In a controlled dive, the dragon god leapt from the granite peaks and soared across the brilliant azure sky, slowly banking her turns as she circled towards her prey. Smoke billowed from her nostrils as she prepared to startle the quarry with a frightening burst of flame. A low growl emitted from within her throat as she plunged ruthlessly from the sky.
Hundreds of feet in the air, she circled. Her green eyes glinted in anticipation of the kill. Finally below the bulbous clouds, she realized that two humans were engaged in a magical battle down in the snowy valley. A great ball of flashing light burst from the tiny woman. Narcissa snorted in amusement as the woman’s muscular attacker was blasted violently back, hard, and quickly enveloped in a deep snow mound.
It must be Cauri and Kael, Narcissa mused with an edge of disappointment. Now she’d have to find dinner elsewhere, as eating her subjects would be of no use. Using her momentum in the dive, she gracefully twisted in the air with the power of her massive wings and began the climb in the sky back up to her cozy granite peak above the valley.
The dragon god prided herself in keeping careful watch over the Plane of Light, but she had growing concerns with rumors of serious trouble brewing in other realms. Trouble that could easily spill into her realm from the Plane of Eternity. Arch Cleric Brogan kept bothering her with some old prophecy—that Cauri had been sent to Aiden, to Narcissa’s arena, to be trained for reasons he kept suspiciously secret. The man was adamant that the girl be raised properly, to marry only after she had grandmastered in the Path of Light. Brogan insisted that Cauri must be ready when the time came. He never spoke of what he thought was coming, and the dragon god had long ago given up on questioning the intensity of his conviction. Indeed, Cauri was a clever and impressive young cleric, Narcissa thought with pride. Stubborn, she mused, but special.
With a resolute sigh, she landed gracefully on her rocky perch, looking back to the battle waging far below. The Plane of Light was an astonishingly beautiful and pleasant realm. As she gazed down on her snow covered valley, she realized that it shone and glistened like her homeland in the heavens. She would protect this land with everything she had, she determined, but the girl would have to be ready.
Thick snow cascaded from the tree branches in feathery clumps. Cauri Trimark watched intently, mesmerized by the serenity of her surroundings. Her breath puffed from her pale pink lips in thick waves from the intensity of the cold. She studied the short distance with her magic, searching for her attacker, sensing his essence behind a mound of snow. Her violet eyes flashed with satisfaction as she plotted his demise.
Muttering under her breath, she cast a quick protection spell and grasped at the twin amethyst daggers kept secure in her bootstraps. Her white leather uniform had a green swatch of rank on her right shoulder, but kept her concealed in the snow almost perfectly. Only her thick mane of dark hair, cascading down her back in a loose braid could betray her position. The spell sent a glowing aura around her body, then vanished with a blue shimmer. She glanced around. He was on the move.
Suddenly, missiles whizzed past her ear and she rolled to the ground, kicking up snow as she dived to safety. Using her momentum, she gathered speed enough to slide into position to assail her attacker. Cauri held her breath, listening. He wheezed in the cold, sounding near. His boot crunched the snow just feet from her position. Got you now, she thought with a smile.
She darted from her hiding spot, intent on surprising Kael. But he was already on her, slashing broadswords with fierce intensity. All muscles and blades. The silence was disturbed only by the metallic slashes he made vigorously in the air. Cauri felt a slight lurch in her stomach as she dodged his moves, studying his intense power. He was so commanding. Determined.
With great strength, Kael brought the swords down, slicing at her, his green eyes flashing through his steel helmet with resolve.
His swords rang out on her magical shield, once again sending him flying backwards into a deep snow mound. She chuckled at the repeat performance. For a moment, he was buried entirely. With a grunt of warrior strength, he pulled himself from the snow and leaped at her with renewed vigor.
She jumped quickly to her feet, bending her body, and using her momentum to kick upwards with her right leg, knocking him hard on the chin, and spinning herself back down into a defensive crouch. She caught him off-guard and he stumbled. His swords swished wildly in the air as he regained his balance.
Cauri dodged his torrent of furious swipes and darted low behind a large evergreen. She closed her eyes, silently muttering an incantation, sensing his position as he warily approached. He didn’t want to be knocked into the snow again.
With eyes closed tightly, she focused on the powers of the light, summoning the magic to her. She felt it come in fierce waves, rushing into her body with an almost violent authority. Her skin hummed with power and her breathing came with sudden quickness as the magic thrashed within her. She laughed as she was overcome with pleasure. Her blood boiled with power. The light was hers.
Standing tall before the Paladin, she commanded the light to protect her.
Kael yelped in alarm as a great burst of light blocked his path, swarming around her in protection. He was buffeted back by the force, and lay in a crumpled heap on the ground. Moving slowly, he twisted himself around, deep laughter rumbling from his belly as he watched in fascination. The light grew brighter, surrounding Cauri, emanating over her curvy form. It swirled fantastically, and then rapidly simmered into the snow at her feet.
The Paladin found her eyes. Cauri smiled, ending the spell.
She giggled, standing over him triumphantly. Kael responded by catching her body and pulling her to the ground. He grabbed her face in his hands with sudden intensity.
She struggled, her face just inches from his.
“Thought you weren’t allowed to use elemental magic, Cleric.”
“It’s forbidden. I don’t care.”
He gave a low chuckle. “You almost had me that time, actually.”
Cauri raised an eyebrow. “I would never hurt you.”
He touched her hair affectionately. “I still worry that you’re using magic from both realms. I just wish you weren’t so stubborn.”
Cauri laughed. “I doubt you’d love me, then.”
Kael shook his head. “You infuriate me, sometimes.” He pulled her face to his for a long kiss.
His lips on hers sent shivers through her body. She was suddenly aware of her breasts pressing up against his chest, and the muscles in his legs that hers rested on.
His arms wrapped her close and she moaned against his lips, wishing only to be alone with him. But she pushed away as duties and responsibilities taunted at the edges of her mind.
Kael seemed to know why and contented himself with holding her gently. His eyes left hers as a dark shadow circled their prone forms on the ground. Cauri twisted, turning to see what was in the sky.
They watched as Narcissa’s sinister shape soared below the clouds, until the dragon god began to plummet at a staggering speed. Then her wings fluttered and she floated down into the open-sky arena less than a ten minute walk from their location.
Cauri pushed gently off him and helped him to his feet as the arena bell sounded. “Come on, it’s time to see the dragon god.”
Kael grasped Cauri’s hand as they walked towards the arena. In the silence, her thoughts turned to what she must say to the dragon god. Orphaned at birth, Cauri had been placed under the mentorship of Brogan Ledin, Arch Cleric of Aiden, who had decided that she would study in the Light Guild, and she had fought that choice with passionate fervor ever since. He had ignored her enthusiasm and ability for elemental spells entirely. Cauri knew that approaching Narcissa with this request had the potential to create problems among the guilds because denying one’s fealty to a dragon god and worshiping nature granted access to elemental powers. But she didn’t fully understand the difference as she felt both forms of magic flowing through her veins. And she felt far more than fealty for Narcissa. She respected the dragon god and had come to consider her something of a mentor.
She remembered once, asking Brogan how the split between the guilds had come to be. Brogan had taken Cauri up into his lap and described the land of Aiden as a realm in chaos after the spiritual war that had pitted wizards against the dragon gods about two hundred years ago. The wizards had come to recognize that the dragon gods were only powerful due to the pooled magic of the followers within their realms of influence. And to ensure their everlasting strength and command of magic, the dragon gods had to maintain that influence. This group of wizards were furious at being used by the dragon gods and demanded full access to their magic. It was time for the old religion to make concessions.
Cauri could feel both forms of the magic within her and could readily understand why the wizards wanted more freedom. But, as Brogan had explained, magic couldn’t work that way without causing greater chaos. He told Cauri that there was once a great wizard called Montague who sought to introduce spell casters to a new method of magic: spells called forth from the elements. By doing so, Montague renounced the dragon gods and his magic, once used for healing and defense, was stripped from him. He could call upon no spells, but knew there must exist some source for power other than offering fealty to the dragon gods. He became shamed, and those who followed Montague were lost with him. Cauri had felt sorrow for those wizards, banished from their people because they chose to fight for what they believed in and knew they should have access to.
She looked over at Kael as he walked beside her, lost in his own thoughts. She understood why Montague made his choice. At the time though, she had questioned Brogan, asking what had become of Montague and his followers. Brogan had explained that one lonely night while the once-wizards camped in the wilds near the Tao Xannon Ruins, Montague had discovered that he still held magic within him; he just could not directly access it. While they cooked around the campfire, he asked the other once-wizards if they, too, sensed their powers. At first reluctant, they responded that it was faint, but present. The discovery revived their morale. Stronger when joined, they held hands around the fire and used the innate spark of life to tap into their power once again. Montague realized that so connected, he and his once-wizards could use nature; for nature itself was a living force, a force that he believed was much more powerful than the dragon gods. Montague stared into the fire and visualized the force, visualized he could utilize magic without swearing a covenant to any god.
The dragon gods, he understood, had very different magic than what was available for mere mortals; but that power was, at its core, still accessible by all—otherwise the dragon gods wouldn’t be dependent on their spheres of influence to maintain their power. Brogan explained that it was weeks of focusing upon the fire with the once-wizards before Montague conjured a blast of flame into his hand. It was so unexpected that he flinched, setting another once-wizard on fire. It was all they could do to smother the flames and save him from a grisly death.
But Montague had found the source. Months and years passed as Montague taught his once-wizards how to access their powers. As a group, they found more ways to use nature. They could turn water into ice, throw a flaming fireball, or even conjure elemental golems to fight in combat for them. As they grew more confident, Montague gathered new members into his growing guild.
Brogan had taken Cauri from his lap, then, and pointed a finger at her nose. “These heathens are now respected within Aiden,” he had said gravely. “But fealty to the dragon gods is more important. Without the dragon gods, magic would cease to exist.”
Kael’s hand lightly skimmed her lower back, pulling her from her thoughts of the past. They stood at the entrance to the open-sky arena. For a moment, Cauri was transfixed by the magnificent stone columns depicting battles between the wizards of old and the dragon gods. Two images stood out among the rest. In the first, a dragon god was furiously shooting flames down upon a group of screaming, terrified wizards. Her eyes trailed to the next image. The same dragon god was high on a mountain perch, above the swirling tendrils of smoke from the battle. The dragon god’s neck was curved in exhaustion as she tended to her wounds, all alone.
Kael’s shoulders seemed to slump as he searched for words. “I have something to tell you. I suppose it’s both good and bad news.”
Cauri’s stomach dropped. She wondered if Kael was in trouble for helping her train in the Field of Elements without authorization. “Tell me.”
Clearing his throat, Kael looked up at the sky. “Ah, if only the dragon gods would tell me their plans! It’s what I’ve always wanted, but the timing isn’t right.”
He had been given a quest. Cauri pursed her lips together. She knew of High Paladin Gendry’s passing, of course, but had never thought Kael would be chosen for the position as he had only reached his twenty-eighth year and there were far more experienced members in the guild. There had been great debate of the succession within the Warrior Guild for months, now, but she’d heard rumors that they’d finally reached a decision. “High Paladin?” She asked.
He sighed. “It’s such an honor. To lead my own guild. To be given a position on the council.”
She didn’t understand. “What’s the bad news, then?”
“I’ll be going somewhere through time, to an event not happening within our realm. It’ll take place within one of the quest portals.”
Cauri could suddenly feel the pulse in her throat as her heart pounded wildly. Quests such as this were incredibly rare and there was only one other man alive that had been through it before: Kael’s father, and her mentor, the Arch Cleric Brogan Ledin.
About twenty-five years ago, during his quest to become the new Arch Cleric, Brogan had been sent through a quest portal to take part in an event in the past. He had never spoken of it, and when Cauri had inquired, his eyes had ghosted over and he’d left the room. As her mentor in magic, she’d hoped he would be more forthcoming, but she understood some things were meant to be kept private.
Quests for status were different from the traditional trials to become a grandmaster and often involved travel through portals of time defined by a quest master. The region’s dragon god was responsible for powering the quest portal, but Cauri knew from her research that the angel god had always been summoned to ensure there was enough power to bring the wizard or warrior back. Together, the angel god and the dragon god also summoned an ancestor spirit to act as the quest master who would decide whether the potential successor was intended to right a wrong of the past or change a future outcome. As much as Cauri understood, the quest portals were designed to put the challenger through the worst of what could be expected in times of war or strife, to ensure he would have the skills necessary to run a guild for his lifetime. The challenger was expected to return, of course, but nothing was guaranteed within the portals.
The arena bell rang out, startling Cauri from her thoughts. The dragon god was waiting.
He kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Get what you need from Narcissa. I’m off to find my father.”