The flight over to the Dragon’s dwelling was rather short, barely half an hour in total. What shocked Lino -- and what Hannah and Seya didn’t seem to notice -- was that they’d entered a dimensional pocket in the last five minutes of the flight. It was a massive one, Lino immediately realized, but because of the fact that it was eerily similar to the world outside, there seemed to be nothing athwart going on unless one could actually sense it.
Ice-capped mountains and snow-covered hills and valleys still stretched into infinite horizon without a break, and the Dragon’s dwelling was hardly different; it was situated inside a gigantic valley nestled inside a surrounding mountain range. Lino could barely see across, as the sheer size of it simply stunned him. Although, thinking of the Dragon’s size -- with Ennya comparatively being like a small kid -- it made sense for the valley to be so massive.
As the five of them landed, Ennya quickly scurried away into a corner, clearly too terrified to actually stay. Lino glanced around, his eyes turning into saucers as he spotted herbs and ores that he could only dream of gathering on the mainland. Just as he was about to reach to pluck one away, he felt a chill travel down his spine, hurriedly glancing up only to see the Dragon staring at him with a murderous gaze. It was then that he remembered that the Dragons were quite the treasure-hoarders; you could pluck at their scales and horns however much you want, just don’t touch their treasure trove.
Smiling gingerly, he settled upon a rock and sat on top of it, capping open a gourd of ale. Hannah and Seya, unsure of what else to do, follow suit, the former sitting next to him and stealing his gourd, forcing him to take out another, and the latter sitting behind the duo. The massive Dragon finally managed to sit down, its body beyond Lino’s capacity to measure; its head alone was the size of the fortress the old man gave him, to say nothing of its body.
“My name is Edryss,” the Dragon spoke in its usual, indifferent tone. “That little creature hiding in the corner is my offspring, Ennya.”
“Lino,” Lino pointed at himself. “Hannah, Seya.” he then pointed at the other two. “So... uh, what did you want to chat about?”
“How much do you know about the North?” Edryss asked.
“... not much,” Lino said after a short thought. “Just that it’s a nigh-uninhabitable land where a slew of criminals were sent to repent, only to never return.”
“Nothing.” Lino replied honestly.
“The reality is that only the southern side of the North is covered in frost,” Edryss said. “The rest of it is divided into other elements.”
“However, there is a massive Magical Array beneath, at the ocean’s deeps, that masks the entire landform as one of frost and ice.” the Dragon continued. “Unless one is well-versed in Magic, it is impossible to see past its obscurities. And in order to become well-versed in Magic, one first has to traverse here.”
“... eeh... so that’s why the entire North has been perpetually ignored by the mainland...” Lino mumbled.
“Naturally, some exist out there who know the secret,” Edryss said. “But, we abide by the silent vow of abstinence; they leave us alone, we leave them alone. Even if the few of us from the North would eventually be defeated, a full charge of Dragon Race onto the mainland would leave it ravaged for eons to come. There is no purpose in creating a war out of nothing.”
“Eh, there are enough wars internally to more than make up for it,” Lino chuckled. “It seems to me that everyone is too busy killing each other to care.”
“Perhaps,” the Dragon said, its eyes narrowing slightly as though into a smile. “But, be that as it may, I still very much dislike the war and if asking for your assistance will help us end it sooner, then so be it.”
“He he, that’s where you come in!” Lino chuckled. “So, tell me, how are you going to make me stronger?! Are you gonna teach me some awesome Magic?!”
“What makes you think that the rules for the Empyrean are different when it comes to Magic?”
“Oh...” Lino sighed in defeat; he was truly hoping he’d inherit some of the cool Magical Spells by coming here.
“Besides, the case is the same for all three of you -- it is simply impossible for any one of you to learn or use Magic.”
“How come?” Hannah questioned, curious.
“Had you come a few eons ago, there might have still been a chance -- but, that chance has long since eroded. Magic and Cultivation are simply too different fundamentally, borrowing from different concepts and understandings of the world. It would be similar to you attempting to use Dragon Arts. Not only would you find no benefits in it, chances are your Cultivation would regress instead.”
“... then how are you going to help us?” Lino asked.
“Among other things, I will gift you my Flames.” the Dragon said to Lino whose eyes immediately lit up like lanterns.
“F-flames?” he stuttered in excitement.
“Weakened version, naturally.”
“Naturally.” Lino quickly nodded.
“Before the war begins, you will have to earn your Title,” Edryss said. “At the very least, that is. And, in addition, you will have to master the Laws of Time, Death and Lightning completely. Have you learned <Sword of Chaos>?”
“... I have...” Lino mumbled, stars spinning in front of his eyes.
“You will also, then, have to learn its first two Forms.”
“If you wish to be of any help, those are the bare minimums,” Edryss added, noticing Lino’s lament. “Baring discharging everything in a single outburst of strength, you are otherwise rather weak. And regardless of how strong and firm your Will is, every single individual currently present in the North is the same if not better.”
“... what about these two?” Lino asked, unwilling to be the only one showered in cold.
“Elysian will, similarly, have to master Laws. As for that child, she has no place here. You may as well send her back.”
“...” though indignant, Seya didn’t say anything; after all, she knew her limits the most. She was barely Level 300; she had no right to participate in anything on this scale.
“So, are you going to take us to the humans... or...?” Lino asked.
“No,” Edryss replied quickly. “They would see through you immediately, and they would not be nearly as kind as me in dealing with you. Until you are strong enough to escape their probing, you will remain inside this valley.”
“... who was the other Dragon?” Lino suddenly asked; he was far more curious in the background behind everything that either Great Descent wasn’t privy to, or the old man concealed on purpose. Wait... did he send me here because he knew it’s a way to get stronger quickly?
“Vynoarad,” Edryss replied. “Member of the Fire Aspect Dragon Tribe. Similar to me, he is the current leader of it.”
“... wait, you’re a leader of the Tribe?! Where are the rest?” Lino questioned, realizing he hadn’t seen any other Dragon besides Ennya and Edryss since coming here.
“Training,” Edryss replied. “As you should be.”
“How many of you are there?”
“How many of them?”
“... fine, keep your secrets.” Lino mumbled dubiously. “By the way, there’s something I was always curious about. In any reference to your kin, you were stated to be by far the strongest race that has ever existed. Why was it that you never ruled the world? In one of the myths, one Dragon managed to take down a whole clan of Titans. That sort of strength would have been more than enough to rule easily.”
“... what purpose is there to ruling the world?” Edryss replied after a short silence. “History has witnessed time and again what ruling with an iron fist leads to; what makes you think we would have been any different? However long we could have made our reign, it would have come to an end -- no doubt a violent one, where we would cease to exist as a race. Even now, if we desired, and if the Origin Dragons woke from their slumber, we could take over the world... but there is no purpose to it.”
“Eh? Do you know where I can find an Origin Dragon?” Lino’s ears perked up as he asked.
“... uh, I, you know, could kind of sort of use their recognition to kind of sort of buff my weapon so that I can be even stronger when the war comes!”
“... you are about a billion years too early to seek their recognition,” Edryss said. “So you can forget about that dream.”
“... tsk. What? Not a single one out of the four is a bit lenient?”
“It is 72 actually.”
“There are 72 Origin Dragons,” Edryss added. “And Six Aspects of Existence, correlating to the Writs.”
“...” Hannah, Seya and Lino remained sitting, completely stunned; 78 Dragons, each one of which was most-likely as powerful as the strongest person on the mainland... it was a concept Lino couldn’t quite yet grasp properly, but his curiosity was sparked.
“Six? Why not seven?” he asked.
“... I do not know.”
“Wait, really? Who’s the unlucky bastard not to have a Dragon equivalent?” Lino asked, and almost immediately knew the answer inside his head.
“... yup. Saw that coming.” he added, sighing. “So, there is no Dragon of Chaos?”
“There is.” Edryss said. “But he is not an Aspect.”
“... eh? Then what is he?”