Donakis hurried through the rocky pathways of the mountain trail. She placed one foot in front of the other nimbly as she navigated the unsteady terrain. She would not normally be so swift in her approach. She knew that her haste was courting a shift in the lose stone underfoot that could lead to a slip or fall that would see her plummet to the stone of the mountain’s foothills. She weighed the possibility of deadly misstep against the importance of the information she was carrying and firmly decided that speed was of the greatest concern. She had been making the climb to the summit since before day break and with continued moderate weather, she would be there before the second sun reached its zenith in the sky. At this rate she would be able to complete the trip in nearly half the time it usually took her reach the mountain’s peak and her mother’s grand chambers.
The young dragoon warrior adjusted the leather straps of her armor just below her right shoulder. The tightness of her breastplate did not normally bother her so but her scales were still tender from her newly won war wound. The arrowhead had almost worked itself lose from where it was buried below her outer layer of yellow tinted scales. It would be a relief once the fragment of the human’s arrow was gone and she could have proper use of her arm one again. The limit to her mobility was negligible, it was more the unbearable itching caused by the little wretched steel tip that bothered Donakis most of all.
In some ways Donakis was thankful for her wound. She was certainly grateful that she had escaped the battle with only a superficial injury, while most of her brethren had been crippled beyond the ability to fright again or had taken their final breaths alongside Stef’han of Black. It was the distraction offered by the itching and inability to pry lose the broken arrowhead that the dragoon warrior was most appreciative for. Anything to take her mind from the bloody loss to the Rayward humans and the sight of the eldest black dragon slain and plundered for his teeth and scales by honorless trophy takers helped to ease the crushing anxiety the Donakis felt tightening her breast and stealing the air from her lungs.
Donakis had not even taken the time to acknowledge her own grief at seeing her great father ripped to shreds by the Rayward ballista. She had not offered herself the comfort of tears shed for Stef’han of Black. She knew that if she allowed herself to indulge in grieving for the passing of their strongest icon among her people that she would be unable to carry the news to her mother. While Donakis knew that her own mourning would be considerable, it was nothing compared next to the hurt that word of the great black dragon’s demise would bring to his mate. Donakis was most terrified of how Sia of Red would react once she learned of the fate of her closest companion.
The day wore on and Donakis made good time reaching the final leg of her climb up the mountain trail. The rocky corridors opened up into a grand encircled platform of volcanic glass. The dragoon warrior could feel the air grow thick with the heat of her mother’s breath. The rhythmic sound of Sia of Red’s chest rising and falling as she rested cause the ground to tremble ever so subtly but the repetitious low growl had a comforting and sheltered maternal element in it. Donakis timidly stood before the mighty slumbering red scaled beast as she searched for the courage to rouse Sia of Red. Even in sleep the elder dragon matriarch was a regal sight to see. Her fangs were white as freshly fallen snow. Her wings were wide, and even at rest looked like a powerful wave of living flames.
“You did not have to come all this way to tell me, my daughter. I know what happened to Stef’han of Black,” Sia of Red said as she opened her radiant golden eyes. She raised up her long neck to look down on the young dragoon warrior and regraded the woman with a mother’s kindness reflected in her golden gaze. “I felt the Rayward steel when it pierced his heart as if it had struck my own body,” she continued with a somber reverence.
“Great Mother, I am sorry that we have failed you. Your children mourn for Stef’han of Black with all our hearts,” Donakis said as she dropped to her knees before the towering winged wyrm. “I vow that we will rally. We can push back and reclaim our lost land from the human threat,” she said with renewed determination and a strong self-assured glint in the black of her eyes.
“It is we who have failed you. Our breed is dying. There is nothing that can be done for that now. Dragons will soon be gone from the face of Argaia. So few of us remain,” Sia of Red stated with a reluctant note of forced submission in her voice. The words of defeat so tarnished the invulnerable presence that the great dragon emitted like some scholar’s paradox would twist plain and simple truths.
“But Great Mother, surely this is not the end. Dragons have lived just as long as the humans. You are more powerful than they could ever be. Your children will not give up this war. Our will is not broken,” Donakis said while searching for empathy. Seeing one of the progenitors of her race so crestfallen and defeatist broke her heart as if had been made of the most delicate glass.
“Nor is my will. We shall not cease to fight the humans. It is only that we can not win this war. After thousands of years, I have come to accept this fact,” Sia of Red said with a valiant raise of her chin that cast a majestic silhouette when laid against the bright midday sky.
“So this is truly to be the end of dragons. What will your children do without your kind?” Donakis asked with the unmistakable fear of uncertainty reeking in her words.
“The days when dragons fly over Argaia may be numbered but dragons shall never truly die. If the humans mean to take everything from us then I, and what brothers and sisters I have left shall make them pay such a heavy price in blood that our breed will never be forgotten. The descendants of the men and women who fight in this war will know our names and fear our legend,” Sia of Red said with smoke pouring from her wide fanged maw. She rose up onto her front legs and beat her wings against the air. The force of the wind as she boldly flapped her natural shroud of red leathery scales nearly toppled Donakis as the dragoon knelt before her matriarch.
“Your children will be proud to fight and die to the last in your name. We will carve the name Sia of Red so deep into human lore that it will last for all time,” Donakis said as she stood.
“My daughter, while I have blood and fire for the human threat, I may have something else for the dragoon. All is not lost for my children. There is hope to cling to,” said the great red dragon. Sia of Red shifted and settled back down into a curled up resting position.
Donakis knew better than to ask questions of her matriarch but the final nature of the conversation she had been having with Sia of Red seemed to warrant an exception. “Great Mother, what is this that you speak of. What hope?” she asked with childlike curiosity reflected in her fine yellow scaled face.
“That is for another time, my daughter. First I must mourn for my mate. Then it will be time to take retribution for the death of Stef’han of Black. Cling to hope for latter, blood comes first. Now please leave my daughter and tell the rest of my children that we are to fall back beyond the mountain trail. I will come and find you when we are ready to fight the humans again,” Sia of Red said as she lowered her head back to the bed of volcanic glass.
“You will shall be done, Great Mother,” said Donakis with perfect loyalty resonating in her voice. She stood and offered one last wordless exchange of sympathy in her deep black eyes for her matriarch’s irreplaceable loss. Donakis smiled softly as she felt the loving warmth of Sia of Red’s golden eyes returning her gaze in kind. The young dragoon warrior left down the mountain trail faster than she had climbed it and headed for her people’s war camp.