Rayvenness sat in the shaded meadow, with her serpentine tailed coiled around around her. She was a magnificent violet dragon. Rayvenness had eyes that were large, forward facing, intelligent. She took in all around her. Her forelegs were folded over each other, like a human heiress or queen. As Rayvenness scanned the surrounding countryside, her irises remained thin, like two yellow daggers embedded in her skull. Rayvenness had a long, muscular neck, with glittering maroon scales. She had thick, short horns above her eyes, which faced forward. They were not as long as some of the male dragons of her species, and were thinner. Rayvenness’ forelegs and torso were muscular, but narrower than her hindquarters, as her kind gave birth to live young vipers, the name for infant dragons. She had five talons on each foot and hand, with feet that resembled a bird or an eagle’s more so than a cat or dog’s paws. Rayvenness’ tail seemed to have a mind of its own, and she used it to express much of her emotions. It whipped back and forth, and undulated like a snake. Suddenly it reached out and coiled like a python around a log. Rayvenness moved her tail around to her head to examine the log. Then without noticeable effort, Rayvenness crushed the branch with her tail, while opening her massive jaws. A barbed tongue lashed out from the cavernous double rows of fangs. Rayvenness lapped up the various larvae and insects inside, and then tossed the man-sized log over her head and into the depths of a nearby river, which eventually spilled into a waterfall heading over a cliff, which overlooked the stream which had been the site of a bloody battle the previous day. Now that she was sufficiently bored, Rayvenness yawned. Then she stood up, flexing talons and stretching her legs. Rayvenness reared on her hind legs like an awkward, scaly bear to sniff at the tree branches above her which acted as shade. Rayvenness or Rayven for short unfurled her massive bat-like wings. Then she sprang up at the sudden sound of her rider and partner, Calagon, swearing and hurling his sword over the waterfall at the nearby cliff.
Calagon swore as he hurled his sword over the cliff, into the tumultuous water below. He was tired of war, of fighting; he was tired of it all. It was his 7th campaign in eight years. When will it end?
The response came like a cool, refreshing wave, washing over Calagon’s mind. “It will be finished when there is justice, “she breathed. SHE was Rayvenness, his beautiful maroon dragon. She glanced at Calagon with intense, double-lidded eyes. Rayvenness was alien in every way, and yet…She had an air of haughtiness, somewhat like a cat. And there were times where Raven took in everything, like a great eagle, her gaze piercing the darkness of the surrounding world. But Raven was definitely a dragon, a female dragon at that, so she was twice rare. Ravenna uncurled from her position behind Calcagon and moved over to glance over the ledge beside him. “Look at all the bodies. There are dragons, seraphim, cherubim, nephilim, griffins, human warriors, trolls, males and female creatures of all the kind that exist in the world. They all lie down there, never to rise again. Calagon, tell me, why did they die?”
Calagon paused, and then sighed. “They died because they hated seeing innocents slaughtered by spirits and sorcerers. That’s right,” she answered. “They were being killed by a faceless enemy. It’s one thing to face another army on a battlefield. But how do you face an enemy who can strike from anywhere? “An army full of telepaths and magicians…..Calagon muttered to himself. He and Rayvenness shared a telepathic link, so they could read each other’s thoughts, but they could also speak in most of the common tongues of Myara. He saw the logic of the situation. Their world was inhabited by those known as the Image-Bearers, though Calagon did not know whose or what image they bore. Then there were various kinds of creatures, also of varying intelligence. Yet magic and psychic energy permeated throughout their world. Many of the various magicians and telepaths had some ties to the Shadow Paths, a group who was as mysterious as it was malevolent. They used their magical and telepathic gifts for their own purposes. Most were just selfish and greedy for gold, or the various wanton pleasures provided by the opposite sex of their species. Yet there were some who were inherently evil. Many of the Shadow Paths’ souls had been severed from their bodies. They were the Walking Dead, the Soulless. Some were controlled by spirits, exiled dragons, sorcerers, witches or telepaths. Then some had limbs or heads that were partly made of silver, bronze, iron, and edentium, an unbreakable metal that was recently discovered in some parts of Myara. These Metal Paths were never magicians, but always had telepathic or psionic abilities. Calagon found this odd. Rayvenness had once told him that their bodies came from war machines of a long forgotten age. Men and beasts had fought to the death, and created great weapons that fell from the sky, creating a flood that covered the entire world. None survived, save for those who found shelter on the back of Anterra, the largest dragon to have ever lived. She was a water dragon, the kind that grew the largest. Anterra saved the last of the image bearers of that time, the family of one such man who was called Urshphatim. The story was that Urshphatim saw that he was the only sorcerer who used his power for the benefit of others, while the rest of the world squandered their abilities on acquiring power, wealth and fame, with no concern for the bloodbaths that usually followed their ambitions. Calagon had long since forgotten his studies in draconology, psionic, alchemy and telepathy. Rayvenness had been told by her mother’s mother that the image-bearers looked different, and were stronger at the time. The story was that Anterra and the rest of the seraphs (dragons) came from another planet, in another dimension, and were sent to Myara to protect the image bearers from Shadowpaths. At the time men only used metal weapons to fight, until the seraphs and cherubs taught them magic and telepathy. Anterra was supposed sent by the gods to Urshphatim to warn him of men’s ambitions, and about how they would destroy themselves with the weapons they created. Anterra spoke of the coming disaster. She dug her merchant ship-sized claws deep into the earth, and warned men to climb on her massive back in order to escape. However, no one listened to her except Urshphatim and his family. So all of the animals and creatures he was able to warn climbed on Anterra’s back. Finally, the ambitions of men became too much for them. Their weapons grew more and more powerful, until they created weapons that could control the weather, and time, even. Mortal beings cannot interfere with time and expect the universe to remain untouched, Rayven had said. And the story went that the world began to self-destruct. Earthquakes from the weapons created great tsunamis, wiping out all living things, except for creatures in the water. Anterra managed to save several species of creatures and some of the Image Bearers (humans), but she drowned in the process. The ten islands known as the Decapolis in the northernmost part of Myara are made from her skeleton, as Rayvenness relayed. Yet Calagon doubted. How can anyone be sure of what happened so long ago? But even more unsettling than that was the absolutely hopelessness and despair that gripped Calagon since his friend Sivahk was killed in battle by a sniper who shot a telepathically guided bullet from across the battlefield. Sivakh had separated from a phalanx by order of his commander, Lorda, in order to attend a wounded shape shifter when a bullet pierced his heart. The anger and feeling of brokenness gripped Calagon like a vice. Suddenly he felt Rayven’s presence in his mind! One of them is….is moving! She said. Calagon looked down at the battlefield through her telescopic eyes. Sure enough, a wounded shape shifter mage was on his back, trying to stretch out a trembling, bloody arm in their direction! They flew down without words. But nothing could prepare both Calagon and Rayvenness for what the mage said through trembling lips. He was Longtooth, a shape shifter who could transform into various kinds of wild dogs, foxes or wolves. Sometimes he ran on four legs, sometimes two. Longtooth said to Rayvenness, You……are…..not……a…….dragon. You’re….really…..a……SHAPESHIFTER!!” he said, and then collapsed, dead.
Calagon thought things couldn’t get any more strange, or stressful! He’d finally identified the source of his guilt and shame over Sivakh’s death. It wasn’t so much that Sivakh had died, or even that he had died violently. It was….I was a coward, he thought. The world of Myara was an amalgamation of different times and eras. At any given time one might see an armored Humvee or an MRAP vehicle driving on whatever would suffice for roads. And sometimes those vehicles would be hauled by great beasts, wearing makeshift crude armor. Sometimes their armor would consist of the pieces of great iron chariots, as Rayvenness had called them. Foot soldiers would run around carrying assault rifles, but also plasma or laser charged weapons, which shot blasts of pure energy. Some soldiers would wear great Roman helms on their heads, medieval maces, and modern combat boots. It was on a convoy such as this that Sivakh was killed. He was a .50 caliber machine gunner on the back of a great beast known as a bronk, which were gigantic, flightless dragons. These beasts were rather dumb, unlike Rayvenness who was wiser than any human being on her worst day. They also could not breathe fire, something which Rayvenness would quickly bring up if someone commented on her lack of size as a pack animal. Dragons are not simple beasts of burden, she snorted in retaliation, when one sergeant was foolish enough to try to toss his rucksack onto her back. The bronks were dispensable, and were only used for food, moving large items over land, sometimes in war, and makeshift shelters. It was on one such beast that Sivakh met his end. He was on the lead bronk beast in a convoy, and his squad was supposed to conduct recon missions in a recently discovered subtropical region in Myara. His squad was ambushed by a pack of werewolves controlled by the Shadowpaths. The fighting was fierce. Before he could be stopped, one of the werewolves concealed in the back of a small four-wheeled chariot pulled up the rags he was hiding under. A flash of silver gleamed in the sunlight. A spark flashed, followed by a bum, bum sound. The bronk Sivakh was riding reared on its hind legs and bugled as the first bullet entered his flesh, and blood erupted from its front shoulder. He muttered a curse, and prayed to his god before unleashing the second bum. Sivakh did not mutter a sound, but immediately went limp and slumped over. Later on, Calagon discovered that Sivakh had been shot by a sniper. The convoy rerouted and rushed Sivakh to the nearest healing center. However, the damage from the bullet had taken his toll, and Sivakh died at the healing center. I couldn’t see him like that, with his face caved in. I just couldn’t, Calagon thought. At last the truth came out. Calagon’s main source of guilt came from the fact that he did not have the courage to see his friend’s mangled head and face as he was prepared for burial. Rayvenness had assured him, no one would want to see a close friend or relative like that. You have to understand that you showed great courage that day. You volunteered to travel back on that same route on the ground. You were back out on patrol two days later, because you knew they needed you. You showed that you were human, with both strengths and weaknesses. You did everything you possibly could. Sivakh would’ve understood. You did not abandon him. Calagon, Rayvenness said, lowering her massive purple head down to touch his forehead with her nose, you did NOT ABANDON HIM! Calagon smiled, as he placed his hands on Rayven’s head, feeling the leathery scales on her head and neck as she hummed and pruned. You’re always there, he thought. We’ll get through this together, she said. Together…..he repeated. It was the only way. And besides, they had to get back to the issue of Rayvenness being a shape-shifter, which he was sure was on her mind.
TO BE CONTINUED…….