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Dragon Hunters

Book Two: The Path of Honor

© 2001-2002 Draconus / Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Three: Not in Kanzas Anymore

Kanzas. The most well-known city to the Ancestral world, it is a veritable country. Although neither Hunter nor Marcus had ever travelled there, they had heard many stories of it. Kanzas was a city large enough to serve as its own country; and indeed, it was the capital of its country. Its size was immense; its metropolis measuring about ten miles diameter and the surrounding counties adding another two hundred square miles. Its population was estimated to be in or near ten thousand in the city, and seventy thousand overall. It was there, in the city of Kanzas, that legends say post-Ancestral life began, aided by the dragons of legend. Kanzas is a city so large, that if one could stand on the moon and look back, they would be able to see its shape as a solid shining "point" in its lush countryside. Kanzas lay on the western continent, far to the west of Greendale and the mountains containing Glacier Village. Although easy to find, the forests and canyons surrounding it are increadibly complex and maze-like; thus, if an individual is said to be "not in Kanzas anymore", they are quite lost.

To a lesser extent, this could be said of Hunter and Marcus as well. They were in a new, unknown world, with but a few names in memory: Khatalus, Strato's home town and one burned to ground by ... dragons? Then there was Catalonia and Nathos; the latter of which was the home town of Draconus, Katra's father, and the former of which was an opposing nation. This was a known fact only because of Strato's revelation that the two cities did indeed exist.

Hunter was still somewhat puzzled by the courier's response back at Khatalus when Hunter used the phrase "we have lost our way". The courier had apologized for it, rather than offering to help; it was as if Hunter and Marcus had unwittingly become the butt-end of a linguistic joke. In fact, this was a linguistic mis-understanding between the courier and them; for although Hunter had intended this phrase in the context of being lost in a foreign land, the courier had taken it in a more religious sense, as if Hunter had been a member of some faith and had disbanded from it.

Evidently, the city of Khatalus was a pretty remote villa; Hunter and Marcus had now been following the trail northeast for two solid days, and almost nothing had happened during the time. Hunter was growing a bit tired of the travel through a continuous forest; except for a few signs seen about one every ten minutes, there were absolutely no landmarks to go by. Not that they would help, considering that Hunter and Marcus were still strangers to this new world, but then again, one never knows. Marcus had noticed a pattern on the occasional posts; each post had two numbers printed on it, one to each side; as they saw post after post after post, the numbers on one side were steadily decreasing, while the numbers on the other side were steadily increasing. Marcus reasoned that these must be navigational markers of a sort; one number indicating the distance to the next city, and another number indicating the distance from the last city. These "mileposts" were now beginning to read number patterns such as "20/100" followed by "19/101". If these were indeed mile-markers, this meant that Hunter and Marcus were finally approaching the next city. The forest soon began to thin and brighten, and a stretch of plains became visible ahead of them. On the other side of this plain was a coastline and ocean, shining in a late morning sun. They were approaching a port city, one comparable in size to West Falls back home.

The numbers on the mileposts were growing smaller, and now, at the edge of the forest and on top of a small bluff overlooking the city, they were but four miles away. Hunter stopped and sat down to rest; Marcus did so as well, and Vrynn lay down beside him. Marcus looked out towards the city. "Almost there. I wonder what this city is called?"

"It'd be dumb luck if this was the city Nathos," Hunter jabbed. "But I doubt it. And Strato said...." Hunter thought of something. "Wait a moment, Marcus. Where do you suppose Strato is now?"

Marcus laughed. "Of all the things to bring up.... There's no telling where he could be. After all, he's from this world to begin with."

Hunter looked at the city. Its architechture was unusual by their standards; many of the buildings were reinforced with artistically-curved wooden or metal beams, and few of them were larger than ground-level. Even at this distance, the avenues between the buildings looked larger and wider than what Hunter and Marcus were accustomed to seeing. The colors were unusually vivid, as if the structures were continuously kept in good repair. The dockyards were difficult to spot from this angle, but the distant sounds of workers unloading and loading ships could be heard. Marcus shared some of his rations with Hunter for a small lunch. Vrynn, having caught himself a fair-sized animal in the morning, was not hungry.

The scenery was foreign, but not unfamiliar, and hardly a surprise; even in this world, its basic laws and foundings remain the same. What was a surprise, though, was that someone was calling their name. "Antare...!"

Even Vrynn recognized the family name and snapped to attention. Marcus heard it too and prodded Hunter. Their name was called out again. "Antare...!"

Hunter looked around trying to pinpoint whomever was trying to get their attention. Hunter spotted someone approaching them.

The man ran up the slope to their position. Hunter recognized the man as the courier they had met at Khatalus earlier. He greeted them with a handshake. "Marcus, Hunter, and Vrynn Antare. It is good to see you again; my mentor has been waiting for nearly a day now. He'll be most pleased to meet you."

Hunter nodded. "I guess... where are we, anyway?"

"Welcome to home..." the courier smiled. "--my home, at least; the city Aurelia."

"Aurelia...," Marcus remarked. "A fitting name for a beautiful city."

The courier nodded. "Anyway, since you've finally arrived, I should take you to my mentor. He didn't believe a word you said about Strato; but that was hearing it from me. You should be the ones to tell him."

"Hold on a moment...." Hunter looked at the courier. "It took us nearly three days to travel, by foot, from Khatalus to here. How did you arrive so much earlier?"

The courier smiled and nodded. "Apprenticeship has its advantages. I still have some things to learn about flying, though. Otherwise, I'd have made it back home in a night. But your timing is perfect, anyway. Come on, and I'll show you foreigners around Aurelia. I bet you've never seen anything like it before...."

Hunter and Marcus shook their heads. "Correct at that," Marcus responded. Hunter looked down at the city. "Lead the way...."

The courier nodded. "You'll love the city; it's most spectacular in the morning sun." The courier waved forewards at them, and then led the way down the road into the city. Hunter and Marcus followed.

Although Aurelia is a city larger than West Falls, Suthcross, its layout was one that precluded any semblance of becoming lost. The streets were indeed wide; measuring perhaps fifteen to twenty feet across. The main avenues were laid out in a cross-shaped pattern; other streets ran like capillaries, spanning out in a form of net between the blocks. There was a surprising amount of greenery in the roads: grass banks, dirt shoulders, next to the cobblestone that formed the avenues. In the central intersection of Aurelia was a fantastic stone fountain, sculptured in shape to look like a life-size dragon. The dragon-fountain must have had some historical significance to it; when asked why, the courier told what he knew. According to legend, Aurelia was the very town where the fate of "The War" had been decided. The White Dragon species was rumored to have begun in this very city, although no scholar has been able to find concrete proof of such.

The courier then led them southeast to the dockyards. Aurelia's port was vast, complete with a drydock for new ship construction and room for four large carrier vessels to dock and unload simultaneously. One ship was currently in port, being unloaded. Hunter couldn't identify the types of workers who were unloading it; their dress was unfamiliar, and they probably belonged to a local shipper's guild.

After that, the courier led them towards the central park of Aurelia, just a bit north of the dragon-fountain. The park was spacious and green; trees providing ample shade, while still allowing enough sunlight to penetrate and illuminate the grass. A group of youngsters were at play, combatting each other with harmless, wood-constructed toy swords and other weapons. Some of the kids also seemed to be wearing animal costumes for play just to look fearsome and surprise their buddies. Marcus knew their practice for what it was; those kids would probably grow up to be soldiers and defenders of the city.

The courier then led Hunter and Marcus further north. A short distance away from the northern edge of Aurelia was a sizable, two-floor lodge constructed on a short bluff overlooking the ocean shore. The courier motioned at it. "That's where my mentor lives. I'll take you to him now...."

The courier led them towards the lodge. It was constructed partially from wooden timber, yet with some metal reinforcements along the sides and structure. Upon reaching the front door, the courier unlocked it with a key of his own, opened the door, and welcomed them inside.

The entrance-room to the lodge was spectacular; a glass skylight, faceted as to resemble a form of crystal, filled the ceiling and shone sunlight down upon almost everything. There were many plants arranged along the windows, and a few pieces of furniture to sit down on and talk. A alcove to the right was some sort of living-chamber, with furniture made for reclining in the cool of the day; behind it, a small dining room and kitchen. To the left was a study and wash-room. A large railed staircase led up to the second floor of the lodge, containing what presumably were bed-rooms. The courier called upstairs. "Aurex, I've returned."

A voice, that of the courier's mentor, Aurex, responded. "So you have. And what guests did you find this time, little draco?"

"The two men I told you about the other day." The courier looked back at Hunter. "Don't be flattered, he always calls me a 'little draco'; the name is Argent."

Hunter and Marcus could hear the sounds of footsteps approaching from one of the upper rooms. Even through the carpets covering both the upper and lower floors, they were not the typical sound of human boots or feet walking across the floor. Each footprint had a certain clacking sound to it, remotely comparable to the sound Vrynn's talons make on hard floor. Aurex, the master of the lodge, came into view and looked down upon Marcus, Hunter, and Vrynn. "Welcome, Antares...."

Neither Hunter nor Marcus could believe who they were seeing. Aurex was not a human, but rather, of a race known to the locals as dracans. He looked partly dragon; his head and face bore an uncanny resemblence to that of a wyvern, right down to a nose horn, cat-shaped eyes, sharp teeth lining his mouth, brow ridges and a pair of dual crest horns. His entire form could best be described as semi-dragon; except for the human-made flowing blue mantle he wore over his shoulders, and except for a small harness on his back holding what could easily be construed as hunting weapony, he was clothed entirely in reptilian scales alone. Even the cyan-colored chest-plate armor he wore was not of human construct, but rather, grew on him like a shell. Partially hidden underneath his mantle were his forelimbs, shaped like wings but with an articulated three-fingered "hand" on each. Standing on legs with four-talonned feet, Aurex would measure approximatly five foot six; yet this is not his true length; his plated tail extended perhaps two feet farther than his legs, decorated with a spade of plated scales much reminiscent of dragons and wyverns. Standing with a contour streamlined enough to allow him to soar through both air and water with great ease, Hunter and Marcus's first glimpse of this particular semi-dragon race was an astonishing one.

Hunter spoke without thinking. "What in the world are you?"

"Now that is a most unusual way to begin a converstaion...!" Aurex retorted. "How rude. Then again, you humans aren't always known for courtesy and flair. Is it not more proper to begin a converstaion with a salutations? A 'hello', and a 'how are you', and then you exchange your names? Is it not the way introductions begin?"

Hunter, quite ashamed at this reprimand, took back his comment. "...Yes...."

Aurex smiled slightly. "Then, why don't you ask for my name, or at least the type of day it has been?"

Marcus filled in for Hunter. "Well.... greetings. My name is Marcus, and this is my brother, Hunter. The wyvern here is my comrade, Vrynn. And you are...?"

Aurex smiled again. "Now that is more like it. My name is Aurex, master of this lodge and a member of the Council. I..." Aurex examined Hunter and Marcus's puzzled expressions for a moment. "You should see the expressions on your silly faces. Haven't you ever seen our kind, the dracans, before?"

Hunter shook his head. "Never before; you're the first ... um..."

The courier, Argent, filled in, sounding out the term for Hunter. " 'Drae-kuhn'."

Hunter nodded. "You're the first, 'dracan', that both myself and Marcus have ever seen."

Aurex let out a short laugh. "Hah! You must not be from around here! Filling my little draco's head with silly stories, about the Dragon Knight Strato, causing him to worry. You're lucky I'm not the sort of fellow to hold a grudge. Now, from what city and country do you two hail?"

"Cities West Falls and Norset, Suthcross country," came the response.

Aurex was amazed. "Balderdash! You two must have been knocked silly; I have travelled much of the world over, and I still have yet to hear of such cities or country. How did you come here?"

Hunter was reluctant to give Aurex a true answer, but he figured that doing so would be for the best. "We arrived a bit outside the city of Khatalus. We reached Khatalus through a system of caverns and passages...."

Aurex eyed Hunter carefully, yet bemusedly. "Go on...."

Hunter told Aurex the truth. "I don't know if you're going to believe this, but while travelling through the caverns, we stumbled upon and passed through a portal of sorts."

"A portal...?", Aurex responded. He looked up, bracing his chin with the three claws on his right hand. With his arm extended as such, one of his wings was purely visible, folded partially along his arm. "You don't say...?" Aurex continued to eye Hunter carefully.

"You do say...?" Aurex continued thinking. "You came through the portal?!?"

Hunter nodded.

Aurex jumped down from the second floor to the first, spreading his wings to soften his landing. "The portal...!"

Hunter was surprised. "What are you talking about?"

Aurex trotted off into the study. "Come, travellers. You have much to learn...."

Aurex had already found the book he was looking for when Marcus and Hunter entered his study. Aurex flipped through the pages, stopping at a diagram of a portal. It matched exactly to what Hunter remembered seeing. "That is it...!"

Aurex closed the book. "The portal! You aren't even from this world! No wonder you didn't make any sense! You have honestly never seen one of our kind before.

"Several thousand years ago, the world's best mage-scientists attempted to do what many of us considered impossible. The world is vast, so to alleviate the troubles of long travels, the scientists began construction of a magical doorway that would link two faraway places in our world by a mere instant of teleportation. They constructed the gate large enough for two dragons to fit through at once. However..."

Aurex was looking for another book on the shelf as he kept talking. "There were some rogue individuals who believed such a feat to be impractical, or worse, dishonorable. The very day the portal was to begin its first test, the rogues infiltrated one of the stations, slew the scientists working on one portal, and destroyed it. One hundred and thirty years of research and construction, all destroyed in mere minutes.

"The scientists working on the other side of the portal did not realize what had happened until it was too late. They activated the other portal for use. That is when things went wrong. Somehow, in the lack of its mate, the single remaining portal had branched out across reality and found a waiting door on some other side, some other reality. The first things to step out of the portal into our world were not the scientists from the other country, but a band of marauding demons. It was as if they had unwittingly opened the doors to Hell itself."

Aurex found a book to look through. He flipped through its pages until he found what he was looking for. He stopped, opend the book completely, revealing five drawings of five mechanical beasts. They looked familiar. One in particular, the red and black finish, the blade held in its hand--Hunter gasped when he recognized what the image was. "That's ... Andrake!!!"

Aurex nodded. " 'Andrake' was the name of the demons' leader. They fought like Hell itself; they slew the remaining scientists working on the portal project, and proceeded forth to throw our world into ruin. Had it not been for the nine original white dragons, those demons would have succeeded. The White Dragons took up the fight; we captured and sealed away four of them for all time, the locations of their seals being buried and forgotten through Time itself.

"Only one demon, their leader 'Andrake', made it back to from whence he had come. We thought it was over, but it was not so. Soon after, two more demons ventured through the gateway onto our side. They put up less of a fight, and were quickly sealed away with the rest. At this point, the nine white dragons chose to take the battle to the demon's world. They left through the portal, and even until today we have not seen them.

"The evidence of this legend remains underneath our world in the form of six sealed demons, each with the power to potentially destroy an entire city. And, before they had left, the white dragons begat offspring of their own and, by the time they had left our world, they left a strong and powerful shire in their place, allied with the other dragons."

Hunter was astonished. "But... this is amazing! Incredible...! Our world has a similar legend; seven ancient warriors were created by the Ancestors long, long ago. Six of them--every one except Andrake himself--were lost shortly before the Deathwar. Seemingly in their place, legend speaks of a group of dragons come to our world to preserve life. They helped sustain the world and begin to rebuild it. But, about two thousand years ago, even they disappeared from the world."

"Or so we thought," Marcus added. "Recently, we did discover one dragon on an island we call Atlantis. Our legends are based on truth, and highly likely, so are yours."

Aurex shut the book and set it back on the shelf. "Argent, make some water for these friends to have." Aurex turned to Marcus and Hunter. "Won't you sit down in the room out there? You've been on one long journey, you must be exhausted."

Marcus and Hunter agreed. They walked out into the living-room across from the entrance, sitting down on the chairs provided. Vrynn took a seat on the pad next to Marcus's chair. Aurex walked over into the living room and sat down upon his pad; it wasn't a chair by human standards, but then again, dracan physiology makes it physically impossible for one like Aurex to sit upright in a normal, human chair. Aurex sat down on his pad in a semi-reclining position, his tail trailing off the edge of the cushion. Aurex gave Vrynn some sort of look, and Vrynn responded; Hunter and Marcus couldn't tell exactly what it meant, but Aurex was talking to Vrynn in the dragon language.

When Aurex was finished, he returned his gaze to Marcus. "Your companion speaks well of you, Marcus. That's an honor...."

Argent entered the room and set down a few glasses with pure, clear water in them for a drink. Hunter and Marcus took their cups and quenched their thirst. Argent then set down a platter of water for Vrynn, who began to lap it up.

Aurex looked at Hunter. "So, what is this you said about Strato?"

Hunter nodded. "Your courier referred to Strato as a hero of sorts. Regardless, in our home country, he is a wanted mercenary. He has done assassinations, siege, theft, and a lot more. He released the monster, Andrake, into our world from an area sealed underground. We believe that Strato has returned to this world through the portal in ours."

Aurex thought about it. "It could be possible. A few days ago, dragons allegedly attacked the city of Khatalus through sheer rage against Strato. Strato's from Khatalus, you should know."

"What do such dragons have against Strato? (besides the obvious...) "

Aurex frowned. "I do not know. Ever since sixty years ago, the dragons have never liked Strato. They're usually ambivalent towards others like you humans and my kind, the dracans. But Strato, he is another story entirely; the dragons simply can not abide by his mere presence. About twenty years ago, Strato disappeared from our world and his whereabouts have since been unknown."

"Twenty years?" Hunter asked. "That is about the same time that Strato appeared in our world!"

Aurex put down his glass. "Most peculiar indeed. But more importantly are the legends associated with the portal. One legend was handed down from the dragons themselves. According to it, four warriors would emerge into our world during what may be its greatest hour of need. There is you Hunter, Marcus, and Vrynn. That makes three. But ... where is the fourth?"

Hunter blinked. "Katra...."


Hunter withdrew the one clue he had to Katra's whereabouts: the unusual yellow-golden medallion. "Soon after entering the forests near Khatalus, my comrade Katra fell ill to... I don't know exactly what... something. Soon after, we were ambushed by a few brigands. They knocked me out and abducted Katra. This..." Hunter tossed the medallion to Aurex. "This is the only clue I have remaining."

Aurex examined it. "It's a Nathian badge. Wherever did you find it?"

"I have no idea. Marcus found me soon after Katra was abducted, and he found the medallion nearby. What do you think?"

Aurex thought about it. "Nathians... they mostly keep to themselves. I have no idea what they would want with your friend, this Katra fellow."

"Nathians?", came Hunter's next question.

"The country of Anathia, capital city Nathos, home to the Nathians. These badges are an emblem of their power, passed down only among their best warriors. Contained in each badge is a power which augments the abilities of the Nathian soldiers. They date back many centuries, right back to the War of Ages. They were originally forged by the fire guardian--Empyros--himself and given to his soldiers. They are a symbol of pride among Nathians.

"Nearly one hundred years back, the country of Anathia was accused by Catalonia of assassination. Investigators of my people discovered a sinister plot incriminating Catalonia behind it, but the Catalonians seriously believed that Anathia was responsible, and they went to war. It was a short, but terrible war. Since then, the Nathians have gone to ground; no one except their own knows where to find them. If they do have your friend, you should keep the badge as a clue." Aurex tossed the medallion back to Hunter, and Hunter put it away.

Hunter nodded, and then stood up. "Thank you for all your help. We should get going soon...."

Aurex stopped Hunter. "Perhaps not. You're still foreign to this world; you do not know your way around. You would probably get lost."

Hunter shook his head. "But Katra... we need to find him."

" 'We' do not need to do anything; right now at least." Aurex stood up as well. "It has been a long while since I have had any visitors to this lodge. Won't you stay for at least one night?"

Hunter thought about it, looking at Marcus. "Well...."

Aurex could predict the answer that was coming. Hunter responded, "I guess we can. It has indeed been a long journey to get here; I guess we're still a little weary from the constant travel."

Aurex nodded with a smile. "Argent; the sun is getting low. Prepare a meal for our guests...."

Argent nodded and left the room. Aurex waved his hand, and peculiarly, many of the lanterns in the room flickered on. "It is getting a bit late. Argent will prepare some dinner for us. I can show you to your rooms for the night...."

Hunter thought about it. "Thanks for the offer; lead the way."

Aurex led them upstairs. He ponited to the room on the far left; it was fairly small. "That is Argent's room...." Aurex pointed to the next two rooms, medium-sized rooms comparable to those found at a local Inn. "These are the guest rooms."

Marcus pointed to the room on the far right. "What about that one?"

"That is my room; my personal lair."

"A rather large room for just one individual...," Marcus thought out loud.

"It is not just for me alone," Aurex responded. "Someday, I will find a suitable life-mate to share my lair with. Are you humans not that way yourselves?"

Marcus shrugged but agreed. Hunter chose the second room on the left, and following Aurex's advice, he and Marcus unloaded some of their equipment into the room. Dinner would be served in about twenty minutes; and so far, their first night in a truly foreign town was going to be a friendly one.