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Red Dragon Totem

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Writing as Akni Otria
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La Ultima Fortuna, Last Chance

Morning sunlight basked the upper-class residential area of Last Chance, casting a warm glow through the windows of the fine houses. Among one of these houses was owned by Akni Otria, occupied by herself and her blue-eyed lover and partner, Landon. "Nnn..." Waking up from her restful slumber after a night of sensual love. Akni's eyelids fluttered open, revealing a pair of fiery irises. She shifted her petite limbs, rustling the sheets as the redhead examined the still slumbering form of Landon, his iconic blue eyes still hidden to her. Well, she was often the one who woke up first, being an early riser. "Heh~" Looking at him now, it would be quite farfetched to think the young man used to be a cruel, callous, ruthless slave master and seeing them now, they had definitely left behind their shaky past. Her petite nude frame crawled on the bed, a finger brushing a stray midnight lock out of his forehead. The redhead bent down, pressing her lips against it. He could rest for a couple more moments.

"Aaah~" Stretching up, Akni picked up his shirt, crisply folded the other clothes discarded the night before. The girl wore it, her small frame was enough for the oversized shirt to cover everything from the shoulder to knee. "Right..." Stepping down from the bed, she figured she could make breakfast first. Exiting the master bedroom, she made her way down to the first floor where the kitchen was, thoughts brimming in her mind. They really had come far since then, huh? Well, Landon had left his slaver job behind and with the Dead disbanding, Akni no longer had ties with them as well. The two was free to carve their own paths from now on. Akni was an adventurer at heart so even though she wasn't currently affiliated with anyone at the moment, it would only be a matter of time until she found a job or two that'd satisfy her thrill-seeking self. Right now? Judging from the packed bags and supplies in the living room, it was quite apparent the couple was planning a trip.

---

When Landon woke up, the blue-eyed man would see his petite lover was no longer on the bed. Instead, the bedroom's door was opened and his trained senses could hear the telltale sounds of eggs being fried in a pan. Upon arriving at the kitchen, he'd see Akni's dainty frame, clad only in his shirt, fiery red locks cascading down her back, unbound by her signature clippers. She was currently humming a cheerful song, it wasn't hard to see why really, the girl was excited for their daring adventure into the hearts of The Velhatien Desert, where the Heat Flash phenomenon of Genesaris first originated. For someone who was so attuned to the flames, the fire dragon bearing the form of a petite human girl, she must visit the place at least once in her lifetime. Right now, however, they were going to have breakfast and... it looked like Akni hadn't noticed him yet.

Edited by Vatista

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Leaning against the kitchen doorway, Landon took a moment to merely watch Akni. Although quite a bit of time had passed since they had first met, and under some unfortunate circumstances indeed, he still found it hard to believe he was here. His former occupation never gave him the chance to even consider thriving in daylight, nor did it encourage love. Now, after burning some, he had a pleasant tan and stood dressed only in slacks, admiring his slight lover. Her crimson hair swayed back and forth with her movements and he smiled; aside from her fierce molten eyes, he liked her hair the best.

When he decided he’d had enough merely watching, he entered the kitchen with silent footsteps. Taking care not to disturb Akni or interrupt her in her task, he crept up behind her and took hold of her shoulders.

“I believe that’s my shirt, Akni.” He breathed against her neck and kissed her beneath one delicate cheekbone. “Hmm… but you do look good in black.”

He released her then and turned to face the living room, his bright blue eyes scanning over the arrangement of luggage and other traveling gear ready on the floor. He didn’t want to forget anything, especially not on this trip, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was forgetting something rather important. He wasn’t, of course, but the feeling plagued him still.

“Feh. I don’t know why you want to go to the desert,” he said. “Of all the places, you want to go to one of the least friendly environments in Genesaris?” He stretched as he walked over to the dining table, the scars over his body glistening, accentuating the lines in his lean figure. “Someday your addiction to adrenaline is going to get us both killed, dragon girl.” He sat down on a wooden chair, his eyes sparkling in spite of his words.

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Writing as Akni Otria
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"Ah?" Her little hum was pleasantly interrupted when she felt familiar warm hands holding her shoulders. A giggle escaped her small lips as steady breaths tickled her neck followed by a peck on her cheek, "I'm stealing it." The redhead smirked at her blue-eyed partner, "What are you going to do about it? Punish me?" She teased. While the implications might be quite dark considering their history together, Akni had come to terms with her traumatic experiences. It was all in the past, making light of it was actually better for her, besides, she liked him being rough. The draconian was someone who often took control of everything she did, her work, her life, it was in her nature as a mighty dragon to rule. It felt nice to be able to let go of that even if for a while. Of course, now they did everything by consent so all's well.

Soon enough, her simple yet well-cooked dish was done. Two plates of toast, bacon, and sunny side ups, a perfect meal for the power couple. Akni served them on the dining table as she sat across from Landon, immediately digging in. she was starving after their carnal shenanigans last night. Swallowing down a mouthful, the redhead looked at the assortment of luggage too before giving Landon a confident smirk, one of her signature expression. "Well, from what I've heard, the few nomads that live there literally worships fire." The redhead huffed, jutting out an index finger toward the ceiling, a puff of flame igniting just above it. "I have to visit there, maybe they'll see me as a goddess, hmm?" She chuckled, jesting around... or was she? "Especially when I show off my draconic heritage. Speaking about that, I heard a dragon lives there, maybe it's my ancestor, who knows? Whatever the case, we have to come!"

As she continued to enjoy her home-cooked meal, her orange eyes roamed over Landon's toned lean figure, the scars bearing his past. She paused for a moment, assuring herself that things would only get better from now on. They had lived through the past two years without much trouble and they got better every single day, they truly lived for themselves and not some Master or Architect. Gazing back into Landon's icy blue eyes, she smiled solemnly, "It is never in my blood to sit down idly, I wish to use the short time we have in the world to experience excitement, thrill. We had defied the hands of fate and declared 'up yours!'. You know that more than anyone, Landon." 

The redhead finished up then took her dishes to the sink, washed her hands, then stretched, "Alright, I'm going to take a bath and change, we'll depart in an hour or so." She went up to him on her tippy-toes then kissed his cheek, returning his gesture from earlier, "You can join me if you want~" 

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Landon raised an eyebrow as Akni challenged him over his stolen attire. “I should, but you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he smirked. The implications were not lost on him, but he too had come to accept his own past and experiences, however ugly they might have been. While he did not often jest about them like Akni often did, there was a new ease to his movements, less tension in his eyes, and an overall change in his behavior and mannerisms that spoke of freedom. His identity as Blue Eyes was a fast fading memory, and though it would always be a part of him, it was a part that no longer chained him down.

He sighed as breakfast was served, the aromas stirring his appetite. He was ravenous, especially after a particularly active last night. He started with the eggs first, carving out a neat portion with his fork before placing it in his mouth. He’d always been a neat eater. He looked back and forth from his meal to to Akni as she spoke, her words growing in enthusiasm and conviction with every passing second. There was obviously no talking her out of this particular adventure. He rolled his eyes. A goddess? That could only end badly. Probably with their heads on wooden stakes.

Her excited smile was suddenly solemn, and he looked up from his quickly vanishing meal, finding himself staring into those fiery eyes and hearing wise, if rather crudely stated, words.

Hmmf,” was his only response. He didn’t voice his own beliefs, which were far grimmer than hers. His time was short, surely – but she bore the blood of a dragon. How much time she had surely was longer than any human’s. He would likely be long in the grave before she ever followed him. He frowned, but that was the only sign of his thoughts. Whatever. What happened, happened, and he would not worry about it for now.

He finished eating quickly, his plates stacking over hers within seconds. “I think we can both use a bath,” he said dryly. “You weren’t very passive last night.”

He turned and made his way upstairs, to the washroom, and started the water scalding hot, undressing and fetching new, fresh clothes as the tub filled. Black clothes. He never wore any other color but his mourning black… but now…

“Maybe, if we get out of there alive, we can do some clothes shopping.” He turned and grabbed his lover by the waist, lifting her up easily and setting her in the steaming water. He didn’t have to worry about burns; she was a dragon, and for him the heat made him feel relaxed and clean. “Wash up, goddess, or those nomads will see you as the disgusting mess you are.”

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Writing as Akni Otria 
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"Heh, I'll take that as a compliment." The redhead winked at the raven-haired man as she followed Landon to the bathroom. Akni unbuttoned then whisked off his 'mourning black' shirt, tossing it into the dirty clothes bin. With her form bare, she approached the flowing bathtub, waiting rather impatiently as the water gradually filled up. Judging from the steams, it seemed Landon had set the temperature quite high, something that'd be considered scalding hot to the average person. Of course, it was nothing for the draconian. Still... "I appreciate the gesture, Landon, but isn't it a little too hot for you?" She smirked although the telltale signs of genuine concern were there. He was strong, sure, able to shrug off pain where others would already be crippled by agony. However, they were supposed to enjoy the bath, she imagined having hot water boiling your skin wasn't pleasing in the least.

Akni's smirk died off as his hands brushed against her slightly tanned skin, holding her waist as he put her down in the tub. She was just about to raise a finger when he joined her. The hot water didn't bother him at all. Right, he knew what he was doing, she was worrying too much. "Heh... that we will, you need some color in your dreary fashion sense." Chuckling lightly, Akni settled herself into the wide bathtub, petite form nestled perfectly between Landon's legs. With a satisfied hum, she leaned her back against his toned chest, her long crimson locks brushing his skin. "And whose fault is that hmm?" She looked over her shoulder, a toothy grin on her features, "I should enact divine judgment upon you for this blasphemy against the dragon goddess." 

---

Having enjoyed breakfast and bath, the couple finished prepping up for the journey as they loaded their luggage on the Jeep, including Akni's equipment. Notable among them were her Caster Gun, Enforcer Armor, and some leftover Dead supplies. She might not be working with them anymore but who said she couldn't use what she earned? Oh, there was also her Exalta spellcycle, folded in compact form for easier transport of course. With everything accounted for, Akni hopped into the passenger seat, letting Landon drive for the moment. Why? Well~ she went out more often than he was so... she figured he could have some of the fun. It's totally not because she was too short to reach the pedals, nope, nuh uh. 

"Hmmm..." Examining the holographic map projected from her personal device, Akni planned their route and sent some messages to her contacts, right, should be good. "Alright, we're good to go, let's go, Landon!" 

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“Divine judgement?” Landon smiled, his eyes gleaming in the light. “I think you’re forgetting who the master of punishment is around here, Akni.” It was a dark joke and a most assuredly inappropriate one, but the fact that he even dared to jest spoke leagues on his improvement. It wasn’t just the body that needed to heal but the mind as well. Landon’s time as Blue Eyes was a long one, but was blessedly over now. He considered this odd change of fate as he ran his fingers through Akni’s thick hair before gently forcing her head down to thoroughly dampen those scarlet strands.

Landon expected some kind of strange artisan shampoo, maybe something that boasted about embers and smoked berries, but had found during his stay that Akni appeared to favor washes that bragged about ripe peaches and similar blossoms. He carefully and gently rubbed the wash into her hair and lathered it into a thick, frothy foam before moving to scrub the rest of her body with certain luxury soaps. When she was done and rinsed, he cleaned himself. He was a little red when he finally got out of the tub, but he’d never felt more refreshed.

Akni had plenty of tools and supplies, but Landon’s necessities were noticeably scant. He preferred little armor, donning only a padded leather vest for protection. His weapons was but one; a leather whip with an nine-foot tail. Its handle was carved into the shape of a rose, colored crimson and emerald green with the lash being its pliant root. At the end, a queer crescent blade had been attached, so that anything it struck was left also with a considerably serous laceration.

Landon had two such blades; the second was enchanted with fire magic, but they were headed to the desert, and he only carried both because he thought might need fire magic for… cauterizing wounds, just in case. Otherwise, flames might only further empower the threats that he felt fairly certain would try to kill them both.

“Let’s go, Landon!”

“I’m not speeding,” he muttered.

~

For all its desolate loneliness and overwhelming heat, the Velhatien desert was also a landscape of breathtaking beauty and awe. Sands in shades of gold and burnished bronze spread out in a vibrant canvas beneath the horizon. Here and there was the sparkle of rough, sandy glass, wrought by the shattering heat of the rare lightning storms that sometimes wreathed the desert skies of Genesaris. The massive bleached skeletons of strange serpentine beasts, ancient and long extinct, lay coiled over and across the golden dunes, their giant eyeholes staring blankly out at their chosen graveyard.

Landon leaned against the side of the Jeep, glaring out at the desert whose edge they had just barely breached. “Well, there you go,” he finally said. The closest they had been able to get, even with Akni’s contacts, had been quite far away. The drive had been long and dreary, and it made him nervous presented forged documents legalizing their foreign vehicle to suspicious Genesaris officials. They had made it however, and gods, it was hot.

“There’s supposed to be oases out there,” Landon said. “So be on a lookout for those as we’ll probably need to camp in one. And… well, I guess there are supposed to be various creatures out here who are less than friendly to visitors, but let’s just hope we don’t run into whatever killed the owners of those bones.”

Landon bend down and lifted a tawny shard of something thin, fragile, and irregularly forked from the sand. “Look. Petrified lightning, also called fulgurite. They would sell this in the Enclave, remember? This is where it came from.”

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Writing as Akni Otria 
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"Hmm~" The redhead closed her eyes, surrendering the ministrations of her hair to Landon. A sigh escaped her lips as his firm fingers massaged her head, covering her fiery locks in her favorite peach shampoo. Well, Akni might appear all boisterous and spunky. Tomboyish enough to pass off as a boy with the right hairstyle and clothes. However, behind all that was still a girl who loved to be pampered. It made sense really, considering dragons were prideful beings who loved being served. Once her hair was done, Akni was about to huff, "Ahn?!" but a slightly surprised moan escaped her lips instead. Her red eyes winced as a jolt of pleasure traveled up her spine from her chest.

"Heh..." She smirked, "Couldn't hold yourself, huh?" teasing the blue-eyed man who had his hands all over her. An act that'd earn any other person a literal flaming fist to the face. "It's fine..." Letting him do as he will... while her small hands trailed beneath the water surface, reaching for a certain part of him. She found it quickly enough then grasp it firmly, "Payback~" Now let's see who would win the 'battle'.

---

After the lengthy journey, the pair arrived at the Velhatien Desert. Both famous and infamous, the Desert was where the Heat Flash phenomena first took place. At the center of it all was the Fire Plains where the God of Fire Elemental, Infernalis, attained physical form. The plain would definitely be the climax of their trip. For now, Akni basked in the golden landscape of Velhatien. She stood up on the jeep, extending her arms to her sides. "Fuh..." Sighing, the redhead enjoyed the desert heat brushing against her skin. The howling winds told stories of this ancient region. The fossilized beasts as silent witnesses to the enduring nature of the sands.

Akni's fiery irises reflected the desert's harsh beauty as she observed the horizon. She felt at home here, the draconic blood inside her embracing the heat. Maybe she could live here... ahaha, nah, Landon wouldn't like it and besides, getting anywhere would be difficult and resources scarce. Even though she was immune to the heat, Akni still needed to eat and drink after all. "Right, we should go into one of those oases first then." The redhead replied, descending back down as she examined the map beside Landon. "Heh... whatever comes our way will feel the claw of a dragon! ...and your whip~" She winked. Whether out of bravery or arrogance, one thing for sure, Akni was confident in their abilities. Her suit-armor, caster gun, and most of all, draconic talents were ready.

The redhead went to the jeep's rear to unpack her shiny red Exalta Spellcycle when the blue-eyed man called her. "Yes?" Perking up, she focused on the curious object held in his hand. "Oh..." Fulgurite, she knew those from her time in the Slaver's Enclave. "Yeah..." Akni went silent for a moment, past memories surfacing to the forefront of her mind. The collar, shackles, humiliation, torture, rape... how she broke under everything. The dragon tamed and leashed as Blue Eyes' pet...

"Nnn..." Shaking her head to push those painful images away, Akni nodded at him, "I see~ well, keep it, who knew it'd be useful." As she said so, the Spellcycle finished unpacking. The petite redhead mounted the two-wheeled vehicle, custom designed to accommodate her small stature. She wore the visor and activated the engine, Exalta technology humming with a low rumble. Finally, the wheels adapted themselves to the desert terrain, she was ready to soar. "Alright!" Akni gleefully grasped the handles, her signature smirk on her face, "Let's go!" 

 

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Far from oblivious, Landon noticed the faraway look in Akni’s eyes and the instance of silence. He knew what she was remembering, and he too recalled his time as Blue Eyes, the cruel and brutal trainer of the Slaver’s Enclave. The monster who loved to bring pain on others. Landon let her have a moment while he tossed the fulgurite into the now empty passenger seat and checked their supplies.

“Let’s go!”

Landon looked up into the rearview window, seeing a horsed guard standing a distance away, shaking his head at the two fools who dared enter the violent terrain of the desert. In spite of himself Landon grinned as he slammed the gas pedal. The jeep roared as it took off, veering into the desolate landscape, following Akni’s Spellcycle.

The going was surprisingly easy, at least for the moment. The sand dunes were light and not too steep, with smooth sand devoid of rocks and other things that usually made for a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. For a while they did not see anything of interest. There was only them and the smoldering, growing heat of the desert and the light, hot wind that rolled over the ground.

That was exactly why Landon was worried. Even lands like Velhatien should have life, not this eerie silence. He looked around as he drove, trying to catch signs of anything living. That’s when he saw it.

“Akni! Stop!” The jeep rolled to a halt. Landon opened the car door and slid out, pressing through the sand.

Dark crimson spots lay soaking into the golden surface of the desert, erratic and fresh. Blood. Yet there was no body. Landon circled the spots for a moment, his sharp eyes landing on the odd, fading tracks, deep trenches clawed into the ground by something unseen. The prints, Landon noticed, did not follow the regular pattern of footsteps a man or animal might make.

He was bending down to touch one of the blood spots when the sound came.

KSH KSH KSH

KSSH KSSSSH KSSSSSSSH

With a sound like that of rusted gears and old machinery, the sound came from beyond a hill, muddled by heat waves and the blinding sun, headed, it seemed, for them.

Landon unleashed his whip. “Can’t be…”

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Writing as Akni Otria 
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Dashing through the sand, one an Exalta spellcycle, Over the dunes she went, grinning all the way. Fire plains, fire plains, sandy all the way!

The redhead couldn't help to enjoy herself, taking in the beautiful golden sea of sand. She could go all out here, not caring for any speed limits, much like riding through an open grassland. Any obstacles large enough to stop her tracks would be so few and far between, she'd have more than enough time to adjust her course. The dried bones of a once majestic beast passed by her right side, prompting her to wonder if there were any of them still alive or were they extinct? Judging from the stories regarding a dragon living here... there should be at least one remaining beast. 

"Eh?!" Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted when Landon called out to her via their intercom. Braking the spellcycle to a halt, she made a U-turn, going over to Landon and the jeep. "Huh..." The draconian girl immediately saw what was amiss, the splotches of crimson among gold were obvious enough. Even if it wasn't, her keen nose could smell the distinct iron scent of blood. However, no corpse was around... so assuming this was the work of a predator, then it must have carried off its prey. Oh right, was the aforementioned predator still around then? 

"Heh... and here I am, thinking when we would see something exciting!" Whatever thing made those strange tracks and clanking sounds, Akni was eager to find out. "Relax, Landon~" Quipping in her signature (over) confident smirk, Akni drew her Caster Gun - already primed with a potent fireball spell - then twirled it a few times, her other hand roared the spellcycle's engine. "Let's hunt this thing!" She was ready, come and get some!

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Still obscured by heat waves and distance, the odd mix of grinding and hissing grew ever louder. But even as that unpleasant noise increased, other sounds could be heard as well. There was an odd splashing, as if this unseen foe was wading through stagnant water. There was a deep thud, slow and even, like the footfalls of some heavy beast. There was sloshing, like the tide against a muddy shore. And as its distorted, twisted shape steadied and the heat mirages merged into one, there was one more sound, horrid and terrifying. A high, inhuman cry, between a groan and moan, as if something or someone were dying and begging for that inevitable death.

The sun seemed to flash, and it was then that Landon saw what he feared and Akni would see a creature beyond the realm of nightmares.

D4kktL8.jpg

Propelled by twisted distortions of eight human arms, it was an unholy fusion of flesh and machinery, as large as the jeep Landon had driven here. Small gears, wheels and levers could be seen, making up a vaguely cube-shaped apparatus of unknown functions. Dangling tendons, flesh, and intestines mingled with it, and heart, from which that odd thud came, lay on its wooden rectangular base, attached to it by a long fleshy cord that disappeared into a crevasse within the machine. Crucified atop was some kind of creature, and it moaned again, its contorted head twitching and twisting this way and that.

It left bloodprints and smears behind it as it moved. It paused, as if considering, and then began moving closer to Akni and Landon at a faster pace. Though it seemed to have no eyes or ears, it knew they were there.

Living in Terrenus, Akni would never have heard of such a monster. Landon backed up  close to her as the thing lumbered closer, stumbling and sliding down the dune that separated monster and would-be victims. Unsteady though it appeared, it never faltered once or seemed impeded by its own weight or ungainly size and dimensions.

Landon was breathing hard, his face a combination of wariness and instinctive hate for something so unnatural. “Ugly, isn’t it? It’s called a Sangeus by some, a Bloodgear by others, a Desert Heart by someone else. I thought the things were only stories, but I see I was wrong.”

The things stopped a few yards ahead. The skin, flesh, and muscles pulsed, and the revolting heart beat harder and faster. It howled, an ear-piercing screech that came from no mouth.

There was really only one way to deal with these kinds of things.

“Akni, kill it with fire.”

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Miraculously, the duo managed to defeat the bio-mechanical abomination, but not without a great cost. Their vehicles were totaled, Landon was wounded, and worst, Akni was literally dying and catatonic. It fell upon the blue-eyed man to salvage their lives. He took his redheaded lover upon his shoulders then began a desperate trek through the Velhatien Desert. No more jeep and out of supplies, he had his work cut out for him.

Upon his last legs, Landon managed to seek out the help of a local tribe, led by Chieftain Zelaros. As it turned out, this tribe literally revered dragons. A convenient fact for Akni - who has recovered by now - to display her draconic heritage in a show of fire and flame. She managed to impress the chieftain and the tribe. In exchange for her dragonfire, they gave the adventurer pair two strong horses and supplies for the journey ahead.

Bidding their farewells the next morn, Landon and Akni finally reached a ruined city, known to be the location where Genesaris' Heatwave incident first began. The latter persuaded a fire elemental named 'Aslashar' to serve as their guide. The peppy and cocky 'Mighty' Aslashar led the couple deeper and deeper into the ruins, until they ventured inside a temple still strangely left quite intact...


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The couple, led by their fiery guide, ventured deeper into ruins. Now within the interior proper, the awe-inspiring architecture could be observed. It wasn’t just all broken glass after all. No random tribe could’ve made something as grand as these. These runes and glyphs were the works of craftsmen from a deeply cultured civilization.


Finally, they entered one of the few buildings still standing within the dilapidated city. It seemed it was a temple of some sort. Now Akni was curious just what kind of god or gods these people worshipped. Aslashar led them to the northernmost wall, where fire elementals were congregating around a picture of...

”Arkanist...?” Akni blinked, murmuring to herself in quiet disbelief. The traumatic memories of being possessed by the dragon tyrant briefly flashed in her mind once more, like a slideshow of the past. Knowing the terrible dragon had - at its very core - her own personality, only twisted by greed and pride, was disconcerting. 

But no... the dragon wasn’t her, it couldn’t be. Steeling herself, Akni approached the giant mural, standing amidst the elementals. ”Mighty Aslashar, who is depicted in this picture?”
 

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Unable to handle the heat, Landon stayed well away from the crowd of Fire Elementals gathered before the massive depiction of the dragon. Yet even as he watched Akni warily, he could feel the strange power of the raised carving, the way it radiated a certain energy that differed from anything he felt before. He knew himself to be sensitive to magic in ways others were not, but he felt that even if he wasn’t he would still feel the magic of this image.

Mighty Aslashar bobbed over the Akni. “Mighty Aslashar show,” it said, its voice quieter. “Touch dragon?” it requested. “Mighty like Aslashar, magic hides things,” it explained. 

The moment Akni touched the picture, the room exploded in crimson light. Blinding at first, the light filled the temple, drowning out sight and sound before melting away. Like water it drained out, and when it was gone Akni would see she appeared no longer to be in the temple, but flying high above the desert. A desert filled with mortared buildings and temples, towers and forts whole and complete. People wandered streets made of red brick, dressed in light desert robes meant to guard from the harmful rays of the overpowering sun. It appeared what Aki had surmised – that the desert city was once a place of culture and civilization – was true. 

A shadow that blocked the sun for several seconds. Suddenly, a dragon landed among the city buildings, crashing down amidst screaming people and collapsing stone. A thing of hard red scales and crimson horns, it opened its mouth and fire crashed out from its maw, engulfing the city in flame.

As Akni was forced to watch the destruction, she would recognize something about the dragon. It was not Arkanist, but it looked very much alike.

The city was crushed in a matter of minutes, and the dragon was flying above the ruins, roaring its victory the vision shattered like glass, returning Akni to the present, inside the temple, unharmed. Landon, drenched in sweat, was in front of her, shaking her by the shoulders.

“What happened? You… you… turned all red!”

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The fiery redhead raised an eyebrow to their literally fiery guide. Touch it? What would she achieve by touching the mural? Why couldn’t the elemental just tell her verbally? Aslashar clearly could speak, despite the broken grammar and whatnot. However, Akni would be lying if she wasn’t the least bit curious. Her adventurous nature provided the final push for her to step in and place a palm against the image.

“...?!” Her amber eyes widened as her vision was immediately filled with crimson. The petite girl could see nothing, everything was filled in the reddish light. She gritted her teeth, trying really hard to push down the thought that she was duped by Aslashar. If it was indeed the case, that little talking torch would pay dearly.

Fortunately, the light soon dissipated. However, relief quickly turned to bewilderment as she found herself situated high above a desert settlement. Not a small tribal camp like Zelaros’ tribe, this one was a sprawling metropolis with huge bazaars filled with busy citizens. 

Akni was so taken aback by the sudden change in scenery, she forgot that she was flying in her wingless human form. A fact she certainly wouldn’t realize anytime soon as a massive adult red dragon descended upon the city, landing without regard to anything below. Those unlucky enough to be directly under its gigantic feet were instantly squashed. If that wasn’t enough, the dragon’s hostile intent was made painfully obvious the moment it launched a huge cone of inferno, torching buildings and humans alike.

Akni blinked, part amazed, part horrified, and lastly, part shell-shocked as the traumatic memories of Arkanist returned. It was a different time and place, but she had done something like this, slaughtering whole villages in bouts of rage. She would have called this dragon a monster, but she couldn’t... for she was no better...

”What happened? You... you... turned all red!”

“Nghaaa-...?!” Landon’s frantic voice brought her back to reality. So, it was a vision. Judging by the scenery they saw, it was most likely a vision of the past. How long ago? She couldn’t tell. This distraught her, she had thought the city was destroyed by the Heatwave catastrophe, not by a red dragon.

”I...” Before she could properly muster her words, a certain ‘mighty’ elemental drifted close.

“Mighty Aslashar tell,” the fire elemental piped. “Dragon call itself Arkanalandis.” Aslashar suddenly bobbed closer to her. “Aslashar think,” it said after a pause, “smell like him. Father, maybe?”

Akni hung her head. That dragon’s name, his appearance, and the way he roared. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Aslashar was spot-on in his guess. “I saw what happened to this city, Landon,” Akni pursed her lips, trembling a bit in shock, “A red dragon destroyed it... and... I’m afraid this “Arkanalandis’ is indeed my ancestor.”

The girl then slowly raised her gaze, narrowing her brows at the fire elemental, “Take me to him. He must answer for what happened here.” Was the vision true or not? She must know, she must get to the bottom of this.

 

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“You want to go to the… dragon?” Landon wiped a hand across his brow. He backed away from the mural, away from the overpowering heat. The space he left was immediately taken by more fire elementals, murmuring in unintelligible voices. “You’ve got to be mad,” Landon sighed. “But we already knew that, I guess.”

Aslashar bobbed around Akni. “Girl know Arkanalandis?” it inquired. “Arkanalandis friend, maybe? Yes! Yes! Arakanalandis be happy with Mighty Aslashar if Mighty Aslashar bring him friend! Smart, smart Aslashar! Come, come!” it piped as it whirled away.

Speaking praises of itself the entire way, Aslashar led them outside the temple, and it appeared a considerable amount of time had passed. The sun was already touching the horizon, with pink and gold streaks passing across the sky with the onset of dusk. It temperature had cooled, and Landon sighed with relief. He wasn’t sure he could stand another day in the heat.

Aslashar led them deep into the city, past rubbles of buildings and other temples. Many of these collapsed structures had odd, glowing carvings on them; many displayed strange creatures and murals of men and people praising them. As they delved deeper into the ruins, Aslashar grew quieter, until it fell completely silent.  

The stars were beginning to creep into view when Aslashar stopped before a massive hole, ten feet wide, leading deep into the earth. It bounced around the hole a few times, then, with power all out of proportion to its size, blasted a burst of flame into the hole. Immediately torches lit up, showing the hole had steps leading into the bowels of the earth.

“Ooooh, Aslashar gooooood! Follow, follow!” it squeaked.

“I’ll go first,” Landon said sharply.

The going was relatevely easy; the steps led into a broadly angled, slow descent. But as they walked, the cool smell of earth and night air became one that reeked oddly of burnt metal and smoking coals.

Then Landon stopped. “Do you… do you hear that?”

It was a slow, rhythmic sigh, in and out. Air rustled their hair.

Breathing.

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