baths and she knew she'd never truly be trusted because of this. Her obvious friendship with Zhubatau would cause them both to become outcasts but for this crisis, both sides tolerated the abomination.

To the Feathered Ones, he was their insurance. To the Children of Bahamut, he was a necessary, if temporary, evil.

In light of the recent events, Aquiel found herself lost among the warm, swirling scented waters. Sometimes it felt good just to be a dragon.

Nearby Zhubatau waited, curled up on a balcony in the sunlight. He raised his head as an Elvin woman approached. It was his bonded, Cáraire,

Because she was a Bonded, she received the royal treatment. Subject to baths, extravagant food, hot stone massages, music, private entertainment and much more, she'd allowed herself to partake in the baths and some of the food, but little else.

Truthfully, Halai was almost overwhelming to her. As an elf, she was used to the towering columns of her homeland, the oversized ornate archways, and the open spaces. However, in Magh Tuireadh the buildings were for elves, ultimately meant for Elvin habitation. Here, she felt small, insignificant.

There was no way to make him truly understand how out of place she felt here. How that here she felt like a servant, a slave to the dragons, even though none of the non-dragons here were such things. They were all paid, and paid well. Given lavish apartments and scrumptious food, access to libraries and music, the humans chosen to work in Halai stayed there of their own accord.

Zhubatau gave her a lazy smile as she walked up. She had her fine platinum hair plaited in over a dozen braids held by a series of jade and onyx beads. Dressed in the traditional toga of the elves she made for a graceful figure gliding through the hallway. "Get a sandwich luv? Go dancing?"

Cáraire's normally aloof features fixed the dragon with a reproachful stare. It was bad enough she had to endure the obnoxious and overpowering culture of the humans, but asking her to enjoy their spicy and over cooked food was asking too much. "I have indulged myself master."

The dragon gave her a curt nod and rolled back on his side languidly. "Good. We will leave in the morning, after a good night's sleep."

The baths, while busy were not crowded and the pool that Aquiel soaked in was empty save for her. She sighed, the ostracization already beginning, but it didn't bother her. Halai was not her home. Issicia was home, but...even that wasn't home any longer.

A rush of wind heralded the arrival of another set of wings. Teronarn'Mryl landed clumsily on the wet marble and immediately lost his footing and slipped into the warm waters with an enormous splash.

The suddenness of the accident caused Aquiel to yelp in surprise and leap to her feet. Water went flying everywhere soaking the human attendants nearby and extinguishing the closest flame-filled baskets that lit the bath.

Zhubatau quickly leapt to his feet as well when he heard the yelp and the commotion below him. With a snarl, he peered over the edge to Aquiel's pool. "Filthy Children," he snarled. "Leave her alone!" In an instant, he was over the edge heading to her.

"Teronarn'Mryl!" Aquiel squeaked as she shook the water from her face and eyes.

The elderly dragon stood up in the shallow pool looking around confusedly. "Oh my." He said, climbing out awkwardly. "I seem to have slipped..."

Before he could say more Zhubatau was there, his jaws tight and his lips pulled back in a snarl. He'd expected this from his own kind, but from a Child? Were they as conniving as the Feathered Ones?

Teronarn'Mryl blinked as he regarded the newcomer with surprise. "Oh dear." He muttered absently. "It seems I have offended this kana-daran. Please accept my apologies."

Kana-daran, a term used for those outside your circle of friends and below you in rank or age, was not an insult, but Zhubatau bristled at its use anyway. He resented anyone looking down on him especially because of his age. He knew he was young; it was why he left Halai to explore. He was determined to prove he deserved respect as well, but he would do it his own way.

Aquiel quickly put herself between the two males before something bad could happen. Most activity in the baths had stopped and had turned to watch the spectacle with varying degrees of interest. The majority was annoyed at the interruption, but some wanted to watch a fight. However, the quick appearance of the Chingari quickly squashed all hope of violence.

Zhubatau moved back a bit, but didn't allow the elderly Child out of his sight. No matter his friendship with Aquiel, he didn't trust the Children of Bahamut further then he could throw one. All they wanted was to see his kind destroyed. Sure, they used courtesies and politics and never seemed to initiate violence, but he knew different. Most of the Children were no different from his own kin except the Children hid behind elaborate lies and fake smiles. At least the Feathered Ones were honest in their evil.

Aquiel sighed and turned her attention back onto one of only two dragons she considered na'whana, family. "Teronarn'Mryl." It was hard to maintain a stern expression when he was sopping wet and had orchid blossoms stuck to his scales. She watched him glance around confusedly for a moment then moved forward to help him.

"Ah, thank you child." He said kindly as his stubby clawed toes dragged across the wet tiles. He curled his tail around his legs as Aquiel moved out of the pool as well. "Walk with me chiyo."

Immediately Aquiel obeyed and moved to follow behind him respectfully. She glanced over her shoulder at Zhubatau with a frown. It was obvious this was NOT how he wanted to spend his afternoon, but he kept his snout closed. Cáraire followed silently.

They walked along for a while down the hallway making small talk. Teronarn'Mryl was quite interested in Issicia, the town Aquiel had spent the last several seasons. Aquiel found that once she began to speak she couldn't stop. She also found the act therapeutic and once started, the stories were endless.

She told the ancient dragon how her and Rhys had met, and how they fought. Their competition was fierce. Rhys didn't like to lose. He'd once stayed out all night in a storm to search for a missing sheep, only to return caked in mud to find that Aquiel had found the sheep the day before. He'd sulked quite a while on that one.

The children. The stories of the children made the old dragon laugh. So full of life and vivacious, it was easy for Teronarn'Mryl to become quite enamored with them. It sounded as if Aquiel had quite a wonderful life for herself.

Nevertheless, this human was the source of a great pain in her heart. He was her best friend. He'd been terribly hurt by dragons when he was young, so it was possible he wouldn't easily forgive her, if at all. In his centuries of dealing with the tiny creatures he'd found several constants. Humans were a temperamental species. Always so quick to anger and slow to forgive, but they lived their lives to the fullest in the blink of eye.

However, Aquiel was young, far too young to allow herself to pine away over the love of a single human. Teronarn'Mryl looked back at her with a slight chuckle and began a grandfatherly lecture. The words he offered her now were kind, full of inspiration and support. He cared for Aquiel as if she were his own brood and he was well equipped to make her see that she was not alone, ever, and that she was loved, always.

It only took him three minutes to have her carefree lighthearted laughter wafting along the breeze once more.

The strange group ended in a small amphitheatre. A female bard sat on the stage with a harp larger then she was and plucked expertly at the strings. Soothing music echoed through the chamber and Aquiel thought about Daffryn and how he could play twice as elegantly as this girl. Teronarn'Mryl took a seat on one of the dragon-sized benches.

"Risonia, a city unlike any you have probably seen Ah'kuielarhnn, is a dangerous place." The elder said without preamble. It made Zhubatau cease his sulking and listen as well; even he recognized the voice of experience. "Among other things, it is the capital city of Keione, the land of humans, and as such, is a city with colors diverse as a rainbow. It is also capable of great beauty and great evil."

He went on to speak, at length, of the city's impressive history. Once, the ancient of city of Cesenea had stood in its stead as pillar of strength in the ancient world. Cesenea had been a seat of power, of education and art. The city was one of the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities of its time and was noted for its advanced levels of medicine and science. For a while, it reigned over the ancient world.

Eventually the city began to self-destruct due to a social breakdown caused by extreme sloth. The city held a sizeable slave population, well treated, but still slaves. As the social structure broke down, so, too, did the treatment of the slaves. Used as guinea pigs for generations, the angry slaves eventually took advantage of the social upheavals to stage a rebellion.

From nowhere strange magics coursed through the city, magics which ultimately destroyed the city and caused the very land itself to rise up and swallow the grand city. Not everyone was destroyed, and not everything. The survivors took what they could salvage and eked out a harsh living in what little remained of their once beautiful city.

Eventually the city of Risonia rose from the ashes. The people forgot the lessons of the ancients and moved on with their lives. They became a trading hub, roads from all over Fallankahl led to the city, and it grew and grew as more and more came to call Risonia home.

Only the temple near the center of town remembered the old ways. The sequestered monks were, in fact, scholars who spent their lives in study of the ruins. The Da-Shen, a secluded race of short squat humanoids, called Tunnelers by humans, carved out catacombs centuries ago below the city to search for treasure. Eventually the scholars made use of the abandoned tunnels and closed off all other city accesses, until even they stopped exploring. Though many buildings survived the destruction, it was rumored the Library and the Grand Hall made it through relatively unscathed, their treasures and knowledge intact.

"It is to these monks that you must journey, Ah'kuielarhnn." Teronarn'Mryl said finally, his story closing. "They should allow you access to the catacombs if you give them this." He handed her a small black embroidered bag. "Inside you will find a scroll with the Council's seal. They will let you in."

"How do you know all this, old egg?" Zhubatau blurted out. Granted it was all new to him, and he ignored the annoyed frown on Teronarn'Mryl's snout.

"I know many things." He said patiently. Hatchlings were always in such a rush. "I also know that no one has ever returned from the catacombs, Ah'kuielarhnn, The monks have kept a meticulous record of those that enter, and to this date, none have ever been seen again."

Aquiel's eyes went wide at that revelation. Even Cáraire was inclined to raise an eyebrow. What ancient evil lurked in the catacombs? Regardless of the evil that was or wasn't there, she could not fail. The fate of her kind rested upon whether or not she brought back the cure.

She'd seen the disease up close. They'd closed off several wings of the interconnected Halai; quarantined. Within the closed doors were the dead and dying. It wasn't a slow or easy or even a quiet death. Even the humans tasked with care of those parts looked ill, whether from the sickness itself or from constant screams of agony.

Dragon magic, while able to quell much of the pain could do nothing to stop the disease. It was up to Aquiel and her strange companions.

Zhubatau's tail whipped from side to side in annoyance. "Well if no one ever returns...how did the monks find out all this information?"

"Human magic has its uses." The elder replied. "And the parties didn't disappear immediately. At times, they were able to send back new information, sketches, or runes through minor teleportation magic or Seng-stones. Eventually those reports would stop coming, and once several expeditions went missing, they stopped exploration altogether. Now they guard the entrance."

Aquiel glanced at Zhubatau. The look on his snout was one of arrogance and boredom. He didn't know Teronarn'Mryl well enough to trust his information and he was a bit eccentric, but she had to admit she felt the same sense of arrogance Zhubatau did. These were humans after all. Although she loved one more than life itself, it didn't change the fact that she was a superior creature.

There was nothing a human could do that she couldn't do better. She and Zhubatau caught glances and a slight smile played over her lips in understanding. Still, Teronarn'Mryl was never wrong. He spent most of his considerable lifespan buried in books and scrolls and enough paper that filled his horde to cover the entirety of Fallenkahl. It wouldn't be wise to dismiss his warnings so easily.

"I will be careful Daan'ji." She said reverently, lowing her eyes and head.

This caused the elder to laugh. She was being respectful, using words reserved for one's superiors...clearly, she was bored of this conversation and her youthful heart longed for other activities. Her attention span had reached its end. "Little Ah'kuielarhnn-jah...be careful and I will see you back here." He moved forward to nuzzle her affectionately, before taking wing and heading away.

"Sheesh...." Zhubatau said once the older dragon was gone. "Can we PLEASE get some food now?" He affixed the other dragon with his most pathetic, hangdog expression. "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse...two horses."

Aquiel held back a laugh at Zhubatau's thoughtfully joyous expression about his upcoming feast and she nodded. Fine, off to find food.

After the two young dragons flew away, a shadow stepped from its hiding place and smiled. "Youth...so predictable." It glanced at its partner. "Lucky for us."

The partner stepped out, a tall and graceful middle-aged man. Even in the light his ebony skin and indigo hair were hard to distinguish from the shadows. He had eyes like two pools of moonlit water and he smiled up at the other. "Yes, master...I hear and understand."