Karjon had lived for four hundred years. In that time, he had fought many battles. He’d warred against wizards of the 9th Pentagram. He’d dueled against the Necromancer Gix and his army of Shadowspawn. He’d even participated in the Battle of the Twelve, one of the few dragons to stand against the Great Shadow. Finally he’d retired with his gold and his books to live near the sleepy village of Hillsdale, to live out his remaining hundred years in solitude and scholarly pursuit.
And yet, none of those battles, none of those trials, none of those tribulations had prepared him for the greatest challenge he would ever face.
An unruly human teenager.
“Why can’t I go?” Tythel asked, her smooth tan face furrowing into a frown.
Karjon sighed heavily, a sound that filled the entire cave that was his lair and their home. “When, exactly, did ‘because I said so’ become insufficient?”
“When I turned sixteen. Karjon, you promised.”
“I said that you could go into the village when you were sixteen, Tythel. I did not say you could do so the very next day.” Making that promise, back when she was nine, had been a mistake. He’d done it to get her to cease her incessant questions. He didn’t think humans of that age could remember things for so long.
“You’re splitting scales and you know it,” she folded her arms across her chest and glowered at him.
Karjon, who weighed in just over six tons and had battled some of the greatest foes the world had ever seen, found he was unable to match his adopted daughter’s glare. He’d never had children of his own, and whelps were very different from humans. “Tythel, there are reasons for the choices I make. They are for your safety.”
“You always hide behind that, Karjon. Are you planning on keeping me here the rest of my life? What are you hiding me from?”
“There are those out there that would see you dead. Is that not enough explanation?”
She again glowered at him. “You know I can’t do anything if you don’t tell me. But if you want me to leave it alone, you’ll need to give me more than that.” Her expression softened. “Please, father.”
Karjon sighed again. “I will tell you how you came here, and that will tell you why you must not leave. If I do so, will you let the matter go?”
“Of course, thank you!” she said, running forward and giving his foreleg a hug. He reached over with a scaled claw and gently patted her back.
“Do not thank me yet. We’ll have to see what you think after I have told you. It started, as you might have suspected, sixteen years ago…”
Sixteen years had not changed Karjon much, although back then he had valued his privacy even more. Lathariel, Queen of the Woods, was the first visitor he’d had in over fifty years. Technically she was not a queen, but a lesser goddess, but she’d preferred that title over to the others she’d worn over the centuries. “Karjon, please. The world needs you. This threat-“
“This threat,” he responded gruffly, “is just another threat, Lathariel. There will always be another threat.”
“No, Karjon, this is different. They came from beyond the clouds, beyond the stars! They’re unnatural-“
“Gix was unnatural, and he was defeated.” Karjon heaved himself around to directly focus on the horned woman. “I’m tired, Lathariel. I’m tired and old, and will not live much longer, even by how my people reckon things. Find some prophesy that tells you who can defeat this threat, or gather a new Council of Twelve. But leave me be. Let me have my twilight years in peace.”
“Would you rather those years cut short, when Those From Above come to your cave?”
“If they come to my cave, I will destroy them. But they will not, Lathariel. I am safe here.”
“Karjon…the only thing we have found that works against their Sky Ships is dragonfire. Without you, we-“
“Have the younger drakes, whose fire burns hotter than me. Enough, Lathariel. I will not be swayed.”
Her eyes narrowed. “No, Karjon, I see you will not. Then enjoy your hole, old friend,” she’d put more venom into those last two words than existed in all the insects in her forest, “if I survive, perhaps I’ll visit again. Then again, I don’t think you’d care either way.”
And with that, she was gone.
“Why didn’t you help them, though? What are Those From Above?”
Karjon huffed. “I did not help them for that reason. I was too old, too tired. I am older and more tired now. And before you ask that next question,” he snapped as he saw her mouth open, “yes, Those from Above were victorious.”
“What happened to the people, then?”
“They are still out there, but Those From Above rule them now. And that ties into why you cannot go out…”
It was weeks later when he heard footsteps in the entrance to his passage. “Lathariel, I told you that you should not…return?”
The figure standing there was not Lathariel, but a human. One wearing the golden armor of the Royal Guard. “Oh Light and Shadow, a dragon lives in this cave,” the knight said weakly, clutching a bundle to his chest. “Please, great beast, I mean no harm. I am too weak to fight. If you must slay me, spare my charge.” Karjon sniffed the air and could smell blood under the armor, lots of it – this human would not live much longer.
The knight’s charge chose that exact moment to start crying. It was an infant, a human infant, and it was hungry.
“I will spare you and your charge. But why have you brought-“
“She is the princess, and the last of her line. I sought to hide her, but…” he shrugged slightly. “I fear I do not have much longer.”
“Hold on, I’m a princess? Tythel asked, unable to contain herself.
“Not just a princess, Tythel. The Princess. Last heir to the house of Armtine. Rightful ruler of these lands. And that, my daughter, is why you cannot leave this cave. Those From Above would fear you would start a rebellion, that you would rally resistance against them. They would kill you for what you are.” Karjon turned to look at her, locking his repitllian gaze with hers. “Do you understand now?”
She nodded after a moment, and her voice came out small and quiet. “Yes, father.”
“Good. Now rest. You are old enough where you can survive the Ritual. Tomorrow, you will become my half-daughter in blood as well as in spirit – but you will need your strength.” Karjon beamed at her, hoping the good news would alleviate her despondent frown.
It did some, and Karjon was well pleased. Which showed how little Karjon knew about humans, even after raising one for sixteen years.
He had no idea she was already planning to leave after the Ritual.