His poisoned leg luckily bitten clean off by some random shark-toothed rat, the proud and mighty dragon Ka-Gaar is entirely sure he is dead. His life keeps flashing across his mind's eye. Endless aeons of snoring the years away, interrupted by the occasional walk around Flight mountain to stretch, followed by an ever longer sleep. His life was pretty damn awesome, he thinks, but he does see that nothing in that routine prepared him for something other than sleeping a lot.
And lo and behold, Ka-Gaar does not want to go down into the final sleep just yet. Eight days and eight nights has he been in this Dungeon cursed jungle, and he is starting to see that something might need to change if he is to survive. A very large portion of himself is reluctant to admit this, as something inside the very core of his being is more than willing to accept his most likely death without a fight. That is just his instinct and body talking though, and Ka-Gaar is starting to see the difference between what he is and what he wants to be.
Using one arm to hold steady on his current perch, he lowers himself on his last leg, literally. Only having two limbs remaining, he does wonder about the weird string of coincidences that has allowed him to keep his sad little life. The fight with the beasts climbing up this tree while he was still waking up cannot be called epic by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of fighting courageously, he had slipped from his perch, slammed his head against a lower branch, and spectacularly failed to grab onto another branch with his missing arm.
The most damage he had done to his attackers consisted of slamming into them, making them fall back down to the jungle floor far below. Ka-Gaar is sure that one of the reasons why he still lives is that the beasts cushioned his fall. But instead of getting the heck away from the large pile of dozens of furry monsters, he had just lain there. Right until the aforementioned shark-toothed rat bit his leg off. The pain had woken him up, and he had managed to crawl away on one hand and one foot.
He had tied off his leg with a random vine he had found, that one bit of information about limiting bleeding he read from the book clinging in his memories. That was half an hour ago, and Ka-Gaar is now forced to admit to himself that he needs to start being proactive about the situation. His mind feels weird as he thinks these thoughts. Comparable to water running through a newly dug channel, each of these thoughts flows with hesitant murkiness. The notion that he should be improving himself actively is still very foreign. But unlike when he first thought it half an hour ago, he can actually come up with a single idea as to how to approach this. Instead of his entire mind being occupied by the incredibly un-Flight like idea, he is now staring at one of those cursed books.
Stumbling out of the rocky crevice he's hiding in, he approaches the small pedestal like it is a personification of death and weakness. He steps back a few times, the shame of having to submit to a book too much to bear. In order to learn, one must first see the source of new information as someone higher than oneself. No matter how minor, or how niche, his current actions are like someone is running a sharp file against his very soul.
He is lost after only reading the first few pages without immediately dismissing them as drivel from a weak and pathetic source. Meaning seems to flow from each word, each paragraph of small text telling of simple things applied in a complex manner. He reads through the entire booklet twice and immediately wants to curse himself for not taking this entire situation a little bit more serious.
His leg was, just like his arm, not removed fast enough. The small amount of snake venom coursing through his body might not be killing him quickly, but he is starting to feel rather cold and weak yet again. Breathing in through his nose, he gently guides the energy entering his lungs to his liver. Immediately feeling better, Ka-Gaar starts cultivating in earnest.
Curiously enough, the ancient Ancestor finds himself safe from all predators and pests while sitting near the small pillar. He ventures out now and then, foraging for small animals or non-toxic plants to snack on as he starts the process of regaining his arm and leg. Keeping the majority of his cultivation focussed around his liver, the haze that has been clouding his mind since he woke up in the jungle fades for the first time. Now recognising that he has been suffering from a two-week long hangover, Ka-Gaar curses himself some more for not taking the small book's contents serious any quicker.
By the third day, his piss stops coming out black as tar and smelling even worse. After a week of cultivation, he starts seeing his leg stump grow every so slowly. Deciding to put the other skill that seems to appear in the book's pages at random to the test too, he crafts himself a crude prosthetic and a walking cane. Hobbling around on one leg and two wooden sticks might not be dignified, but it's a lot faster than hopping around on one foot.
Mistakenly identifying a berry as edible, he barely survives the heavy poisoning by concentrating the qi inside his liver to the next cultivation stage. A long night of nearly dying from the lethal levels of toxins coursing through his body follows. He awakes to find a single drop of qi inside his liver instead of the gaseous cloud he had gathered there before. He feels the same strength surge through him after he had cultivated for the very first time, back when he lost his arm. Pretty soon, all the toxic plants are harvested clean, and his cultivation slows down again. Not having some horrible lethal poison for his cultivation base to clean up just saps the fun from the struggle, after all.
He wanders through the jungle some more, and finds that merely spitting on some of the weaker animals is enough for them to die within minutes. Gathering the dangerous chemicals filtered from the poisonous plants and fruits he now consumes daily allows him to kill larger prey with ease, he finds.
"Another soul! YES!! Thank the Maker! I thought I would die without ever touching another woman again. Do you know how long I haven't had any? Weeks! That hasn't happened in forever."
And then there is another man hugging Ka-Gaar. He had stumbled upon the sleeping form a few minutes earlier and had started poking it with his foot. He hadn't been sure whether or not this humanoid was a member of the Flight, as it seemed to be a rather hairy beastkin at that. Not many dragons are in the habit of forming that many hairs when switching forms, and usually only add a few horns or scales to a baseline humanoid body.
"Let…" is the first world Ka-Gaar speaks in weeks. "GO OF ME!" The ancient dragon might be willing to learn new things, upsetting the paradigms and habits he has been building his entire life. This does not mean he is about to accept such extreme disrespectful behaviour from someone he recognises to be a junior. His sudden bout of anger makes him lose control of his cultivation base, sending a shock of qi surging outwards with his shout. Large ripples of earth emanate from his form, the plants dying and wilting as a purple fog of qi bursts from his mouth.
"Shit. This is why I became a Guardian, get yourself together, Keeneff." Ka-Gaar pants as he regains his breath. The young dragon standing in front of him is rubbing his knuckles against the sides of his head, obviously going through some intense mental struggle.
"E-excuse me, Ancestor. May I-" Ka-Gaar starts smiling again. Seeing that his age still has the proper effect on the younger generations is a massive comfort to the old dragon. Finding this single and steady pillar in this rapidly changing world puts some things in perspective. Ka-Gaar starts wondering if he really needs to change after all. Being a dragon and acting like a dragon has worked for thousands of years. Why should he need to change just because there are some dangerous beings in the jungle.
"NO! Fuck this shit. I'm not doing it. Listen here, you arrogant ass!" The ancient dragon barely has time to fall back into his old way of thinking before the hairy humanoid is towering over him, staring down at Ka-Gaar while showing way too many sharp teeth. "Just because you were squeezed out of your mother's hole a little earlier doesn't mean shit! You're barely a condensation cultivator. If you want my respect and deference, make me!"
The cloud of rage coming over Ka-Gaar's mind is a thing of legends. All the indignation, humiliation, suffering, and personal struggle he has been coping with suddenly gains an outlet. Completely unaccustomed to attacking someone with his humanoid shape, he does what he would have done in his natural form. He breathes a beam of concentrated mana at the uppity whelp.
The maned beastkin slaps away the small dribble of spit with contemptuous ease. "Wow, that actually stings. How do you get your spit to sting like that? And stop drooling on me, idiot!"
His previous shame and powerlessness forgotten, Ka-Gaar finds himself manhandled like a baby. The taller humanoid named Keeneff has power unlike Ka-Gaar has ever seen. He had thought his own slowly rising strength was getting up there, but seeing the large humanoid manhandle his own useless struggling body while tossing heavy rocks and trees aside with ease left Ka-Gaar reeling. It takes him an entire day and several litres of attempted poisonings by spitting to get over himself. Being held in a headlock, his struggles amounting to little more than a nuisance while Keeneff fights off the jungle wildlife has a rather humbling effect on even the most arrogant of ancient dragons, it turns out. Ka-Gaar comes to this conclusion after Keeneff uses his struggling body as a footrest as they stopped for the night at one of the pillars. His spirit truly broken, Ka-Gaar lets out a massive sigh.
"Finally stopped being an utter asshole, oh grand and mighty ancestor?"
"Great. That means we can get some work done. Took you long enough."
"Work?" Ka-Gaar sits up slowly. The past few days after meeting with the hairy dragon are a blur, to be honest. All he really remembers is being incapable of believing that someone who should know better isn't giving him the respect he needs. He thought he had been making headway in accepting new things, but apparently, his hangups have hangups.
"Yes. Why are we here?"
"Why are we here?" is Ka-Gaar's confused reply. He had honestly completely forgotten that he is in an unknown jungle now, his daily lethal struggles taking up all his thoughts.
"Yeah. That's my question."
"I remember something about a barrel?" Stretching his two aching remaining limbs, Ka-Gaar stumbles into a sitting position. The ancient dragon then and there decides to use this entire situation as tempering. Just like he has been improving his body by breaking it down through toxins and poisons, so will he treat these humiliations. A large part of himself is screaming at the disparity of it all. The younger one eats good food, sits on a chair, is clean, and clad in simple clothes. He, the elder, has to scrounge around for scraps and raw plants, sits on the ground, is incredibly dirty and is wearing rags. Ka-Gaar takes a deep breath, firming up his will to use these insults as polishing tools.
"Yeah. I should have listened to that fat kid. He keeps telling me to avoid teachers, but I'm starting to suspect he meant something else. That booze was something different though."
"Oh yes, my friend! That was one of the finest brew I've ever tasted. Almost worth it." His mane shaking as he looks at their green surroundings with faraway eyes, Keeneff looks whistfull while absentmindedly licking his lips. "I actually read the damn contract. I even had an inclination of what it said, its convoluted complexity notwithstanding. And still, I agreed, just to get more of that liquid gold."
"I… That was a contract? Affixed to the small barrel of drinkable heaven?"
"Yes. I largely forgot what it said though. Really small text."
Ka-Gaar only then makes the link between that barrel, the paper he agreed to, and his current situation. His fury finally finding a proper target, Ka-Gaar rounds on Keeneff. "Where are the perpetrators of this heresy? Whom is it, that the Flight will need to obliterate out of existence."
Smiling widely, showing way too many teeth once again, Keeneff gestures towards the golden branches towering over the small clearing. "Over there. I'm a core forming heartcore, and I can't even get halfway, so don't get any ideas... Yet."
Halting his hobble, Ka-Gaar stops moving towards the tree. "What? Explain yourself at once!"
"Watch your tone, weakling." Ka-Gaar stops his bile from rising by pure force of will. Keeneff might be snarling at him, but the furry dragon is stronger, so Ka-Gaar will have to suck it up for now. "The animals that have been gobbling up your limbs are the weakest around. The levels of qi are much higher closer to that tree, which seems to attract stronger beings. You've been losing to the weakest trash around."
Ka-Gaar barely manages to keep his anger under control. "The weakest around? What in all the Dungeons…"
"Yeah. And I've seen a lot of what I suspect to be other Flight members running around. But each time I try to find them, I get turned around. I'm starting to sense that something is wrong and that something or someone is preventing me from meeting up with the other dragons. You are the first one I actually managed to meet."
Shaking his head at the weirdness of it all, Ka-Gaar sits back down. "So we need to get stronger, right? What's this core forming heart stuff you talked about?"
"It means that I have a heartcore, and that I'm in the third stage of the initial realm. Have you not been reading these?" Keeneff shows him the book he has been paging through.
"Ah, that stuff. I just put all the power into my liver."
"Your liver? Are you mad? Is that why your spit hurts like that?"
"It should have killed you a thousand times over instead of being a mere annoyance. I need to eat more toxic plants and animals, it seems."
Keeneff bursts out in laughter. He rolls around the ground, clutching his stomach as he tries to regain control over his breath. "You've been eating poisonous plants while making a liver-core?" he manages to squeeze out, before rolling around in howling hysterics once more.
Ka-Gaar frowns deeply at the incapacitated beastkin at first, before a single chuckle escapes from his mouth. Wondering what there is to laugh about, he finds himself chuckling some more, eventually joining Keeneff in laughing until they both cry.
"Oh man, that's rich. The Beastkin Capital had some freak cases, but stuffing your core in your liver just because you got drunk once is amazing in a special way, dude."
"Yeah, well, it was that or die from some berry I ate."
And Keeneff is back on the floor again, unable to control himself. It takes a good hour before both dragons are in full control of their faculties again, both feeling like a large weight has lifted from their shoulders.
"Alright, Ka. In order to put the ones that orchestrated this travesty into their place, we'll need to get stronger. I've found that eating powerful creatures and special plants helps me gain power fast, but I gain nothing from eating poison or venom."
"I gain some power from qi-rich food, but I need it to be harmful before I can truly make use of it."
"Ka-Gaar, I think we have some hunting to do."
"Keeneff, I think so too."
Way beyond either dragon's sensory range, a lithe female sighs deeply. Lying on a comfortable looking recliner, she takes another sip from her drink. "Finally!"
"Aw, look. They became friends by bonding over the fact they both want to kill us. Wanna bet they hook up later?"
Ignoring the stupid commentary coming from the man lying next to her, Re-Haan checks in on the other members of the Flight that are running around Tree. "Two down, only a couple of thousand to go.