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Vatista

Red Dragon Totem

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Landon’s worries weren’t surprising but nevertheless welcomed, prompting a confident smile from Akni, albeit a small one. ”Maybe, but I could literally turn into one, so... it’ll be just like encountering a kin if you think about it.” She had dragon blood in her veins, that fact alone should make her endeavor less ‘crazy’. ”I’d never find answers without taking risks.” She added.

The redhead chuckled at the excited bobbings of Aslashar and hushed whispers of the other elementals. ”Let’s find out about that, shall we?” She gestured for the living flame to lead the way before closely following behind it. 

When the trio emerged from the ancient temple, Akni’s amber eyes reflected the dusk sky. The orange tint combined beautifully with Velhatien’s golden sands. Like many other deserts, the gap in temperature was quite wide between day and night. Even now, Akni could feel the heat steadily dipping. 

However, stargazing would have to come later, they had more pressing matters. The dragon girl kept a watchful eye of their surroundings as the party ventured even deeper. Unlike the temple, most of the other buildings were damaged beyond repair. Collapsed doorways, pillars, and even floors made them positively uninhabitable. 

At last, they arrived at the edge of a gaping hole. It was extremely wide... wide enough to fit an adult dragon. Her instincts told her that they were getting close. When the fiery guide literally lit up said hole, it was revealed that the thing could be man-made, judging by the carved steps lining its walls. 

Akni was about to take the first step - Aslashar was floating so it didn’t count - but stopped when Landon suddenly took the initiative. How odd, she thought he’d not even eager to enter, let alone leading the way. Still, the petite girl shrugged in slight amusement and let him do as he willed. 

Deeper and deeper, the spelunkers made the shift from desert to subterranean tunnels. Then, a low rumble vibrated along the walls. “Yeah, it almost sounds like...” Akni pondered, remembering she had heard such sounds before. Sounds she made as Arkanist. “A dragon’s breaths...” That was all it took for Akni to grin wide. “Still want to lead or shall I?” 

Depending on her lover’s answer, she’d either continue what she’s doing or take the frontmost position.

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Truth be told, Landon was less than enthusiastic about continuing their insane quest. In fact, as the sounds of breathing grew steadily louder, echoing across the underground walls, he thought the idea of turning around and going back a mighty fine idea. He was tempted to let Akni lead the way… after all, this had been her idea.

But there was another side of Landon that Akni rarely saw. Not Blue Eyes, but another part; Landon was a man with protective instincts, and he though eh hardly admitted it to himself, he didn’t want Akni to think he was afraid. He shot her a glare as he took another step down the tunnel, muttering that’s she’d better keep up or he’d leave her behind.

The tunnel curved deeper in the earth, until suddenly, after what seemed like hours of arduous steps that became narrow and easy to miss, it stopped. Landon halted abruptly, for there was only the torchlight to see by, and it barely touched the edge of the sharp cliff the tunnel ended at. He held out an arm to stop Akni from bumping into him, looking down into the dark chasm below. There seemed to be what looked like a hill, or jagged mountain, rising up in the middle. Landon’s brows furrowed in nervous suspicioun, then realized the mountain was moving. Moving in time with the breathing, which by now was a great, vicious rumble.

Aslashar circled around them for a moment, uncharacteristically silent. Then, “Master? Master? Wakey, wakey!” It squeaked, its voice growing louder.

The mountain shifted. Suddenly an arc of diamond scales rose in front of Landon and Akni, glittering in the dim light. Razor-edged spikes lined the top of the arc that descended sharply to join with the rest of the great mass lying in the chasm that seemed to shrink as the mountain grew, uncurling.

Suddenly, a blast of light flashed across Landon and Akni as a crack opened within the arc. It was gold and red and amber, a fluorescent, furious light centered around a dark slit.

It was an eye.

Araknist’s eye had been no small thing. About the size of a man’s hand. This one was… slightly bigger.

About the size of a dinner platter. Apparently, the spiked arc was merely one brow.

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Well, would you look at that? It seemed she had struck a nerve. Considering the circumstances, anyone in their right mind would see that Akni was the much better choice to lead. The fact that Landon insisted on being at the front gave the impression of a man whose pride was on the line. Maybe that was precisely the reason, he didn’t want to appear weak. Between a dragonkin and a fire elemental, he was the least qualified person here but he was determined to not let that get the best of him.

”Commendable~” Akni mentally mused. Still, if things got too dangerous, she wouldn’t hesitate to call him out on it. 

Deeper and deeper they went, with each milestone marked by the increasingly louder rumblings. She was positive at this point that a dragon’s nest was at the end of the tunnel. Her draconic eyes adjusted to the low light, focusing on the jagged ‘hill’ before them. 

This wasn’t a hill. Hills don’t breathe.

Finally, Aslashar’s Master revealed himself. Uncurling into the adult male dragon, apparently larger than even Arkanist. Having experienced the shoes of being a literal dragon, Akni wasn’t intimidated, though she recognized the being’s massive power. The redheaded girl took the initiative as she stepped in front of Landon.

”Greetings, Mighty Arkanalandis.” She bowed a bit, then... “Are you my ancestor?” went straight to the point. 

Well, she wanted to ask about the vision of him destroying this desert city too, but... that was second on her list.

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Intense and nearly blinding, the glaring light of the eye blinked lazily. A thin, translucent film peeled away from the iris as the eye rose above Akni and Landon. Enormous jaws opened then, unnervingly right in front of the pair, revealing massive, serrated teeth the size of swords. They glistened in the faint light of the great cavern, parting to let loose a bellowing of smoke. The smell of burning flesh and molten rock filled the cave as the Elder Dragon spoke.

Aaaah... Mighty Aslashar. What is it thou hast brought me? The voice was surprisingly sweet, smooth and cajoling.

The head of the dragon turned until both glowing eyes focused on Akni and her lover. A forked tongue emerged form between the rows of teeth and sowly crept forward, brushing against Landon from throat waist to throat. It was a gentle touch, yet it knocked him back a few feet.

Hmmmmm.” The tongue then slid over Akni, twice in quick succession. “Arkanalandis…? The name thou speaketh I have not heard in a long time.”

The jaws opened wide in a yawn, and more smoke issued forth. Landon coughed and winced from the heat. A powerful, red furnace could be seen as the dragon yawned, burning deep in its throat. Its eyes, however, never closed, fixed steadily on Akni, though the look in the dragon’s eyes signified nothing more than indifference.

“Mmmm. Such a tiny thing,” the dragon remarked dryly. “Thou couldst never claim me as thou ancestor. You… on the other hand…” the dragon’s irises turned to take in Landon. “Thou doth look delectable. Hast the tiny one brought me a sacrifice in return for knowledge and wisdom? I doth confess… I am not hungry, but I will eat.”

The jaws drifted closer to Landon, opening wide in a guttural snarl.

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Everything about the dragon brought about painful memories to the redhead, those of her Arkanist persona. His amber glowing eyes, his massive fangs, his gigantic scales. He was all but the dragon except male and slightly bigger. Still, if there was a merit to it, this made her used to dealing with one. 

However, his personality seemed to differ. This legendary creature was referring to the tiny fire elemental by a painfully ironic moniker, especially coming from someone like himself. Unless, he did use it ironically. 

She kept eye contact up until his tongue went over to lick Landon. The redhead whipped her head to check if he’s okay. Oh, he’d be alright... but pissed? Most likely. Next, it was her turn to be literally tasted. ”Hey...! Gah...!” Damn it, how was she going to wash all these?!

Her fashion concern was immediately snuffed out when the dragon’s words started to be genuinely threatening. Akni simply stared, deadpan, then sighed. First, he wasn’t Arkanalandis. Second, he didn’t even so much entertain the thought about ancestorship. Third, he was only thinking about food. How stereotypically accurate.

Oh well, she didn’t want to be related to him if her ancestor was basically just a freeloader bum of a giant lizard.

She wasn’t angry, she was just... disappointed. 

“No thanks.” Akni shrugged as she leapt to Landon, transforming into her half-dragon self in mid-air. She landed near him, grabbed him, then swiftly flew up back toward where they came from. They were done here.

 

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Slick with the dragon’s saliva, Landon stared wide-eyed at the fangs drifting near him. He fully expected to die then, and was beginning to regret a few life choices when Akni seized hold of him. Her powerful wings held both of them aloft easily despite their combined weight. A few beats carried them a considerable distance up the tunnel from which they had come, and Landon relaxed, letting his thoughts return to a more pleasing path – one that focused on how tremendously beautiful he thought her draconic form was.

That was when the ancient dragon below them moved.

The tunnel and the cavern rumbled, shaking wildly as if under the onslaught of a hundred thunderbolts. Two gigantic weights suddenly clamped on Akni’s dragon tail, fangs piercing though scales that no sword could cut. The jaws dragged her down back into the cavern with a single, minor twist of the ancient dragon’s neck. In a blur Akni and Landon were hauled past the ledge where they had stood, and slammed into the depression the dragon had slept in.

A great, scaled paw smacked down on the unlucky pair, claws spreading over them like a monstrous bear trap, though these only slightly grazed Akni’s scales and Landon’s clothes.

The dragon’s snout completely blinded them from any other sight, but clouds of smoke rolled around them, the smell sharp and stifling. Landon coughed, and the paw pressed down harder as the dragon spoke again.

“Thou art insolent,” the dragon growled. “But… hmmm.” The cavernous nostrils breathed in. “Could it be…? Thou body is very much like his.”

A serpentine tongue rose in the mouth and slid over the fangs that had sliced into Akni’s tail, licking the polished scythes clean of blood. The jaws suddenly opened and snapped shut with a sliding, hissing clang as the head pulled back, tilting to one side. The ominous light in its eyes brightened, then dimmed into a milder orange glow.

“Aaaah, yesss. I have not expected you here for at least another decade, Granddaughter. Are you fattening your servant up for a meal? It is still rather scrawny yet.”

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Great, the dragon decided to move it giant ass just as they were about leaving. What the blazes did it actually want?! Akni was equally annoyed and agonized as the dragon bit her tail, then pulled her back down. Oh bother, that’s going to leave a mark. “Nghaaa...” She groaned in pain, writhing on the ground. Fortunately, they didn’t get squished under the dragon’s claw.

The redhead’s slitted eyes turned up at the gigantic beast’s snout. This bastard really couldn’t make up his mind, could he? A second ago, he was wholly uninterested in them. Now, it was the opposite. “Body much like his...? Who’s ‘he’?” It couldn’t be Landon, right? 

Her jaw dropped, blinking in utter disbelief at the dragon. This was just... utterly unbelievable! “No! You big dumb lizard!” The draconic girl snarled with a fury matching her hair, “I’m just here to ask a simple question! And you go ahead and assume I’m bringing food to you. No, this is my soulmate, not a servant and certainly not food! You’d surely understand why I lost interest in you the moment you went on a tangent without even listening to me. Goddamn it! God-fucking-damn it! ...at this point, I doubt I’m even related to you. You’re just some big-ass dragon that has nothing to do with my blood. Except the one you just licked.”

Edited by Vatista

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For a moment there was nothing but silence. Interrupted only by the dragon’s slow, steady breaths, the silence was oppressive and intimidating. The dragon’s great head tilted to one side, eyes narrowing. The pupils grew round, then narrowed again to slits, like a feline when struck by shadow and light, each in turn. Then it spoke, its voice amused.

“Thou hath quite the brash personality.”

The dragon settled on the ground, one foreleg crossing over the other. It yawned, the teeth glistening, the amber tongue shiny. It snapped shut.

“Thou doth make strange choices in mates, much like my son, Arkanalandis.” The dragon paused, then clarified. “Thy father, Granddaughter. Though he was much more… respectful of his elders. Who is he? Why, my son, of course. Look, my child. We are not so different.”

The dragon’s mouth opened in a slight grin. Suddenly, a glow emanated around its massive body. It pulsed, lighting up the entire cavern until every crease and crack could be seen. The light coalesced, drawing inward, and with it, the dragon’s body shrank. Scales rippled and smoothed into skin, the claws drawing inward, the spikes on the dragon’s back rearranging as bones cracked and repositioned.

In a few seconds, there was no dragon but a man, very tall, who stood over Akni and Landon. Red hair fell over his broad shoulders form which there sprouted crimson wings, matched by a spiked tail that swept over the ground. The resemblance between he and Akni was uncanny; it was like looking at her, only taller, and male.

The dragon paced around and sat on a rock. He grinned at Landon, who was again wide-eyed. “Peace, little man. If thou truly art my Granddaughter’s chosen mate, I shall not harm thee.” Bright eyes swiveled back to Akni. “No more games. To business, Granddaughter. What bringeth thee here to this cursed place?”

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”Tell me something I don’t know...” Her anger slowly made way for frustration, exhaustion really, prompted by realization. This dragon was likely amusing itself by toying with them. Knowing he possessed more than enough power to squish the two like bugs, he had not a shred of doubt that he could treat them like playthings. Unless he started making sense, she had no purpose left here anymore.

Oh, apparently he did, as if on cue. ”Arkanalandis’ your son...” Oh wait, so he indeed wasn’t the dragon mentioned by the fire elemental - where was the thing now anyway?  - but he’s his father. Also, apparently, this old dragon’s son was her father?! Oh wow wow wow, hold on there for a second, so much information at once. 

”A... ah I see, so you’re my... grandpa? Huh...” The half-dragon redhead blinked in shock. Wait, this just made what he did even worse! “You tried to eat your own granddaughter’s mate and even bit her tail.” She snarked, not at all amused.

What followed was no less than a show of power, except in reverse. From dragon to half-dragon, the towering figure before them made the family resemblance quite obvious. “So you weren’t lying after all...” Hey, that’s nice and all, but he really should have asked first before trying to eat Landon. “Eeeh... tell me about it.” She rolled her eyes, who was the one joking around again?!

Hah, whatever. “I’m here to find out about my ancestor. Well, that question’s answered. Nice to meet you, grandpa. Though, I have more that propped up along the way. First, where’s my dad then? That fire elemental kept talking about ‘Master Arkanalandis’. And second, I saw a vision of a dragon destroying the desert city above, who was it? Dad, you, or someone else?” There, damn it, this could’ve been so simple.

Edited by Vatista

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The ancient dragon’s eyes glowed orange with amusement. He waved a clawed hand dismissively, wings rustling behind him with the motion of his shoulders as he leaned back. “Mighty Aslashar is mighty, not smart. He doth mix the names up easily, and cannot remember since that day the city was destroyed.” He stood, and bowed with a strange combination of mockery and respect. “The name for thy grandfather is Arkanalandaro. Such a mouthful,” he laughed, a deep bass sound. “Humans called me Ark.”

A tiny voice piped up from the rocks next to the dragon. “Mighty Aslashar is sorry,” the fire elemental squeaked. “Mighty Aslashar misses Arkanalandis.”

“Indeed.” Arkanalandaro snorted. “Thy father, my son, was killed by dragonslayers. His skeleton lies in the Eastern Mountains, along with the dragonslayers I slew in vengeance for his peaceful rest.” He sat down again and smiled with fanged teeth at Akni, not all too unkindly. It was a mischievous, but grandfatherly smile. “My granddaughter is full of questions, she is.”

He held out his hand, and a crimson light filled the cold air. Within it the image of a mighty city floated. In the translucent center the temple Akni and Landon had entered was clearly visible, and around it the mirages of people danced and sang and bowed in worship of some unseen being.

“Velhatia was a city of splendor,” Ark hissed. “But it hid a secret. They were worshipers of demons and elementals of Hell. Infernalis, the Fire Elemental of this desert’s accursed core, was but one. They worked to summon more, evil gods such as thou hath never seen before. But thy father called this land his territory, and knew what they did. But what to do, he did not know. He flew to me, and I infiltrated the city in this guise thy doth see before thee. When I returned, thy father was already dead. ‘Twas I, granddaughter, who destroyed this poisoned city and its people. The elementals, enslaved by the venom they wielded, are free due to me.”

“Master good!” Aslashar piped, swirling around Akni's head. "Bow! Bow!"

Edited by The Hummingbird

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What? That was the reason? Because that little elemental brat mixed up their names?! Her urge to literally facepalm was overwhelming. To be fair, the creature didn’t sound too bright and their names were somewhat similar. Well, whatever, not a big deal anymore. Akni sighed, this time in slight mirth and chuckled. ”The name of your granddaughter is Akni Otria.” The redhead humored his gesture, ”Through extraordinary circumstances, I found out my dragon self called herself ‘Arkanist’, though I had lost the means to call upon her. Not that I want to... she was a bitch.” She shrugged.

Hearing the ultimate fate of her estranged blood-related father made the dragon girl actually sad. Her wings drooped as she stared at the ground, finally figuring out why he never showed up in her life. If only she could do something about it. ”I’m sorry...” Man, it sucked. But at least, grandad and she were alive to remember him, right?

As for what happened to the city, the explanation was sufficient. These were bad people, worshipping bad gods. They needed to be judged by the very thing they worshipped, fire. ”It’s a good thing you did it then.” If only Arkanalandis was there to see this. Haaa... 

Akni chuckled somberly at the bobbing fire elemental, ”Nah, it’d feel weird to bow to my own granddad. I’ll just...” She flew up to Ark’s level and wrapped her arms around him. ”...hug him instead.” She closed her eyes, exhaling. ”I wish things could’ve been different for dad...”

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It was clear Ark had not been touched so in years – decades, perhaps even more. His orange eyes blinked in surprise as Akni hugged him, and there was significant pause before he returned the gesture. The embrace he gave was tentative and almost awkward – dragons, after all, didn’t usually hug. Still, he smiled as he released her, breathing out in a sigh. His breath smelled like fire and hot ashes, but underneath it lay another scent – an aroma that could only be called the familiar scent of blood kin.

“Alas,” he agreed, “I too wish my son had been given a different fate. But many humans have hunted us for millennia, and some will continue to do so. ‘Tis this that makes me surprised by thy choice in a mate – bah, he is even too scrawny for a meal in a pinch.”

Landon looked offended. “Thick enough for her,” he muttered.

Ark ignored him.

“My son did tell me he had a nestling,” Ark went on, “and I suspected thee would eventually come searching for answers. He was right, it seems… though I slept assuming thee would not come for a long time yet. But thee hath finally come and…ha!” He laughed. “I have been called many names, but a ‘big dumb lizard’ hath never been one of them. And to call her dragon self a... bitch? My little hatchling is headstrong!”

“Not as strong as Mighty Aslashar!” Aslashar squeaked.

“Mighty Aslashar can be quiet,” Ark admonished with a growl. One brow quirked up at Akni. “Aslashar’s power as a being of the Inferno Caves was harnessed by the people of Velhatia. I took it back and hold it now as punishment for his being so… foolish as to believe their promises of sacrifice. Feh.” Smoke streamed from the corners of his mouth. His wings flicked behind him in irritation. “But enough of him. What drew thee here, Akni Otria? Surely thou desires more than just to find a large, stupid lizard as her grandfather.”

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Oh, it felt nice to be hugged back by the fellow half-dragon. She had assumed Ark would be quite stiff and awkward. Well, he was a little awkward, just a little. Maybe it was because she’s his kin. If it was Landon, she’d imagine he’d be suffocating and burning simultaneously. 

Akni slowly let go as he did, chuckling wryly. ”Since I lived amongst humans for all my life, I can say that dragonkin aren’t exactly innocent either. There are dragons who burn villages, destroy castles, and hoard stolen treasure out of greed and pride. It’s more like, both sides have their bad eggs and due to that, the good ones get dragged into the whole mess.” She sighed heavily, ”The world is fucked up, grandpa, but I try my best to live in it.” 

Even though the old dragon ignored the only human in the room, Akni flashed Landon a supportive smirk, telling him that he shouldn’t take it too seriously. 

”There’s so much I’d want to ask him, but... well, what’s done is done.” Akni’s thoughts went back to Arkanist when for the moment, ”Well, actually... maybe it was because I achieved my dragon form using a cursed artifact. It granted the wearer great power but brought out the worst in them. Maybe, my actual dragon self is, well, myself, not a corruption of my personality.”

That brought them to why they were here, their original goal before they found out about the whole ruined city, Aslashar, Arkanalandro, and Arkanalandis’ fate. ”Ahem... well, we decided to investigate a rumor about the existence of an artifact, a Red Dragon Totem around this area, guarded by a dragon. I figured, why not, maybe this dragon would be my ancestor. Haha... I can’t believe it turned out to be true. The ancestor part, that is.

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When Akni spoke of the totem, Arkanalandaro’s brows lifted, his bright eyes flashing in recognition. He leaned back slowly, then nodded. “This artifact thou speaketh of, yes, I know it.” He sighed and looked off into an unseen distance. “Such a small thing to bring so much harm. Does thou know the story behind it?”

He stood and paced around the great cave, wings rustling behind him as he walked. Aslashar followed him diligently, floating around the dragon’s head. “Many dragons died by mankind’s will to gain their power. There were many of us once, though now we are few. But the souls of several of thy draconic race were captured, and sealed into these… totems. ‘Tis a cursed item you seek, granddaughter. Why should thee want such a thing?”

He shrugged then, coming to a stop before Akni. “’Tis no matter, I suppose. The totem was here, yes. It is no longer. I took it with me to Arkanalandis’ final resting place and laid it to rest with him, thou father’s last honor. It lies buried in the Cold Mountains, far east of here. Thou would never find it.”

Orange-red eyes glittered mischievously. “Without me, of course.” He smiled. “I will bring you to it, my granddaughter, but even with thy power thee would never make the trip. Not to mention the issue of thy mate. Thee and thy mate shall have to ride me.”

He turned then and made his way to the entrance of the cave, flying up to the steps and proceeding upwards. 

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To be honest, her foremost reason was curiosity. She was an adventurer at heart, always craving for more excitement and discovery in her life. When she heard about an artifact that was so closely linked to her blood? She had to find out more about it, it was an obligation. ”No, but I assume it’s a real downer?” Judging by his tone and choice of words.

She returned back to her human form while listening to Ark’s story alongside Landon. Oh... it was one bummer of a story alright. ”I see...” Well, her motivation certainly changed for the obvious now. ”I was curious about it, see if it has anything to do with my ancestry. Well, I know it does now that you told me. I want to destroy it so the souls can be set free.”

As someone who lived with the blood of both human and dragon, she knew dragonkin did some really fucked up things too. Ark was biased to his kin and she couldn’t blame him for that, most humans would do the same. It was only natural ro care for one’s own kind.

”I see...” That was certainly convenient, ”I wish to visit my father’s final resting place too then.” She chuckled at Ark’s attempt of humor, just to lighten the mood a bit, how courteous of him. Not to mention, she could ride a dragon too. Well, it wouldn’t be too different for her since she could fly, but Landon would certainly find the experience... interesting to say the least.

”Shall we?” With a grin, she extended a hand for him to take so they could follow Ark.

Edited by Vatista

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