© 2001-2002 Draconus / Stratadrake of NEWST
The dinner at Aurex's house was a peaceful, yet active one. Pheasant was the main course, with a bit of salad and flavored-water on the side. For a dinner so splendorously prepared, Hunter wondered to Aurex if there was anything more formal, like wine. Aurex responded, saying how wine is dangerous to the dracan kind, and therefore Aurex, being one of the dracan kind, never keeps any.
"You can thank Argent later for the preparations," Aurex added between bites. Pheasant may not be the most glorious meat in the country, but with the preparations that Argent put them through, the taste was as grande as a king's feast. "What kind of meat is this?" Hunter asked, curiously.
"It's simple pheasant," Aurex nodded. "Argent caught them himself, earlier today."
"Really? I didn't think he was much of a hunter...," Marcus remarked.
Argent seemed embarrassed at this comment, and Aurex changed the subject quickly. "Now, if I may; tell me more about this missing friend of yours, this Katra."
"We only met him a few weeks ago, when Strato attacked the mountain city Norset. Katra was the youngest of the Norset Honor Guards."
"--Norset?", Argent interrupted. "Where is that?"
"Argent, remember that they are not from this world," Aurex reminded his apprentice. "Please continue, Hunter...."
Hunter nodded. "About twenty years past, Katra's parents had immigrated to the city Norset. What were their names...?"
Marcus filled in. "Katra said their names were Draconus and Ashana, de Nathos."
"De Nathos...?" Aurex asked in surprise. "Did... did this Draconus by chance own a medallion?"
"Why, yes...," Hunter answered.
"Then, he was one of the Anathia's warriors. But regardless, keep on, continue."
"Anyway, as Katra had told us, his mother died when he was very young. And about fifteen years ago--when Katra was but five years old--the mercenary, Strato Valkyros, was discovered thieving from Norset's gallery by Draconus. Draconus tried to arrest him, and Strato fought back. In the end, Strato was mortally wounded from the duel, but Draconus was slain."
"Fifteen years, you say? Nearly twenty years ago, the Dragon Knight, Strato Valkyros, disappeared from this world without a trace. That's hardly a coincidence. Strato has been known to 'shrug off' a mortal wound and recover, when a normal human would die."
Hunter detected something odd about Aurex's answer. "What are you implying?"
"That answer is not relevant right now. But... to put it succinctly, Strato's home city, Khatalus, was famous for certain ... advancements. More accurately, it was infamous for such."
Aurex frowned. "Strato claims lineage from Khatalus, but we have no evidence to support or deny that claim. About seventy years ago, Khatalus was attacked by a group of dragons and completely destroyed, everyone slain. Strato began making a name for himself about ten years thereafter. When the city of Khatalus was rebuilt, Strato joined their league of Knight Guards. He quickly rose to the top, and was awarded the title, 'Dragon Knight'. He served many years for Khatalus. However, about forty years ago, dragons attacked Khatalus for a second time, completely destroying it ... except for Strato, the lone survivor.
"For the next twenty years, Strato became a wandering knight for hire; a mercenary of the good sort. And then, twenty years back from today, he simply vanishes from our world and enters yours."
Aurex was silent for a moment, as Argent began cleaning the table of the meal. Hunter resumed talking. "That is indeed interesting. Now; after Draconus's death, Katra was entursted to the Norset Honor Guards and raised properly as a Guardsman.
"Recently, Strato gathered a band of marauders he called the Dragon's Fist and performed a full-scale attack upon Norset. That is where Marcus and I met Katra. Of all the guardsmen to fight that day, only Katra survived. Norset was burnt to ashes, its civilians fled and its Guard destroyed."
"I see; so you have actually fought Strato yourself, and yet survived," Aurex added. "You must be powerful warriors. In his past, Strato was known for fighting toe-to-toe against individual dragons themselves. Most humans would easily be killed against a dragon, but for Strato, such a playing field was level and balanced."
Hunter continued the story. When our capital city, Lancaster, heard about the attack, the King called for a declaration of war--"
"--A rash decision at that...," Marcus interjected. "King Leonardo was always a buffoon regarding warfare. He ignored the risks, believeing that we could crush Strato's marauders."
"Marcus...," Hunter stopped, before turning back to Aurex. "As I said, our King declared war against Strato and his marauders. They were stationed near an underground Catacombs entrance. Myself, Katra, and Marcus, we were instructed to find and capture Strato himself, while the King's military engaged the marauders.
"It didn't exactly go as planned. One former comrade in arms, Shane of Alexis, turned out to be a mere false front, and was actually Strato himself. On top of that, we ran into Strato's two second-in-commands. We were captured, and imprisoned overnight.
"Come morning, Strato and his marauders were counterattacking, setting siege to Lancaster. We returned to Lancaster as fast as possible to help defend the King. But despite our best efforts, Strato managed to kill the King. After that, Strato and one of his seconds fled outside the country.
"It was the shortest declared war ever to occur in history," Marcus added as he quaffed a good drink of water. "It didn't even last a single day and night."
Aurex nodded. "What then happened?"
Hunter continued. "It was a long shot, but we traced Strato through the next country, into the desert capital of Border. We found and captured his one remaining second-in-command. The next day, we discovered Strato in another underground Catacombs site, and captured him."
"Strato was put on quick trial, escaped, re-captured, and sentenced for execution. However.... During that night, the monster Andrake attacked the city, springing Strato and his second. It then came after us. We fought as best we could, but that was not enough. Katra, though, suffered the most. Andrake ran Katra through with that energerial sword of his, Atom Blade."
"Miraculously, Katra survived, and after a week, recovered. Strato had been spotted overseas, so we booked a ship to cross the ocean. Andrake, though, attacked and sank the ship. Next thing we know, we're washed ashore a small island called 'Atlantis'."
Aurex flinched at the name. "Atlantis.... That is a name appearing once, and only once, in our legends. One of the first White Dragons to exist in the world beared the name, Atlantis. Well, technically, his name was [i]Allantae[/i], but it has always been recorded as 'Atlantis'."
Hunter was amazed. "White dragon? We did discover a dragon on the island Atlantis. He kept speaking in metaphors and riddles, though. He said something about something 'not being the right time'. He warned us of Andrake. And after that, he gave us a ride to our destination. From there, we chased Strato through the territory, and soon discovered the largest underground Catacombs ever. That is where we found the Portal; and that..., that is how we came to be here, in this world."
This time, Aurex was the one amazed. "You have actually talked to one of the legendary dragons? That is one of the highest honors in the world!"
"Perhaps...; but shortly after crossing through the Portal, Katra was struck by something, and fell ill. Two men, presumably bandits, attacked and stole off with Katra. Only this medallion--" Hunter withdrew the eagle medallion, showing it to Aurex." --This medallion is the only clue of where to look."
Aurex stood up from his seat at the table. "That's a Nathian badge; and they are the ones you should be searching for. I trust you had a good meal, yes?"
Hunter and Marcus nodded. Hunter noticed that Argent was nowhere to be seen. Aurex responded, "It is getting late by human terms. Argent has prepared your rooms for you, feel free to stay." As if with just a thought, Aurex snuffed out some of the lights in the room, dimming it.
Aurex accompanied Hunter and Marcus as they returned to the staircase and ascended to the second floor. Aurex doused the remaining torches along the way, until all that could be seen were two candles in their guest room and the starlight entering from outside. "Sleep well, warriors. You two have a most promising past; you deserve some rest after such a journey."
Hunter and Marcus nodded, and prepared to bed down. Vrynn chose a rumpled rug to lay down on, and curled up for some sleep. Marcus chose the bed opposite the window, and Hunter took the other one. The night was quiet, but with familiar sounds of owls and crickets in the distance.
Hunter couldn't sleep. According to the timepiece on the wall, it was not even a half-hour past midnight; except for the moon and stars, the sky was its typical nighttime black. Hunter tried to get some sleep, but something in his mind was still nagging him. The room was neither too warm nor too cold; the atmosphere was still fresh, but something seemed amiss. Perhaps a walk outside would help. Hunter re-dressed in his uniform and armor quietly so as not to disturb Marcus or Vrynn, who were both sound asleep, and then he quietly stepped outside the room.
Hunter's eyes were now adjusted to the darkness, so he could see a little bit. Argent was asleep in his own room, but as Hunter walked towards the stairs, he noticed that Aurex wasn't in his bedchamber at all. Hunter stepped quietly downstairs, and towards the back room. Looking out the window, Hunter saw something down on the watershore just outside. Opening the back sliding door carefully, Hunter walked outside.
Half-expectedly, the figure that Hunter saw on the shoreline was Aurex. Apparently, Aurex was studying the stars. Hunter walked down to the shoreline, and Aurex noticed him. "Is something the matter?"
"I do not know; probably just worried about Katra, myself. I do have a few questions to ask you, though."
Aurex turned towards Hunter. "Then feel free to ask."
"Why didn't you answer my question about Khatalus?"
"Khatalus has a long history of infamy. Many times in their past, groups of wizards, spurned by the Council, and called rogues, would take their crooked beliefs and ideas to Khatalus for practice. The governments of Khatalus--all of them--never did anything to stop them; in fact, the Khatalus government was known for protecting and hiding the rogues.
"A few of the rogues undertook deliberate criminal activites. For example, there were a few recorded cases where they would dissect live dragon eggs, killing the unborn hatchlings inside, just to find some means of magical empowerment. You can guess what happened when the dragons discovered such murder. The wronged dragons--mostly females--who had their eggs stolen from them, were the specific ones who destroyed Khatalus; all three times, seventy years ago, fourty years ago, and just recently.
"Indeed, the humans rebuilt Khatalus, but they fell into the same situation that destroyed Khatalus earlier; harboring criminal actions by rogue wizards, and paying the price of destruction therefore. I have been informed just yesterday that three black wizards--possibly rogues--are confirmed missing from the magical community, and our diplomats to the dragon shires have confirmed that dragons did indeed attack Khatalus. History has repeated itself yet again, and those around Khatalus still haven't learned their lesson from it."
Hunter nodded. "What of the Nathians?"
"One correspondant wizard of mine, a Nathian, sent me a message yesterday saying that he has taken on a new apprentice. I would not be surprised if he knows where your friend is. Unfortunately, Anathia is a large distance away from here--about five hundred fifty miles. It is too bad you humans aren't meant to fly, otherwise you could cross that distance in almost no time at all."
Aurex removed his mantle--the one piece of clothing that he, being a dracan, chooses to wear while among human--and tossed it aside onto the grassy shore. "Allow me a minute, Hunter," and after that, Aurex turned towards the bay, jumped into the air, flapped his wings to reach about ten feet up in the air, and then dived down into the moon-shimmering waters of the ocean.
Hunter examined the water, noticing that the water quickly became deep even just a few feet out. What looked like a grassy beach was, in fact, a small precipice above the water, reaching about one foot above the waves. It was as if this spot of the beach was specifically designed as a diving area.
Hunter waited for a minute, and then two, and three. By now, Hunter was getting a bit worried about Aurex. Was he all right?
Hunter's answer came soon thereafter as he noticed a three-clawed reptilian handappear right on the edge of the shore. Within moments, Aurex appeared and climbed out, shaking the water off of his scales and exhaling water from his lungs. Hunter looked at him aghast. "Are you all right!?"
Aurex cleared his throat of any more water. "There is nothing for you to fear."
"But, you stayed underwater for quite some time. Weren't you at risk for drowning?"
Aurex laughed out loud. "You humans... that's the first thing you ask whenever we decide to go out for a swim. Our kind is as at home swimming through water as we are flying through air, or living on land. We do not drown, unlike you humans. Now, if you may excuse me...."
Hunter noticed that Aurex had caught himself a fish of about twenty inches length. Aurex had been holding onto the fish with the four talons on each of his feet. Now, Aurex maneuvered into his semi-reclining 'sitting' position, and let go of the fish from his foot-grip. Using the claws on his hands, Aurex gutted the fish, tossing the wastes back into the water where other aquatic creatures could scavenge them.
Hunter was somewhat disturbed at this image, of an intelligent being carving up a fish in such a means. Aurex noticed the look on Hunter's face, but gave no response other than a smile.
Hunter looked at Aurex. "Didn't you have dinner with the rest of us?"
Aurex nodded briefly. "Only a little bit. You humans like to have everything prepared for you by others, and at many times aren't willing to do something yourself. Sometimes, even human hunters will prefer not to skin and gut their catch by themselves, instead handing their catch to others for processing. We, on the other hand, have all the necessary tools to hunt, and to dice up the catch afterwards."
Hunter agreed, having caught and killed a good number of animals for food himself; but even so, he was a bit uneasy as Aurex removed the bones from the fish, and then ate the meat raw. The sight was--unlike the pheasant dinner they had previously, and unlike how Aurex was devouring his catch--a bit tough to swallow.
After he was finished, Aurex rinsed his hands and feet off in the water from any fish-blood, took his mantle, and robed himself.
Hunter, in a manner of speaking, still had his jaw on the ground. Aurex looked at him and laughed. "You should be impressed at yourself; not many humans are willing to stick around and watch one of our kind eat. Consider it a test."
Hunter recomposed himself. "It's one thing to see Vrynn devour a raw meal, but for one of your caliber, it's shocking."
Aurex smiled. "Spoken like the true human you are. It is a truth of nature that you must kill everything you eat; yet some among you humans argue that point. Had they their way, the human race would become a parasite surviving only from the hunts and kills of other races."
Something about Aurex's comment sparked Hunter's memory; about how the Ancestors were said to be masters of agriculture and livestock, but forgetting the survival skills of the actual hunt, relying on machines to provide food for them; and having to be re-taught those skills by the dragons of legend after their Judgement. Hunter found this memory very consoling in view of Aurex's midnight snack.
Hunter thought up his next question to ask. "There were a few things you didn't answer at the table..."
"Ah, yes. Argent, as you know, is my apprentice. He has been for about three months now, since he showed up at my lodge and requesting training. He lives with me, and I train him in the ways of magic that I know."
"...magic...," Hunter smirked. Hunter is not the type of individual to believe in magic, considering it to be nothing but proverbial smoke, mirrors, and illusion. Aurex interpreted this when he looked at Hunter.
"You are indeed from a different world, if it should not have the principles of magic at its core," Aurex responded. "It is your experience by which you debunk the principles of magic.
"Part of Argent's training is the skills of hunting and catching one's next meal. Argent was not exactly prepared for it, so I called a fellow wizard over, to impart a particular spell and ability to Argent. I don't think you've heard the concept of transformation, have you?" Hunter shook his head.
"I didn't think so. It is a complex area of magic, and to one such as yourself, an explanation would be fruitless. Anyway, to train Argent how to hunt proper, my fellow wizard imparted a spell of transformation into Argent, so that Argent may learn how to hunt as a drake. Through such hunts, he is to gain an appreciation of human hunts, and his own human identity. It is a tough lesson, but it is his final test for becoming a certified mage. He has trained well for it.
"As for the subject of wine, do not ask that question to one of our kind. Our race is eternally forbidden to drink any wine or ale, and in any scenario where one of ours has, the consequences were disastrous. Hell hath no fury as one of our kind who breaks that law.
"And in regards to your missing friend, Katra. His father was, presumably, a Nathian by birth. Katra stands to inherit that identity and heritage from his father. Therefore, you shall find Katra somewhere in the country of Anathia."
Hunter appreciated the responses, but something still felt amiss. "Thank you; but tell me, why did you hold back and not say so sooner?"
"It is because, at the table, you did not need to know. Right now, though, you expressed interest in wanting to know. That is why...."
Hunter shook his head. He had been on the receiving end of a 'need-to-know basis' several times in his past, and he never once appreciated someone else deciding what he "needs" to know.
Aurex put one of his hands on Hunter's shoulder. "Do not worry yourself about this friend, Katra. I believe that he is in the best of hands, and fate permitting, you shall see him again."
Hunter looked back towards the lodge. "Thank you, for your time."
Aurex nodded, and began walking back to the lodge. "It is getting late, even for myself. Come, let us take back to the lodge and be rested for tomorrow."
Hunter followed Aurex back inside the lodge, and Hunter headed back upstairs to the guest quarters for some rest, while Aurex bedded down in his own bedchamber, for some rest. They would have a big day ahead of them.