A flicker of consciousness. A life.
This life was new, but it knew three things.
And, the fact that they belonged to the noble race of dragons.
The air was cool and damp in the dark cave, having laid undisturbed since from before time began. Saenni shifted, scales dragging against the stonewalls, testing her newly formed limbs with muted curiosity. She flexed her hands and flapped her wings and stood slowly. Her tail brushed over the stone floor as she did, giving her the balance she needed, and her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light as she took in her surroundings.
The cave was nearly a perfect circle with openings of varying sizes in different directions. A slab-like outcropping in the stonewall, entirely encased in darkness, had been her place of awakening. There were remnants of etchings on the walls, intricate images of people and fire and light, all around, with colours long faded and segments worn down until they were undecipherable.
Her ears picked up on a sound bouncing against the bare walls, footfalls approaching her location. Despite the distortion of the echoes, Saenni easily knew where the being was approaching from. She turned to the largest opening and waited. A human entered not long after. Blonde hair in a high ponytail and dark clothes made for travel, and a single gold bracelet on her wrist. Her red eyes widened as she took in Saenni's towering stature, an audible gasp leaving her lips as she stretched her wings as far as the cave allowed.
'Human,' Saenni said with a slight tilt of her head, her voice bouncing off the walls.
'Great dragon,' the woman said and knelt.
'Yes, I am aware of what I am. What do you want?'
The woman hesitated for a moment. 'Great dragon, my name is Linette. It was I who called upon you.'
'No shit. What do you want?'
'I require your aid,' she said slowly. 'Our world is in turmoil and at the brink of an all-consuming war that will enslave all to the will of one man if we do not stop it. I am in desperate need of guidance, great dragon, and support. Many have ventured into the depths of Redagan in search for the Cloudpoint to summon you, but none have succeeded.'
'Must make you special, then,' Saenni drawled absently, more focused on how the dim sunlight breaking through a crack in the ceiling reflected off her black scales. 'What's it got to do with me?'
'I need guidance, great dragon. I was told you would know what to do, how to save the world.'
Saenni sighed as her purpose made itself reminded. 'It's quite obvious what you need to do, human. Unite the lands against this evil and stop him.'
'Yes, that is what we are striving to do.'
'So what's the issue?'
'We require your guidance on how to do it, great dragon-'
Saenni held up a hand with a sigh. 'Enough with the great dragon spiel. My name is Saenni, use it.'
Linette paused and nodded slowly. 'As you wish. A great magi is gathering forces to enslave the rest of the world and we require your aid.'
Saenni nodded. 'There's an easy solution to your problem.'
'Yes?' Linette said, red eyes large and hopeful.
'Kill the magi.'
Linette shook her head. 'There must be another way.'
'I'm sure there is, this is just faster and to the point,' Saenni shrugged. 'Kill him and be done with it.'
'Surely killing him isn't the best way to resolve this?'
'Isn't it?' Saenni eyed the small human before her. 'Sounds like it'll solve your problem just fine.'
Linette frowned and looked at Saenni for a long while, in complete silence. Then her eyes lit up and a smile appeared on her face. 'This is a test,' she exclaimed. 'Of course. I should have realised it sooner.'
Saenni stared at the blonde for a long moment. 'What are you talking about?'
'Of course, you would test me. Simply killing him would be too easy, and too brash. I must find another way.'
'No, I'm really not testing you. Just kill him.'
'Of course,' Linette said and stood, ignoring her words completely. 'The prophecy states that the great dragon slumbering in Redagan mountains will join the chosen in the quest. Will you join me?'
Saenni sighed. Perhaps she was expecting too much out of this human. 'You're sure you're the aforementioned chosen?'
'It is what the prophesy states.'
'Yeah, that's not really an answer,' Saenni said. She gave the human a once-over, weighing her options. Then she nodded slowly. 'I have my purpose to fulfil here either way, so I might as well go with you. But you should still kill him.'
'I have my companions waiting outside, please follow me,' Linette said and turned on her heel.
Saenni sighed once more. She flexed her hands again, curling her talons against the palm of her hands gently. Focusing on the energy just below the surface, she pulled it over her scales to settle there like a warm embrace, shifting her appearance in accordance with her wishes. She folded her wings to her back and moulded her energy over them, feeling them sink into her scales. A few more push and pulls and Saenni had taken on the appearance of a human, save for scales littering her body and her eyes retaining their silver colour.
She followed Linette from the cave, easily identifying the way she had gone. It was a fairly straight path from the main chamber to the entrance, a few twists and turns but no attempt at misdirection. Stepping through the opening, Saenni came face to face with another two curious humans. One tall man carrying a broad sword on his back, and an even smaller woman than Linette standing by his side, twirling a dagger between her hands deftly.
'You're the dragon?' the woman asked, her face set in a doubtful expression. The dagger never halted, Saenni noted as she tilted her head in the woman's direction.
'Meriall,' Linette scolded. 'Show some respect. This is Meriall and Armant, my companions. This is the great dragon, Saenni. She has decided to join us.'
Before Meriall could retort, Armant stepped forward with a polite bow. 'What has been your counsel, great dragon?'
'Kill him,' Saenni replied easily as she looked around.
They were near the peak of the tallest mountain in the range, wisps of clouds wrapping around the surrounding peaks and obscuring the foot of the mountain. Rolling hills were the only thing she could see in any direction, but she could taste the ocean on her tongue. The smell of chimney smoke was stronger, closer. Another glance downwards as the clouds moved and Saenni could spot a large city tucked into the gap between two mountains, dark tendrils of smoke snaking their way towards the sky.
'It is the same suggestion I have been giving,' Armant said with a nod.
'It is a test, Armant,' Linette said. 'Of course, the prophesied dragon wouldn't want us to kill our enemy without even trying to figure out a peaceful way to end the conflict.'
'No,' Saenni said and turned her back on the view. 'I really don't care either way. But if you're not going to listen, it's not my problem.'
Armant looked between them carefully, but Linette only shook her head. He pulled himself up to his full height and folded his arms behind his back. 'No matter. The night is not far off, so we should begin the trek down to our camp.'
As Armant and Linette lead the way down a narrow path, Meriall trailed behind, slowing her pace until she fell into step with Saenni. The bangs of her short black hair tied back on the crown of her head and her small stature gave her a nearly childish appearance, only countered by the sharp look in her eyes and the underlying tang of iron on her person.
'You don't look like a dragon.'
'And you don't look like a killer.'
'What makes you say I am one?'
'I can smell the blood on you, little one,' Saenni said easily. 'Like a stench on your skin.'
Meriall huffed. 'Didn't think a dragon would be offended by some blood.'
Saenni glanced at her, a smile tugging at her lips. 'Who said I was offended? Tell me about this world.'
'What do you want to know?'
'For starters, where are we?'
'This is the tallest mountain in the world and located at its very centre. Redagan is the mountain range you can see both to the south and the north.'
'Linette mentioned something called Cloudpoint.'
'According to the prophesy, that's the location of the great dragon who is said to join the chosen one on her quest to unite the lands, in order to stave off the greatest evil. That cave is supposed to have been it. When the chosen one enters, the great dragon shall awaken, or something like that.'
'You don't sound as devoted as those two.'
'Does that offend you?' Meriall snorted. She shook her head with a sigh. 'I don't need to believe in the prophecy to know that the magi are planning something bad. I will do my duty and repay my debt. I don't have to believe in higher powers and destinies to know that if we want to succeed, we all have to do our part, and I'm prepared to do that.'
Saenni nodded. 'So why do you follow Linette?'
'I don't. My debt is to Armant, and he follows her. Not to mention, I've committed to doing what I can to stop the magi and Linette is heading straight for them.' She smiled ruefully. 'Better to stay with her and face them head-on than wait for death.'
'She said the man wants to enslave people.'
'The ones they can control. They've already begun to kill those who stand against them too fiercely.'
'And you believe they'd kill you rather than enslave you?'
'I know they would,' she said and pulled down the high collar of her shirt, revealing a thin line across her throat. 'They've already tried.'
They reached a plateau just above the tree line where they had left their horses, the last part of the path too steep and narrow for them to handle. They grew restless as Saenni stepped onto the plateau. Scraping their hooves against the rock and throwing their heads against the hold of Armant and Linette. She pulled in her energy further, masking herself as a human nearly completely and the horses calmed down once more.
Armant grabbed the reins of the horse that had been the calmest, offering them to Saenni. 'This is Kau. He's a warhorse and perfectly trained.'
'If you're a dragon, can't you fly?' Meriall asked.
'I can,' she replied easily and accepted the reins. 'But why waste my own energy?'
'And I believe, based on the horses’ reactions, that it would make things difficult if she was to follow us like that,' Armant said. 'Perhaps they will get used to your presence faster like this.'
'We will see,' Saenni said and put her hand against Kau's muzzle gently. He tensed but did not pull away. 'He seems calm enough.'
'We should get going,' Linette said and mounted a white horse. 'We want to leave most of the mountain behind before nightfall.'
'Meriall,' Armant said and indicated the last horse. 'You will ride with me until we can get me another horse.'
Saenni mounted Kau slowly as to not startle him, settling in the saddle easily. 'Do you have a destination in mind?'
'We will descend the mountain towards the south and stop by Domica, one of the largest cities around this area. We'll get some more travel rations and then head to Normery. Some of our companions are already there waiting for us,' Linette said and guided her horse towards the path. As the rest followed, she continued, 'Normery is the smaller human country, so we decided to start there. While we came here to summon you, the rest headed there.'
'How far is it to this Normery?'
'It'll take us three days to reach Domica from here,' Meriall said. 'From there, it'll take us about fourteen days to reach the capital of Normery, assuming everything goes as it should.'
'Is there reason to believe it wouldn't?' Saenni asked.
Meriall sent her a flat look. 'Chosen one, legendary warrior, and now the prophesied great dragon of legend, all travelling together. Frankly, I'd be surprised if something didn't happen.'
'Perhaps this won't be quite as boring as I thought it would be,' Saenni chuckled. She leaned back and settled comfortably on Kau's back as best she could. With a sigh, she folded her arms under her head and stared up at the sky as they descended the mountain slowly.