Chapter 18- The Dragon of Charred Scales
Our new Masters have told us about the invisibility domes around the entrances of Oita, how they are small and must be constantly maintained. They must be well trained in the spells, as five spirit dragons have agreed to make a very large temporary dome so that our flying skills can be tested. And they really meant large.
"The radius of this dome is a mile and a half," said Master Glabli, a spirit dragon, after the dome was completed. "There is a resistance to the borders, which may make you fall out of the sky if not prepared. Also, from this side you can see the edges. Stay within them."
Looking up, I do see a purple tinge to the sky. I wonder how it looks up close. I have never seen an invisibility dome that was not invisible.
"Novayar, you will go first. Several dragons are spread out within the dome to observe you. I will fly alongside you and issue commands. Follow them as best as you can, even if it is beyond your ability."
Despite his obvious nervousness, he nodded without hesitation. Aerial maneuvers are not things he has been taught yet. And even if he could do flips and tight turns, he could never rival a spirit dragon's agility. He could especially not rival a nimble spirit dragon like Master Glabli. We arrived at the dome to him making moves that make even me dizzy.
"Good. Whenever you're ready," said Glabli.
After a few moments, they both took to the air. Before long, they were out of sight. Another dragon, a fortune dragon who has not named himself, stood behind me. I probably am not allowed to leave here.
Regardless, I walk over to the edge of this little clearing to observe a rock outcropping. Not that the rock itself is interesting, but it looks heavily touched by dragon fire.
"Why does this rock look like this?" I ask.
In a gruff voice, the dragon said, "several dragons around here vent their frustrations by melting rocks. Mostly strength dragons. It harms no one."
I nodded. Makes sense, though I would like to know why several dragons get frustrated seemingly often. Back in Kucho, dragons like Jheecu often would get mad, but they had pasts that affected them deeply. I guess that could be the case here too, no reason for it not to, but it just seems a little odd.
"Many dragons actually melt the rocks in their chambers to shape it, instead of the spell you were taught. Strength and swift dragons can't use that spell very well or at all, depending on the individual. So many such dragons you meet are highly knowledgeable about molten rock. Several are researchers monitoring the nearby volcano," said the fortune dragon.
"North, but not too far away. Alustagal volcano, or Yellowstone as the humans call it. Actually, they call it a super volcano."
"What's a super volcano? I've never heard that term before."
"A volcano on a massive scale, one that could wipe out everyone within a large radius and impact pretty much a whole continent. Which is partly why we are underground here in Oita. Heat from the magma, and protection when it finally blows."
A whole continent? I do not see how more than ash can spread that far. Though from what little I know about volcanoes, ash can sometimes be hazardous. It was never anything to worry about in Kucho, not like hurricanes. Still, being an unknown, the thought of an eruption makes me nervous.
"Is an eruption going to happen soon?"
"Probably not. Not in our lifetime at least, unless something unexpected happens."
"Unexpected?" I asked, getting more nervous.
"Your other Master will likely inform you better than I can. Much like how Kucho has protocols for severe weather, we have protocols for an eruption that you will learn soon. Direct your questions then. Focus on flying now."
He did not sound worried. Maybe volcanic eruptions of this scale are exceedingly rare. More so than weather disasters. I do not know. Florida does not have that sort of thing.
My attention turned back to the melted rock. My claws traced some of the channels and grooves until Novayar and Glabli landed nearby.
"Oculeera," said the spirit dragon. "Your turn."
I look at Novayar, already sweating despite the shortness of his flight. His jaw hangs open a little, tongue just visible. All the while knowing my test will be longer. But I can do this. At least I do not have to race or fight him or something.
I stretch my wings quickly before taking off. Glabli seemed to smile while I did.
The larger a dragon is within a certain type, the less nimble they tend to be. It is just how we are built. Not being fully grown, I am not much bigger than Glabli, and thus I should be capable of doing what he can, assuming I have enough practice.
"Before we begin, I must ask, how adept are you at technical flying?" he yelled over the wind.
"Quite good, actually. As a small youngling I have flown through the trees in Kucho, dodging and weaving. Although the altitude was a lot lower than here. Made things easier but living in Hasinji has helped me to adapt."
He nodded. "You are well aware of the effect of height, then. And the importance of stretching. Mentally you are capable. Of that I have little doubt. But I want to see your physical mastery. Instead of following orders, I want you to copy my movements."
I nodded. I expected as much. Whether because I do not need a safety net or because it is easier to show rather than tell, it makes sense for me to just follow along and mimic. Besides, our throats must be getting a little raw. Flying close makes it easier to talk without yelling but flying close makes aerial maneuvers dangerous.
Master Glabli picked up his pace, passing me in the air and performing a barrel roll. A simple maneuver that I easily copied. He did not look back to see if I had succeeded, instead moving into another maneuver, a free fall. He only falls a short distance, not enough to strain our wings. Once again, I easily mimic him.
He made a few more moves, which I managed with little difficulty, then he started to fly straight up. Not looping around as he rose or searching for thermals, but flying straight up, as high as momentum would take him. That is not something I have ever done so I watch carefully before trying it myself.
Arcing my whole body, I aim my head upwards, using my wings to shift my velocity to vertical as best as I can. But I over rotate and end up gliding upside down. When I right myself I see Master Glabli watching me.
"Is that a new maneuver for you, or did you just mess up?" he asked.
"Both," I yell. I build up speed to try it again, but he growls at me. "No, we move on. Follow."
Every maneuver he now made became more and more difficult, pushing me to my agility limits and sometimes beyond. Sweat was slicking my scales by the time we returned to the clearing. Right about now I wish winter was still around.
"Well?" asked the fortune dragon after we both landed.
"Oculeera is as good a flyer as can be expected for her age. Novayar has a lot of work ahead, but is speedier than I expected," said Glabli.
"Those small wings? Do conjurers use magic or something while flying?" asked the fortune dragon.
"No. His wings have a larger proportion than spirit dragon wings, and if they need no magic, he doesn't either. Maybe the conjuring dragons were swifter than most."
A tree snapped, and all of us turned towards the sound. "You forget whose blood flows through his veins," said an oddly familiar voice. Trees shook as the largest dragon I have ever seen became visible and walked towards us. The voice sounded male, but no female strength dragon has ever grown to such a size, let alone a male.
Aspects of the four dragon types shaped its body. Its scales matched the color of the darkest of nights, marred by many bloodless gashes. His scales looked like they had been burnt, darkened by the char from some horrific fire. The dragon moved as if in pain, yet its face hid it well.
"Harogbas, it is an honor to meet with you," said Master Glabli.
Wait, this is Harogbas? This is Oita's leader?
"Glabli, Yanogar, good work testing these two, but I want to speak with them in private. Would you two kindly leave?"
They both nodded and left without hesitation. The invisibility dome remained all around us, allowing us to stay in dragon form.
"On our way here, we browsed through a cave that had a painting of a big black dragon," Novayar said softly. "It… something affected me there."
The black dragon cocked his head. "Was this a cave Dalquiri had examined?"
I nodded. "She brought us to it but did not have full answers. She mentioned she knew a dragon who could say more, who had tried to make themselves more powerful. Is that you?"
Harogbas sat on his haunches and sighed. "Yes. And I will explain, but proper introductions are in order. Though we have already met."
Neither of us spoke. His voice is familiar, but I cannot place where I have heard it.
"Do you remember the name 'Dunen son of Caparollo?'"
"Oh," we both said at the same time. "Wait, you're not Dunen," I continued.
"Yes and no," Harogbas said. "Dunen was my nestmate long ago. He died in a lightning storm that almost killed me too. So now I use his name outside of Oita and a few other places so that Xanmet-kal can't track me so easily. Indeed, it was I who helped get you two to Hasinji, though that was before my… transformation."
"Why?" Novayar asked.
"Why hide from the Greatest Elder?"
"Because we do not agree on things," Harogbas said with a small smile.
"About what?" I asked.
Harogbas shook his head. "So many questions. Let us fly around in this dome and I will talk about myself and about Oita. And why you two are here. Hopefully that will clear things up."
"We'll have to yell to hear each other," Novayar said. "We can't fly too close to large dragons, or so I am told."
"Turbulence throws little dragons like you out of the air unless you fly ahead, which Oculeera is too slow to do. That is why you are taught to keep a distance. Large dragons do not worry at all. And my voice can carry well. But you two will have trouble being heard, which will save my ears. Your throats are smaller, though capable if you feel like losing your voices later."
Despite that being a jab at us, I smile. As Dunen he was a lot more serious, but that may have been because of the situation. Now Harogbas feels more comfortable about himself, or at least is acting more comfortable.
"Novayar, you are human raised and are not truly a dragon in your mind. But is flying not a joyous experience for you?" Harogbas asked.
"Yeah, it's fun," Novayar said. "I just thought it would be easier to speak here."
"It would, for you."
Novayar sighed. "Fine, let's fly."
I suppress a groan. I have not had as much time to rest up after my test. Still, he said he would talk about the cave, or how he transformed himself. I want to know just how he has changed, and how painful it is.
The larger dragon's wing beats move enough air to knock both of us to the ground. We wait a few moments before also taking to the sky, not wanting to get caught in turbulence.
"I was watching you two fly, and I am impressed with both of you," said Harogbas when we both caught up. "I'm sorry if it feels like I'm excluding you from the conversation, but I really don't want to be interrupted. Plus, I love flying."
To be honest, if Harogbas had said that his brother really did carry us to Hasinji, I would believe it. More so than him using his brother's name. Harogbas really seems different now. Hopefully he will discuss this all in depth. I really want to know. I want to know so much. I feel like I did when I first became interested in Anyle. But this time, the subject of my fascination is not a forbidden one.