Viewing a single comment thread. View all comments

_wafflecopter t1_ismdjww wrote

Sam pressed himself against the pillar, pulled his tan-on-emerald robes close, and waited. Evaluated, as his better professors would say.

But Valorson’s School of Dragon Mastery bred ruthless hunting skills. And Jerethar was the top of the class.


Jerethar’s steps were quiet, but Sam could hear the grey-on-crimson robes rasping along the stone floor. He was slinking to the side of the hall. Jerethar wouldn’t be close to either exit, but now he could see them both.

And much like his dragon, he was strong and fast enough to outrun Sam.

But much like his dragon, he was also heavy. Fast in a sprint, but hard to turn.

It was risky, but if he made it to the library, he could zigzag through the narrow stacks. He might even be able to grab the attention of Loremaster Thorsdottir. Most teachers turned a blind eye to bullying, but Thorsdottir had a kind heart for her lorewise students. Just past the west threshold…

Sam took a textbook from his bag and flung it east. As he bolted west, he could hear Jerethar’s feet stuttering, tricked only for a moment by the ruse.

Maybe a moment was enough.

It was a sprint now. Like a Windsprite hunted by a Cinderheart. But the door was-

A dark and hulking form eclipsed the door. Swollen limbs. Black robes with orange trim. A zealous proponent of terms like “adversarial” and “crucible”.

Headwarden Valkhart.

Even Jerethar stumbled. “I- found him!”

The Headwarden’s face was unmoved. He was in a mood. Sam tried to hide a grimace.

“Go back to class, Jerethar,” his voice rattled Sam’s chest. “I need to… borrow… young Samuel here.”

Jerethar turned and walked away -swiftly. But not before a final parting smirk. “You don’t belong here anyway...”

“Follow,” Valkhart commanded.

They walked for twenty minutes in silence. Past the library, the Whelpgarten, the Infirmary. Into the Vault: a dim-lit stone stairway guarding the caverns beneath the school. Most students received a tour of the upper layers only. Sam winced at the oppressive smell of ammonia from the whelp pits.

They went deeper. Brave students might sneak here after dark. Few enough actually did that it was easier to pretend. The professors told many tales of the students who went too deep and never returned.

Many of the branching caves were sealed with heavy metal bars. Deeper still were steel doors. Scorch marks. Telltale signs of acid splash. A room full of the skulls of the male consorts that Queen Valyraxx rejected.

Rumors abounded that irksome students would be taken down here and fed to her. Valorson’s did not take well to failure.

They stopped at a wooden door. And for the first time, Sam watched Valkhart knock and wait.

An old man opened the doors. Cobalt-on-white robes. He glared at the pair, then motioned them inside. The room was peculiar: wooden walls on all sides. Bookshelves. Carpet on the floor. Sam would have smiled if he didn’t see past it, to the open window on the far side of the room.

Into the eyes of Valryxx herself.

Valkhart grabbed him by the scruff before he could turn and run. “Here he is.”

The old man glared back, impatiently. Valkhart offered a small bow and left quickly, as if he were anxious to close the door behind him.

“On yesterday’s exam, you were asked to answer how you would escape a juvenile Cinderheart while riding a Sunglider.”

Sam’s stared blankly at the window: a hole in a stone wall, an immense cavern just beyond, filled with dozens of waist-high eggs, guarded by a Cinderheart whose mere breath caused every flame in the room to flicker.

The old man continued. “You wrote: ‘while elder Cinderhearts can fly quite high, a juvenile will tire at an altitude far lower than a Sunglider. To escape, fly skywards.‘”

Sam scarcely nodded. A Queen Dragon. The most dangerous animal on the planet. If there weren’t so precious few females left, the world would likely be theirs.

“You’ve read the works of Hallibus and Smythe. They describe the ideal escape tactic as going into a dark cave, where a Cinderheart cannot see well. When did you outsmart them?”

The question, from anyone else, would have been a threat. But something about this man made it sound like a test. “It’s just… something I’ve noticed in the wild.”

“You think you know better than Smythe? His works on Dragon anatomy are foundational.”

“I don’t think he’s wrong,” said Sam. “I just think that something has changed since his time.” His hands seemed to move on their own. “There are other differences too. Little things. They fly faster, but need more air. They need more food now, but they can see better in the dark. And their fire is hotter than the old books describe.”

“So what,” the old man glared.

“So the strategies for fighting them have changed. The need for more air means that even a dragon of modest speed can outrun them vertically.” He paused. “Well, given enough of a head start, at least…”

Finally, the old man smiled. “I’m glad someone noticed my work.”

“Wait, you changed them?” Sam was now entirely focused on the old man. He had sharp facial features, an immaculately smooth chin, and a complex web of wrinkles about his eyes.

“The ones around here, at least. If you took your insights across the sea, then you’d be killed by your own curiosity.”

“But you changed them?” He stopped to think how such a thing was even possible. “Only the juveniles… you-“

“I’ve carefully chosen and documented the mates of Valryxx, the Queen Mother Dragon,” he gestured to the hundreds of books along the walls. “In time, I’ve discovered ways to sculpt the very features of her offspring. The juveniles here are, in fact, more dangerous. They can now see in the dark, they fly faster. But, as you pointed out, it comes with drawbacks. No dragon can truly master everything.”

The old man sighed. “My name is Edleras, the Broodmaster of Valorson’s. My job is to find ways to make our dragons better suited to the world. At first, it meant making it easier to feed them. But as word of my craft grew, I now make the dragons better suited for combat. More… specialized.”

He grabbed a book from a nearby shelf.

“I’ve heard that you aren’t very,” Edleras paused, “well-received at our school. But you’ve demonstrated a deep understanding of how the dragons work.” He smiled. “I’ve given you leave from your classes, indefinitely, until you’ve read this book. It contains the names and lineages of Valryxx’s latest consorts, plus the whereabouts of their children.”

Sam already opened it. He recognized many of the names on this list. Others were alien: names from elder times that he’d never heard before.

“When you’re done, come back here. We have much to discuss.”