Originally published at: https://gemsofwar.com/lorekeeper-i-chapter-3-dragons-eye-view/
The Gods created Daemons to test us and teach us.
The more we fear something, the more we run from it.
The more we run from something, the stronger it becomes.
And the stronger something becomes, the more we fear it.
-St. Astra of Whitehelm
Dimetraxia, the Red Dragon, sat hunched up on the red rocky peak, thick red mist swirling about her clawed feet. It would have been both dramatically and aesthetically pleasing, these various shades of red, if her mood hadn’t been equally as red, hot, and angry.
She arched her back and stretched in a catlike fashion. Well, to be more precise - if she thought about it - things were the other way around: dragons weren’t catlike, cats were dragonlike. It would make sense if cats were the direct descendents of dragons after all; felines have a whimsical temperament, a love for shiny objects, and an innate desire to knock things off flat surfaces, clearly linking them to some form of draconic ancestry.
Enough about cats, though. Cats made her happy. Today she felt like being angry.
As Dimetraxia stretched, she listened to her old bones crack, and the sound rumbled around the mountain tops like distant thunder. Dimetraxia sighed. It really didn’t sound like distant thunder did it? Once upon a time, maybe. These days it sounded more like a Stone Giant passing gas. She wasn’t as young as she used to be. She was mad about that too.
The fact was, Dragons weren’t immortal. Oh, most of the so-called “mortal races” thought Dragons were, and, honestly, when you live ten to twenty times as long as another creature, in their eyes you may as well be immortal, but Dimetraxia wasn’t looking through their eyes, she was looking through her own, and most days now, that vision started to get a little cloudy. Once, when she was younger, she could have spotted a field mouse five leagues away on a dark night, but now she was lucky if she could tell a Goblin from a Gorbil without tasting it first. Failing vision - something else to be mad at.
Mostly though, at this very moment, she was mad at what she could just make out far below her. Creatures were marching through a rocky pass in the mountains, and not just any creatures… Daemons.
Cats made her happy. Daemons most definitely did not.
The Daemons first arrived many centuries ago. It was a time known as The Blight. Dimetraxia had heard there was a portal deep within their lands through which they emerged, but she had never seen it. She wanted to see it though; she wanted to burn it to charcoal, then burn the charcoal to ashes, and then… well… she wasn’t too sure she could burn the ashes to anything, but she was willing to give it a red hot roasting and try her luck.
Dimetraxia and her mate, Venbarak, had led the Dragons in a fierce resistance back then. They had won so many battles, but in the end there were just too many foes to handle, and the Daemons had gained a foothold in the rocky kingdom now known simply as the Blighted Lands.
Defeat would have been bad enough, but her mate, Venbarak, had been lost, taken and twisted by the Infernal Daemon King. Most days now, she sat atop this perch, hoping to catch a glimpse of Venbarak’s fine black scales, but even when she thought she did, she was no longer sure if it was actually Venbarak or some other dark flying creature; not that he’d remember her anyway, with his mind all twisted by the Infernal King’s chaotic magics.
Dimetraxia felt a sadness inside, and she pushed it down with a big boiling lump of cat-free rage. How dare these creatures march so brazenly right below her!
Slowly, she focused her gaze upon the leader. She recognized him. He was one of the Infernal King’s generals, Mordayne. Dragons may not be immortal, but it seemed Daemons were; Mordayne looked stronger than the day she first faced him all those years ago, his red skin and golden armor glinting in the fiery light from his horse’s mane; it was just as she remembered, Mordayne still rode a terrifying creature known as a Nightmare.
Dimetraxia squinted. It was definitely Mordayne. He was riding at the head of a column of Bone Daemons, Hellbeasts, and lesser creatures. There, strapped to his fiery mount, was a weapon she’d seen before - a large burning scythe, known as Deathspire. It meant the Daemons were marching to war.
Her first impulse was to leap into the air, and rake a pillar of flame over their entire column. Trapped in the pass, they’d be burned with nowhere to run. She was older now though, slower, yet wiser. Mordayne was a formidable foe, she’d not survive a direct assault against him. For now, she’d watch, and learn what they were up to.
Maybe she could also think about cats, and try to keep her temper in check.--------- o ---------
For most of the day, Dimetraxia flew from peak to peak, staying hidden from the army below her.
The path they took through the mountains snaked back and forth, sometimes steep, sometimes rocky. No Human, Elf, or Dwarf could have managed it. Well, maybe a Dwarf - they were tough and determined little creatures, if slightly on the deranged side.
Eventually, as night fell, the army made its way down towards a small cove on the coast. It was growing dark, so Dimetraxia couldn’t make out what was down there, but she could see faint torchlight. Whatever it was, it was new. Her eyes might be as sharp as a rusty spoon, but her mind was still working perfectly. She knew every inch of these mountains, and there had been no settlement, Daemon or otherwise, in that cove.
What were her options? She could fly over and take a quick look, but Daemon eyes would be better than her own in the dark. She’d likely be spotted before she could learn anything, and once she was spotted, she was in danger. She might also fly into a tree - flying at night was tricky, even when your eyes worked fine.
She could fly straight down and try to surprise them, but she hadn’t lived to a ripe old age by taking chances like that. Until she knew what was down there, she’d be keeping her distance.
That left her one final option - sitting on a mountain all night, trying to grab a few hours’ sleep, and waiting for morning. She missed her nice warm cave. Sleeping on mountains meant she’d wake up with rock-shaped divots in her belly.
Dimetraxia sighed, then settled down to find the least uncomfortable pieces of granite to sleep on.
She managed it, but her dreams, were grim, and full of dark things.--------- o ---------
The sunrise found Dimetraxia already awake and squinting down at the cove. She could make out ships - lots of ships. Had the Daemons been building a fleet? And to what end?
The Isle of Darkstone was nearby. From what she remembered of it, Daemonic corruption was already taking hold there. The only other place nearby was a small island lookout where a group of Knights kept watch for any sign of trouble. That must be it. They were going to see some trouble today, if she couldn’t do something about it.
Then her breath caught in her throat.
There was something else down in the cove. She could make out the dark forms of dragons. They looked like they were chained on the water’s edge, wings splayed out in an unnatural fashion. Was one of them Venbarak? She couldn’t tell from here.
She felt an uncontrollable rage, and leapt into the air, unfurling her wings. That proved to be a mistake, as her wings didn’t unfurl quite the way they used to, and certainly not after a long cold night sleeping on a bed of jagged granite. The beginnings of a terrifying roar were cut short, as she lost her balance, tilted to one side, crashed into part of the mountain ,dislodging a rock, then half flew, helf fell about 200 spans to a small ledge where she managed to frantically catch hold. If cats had indeed descended from Dragons, then always landing on their feet was something they picked up along the way.
The dislodged rock meanwhile gathered a few enthusiastic followers, and bounced down towards the Daemon army, announcing Dimetraxia’s presence with all the grace of of a Dwarf in a dancing contest, as it smashed into a Bone Daemon, sending splinters flying
It felt as if a thousand sets of eyes turned towards her. In actual fact it may have been more. Dimetraxia wasn’t counting at this point. Slowly, she scrabbled up onto the ledge and regained her feet.
She was proud though. She felt a sharp pain in her left side, but she still drew herself up as regally as she could. Down below, a red and gold figure was striding through the troops.
“Dimetraxia? Really? Is that you?” Mordayne yelled up at her, still perched 500 spans above him in the early morning light. There was laughter in his voice. “You’ve grown old, Dragon!”
“I didn’t come here to talk, Mordayne.”
“You didn’t come here to do acrobatics either, and yet here you are entertaining us,” the Daemon chuckled. It was horrible deep rasping sound.
Dimetraxia wasn’t in the mood for smalltalk. There was a red hot anger burning behind her eyes. She leapt again, and this time her wings caught air beneath them. It hurt, but she swooped down towards the Daemons. She could vaguely see creatures scattering as she went. Mordayne was there somewhere, but in the chaos she could no longer pick him out.
She held her fire though. She had a plan.
Unlike his troops, Mordayne stood his ground. As the Dragon passed overhead he heaved his sword at its underside, and was rewarded with a dull thud as it struck flesh.
Dimetraxia felt a new pain explode through her chest, and realized she’d been hit. She was focused now though, and although the pain was bad, she’d felt worse. She landed near the Dragons on the beach. Sure enough, they were corrupted Fell Dragons, like her Venbarak. Her mate was not here though. She couldn’t risk freeing them, so she leapt into the air again, and flew towards the ships, moored in the cove.
She began to draw in air, ready to breathe. She felt the familiar tingling sensation of fire igniting in the back of her throat, the exquisite pain and pleasure of it all rolled into one.
As she reached the ships, she let loose a giant cone of dragonfire. It blossomed down over the wooden Daemonic barges, blackening their timbers, and warping their masts. One third of the ships were engulfed before she drew breath again.
But Dimetraxia felt the fire fading. She was wounded, and she knew she had very little left, she veered north and flew away from the cove, leaving the Blighted Lands and the Daemon army behind.--------- o ---------
Dimetraxia flew until her energy was gone, and the rage along with it. Mordayne would follow her if he could - his Nightmare was tireless. But it would take him most of a day to do so. She didn’t feel safe flying too high, so she found a secluded spot on the coast, with some tufts of soft brown grass, and landed there. It wasn’t a graceful landing, but there was nobody around to see it. Dimetraxia wouldn’t have cared if there was. All she wanted to do was rest.
She looked down at her chest - a red bladed crystal sword still protruded from it. She gathered her courage, reached down and plucked it out with her teeth. Then she breathed a little fire on the wound to seal it. Dragons never mentioned it, but they had few vital organs on their underside. That didn’t mean getting stabbed there hurt any less, but if your enemies were focusing there, you had a better-than-even chance of getting away.
That done, she felt sleep begin to wash over her
“Eeep!” a tiny voice yelled in her ear.
It must have been a dream.
“EEEP!” it yelled, louder this time.
Dimetraxia opened her eyes, and was staring at a tiny Daemon, hovering before her.
She breathed her last fire right into the creature’s face, turning it to ash and cinders. All that remained was a small scrap of parchment. Curious, she snaked her head down to look at it. There had been writing on it, but all she could make out was “…meet me at Broken Spire 2 weeks…”.
She sighed and closed her eyes again.
The letter was tomorrow’s problem. Right now, she needed to sleep.
This time she dreamed of cats.--------- o ---------
Far to the west, on a different continent entirely, Amira had been trudging through the desert for three days, heading east from Leothasa. There had been no sign of Emperor Khorvash - no sign of anything really, except an enterprising little scorpion that had cleverly gotten into her boot, then immediately regretted it when she’d squashed him
As she set up camp for the night, she noticed strange lights in the sky to the north, far over Maraji’s Spine.
She shrugged. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it was just a distraction. Either way, it was more than she’d found here.
She resolved to head north in the morning, maybe cross the mountains, and investigate.
Then she stretched out under the stars and fell promptly asleep.