Chapter 1-Arc of Descent
Why was I ever born?
I was trapped within a dank and chilled circular chamber with a bolted oaken door and a small, window criss-crossed with iron bars. After about a week of imprisonment, I stopped counting the days. I curled my scaly tail around my knees and tried to compress myself into a self-pitying ball. I felt my bout of self-loathing was justified as I had recently watched my star-crossed mother die of illness not long prior. My scaled hands dug into my legs…hard enough to draw blood. I muttered darkly, "Mama…I'm so sorry. I tried to be a good girl."
A faint thud of an iron grate clanging shut intruded into my ruminations.
I looked around at the rounded walls illuminated by a single window slit that dimly admitted daylight. I could only assume that I deserved to rot in here. It was my fault that I was a mutt; bred from a from a blue-scaled draconian mother and a black-scaled anonymous father.
I whispered in a numb monotone, "I should just die already. At least I'll get to see mama again."
A soft, sorrowful voice opined, "You mother would be heartbroken if you died, Miss Mirio."
I screamed in surprise as I had been all but certain that I was trapped alone in this oubliette dungeon cell. I stood up and pressed my tiny body against the smooth, cold stones; hard enough to make my shoulder-mounted bat wings contort in pain. I stuck my taloned hands blindly in front of me as I shrieked, "Leave me be, cretin!"
I heard soft footfalls as a dimly backlit figure entered into the center of my cell. I was rather shocked to see that my mystery cellmate was a short, teenaged human maiden. Her thick spectacles faintly reflected the ambient light as she sighed. "You're in pain. I understand that feeling way too well. But you must find the courage to live. You are not destined to fall here."
I gasped as I felt her hand softly pet my tangled locks. In desperation I bit into her wrist with my sharpened canines. I tasted the warm ferric tang of her blood as she bled onto my chin and into my mouth. She flinched but did not attempt to roughly shove me away. She was over twice my size. Why was she allowing me to bite her arm? Was she insane?
I could somehow see outline of her pained smile as her eyes looked at me with sorrowful pity.
Tears stung my eyes as I broke down crying and dove into her soft body. Soon enough the girl had me resting on her lap as the pent up emotions breached the dam and flooded out uncontrollably. After she had tied up her bleeding wrist with a strip of cloth, she contentedly smoothed out my dirty and knotted hair. I finally blubbered out, "So-so-sorry…I hurt you-you. Yo-your name…"
I heard her chuckle as she whispered into my pointed ear, "I've been dreaming for so long to have our fated meeting. Miss Mirio, It's a pleasure to finally meet you face to face at last. You can call me Marcie."
I woke up with a start as I woozily regained my bearings. Why had I been dreaming about my imaginary human friend again? It had been eight years in the past that I had been imprisoned after my father's luckless mistress had been poisoned. No one had wanted to the world to learn of a Baron's bastard brat. Fortunately, a year later, my stepmother had impressed upon my father that even a halfbreed could be of use to advance the Inimici family's interests.
The morning sunlight streaming in from overhead had forced me back into the real world. I had to live with the fact that I was stuck in a magically endowed oaken airship that was little more than a mobile prison as far as I was concerned. It still beat out the oubliette by leagues, however.
"Mistress, it is time to arise."
My inexplicable nightmare had tainted my mood. Why had I dredged up the memory of that strange human girl that I had conjured up out of a fit of insanity during my imprisonment in solitary confinement? I ignored my servant by pulling the sky blue sheets over my head. Why get up? Why bother? Any attempt to impress my Baroness stepmother or my odious half-brother was fated to end up as an exercise in futility. Only my sweet and naïve little half sister treated me with any decency. I knew well of the malicious whispers, snickering servants and cruel kin in my mother's oppressive castle whenever I returned to present tributes, messages, passengers, and the occasional prisoner.
My maid's soothing voice piped up, "My lady. Are you ready to get dressed?"
"Begone, servant!" I groaned in irritation and chucked my pillow at her as I had no one else to take out my frustrations on.
My teenaged chambermaid effortlessly caught the plush missile with a soft mechanical whir of her hand and then made a sweeping curtsey as a sign of deference to me. She smiled and remarked, "Happy birthday, my lady." She closed the door behind her and entered fully into my tiny oval-shaped bedchamber; albeit it was far grander than any of the other berths on my cramped vessel. The floor was cold black marble veined with red meandering lines, The walls were dark-stained wood. The ceiling was cream-colored, and built-in mahogany furniture and maroon drapes decorated the room. Elliptical clerestory windows with diamond grid panes afforded a view of the sky and clouds above. She flashed a cheery smile as she deposited a wrapped box on my night table.
I could not meet her gaze as I growled, "What difference does the day make? No one celebrates the fact that the bastard child just turned sixteen." Despite my sharp-edged tongue, I had taken a shine to my maid two annum my elder ever since she was assigned to look after my needs since I was nine. Although I was loath to admit my private thoughts out loud; truthfully my servant was the embodiment of my fantasy of having a sweet and supportive surrogate older sibling…instead of my vile elder half brother who tormented me every time we met. Draconians like me were infamous for their hoarding habits and limitless greed. I fit the stereotype at least one respect; I zealously guarded my treasured ally as one of only a handful of retainers that I actually trusted.
Bamhi was a tan-skinned human with long dark brown hair tied off into a simple ponytail with a yellow ribbon. Zigzagging grey tattoos adorned her cheeks and a tiny matching diamond mark was prominent on her forehead. Her restrained maid outfit was a frilled black dress that fell to her ankles, a dark grey apron, shiny black boots, and white cotton gloves. Underneath her attire, her arms, legs, and spine were all comprised of gunmetal grey cybernetic prosthetics. She started to smile as her blue eyes gazed down at me with an expression of almost familial affection.
I huffed as I sat up and glared at her with annoyed crimson eyes. I stood up in my star-adorned black ultramarine nightgown trimmed with outlines of icy mountains at the bottom hem. "Carry on, Bamhi."
"As you will." She guided me to the dressing table to sit down, and then she opened up my armoire and started to take out my on-duty attire for me to select. As I took my cushioned seat in front of the mirror, I glared at my reflection. I beheld a haughty, tall, adolescent girl sporting a miserable frown. My pale indigo hair was smooth and fell to my waist, My eyes were luminescent crimson with vertical slit pupils. A pair of silver horns arced back from my temples and black scales mixed with zig-zagging blue scales covered my arms, legs, back, hips and neck. A long tail dangled from the back of my nightgown, and spread of raven wings jutted out from my back. My illegitimacy was made manifest by the cobalt-hued scales adorning my body. Along with my hair color, my blue scales had been a 'gift' bestowed onto me by from my father's mistress; now it was worse in my eyes than a slave brand.
Soon enough my hair was carefully braided and I was encased in a rugged jet black dress with a crimson corset, a black lace choker and sturdy tall boots. My gift was a silver pendant containing a diamond-shaped jet black crystal just over an inch along each side. I instantly knew my maidservant had gone through a lot of trouble to secure the magically imbued crystal that were found in the caverns deep underneath my father's keep. I finally rose and flashed an indulgent smirk. "This will do, I suppose."
Bamhi simply beamed benevolently at me as she opened the bedroom door and held it open for me. After walking into my antechamber that served as my office, solarium, and library we took the helical cast iron stairway down to the main deck. The transverse corridor was framed with wood on all sides and extended from the lift propulsion chamber aft all the way past the Hex Prism cannon battery amidships, to the bridge at the fore end of the nimble warship. I sighed inwardly as I made a show of confidently striding past the gun crew and servants busily engaged in maintenance of the weapons and cleaning the deck. I quickly reached the bridge hatch and watched as Bamhi hoisted the hinged door open. I blinked as the bright sunlight filled the oblong room. I walked in and watched the familiar sight of several crew controlling the ship. Two stood at the bride wings larboard and starboard with spotting glasses to note incoming threats from nearly every direction. The ship's captain and helmsman were closer the center of the space.
A soft voice filled the narrow space as the Somnium domi's captain beamed at me with a quiet smile as he bowed, "Good day and Happy Birthday, milady. You look as radiant as always" Captain Lywel was a tall Arcadian in the service of House Inimici long before I was born. He was a delicate man in a dark gray uniform paired with black boots and gloves. He possessed graceful features and silvered hair. A pair of brown, tan, and ivory feathered bird-like wings jutted from his back. He puffed on a long clay pipe as he regarded me with gentle affection.
I tried to frown, but I couldn't help but to flash a hint of a smirk. After all, my former tutor saw fit to follow me into my exile rather than continue to serve my father at Castle Pandemonium. I was too proud to admit my debt to him, of course.
He handed over a red bound logbook as his gift, "Milady."
I opened it up and felt a blend of insatiable curiosity and utter exasperation. Carefully handwritten in precise blue ink, Captain Llwel had meticulously recorded dozens of Bardic tales that had made the rounds starting five years ago about the Exploits of a mythical crimson-scaled Draco named Countess Cerise. The Tale of the Sundered Crimson Draco was an ultimately tragic story about a nobleborn who lost her home and kin due to human betrayal. As revenge, she vowed to bring down the human kingdoms and establish an Empire where she would crush her enemies under her boot. She had somehow acquired a titanic crystalline tetrahedral-shaped magical flying fortress along the way and bloomed into a maleficent yet compelling villainess. Several of her tragic retainers, of both sexes, were also her lovers. Despite her machinations, in the end she destroyed everything she cared about in her zealous pursuit of revenge. Her last memory was being pieced through the chest and lamenting her pointless life as she expired alone.
"In all there are about 130 stories; with some of the more dramatic tales having half a dozen variants. Some focus on the adventure, and some on her romantic conquests. More than one tale are quite spicy in flavor."
I knew better than to take the bait, but I still couldn't help but flush pink in the cheeks when I had made the mistake to read a few of the racier tales set in Cerise's bedchamber.
He continued on with a slightly wider smile at the sight of my embarrassment. "A few accounts are mutually contradictory. Such is the nature or oral retelling by dozens of bards." He took another draw on his pipe and remarked, "It is clear that this saga was at least compiled by one individual…one who knew her Ladyship personality well enough to recast her as a fictional tragic villain."
I exploded in ire, "But which traitor would sully my name by turning me into a villainous, sex-crazed megalomanic?" I panted slightly as I calmed down slightly. "Feh. It's not like I really have a reputation to demolish." Maybe my hallucinatory human friend Marcie was responsible, I thought sardonically.
Bamhi shook her head and gently spoke, "You are a kind and noble mistress. There are more people in this world that respect your name than you think, milady."
I silently brushed off my maid's complement. "Captain, are you any closer to finding out the identity of the mysterious author?"
He pointed out the bridge windows at mountaintop tower cloaked eternally by a thick haze. "I think the Mist sage could give you a few leads…if only he was in the mood to receive visitors."
I huffed, "My father's edict was clear. The Mist sage cannot stay clear of this war. I am to bring him to my family so that his foreknowledge can grant the Inimici clan the upper hand against the vile humans."
"Present company excepted I trust," Bamhi chimed in with a merry chuckle.
I fought down the urge to roll my eyes at her, and failed miserably. "I would never lump you in with that worthless Nachtmond kingdom, servant."
My tan-skinned retainer giggled impishly at my grumpy retort. I was annoyed that she could effortlessly parry my emotional deflections; but she was a massive component of the reason that my life was even slightly tolerable.
I insisted, "Spyglass, Captain Llwell. I will see if there is any manner to pierce the tower barrier from our location." I looked him squarely in the eyes as I commanded, "Under no circumstances are you to attempt a transit of the barrier."
"Certainly, my lady." He handed the smooth brass instrument over, and I quickly shimmied up the ladder to the observation platform. I gritted my teeth at having to deceive my loyal retainers, but the only one whose life I was willing to endanger was my own. I stuck the telescoped metal tube with the crystalline lenses in my shoulder bag as I flung myself bodily over the wooden railing and magically transformed into my bestial dragon shape. I dove recklessly into the opaque veil of whiteness. Maybe I was a knave, but this endeavor was mine to shoulder, alone.
I suddenly started awake again as I felt a deafening whistling of wind past my ears. I groaned as I realized that I was hurtling towards the earth after getting struck by a titanic amount of magical force as soon as I had tried to breech the Mist sage's barrier. My whole body felt leaden and unresponsive; as if my limbs didn't connect correctly. I reluctantly opened my eyes to see a silvered gibbous moon hanging suspended over a black cloak of clouds blanketing one horizon to the other.
My wing muscles refused my urgent command to start flapping, as realization belatedly sunk in. Wait. Where was the airship Sominium? How much time had past? How could I have been falling for an entire day? Why was the moon white instead the expected washed out Cerul hue? I hurtled through the rainclouds and soon enough emerged below the cloud bank into the rain and wind soaked flat plains below. I grunted in agony as I forced my recalcitrant ebony-hued wings to unfurl to control my arc of descent. A single phrase flitted across my brain, Locate the teal edifice. I stared hard down at the endless plots of tilled soil below, but I did not recognize the shape of this land. I saw a village below and aimed my controlled fall towards it. Alarmingly it appeared to be on fire as I got closer; then I felt an iota of relief that the pinpoints of light were artificial light spells of white and amber affixed to structures and tall metal posts. Across the main road from a long rectangular tan-brick building surrounded by nothing but a strange oval coliseum of sorts and black paved expanses I espied it.
Standing on four spindly metallic legs at least a dozen flights tall stood a drum-shaped structure, painted a faded green-bluish hue. A warning light ball tinted crimson pulsed rhythmically at the very apex of the structure that I finally realized was likely used to store vast amounts of potable water. With a grim expression, I slammed down hard into the grassy slope leading up to the water tower. I winced as my body shuddered from the impact, but at least I was in one piece…I think. Was this some weird test from the Mist sage?
"Why was I ever born?"
No sooner had I barely recovered from the rough landing than a heartbroken cry drew my attention upwards. I locked eyes with a startled pallid whelp of a human girl attired in thick spectacles, black boots, a grey tunic, blue pants and a long, draping coat. A bright red rucksack was slung over her shoulders. Her face was tormented and tear-streaked as she teetered on the top railing on a high platform circumscribing the base of the tank. What the hell was the fool even doing in that precarious position? I sternly rebuked her with my telepathic link, Step back onto safe footing, you idiot!
"Wha-? What?" Her watery eyes grew comically wide behind her bulky lenses as she beheld a black and blue draco glaring up at her with annoyed crimson eyes. "It can't be. Miss Mirio Ini-?"
A split second later, the clumsy child slipped and tumbled headlong down into the void. It was most fortuitous that I nimbly and magnanimously reared up to catch her in my outstretched forelimbs. After I had her safely in my grasp, I exhaled sharply as held her limp body aloft and tore into her, You stupid, careless wench! You could have killed yourself or injured me with your insipid stunt. Think the next time before you try to fly without wings, human!
She looked up at me with an adrift, helpless expression of what seemed to be bottomless despair mixed in with microscopic shards of hope. She reached out in the torrential rainshower and caressed my snout as she started to miserably wail, tears and mucus dripping off her tormented rounded face. "Oh God. Oh my God, you're such a hopeless failure Marcie. I can't even kill myself without fucking it up." She blathered on as she kissed my nose with a look of absolute shock. She regarded me with bloodstained hazel eyes as she meekly inquired, "You can't exist outside of my imagination! How can you be here to save me, Miss Mirio?"
My eyebrow ridges furrowed in confusion and ire. I had all but assumed that my imaginary friend Marcie had been conjured by my infantile brain as a coping mechanism to my unjust imprisonment so many annum prior. Yet here she was as a flesh and blood person, with actual bulk and heft, dangling from my claws like a sackdoll. I bared my razor-sharp teeth as I fumed at the audacity of a commoner daring to use my given name. I seethed, How by the gods do you know my name, human?
She still looked at me with a pale face, her eyes looking utterly at sea. Unexpectantly she pointed urgently to my left, "Truck! Look out, Mirio!"
I swiveled my head over just in time to gawk as a terrified human male acting as a coachman to a bulky, magically propelled rusted red metal cart plowed into my side. Marcie flew out of my grip and my head clanged into one of the water tower legs. I groaned softly as just as my vision blurred out into blackness I read the strange block lettering adorning the face of the tank…Welcome to Hazard, IN.
Happy Birthday, me.