Rider –> Companion Prestige for Nadie | Hunting for Shadowstar | ??? for Lino | 2178w
Shadowstar was born of the night; Her jet-black feathers shimmered under moonlight and her eyes glowed like the stars. The Shéar nobles rode steeds of wind and fire, and while she did not bear the seraph wings or fiery colors of that traditional line, she was close enough to make Nadie’s heart fill with joy. Her glowing true sight gave him knowledge that a normal dragon could not; Her glimmering wings kept her hidden on both the dark and bright nights of the desert. Her wyvern body let her lift to the skies as quickly as possible and her feathered wings allowed her to wear form-fitting saddles. She still had the talons to clutch at prey and she needed no teeth in her beak to tear into the beasts that wandered the sands. Shadowstar was perfect, and Nadie would have no other dragon, regardless of tradition.
Nadie hummed as he wove the yarn in his hand to form a story. Red for battle, blue for tragedy, each knot tied in order. Writing history was forbidden, but weaving it was not. In time, he would have a tapestry that could tell a quiet tale to people hundreds of years in the future. Shadowstar waited patiently outside the tent for him to finish his weaving. It is dangerous to put stories where strangers can find them, chastised the dragon.
Then don’t tell anyone, replied the Rider. No one knows how to read it but us.
She chuckled with amusement–what good was a story that could not be understood?–but they both knew it could be done. A wind dragon would recognize the patterns and an earth dragon could feel the words whispered during its creation. Both required the blessing of a dragon. There was no telling how long the Irrit tribe would thrive, but hiding their tales in a place only dragons could see might prevent them from disappearing entirely. She would not prevent her Rider from considering that future, even if she knew it was forbidden.
He found a stopping point he was satisfied with, hid the ropes in a large bag of clothing, and exited the tent. The sun had already set and his family had already lit the fires and started dinner. The tribe filed in from the wilds or settled in from their work. They shared drinks and bantered and danced when they felt like it; It was completely unlike the lonely lands outside the desert. Shadowstar stared at her Rider expectantly. Time for our rounds? he asked. The dragon simply nodded and leaned down for her saddle.
Night blanketed the area and cold winds whistled across the flat sands. Shadowstar stretched her wings and launched, completely comfortable flying at night without the use of thermals. She was a wind dragon, after all. If there was no wind beneath her wings, she would make it. They flew high enough for the air to grow thin and a curved line of sand storms to show themselves on the horizon. Nadie leaned close and allowed the dragon to feed him air; The only thing that dogged them was the frost forming on his riding clothes and the tips of her feathers.
Her vision could see to the edge of the horizon, deep into the sands, and today she saw a wanderer. An intruder, she alerted Nadie, though he already saw the figure through her eyes. She weighed the hidden path of air in front of her, seemed to find a satisfying route, then dived into the stream. She kept her wings wide and glided downwards to the sands. The desert hated intruders; It would gnash at them with teeth and claws of flying stone. The last sliver of magic in this planet kept the lands safe. Even the dragons and ships that flew to the region would find themselves at the mercy of the winds. It kept the job of guarding this place simple enough, though they still needed to seek out what the desert could not bury. On top of that, the primal magic couldn’t tell if its enemy was worth more alive or dead. That decision was their jurisdiction.
They entered the sands easily, wind parting to let them through with nary a scratch. Shadowstar flitted up and circled the figure, using her eyes to effortlessly watch the it as she floated out of view. It was a single person cloaked in desert garb, taller than average, arms raised and defending against the wind. He had no dragons beside him–rather, one was huddled in its shadow, refusing to come out, peering outwards with an inner eye of its own. Their dragon eyes met and the figure looked up towards them, tracking their circles. They shouted and the words were carried on the wind, but Nadie was much too angry to parse them himself. He recognized the dragon, and therefore the man. Shadowstar was equally irritated, holding back a cry of challenge–instead, she translated the words for her Rider while his ears were shut. He doesn’t need to go all the way into the desert, so long as he meets us.
Nadie weighed their options. On one hand, he didn’t want to deal with this man, and there was a chance he could wander through the storm until he died. That would be most convenient. On the other hand, there was a chance he would wander out. This was one of the few intruders that might hold enough power to get through the storm. I will protect you, Shadowstar insisted. It sounded like reassurance, but in truth, it was her way of saying she would kill the man if given the excuse. Nadie ran his hand through her neck feathers, acknowledging her words. Through their bond, he sent the same emotion; Both of them would protect this place, even if it meant killing their own kind.
Shadowstar landed, letting her magic flow out and create a hole in the storm. The sands swirled even faster on the edges of the barrier, eager to bite at the intruder again. She lowered her head and flared up her crest of feathers in a display of aggression. Nadie dismounted and drew his sharpest knife, starting to channel flame magic and heating the blade up to blue.
Sensing its Rider in danger, a beast lept from the shadows, bearing a beak of its own. It looked similar to the fiery wind dragons of legend, but something was off. Its tail hung low behind it, barely able to lift off the ground. Instead of talons, it had fingered limbs that almost looked human, clutching at the ground as if it was off balance at every moment. It was melting and dripping in places, with the only semblance of grace twining around its tail as a flower. Even that had petals lined with small teeth. That monstrosity was the closest thing to a bond Radice could hope to form.
“It’s fine, Lino.” The man lowered the hood of his cloak, revealing a countenance weathered by dozens of years. He looked twice as old as Nadie, but he was still young enough to have a completely black head of hair. He looked at the man with bright yellow eyes. “Nadie. It’s been a while.”
Nadie didn’t feel like wasting words on him and focused all his attention on the blade in his hand. He was itching to use it. Instead, Starfall did the talking. “Not long enough, Radice,” she murmured out.
The other dragon made a noise halfway between a squawk and a growl. The Rider motioned to his dragon and quelled its anger. “There is no need to be hostile,” Radice replied, shrugging off their demeanor. “I only came to visit.” The dragon looked annoyed, but nodded in agreement. “It’s been years. I wanted to see how my family is doing.”
“We aren’t family any more,” Starfall retorted. “You lost that right when you took our brothers and sisters from this place.”
Radice’s eyes flickered to blue. Sadness. “I did what was best for them. They’re in safe hands, being raised with a solid roof and a steady source of food.”
“As slaves?” the dragon hissed. “Or as experiments? Soldiers?” Every feather on her body ruffled up and she slightly opened her wings to warn them of her strength. “Even if they are raised as equal children, they are without the words and protection of our people. They belong here.”
The other dragon barked a warning and slurred out its reply in a bubbling voice. “It is better for them to be raised without stories of blood and vengeance. You people are only perpetuating a war when you should focus on peace. They have a real education, actual healthcare, and safety that the tribe cannot provide.”
Radice quickly followed up his dragon’s words. “And you can see them, whenever you want. I’ve never lost track of them. They never stop being family, no matter how far they are from the desert.”
Nadie couldn’t help but speak. “Oh? Just so you can keep me somewhere and pressure me into joining the Militia like you did?” He glared at the man.
“I wasn’t pressured, nor would I pressure you,” Radice replied gently. It didn’t help matters.
Shadowstar was more than happy to end the conversation. “You’re no longer family to any of us. Even the land knows it.” The wind around them started howling as if in agreement. She nipped at her Rider, herding him onto the saddle, and then let the barrier go. The sandstorm crashed in and flooded their vision again. The dark dragon coughed and slid back into the shadows while Radice struggled to get his cloak back in place. Shadowstar flapped and easily took to the air. She made a wide arc around them. Should we kill him? If he has residual magic, he might be able to get through.
Nadie rubbed his fingers over the flat of his knife. It would be easy to take him out while he was blinded by sand. His dragon had no way of defending him, and his personal magic would be weaker without Shérok’s blessing. Weak, but maybe enough. In the old days, when he was teaching Nadie magic, it was more than enough to humble him. Radice controlled the elements like extensions of himself; He had every mark of talent that an Irrit could dream of. He would play around with them, teasing them with displays of power, laughing all the while. Nadie would plot out how to surprise him, but the most he ever did was scratch his clothing and then get shown his place. He was like a father to everyone–so why had he betrayed them? Nadie let his anger grow as fire under his skin.
Understood, Shadowstar murmured through their bond. She slipped away, beating her wings and aiming for clear air.
What are you doing? Nadie hissed.
I can’t let you kill him until you’ve lost that love of yours. She breached the dust storm and created a soft breeze to carry them home. You still remember him as family. His sins were not enough to erase those feelings, so I can’t allow you to kill him. I won’t until you’re ready. Until you can do it without hesitation.
Nadie sighed. There was no point in arguing with Shadowstar. They knew each other better than anyone, which meant she also knew what was best. If it was any other member of his family, he might have the energy to doubt them, but Shadowstar couldn’t lie to him. Wouldn’t lie to him. He thought of the sickening dragon that, even now, was still loyal to its Rider. Even if it was a bastardization of their dreams, it was still a dragon. Dragons only bonded with the worthy. If a dragon could see something in Radice, maybe there was something left to redeem.
It must be an equal trade, Shadowstar whispered to him. The desert would seek its reparations one way or another. Death was the simplest method of forgiveness, but there were ways around it. He could be forgiven by returning what was taken, then something more to appease the lands and those he took.
He can only return them if they’re alive. Nadie nudged Shadowstar’s side and they banked back over the storm. They peered through the darkness, searching in vain for the figure. Perhaps he had slipped to his shadows, just like his dragon. Perhaps he had turned back and found himself carried out of the storm. Both of them knew he would not simply fall. Both of them knew that even the bodies of those lost would give closure to the parents. How could the land be appeased from the years that he stole? From the magic he stifled? From the blood on his hands? Even his life wouldn’t be enough.
Even so, the two doubled back over the desert a few more times. If they couldn’t think of a way, maybe he could. The horizon started to glow with morning light before they finally turned homeward.