Waking up was a slow process, and Tythel had to drag herself out of it piece by piece. She’d been having a nightmare, one where the village was being shot by pirate ships in the sky. They’d been begging her for help, but Karjon had been shrunk down to the size of a whelp and she’d been hugging him to her chest to keep him safe.
Let’s…not try and dig into the metaphor there, okay? she told herself as she climbed out of her nest of pillows and blankets. She could hear Karjon already awake, moving through his pile of gold. She dressed hastily in some of the silk garments that were part of Karjon’s treasure that she’d inherited.
“Good morning, father,” she said as she entered the main entrance room. As she did, as always, she needed a moment for her eyes to adjust to the extra light that was being reflected off of the gold and silver and other precious gems. One it was adjusted, she reached into the pile and fished out a necklace and bracelet to wear, as well as a pair of earrings.
Being raised by a dragon did give one an appreciation for the aesthetics of lustrous adornments.
“Good morning, daughter. Did you sleep well?”
Tythel stifled a yawn. “Well enough, I think.” They were both being so formal with each other, and Tythel hated it. But today was a formal day, so she put it down to that. It definitely wasn’t some kind of developing gulf between them that was forming from the revelation that Karjon had been keeping from her a deep secret that was intimately connected to a fundamental truth of herself that was rapidly redefining the way she saw herself.
Breakfast was bison roasted in dragonflame. As always, Karjon let her eat her fill, then devoured the rest in a matter of seconds. As he did, Tythel frowned. “I don’t’ understand – if Those from Above are so dangerous, why can you go out and safely hunt?”
Karjon finished crushing down the last leg of the animal before answering. “On the other side of the mountain is a valley that, when I first came here, I placed under a powerful illusion. Only dragons can see what is truly in there from above – I imagine after the Ritual, you’ll be able to see it as well. A herd of bison make their home there, as do the wild chickens I bring back sometimes.”
“Oh. Can I go see it after the Ritual?”
Karjon chuckled. “If you feel up to it. Shall we begin?”
Dragon magic was very different from the magic humans employed. A human doing magic, needed implements – their staves, their wands, their words, and their sigils – to focus their will into something that could influence reality. A dragon’s body was a thing partially of magic, however. They were their own implements, and needed no such foci to channel the raw energies of creation. They only needed their knowledge and their will.
Which meant that, in spite of its name, the Ritual was a fairly plain affair. No fancy runes were needed upon the ground, no ceremonial vestments, no chanting. All it required was a subject, Tythel, and a donor, Karjon.
She did change clothes however before the ritual. She liked what she was wearing, and whatever she wore for this would probably be ruined beyond repair. She changed into her least favorite clothes and joined Karjon atop the mountain.
There was a storm overhead, and cold wind whipped through the threadbare wool she wore. There always a storm when they went to the mountain, and for the first time Tythel suspected that Karjon was summoning it to shelter them from the prying eyes of Those From Above. The more she thought about it, the more things started to make sense in that context. I’ll have to ask him about it.
But not right now. Now they were at the summit, and it was time to begin. She knelt down before Karjon, looking up at him, and he gazed down at her.
“Are you ready, my child?” he asked, his voice both firm and kind.
“Aye, I am prepared.” In spite of the cold, a warmth filled her. The beginning of the spellwork.
“Once this is done, it cannot be undone. You will forever be part human, and part dragon. Are you certain you want this?”
Tythel smiled up at him. “Father. You have raised me from the days before my earliest memory, and all that I am save my form I owe to you. I want nothing more than this, to be your daughter in blood as firmly as I already am in truth.”
Dragons couldn’t cry, not the way humans did. Their eyes didn’t leak water when they felt an emotion that would bring a human to tears. But that did not mean they did not feel emotions that strongly, and long ago Tythel had learned that when Karjon’s nictitating membranes fluttered, that was his version of weeping. “Then,” he said, his voice cracking with pride, “let it be done!”
He opened his mouth wide and let loose a torrent of flame.
Dragons breathing fire was probably their best known attribute, something as distinctive as their size and scales and wings. Without it, a dragon would be little more than a large and clever lizard. Few people knew, however, that dragon flame comes in multiple varieties. There was physical flame, which burned stone and steel and flesh. There was ghostfire, which left objects untouched but could sear the very soul of any living being it touched. And then there was Heartfire. Dragons rarely used Heartfire, because it cost the dragon a great deal – a portion of their very soul went into it, and it burned their blood as fuel.
Heartfire was the flame of the forge, the flame of the stove, the flame of the surgeon. Heartfire did not damage what it burned, it cleansed them of impurities and remade them. A dragon could, if it so wished, breathe Heartfire on a human and clear away any injuries and diseases. It could breathe upon a lump of iron and not just turn it into Drakesteel, but also have it be formed perfectly into weapons or armor or whatever the dragon wished when the flames died down.
And it could breathe upon a young woman who was its daughter in spirit, and remake her into its daughter in body as well.
Tythel screamed, but it wasn’t in pain, nor was in in ecstasy. For the rest of her life, she’d never be able to quite put it to words. The only phrase that could even begin to make sense was screaming in wonder, and everyone she would ever say it to would only be able to scratch their heads in confusion. Yet, it was exactly what she felt in that moment – wonder so overwhelming, she had to scream.
The Heartfire faded, and with it the sensation. She collapsed forward to her arms, which were shaking with an exhaustion her mind did not feel.
Everything was brighter. The snow that was atop the mountain was clearer, and she almost imagined she could see individual flakes. Then the realization crept up on her that she wasn’t imagining it, she really was seeing the flakes, and she started laughing in amazement. Tears began to well in her eyes, and a film began to flit across her vision as she did – she had eye membranes of her own, it seemed. Her hands still looked like her hands, even to her enhanced vision, but when she held them closer she could see the little lines that the back of a normal hand had were now regularly shaped. Tiny, near invisible scales.
That made her laugh as well. “Oh by Light and Shadow and all the little gods, it’s beautiful!”
She looked up at her father, and although dragons could not smile the way a human did, she knew him well and could see the joy in every line of his face. Sound was flooding in as well. She could hear the gentle ring of snowflakes on the mountain, she could hear the deep and rumbling beat of Karjon’s heart, she could hear the beatings of the wings of a nearby flock of birds, and she could hear the deep sound of metal grating on metal coming from the clouds.
That last sound cut through the joy like a dagger through the heart. “Karjon, do you hear that? There’s metal in the sky.”
Although Tythel was new to her enhanced senses, she was young and her hearing was far better than that of Karjon. He hadn’t heard it until she pointed it out, and even then it was only the faintest sound at the edge of his senses.
This meant that they were both still processing the sound when the ship breached the cloud like a shark cresting above the waves, a vessel three times Karjon’s size and armed with tentacles twice as long as the vessel that were tipped in green crystals humming with aberrant energies.
Those From Above had found them.