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(AQ) Kindness of a Stranger

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2/15/2015 13:20:54   

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Kindness of a Stranger

Part 1: The fall

They walked through the forest, distancing themselves more and more from the orphanage. Just as they always did despite the anxiety that it provoked in the man that the three—and many other children like them—called Father out of respect and affection. Even then, sometimes they thought that the forest was safer than the city they inhabited for at least the beasts were not as nasty as some of the human citizens they knew, as the older of the three children was well aware.

"I don't like this, Ireiya..." The youngest of the three said. It was a boy of dark hair and eyes whose name was Luca. A nine-year-old who always tried to do his best, even when he was afraid, just like then. Not because they were in the forest, but for what they were looking for.

"C'mon, Luca, nothing's going to happen." The oldest of the three confidently said. Aged eleven, Ireiya was sharp and curious. She always wanted something to do, so as to not get bored, and a big adventure was all that she desired. She hoped this search in the woods would be one such, and hastily marched through the trees and the bushes.

The two others strived to keep pace with her. Concerned, Luca looked at the other girl, Heldi, who was resigned at Ireiya's resolution. She was the same age as Luca and had an especially close relationship with him; they were always together. Now, the two of them were trying to keep an eye out for Ireiya so that she would not get hurt due to her rashness.

"We have to be careful", she said, apprehensive. "If there really is a dragon there, we can't get too close to it."

A fallen dragon was the object of their search. Not too long ago, Eirian—one of the oldest girls at the orphanage and a faithful assistant to Father and the Matron—told them that she had heard at the market that the city's guards were looking in the forest for a dragon they had knocked down early in the morning. They believed the dragon fell near Moiraios, the small mountain chain located northwest of the city, and had sent scouts to locate and fetch the dragon's body for it had attracted the attention of the city's scholars for unknown reasons. Perhaps it was the fact that, for over five hundred years, none of the great two flying races—that is, dragons and githari—had passed through the city's sky and the sudden intrusion was worthy of their curiosity. Less kind points of view thought that the beast would only be another victim of their unsavoury experiments, however.

Nevertheless, the guards were sure about the dragon's survival. Despite the incredibly accurate ballistae installed at the strategic towers located at the city's borders, the shot was done by a guard that had been unable to fatally injure the trespasser, for he had been surprised by the appearance of the great beast.

"Or the guards looking for it", Luca reminded them. The three were well aware of the fact that not many in the city were fond of orphans like them. Even worse, they were related to Father, who was constantly at odds with the Council—and almost anyone else really—as he defended them and his ideals with enormous conviction.

"Well, of course!" Ireiya said, with false confidence and a hollow smile. Not a day would pass without them fearing for their lives. It seemed like at any moment the city's adults would do something horrible to them. Thankfully, they had Father, the Matron and a few others to protect them.

They continued to walk in silence for ten minutes, until Luca spoke again.

"D-Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Ireiya asked. He turned to look at him. The boy looked very alarmed.

"It—it was like a moan, or something. I don't know." He answered, nervously, as he looked at every direction. Heldi also became visibly startled and took his hand, as if it offered some kind of protection.

"Pfft, it's just your imagination. C'mon, let's go."

They continued walking a bit more. Luca and Heldi, as they held hands, looked at their surroundings all the time, alert.

"Hey, look! I can see light past those trees!" The leading girl suddenly said. Unlike her friends, she was only worried about finding that dragon before anybody else. "It must be a clearing. C'mon, I'll race you!" She said, boldly, to her companions.

"What? No, wait!" Heldi said, trying to hold her.

Ireiya, however, was faster than that and rapidly ran towards the clearing. She looked back to see their dumbstruck expression—surely it was because she winning, the girl thought for a second... before she tripped and fell to the ground. But no, it was definitely because they actually put care into seeing what was in front of them.

Despite a sudden pain coming from her ankle, Ireiya looked around her. Trees had fallen to the ground, many of them broken in two, with twigs and branches all over the ground. She could easily see the blue sky, as no tree stood in the way. Finally, she noticed an enormous, imposing mound to her right. What is that? She asked herself, trying to discern what it was for the broken trees obscured much of the figure. It seemed to be breathing heavily. No way, that is...

"The dragon!" She exclaimed, triumphant.

But then the mound started to move and, as what appeared to be its head rose in the air, she realized what this implied... Just as Luca and Heldi warily walked towards her. As she saw them, she tried to shoo them with a gesture of her hands and shouted:

"L-Luca! Heldi! R-Run away now! It's the dragon! Save yourselves!" She panicked. And then, they panicked. However, the two children were brave. Or too frightened to run in the opposite direction. Most likely, both.

"No! We can't leave you here!" Heldi shouted.

"Just go!" Ireiya insisted. "I can't move! I think I hurt my ankle!" She tried to move her left leg, but the pain was getting worse by the minute.

"Then— then, we'll go look for help!" Luca said.

"Yeah! We'll bring Father to save you!" Heldi added.

The two children started to run, thinking Father could fix it. They always could count on him to get them out of a mess, even if it was as big as this one, and they didn't stop to think about the alternative. After all, they had heard stories of humans being eaten alive by dragons and, if that was true, then Ireiya's likely fate was too unpleasant to consider.

The girl watched them run until she lost sight of them. When this happened, she turned her attention to the dragon, frightened of her probable aggressor. Particularly so, because the dragon's head seemed to finally realize where all the noise was coming from and so, directed his attention to the small human girl among the fallen branches and leaves. She watched, horrified, as the dragon's snout move dangerously closer to her. Oh, no, surely it will eat her, she thought. She should have listened to Luca and Heldi. This was the worst idea ever. It opened its mouth, showing his enormous teeth, and scales, and powerful breath. Definitely, it will be eating her at any given moment. Like, right then.

Not knowing what to do, she screamed at the top of her lungs. "Ahhhhhhhhhhh!" She closed her eyes, afraid to look anymore.

But the pain never came. Other than that of his ankle. It sure was taking her a long time to die. Well, maybe death just always seemed like an eternity until it actually happened. Not that she knew... Well, she may as well continue screaming until something happens, like someone telling her to shut up, like...

"Be quiet." A distinctly male voice said.

No, it probably was her imagination...


"What?" She asked, puzzled, to no one in particular. It didn't seem like a particularly human voice.

"I said 'be quiet', human. Now, tell me where I am." The same voice spoke, and she opened her eyes so as to see at the speaker. It was the dragon.

Dumbfounded, the girl looked at the dragon's face, unable to say one word. It was speaking to her! She had always thought dragons as mere beasts, as the tales of humans no longer remember the vast intelligence of dragons, of their language, of their history. Or, at least, not the ones told to the children. They were stories of the dragons' hunger for human flesh, of their violence, of their greed...

"What is the city's name?" He insisted, as his patience began to run out. His eyes—one shining light gray like silver, and the other light blue like the sky—focused on her, sternly.

She hesitated, but angering the dragon surely wasn't the best of ideas. And so she answered, openly and nervously.

"T-This is Tjeli, on the c-continent of Inilar."

< Message edited by Heartdragon -- 7/5/2015 13:48:16 >
DF AQW  Post #: 1
7/5/2015 13:47:13   

Part 2: His father's sword

Sometime later, the two children finally came out of the forest, exhausted due to running for so long. They were determined to save Ireiya in their own way and so, they barely had rested during their return to the orphanage—the place they called home—where Father surely was.

The unnamed orphanage was a large one-story building that had room for, at least, one hundred people. Away from the city itself, the orphanage was located at the edge of the Tjeneste, a great forest northeast of Tjeli. The children could play in the orphanage's vast garden but also enter the forest, known to be empty of beasts and monsters. The creatures no longer inhabited the wilderness for they avoided any kind of contact with not only Tjeli's hunters and guards, but the people that dwelt within the city.

They searched for the closest authority figure, which happened to be the Matron. A beautiful woman of shoulder-length brown hair and light blue eyes, she was hanging the laundry—clothes, bed sheets and tablecloths—outside to dry them out in that day's hot, dry, but windy weather. At least, three other children were helping her, for they couldn't afford many servants to attend their needs. Not that the children cared, since they were willing to help their carers as best as they could.

"Matron!" They called, wearily, out of breath, as they ran towards her. She focused on the children as they intercepted her.

"Yes?" She asked, attentive to the children's needs, already aware that something was wrong.

Looking for the words to explain themselves, Heldi started, hurriedly. "We were at the forest and, and—"

"We found a dragon!" Luca interrupted him. "And Ireiya got trapped!"

"She needs our help! The dragon is going to eat her if we don't save her!" Heldi continued.

"Are you sure?" She didn't want to doubt them, but children sometimes could be very imaginative and sometimes easily scared.

"We are telling the truth! Eirian told us she heard of a dragon..." They continued telling their story, but the woman's mind was too busy remembering that Eirian had told her, half an hour ago, of the guards' search for a fallen dragon. The Matron's expression suddenly became one of concern.

"Oh, no."

She knew dragons to avoid the consumption of humans, but the so-called 'beasts' weren’t particularly averse to attacking those who disturbed them. Ireiya could indeed be in danger should the dragon be of the aggressive type.

"What are going to do, Matron?" Heldi urged her.

"We must tell your Father." She said, thinking of her impotence, but not letting that wear her down, and turned to the children helping with the laundry. "Amice, Rohesia, Elis, do you know where your Father is?" She didn't know where he was at the moment, but maybe the children did.

"I think he said he'd be in his office..." Elis said, uncertain, as he drew a wet shirt out of the clothes basket.

"Thank you, Elis. Now, please continue while I go talk to your Father. Luca, Heldi, let us see what we can do." As she turned to go inside the building, she saw as the expression of the children became grim, as they had heard of Ireiya's situation. "No, please do not worry. Everything is going to fine, okay?" She tried to assuage them. "We will take care of this."

She prayed for that to be the case.

The children silently nodded and continued with their task, and she, Luca and Heldi hastily moved to the orphanage's office. A room mostly decorated in red, its wooden furniture and many books made the place look like a library. In a sizable carpet in front of the now-idle fireplace, at least twenty children between the ages of five and twelve sat, remaining silent as they listened to the story as read by their Father.

He himself was sitting on a chair, opposite the children, with an open book in his hands and a very young girl on his lap—Anleya, who everyone knew to be his dearest 'child'... including the other children. Not that they minded, because Father always treated them all the same and never showed any favouritism, instead giving them affection and care all the same. A man of fair complexion and long, ivory hair, he was impeccably dressed in a light suit. He was gently reading the story of The Gorillaphant Child, by Maeis, to his children.

"...And, as you know, gorillaphants have very large tusks that—"

"Aledrin," the Matron called from the doorstep, with Luca and Heldi expectantly grabbing her loose dress.

Everyone on the room turned to see them, including their Father, who responded to his public name and looked a little bit surprised to see her there. But he quickly realized she was worried about something, and closed the book. The fact that she was saying something along the lines of 'We need to talk' with only her eyes was concerning enough.

"So, my children, we will continue later with the story, yes?" He said as he lowered Anleya to the ground. "And no buts." He added, trying to keep an unworried tone, anticipating their reluctance to leave. Quickly, but with some buzz, the children left the room just as the Matron, Luca and Heldi entered. Some fleeting thoughts passed through his mind about how, perhaps, the children had gotten themselves in trouble. Maybe they had broken a window.

"What is it, Lauren?"

She struggled to say the words, because she knew it would be very, very painful for him to hear that one of his children was in such a dire situation.

"Luca, Heldi and Ireiya were in the forest when they found a dragon. They have told me Ireiya is trapped and in need of help..."

Lauren let him process the news before speaking again. The news of a dragon threatening one of your beloved children close to a city such as Tjeli was a very improbable one, but not impossible. On the other hand, he would know about the dragon's sighting, for he was usually up to date with many of the city's rumours. Little did Lauren suspect that it were her sincere words that convinced him almost instantly that she was telling the truth.

All of sudden, he hastily walked to the other side of the room and took his father's sword from the wall, and promptly returned to Lauren and the two children.

"Do you know where she is? In which direction?" He asked Luca and Heldi, as he placed his hands over their shoulders for reassurance. However, Lauren saw a fierce determination in his eyes. She knew he wasn't a proficient fighter, nor a mage—in fact, he shied away from the use of weapons, and armed conflict—, but he wouldn't let that deter him from saving his children one bit.

"It's close to the stone of Jarassa, and beyond the Eriven stream." Heldi said remembering their way. A few years ago, Father had taught many of his children the names of most of the forest's landmarks so that they would know their way to the orphanage at all times. "They are in some sort of clearing, I think."

"Thank you. Now, Luca, Heldi, please stay here. I shall go find Ireiya." Aledrin hastily departed, having made the decision to ride Syurei, his faithful mount, to rescue Ireiya as soon as possible.

However, Lauren soon appeared behind him, matching his hurried pace. "Are you doing this alone, Aledrin?"

"If I have to."

"We could tell the guards where the dragon is. They want to know its location." She suggested, worried for his well-being. "Surely, they can help you with it."

"I am sure that the moment they hear of me and mine in danger, they will do nothing to help." He said, well aware of Tjeli's dislike, no, contempt for him. "Even if they want the dragon for themselves."

Though she wanted to remain hopeful, she knew it to be true. The man she worked for had many enemies in the city, if only because of his selfless nature. They soon reached the stables, where they hastily prepared Aledrin's mount for the short journey. After a few minutes, the man was already on his way to save Ireiya, with his father's sword at hand, his fiery determination, and Lauren's blessing of good fortune...

< Message edited by Heartdragon -- 7/5/2015 22:18:26 >
DF AQW  Post #: 2
7/5/2015 21:55:59   

Part 3: The stranger

Now, it mustn't be much longer, he thought as Syurei galloped his way through the forest. Aledrin and his horse had already passed by the Eriven stream, a low level and quite narrow brook which converged in the Era'Thre River northwest of where they now were. Soon enough, they would see the Jarassa, a rock with vague resemblance to an eagle's face. It was an unremarkable landmark, but they had named it so as to always have a sense of direction when inside the forest.

During the whole, but short, journey, the man had only thought of what to do. He had no idea even now. Dragons were particularly resilient creatures, for they were had sizable bodies and were resistant to magic spells. Not that he knew many. He was aware of some simple elemental magicks to defend himself, like any respectable man would, but he was no wizard and... For that matter, he was no warrior either. His father and his brother were both well-versed in the art of the sword, and they had taught him how to defend himself, but he had never been interested in that. He was more of a pacifist than anything else. And so, part of him was beginning to regret the decision to come on his own, since he most likely would be unable to rescue Ireiya, defeat the dragon, or actually get out of the ordeal alive. Still, he wouldn't let that deter him from his self-imposed mission—Ireiya depended on him.

He saw a clearing near enough, and quickly prompted Syurei to slow down. Aledrin got off the horse, reassuring the animal that he would be back soon. Aledrin knew Syurei to be an obedient companion, and so left the horse alone as he unsheathed his sword and took a deep breath.

He cautiously entered the clearing, alert for any suspicious movement...

But there was nothing. Only broken trees, fallen branches and leaves, warm sunrays on the crown of his head, and a nagging feeling of uncertainty. Had he come to right place? Had the dragon kidnapped Ireiya and taken flight to elsewhere? Was it too late for—?

"Father!" a girl's voice called.

Aledrin was suddenly hugged by Ireiya, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She looked very healthy, if a bit straggly, and was sporting a big smile on her face.

"Ireiya?" The man called, unsure of what was happening. How had he been unable to see her before? "Are you alright?" He asked while examining her.

"Yes, Father, I'm—" She started, but an inhuman, but distinctly male voice from behind her interrupted their touching moment.

"What did I tell you about dispelling the illusion, girl?"

Aledrin then realized the presence of the so-hunted dragon, a sight which was both stunning and quite frightening. Perhaps, Ireiya didn't notice, but the dragon was not of the normal size of his kind—he seemed to be several heads taller than an average, adult dragon... and probably taller than those classified as 'ancient', too. He towered over them, even lying down on the floor as he was. Mostly covered in dark green scales, its most distinctive feature was that of a plethora of slightly light blue-coloured marks covering his body. It was a sight to behold.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Dragon", the young girl said a bit too comfortable with the enormous creature, who apparently chose that very moment to stretch his colossal wings, characterized by grey-coloured patagium between its digits. Their size was quite intimidating, but perhaps it was more to shake off the broken trees and branches on top of him. He, seemingly uninterested in Ireiya's words, examined one of his wings and grimaced. "But you can trust him! Father is very nice!"

Aledrin, however, pointed his father's sword towards the dragon, just as he clutched Ireiya, distrustful of the beast. The dragon saw the sword with hostility, but did nothing.

"What is going on here?" Aledrin asked, a bit disoriented. He didn't know dragons to be so... civilized.

"Wait, Father, I'll tell you!" Ireiya said, worried that the man she called Father would do something reckless, just as she had done before for this incident to happen. "This morning I heard from Eirian that the guards were looking for Mr. Dragon in the forest, and I wanted to see him for myself. I came here with Luca and Heldi, but I hurt my ankle, so I told Luca and Heldi to run. When they were gone, Mr. Dragon healed my ankle. We have been talking since then!"

"That was very reckless, Ireiya." Aledrin reprimanded her, still worried. "The dragon could have attacked you, or—"

"Human, I am no beast for you to think that I would senselessly attack an infant of your kind."

Aledrin looked at the beast's impassive expression only betrayed by the irritated tone of his voice. The man and the dragon's eyes met, with Aledrin noticing the mismatched colours of his eyes, and the cross-shaped scar on his left cheek.

"I am sorry?" Aledrin apologized, hesitant. The dragon rolled his eyes.

"Better than nothing, I suppose." He said, cuttingly, and returned to mind his own business.

Aledrin, a bit perplexed, looked at Ireiya.

"I think he is sulky because the guards shot him, even though he was just flying over the city." She said, whispering to her Father's ear. "His wound must hurt a lot." The man examined the dragon and finally noticed that the dragon was covering with his right hand a spot in his torso, where his flesh and blood was visible. Aledrin searched with his eyes and found the arrow of a ballista near the creature, all bloodied and partly hidden by the fallen plants. Now that he paid attention, he noticed that the dragon was breathing heavily, clearly unwell after his fall.

"Mr...um, Dragon?" He called.

"What do you want now, human?" The dragon answered, turning his head towards him once again. "You should be thankful that I am willing to let you and your child walk away unscathed. Now, leave."

The dragon was clearly annoyed by the very existence of humans, since they had attacked him for no discernible reason—other than because he had been flying a bit too close to the city—, but he was judicious enough that he did make distinctions between them, aware that the man and the girl he was looking at weren't responsible for what had transpired.

Aledrin felt guilty for the creature. Just as the city wasn't interested in the orphans, its inhabitants were apathetic to the well-being of foreigners, whether it was other humans, races, or creatures.

"Do you need any help?" He asked, confident. If there was something he ever felt sure of, it was of helping others.

Now, it was the dragon's turn to look surprised, or so Aledrin thought. Perhaps he was bad at reading the emotions of dragons, perhaps this one dragon wasn't particularly good at showing them.

"I am not sure if I can help you with your wound, but maybe I can provide you with food and water." The dragon continued to look at him, and Aledrin wondered if he was making a blunder. "I mean, there are no animals in Tjeneste that you can hunt. And—" Probably, it would be better if he stopped. "I do not think you can move very much and... Yes, well, I would be glad to help you."

The dragon looked at them, dispassionate.

Aledrin looked at Ireiya for some support, but she seemed as clueless as he was.

"Interesting." The dragon finally said. "What is your name, human?"


"I was told that here, in Tjeli, you humans go by two names. Is that your true name or your public name?"

"My public name."

The dragon snorted.

"So be it, iethyr."

"What is that supposed to mean, Father?" Ireiya asked in a whisper. "Does he want your help?"

"I am not sure..." He muttered in return.

"One moment." The dragon asked. To the amazement of both Aledrin and Ireiya, its body turned into some kind of green aura and reformed itself into the shape of a human, only two meters apart from them. Somehow, the dragon now looked like an average human—if a bit tall, standing at six feet and five inches, or so. With long, slightly unkempt dark brown hair styled with a small braid to one side, he was in some way still recognisable as the dragon they had been talking to seconds before. He still maintained his distinctive eyes, his cross-shaped scar and two of the strange marks on his jaw (they were dark green now, though.)

"What did you do, Mr. Dragon?" Ireiya asked.

"I have merely taken a form you should be more comfortable with, and one that may fool our incoming guests..."

< Message edited by Heartdragon -- 8/15/2015 17:09:18 >
DF AQW  Post #: 3
8/15/2015 17:05:27   

Part 4: A tense encounter

Aledrin looked at the man-dragon apprehensively. Should the city's guards be approaching, they could be in trouble. And, for all that he frequently was at odds with his people, he would rather avoid any unnecessary conflict with them—particularly if Ireiya or any other of his children was present.

"Guests?" He asked. "How do you know?" He could see and hear nothing that even suggested the idea of someone approaching them. Perhaps, dragons had keener senses than humans.

"Following the incursion of your child," he pointed at Ireiya. “I placed a sensorium enchantment around this area." Ireiya looked at him, a bit clueless. Evidently, he noticed this, since he explained specifically for her: "You could say I drew a magical circle around us, and if anyone crosses the line, I become aware of their presence." Aledrin appreciated the gesture, because he himself understood magic only a tiny bit more than his daughter did.

The dragon continued. "I shall now place this location under an illusion so that it may look like a simple clearing, and not the very proof of my fall on this forest. It will take me a few minutes to cast and you'll see no change whatsoever. At that point, I will appreciate if you do not break the illusion once they arrive." He said at nobody in particular. Ireiya, however, knew that remark was directed at her, for she blushed in embarrassment.

He closed his eyes and chanted some soundless words, hurriedly.

Silently agreeing not to say a word, Aledrin and Ireiya looked at each other, and then, at the man-dragon for the several minutes it took him to stop his chant and say, "They come."

As predicted by the human-shaped dragon, three guards came out from within the woods. They wore the colours of Tjeli, white and gold—like the Light. Though worship of the elemental powers was unpopular among the citizens, the Tjelians felt something of connection to the Light, perhaps because of their ideals of enlightenment, their ideas of bringing the light of knowledge to where the darkness of the unknown resided.

Two men and a woman walked towards them with their hands ready to unsheathe their swords, should they see fit. Aledrin recognised the leading woman as Deputy Captain Yritys of the North-eastern Defense Tower. A woman of hair and eyes black as the night, rumours said her ambition knew no boundaries, that she would obtain power at any price, as she rose in the ranks. Whether the rumours were true or not, Aledrin saw danger in her presence, particularly because of the obvious foul mood she was in. She had been sent to patrol the area in search of the dragon, when she clearly wanted to be anywhere but there, and not doing such a trite assignment. Better not to anger her, Aledrin thought.

"Good day, Captain." Aledrin started, assertive, just as the trio of guards encountered them. "What brings you round these parts, if I may ask?" Taking the initiative, as if they weren't guilty of hiding a dragon from whoever had laid their eyes on him, was probably the best option.

"I could ask you the same." She replied, sharply, just before examining him with a cutting gaze. "...Citizen Aledrin, right?"

Perfect. Somehow, he had gained something of a reputation in the city for some reason and he wasn't sure why. Sure, he might have been at odds with some people in power, but it was simply because he put his children's well-being before anything else, not because he was belligerent or because he had ambitions of his own. Why couldn't they see that?

"That is right." He said. "Well, we, um—" He interrupted himself as he noticed Yritys looking at the man-dragon, examining him now.

It wasn't common knowledge that dragons could take human form (in fact, dragons rarely changed their shape into anything), but could she know that? Maybe she had seen something...

"I am sorry," he started, "but am I bothering you?" The dragon looked as impassive as ever, but his voice was filled with prideful defiance.

"In a way." She answered, as cutting as before. "I want to know who you are."

"His name is Anthos." Aledrin interceded, picking a random name for the dragon. Not only he had noticed something of a belligerent tone in his voice, but he was afraid he might have given his real name. Like many Tjelians, Aledrin believed in the power of true names. He also needed to call him somehow, because 'Mr. Dragon' was simply the most conspicuous title ever when they were trying to hide the fact that he was a dragon. "He's—"

"A traveller and a scholar", 'Anthos' interrupted. "I am but a simple wanderer interested in Tjeli's so-lauded architecture. My land of birth is earne in the Great Continent. Does it matter?"

"In fact, it does. Why are you here in the forest, and not in the city then? Aren't you interested in Tjeli's buildings?" Yritys inquired, persistent; she had a vague suspicion that he was not what he seemed.

"As I said, I am a scholar." He replied, cuttingly. "I am interested on many fields, one of which is biogeography. Surely, a forest is the perfect place to observe some of Inilar's autochthonous vegetation, and not a city."

"Hmph." She clearly didn't like the dragon's sarcastic responses, but could do nothing to dismiss his claims. In fact, for all that Aledrin knew, he was telling the truth. "You—"

"Excuse me, Captain," Aledrin intervened, "but may I ask what the reason is for your presence here?"

Yritys sighed, exasperated.

"Do not tell me you are not aware of recent happenings, Citizen?" Aledrin tried his best to look clueless about her likely response while under her scrutiny, but more than suspicious, she looked disdainful. "Everyone in the city knows, by this point, of the fallen dragon that was shot down by one of our guards this morning. We are searching for it."

Aledrin could almost feel as 'Anthos' tensed in likely anger. Or was it because his condition had deteriorated? He looked paler and more tired than before, probably in the need of rest and medicine.

"Why did you harm that innocent creature?" The dragon asked, with cold animosity.

"No dragon is innocent." She replied, pretentiously. "We know of the havoc they cause in the 'land of dragons' and everywhere else, with entire towns and cities destroyed by a single one of their kind for whatever reason. You may not know it, foreigner, but Tjeli has not been damaged by outsiders for three hundred years; we will make sure that it continues to be that way. If that means one less dragon in the world... fine by me."

Sensing danger, Aledrin took the initiative before the man-dragon could react. "Then I suppose we should leave; we have no intentions of wasting your time any longer."

He took Ireiya by the hand and placed on hand on the dragon's shoulder. 'Anthos' looked at him with mild surprise, as if he wasn't accustomed to the touch of others, distrustful of physical contact with him. The human noticed this, but consciously tried not to look apologetic, even though he certainly felt that way then.

"Stop right there."

She wasn't finished with them, apparently. But he was.

"Do I look like I can hide a dragon?" Aledrin said. "No. We were just taking a stroll through the forest when you saw us." Well, that certainly came out harsher than he thought it would, and mentally reprimanded himself for sarcastically losing his temper again in front of the authorities. Somehow, he just couldn't help himself every so often. The dragon snorted, amused.

"I suppose not," she conceded, just as her dislike for the 'scholar' increased, "but you'd better watch that tongue, Citizen. That is no way to talk to a guard."

"It will not happen again."

"I hope so," she said, "you may go now."

"Thank you."

With Ireiya tightly holding his hand, Aledrin grabbed the man-dragon's forearm and forced him to walk away, even though he seemed to exchange a few words with Yritys. As Aledrin noticed that the dragon was trembling, the three walked away without looking back. They left the clearing to return to the orphanage, as well as for Aledrin to reunite with Syurei, his faithful mount. With any luck, Yritys and her men didn't suspect that 'Anthos' was, in fact, the dragon they were looking for.

Once in the safety of the trees, hiding from the guards' sight, Aledrin look over his shoulder to make sure they hadn't been followed by the guards. Then, he gently asked the young girl, "Ireiya, could you bring Syurei here? He must be grazing in somewhere..."

"Of course, Father!" She said, enthusiastically, for she finally got to talk after so long. She knew, though, that children were expected to remain silent whenever adults spoke, especially in front of adults other than Father and the Matron.

When the guards could no longer hear them, the human turned to the dragon and whispered, concerned, "Are you okay?"

No response.

"If you are upset for me touching you, I apologize." He continued. "I... did not know how else I could—"

Aledrin interrupted himself when he realized the dragon's consciousness was slipping away, as if he was fighting the urge to fall asleep right there and then. He then collapsed over him, unable to stand on his own; with his towering height and proportional weight, it wasn't very easy for the human to support him. Thankfully, Ireiya arrived, holding Syuurei's reins in her hands.

"Father..." She started as she and horse got closer to them.

"Ah, great, Ireiya, thank you." Aledrin said, "Bring him here, would you?"

With some effort, they managed to help the dragon get on the horse. When they were finished, the dragon was fully unconscious.

"Is he going to be okay?" Ireiya asked, worried.

"I do not know," he honestly answered. "Probably. We must hurry and bring him to the orphanage, though, and see what we can do for him." With quick and hurried pace, they left the clearing far behind, intending to reach their home as soon as possible...

To be continued...
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