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Vatista

Red Dragon Totem

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Hesitantly Landon took Akni’s hand, following as she led the way behind Arkanalandaro. Most would have been thrilled at the idea of riding a dragon, but Landon didn’t entirely trust Ani’s grandfather quite yet. To be entirely truthful, the idea of being so high up in the sky was just a tad overwhelming; he had spent nearly his entire life underground. The first time he had ventured up and out to visit Akni in Last Chance, he had shuddered at the sky, so open and wide. Fortunately, he liked the idea of being stuck in this forsaken desert even less.

The journey upwards was hard but entertaining as Ark told them stories of dragons and interesting anomalies of the desert. Even so, Landon was exhausted by the time they stepped out into the desert. Typical of such landscapes, it was viciously cold at night, and he shivered. He hated this place.

Ark, on the other hand, seemed delighted. He breathed in the cold air and chuckled. “Aaah… how long has it been since I have last seen the sky, Aslashar?”

“Many, many, many years, master!” Aslashar piped.

“Indeed.”

Ark raised his arms, his wings spreading. Air suddenly rose and rushed around him in a wild zephyr, nearly pushing Akni and Landon back down into the earth. Slowly, then faster and faster, red scales grew over Arks’ smooth human skin. He grew in size, horns growing from his face and back. His wings, enormous now, beat against the ground as his tail thrashed as if it was a great serpent with its own life. Ark threw back his head and roared, his jaws revealing fangs longer than the greatest of swords. The sky seemed to shudder even after his call faded and the transformation from man to dragon was complete.

After Akni managed to force Landon onto Ark’s massive back, the dragon wasted no time. His wings spread and with a single beat they were off the ground. He wheeled in the air, smiling as Landon groaned at the feeling of leaving his stomach behind him, and took off to the east. In moments, villages and small towns were passing below them, and the denizens of them were screaming and shouting in panic. Amused, Ark did let loose a blast of fire into the sky once or twice, blotting out the stars for a moment or two, which didn’t help calm the citizens.

Ark set a pace that would have been excruciatingly grueling for Akni, but for him, it simply refreshing. It was still a while before the Cold Mountains came into view, and Ark flew in increasingly smaller circle. Landon clutched tightly at Akni when Ark finally landed in the depths of the mountains, sinking into the cold, fresh snow that covered the jagged rocks.

He swung his head around, fire blasting from his mouth, turning the snow into rushing water that would freeze again in great waves around them.

There, crouched against the side of a hill, was a pile of dragon bones.   

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The air had turned rather solemn as the party of four journeyed back out of the deep subterranean hole. Akni was just content to just follow Ark while listening to his stories, spoken from someone who held insurmountable amount of wisdom and experience. Heh, that half-machine half-flesh abomination was definitely one of the desert anomalies alright. By the time they ventured outdoors once more, the sun had set hours ago, the night sky reigning as biting cold breeze swept through the desert. Unlike heat, Akni was uncomfortable with the cold so she shivered much like Landon.

However, her grandfather didn't seem bothered or was he just relieved to be out of that cave? It wasn't like he was trapped either. Maybe he spent all those years mourning for his deceased son. Nevertheless, it was time to leave this ruined city. 

A draconic transformation was always an awe to behold, Akni would know, she both saw and experienced the process herself. After Ark was properly in dragon form, she wasted no time in ushering Landon to mount him, despite his reluctance. "Don't worry, I can fly in to catch you if you fall~" That might make his anxiety worse, but he was a grown man, he could handle himself. 

Taking into the skies, Akni sat back and enjoyed the journey. This felt liberating, to finally have the answers and leave the accursed place without loose ends. The redhead couldn't help but chuckle as Ark mischievously toyed with the settlements below. Now she realized where she got her prankster streak from. 

She didn't mind the pace actually, content to just sit there and sometimes take a nap or two, it wasn't like they were on an urgent mission. Her father was already dead... his corpse wouldn't be going anywhere. 

At last, they seemed to have arrived. Clutching Landon back, Akni's amber eyes watched as Ark revealed her father's tomb, buried beneath the snow. "..." Those massive bones, they once belonged to a great dragon alright. In silence, Akni hopped down from Ark's back then approached the pile. So, this was Arkanalandis, her blood father. 

She had so many questions to ask him, like who was her human mother, why did they decide to leave her in the care of someone else, and other things. But, she figured she didn't need the answers anyway. What's done is done. Smiling somberly, Akni crouched near one of the massive rib bone, lay her forehead against it, then closed her eyes in mourning. 

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The mountain landscape was huge, sprawling out around them in streaks of pristine white snow and undisturbed grey rock. Still, it was uncomfortably confining, almost claustrophobic, for Ark’s great size, and so, in a flash of red light, he morphed back to his handsome human form, leaving Landon to fall unceremoniously to the earth. Landon glowered at Ark; the elder dragon ignored him with a mirthful smirk, leaning against a jut of stone quietly as Akni fell into silence against her fallen father.

The bones had long been picked clean by scavenging predators and carrion eaters; by the polished scales still remaining on the ground, the dragon hunters had never been able to venture so far into the mountain range to find the body and strip it of its armor. But there were other marks, too; long, straight shafts protruding through the gaps in the ribs, with one cracked bone forced out of alignment. Arkanalandis had not died a kind death, but it was a quick one.

Coming forth, Landon knelt beside Akni and put an arm around her in a rare show of compassion and shared grief. Mighty Aslashar followed suit and hovered around Akni’s head. “Ultimate sadness,” it murmured.

After a few minutes, Ark finally approached and began digging a hole next to the skull. What he retrieved from the earth was a marvel of manufactured art and power.

It glowed a bright wine red that melted the ice that had formed around its body, a fierce dragon carved from such a pure red ruby that a fraction of the statue would have fetched a fortune from any king or queen. It was a solid, heavy stone, the wings folded in close to its serpentine body and head, sharp teeth bared together in an eternal snarl. Fire opals were set in to give life to the eyes, either one of which would have been the centerpiece of a royal crown.

As Ark freed it from its confines, a low, draconic howl rushed around them, the spirit of the dragon set within the totem.

“It is this which thou has sought, is it not, granddaughter?” Ark asked solemnly. “It is yours by right.”

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The redheaded dragon girl instinctively leaned against her lover's arm and shoulder, sharing the solemn moment. It felt really nice to just let her emotions quietly flow right now. Even Aslashar joined in and against her better judgment, she actually found his little quip rather amusing. A small chuckle left her lips as she slowly stood up. Well, her father's soul had obviously moved on, she already spent enough time mourning his remains. It felt cathartic to be able to find closure regarding her origins.

Akni's attention was taken by her grandfather's fiddling with the ground. She went over as he procured an item from beneath the upturned earth. "Woah..." So it was true after all, the totem did exist. Her amber eyes reflected the ruby shine of the draconic statuette. It was as beautiful as it was fierce. The artifact made no effort in hiding the power contained within. 

"Why... thank you. I'm honored." She blinked a few times in awe before reaching out for the figurine. Her palms felt warmer when she touched it. The girl brought it closer to her chest to examine it closer. She felt as if the object was resonating with her. She could feel power coursing from its ruby body into her veins. This... this was a similar, yet distinct, feeling as to when she donned that cursed choker.
The primal, raw, strength was identical, yet it carried no malice with it this time. "Haaa..." She breathed out, stimulated by the power. Unlike the cursed choker, it didn't try to force itself into her, it simply laid there, waiting for her to grasp it. By her own volition, she'd gladly do so.

Closing her eyes in deep focus, Akni grasped the statuette tighter as both it and her body shone flaming red. The artifact promptly vanished in her arms, absorbed into her body. Then, the redhead opened her eyes, slitted reptilian amber pupils gazing at the wide open sky. She flexed her legs then leaped high into the air before erupting circles of fire around her. 

Inferno covered her whole body as she grew, larger and larger, far past the point of her usual half-dragon size. Massive wings spread from her back as fiery red scales covered her whole form. Every part of her body shifted until the flame-covered silhouette of a massive dragon blot the sky. Once the inferno receded, Arkanist, no, Akni floated there, in her full draconic glory.

The female dragon roared, unleashing jets of flame from her fanged maw. She flexed her wings to fly around for a bit before landing at some distance from the party. She craned her neck at trio of men and judging by the signature cheeky grin on her jaw, there was beyond any doubt that Akni was herself. 

"I can get used to this." She finally spoke, her voice rumbling, "Oh... I forgot to take off my clothes first though... damn it."

Edited by Vatista

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The fierce flames bursting around Akni drove Landon back a good few paces, though Ark simply stood there completely unfazed. Once Landon had recovered from the bright light and fierce heat, he stared n rare awe at the great dragon that was his mate. Though he thought she was beautiful in her human form and stunning in her half-dragon morph, neither could compare to what she was now.

In fact, he wouldn’t have been surprised if she simply flew off and forgot about him and everything – everyone – else. What would a dragon have to do with such a meager man? Ark was a different story, but if the draconic nature took over, he was in for a long walk home.

“Impressive,” Ark commented mildly.

“Pretty!” Aslashar chirped.

I’m doomed, Landon thought.

Then the great, gorgeous dragon landed and spoke, Akni’s telltale sardonic grin clearly showing that her personality had not changed a bit. Landon relaxed rather noticeably, even rolling his eyes when he saw the fragments of her clothes lying ripped and torn on the ground. “Thoughtful as always,” he sighed as another large dragon took the place of Ark. The mountainside seemed a little crowded then as Ark, who was still even larger than Akni, craned his head down to preen her neck in a dragon-nuzzle.

“Far thee well, granddaughter,” he rumbled. “All the best I shall wish for thee. I must depart, for I have many things I have left untended and must see to, but surely we shall meet again. Our blood doth calls to each other over many leagues, and the land is but small.”

He turned his great head to Aslashar. “Aslashar.”

“Master!” it squeaked.

“Wait on me no longer. I return thy power, for thou has slaved under me long and I request thy service no more. I trust thou has learned thy lesson.” With a great sigh, Ark breathed a great sheath of fire over Aslashar’s tiny body.

BOOM

A bird – a firebird molded of blazing white and blue flames – hovered in front of the dragons and a slightly singed Landon. Rearing back a head of untold majestic beauty it screamed a hunting eagle’s cry, and with one beat of its enormous wings it rose into the air, an imposing sight of power and magic that had been chained up for too many years. Mighty Aslashar wheeled in the sky and turned westward to return to the desert that was home.

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