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~ Previous Chapter ~
Slightly longer than usual update, but there’s no good way to split this scene, so Sunday’s update will be a little shorter than usual too.
Regardless of that, Reglian’s waiting for a chat. (If you’ve been reading the Dragonlands books, no, he hasn’t changed too much in two hundred years – except to take a few obscurity lessons from Goryal.)
Mhysra and Corin left the hot springs long before the others. The miryhls seemed content to roost in the warm, moist air for the rest of the day, while Lyrai, Jaymes and Dhori had politely allowed the girls wash first. Rhiddyl had approved of such chivalry, but Mhysra knew better. With no one waiting to get in after them, the boys could now take as long as they wanted. She might have complained, except she was too curious about everything else to care.
The entrance to the Archives sat across a broad, beautifully tiled courtyard, where fountains played in the corners and vines crept along the walls. The main doors were enormous, as one would expect in a building designed by dragons. Yet as they followed the twists and turns of the main passage, the corridor grew smaller and smaller, the ceilings lowering, the walls closing in.
By the time the reached the heart of the Archives it was practically human-sized. Mhysra stared in wonder at the sight beyond the double doors. A stained-glass dome shed coloured light over cream tiles, while shelves rose from floor to ceiling, crammed with books, papers and scrolls. Several desks filled the open space beneath the glass dome, one of which looked large enough for several dragons to share. For now, though, the room was empty except for a solitary man sitting at one of the smaller desk, writing swiftly in a notebook.
Mhysra and her friend paused in the doorway. Reglian had told them to meet him here, but there was no sign of the black dragon – and a creature of that size would be difficult to miss. Even amongst these bookshelves. Not wanting to disturb the stranger, she dithered over what to do.
Apparently Corin had no such qualms since she strode straight towards the only occupied desk. “Sorry to interrupt, but I wonder if you could help us.”
Still writing, the stranger raised his free hand without looking up. “One moment,” he said, his voice deep.
Unable to do anything except wait, Mhysra studied the stranger, wondering what sort of man made his life amongst dragons. Even in the rainbow light streaming down through the skylight, his skin was almost pure black with only the slightest undertone of brown across his bald head. Though he seemed tall even while sitting and his shoulders were broad, the down-turned features of his face were firm and clean, as if carved from stone rather than moulded of clay. He was compellingly beautiful, in a way Mhysra rarely regarded older men. Yet there was something breathtaking about him that made it impossible not to stare and admire.
As if he could hear her thoughts, the stranger finished his sentence with a flourish and looked up, golden eyes alight with humour. His smile showed teeth that were sharper than usual, and the back of the hand he used to beckon them forward rippled with a patch of scales.
“You were quick. I did not expect to see any of you for a good while yet. I hope you didn’t rush on my behalf.”
The floor seemed to tilt beneath Mhysra’s feet as she left the doorway. Those golden eyes, dark skin and scales combined with that deep, rolling voice produced a startling realisation. She shook her head; it simply wasn’t possible.
“Archivist Reglian?” Corin’s incredulous voice echoed Mhysra’s ludicrous thoughts.
Golden eyes narrowed as the man behind the desk chuckled. It wasn’t as deep or resonant as the dragon they’d met outside, but as close as a human body could produce. When he put his hands on the desk and stood up, Mhysra realised his fingernails were actually golden claws.
“I had forgotten how quick you humans could be.” Smiling, he strode around his desk and bowed. “Archivist Reglian kin Thunderwing Clan Skystorm at your service, my lady Rift Riders. Be welcome in the Archives, heart of the Draconian records.”
When he straightened, he fixed Mhysra with a bright look of enquiry and she cleared her throat to return the introductions. “This is my friend, Corin Bathel Gennanma of Nimbys, and I am Lady Mhysra Kilpapan Kilrenma of Wrentheria, and we are both Rift Rider students lately of Aquila. It’s an honour to meet you, sir.”
“And a pleasure to meet you both.” Studying them in open fascination, he reached towards Mhysra’s shoulder then paused. “Ah, forgive me.” He lowered his hand, fingers rubbing together as he glanced away. “It has been so long since last I spoke with humans, I forget the formalities. You have beautiful hair.”
She blinked. “It’s brown.”
Reglian’s eyes glowed with humour. “Indeed, brown, but with many shades. And such curls. I assume they are natural.”
Mhysra shared a nonplussed glance with a giggling Corin. She’d always hated her hair, and only kept it as long as she did because when it was cut short it was even worse. Still wet from her bath, it currently hung down her back in limp rat tails. True, it was curling as it dried, but it was also starting to stick out in all directions. However, she’d been raised to be polite, even to mad dragons, so she didn’t protest. “Thank you,” she murmured.
The dragon man smiled ruefully, obliviously noticing her bemusement. “Dragons struggle to form hair, since it is not natural to us. Some expend an awful lot of time and power to achieve rather poor results. Others know better than to waste the time.” He ran a hand over his bald head and stared at the length of her hair again with envious eyes. “It is regarded as a great skill amongst the rare few who can achieve it with any great length or shade.”
“Oh.” She blinked, having never thought of growing hair as anything other than a nuisance.
“You must be very skilled then, Mhysra,” Corin chuckled, ruffling her own crop, as dark as the dragon himself.
Reglian gave a booming laugh. “Highly skilled indeed. You’ll have to watch yourself during your stay. Many a human in times past either sold their hair or had it stolen to furnish fine wigs for my kind. But in recent centuries the practise has fallen out of fashion, since we did not have many humans around to inspire us. No one cares these days if our youngsters walk bald, while the vainest continue to wear their mouldering wigs. Come,” he said, with a sharp change of subject and a move towards a group of chairs arranged directly beneath the dome, “let us be comfortable while we wait for the others.”
“They let us wash first,” Corin explained, happily taking the seat nearest the dragon, though Mhysra was a little more reserved. “Rhiddyl was impressed with their manners.”
The deep chuckle rolled again. “She is young,” Reglian said, “with much still to learn. I trust you did not rush too much.”
“Oh no!” Corin shook her head, tucking her hair behind her ears. “I’d much rather be here than in there, wouldn’t you, Mhysra?”
Busy staring at the back of Reglian’s neck, where smooth skin turned once again into rounded scales, Mhysra blinked, having not heard a word. “Yes?” she guessed, and smiled when Corin beamed and turned back to the dragon.
“Who wants a boring old soak when they could be talking to you?” her friend burbled. “I had no idea dragons could change shape. I’ve not read much about you, I’m now very sorry to say, but Mhysra has. Haven’t you, Mhysra? Did you know dragons could change shape?”
Reglian’s fingers were overly long, the ends tapering into claws rather than flesh and nails, Mhysra noticed. She shook her head at Corin’s question. “No.” When she looked up, Reglian was watching her. The skin above his eyes shimmered with gold; scaly eyebrows that mimicked the golden ridges of his dragon form.
He smiled at her scrutiny. “It is no secret. Clan dragons have always been able to change once we reached a certain age, though when varies from Clan to Clan. Amongst my own, Clan Skystorm, it usually begins during our third century. We are amongst the fastest.”
Drawn in as surely as Corin, Mhysra asked, “Can you take many forms?”
“And why human?” Corin wanted to know. “Is it different for each Clan?”
Pleased by their questions, Reglian stretched out his legs and crossed one ankle over the other, resting his folded hands across his belly. “I have just two forms. This and my natural one. During my third century, though, I could change into many things. But it hurt if I practised too many, until I began to favour one particular form more than the others. The more I got used to this form, the easier it became and the more painful it was to shift into something else. Eventually the pain got to the point where it was impossible to choose anything but this or my true form. By the time I reached my fourth century I could no longer change beyond them. Almost all dragons experience this. We call it our Change Time.”
Four centuries, Mhysra thought weakly. He made it sound so young. Just how old was he?
He smiled at Mhysra again as if he could hear her thoughts before turning back to Corin. “A human form is not the only shape we can choose. If we can imagine it, we can assume it. However, most of us settle for human. For those of my age and above it was out of convenience. In those days we communicated and traded with humans more often and were a working part of your world. As such it was easier to assume a human size and shape, and to be able to converse easily was important. It became traditional and still mostly continues to this day. Few are the dragons who change into another form even in these times, though we are fully capable of communicating with any species or life form on the Overworld.
“Mostly those with different forms are older, from the time before the Curse, or from kins with particular traits, although there are always a few independent youngsters who prefer not to follow the crowd. Most often they become birds, wishing to experience the joys of flight in a smaller, more intimate form.”
“Before the Curse?” Corin repeated, blinking. “Do dragons live so long?”
“Some,” he said. “Not all, though all Clans are capable of it, but it can be a wearisome burden to carry the weight of long years. Wisdom is not always a gift.”
“No,” Mhysra murmured, trying to wrap her mind around a thousand year life, and not quite managing it. The prospect made her dizzy. “A life that long must see so many mistakes, most of them repeated.”
“Indeed,” he agreed solemnly. “At that point one either turns one’s face from the world or seeks a higher path for the enlightenment of others.”
Corin snorted, then blushed as Reglian raised a golden eyebrow. “Sorry, but it sounds so pompous. Just because you’ve lived a long time, doesn’t mean you know all there is to know.”
The dragon grinned. “You are correct, young Corin. I doubt it would surprise you that there are many older dragons whom the youngsters avoid. Unfortunately those are usually the most active.”
“Elder Goryal seemed nice,” Mhysra said. “Not pompous at all.”
“Goryal is one of the less intrusive elders,” Reglian agreed. “And though they have lived a long, long count of years, they prefer to look to the stars for wisdom, only dispensing it to those who ask. Otherwise they are happy to let us make our own mistakes, young or old. They say that’s the best way for us to learn.”
“I knew I liked them,” Corin said happily. “Especially when they told those dragons off.”
“Indeed. Those dragons,” Reglian murmured, rubbing his chin with golden claws. “Perhaps you would be so good as to tell me about your encounter with them. I gather from what Rhiddyl said that she only took care of one. Am I right in concluding that you, your Rift Rider friends and your miryhls grounded the others?”
“Ha, did we ever!” Corin crowed, and between them the two girls described how they took down the pebbly dragon. By the time they were finished, the boys and Rhiddyl had arrived so Lyrai could explain how Hurricane and Argon had defeated the venomous Jarvenerald.
“Astonishing,” Reglian said, once they were finished. “And fascinating. How dull life has grown since the Barrier Veil was created. Humans certainly make life more interesting. Would you not agree, Rhiddyl?”
The young dragon was curled around their circle of chairs, head and forefeet taking her own place in the group. Her stormy eyes were bright as she listened to them talk and she nodded eagerly. “They certainly do. I never thought to see the day when humans entered the Cleansed Lands, but I am so very glad they have and that I am here to experience it.”
“Indeed. Which leads us neatly to the important question – why are you here?”
“For help,” Lyrai started to say, but Reglian wasn’t looking at him. Instead his golden eyes were fixed on Corin. Then he looked at Jaymes.
The redhead paled under the attention, but Corin bounced in her chair. “Something called us,” she said. “A voice came out of the Stormwash and told us to come, Jaymes and me. I don’t know about the others.”
Reglian looked at the rest of them, finishing with Dhori, whose grey eyes were narrowed.
The dragon man smiled. “No,” he said. “They were not called. They came to protect you.”
“I would have preferred to stop them,” Lyrai said, and this time Reglian paid attention to him. “That was why I left Misthome. I thought it would be suicide to let them do anything else.”
“Protection,” the dragon repeated. “Yes. You have good friends, Corin and Jaymes. I trust you know this.”
“Of course,” Corin said, bumping her shoulder against Mhysra, while Lyrai ruffled Jaymes’ hair.
“As we have in them,” Dhori added solemnly.
Reglian smiled again. “No one is denying that, nor suggesting anything different. But it is important to know why you are here. What caused you to come.”
“We do need help,” Jaymes admitted.
“True,” Reglian agreed. “Yet were it not for this call you would never have thought to come.”
No one spoke, since there was no point disputing this valid point.
The dragon man leant forward and rested his arms across his knees, looking at them all in turn. “But now that you are here and you do need help, all you have to decide is what you want and how to ask for it.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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