Crimson took in a deep breath, keeping her snout above the water as it slapped against her wiry red fur. Crimson was Norterridane, a fierce breed of dogs who had the ability to connect with and protect dragons. In protecting them, she had almost lost everything.
The memories of chaos and horror flooded her mind. The den tunnels collapsing, the serpents attacking her home, and her friend Midnight nearly dying from battle wounds was enough to make Crimson question everything in her life. Crimson had narrowly escaped death and the Norterridane had just begun to rebuild the broken tunnels of their home. But now, just below the subtle currents of Crystal Lake, a dragon was hatching. A new hope in a world in disarray.
Holding her breath, Crimson paddled down beneath the cool waters of Crystal Lake toward the dragon egg. A small turquoise nose pushed its way through the crack in the grey egg shell. Piece by piece the egg broke apart and the shells floated away. The sea dragon emerged covered in smooth turquoise scales. Enlarged wings, that mimicked those of a moth, propelled the dragon through the water. Gills fluttered as the dragon swam up toward Crimson and rubbed her head against her fur.
A rush of cool and calm dragon power flowed between them. Crimson’s stomach turned as the familiar pang of power-induced nausea hit her. Gills formed behind her button ears, right near where the jaw bone connected to her neck. She breathed in the cool ocean water. The dragon magic connected them, as if they had known each other all of their lives. The instant connection surprised her at first, just like the time she first called fire from her claws. Crimson relaxed and let the magic take over calming her body. She hadn’t expected gills. She would have loved a magical translucent shield that many dragon keepers created when they shared power. But, gills gave Crimson a new flutter of excitement at the prospect of being able to explore the depths of the lake and the thoughts of battle faded away. That would have to wait. The dragon probably hungry. Crimson swam after a school of fish caught one with her claws and fed it to the dragon.
Crimson swam to the lakeshore. She shook the water from her fur. The smell of dragon entered her nose. A musty lizard odor mixed with the slight sweetness of eucalyptus made the dragon scent unique from that of other reptilian creatures. Even with a highly developed sense of smell, the dragon scent overwhelmed all non-dragon smells. Crimson’s head began to throb. Muddy soil covered the ground near the reeds and she pushed the hatchling toward it. The dragon’s oversized wings dragged through the mud. Crimson rubbed the mud from her paws on to the dragon’s body and she squawked in protest.
“You don’t like the mud? It will keep you hidden” Crimson said. The dragon squawked again.
Crimson rubbed a paw full of mud on the dragons back and slowly the smells of the world returned. She had been lucky to discover that trick early as a dragon keeper.
“Almost done,” Crimson said looking affectionately at the dragon. The dragon rubbed her mud-covered head against Crimson’s leg and looked up at her with her purple eyes.
“Your eyes remind me of Covellite. It’s a stone in the lake. I want to name you Covelli.”
The dragon’s eyes beamed, and she brushed against Crimson again.
Crimson sniffed the air and looked around the reeds that grew at the lake’s edge. The plants near the lake were tall enough to hid in. Farther south, the grass covered hills peaked out above the reeds and Jasperillian plants grew sporadically between the grasses. The dragon scent was hidden for now, but they would still need a suitable den. River Weasels and Cave Lizards were often seen near Crystal Lake. The Jasperillian leaves had a powerful smell that helped mask the smell of dragons, but even their potent smell would eventually fade.
Crimson had never made a den. She had lived with her mother until she found the dragon eggs and when she took care of her last dragons, she stayed with Midnight in his den. Midnight was her best friend, a warrior and dragon keeper. He had taught her everything she knew about dragon keeping. He had been injured by Azuran in the serpent battle, trying to protect her. She knew the basics of den making and the chances of finding such a readily available shelter here on the southeastern side of the lake were slim. Crimson searched the reeds for a suitable place. Small hills stood a short distance away from the Crystal Lake. Crimson walked to the hill and scratched the dirt. The dirt was drier than expected. Crimson dug into the dirt with her front paws, moving it out of the way. As she moved the dirt away, more fell from above. Crimson backed out of the small hole she had dug. This would not work, and there were not any trees or bushes. Roots would have helped support the ceiling. Crimson sighed.
A light breeze blew from the across the lake, shaking the reeds and causing ripples across the water. Crimson sniffed the air. A scent of and older dragon came from upwind, weak and less sweet, and a slight the smell of something else: serpent.
The reeds rustled and cracked. Whatever it was, it was moving fast from downwind. She couldn’t smell it. She couldn’t see it. Crimson stood alert and growled. Dragon scales rubbed against her back leg. Crimson glanced down. Covelli stood between her legs almost blending in with the mud around her staring up at the reeds. Crimson could feel her trembling.
A black dragon head appeared from the within the reeds. Like a giant snake its head moved from side to side. Smooth, shiny, black scales covered its body and sharp ridges covered its spine. Three spines stuck up over the ears on each side, and it turned its blue eyes inquisitively upon Crimson. The blue eyes, threatening and beautiful all at once and very familiar.
"Azuran?" Crimson gasped. The last time she had seen him had been in battle when he attacked Midnight and the other Norterridane. The hardest thing to process about the battle was seeing Azuran. She couldn’t believe it. He had been her first dragon. She protected him as a hatchling, until a serpent came and tried to kill them. Azuran fell into the swift currents of the Sapphire River and over the waterfall. He had died, or so she believed, until he showed back up fighting with the enemy. He fled shortly after she saw him, when more dragons came to the aid of the Norterridane.
Now he stood before her, majestic yet terrifying. His large head moved closer to her. She wasn’t sure if she should run or try to fight.
"You’re far from home,” Azuran said, his voice even. His head so close to Crimson that she could feel his breath on her fur. His head was a least three times as large as Crimson’s small body.
Crimson took a step back, trying to remain calm. She could call the dragon fire from her claws. A rare ability she had gained when she first found Azuran and his sister’s eggs. But it wouldn’t hurt him. He was an Obsidian dragon. He had impenetrable scales. Scales that were invincible to everything, except other Obsidian dragon claws. He could easily kill her, but something told her he would have already killed her if he wanted to. His eyes didn’t seem threatening like they had on the battlefield. He wanted something else.
"Do you remember me?" Crimson said forcing herself to stand tall. Covelli’s tail wrapped tightly around her leg, willing her to stay put.
Azuran said. “I remember how you stopped me in battle, with that arc of fire. I brought back many fractured memories. It seems you have mastered your power well.”
Azuran had killed several Norterridane and was about to kill Midnight when Crimson intervened calling a wall of fire from her claws. When the Schorl serpents had attacked the City in an attempt to capture dragon hatchlings and to gain their power, The Norterridane had fought them off with the help of dragon-kind. Crimson had called upon the power of all the nearby dragons and created a shield of fire that incinerated the nearby serpents, hastening their retreat. Crimson didn’t understand why she could channel the power of many dragons and had only been able to do so with the help of mysterious white Norterridane named Jasper. Crimson was still learning how to call on her seemingly innate powers and doubted that she could call that much power again on her own.
The scent of serpent was stronger now and coming from Azuran. He had lived with them so long their scent must have had stayed with him.
"You smell of serpent," Crimson said, sharper than she intended. “are they still here in Genorrdia?”
Azuran's expression changed for a brief second, then hardened. It seemed like a topic he was reluctant to talk about. Then he shook his head. “I am not sure; Onixian and I were separated.”
“Is that the serpents name?”
Azuran looked down and saw Covelli for the first time. “Another dragon!”
Azuran’s muscles jerked, as if he was going to jump off the ground, but he relaxed his body and he moved his large head toward Covelli who squeaked and backed away.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said.
Then the dragons were silent. Covelli moved closer to Azuran, and their noses touched for just a moment. Azuran’s blue eyes looked tenderly on his kin.
It seemed so peaceful, but his enormous head and large dragon teeth reminded Crimson of the danger she was most likely in. How could she be so calm when he had almost killed Midnight and Torbern? Could it be that she was still thinking of him as a dragon hatchling instead of this dangerous beast before her.
“I have not heard dragon thoughts in such a long time.” Azuran sighed as if he had longed for it. Longed for a connection. Dragons could converse in their own telepathic language, even inside their eggs. Azuran and his twin sister Chalcedony had communicated this way before they learned to speak Norterridane to communicate with Crimson.
Azuran lay down stretching his body out among the reeds flattening them into the ground. His large tail, the looked like a braided black root, curled around his body. A whip tail that could cause serious damage to anything attacking him.
Crimson shook her head, “What are you doing here?”
“This is my home.”
“Dragons are supposed to live on Alannador. Don’t you want to reunite with the dragons?”
“The serpents are my kind now,” Azuran said, pawing playfully with Covelli. The little mud-covered dragon swiped at Azuran’s claws and he knocked her over gently. “I am. sure I’ll find them eventually.”
Covelli jumped towards Azuran’s muzzle, tripped on her wings, and tumbled over. Crimson watched them, wondering why Azuran hadn’t gone to Alannador, like the other mature dragons. She had to find out more. Did he really feel like one of them? Azuran didn’t know if the serpents had left, but this was Crimson’s chance to convince him to find his kind. He couldn’t go looking for the serpents or they would have an Obsidian dragon as an enemy and that would be unthinkable.
“Didn’t you hear the call?" Crimson said. “Didn’t you want to go home?”
"The call all dragons hear when they mature, calling them home to Alannador. Chalcedony called it a melody." Crimson hummed the peaceful yet sad song that Chalcedony had sang when the Obsidian dragons turned the dead to ashes with their fire and sent their kin to the afterlife.
"I heard something like that, once or twice, but I did not understand what it was. Onixian told me to ignore it."
Pain welled inside Crimson’s chest. To hear the call and not go – what did that mean for a dragon? Had he abandoned his kind forever?
Maybe I could help him reconnect with them. Can I still feel for his power, as I can other dragons?
Crimson relaxed as much as she could in his presence, still on edged she let her mind drift through the air. She focused on his heartbeat, like she did when he was young. The rhythmic thumping focused her thoughts. She called for his power concentrating on the feeling she had when she first connected with him. The joy and comfort she had felt at that moment rushed back into her mind. His power came to her like the hot rays of the sun heating the rocks upon the shore.
Small flames of white lit up her claw, different from the blue fire that now came without the aid of dragons. The power that connected keeper and dragon. It was weaker than before; much weaker than her bond with Covelli, but it was there. The heat merely a glimmer of the warmth it had been. The emotion that came from the connection was unexpected, and a tear rolled down her furry cheek.
Azuran moved back in surprise, but not from the flames. Crimson knew he had felt it too. The connection was overwhelming. The expression on Azuran's face was one of confusion and possibly fear. He backed away.
Wind blew in from the north, and with it, the scents of two approaching warriors from the North.
Azuran growled and Snapped his tail, sending several reeds flying.
“No Azuran” Crimson said.
Azuran turned away from Covelli and leapt into the air, flying low over the hills toward the eastern black mountain range. Crimson watched until he was a small speck in the sky. She longed to go back in time and save him, to make up for lost time. Wherever he was going, she had to find him; she had to get him back.
Covelli, eyes wide, stared into the sky where Azuran had flown. Her scales shimmered in the light. Crimson wondered what Azuran had said to her, but she was too young to speak Norterridane. Azuran didn’t seem like an evil monster, like the serpents. In fact, when they had connected, he seemed almost sad.
“He was playful,” Crimson said, “I hadn’t expected that.”
Two Norterridane came through the reeds; Beryl chief guard, a medium brown Norterridane and an unfamiliar tricolored male. Beryl had been Crimson’s warrior trainer. She remembered clearly his disappointment in how well she had progressed. Her training as a warrior ceased when she found two dragon eggs. After the serpent battle Beryl had sent Crimson to the lake’s edge, to find the dragon’s egg as a sign he finally had accepted her as a keeper
“Crimson,” Beryl said as he emerged, pushing his nose up in greeting, “I am glad to see the dragon has hatched. There is another dragon scent here, what is it?”
“It was Azuran.”
Beryl’s fur prickled. “What did he want?”
“I am not sure,” Crimson said. She recounted their exchange.
“The Elders will want to know of this.” Beryl said, “Have you bonded with the hatchling?”
“Yes,” Crimson said, calling upon the cool calm power. The gills reformed on her neck.
“This is Labrad,” Beryl said, gesturing behind him. The tri-color Norterridane of white, black, and brown stepped further out of the reeds. The dark brown fur on his face looked like a mask. The drastic contrast in color highlighted his blue eyes, a rare color for Norterridane. “He is a dragon keeper.”
“What is this about?” Crimson said.
“The Elders have summoned you,” Labrad said, his voice calm and confident. “They want to speak with you immediately, about the powerful wall of fire you created during the battle.”
“We need to leave at once”, Beryl said. He observed the dragon carefully as if he was deciding what do with her. “Will she follow you?”
Crimson followed his gaze down at the hatchling. Bright purple eyes looked back. “Yes, she will. Covelli, Lets go for a swim.”
Covelli needed no prodding. She followed Crimson through the muddy reeds and splashed into the lake.