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Dragon Hunters

Book One: Out of the Ashes

© 1999-2001 Draconus and Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Twelve: A Date With Destiny

Somehow, during the night, Hunter, Marcus, Katra, and Vrynn as a group managed to wash ashore on a sizable island in the middle of the ocean. It was anyone's guess exactly how they made it; the ocean currents didn't seem to carry them anywhere, there was no land within sight of the C.S. Titanic's last location, and by now--mid-sunrise--there was no trace of last night's storm.

Katra woke up with Vrynn staring him in the face. Katra smiled slightly, nudged Vrynn aside, and stood up. Marcus was about fifty foot downshore, and Hunter was a bit upshore, already awake and trying to figure out where the heck they were. This island was, apparently, uninhabited. Only themselves, some wrecked pieces from the Titanic's hull, and the waves dotted the color of the shore. The sand was an idyllic white, with a hint of yellow reflecting from the sunlight. The ocean was a pure turquoise green-blue, and the view of a coral reef immediately offshore was a spectacular one. A large variety of native flora was visible on the island; flowers in every imaginable color including blue, trees and foliage of a bright spring green, and meadow-like grass gave the island a unique and pure set of colors.

There were no signs of civilization anywhere. No merchant vessels could be spotted in the ocean, regardless of how far one tries to look. The only dominating feature of this island was a sizable mountain located on one side of it and visible for two miles, even through the trees. Katra called to Hunter. "Where are we?"

Hunter, evidently, was checking their location against his map. Or more accurately, he was trying to. The vast size of the ocean separating their home continent, combined with the relatively small size of shipping lines drawn on the map, reduced their location to perhaps 2,000 possible areas, none of which were near land. Hunter looked back. "Lost, that's where. There's no telling exactly where we drifted to; we could be anywhere in this ocean."

Vrynn walked over to and woke up Marcus, who then walked over to Hunter and Katra. "Is this island mentioned anywhere on the maps?"

Hunter shook his head. "Nada. There're no islands on the map even remotely resembling this one. Wherever we are...we may be here for awhile."

Katra looked off in the distance. "Maybe if we scaled that mountain, we could see farther. Perhaps locate some signs of other land or civilization."

Hunter folded up his map and put it back in his pack. "Well, considering how we have nothing better to do, I guess it's worth a shot. Everyone ready?"

Hunter and Katra nodded, and Vrynn seemed excited about a good trip through some wilderness. The jungle through which they began travelling was an interesting one. The trees and foliage were thicker on top, but quite thin at ground level, affording a large carpet of grass and making it easy to walk through. Light poured in through the holes in the foliage, giving the jungle a spotted lighting. Up close, now that they were in it, the jungle was actually darker than it had first appeared. The scent of trees and flowers was a pretty one, and many species of birds could be heard chirping overhead.

As they walked, the sounds of the jungle gradually grew quieter. Soon, they drew near a cliff at one of the jungle's edges, overlooking a small waterfall, lake, and meadow. A pride of gryphons was visible below, some resting underneath shady trees, some others meandering about their territory, and--the cutest of all--juvenile gryphons playing with each other in mock battles and hunts. Katra quietly asked Marcus, "Can they see us from here?"

Marcus nodded. "Probably; gryphons have excellent eyesight. We should keep moving."

Hunter looked down below. "It's quite an area that they've taken for a habitat. Splenderous...."

Katra pointed further along the trail. "Maybe, but if they spot us, they might attack. Shouldn't we keep moving?"

Hunter nodded. "I guess you're right. Let's move." And so they kept moving. It was about another mile or two when they encountered another quiet area of the jungle. It was a different sort of quiet; the type of quiet that indicated a predator nearby. Marcus stopped them. "Be careful; something is coming our way." Marcus drew his bow just in case; Hunter and Katra did so as well.

In a few moments, a small pack--about eight in number--of small reptilians walked into view. It was clearly a hunting party, but it was of animals that neither Hunter, Marcus, nor Katra had seen before. Standing about three feet tall apiece, walking on four legs, seemed to be a pack of dragons. They however, seemed a bit too small to be the same type of reptilians as mentioned in legends and lore. Indeed, they were not dragons at all, but the smaller, "mini-dragon" species known only to a few as drakes.

Katra looked at Hunter. "Those must be drakes. I've heard about them; but I've never actually seen them before. They're beautiful..."

Hunter could scarcely agree, but Marcus nodded. Some of the drakes were walking along, wings folded; while others had their wings spread and catching the breeze. One of the drakes looked in their direction, and noticed them. It let out a strange cry, focusing the rest of the pack's attention on Hunter, Marcus, and Katra. Apparently, these drakes were hungry, and Hunter's group looked like a blue plate special.

The drakes atacked quickly. Marcus shot and slew two of them with his arrows, but the rest ran in closer. Vrynn took to the air for a better view of the pack, while Hunter drew his shield and protected himself. Katra seriously injured a drake with his sword, and it began scampering off with a broken wing.

Vrynn sprayed a breath of fire down into the pack, causing them to scatter. The flames, though, did little more than singe the drakes. Vrynn dropped out of the air, right onto a drake, and tore it apart.

Suddenly, there was another sound audible--this one coming from the air and sounding like a large screee. A gryphon dove down, snatched one of the drakes right off of the ground, and flew off with it. The drakes turned attention to the gryphon above. A few more gryphons were above as well--it was a hunting party of their own.

Hunter, Marcus, Katra and Vrynn also backed off as the drakes realized that they had problems of their own. Three more gryphons dove out of the air and attacked the drakes. While one gryphon was injured during that fight, it became clear that the gryphons had the upper wing against the drakes. A few more gryphons joined the hunting party to finish off the drakes. As the gryphons made sure that their prey were killed, Hunter led his comrades onwards through the jungle.

They were now approaching the mountainside. The density of ceiling trees and foliage lightened as they hiked upwards, and similarly, the scenery brightened due to more sunlight. Now above the ceiling of the main jungle, they could identify the small flock of gryphons carrying the caught drakes back to their pride. It was a bit amazing that gryphons are well-able to carry a similarly-heavy creature (such as a drake) through the air with ease, but that did offer some consolation as to Strato being able to use Talon for a ride.

About halfway up the mountain, a large cave was visible in its side. It seemed to be a passage to underground. Against better judgement, Marcus volunteered them to explore inside. There was a slight scent in the cave; one barely detectable to humans, but simultaneously one that caught Vrynn's interest quickly and then filled Vrynn with a sense fo caution.

After a few minutes travelling into the mountain, the area became more pronounced. Broken metal panels lined the walls and floor, giving clear indication that this island had a Catacombs site inside of the mountain. Most importantly (and dangerously as well) was a stream of lava flowing through a channel in the floor. This gave the entire area a hellish, fiery-red glow.

The metal panelling became less distinct as they travelled further. The temperatures rose to near desert-like highs, and the air had a definite smokey smell and tang. The entire area was, monochromatically, illuminated in shades of red, and the lighting pulsated with the ripples in a nearby pool of magma. The next level up similarly had a floor and walls with metal Ancestral panelling; but now, they were near the top; a large hole extended from the ceiling here to the outside, illuminating the area in a wide shaft of light.

An interesting facet of this upper level seemed to be a colony of birds. Identifiable only by their movement, three interspersed nests of aquila inflami -- "fire eagles", or phoenixes as they are better known were identifiable. Not to be confused with the self-re-incarnating Phoenix of lore, phoenixes are still a species of wonder. They were discovered but five hundred years ago, living in, on, and near volcanic areas and ranges. The feathers that cover a phoenix protect it from virtually all forms and temperatures of extreme heat, and are highly nonflammable. Their beak and legs also share similar properties, making these birds of prey literally fireproof; phoenixes are also distinguished as the only living species capable of bathing in hot lava. Their nests are largely formed from pure magma, and phoenix hatchlings are covered in the same fireproofing almost instantly from birth. Phoenixes have been classified as a subspecies of eagle, given their similar size and shape; but few have ever seen them in their natural habitats, and no phoenixes have ever been captured.

Katra looked around in amazement. "Who would've thought that birds live in places like this?"

Hunter nodded. "Indeed; an Ancestral Catacombs taken over by its volcano."

Marcus shrugged. "Pure mystery, how those birds, the Ancestors, or anything else could survive in a climate like this."

Is that so...?, echoed a large voice from somewhere in the area.

All three looked around in surprise. Hunter called out. "Who said that? Show yourself!"

No; it is not my time. What brings humans like yourselves here, so early?

Marcus answered. Our ship was attacked and sank during a voyage overseas; we washed ashore on this place. Do you know what this place is?

Yes. But are you rather asking for its name? Give it any name you wish; that is what you humans do, is it not? You could call it Avalon; Elderado; Shangrai-La. Or, perhaps Atlantis was once its name, given by your Ancestors. What difference can it make? Katra called out. "What are you?"

What are you?, came the answer.

Katra was puzzled. "Are you even here, or is it just our imaginations?"

I have always been here.... For three thousand years.... Waiting for the right time...

Now, Hunter was puzzled. "What time might that be?"

The time whence everything falls. This is not yet that time; why have you come so early?

Hunter couldn't think of an appropriate response. "Haven't we already told you why?"

You told me how you arrived. You still have yet to say why.

Marcus spoke up. "Well, what do you want to know?"

The response was but silence. Marcus moved around the room and called out again. "I said... what do you want to know?"

Another voice--a different, darker one--came from the direction they had entered. "And I would ask myself; who or what are you talking to in a place like this. Or better yet, why?"

The three whirled around. Andrake was approaching their direction, Atom Blade active and ready for combat. Andrake stopped at a distance of fifteen feet, facing Hunter and Katra. "You were pretty easy to track to here; all I did was follow the wreckage left from your ship."

Hunter and Katra drew their weapons. Andrake examined Katra carefully. "Well, well, well.... it's you, young one Katra. I still cannot understand how your weapon could resist Atom Blade. Even more so, I am surprised that you are still alive. Rest assured, I won't make that same mistake again!!!"

Marcus called out. "Andrake; remember this?" Marcus fired the Silver Arrow right at Andrake. Andrake whirled around to the side, but as the Silver Arrow flew by, it knocked the Atom Blade right out of Andrake's grasp. It landed, doused, right next to Hunter. Hunter picked it up quickly. "Not so powerful now, are you?"

Andrake chuckled. "A sneak attack? I like that, Marcus. Rest assured, if I was at my full capacity, I wouldn't depend on toys like Atom Blade." Andrake looked at the three of them. "As it stands right now, you still can do no harm to me. Very well, Hunter; you may keep that blade for now (as if you'd even be able to use it). I'll be seeing you..." Andrake jumped into the air, activated his thrusters, and flew out the hole in the volcano's roof.

Hunter examined the Atom Blade. "This is really it...? Such a small weapon, yet so desructive." No matter how Hunter held or manipulated it, the Atom Blade still remained doused at its hilt. "The Ancestors were definitely something...." Hunter put it in his pack. He grabbed the Silver Arrow from the floor and tossed it at Marcus. Marcus caught it safely and easily, returning it to his quiver for later use.

Marcus was surprised at their turn of good luck. "I don't believe that he just plain lets us keep the Atom Blade like this."

Hunter looked at Marcus. "Neither do I."

Katra shook his head. "Me too..."

Nor do I, echoed the large voice from somewhere in the room. Andrake must want you to keep it.

Hunter shouted back. "Who are you, and why don't you show yourself?"

The ground began rumbling. In a few mere moments, the nearby pool of magma erupted in a 30-foot high plume. Hunter, Katra, and Marcus stepped back, seeking refuge. As the magma fell back to its pool, a gigantic, winged shape touched down on all fours. It shook the remaining pieces of magma off its scales as would a puppy, spraying hot rock in many directions. Fortunately, none hit Hunter's group.

They could not believe their eyes. Standing before them at approximately thirteen feet high, 36-foot long was a living, breathing, scaled dragon. His scales were of a pale fiery-orange color; his wingspan was massive (about fifty feet per wing); he looked down on them with cat-like (slitted) azure-blue eyes. Upon the back of his head were a pair of large crest-horns (about three feet in length and five inches thick); flowing down from his nose horn, brow, forehead, and to his tail was a ridge of plated scales (about five inches high and one foot wide). His tail terminated with and in a large, three-foot wide five-foot long tailspade, formed of hard armored scales. Dispersed equally among his four seven-foot long legs were fourteen very sharp claws, each about ten inches long. His chest scales seemed to have hardened over time into a chestplate of metallic armor. Visibly embedded in this chest-armor was a glowing fire-colored crystal approximately eight inches wide and one foot high.

Hunter, Marcus, and Katra were all taken aback when the dragon looked at them. His gaze towards them, although a powerful psychological weapon in itself, was not a hostile one, but a soft one. Even Vrynn was alarmed at the dragon's presence, and hid behind Marcus in pure, instinctive fear.

Katra spoke up. "You... are a... a, a Dragon?!?"

The dragon responded in a relatively quiet voice, but even his 'quiet' voice was still rather loud. "From that reaction, I presume you have never seen a dragon before?"

Hunter, Katra, and Marcus all nodded, and the dragon seemed to smile in response. "You humans are easy to read..." The dragon folded his wings against his side, and crouched down, closer to the floor. In a crouched position, he was about five feet high, with his head held at about seven feet high. He was apparently waiting for some response from them, as he was watching them expectedly and tapping one of his foreclaws against the ground.

Hunter was about to speak up when the dragon stopped him. "You three are an interesting mix of humans. And I almost-always thought that you all looked alike. The noble warrior, Hunter. His brother, Marcus. And you, Katra, son of the dragon...."

Katra interrupted. "Wait a minute; how do you know our names? We've never met...."

The dragon smiled. "We never needed to. As I said, you humans are easy to read. Like a book...although I myself have long since lost my capacity to read them."

Hunter spoke up. "Now can you answer my question; why are you in hiding? Why do you hide yourselves from other living creatures?"

The dragon responded. "It is our place in this world."

"That still doesn't answer my question. Why?"

"You would like a straight answer, wouldn't you? Knowledge is an asset; but whatever it has to do with this world is open to debate...."

Hunter stepped forward. "Answer my question. You must have a reason, right?"

The dragon finally gave a suitable answer. "Because it is not your place to see our kind. You humans are not meant to know where we choose to live. You are not supposed to find us. The fact that you now stand before me is but a coincidence, a mishap if you will. So, Hunter, you have your answer."

Hunter looked back. "Wait a minute. You know our names; what is yours?"

The dragon made two gestures, but the response was quite a foreign one. Hunter looked back. "I said, what is your name?"

The dragon smiled again. "I already told you.... Ah, I keep forgetting. No human can ever pronounce a dragon's own name."

Marcus spoke up. "Then, is there a name that you can tell us?"

The dragon shook his head. "I had a human name once. However, it has been more than three thousand years since I have heard it spoken. In that time, it has vanished from my memory."

Katra looked back. "Do all dragons speak like you?"

The dragon shook his head again. "No. It was my gift, to be able to speak as you humans do."

Hunter stepped forward, drawing the doused Atom Blade from his pack. "So... do you know this sword, the Atom Blade?"

The dragon nodded. "Yes, I do. Although you want to know exactly what. That sword was forged more than three thousand years ago. It was given to one of the Ancestor's strongest warriors; that fiend Andrake. He and his four comrades were very powerful, and perhaps you would like to know, they started a war. Slew a dozen dozens of assorted lives, including twenty of our kind. Although, in the end, we won."

Hunter thought about it. "But according to our legends, there were six other warriors besides Andrake. Not four..."

The dragon recalled a few things from his memory. "No. Andrake was accompanied only by four. However, since you mention it, there were two that came after him. They were different, though, but in the end met the same fate. Andrake, their leader, was the only one to escape our wrath."

Marcus moved aside. Vrynn still took alarm at the dragon's presence, but when the dragon looked at him, something calmed Vrynn down. The dragon looked at Marcus. "Your wyvern does not fear me any longer; he has no need to."

Marcus looked back in surprise. "You can speak to Vrynn?"

The dragon nodded. "It is a language shared between his kind, my kind, and the drakes. It has been, and always will be."

Hunter pointed at the crystal the dragon wore. "What is that crystal?"

The dragon crooked his head over to the side to look at it himself. "It was my gift, given to me nearly five thousand years ago."

Hunter looked back. "From whom?" The dragon did not answer. "You heard me, right? Who was it from?" Still no answer. "Why won't you answer me?"

The dragon blinked. "You obviously would not understand the answer...."

Hunter was untouched. "What answer would that be?"

The dragon countered with his own question. "I am unable to give you the correct answer. Would you rather I give you a false one? No such luck--it is a stain upon honor and soul to lie. I cannot give you the correct answer, yet I must not give you a false one. And thus, I cannot answer that question."

Katra looked up. "My, aren't you the selective one...?"

The dragon shook his head. "Not selective, but selected. Along with six brothers and two sisters. Each of us was given a crystal like this one. They are ours to keep...until the time is right."

Marcus looked at the dragon. "You are the second one to say, 'when the time is right'. First Strato, now you. And for that matter, you say we arrived 'early'. To what are you referring?"

The dragon replied. "It is fated, that when the time comes, I--and my brothers and sisters, too--shall be slain. Andrake is likely the instrument of that fate. We have met him before, and he was our enemy. When the time comes, he will return to slay us."

Katra looked down to the ground. "But that could be prevented, right? If we had the Dragon Buster, we would be able to stop him--perhaps, even to destroy him."

The dragon nodded. "And in doing so, you decide your own fate."

Marcus spoke up. "Wait up a second. First you say that things are fated. Then, you say that we create our own fates and destiny--"

"That is correct," the dragon added.

Marcus was still puzzled. "Aren't you contradicting yourself?"

The dragon shook his head. "Five thousand years ago, we created that fate--where we should remain until the right time, and then be slain. And now, we are duly bound to it. For when you create a destiny for yourselves, the time eventually comes where you resign yourself to that fate and destiny. Once the master of our own destiny, we have since became its servant."

Marcus shook his own head in frustration. "You are not making very much sense...."

The dragon nodded. "But is that not better than making no sense at all?" Marcus shrugged. "I don't know anymore...."

Katra showed his medallion to the dragon. "If you truly have been around for five thousand years, then tell me this: what is this medallion useful for?"

The dragon examined it momentarily. "Your father's sword, and medallion too. Once his, they are now yours. To keep, to cherish, and to use."

Katra was shocked. "How... how did you know it was my father's?"

The dragon smiled. "Medallions like your father's have dated back for five thousand years, passed only from parent to child." The dragon carefully picked up the medallion--which was smaller than one of his own paws--and examined it closely, sniffing it as well. "This smells of power. Your father's power. That which, in good time, will become yours. You are destined for an important part in the prophecy of our fall." The dragon gave Katra's medallion back, and then he pointed to Hunter and Marcus as well. "All three of you are destined for a great role...."

Marcus sighed. "There you go again, talking about fate and destiny."

Katra recalled the dragon's mentioning of his family. "How many of your kind exist?"

The dragon nodded. "There are but eight of us in this world. Myself, five brothers, and two sisters. And when the time comes, we too shall disappear from this world...."

Hunter was perplexed. "Five brothers? Previously, you said six."

The dragon nodded. "He is no longer with us." The dragon looked at them. "You courteous of you. Very typical of your species. However..."

Marcus looked up. "You say that you and your family are going to be slain. You're afraid of that, are you not?"

The dragon shook his head. "It is not our own deaths that I fear. It is what may arise from our ashes which I fear."

Hunter spoke up. "And what is that?"

The dragon chose not to answer, instead naming off the elements. "Fire. Snow and water. Earth. Air and storm. Shadow; and... Light."

Katra looked back. "What is that supposed to mean?"

The dragon looked outside, through the ceiling in the cave. "You know everything you need. Katra, you are the fire tempered by honor; keep that burning bright within.

"Hunter, you are the instrument of honor; stay true to its goals.

"Marcus, you are the ally; stay close to the light, and watch out for shadow."

All three were puzzled. Katra spoke up. "Thank you... but I don't understand what you're talking about."

The dragon nodded. "You will come to understand, in the fullness of time." The dragon unfolded his wings and lowered them to the ground. "Climb aboard. The waters around this island are too light for you to sail from; I shall fly you towards the continent you seek." The dragon apparently communicated something to Vrynn, for Vrynn quickly hopped aboard, seating himself on the dragon's spine between his wings.

Marcus was unsure about the offer, but climbed up the dragon's wing and grabbed ahold near Vrynn. Katra followed, and Hunter was the last one aboard. The dragon craned his head around, viewing them through the corner of his eyes. "Hold on tight; for here we go...!"

The dragon spread his wings fully, and jumped into the air. Once airborne, he flapped his wings downward, gaining a sudden burst of altitude. Three more flaps, and he quickly rose out of the hole in the room's ceiling. Two more flaps, and he was up to an altitude of eight hundred feet above the mountaintop and about a quarter-mile above sea level. "Hang on!"

The dragon dived until an altitude of approximately two hundred feet as his airspeed increased to one equivalent to one hundred knots. Fortunately for Marcus, Hunter, Katra, and Vrynn too, the position the dragon held his head in protected them from the sheer force of wind they were passing through, enabling them to keep ahold. In a way, it seemed as if a static 'bubble' of air was formed between the dragon's wings, back, and head, giving them only some occasional turbulence; otherwise, the relative hurricane-force winds would have easily knocked them off.

The dragon continued flying westward, and as he did so, he lofted back to his previous altitude of approximately one thousand feet while still retaining an air-travel speed of about eighty knots. The view from the air was spectacular; they could see for approximately two hundred miles into the distance; even the largest of cities appeared but the size of a coin from up here.

The dragon told them that he would be landing soon, and, finding a grassy clearing in a forest near Adgers, slowed to a hovering speed and then descended quickly but safely. Upon touching down, he lowered his wings to the ground for Hunter, Katra, and Marcus to climb down on. They did so, and Vrynn jumped down from the dragon's back, gliding to the ground. The dragon nodded at them. "It was a pleasure meeting you. Now, I must return...." And with another few flaps, the dragon lifted off again, creating a strong wake as he flew back into the air.

Marcus was grateful to be back on the ground again; Hunter knew they should check in at the port city Adgers, and Katra was wondering what kind of field day the Courier's Guild would have with reports of the dragon.