Ætmar lent forward and whispered into the ear of the peridot-green dragon she sat astride. Not just her means of travelling across the realm, nor her greatest protection from any foe, but also her life-long companion and friend.
“Esh-ti qua!”, she said softly in the ancient language of the Drachera. Immediately the noble beast came to a brief hovering stop, set her head toward the forest below and went into a gentle spiralling dive. Ætmar and Mareschka were one fluid being as they dropped silently into the trees below. Hidden from the view of the Destroyers and their strange mechanical birds, but easily espied by elven eyes, they sought the hidden grove beneath. The war was not going well for the indigenous races of the realm. Having completed their latest mission, dragon and rider had barely escaped alive. They were tired and eager for the comforts of the eyrie, but not enough to outweigh their curiosity. One tiny, near-invisible glint enticed them from the clouds of the sunset skies and heralded them toward the earth below. It was a risk. They were close to an encampment of Destroyers, but there was no mistaking that glint and what it might portend.
Mareschka landed deftly on the rain-soaked leaves below, arboreal garments gladly shed in preparation for the colder days to come. The perfect sound-proof carpet. Immediately Ætmar sprinted toward the tell-tale glow. Her hands worked swiftly to retrieve the heavy golden casket from its leafy prison and lifted it, with elven strength, aloft to the dragon’s nearest eye. A shiver went through them both. Could this really be one of the caskets of old. Tales of ancient times now come into the present to open up the future?
“Ta-quordi-eshete?” The elf asked her companion, who nodded slowly, arboreal reflections dancing over her scales.
Ætmar opened the casket to reveal what they both hoped for, yet trembled at the sight of. Inside the casket were five large, flat objects. Golden in colour, yet laced with a green similar to the periodot-green of Mareschka’s scales.
“Rekishte?” Ætmar’s question was answered by a brief nod of her companion. “Rekishte … ‘biscuits’”, added Ætmar – a rough translation into Elvish. Yet that could not even begin to describe what they were. She laid them out carefully on the ground and stepped back to give Mareschka room. The noble dragon eyed them carefully, as if deciding whether the prey was worthy of eating. Then she pounced, scooping all into her fearsome jaws until every morsel was consumed.
Mareschka’s eyes grew heavy and she slumped, soon to fall into a deep deep slumber. Ætmar, well-versed in the tales of old, prepared for a lengthy wait. She expertly built a fire to warm them both and crawled under Mareschka’s folded wings to sleep. All the while with elven ears alert for any danger.
On the third night, Ætmar was awakened by a terrible shudder. She leapt away from her companion and watched the mighty dragon rise from her slumber. Even with folded wings, Mareschka’s size was impressive – her body as large as a full-grown willow tree. Her deep peridot scales had a new iridescence Ætmar had never seen before and her eyes once deepest black now shone like opal.
This fine formidable beast stood full tall, stretched out her wings, and looked up at the sky and sang. Ætmar had never before heard her companion’s voice. Empathic connection had been their way. But now her rich voice rang out into the night. Mareschka’s words were the ancient language of the Drachera. Yet Ætmar understood them instantly in Elvish.
Now is the time to heed the call
That pure may thrive and evil fall
We singers have slept for far too long
Come join the cause that is our song
Mareschka’s song rang out again and again through the forest and beyond, rippling across land and sea. A clarion call to her kind. Ætmar’s heart joined with her companion, filled with excitement, anticipation and not a little fear.
As the sun rose, Mareschka’s voice became still and she knelt to allow Ætmar to leap upon her back. Former missions paled in comparison with their new purpose. They leapt out of the forest and up into a new future and hope, not just for them, but for all across the realm.
At that very moment three mechanical birds appeared overhead, blocking their path. Horror coursed through them both as Mareschka flailed against the metallic net as it engulfed them and dragged them back down to earth with a crash. She curled her wing around Ætmar protecting her, but breaking numerous bones in the process. She fell into semi-unconsciousness as her body began the arduous task of self-healing. Ætmar watched as Destroyer ground troops quickly surrounded them, whooping and screaming in triumph. Still held tightly and securely within her companion’s wing, Ætmar was safe. For now.
Mareschka’s body convulsed in the heat of the midday sun, each convulsion loosening her grip on her petite elfen friend. Laying on boughs broken by their fall, the noble dragon laboured under a fever that had been weakening her for the last two days. With no water and no respite from the heat, she was deteriorating fast. Ætmar fared no better. Her tormentors had offered her water, but she was wise enough not to leave the safety of her companion. Death by dehydration was still better than death at the hands of a Destroyer. With each convulsion the Destroyers dared to step a little closer.
Suddenly the crowd of Destroyers parted. Ætmar saw a tall Destroyer stride confidently toward her. A tall human, who might be considered handsome, if it were not for his ruthless, cold eyes. She recognised the tattoo markings on his forehead that marked him as the evil one’s special envoy. He held up a vial toward Mareschka as he smiled at the elf. Ætmar’s stomach wrenched with realisation. Dragon Poison. A slow, painful death that she knew she would be forced to watch. She had heard the tales. Too many tales. Too many friends.
Mareschka gave one big convulsion before relaxing her grip. The envoy plucked Ætmar from safety and threw her toward the waiting crowd. They held her to watch the ensuing torture of her loyal, brave and kindest friend. The envoy turned back toward the dragon and climbed over her still body, crushing scale and skin alike with his boots. He reached down and forced open the weakened creature’s mouth. He used his own teeth to remove the cork stopper, revelling that the poison was of no danger to him or his kind. He held up the vial to show the waiting troops. They cheered, knowing that the poison would first revive the dragon a little before bringing about the creature’s tortuous death.
Ætmar, forced to watch, cried out in anguish as the first drop revived her cherished companion. The envoy laughed and lifted up the vial again, ready now to inflict the final dose. And then he froze. A strange humming throbbed the air. One large opal dragoneye opened and its stare held him paralysed mid-grimace. Mareschka’s scales regained their iridescent hue, somehow amplifying the harmonious sound. Then she rose, dispatching him to an undeservingly quick and merciful death.
Mareschka’s voice rang out in song once more…
I have chosen now to heed the call
That pure may thrive and evil fall
A singer now, no longer do I sleep
Those dark of heart, it’s time to weep
As the dragon sang, the earth trembled and the air became a burning wind of such power and force that the Destroyers ran. Those that ran fast, wept in terror as they escaped to tell their tale. Those that did not run fast, wept just one terrified tear as the song’s wind brought sudden death.
But for Ætmar the wind became a gentle caress that tenderly lifted her and brought her back to her beloved companion. Mareschka and Ætmar were now harbingers of hope and freedom from the Destroyers. A song of life for all true creatures of the realm.