There was war.
That’s all there ever was. At least, that’s all anyone could remember. For centuries, both the tiger and dragon races had been locked in an unending battle, each side trying to wipe the other out – neither side quite remembering why they were fighting at all. Neither side knew that once – long, long ago – there was peace throughout the land.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were a small group of ancient dragons that remembered the peace, and yearned for its return. But the younger dragons were unrelenting, and so the ancients left the land, too old and wise for such petty squabbles.
Only the young and brash remained. And all they knew was hate. All they knew was that their enemies had to be driven from their lands.
Even if that meant their enemies had to be destroyed.
Each side had their own attributes that gave them an edge in battle. The dragons were proficient in the use of various Magicks. These Magicks were based on different elements – water, light, fire, earth, and lightning – to name a few. The dragon race was divided into clans based on what Magick they were experts in. And there even existed dragons that had mastered more than one element, making them extremely powerful. Add to that the ability to fly, and dragons were a formidable enemy indeed.
But, the tigers were not without their own advantages. The tigers were very strong physically – quick and agile. Their senses were enhanced as well. Plus, they had a secret weapon that helped to remove the advantage the Magickal dragons had – Zhirite. Zhirite was an ore that the tigers had discovered long ago. It possessed strange properties that caused the dragons to weaken and lose their Magickal abilities when brought into close proximity to it. They crafted weapons from this ore, making them even more dangerous...
Each of the dragon clans were united under one Queen, a dragon who could demonstrate mastery of each element. The most recent dragon to occupy the throne was known as Oscura. She had the experience to have mastered all the elements, but she was still impetuous and susceptible to centuries of pent-up hatred. Upon her initial ascension to the throne, Queen Oscura only reinforced the dragons’ need to eliminate their enemies. She insisted that her people take a more proactive stance to ensure such ends. From this was born the plan to capture the leader of the tiger race – Princess Kiriad. Her capture would serve as a crucial strike against the tigers, one that would raise dragon morale and ensure that Queen Oscura’s people were victorious.
The Queen had used her network of spies to discover Princess Kiriad’s whereabouts. It was learned that the Princess was personally overseeing an operation that would allow the tigers the chance to advance into the Dragonlands, giving them a tactical advantage. Once inside dragon territory, the Princess would be able to advance more of her troops through the pass that lay between the Taryn and Jory mountain ranges – the two ranges that ran parallel to each other and separated the Dragonlands from the Tiger Territories. Queen Oscura’s plan would not only allow her to successfully capture the Princess, but it would cripple the tigers’ advancement as well.
For this mission, the Queen selected members of her royal court. Sombrana – a light dragon, and Schaddig – a fire dragon, would head up the team. The rest of their assembled crew consisted of several of Queen Oscura’s finest warriors. Among them were a promising fire dragon who went by the name of Red, and an aspiring young light dragon known as Chiara.
With the team assembled, Queen Oscura sent them on their way.
Meanwhile, Princess Kiriad surveyed the landscape before her as she and her army reached the top of the Jory mountain range. She knew that soon enough they would finally step foot into the Dragonlands, securing a foothold into their enemies’ realm and bringing them one step closer to victory.
Suddenly, there came a flash of blinding white light! Then another! Sombrana and Chiara each managed to stun the Princess’ army with their Light Magicks, while Red and Schaddig used their Fire Magicks to lay down a layer or fire to keep the tigers back, while at the same time separating them from their Princess.
Red then captured Princess Kiriad, still dazed and blinded herself. And as quick as they came, the dragons were gone.
With Princess Kiriad in her clutches, Queen Oscura was satisfied that the war was all but over. And to add insult to injury, the Queen made sure that her new plaything provided her with endless amusement. Attired in the most humiliating garb, the Princess was in misery. Her fate was bleak. Tortured physically, mentally and psychologically, the only thing the Princess had to look forward to was her eventual death at the hands of the Queen.
Kiriad’s army, reeling from the heavy blow they were dealt, had no choice but to cease their advancement and return to the Tiger Territories to inform their people about what had befallen them.
Outraged by what the dragons had done, Princess Kiriad’s right hand – Scyde – started putting together a retrieval team to rescue the dragons’ new prisoner. It took weeks of planning in order to ensure the rescue mission would be a success. Scyde knew that a direct approach would not work if they wanted to ensure victory in retrieving their leader. A few weeks before her team was to infiltrate the Queen’s palace, Scyde sent several scouts out into the Dragonlands in the hopes that even one of them would come back with a way in that would allow them to sneak in and out without incident.
Several days later, one of her scouts returned with good news! It appeared that the dragon kingdom featured an intricate system of underground tunnels and pipes with which to remove garbage and waste from the city. The scout had explored these passages from an opening outside the city and discovered a route that would take them straight into the palace.
At last, all the pieces were in place and Scyde was able to continue with her plan. Working off of a map her scout had made, Scyde’s team would be able to rescue their leader and bring her home.
Under cover of night, the team infiltrated Queen Oscura’s palace, rescuing their Princess from the Dragon Queen’s clutches. And like shadows in the night, they were gone. When the Queen and her subjects awoke the next morning, Princess Kiriad was gone as well. Chaos ensued as word spread of the missing Princess and the Tigers’ penetration of the sacred grounds. An enraged Oscura demanded the return of her “pet” and retribution for the tigers’ intrusion...
Fueled by the vengeance she had been brought up with, Sombrana, one of Oscura’s highest-ranking generals, vowed not only to return Princess Kiriad to Queen Oscura’s custody, but to extract her own personal revenge.
Unlike the other dragons, Sombrana was a bottle of rage and arrogance. While normal dragon philosophy was to maintain a cool control of their emotions, Sombrana allowed her emotions to run free. It was this trait that usually got her in trouble with her dragon sisters.
This time was no exception. Since the tigers had, at most, only a day start and were traveling on foot, the dragons had the advantage. It would take them almost no time at all to catch up to the invaders through flight.
Once again, Red, Schaddig, and Chiara accompanied Sombrana on their mission to recapture the princess. They caught up to the tiger rescue team quickly, and attacked instantly.
But the tigers were prepared for any pursuers. While the first half of Scyde’s plan was to extract Princess Kiriad from the dragon kingdom, the second half required that a large battalion meet them after they had traveled a day’s journey out from the Queen’s abode.
As the dragon quartet swooped in for the Princess, Scyde’s battalion sprung to life in a surprise attack. The ambush was successful, catching all four dragons off guard. Overpowered and outnumbered, Sombrana and her crew knew the only option they had was retreat. Red, Chiara and Schaddig managed to escape.
Sombrana was not so lucky...
Sombrana was a valiant warrior. She had fought in many battles and had always emerged victorious, but the tiger ambush had overcome her quickly. And to ensure that there would be no escape, Princess Kiriad placed the dreaded Shackles of Binding on Sombrana. The Shackles of Binding were made of Zhirite, leaving the dragon captive completely powerless. Princess Kiriad felt this was a fitting punishment for the degradation she had suffered at Oscura’s hands. But, Sombrana’s punishment was only beginning.
When the other three dragons brought back news of what happened to Queen Oscura, she was furious. She demanded that the three of them gather a small brigade of her finest and bring Sombrana back. If they could not, they were to secure a worthy bargaining chip. Either way, Red and her crew were not to return empty-handed again. If they did, the punishment would be severe.
Red and her small army flew after Sombrana’s captors with breakneck speed. Meanwhile, Scyde’s team had reached a small encampment of tigers defending the borders to the tiger territories. Tired and weary, Princess Kiriad and her rescuers decided to stop at the encampment to rest for the night.
But Red’s team had found them...
With a large contingent of dragon warriors at her disposal, Red and her brigade overtook the small encampment quickly. The battle was fierce, leaving many tigers dead or severely wounded. Only Scyde, the Princess, and a few members of her royal guard survived, thanks in part to the Zhirite weapons that they used to defend themselves.
But, it was too late. Red and her band were able to successfully retrieve what they had come for, leaving the surviving tigers standing in ruins...
Observing from the distance stood one other – Kilani. Kilani was a cunning warrior, and one of Princess Kiriad’s finest. She stood there looking at the devastation surrounding Princess Kiriad and the other survivors. Her feelings about this war had been changing for some time. No longer did she thrive in the heat of battle. No longer did she feel this war was necessary.
Now, when she saw the loss of life and devastation around her, it sickened her. Why couldn’t there be peace? Her mother once spoke of ancient legends chronicling a great peace between the dragons and tigers. Both races lived, traded, and socialized in harmony.
Kilani hoped someday the needless bloodshed would end, and that peace would return to these lands. She vowed that if it was within her power, she would be the one to ensure that peace.
By any means necessary.
Kilani waited for Princess Kiriad and the survivors of her battalion to retreat home before she made her way down to the battlefield. The ground was still warm from the fighting that took place here - the princess and her team against several dragon warriors. And for what? All for the life of another captured dragon warrior. The dragons won this time, and Princess Kiriad’s forces suffered heavy casualties.
Kilani stood in the middle of it all and continued her private reflection. Soon the heat of this battle would cool and fade. But the scars would remain… for a long time. Perhaps indefinitely. This made Kilani even more uneasy as she continued to contemplate her purpose in life. What did she stand to gain? Hell, what did any of them - on either side - stand to gain? Bloodshed led to more bloodshed - an endless cycle.
But where, when, and how did this cycle begin? Kilani tried to remember, thinking back to when she was just a cub. Even then there was fighting between tigers and dragons. Kilani then remembered the old stories and songs that all little cubs were told growing up. Every tale spoke of the war between dragons and tigers as being centuries old – a never-ending atrocity born out of racial hatred and birthed between individuals long-since dead. And was anyone really winning? For as long as it has gone on, it certainly didn’t seem to be the case. What an ugly and stupid war – fought between two sides steeped in ignorance and unbridled hate.
“Guess that’s something else that proves we aren’t that different,” Kilani thought to herself. “They hate like us. Their blood runs red just like ours. And they die just like we do.”
Kilani made up her mind. She was done with this war. She would have no part of it anymore. From now on, her battle was to end the war for good, to bring peace to both tigers and dragons, even if she had to pay for it with her life.
With her vow still fresh on her lips, she walked away from the battlefield forever...
Meanwhile, at the royal palace of the Dragonlands, Queen Oscura had an important matter to address. She had only been on the throne for a short time, but the urgent issue remained – Oscura would need an heir to the throne. It was tradition for each Queen to select an egg from the Rookery to nurture into a worthy successor. But most importantly, there needed to be someone who could instantly assume the mantle of leadership should the Queen ever become incapacitated.
Oscura chose her egg carefully. She would want an offspring that would be strong and wise. This child would have to be able to grow into her Magicks with power and confidence. And, she would have to master all the elements, just as Oscura did.
Once Oscura felt that she had made the right choice, a new concern crept into her mind. With her new policy of proactive warfare the battles that waged between the dragons and tigers were becoming more fierce and frequent. One side-effect of this new strategy meant that the battles were also coming closer to their front door.
This put Oscura’s unborn prodigy in unnecessary danger. Fearing for her safety, the Queen arranged to have the egg moved to a secret hiding place where her future successor would be safe. To further ensure that nothing would harm the egg, Oscura assigned her best dragons to protect the egg. Azure, the chief nanny to the royal family, was in charge of the detail. Accompanying her would be two dragons who were each prominent leaders of their respective clans – Gold and Red. They would provide the protection while Azure would nurture the egg and raise the dragonling for a couple of years after its hatching. Once the Queen’s daughter was old enough and properly educated for her age, she would be escorted back to her mother so she could begin her official training.
With the Queen’s orders made clear, Azure, Gold, and Red accompanied the unborn dragon as they made their way to what would eventually be her temporary home. Unfortunately, the three dragons and their precious cargo soon found that their journey would not be a peaceful one. As they made their way through a mountain pass, they were ambushed by three tigers – Kess, Shie, and Riah. These three natives of the TigerTerritories spent most of their time as marauding thieves. They were more concerned with personal gain than in helping with Princess Kiriad’s war effort. In fact, all three of them despised the so-called Princess and refused to acknowledge her leadership, believing Kiriad to be unfit for her “inherited” position.
So instead, the three made their way throughout the Territories, acting more like pirates than noble warriors. Sometimes, they would even venture into the Dragonlands, just like they were now. And this time, Kess was certain that these three scale-backs had to have something of value – any dragon escorting an egg must be of some importance and most likely had some kind of jewels or powerful artifacts in their possession.
Azure, being bred more for matronly duties than for battle, was overcome easily. Red and Gold, however, were harder to pin down. Shie lunged for Azure, delivering a stab wound that would prove to be fatal thanks to the Zhirite content of Shie’s dagger. The three tigers then set upon Red and Gold in an effort to take them down three to one.
With attention no longer on Azure and her cargo, the loyal nanny to Queen Oscura mustered up what strength she had left and disappeared into the bushes. All the while she maintained her hold on her precious charge, trying with every fading breath to keep it safe.
Elsewhere in the forest, Kilani was traveling across the TigerTerritories. Unlike Kess, Shie and Riah, however, she was merely trying to make her way back to Princess Kiriad’s current base of operations. Kilani was the sister of Kess, and the two were as different as night and day. Kilani was the noble warrior that Kess refused to be. Because of their differences in personality and ideology, neither sister got along well with the other. This brought Kilani some sadness, as she loved her sister despite her unsavory ways. But, Kess would have nothing to do with Kilani as long as she loyally served the Princess.
These thoughts continued to plague Kilani during her journey back to the base camp. In fact, Kilani was so lost in her own thoughts that she almost failed to notice the body lying in the dirt just off her path. Detecting movement out of the corner of her eye, Kilani immediately rushed over to find Azure – merely moments from death, yet still clutching the egg that she had vowed to keep safe.
Kilani had been trained to kill any scalies that they came across in the Tiger Territories, no matter what state they were in. But in this instant, Kilani couldn’t bring herself to harm either courier or cargo. Kilani’s mind began to touch back on the thoughts that she had been dwelling on since she had started the day’s journey. Her estranged relationship with her own sister had Kilani thinking once more about her decision to end the war. Why couldn’t Kilani and Kess be closer, and how is that related to her changing feelings over this ages-old conflict between the tigers and dragons?
Putting her differences aside, Kilani immediately came to the dragon’s aid. Unfortunately, she was too late. Azure, instantly seeing the kindness and warmth in Kilani’s eyes, knew what she had to do. With her last passing breath, she bequeathed the egg to Kilani’s care. Her last words to Kilani were simply “Show them…”
Kilani gave Azure an honourable burial. With the dragon’s passing words, all of Kilani’s thoughts came together in a moment of crystal clarity. She knew what she had to do, and she knew it had to start with this unborn dragonling...
Unfortunately, Kilani knew that none of her fellow tigers would understand or accept Kilani for trying to raise a child of their sworn enemies. For that reason alone, Kilani had to find a secluded sanctuary where she and the unborn dragon could live freely and in harmony, away from prying eyes and wicked intent.
It took some time and effort, but eventually Kilani found the perfect refuge for herself and her new charge. Knowing that Princess Kiriad would send out scouts to look for her after she didn’t return, Kilani felt that her best bet would be to seek shelter somewhere in the northernmost expanse of the Dragonlands. None of her sisters would dare venture into that territory to look for her, and she felt that the dragons would be too busy believing that the egg had been kidnapped. That would hopefully keep dragon search parties up north of the Jory and Taryn mountains as well.
With their new home surrounding them, it came time for Kilani to choose a name for her new charge. To her, the choice was simple – the child’s name would be “Chuki”, a name meaning “A gift from my enemy.” Kilani found the humour in such a phrase, since her “enemy” turned out to be more than that in her final minutes. Not only was she more like a friend, she was also the one who helped Kilani realize her destiny. So, it was in honour of Azure that she chose the name.
Days turned into months, and months turned into years. Chuki’s egg had hatched in that time and Kilani took care of her adopted daughter as if she were her own. Never leaving the sanctuary, the two of them thrived within the paradise they shared together. Kilani raised Chuki to be a playful, peace-loving dragon – something neither dragon nor tiger had ever seen in a long, long time. In this cozy, little world Kilani had created for them both, she had already achieved her ultimate dream – dragon and tiger were united in peace and harmony.
Unfortunately, Kilani and Chuki’s bliss would not last forever. Both tigers and dragons had spent the years Kilani and Chuki were missing searching for their respective charges. But while Princess Kiriad eventually called off all search parties believing Kilani to be dead, Queen Oscura would not give up.
Her persistence eventually paid off. Oscura had used every means necessary to find her daughter – search parties, bounty hunters, scryers. It would be the scryers that would eventually pierce the veil of hiding and discover where Oscura’s daughter could be found. When the queen found out that one of her flea-ridden enemies was secretly raising the child as her own within the Dragonlands, Oscura seethed with anger...
Queen Oscura immediately dispatched two of her generals – Chiara and Schaddig – to bring her daughter back to her unharmed.
One other had requested to join the Queen’s retrieval party. Sombrana had been captured years ago during her attempt to recapture the tiger princess for Queen Oscura. Her failure to retrieve Princess Kiriad, as well as the humiliations she had suffered during her capture, continued to overshadow her. By helping Chiara and Schaddig bring back the Queen’s daughter, Sombrana believed she could restore herself in her majesty’s eyes, as well as exact the revenge that Sombrana felt she had been owed all these years.
Unaware of what Queen Oscura was conspiring against her back at the palace, Kilani continued to enjoy her new life with her “daughter.” Kilani had felt so secure and carefree while raising her “daughter” that she was taken completely unaware when Chiara, Schaddig, and Sombrana attacked. The three dragons used that element of surprise to their advantage – the attack was quick and efficient. Sombrana slipped into a divebomb maneuver, taking Kilani from behind. The impact sent them both rolling into the grass, but Sombrana was able to recover first. With rage coursing through her veins and vengeance on her agenda, Sombrana climbed on top of the stunned tiger to finish her off… slowly.
But Chiara and Schaddig knew that they were here for a specific purpose – to reclaim the Queen’s long lost daughter. They needed to return to the palace quickly, and killing Kilani at this time wasn’t an option. Queen Oscura was anxious to get her daughter back and would not stand for any delay. While Sombrana had tackled Kilani, the other two dragons had successfully reclaimed the dragon offspring. It wasn’t easy, as the young dragonling had tried unsuccessfully to escape from their clutches and return to her “mother’s” side. Chuki continued to cry and resist in anguish and terror while Chiara insisted to Sombrana that they hurry back.
Sombrana had Kilani helpless on the ground. She struggled with the fury burning inside her. She understood the Queen’s instructions, but she knew that she would not be satisfied until she got her revenge, even if it was just on this inferior creature. She looked down at her prisoner, and her thoughts turned to what she had seen just prior to her attack. This filthy patch of fur hadn’t killed the Queen’s daughter. Instead, it looked as though she were raising her… brainwashing her to follow the disgusting ideologies of a race of vermin. The mere idea that such a wretched being had the gall to raise a dragon – especially one of noble heritage – disgusted Sombrana to no end. Those feelings, combined with her memories of what the tigers had done to her while she was in their captivity sent Sombrana over the edge.
Ignoring Chiara’s repeated calls to her, Sombrana began to summon her light magicks. Her entire body glowed with an eerie light. Kilani, recovering from the fog the tackle had put her into, realized what was going on. She tried to struggle, but there was no use. Sombrana focused her magicks to her hand, producing a dagger made of pure light. She raised it above her head, ready to strike the final blow to her adversary...
Realizing that Sombrana had given completely to her rage, Chiara and Schaddig had no choice but to leave her behind. They could not get through to her, and they could wait for her no longer. They took off for the Queen’s palace with the still-struggling Chuki in tow.
Completely oblivious to the fact that her fellow dragons had departed, Sombrana continued to spiral into her unbridled rage. Securing her prisoner with light magick, Sombrana decided to have some fun with the flea-trap before she killed it. She repeatedly kicked and beat Kilani, channeling all of her fury into each assault and rendering Kilani unconscious.
Then, Sombrana had an idea.
Deciding that she didn’t want a tiger’s death to sully the lush beauty that existed in this part of the Dragonlands, Sombrana mustered all of her strength and carried Kilani into the air. Despite not being able to carry her very high or very far, Sombrana was still able to make her way to a small expanse of desert just to the south of the ex-sanctuary.
Sombrana grinned. The drop from their current height wouldn’t kill her, but it would certainly bring her close. Then, all Sombrana had to do was deliver the killing blow once she landed. The thick, sandy environment would even serve as a perfect burial spot.
With ferocious glee, Sombrana let go.
Kilani’s unconscious body dropped like stone, impacting the gritty surface and merely tumbling twice before the sand quickly slowed her to a halt. By the time Sombrana had landed, Kilani was a bloody mess, practically inches from death. Creating a new dagger from her magick, the light dragon readied herself to cease the furbag’s breathing for good.
It was either fate or fortune that smiled on Kilani that day.
Sombrana had become so engrossed with her treatment of her captive that she was completely unaware that Kess, Shie, and Riah had discovered them both while venturing into the Dragonlands looking for “lucrative opportunities”. Realizing what they had stumbled upon and seeing her sister beaten mercilessly by one of the scalies, Kess used her trio’s advantage to get the drop on Sombrana.
The fight was not an easy one. Though Kess and her companions outnumbered Sombrana three to one, the dragon was still more powerful. Her fury made her even more so. Fortunately for them, that rage made Sombrana’s attacks wild and unfocused. Sombrana fought like a caged animal. Through quick thinking, tactical maneuvering, and a healthy dose of Zhirite, the three were able to take Sombrana down. Shie and Riah managed to secure their defeated foe in the Shackles of Binding while Kess tended to her sister. Kilani was barely alive. Fearing the worst, Kess put her differences with her sister aside as fear and concern took over. She felt helpless as she continued to tend to Kilani’s wounds, knowing that her sister might not make it…
Chiara and Schaddig made it back to the palace safely with the Queen’s daughter. Upon meeting her offspring for the first time, Oscura was awash in relief. Chuki, on the other hand, was petrified. She trembled in fear, surrounded in a strange place by strangers who terrified her. The Queen realized what had been done to her child. Her own daughter had been brainwashed by her enemy. There was no recognition in those young eyes. Just fear.
This would not do. Oscura realized that her legacy could not be carried on by this dragonling. She would have to be reconditioned. But reconditioning took time, and it could be painful. Despite knowing this and not wanting to harm her daughter, Queen Oscura realized that it had to be done.
It was a long an arduous process, but eventually the Queen’s experts were able to reverse the programming that had been done to her daughter. Once the reconditioning was complete, Oscura bestowed upon her heir a new name fitting of a light dragon, "Lumina."
Her new identity and life given to her, Lumina began her training to become the rightful heir to the throne. She progressed quickly, much to her mother’s satisfaction. The Queen had selected this particular egg for a purpose, as the offspring that emerged from it would be a special dragon indeed. That was why it was so important to get her back when she had disappeared, and that was why it had been so important to get the disgusting thoughts planted by that flea-trap who had raised her out of her head. Lumina had the potential to be the most powerful dragon the world had ever seen. The noble pedigree that had already been inherent in the unborn embryo combined with the Queen’s special tempering of the egg had made sure of it. Once she was taught how to control her abilities and her other skills were fully cultivated she would be able to wipe out entire civilizations.
Quite simply – Queen Oscura had created the ultimate weapon, one that would end the war for good and leave the dragons forever victorious.
Unaware that her entire race was now on the verge of facing their fiercest and bloodiest battle to come – the battle for their own existence – Kess remained by her sister’s side. She continued to tend to Kilani’s wounds, doing her best to nurse her back to health. Only one thought remained on the forefront of her mind the whole time…
The dragons would pay for what they had done to Kilani. Her fallen sister would be avenged…
Gather close, my dragonlings, for the tale you have been told thus far is not yet finished. There are still many chapters left to pass on, and the greatest of these has yet to be revealed.
You know already of the centuries of war and discord waged between our kind and the tigers. You have committed these to memory, as you should, for one day you will pass these histories on to your own offspring.
You will tell them of the tiger princess' capture by our own people, of her kidnapping and liberation by her tiger sisters. You will tell your young of our own Sombrana's capture, her humiliation and vow of revenge. And, you will stress the remembrance of how our great Princess Lumina was taken from us by the tiger warrior Kilani, but was finally rescued and returned to us years later through the bravery of Sombrana, Schaddig, and Chiara.
All of this leads up to what I am about to tell you now. As you remember, Sombrana defeated the tiger warrior Kilani in battle, while Schaddig and Chiara brought our dear princess back to us. With light dagger in hand, Sombrana was about to deliver the killing blow... but was ambushed by three more of Kilani's kind and forced into the cursed Shackles of Binding. Once again a prisoner of our sworn enemy, she was led away while Kilani's sister Kess tended to the fallen warrior's wounds. It appeared grim for Kilani...
Months passed, during which both sides, dragon and tiger, seemed to have eased up on their offensive engagements, instead focusing on regrouping and creating new battle strategies to defeat each other and end the war once and for all. Oscura herself had her own plans. Lumina was vastly improving in her training, making great progress in becoming the most powerful dragon ever. Oh yes, her eventual ascension to the throne would signify the greatest reign ever in dragon history. Oscura foresaw this and spent every moment overseeing Lumina’s training as well as her other new ambition…
The erasure of her daughter’s previous memories, however, had proven to be far more difficult than our queen had anticipated. Her majesty’s energies had been drained considerably because of it. Whereas her original goal was solely to recover her daughter, Oscura now turned her attention to Lumina’s captor, the tiger warrior Kilani, and vengeance.
It was not a secret that Kilani was close to death. Word had traveled across the land of her condition. Oscura vowed that she would severely punish and humiliate Kilani by having the warrior’s lifeless body hung high in the kingdom for her crimes. There would be no mercy for the atrocity. Having Kilani’s corpse on display for all to see would raise the morale of her people, as well as serve a lesson to her sworn enemies.
But finding the ailing Kilani proved to be somewhat of an arduous task for our queen. She spared no resource to discover the whereabouts of her daughter’s kidnapper. But it appeared all was for naught. Oscura could not believe that such a pathetic, weak, and incapacitated flea-trap such as Kilani could be so difficult to locate. Oscura wanted justice. She wanted revenge. But revenge would only be met through the help of another…
Soon after exhausting all her efforts to find Kilani, a new ally made her way into the ranks of our queen’s realm -- one who seemed to know a great deal about the tigers and offered a wealth of information that would help the dragons wipe out the tiger race forever. Oscura’s new ally was not of our kin, nor of tiger kin. Instead, she appeared to be of a race thought to be long gone. Her reddish fur, accented with streaks of white revealed her to be a fox.
Legend tells of the race of foxes being exceptionally cunning and intelligent. Her sudden appearance in Oscura’s court raised enough alarm that the fox was almost executed on sight, until she offered Oscura all she knew to extinguish the tiger race forever. Oscura was still not quite trusting, knowing that nothing comes for free. She asked the intruder what her price was. The fox’s reply was simply for asylum - a place to live and be free. She then introduced herself as Shaleigh. Over the course of the next few months, she began to show her worth.
Shaleigh’s information proved to be genuine. Oscura orchestrated small raids based on Shaleigh’s intelligence data. All were successful. Oscura then began improving on her battle strategies with Shaleigh’s insight on the tigers’ battle unit formations, the locations of the tiger camps, and how strong the tiger forces were. Shaleigh was proving to be a valuable asset indeed.
And then Shaleigh presented our queen with the sparkling jewel in the crown of her intelligence information: the location where Kilani was being cared for. Shaleigh confirmed what Oscura had heard – Kilani’s health was deteriorating and death was imminent...
Her majesty’s eyes glittering at the sudden turn of good fortune she had acquired, Oscura began forming her plan to steal Kilani so she could watch the kidnapper die slowly before her. Using her fox informant’s intelligence data, Oscura was able to plan a way to infiltrate the tiger defenses and steal Kilani before anyone knew what happened.
Sombrana, the disgraced member of the queen’s court, was also still a prisoner from her last capture. Oscura’s orders were to leave her, despite being told by Shaleigh exactly where she was being kept. Oscura had grown tired of Sombrana’s constant failures and decided that she should be left there as punishment. Besides, she had a far more competent minion in Shaleigh.
A week later, in the wee hours before dawn, Oscura’s strike force was ready to execute the infiltrate-and-capture plan our queen had devised. Oscura’s finest warrior and leader of the Fire Clan – Red – was to lead the team into tiger territory. With her were Chiara and Schaddig, two of the finest warriors our people would have the honor to know. Rounding out the group were Xhianil and Flare, two young Fire Clan warriors recruited by Red, who were fresh to the ranks of the dragon-warrior elite. They lacked battlefield experience, but they were well trained and had proven themselves to be the best in their combat exercises.
Satisfied with the five who had volunteered, Oscura sent them out to complete their mission. As her confidence began to show in her smile, she turned to share her excitement with Shaleigh…
…but Shaleigh was nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, Oscura’s strike team had taken to flight for most of their journey towards tiger territory. The five flew until they got about 100 yards from the village wherein Kilani was supposedly being cared for. Landing quietly, they covered the rest of the distance on foot...
Shaleigh’s information was correct! The dragons were having no problems infiltrating the village. Every guard position they were given was dead on; every troop movement was accurate. Red navigated the team through every hole Shaleigh had relayed to them. The target was in sight! The cave Kilani was being kept in was before them. Keeping their vigilance high, they quietly sneaked inside and advanced toward her bed…
She wasn’t there.
Suddenly, several of the tiger guard erupted through the doorway! Caught by surprise, Red quickly composed herself and began the mad struggle to escape from the obvious trap that had been sprung on them. Someone must have tipped them off! What was worse was that Red and her team began to feel weak, like their magic and life force was draining from them. It was Schaddig that made the discovery: the cave sparkled as it was practically lined with that cursed ore Zhirite, the mineral the infernal tigers use to make their weapons as well as the Shackles of Binding! With the odds so high against them, the only choice was to flee. She immediately began barking orders to her team. The tight quarters made it impossible to take to the air. Five of the tiger guard managed to cut Chiara and Flare from the rest of the team. Red, Schaddig and Xhianil slowly made progress towards the door so they could escape, taking out tigers left and right. In a final, deft move, the three overcame those still coming in through the door and took to the air for home. Chiara and Flare were less fortunate. They fought valiantly, taking several tigers out in their efforts to get back to Red and the others. But, they could not get to the rest of the team. With more tiger warriors pouring in to replace those that had fallen, it was becoming impossible.
The two dragon warriors were finally overcome and subdued, just as two single tigers made their way inside. One was Kilani’s sister Kess. The other was the tiger princess Kiriad. Demanding to know what happened to her sister, Kess moved threateningly on Flare. Her anger matching her name, Flare broke free of her captors and launched at Kess. But Kess had the upper hand. With blinding speed culled from years of experience and training, she sidestepped out of Flare’s clumsy attack. With one swift motion she pulled a dagger and sliced Flare’s throat, killing her instantly.
Chiara screamed in shock and anger. Seeing an opening, she instinctively spread her wings just enough to set up a bullet maneuver and propelled herself through the crowd and out the door. Anger mixed with her tears as she made her way back to the kingdom to join the other three members of her team. Oscura would not like the results of this raid at all...
Only a few feet away from the cave, strung up on a pike was Sombrana. Weakened and powerless by the Shackles of Binding, she had hung there for a long time…barely conscious. Her hatred and anger kept her alive, kept her strength up just enough – enough so that when the ambush and following battle had taken place, she was able to look up in time to see the dragon team make their escape into the night. Her fury rose within her at the last sight she saw: Red had looked deep in her eyes, yet kept her pace as she made her escape. Whatever they were doing there, it was obvious it was not to rescue her.
Rage began to boil within her…a rage that sparked a surge of strength within. The chaos that erupted from the fray gave Sombrana the moment she needed to act on her rage – the dirt beneath her pike had been loosened and her perch had been jarred repeatedly by the hordes of tiger warriors advancing past her. It was just enough for the pike to finally gave way and fall over. With every ounce of strength she could draw, Sombrana slid the rope that had bound her to the pike off it and slowly crawled her way into the forest and into freedom. The shackles were still binding her, slowly sucking even her newfound energy away. She didn’t care. She would find a way out of the shackles once she was somewhere else. She had to get away. Fortune must have been smiling on her that night; as the commotion caused by the ambush was enough that no one noticed her slink off into the darkness.
Several weeks passed. Red and the remaining members of her team had been disciplined severely for their failure and loss of Flare. Meanwhile, Kilani was nowhere to be found. Believing the dragons had succeeded in their objective, Kess began forming a plan of her own for revenge. Kess brought together her fellow warriors Riah and Shie to help her lead a massive attack that would decimate all of us who stood in their path. Fueled by anger and misjudgment, Kess formed a small army and - together with Riah and Shie - led them onward towards our kingdom. They would never reach their destination…
As they approached a small clearing to rest, the trio was blown back by a force of immense concentration. They stumbled back, the army behind them stunned and in awe. A lone silhouette emerged from the clearing, the shadows slowly receding to reveal what appeared to be an individual of tiger heritage.
The figure’s voice seemed to come from everywhere. It simply said: “YOU WILL HOLD!”
Kess staggered in astonishment at the figure standing before her. It could not be…
It was her sister, Kilani…
Only two good things have come out of this war: the spoils of a good raid and thrashing scalies. But the raids aren’t as rewarding as they once were. Those cold-blooders are getting smart, not decorating themselves with precious metals like they used to. All that leaves us with is the satisfaction that there is one less of those cursed things every time we take one out.
Our kind still haven’t made any progress in our war with the dragons. But, we haven’t allowed those wretched scalies to gain an upper hand either. This thing has been going on so long, I don’t think anyone even remembers why this war started in the first place. I personally don’t care. Dragons are scum, and that’s all that matters. So what if this whole thing is centuries old?
Things became personal for me in this war when my sister Kilani was almost killed by one of them. Granted, we haven’t been close for quite some time, but she’s still my blood. Aside from Shie and Riah, she’s all I have left. For that, I wanted blood in return. When a small group of the leatherheads tried to infiltrate our camp to retrieve my sister’s body, we sprung our trap and captured two of them. The reddish one’s anger flaredand she tried to attack, but the Zhirite-lined cave we were in rendered her weak. As a result her death was gladly mine.
That taste of vengeance proved to be bitter-sweet, however. Kilani’s body was gone from her resting place and the other dragons had escaped. Princess Kiriad, in her infinite lack of wisdom, did nothing to get her back. I wanted action, and I wanted it now. I spent the next few weeks with my pack-mates Shie and Riah gathering others to my cause – those who believed as we did that Princess Kiriad wasn’t fit to rule, those who were willing to help me get my sister back and exact revenge on those sniveling, cold-blooded, leather sacks.
By the fourth week we had our small army, and a plan. Under cover of night we started out on our quest to recover Kilani. My hope for finding her alive was almost non-existent; she was too close to death while she had rested in the cave. But, I wasn’t about to let the scalies have the satisfaction of desecrating her body even after death.
Dawn broke as we continued on track to the heart of the dragon kingdom. We rested when necessary to keep ourselves in top performance should we encounter any cold-blooders. By mid-day we had come upon a small clearing when we were suddenly driven back by a bright flash, stunning Shie, Riah and me. The clearing smoke revealed a figure I would never had expected to see that day.
Kilani was alive...
She stood firm on the ground before us, muscles slightly clenched, jaw set, steel gaze piercing each of us as her words boomed “You will hold!” This could not be! She was as good as dead when I saw her last. As I looked at her, I noticed that she was still recovering from some of her wounds and a weariness rested just behind her eyes. Even so, an aura of strength seemed to emanate from her.
What seemed like an eternity passed before I was even able to move, let alone say anything. Finally, I managed to utter “Kilani?”
She nodded. “It’s me, Kess. Your eyes do not deceive you.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, I rushed to her and we embraced each other tightly. Shie, Riah and the other simply stared in awe. We broke the embrace and a million questions flooded into my head all at once. How is she still alive? Where has she been? Why is she not a captive of our enemy? Kilani raised her hand as I tried to ask all these questions at once and I paused. A warm smile pursed her lips as she began to try and answer.
She told me of how my fears were well founded - she was on the verge of death. She told me of how she had lain there in the cave as I kept a constant vigil beside her. She explained how she had been conscious for some time, waiting for the right moment and enough strength to sneak out. She found both in the interim between my leaving the cave to help set the trap for the hornheads and their arrival to steal her away. She explained that she had found solace in a secret place that she had discovered once. She wouldn’t say where, only that the place held special meaning for her, and it was there that she had spent the next month recovering her health, as well as her mind and spirit. She had relied on the natural essences of the land to heal her. She had discovered ways of making new tools from Zhirite and had developed new tactics that would help her find a way to end this war once and for all.
This last piqued my interest. My sister has figured out a way to take out the scalies and end the war once and for all? At last, maybe Kilani and I would finally see eye to eye once more, fighting side by side as we use what she had learned and earn a final victory for our kind. Then maybe we could finally be close like we were when we were cubs. We could finally be a family once more.
In my excitement, I started blurting out all of this to Kilani. She stopped me the instant I mentioned wiping out the dragonkind once and for all. Then she gave me that look, that look I’ve hated for as long as we’ve been on our own. It was the look of disappointment… a look like I wasn’t able to understand.
She stated plainly, “My hope is not to live in their defeat, but to live with them in peace, Kess.”
Everything after that was lost on me as my blood began to boil at the blasphemous nature of such an idea. A peace?!? With those cold-blooded scalebacks?!? This is what she came up with while she was recovering?!? Everything I had done for her, all of this… so we could save her from those miserable things… and now she is defending them?!
I launched a tirade of obscenities at her, chastising her for her sudden turn of heart. We’d had our differences before, but this was too much to handle. She may as well have been a traitor in my eyes.
“What about that wretch that tried to kill you?” I threw at her, “Is she worth saving as well?!”
“I believe she is,” she replied calmly, “Sometimes one follows orders blindly, not knowing the good or evil of their cause.”
Her passive demeanor was too much. In fury I turned and stormed back to my pack-mates and our small group of followers, motioning for everyone to head back to the encampment. As I walked away, I took one last look back at her: “Looks like my efforts to save my sister were a waste of my time. She’s already dead.”
I don’t know if my words caused her tears in that moment; I couldn’t see through my own...
Shie, Riah and I finished the day’s journey back to camp. From there, I parted with them to take some time for myself. I headed out to a small outcrop in the forest so I could try to make sense of everything that had just happened. It was there that I stumbled upon a startling situation…
Standing just inside one of the caves on the edge of the outcrop were two figures, and one of them was Princess Kiriad! Curiosity tempting me, I quietly edged closer so I could make out what they were saying, as well as try to figure out who the other figure was that Kiriad was talking to.
I found myself a decent vantage point up in one of the many trees without being seen. From there I could pick up the conversation, but I still couldn’t tell who the other figure was. From my perch, all I could see was that the individual was cloaked in red. Very little of her could be seen from under the cloak, save for brief glimpses of what looked like reddish or brown fur as she conversed.
This individual was no one I recognized, yet Princess Kiriad seemed very familiar with her. Stranger yet was what they discussed. From where I hid, I listened to the cloaked one tell the Princess about a small village of dragon soldiers two days’ journey southeast of here. What made the news so important was that the dragon Queen herself – Oscura, she was called - was supposed to be there with her daughter – named Lumina.
I listened intently to the cloaked stranger relay this news in her strange accent, my thoughts coming together as I began to formulate a plan. I knew our so-called leader would just sit on this news and do nothing, so I decided it was time that someone did something about this. I started to leave my perch and head back to my pack-mates when I noticed something odd out of the corner of my eye – I could almost swear I saw a bushy red-furred tail with a white tip swing out from under the cloak as the stranger turned to leave. What kind of creature was this?
Dismissing what I thought I had seen for the moment, I made my way back to Shie and Riah to begin planning what would be our greatest raid ever. I explained what I overheard, and we set to work. We started formulating the plan when Riah asked:
“Ever notice there seems to be a lot of kidnapping going on between us and those scalebacks?”
“We’re not going in there to kidnap anyone,” I replied, “We’re going to end this once and for all. I’m going to eliminate that cold-blood daughter.”
Both Shie and Riah seemed taken aback by this at first, but I convinced them that this was for the best. This would turn the tide in our favour. The dragon queen would be lost without her daughter, and we would be able to pick them off as they fumbled in the confusion stemming from the loss. And just maybe I would finally show my sister that I was right for once. Maybe I could even prove that I had what it takes to lead instead of that fool Kiriad.
We spent the next few days finalizing our plans. As on any raid, this would just be the three of us. We set out before dawn for the dragon encampment. The day started out fairly uneventful. We kept our tracks hidden and stayed out of sight so as not to alert any of the leatherheads to our approach. The three of us were in good spirits. Then suddenly the unthinkable happened.
We ran right into one of those wretched reptiles...
We were all caught by surprise. In what seemed like mere seconds I realized who this particular one was. It was the scalebait we had tied up to the post in the middle of camp, the one who tried to kill Kilani.
She seemed to recognize me as well. My dagger was out like a flash, as were those carried by my pack-sisters. The dragon somehow managed to escape from the Shackles of Binding, but still seemed weakened somewhat from her recent captivity. This gave us an even greater edge.
I immediately flung myself at her, dagger raised for a killing blow. Somehow, she deflected me, forcing me to drop my dagger! I rolled from her throw just in time to see Shie launch her own assault. Our vile opponent managed to overcome Shie, but Riah suddenly came out of nowhere tackling the dragon to the ground. Before the scaleback could react, Riah immediately slammed her head into a log, imbedding her horns into the wood. Taking the opportunity, Shie and Riah immediately pinned the defeated abomination. Recovering my dagger, I positioned myself above her to strike.
Just as I thought I would be able to finally deliver the killing blow with my dagger, a white hot light shot up from where we had her pinned. The light’s intensity was searing, blowing all three of us back. As I struggled to regain my balance and clear my vision of light trails, I turned just in time to catch the scale-back take flight. It looked like it was taking all of her strength to do so. I also noticed one of her horns was now broken.
Knowing that neither Shie, Riah, or myself were able to catch her, I spat at that wretched beast instead, “That’s right, fly away. Save yourself from death.”
“Don’t worry, fleatrap, I’ll be back to savour your deaths later.”
I could not believe it! She spoke in our tongue, our trade language! Before any of us could do anything, she was gone. All three of us allowed ourselves to collapse on the ground at that point. The fight had taken a lot out of us. Spirits hanging low, we pulled our tired selves out of the area and found a better place to make camp for the night.
We found a nearby cave and sat by the fire we made as we each mulled over the battle. Could we pull off this raid if we couldn’t even take out one weakened dragon? Shie brought it all into perspective just then. She pointed out that the cursed hornhead used trickery to win so she could escape, barely making it due to how weak she was. Shie also pointed out that our raid would be completely under cover. We’d be in and out without being detected. As usual, Shie made it all clear. Spirits raised once more, we finished tending to each other’s wounds, ate and went to sleep.
By dawn the next day, we were already up and ready to proceed. We decided to each catch a quick bath first at a small hot spring we had found in the cave before heading out. The bath quickly turned to play as the three of us let off some of the tension we had built from last night. It felt good to be able to play in the mud and water. It had been too long since the three of us were able to have this much fun. Briefly, my thoughts drifted to when Kilani and I were cubs, when playing was all that mattered, when we had each other and that was enough.
Our playfulness finally satisfied, we finished our baths and I dismissed my nostalgia. We still had a job to do. We set out for the final stretch of our journey.
It was night time when we reached the small camp set up by the scalies. According to the information I had obtained, the Queen Oscura and her daughter would be in the heart of the encampment, discouraging anyone from doing what we were about to do. Shie and Riah scouted ahead, making sure our information was correct. One false detail and it was all over.
The sisters came back with positive news. All sentries were on the exact patrol routes the stranger said they would be. With the proper timing, we avoided the scouts, guards and sentries and managed to make our way, slowly and quietly, to the quarters of the Queen’s daughter.
This was it. I pulled out a dagger I had had specially forged for this task. The Zhirite content was significantly higher than usual. This would truly be a lethal weapon to such a small creature. Shie and Riah stood lookout as I was about to enter the young dragon’s dwelling.
Without warning and with expert speed we were besieged upon by twenty or more of those scale-backs! There was no escape, we were surrounded! Three of those filthy scalies approached. Each one grabbed one of us, bound us with Magick and forced us to drop our weapons. Another one came striding up after we were subdued. This one was red in colour, but no less ugly than the rest. She flashed a cool smile at me, then backhanded me to the ground. There was a copper taste in my mouth as she said something at me in her own tongue. She then stepped aside as two other figures strode into the crowd…
The Queen herself was there. Black as pitch, she carried herself in such a way that even I began to feel intimidated. I looked over at my pack-mates. I could see the fear in their eyes. I knew then that I had made a big mistake, and it looked like we were all going to pay for it.
Behind the Queen was her daughter, a contrast in flesh tone as her white scales shone in the night. She stayed close to her mother, watching as though she was in the middle of a school lesson.
The Queen said a few words to the red one and immediately Shie and Riah were taken away, followed by the red one and two others. Alone in the midst of the Queen and her brood, my thoughts oddly drifted to my sister Kilani.
Those thoughts were immediately broken when I was suddenly lifted off the ground by means I could not see! Somehow I knew this Dark Queen had used her strange Magicks to achieve this feat. Yet, her dark features showed no signs of any exertion.
Then she spoke. But, like the cold-blood we fought the day before, she spoke in our own language!
“So, you dare try to kill my daughter, foul fur-beast?” she asked me as she approached ever closer to me, her youngling still remaining close. “Oh yes, I can speak your crude trade language. It matters not that you know now; you will be dead soon, as will your associates. Your death will have to wait, however, as you will still prove useful as bait for your sister – the one who kidnapped my daughter and tried to brainwash her. I spared her before to protect my daughter, but now…” She trailed off.
How did she know Kilani was my sister? For that matter, how did they know we were even there? Questions swam through my mind as the Queen signaled for me to be taken away. Tears began to form in my eyes as the implications of her words started to soak in. She said my death would wait, which meant Shie and Kess were in deeper trouble. And to make matters worse, I was to be left alive to lure my sister to my rescue.
This was all my fault. My pride and overconfidence led us to this. I had put myself, my pack-mates and my sister in danger. I once said that neither we nor the dragons seemed to make any headway in this war. I think at that moment I tipped the scales in their favour.
I was taken back to the dragon kingdom that night, placed in Magickal bonds and left somewhere in a stone dungeon. I never saw Shie or Riah after they had been taken away. All I did see were stone walls and darkness. I was left there to rot with my own thoughts. At that moment, only one came to mind:
Kilani… I’m so sorry.
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