“Mom, I’m your son Angdraoni.”
Lysyntri stumbled back, her voice quivering as she asked. “But how, how did you get here, where is Paouni, Kiliyi should be with you as well?”
“I got separated from Kiliyi on the way here, and Paouni… he might be a tree.”
“I see, he did what was necessary to keep you safe,” she said as a matter of fact.
“Mom, I’ve missed you. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Yes, I’ve missed you too, come my son tell me all about your journey.” She smiled warmly, her face creasing with numerous lines and wrinkles. She held out her arms, instinctively he ran to them. She had the same soft embrace, but a cold body amidst the warm air of the cavern. He wanted to tell her everything about his adventures leading up to now, he thought hard about his journey, wondering where he should start. She gently pulled away, and placed her cool hands on his cheeks, analyzing his face. “You look just like your father.”
“Mom, so much has happened. I have so much to tell you.”
“You’ve already told me. Not everything, but I can tell, you’ve had quite the journey. I’m glad to see you’ve made so many friends. Especially this Brek, I can tell you have strong feelings for him.”
Ang’s face warmed and sweat trickled his brow. “Those markings are you an Elucidator, have you always been an Elucidator?”
“Yes, the symptoms manifest slowly in some, later in life I had to add a few more markings.”
“What is this place, where is everyone else?”
“This is the nesting ground of the Great Dragon Tial-Meh, she has not been well, so these people have asked me to come here and treat her. Though it hasn't been going well.”
“Has anyone been helping you, Where is the rest of our family, our village, they escaped too right.”
“Yes… they are in hiding in a faraway land. I came here on my own to help these people and gain allies in the process.”
“There are lands even further away than this?”
“Ang, you still have so much to see. The world is a very big place.”
“What about the Silver Willow, did you move that too?”
“No, it… must have. You mean it’s not there?”
“No, when I found the grove it stood in it was gone, the only thing there were some leaves and a hole where I found Dungii.”
“What a peculiar creature.”
“He gets that a lot.”
“And this, is that a chimera worm?”
“Yes, this is Eio.”
“You don’t normally see chimera worms just floating around, you keep unique company.”
“Where do you normally see them?”
“You don’t, they live within other organisms, and steer their evolution. Their mating habits are how chimeras are formed.” She said something in a foreign language, producing sounds that would be impossible for an ordinary individual to produce. Eio responded by flashing a red, which quickly softened to pink, purple, and back to electric blue. Lysyntri placed the tips of her fingers on Eio’s wing, after a moment she removed them, and gave Eio an inquisitive look.
“What did you say to him?”
“I just asked for permission to commune with him. But he communicates in a way that is difficult to comprehend. Eio is a mature chimera worm; they can take centuries to reach this state.” She looks down at Dungii. “That tail, it looks sentient.”
“That’s Rungii, he’s the newest addition.”
“May I have a closer look?”
“If they’re alright with it. Be careful though, Rungii is still learning not to attack everything.”
She knelt down and carefully scrutinized Dungii and Rungii. Dungii gave a sideways glance to Ang. She reached out a finger toward Rungii. Ang flinched when Rungii made a motion toward it, but he flicked his tongue and continued on as usual. Lysyntri pet him getting no retort.
“Amazing, I have never actually seen one of these.”
“What, do you know what Rungii is?”
“You know of the spell I developed to speak to Obnenio our world. Obnenio may respond in many ways, and this is one. Rungii is a sort of guardian sent to those who have communed and gained favor with Obnenio.”
“But I didn’t commune with Obnenio.”
“I wasn’t saying, you did. Did you encounter Yoorei on your way here?”
“Yeah, and he didn’t have very nice things to say about you.”
“That’s not surprising, we had an arrangement that ended on poor terms. He was an early volunteer for my spell. And as a result he... well you saw. I suspect he gave you some trouble?”
“Oh no, father helped me.” He takes out Hue. Lysyntri’s eyes grew wide and watery at the sight of it.
“May I see it?” She asked with a slight quaver.
“Of course.” She reached out and timidly took the axe. She beheld it, gently caressing it, from the blade down to the braided handle. “Is he really in there?”
“Yes, this Ardin is exceptional in that it gained its power, both from his life, and through his sacrifice. He wanted you to have it, I’m glad you found it.” With slight reluctance, she hands it back to Ang.
“Actually, it was Dungii who found it.”
“Is that right.” she scrutinizes Dungii again, and almost whispers. “How did Rungii get attached to Dungii?”
“Well…” Suddenly they heard a deafening roar and a blast of heat. The other men in the cave ran to the source, yelling in their native tongue.
“Is that her?” Ang asked.
“Yes, My apologies Ang but I must assist, please wait outside.”
“No, you and everyone else left me in the middle of a forest, on a tiny island, with only a spider for years. I’m not mad. I understand why you did it, and I hope you understand why I won’t leave.” He boldly stepped in front of his mother. Another roar, and blast of hot air. He stood before it, strong and unwavering. Glancing over his shoulder, he coughed. “That, that was nasty. Maybe you should go first.”
They followed Lys down the cavern. As they traveled, the cave became less ornate. The walls a mix of stone and obsidian. They arrived at a vast space surrounded by tall pillars topped with blue flame. Countless fleshy sacks filled a massive nest in the center, each covered in dark bulbous growths, and held in place with many long tendrils. Something moved within them. At the core of all this, breathed a colossal beast at least twice the size of a whale. Her head covered in extravagant feathers, going down half the length of her body, where the feathers became sparse and turned to shimmering scales. She had two pairs of wings folded close to her body, an upper and lower pair. The bulbous growths blemished her sublime form. The two wyvern riders attempted to calm her.
“What’s wrong with her?” asked Ang.
“She has the sickness of the land. This land, this Nenio is suffering from a malignancy. She is a creature closely tied to the Nenio. The malignancy congeals Imdrina channels and forms these dark growths. She represents a physical form of this sickness, but it manifests in other ways. This has always been a wild land, but the malignancy has caused some species to prosper, others to extinction, the rest are crazed.”
“Yeah, I noticed that on my way here. So how do we treat her?”
“I don’t know. I’ve tried many things, cutting, burning, freezing, tonics. It seems all my attempts have only served to progress this toxin.”
Suddenly the dragon shot up and threw the men into the dark. The long feathers down her neck unfurled into a vibrant and deadly display of color. Even in the relative darkness of the cavern she shined with an inner glow, dark blotches obscuring some of her luster. She lifts her head and let out a cry full of pain, power, and defiance. Her breath, a blue thundercloud of fire and electricity. They braced against the force, Lysyntri casting a shield rune.
“MEEP! Meep meep.” They turned to see the unpleasant sight of Rungii latched onto a nearby growth on a flesh sack with its frayed tongue. Dungii in protest, attempting to pull it away from the grotesque mass.
“Wait Dungii, it seems to be working,” said Ang.
“Yes, it seems Rungii can consume the toxin with no ill effects.”
“Dungii, let Rungii do his thing for now.”
“Meep.” They moved slowly spiralling closer to Tial-Meh, Rungii consuming nearby dark blotches, Lysyntri maintaining her barrier, as the dragon continued to let out plums of electric fire. Finally, Rungii consumed enough to grow into their larger form. Ang grabbed Lys’s hand and pulled her under the veil.
“This is amazing; they can change size and use protection spells.”
“Yeah, Dungii get closer to her so Rungii can consume the ick.”
“Murp” Dungii. Ran closer to Tial-Meh, Rungii using its tongue to shrink the growths. Once close enough, Rungii extended its body and frayed tongue as far as possible and began syphoning off the malevolent illness. Tial-Meh turned her attention down and expelled her breath of fire and storm. Lys wove a rune to deflect the oncoming force. Her rune proved insufficient. Quickly, Ang made adjustments to the rune strengthening it and ensuring their safety.
“You’ve become very adept with rune weaving.”
“I learned from Kiliyi and the book she gave me.”
“Yes, the tome we made, where is it?”
“I let a friend borrow it. You two made that book?”
“I wrote the text, the pages are made of Kiliyi’s silk.”
“What is its hard cover made from?”
Before she could answer, another blast came at them. Lys didn’t have time to draw her rune. Ang took charge and swung the axe deflecting most of the blast. Dungii let out his song diffusing the rest. Once the storm cleared, they saw the immense dragon take off running deeper into the cavern. They gave chase, but had difficulty catching up to Tial-Meh, with her expansive stride. Rungii extended itself and its tongue as far as possible and could barely lap at a dark spot on her hind leg. Then, Tial-Meh jumped into a deep wide hole. The dragon unfurling her lepidopteran wings, more than twice the size of her body, dove into the pit. They watched from the edge as she flew further into the roots of the mountain, a beautiful catastrophe, a dark blue storm stirring around her.
“What do we do now?” asked Ang.
“We have to go down there and bring her back up. I have an Idea, but it will only work with Dungii’s cooperation.”
“You’re the best Dungii,” said Ang.
“Eio I’ll need your assistance. Dungii we’ll attempt to adapt your body, this may be a little uncomfortable.”
“Murp.” Eio placed himself on top of the mushroom, as Lysyntri wove her runes on Dungii. He grew larger, leaves covering him like feathers, and innumerable thin twisting vines sprouted all around his body. Buds grew on the vines that popped open into white clouds of fluff. Dungii’s lower half became covered in a half sphere of wispy white cotton. Two large leaves sprouted out of his sides, forming wings. “Morp. Morp.”
“Whoa, you’re all fluffy,” said Ang.
“He should be able to float now, we’ll just have to direct the air,” said Lysyntri. Some marking on her arm began to glow as she swirled the air beneath Dungii, lifting them up and into the pit. They floated down the wide shaft, the walls lined with glowing rocks and veins, and entered a vast underground space, lit like a starry night. Rivers of light ran, above and below. Bioluminescent creatures of all shapes and sizes, scurried across the ceiling, flew between the mountain roots, or swam in the glowing lakes and rivers. Within this space it was easy to spot the immense dragon, breathing her blue storm. Dungii began his song, manipulating the air beneath his cotton cloud body. Using his wing leafs for control, they flew towards the dragon. Once they got close, the storm swirling around caused violent turbulence, making flight difficult. To ease this, Ang played his ocarina, stabilizing them enough to get in close for Rungii continue treatment. With a flap of her enormous wings a gust blew them away, they slowly descended.
“We have to get her to stop,” said Lysyntri.
“Dungii, let’s try to lure her near one of those floating rivers.”
“What are you going to do,” asked Lysyntri.
“Hopefully get her to land softly. Please trust me and help Dungii with maneuvering.”
She smirked proudly, and turned all her focus to stabilizing the air beneath them, with Dungii’s song. They caught up with the rampaging dragon and flew beside her as she erratically spewed her electric fire breath, Rungii defended with his own spore breath. They flew parallel to one another until Tial-Meh pivoted, cutting in front of Dungii. Rungii bit down on the edge of her wing, and she dragged them through the air. Lysyntri and Ang clung to the mushroom, as they bobbed up and down, left and right. Ang saw his opportunity as they neared a river of glowing water. He played the whale song, drawing the river water around them and the dragon causing them to fall out of the air. Before they hit the ground, Tial-Meh used her breath to break the bubble and escape, leaving the group still trapped in a slow, watery free fall. Realizing his plan failed, he blew the whale song to disperse the bubble. He looked up to see Tial-Meh flying faster and faster, higher and higher until she crashed into the ceiling. Lys attempted to propel them forward, but Tial-Meh was too far away for them to catch her. The dragon crashed to the ground. The impact sent shockwaves through the space blasting the party back. Lys quickly stabilized them. Dungii flapped his leaf wings and flew them near Tial-Meh. As the dust cleared, her massive form lay crumpled on the ground. Her inner glow faded. She lay dark, and still. Soon as they landed, Lysyntri ran to her side.
“Is is she alright,” Ang asked as he slowly approached.
“No Ang, without producing an heiress, the Great Dragon Tial-Meh is dead.”