On the other side of the world – not the other side of the globe, but the other side of existence, a dragon took flight.
He was silver and brown, and seemed to meld with the mist that wreathed the steep, sharp crags. The mountain he circled was one of strange myths, so tall that no man or elf or four footed beast had ever climbed its height, no dwarf had ever dug its depths. Some thought God lived at the peak, some considered it the domicile of husband sun and wife moon, and some believed it a barren wasteland were no life could ever survive.
The dragons know the truth. Only dragons have breath enough and will enough to reach the highest of peaks. And this dragon was testing his breath and strength and will, his magnificent wings with membranes so fine and clear they seemed like a net meant to capture the stars strove hard, cleaving the wind, pushing just a little bit further. He seemed to be tiring, and he, a prince of the north frost dragons, felt the cold like an ache in his bones.
He heaved himself forward, breaking free of the last of the clouds, his scales glittering like frost in the pale moonlight. The peak still seemed so far away, but he continued on, straining, for he had no choice.
When he finally made the peak, he continued on even further, flying almost vertical, until he could find no more breath, and blackness dotted away the corners of his vision. He dived, letting gravity take him, allowing his wings to fold back against his body. He was closer to death than he had ever been, but he did not see this as the end. This was a dive of faith, and he concentrated instead on another place, only seen in dragon dreams. Earth and rock rushed up to meet him, but he kept his eyes open. He was close enough, in those last seconds, to see the fine cracks of parched earth…
Then he was tumbling through absolute blackness. First came the emptiness, as his magic was ripped away, then the pain as his bones began to shift. He kept concentrating, reminding himself where he was going, who he was…
He came out of darkness and into twilight, fetching up against a tree. He pushed himself up, trying to focus on the land around him. His bones shifted again, and the prince of dragons threw back his head, and screamed as wings withered, as scale sloughed away into cloth. His coming was like a flare in the night for those who knew how to watch, a ripple across minds and hearts. They knew he had crossed through, but they did not know who or what he was, what his prescience meant to them.
On the infamous ghost ship The Flying Dutchman a group of elves looked to their captain. The captain’s wife pulled out her charts. “Its only the first sign.” She whispered, “But the blue moon is coming.”
The captain looked at his crew of refugees. “I swear to you now, what I swore to you then. No one will force us back.” Grim silence greeted him, broken only by the waves against the hull and the creaking of ropes.
In the cave beneath the ruins of her parents castle, Nimue of the Lake stirred. Her pale green eyes opened sleepily, but there was no quickening of magic in her soul. She sighed and rolled over, back into dreams.
In a one bedroom apartment, Sabin felt the stirring in the atmosphere, but couldn’t sense its meaning. He shrugged and looked at his wife, shook the car keys. She winced at the sound, but continued scrubbing dishes and pretending not to cry. “Dry your hands, baby.” He said. “Its time to take a ride.”
Others heard the call. Some trembled, some nodded and began to make plans. “The Blue Moon is coming,” they whisper, in fear and in anticipation.
The dragon had finished his transformation. He reached up and touched the dragon pin on his shirt, and it comforted him, reminding that, no matter what strange feelings this new body gave him, he was TorVanith of the frost-sea. He let go of it reluctantly and sighed, then took a look at what he could see of himself. He noticed that his clothes choice had automatically reverted to what he knew humans wore in his own land – brown leather boots and pants just a little lighter in color than his scales would be, a gray shirt in serviceable linen. He made a tall, lanky human, paler skinned than he would have thought. He had no idea what fashion the people of this world would wear, but with the fortune that usually befell him, it would be wildly different. “Probably shall stick out like gold among silver,” he croaked out to see what his voice was like. He frowned, and decided to use it as little as possible. His English would not be as hopelessly archaic as some of his fellow dragons would have been, but it wouldn’t be common, either.
He stood. His legs and feet were sore, unused to their new form. He leaned against the tree, trying to figure out the best way to breathe, through nose or mouth. He hated his weakness – his father would not be daunted by such a little thing as a change in form. His father was powerful and fearsome, and his only son and heir wanted to prove himself with a desperation that was strong for a male of the dragon kind.
He looked around at the trees, and noticed that his eyes were not as sharp as they once were, that the air did not tell tales to him as it once would have. He called on the little bit of magic that was inside of him, careful, knowing he had to conserve it, and drew a square in the air in front of him. He dotted the center, and whispered his name, TorVanith, then an arrow to stand for where he was facing. He focused, like calling to like, magic calling to magic. To his left another dot appeared, shimmering white, and a smaller, fainter dot next to it. The brighter dot was his destination.
He paused to pick a stick off the ground, and took a moment to peel off some of the fungus and bark. It was mostly dry, only rotten on one end, and had been laying long enough that it was no longer green. It would conduct his magic enough, he thought, reassured that no matter how dead to magic this world was, he would always have the lightning in his bones. Nothing could take that away. He began to walk to the left, using the stick to probe the weeds. He saw things he could not put a name to, but knew what they were made of. He saw a few glass jars with labels so faded that he wouldn’t have been able to read them even if he knew the language. There was a red thing of metal on one side of the path, that did not sing when he reached with his mind to touch it. Something else did, though, and he dug until he found a small disc of copper. He touched it with his mind and it sang to him, dully, of time and dirt and corrosion. He didn’t have any pockets, so he let it slide down the side of his boot. Most dragons loved gold, loved the songs that it could sing when they touched it with their minds. Some dragons even loved silver, but he had a special place in his heart for copper, no matter how impure. He had some pieces at home, pure beaten copper vessels and trinkets that when left out in the warmth of the sun would chant to him of quiet, gentle things.
He closed his eyes briefly, and decided he was about as ready as he would ever be, and continued on to meet the white dot that meant another magic user was in the area.
He strode along, spreading his senses out as far as they would go, trying to pick up any clues or hints about his prey. He did not think he was expected, but he did not want to walk into a trap. Bird calls were rare, the silence broken by an occasional, unidentified roar. He stepped over a low gray railing, and felt the crunch of stone beneath his boots. A road wended its way before him, horseless wagons and carriages sped along at impossible speeds. They stank and roared, causing Tor’Van’ith to frown. These people had centuries of technology, and yet their modes of transport were still rather primitive and annoying to the senses. He mentally shrugged, and ran across the road, then climbed the smooth stone barrier. He crouched there, waiting for a clear spot in the traffic. He had to admit that they were a vast improvement on the cart and horse, which was mostly what the humans used where he came from. He took a breath and jumped down, running across the remainder of the road, and into the woods on the other side.
Finally he came to a small clearing. He hid behind the weeds, and examined the area. There was a rutted cart path on which a four wheeled enclosed vehicle sat. The cottage it was parked in front of was painted a now peeling light green. Weeds had been allowed to grow up around it, and the windows were shattered, the white wooden frames broken in places. He thought that the roof had caved in at the back, but he wasn’t sure. He looked at it for a long time, trying to decide the best thing to do. His map said that a strong magical force was in that house – but if there was, wouldn’t the place at least look habitable? He could not imagine a human tolerating a leaky roof or the wind whistling through at night.
He stood and pushed aside the weeds, walking around to the back of the house. The porch had fallen in, and with it a small portion of the roof. The back door was blocked by the rotten, fallen wood. He went back around, walking with silence and care, until he reached the front again. He opened the door, wincing as it creaked. He looked inside, waiting for his eyes to adjust. He could hear voices now, and knew that they were coming from below, in the cellar. The old wood boards of the floor would creak, he thought, so he carefully lowered himself down, distributing his weight. The boards would still creak, but as long as it didn’t sound like footsteps, as long as he could make it seem like random house shifting, he’d probably be all right. He crossed the room like a serpent, feeling the filth and mold ingraining itself on his flesh. He was grateful that aside from the dirt and some leaves and twigs, the room was empty, and he wouldn’t have to navigate around furniture. He was well aware of the trail he was leaving and it bothered him, but he didn’t know a better way.
He crept into the cooking area, its cupboard doors hanging open, the wood stinking with rot. The water damage was bad, and it had warped the door leading to the cellar stairs so that it was impossible to close. He stood and, placing his foot on the nail heads along the edges of the treads, and placing his life in the strength of the hand rail, he carefully made his way down. He put as much weight as he dared on the cold metal rail, and hoping that he wouldn’t make much noise. He regretted carrying the staff, as he would have liked both his hands free, but he would not let it go.
The cellar was divided into two rooms. The floor was dirt, and broken or forgotten furniture was pushed against the wall. The door to the next room hung open, and he crouched in the shadows, depending on the dark to hide him. The light in the basement was even more fitful than above, provided by narrow windows close to the ceiling. He crawled through the door. A tall wood cabinet hid him from view, and he was able to observe the situation.
His adversary was there, and he was not alone. One of the Terfa, or tree people, his skin wrinkled and covered with bark, stood beside him, their attention on the naked human female bound to the table in front of them. He winced in pity, for he could feel her fear radiating out like a cold north wind. Three lanterns brightened the room slightly, allowing him to see the contents of the rough work table to their left. A jar of magic sat on the table, glowing a weak green. Some objects glittered in the dull glow, a knife, some pliers, a chipped cup, some stones.
The steady worry that TorVanith had been feeling since before he left home faded. Sabin did not have the stone.
“You’ve been with me all this last year.” She said. “You know all my secrets.” Her voice was made strong by bitterness, and he knew this last year had not been pleasant.
The adversary said something in crude, cruel voice, and she twisted against the ropes. “I don’t know. Please, Sabin, I swear I don’t know.”
Tor’Van’ith stood, and came around the chest. The Terfa laughed and touched the skin of her thigh. Something about the action combined with the woman’s barely contained fear angered him. The anger puzzled him, for it was not a thing of dragons. “I could conduct a banishing,” he said, “But I think I shall just kill thee.” She turned at the sound of his voice, and the Terfa reached to take a long knife off the table.
He gathered lightning out of his bones and thrust his hands out, pointing the staff at the Terfa. He felt his power surge down the staff, and arch toward its target. The smell of burning wood and flesh filled the air as the lightening engulfed the creature. Tor’Van’ith dropped the stick, now a little more than charcoal, and turned to face Sabin.
“Who in the second hells do you think you are?” Sabin yelled. He picked up a stone from the table and threw it at him. It hit TorVanith’s shoulder hard, and it burned. Another followed it, but he jumped forward, slamming Sabin to the ground. Sabin hissed a few words, then punched the dragon under the chin. Sabin pushed him off, and Tor’Van’ith crouched there on the ground, pain and something else fragmenting his mind, replacing thought with odd shapes and colors. He shook free, forced himself to see through the haze. Sabin stood over the woman, and he knew that no matter what the price he could not let harm come to her. He struggled to his feet, and gathered the last of his magic, the last of what resources lay ready in his bones, and cast burning lightening at the figure by the table. Sabin threw his arm up, trying to protect himself, but the fire enveloped him. TorVanith saw that the low ceiling had also caught fire, and flames were running along the old beams. He moved to check on Sabin, but the ever growing crackle of fire changed his mind. He ran to the table where the young woman lay, blinking blindly from the lightening flash.
TorVanith undid the ropes. A tattered blanket had been thrown over some of the furniture, and he grabbed it and shook the filth off of it. He wrapped her in it, murmured something soothing. She clung to him as he took her in his arms, she seemed so delicate and light. Now that he no longer needed silence, he made better time through the basement and up the steps, but the fire had already begun to smolder through the main rooms floor. The cooking room, on the opposite side and still damp from past rains was the safer area, but its exit was blocked by rubbish. He set her down, and took her hands and placed them on the counter. She balanced herself while he looked around for something to break out the remaining glass from the kitchen window frame. He ripped off his shirt and wrapping the cloth around his hand, slammed his fist against the frame. The rotten wood gave away and he was able to push the it out. He kept the dragon pin in his hand, afraid to let go of it, and picked her up again. He lowered her out the window, trying not to place her directly on the broken glass. He wiggled his way out feet first, and was relieved when he felt his boot soles touch the ground. He picked her up again, this time because it was easier than trying to lead her through the rubbish. He did not want her to step on something hidden in the weeds. He only stopped when he was out of sight of the house, where he placed her against a tree. He heard sirens, voices, and knew that her own kind were near, and would help. Still, he was reluctant to leave her side. Something in her stirred all of his instincts, human and dragon, and he wanted to watch over and protect her. He smoothed her hair away from her face, then took the pin and used it to fasten the blanket more securely. She grabbed his hand, and he thought about taking her away with him. She spoke, and he waited, his mind tired and having trouble with understanding the words. He was not quite as talented as his father at looking in other minds, and his personal resources were stripped bare. The fight with Sabin had hurt him deeply, and he needed rest to regain his strength. “I am fine.” he answered her, “I must leave you here. I think that you should be safe.” He stood, and walked away. He tripped over something unseen in the path, and caught himself on a tree. He was shutting down inside, and it frightened him, because if he dint hold on, didn’t get back to the spot he entered this world in, he didn’t know what would happen. He thought that he would probably die.
She said something else, but he could not understand it. “Your people come.” he said, comfortingly to her, over his shoulder. Indeed they did, he could hear them coming closer. “Stay where I have placed you.”
He walked a long time, going on memory as his map was gone for good. He thought if he made it back to the entry spot, someone might be able to sense him there, and come get him.
He did not even make it back to the highway.