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Dragon Heirs

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     No matter how far he traveled throughout the many journeys of his long and full life, the one thing that always remained constant, thought Bazil, were the stars. Blinking faintly, they burned eternally, higher even than a dragon could fly. The Dragonstars burned brightest of all, a beacon to all dragon-kind, calling to their souls across the endless night. Someday, Bazil thought, his soul will run across heaven to join his ancestors there, as the souls of all worthy dragons do.

      And one thing Bazil was sure of was that he had made his ancestors proud, earning his place beside them. Ten years he’d given, fighting the evil Masters of Padmassa, and later, the one called Waakzaam. His enemies knew his name, and had trembled at the mention of it. On battlefields all over the world Bazil the Broketail was famed for the strength of his heart and his prowess in battle, the most celebrated Argonathi battledragon who had ever lived. With sweat and blood, he’d fought for the peace which now lay over his homeland, and for that the bards still sang his name.

      Of course, now that he was retired, life looked a little differently. It had been three years since Bazil and his former dragoneer, now partner, and always best friend, Relkin, had been discharged from the Marneri Second Legion with the highest of honors. Since then, they had left the city behind, staking a claim among the wilderness of the Bur Valley, where they found themselves in good stead thanks to years of careful planning and a not inconsiderable fortune amassed over the course of their illustrious career. The years had seemed to rush by, days filled with labors of love, clearing their land and building a home, which was something Relkin and Bazil had never truly had before. And along with this home, they now had a proper family: Relkin and his wife Eilsa had, just days ago, welcomed their second child.

      And that’s what was troubling Bazil. Not that he resented Relkin’s family in any way; quite the opposite, he saw the children, Eilsa, all of them, as his family too. Bazil was never really lonely; in fact, the population of their valley was growing by more than two babies. As the members of Bazil and Relkin’s old unit, the 109th Marnei Fighting Dragons, reached the end of their terms of service, and as they faced the prospect of life beyond the dragon corps, several had come to one realization: the men and dragons they had lived and fought with had become their family. In some ways, this was not so surprising. The ranks of dragoneers were traditionally formed by orphans, and the close bonds they built with their dragons and other human comrades were often the first, if not only, close bonds they would ever make. Wyverns, the wingless dragons who comprise the dragon corps, are a species who naturally form strong family groups in the wild. Though raised among humans and bred over the course of hundreds of years to extinguish the most base instincts of their ancestors, Argonathi wyverns still formed strong and lasting bonds with others of their own kind.

      The bonds the members of the 109th had forged were stronger than most. They had partaken of some of the longest campaigns and most intense fighting in the military history of the empire. They’d faced ultimate evil and endured terrible losses, creating a shared history that tied them together in a way that even blood never could. In addition, and almost in spite of the unimaginable dangers they had faced, the members of the 109th were, above all, survivors. They had fought, and lived, time after time, year after year, in each other’s company. As they’d survived, they allowed themselves to dream of what life would be like once they had finished their ten year term of service: one hundred-forty acres of land, a home, a family. Most of these daydreams had not featured the continued cohabitation of their unit-mates, though.

      But here they were, slowly trickling into the Bur Valley as they achieved the culmination of their ten years, started their new lives, and, shortly after, were hit with a profound feeling of loss. In truth, it was the dragons, really, who decided it; to dragonish thinking, there was only one way to bring balance back to their worlds. And their dragoneers knew, as all drangoneers do, that a happy dragon makes for an easier life.

      Already two pairs had joined Relkin and Bazil. Chektor and Mono had been the first, which was fitting, thought Bazil. After all, they four were the only survivors of the original draft of the 109th. After they retired, the stolid pair, who had no really meaningful ties to the community where they’d been raised, had headed for the wilderness to build a homestead much as Relkin and Bazil had done. Relkin and Bazil had set their sights on the Bur Valley some years before, when they’d marched through on campaign. It was no surprise, then, that Mono and Chektor, who had marched side by side with the famous pair, also recalled the valley’s untapped potential. They’d found a suitable piece of land nearby, and that was that. The humans could not deny that having the company, and, when needed, extra help, was a boon. The dragons, growing lonely without realizing, found comfort in the company of their own kind. Chektor, a cheerful giant brasshide, and Mono, a quiet, gentle soul, had been a familiar and dependable part of Bazil’s life for a decade, and he was glad they had come.

      The other duo, more recently arrived, had been part of Bazil and Relkin’s life almost as long as Mono and Chektor. The leatherback, Vlok, and his dragoneer, Swane, were originally from the Blue Hills region, and once they had been released from the legion, they’d headed to the place they considered home. Everywhere they went, the pair were greeted as heroes, which they very much were. However, as the days turned to weeks, much to their surprise, the pair grew tired of the adulation. Both the man and the wyvern, dauntless fighters, were at their core simple souls. It was Vlok who first gave voice to the feeling of loneliness that had descended on him, wishing nostalgically to be back in the dragon house in Marneri, eating noodles, drinking beer, and laughing with his comrades around a fire in the yard. Swane, though never a great thinker, saw the heart of the issue, and, in turning inward, recognized a similar longing for old friends within himself. It was nice being a local hero, respected in the streets where once he had been only a worthless orphan; however, at the end of the day, he wished he could talk to his friends. No one in his village could truly understand what the pair had been through. It stood to reason in the minds of man and dragon, that there was only one way to remedy the situation. And so, with this thought stubbornly in mind, Swane and Vlok set march for the Bur Valley. Bazil had grumped at first when they’d arrived, but it was only for show. Vlok may not be the brightest dragon ever hatched, but he was a loyal and constant friend, and Bazil enjoyed the simple wyvern’s company.

      As Bazil came to realize how much comfort he took in the arrival of his old friends, he found himself looking forward to the day more would arrive. The next wave of his comrades to become eligible would be most welcome. Bazil chuckled as he envisioned his old friends Alsebra and the Purple Green. He knew Alsebra and her boy Jak planned to return to the fertile farmland where Alsebra had been born after their discharge, but suspected it would not be long before Alsebra felt that missing piece. She was, after all, the smartest dragon Bazil had ever known. And as for the Purple Green, well, Bazil could hear his roar of greeting already! Manuel, the Purple Green’s dragoneer, was an anomaly among the dragon corps, a boy with a family, who’d volunteered for service. Having a family, though, didn’t necessarily mean you felt like you had somewhere to belong, and Manuel had adopted the 109th as his true family long ago. Manuel and the Purple Green were much alike in that way. The Purple Green was the only flying wild dragon ever to join the Legions. The power of flight had been taken from him many years before by the evil of Padmasa, and he’d agreed to join the Legion to avenge the life he’d lost. Over the course of building his new life, vengeance wasn't all he’d found, and despite a rocky start, the Purple Green had become an irreplaceable part of the motley family.

      Oh yes, thought Bazil, the Purple Green would certainly be coming to the Bur Valley! In truth, Bazil missed his giant, winged friend the most. And a strange friendship they’d had. In fact, they had started as anything but friends, first meeting as rivals in a fight for the right to mate with the great wild green dragoness, High Wings. They’d nearly killed each other, and Bazil knew that if he’d faced the wild drake without his sword and legion issued armor, he would not have stood a chance. But Bazil had won, and after he’d left with High Wings, leaving the Purple Green wounded but with a safe place to recover, he’d breathed a sigh of relief that he’d never face that particular foe again. But fate, it seemed, had other plans. Not long after, Bazil and the Purple Green found themselves captives of the fell Doom of Tummez Orgmeen, thrust into a giant arena and set to fight to the death for the amusement of the black-souled Padmasan city. They’d refused, joining forces and turning on their captors. Seemingly against impossible odds, through the cleverness of witches and the unconquerable heart of Argonathi soldiers, they had won the day, and a friendship was hatched. The Purple Green, whose wings had been repaired by the magic of a great witch, though forevermore lacking the strength required for flight, eventually joined the Legion; there he and Bazil fought side by side against the greatest of odds. Long after the dragoness High Wings was left to memory, the wyvern and the drake found in each other the most steadfast, and loyal, of allies.
But what a memory High Wings was! Bazil had never taken a mate before, and had never taken one since. Wyverns, unlike their wild winged brethren, mate for life, and though Bazil understood he would never meet High Wings again, he felt no real motivation to seek a new mate.

      It was expected that retired Battledragons, upon joining the civilian masses, would partake in the Legion sponsored breeding program. The idea behind this program was that these battledragons, paragons of wyvern health and battle skill, would help give birth to future generations of Argonathi battledragons. Toward the end of his term of service, Bazil had been aware of the gossip, the rumors of how in demand he would be. The great Bazil Broketail! The ultimate Battedragon! Dragonhouses across the empire would be clamoring to raise one of his offspring! While Bazil did feel pride in knowing he was such a fine specimen of a dragon, he had not signed up for the program. The truth was, he was not eager to sire new eggs. His tryst with High Wings had resulted in two eggs, a male, Brenner, and a female, Grenner. Bazil had met them for a brief time, when they were very young. But, in the way of winged dragons, they had been uninterested in forming familial bonds. Bazil took pride in seeing their strength and beauty, but still felt the loss of never truly knowing them. Any offspring he would provide to the breeding program would be just as estranged to him, and he did not want to face that sense of loss again.

      As Bazil looked at the stars now, he took some comfort in knowing that, though he may never have really known his children, they too would have been taught to look to the Dragonstars. All dragons, with wings or without, knew the souls of dragons past lived on in the heavens. Even if it was only in passing, they would be reminded of their ancestors, and maybe, just maybe, their thoughts would at times turned to the wingless dragon who had sired them.

      Bazil sighed, watching his breath turn to steam, momentarily clouding his view of the stars. Perhaps he was getting soft in his old age. Thinking about the past, wishing to change it, wouldn’t do any good. Might as well wish to unhatch an egg. Still, Bazil was left with a sense of longing that no amount of friends or success could seem to fill.
Bazil gave one last ‘harrumph’ to the sky and roused himself to head back to the building, which, originally intended to be a barn, was quickly being appropriated as an increasingly comfortable dragonhouse. Casting one more glance toward the dragonstars, Bazil started as they suddenly blinked out, and then reappeared. Bazil froze, eyes toward the heavens, not focusing on any one point, but widening his senses to search for some sign of movement. Several moments passed this way before he shook himself, and chuckled softly. First maudlin thoughts of regret, and now he was jumping at shadows! Bazil snorted, disparaging of himself, as he thought again of the years of dotage still ahead of him. Letting my brain run away from me, like some daydreaming human, Bazil thought. Bazil was sure he was imagining things, but perhaps his military training was not ready to give up on him yet, for as he commenced walking, his eyes flickered warily across the starry vault.

      And so, Bazil was surprised, but hardly taken unaware, when he heard a swift woosh behind him, followed by a muffled thump which sent a shudder through the ground, as though something large had gently fallen to earth. Bazil pivoted, crouched, and, though unarmed, fell into the stance of a battledragon, fully alert and ready for a fight. At first, Bazil could see nothing, but the scales along his neck itched with awareness that he was being watched. Bazil scanned his surroundings with the finely honed perception of a champion survivor, until his nostrils were tickled by a scent he did not expect. A moment later he detected something large moving in the shadows perhaps two dragon lengths in front of him, and as it emerged into the moonlight, Bazil paused. There, eyeing him intently, was another dragon. But not just any dragon: a green, winged, wild dragon. Bazil’s first thought was that some foolish young drake thought to pick a fight, but this dragon was wary, not aggressive. Bazil then realized the dragon was female; he breathed deeply to catch more of a scent. There was no heady aroma of a female seeking a mate, but there was something familiar, something Bazil could not quite place.
The wild dragon breathed deeply as well; flying dragons had a much more acute sense of smell than their wyvern cousins. After a moment, the dragoness relaxed marginally, and Bazil found himself curious to know what she was seeking and what she had determined from his scent. And that feeling, of something familiar, seemed to grow stronger with each passing second.

      Then, in speech accented with wild tones, the green dragon spoke: “You are the Broketail.”

      Bazil was momentarily stunned. He was accustomed to being recognized by men and dragons of the Argonathi world, but this was something else entirely. Bazil puzzled over this strange turn of events, looking more closely at the strange newcomer. As he did, the seconds slid by, and the dragoness, seeming to lose patience, hissed out a breath, and repeated her statement- “You are the Broketail”- this time with a tone that implied she was perhaps not convinced of the mental capacity of the wyvern standing in front of her.

      “Yes,” replied Bazil, still puzzled. That impatient, slightly disparaging tone had a feeling of familiarity, too. And then, in a flash, Bazil recalled another green dragoness standing before him, wings slightly lifted, a tone of superiority on her tongue: High Wings, whom Bazil has recalled only a short while earlier. He thought, in a moment of passing fancy, that perhaps his old dragon mind had conjured an apparition of his one time mate. But the scent of this dragon was not the scent of High Wings, despite the familiarity. But Bazil had known only one green flying dragoness in his life. Unless…

      And as though he’d been struck by a flash of lightning, he realized he did indeed know one other, who had been barely more than a hatchling on their previous acquaintance.

      “Grenner?” Bazil gasped in shock. The green dragoness relaxed further, realizing she indeed had found the wyvern she was looking for, and Bazil knew beyond a doubt that he was looking at his own daughter.