Ignitus walked past rows upon rows of Dragon eggs, holding his head low and avoiding the gazes of other Dragons as they walked by him and the eggs. He kept his eyes ahead of him, giving those Dragons little more than quick nods to show them he acknowledged their existence when they acknowledged his. The air weighed heavy on his body, and the silence of the Dragon Temple also.
Memories of the brutal clashes with the armies of the Dark Master, the Fallen, He Should Not Be Named, moved to the front of Ignitus’ mind, and his breath hitched at each one. Fields of corpses, streams of blood, days of agony with no end in sight. Old emotional wounds reopened, and he winced at the scars he saw on the Dragons he walked past. He knew they held worse scars within.
Unwilling to deal with the lingering demons, Ignitus turned his thoughts to the present as the smell of smoke from the torches entered his nostrils. He focused on the Purple Dragon, the one destined to defeat He Should Not Be Named and restore peace to the world. The one whose birth He Who Should Not Be Named would never allow.
But things would be different, Ignitus assured himself, this night would turn the tide in their favour, it had to. They had all the Guardians, both Light and Dark, guarding the eggs. They even had the best of the Dragon Knights guarding the outside of the temple and the city it watched over. They were prepared, no matter what the Oracles said…
The Year of the Dragon drew to a close, and its end had to be one of hope.
“Is something troubling you, Ignitus?” Ignitus turned his head in the direction of the voice, seeing the Guardian of Wind, Aura. He knew she’d have no trouble reading him, but he had no interest in her prying and kept walking. With so much at stake, he didn’t have any time to waste. None of them did, couldn’t she see that? If, by some cruel fate of the Ancestors, the Oracles were right, and they failed… He didn’t want to think about it at all. His heart couldn’t take it.
His gaze wandered from her and to the door leading to the Purple Dragon’s egg, and he yearned to be in that room sooner rather than later. As he stared at the door, he could’ve sworn he saw the tail of that Fear Guardian disappear down one of the nearby hallways. What was her name again? They hadn’t been properly introduced. He supposed he’d have to fix that after the eggs hatched.
“I am fine, Aura,” Ignitus replied after a lengthy silence, looking back at Aura for a moment. He sighed and turned his attention back to the door. “A bit tired, perhaps, but it’s nothing serious. Please, don’t concern yourself with me. There are far more important things that require your attention. Return to your post.”
Aura shook her head and walked down the hallway, leaving Ignitus alone. With a shrug, Ignitus exited the cramped hallway and stepped into the grotto, gazing upon all of the eggs in the center and along the sides of the walls. He stopped walking when he noticed a younger Fire Dragon putting eggs into a basket.
The sight troubled him, and he wanted to argue even though he knew he shouldn’t. The Oracles and the Guardians had come to this compromise, even if he still didn’t think it would prove necessary. He understood their concerns, he really did, yet he wanted to cling to the belief that the Guardians and Knights could keep the eggs safe.
He had noticed empty spaces where eggs had once been, and knew the Fire Dragon’s fellow Oracles had taken them. A few eggs in particular were missing, and he didn’t allow himself to dwell on it lest his thoughts become overrun by worry.
“Hello, Ignitus,” the Fire Dragon forced a smile as he put the last egg into the basket. His golden scales and red horns sparkled and shimmered under the torchlight, and his orange eyes looked dim in comparison as he raised his voice so Ignitus could hear it. “On your way to guard the Purple Dragon egg, I see… Perfectly understandable, of course, for many reasons… One of which…”
His words were lost on Ignitus, who had become entranced by one egg in particular. At first glance, the egg appeared to be gray like the Wind Dragon eggs, but the light proved its true colour to be lilac. Said colour made it stick out like a sore thumb among the vibrant orange, blue, and green eggs it was nestled with.
Ignitus closed his eyes, remembering what the Elders had told him so long ago, when he had been a curious hatchling who wanted to know about the strange egg he had seen in the grotto. The Ancestors had named it the Millennial Egg, and he believed that name to be accurate. It was common knowledge that Dragon eggs could lay dormant for many years before hatching. In fact, such eggs filled the grotto. But like its name suggested, this egg had lain dormant for a millennia, something no other egg had done.
No one knew why the Millennial Egg had been dormant for so long, and indeed, many had begun to believe it would never hatch. Ignitus didn’t know what to make of it, beyond the fact that there was something deeply unsettling about it. He didn’t know the egg’s past, and he had never thought to ask about its parents. But the more he looked at the egg, the more it disturbed him and made him think he didn’t want to know any answers.
“I know your duty is to protect the Purple Dragon’s egg, specifically…” the Fire Dragon stood at Ignitus’ side to get his attention, eyes on the Millennial Egg. “And it’s not my place, even as an Oracle, to give a Guardian orders, but…” The words died in his throat as he gazed upon the Millennial Egg, a shudder going down his spine. He kept his eyes from meeting Ignitus’, to hide the knowledge he knew. Would the Guardian believe him if he spoke the truth? All of the Guardians had already fought himself and his fellow Oracles over the plans for this very night.
“Yes, Eldes?” Ignitus gave him only a brief glance, unable to divert his gaze from the Millennial Egg for long. He could feel the Dragon inside calling out for someone, anyone, to cradle it and protect it from the cruel world outside. Or perhaps his imagination had seen it fit to play tricks on him. Whatever the reason, he found himself picking up the egg and holding it with one of his front paws, placing his other one over it to shield it from the light.
“Whatever happens tonight, the Dark Master cannot have the Millennial Egg,” the words left Eldes’ mouth, and he straightened himself, looking away from the egg in Ignitus’ hands. It was the one truth he would let leave his lips. “Layru… Din… Farore… And I… We Oracles have looked into the Pools of Visions across the realms, and the future we see if the Dark Master lays even a claw on the Millennial Egg… It cannot be allowed to happen.”
“Then why do you not take it with you?” Ignitus held the egg out to Eldes, wordlessly begging him to take it and stuff it into the basket. His chest tightened when he realized the basket had no space for another egg. Nonetheless, he held the egg out, waiting for a response. “Shouldn’t it be a priority for you?”
Eldes shook his head. “I do intend to take the Millennial Egg, but I promised the parents of these children I would keep them safe… If the basket was bigger, I would have taken it already.”
“Then you must go… We have spent too long talking.”
Eldes nodded and took a moment to secure the eggs in his basket. “I will carry this basket to its destination, and then I will return for more eggs, including this one... One way or another, the eggs of the Purple One and the Millennial One will be safe from the Dark Master, I promise you that. Please, consider letting me take the Purple-”
Ignitus opened his mouth to snap at Eldes before he could finish his sentence, but the temple started to shake, and the Millennial Egg almost fell out of his paws. The shaking intensified, and both Ignitus and Eldes stared at each other, frozen in place by the dreadful realization of what was happening. Eldes pulled the basket closer to his chest, and Ignitus’ grip on the Millennial Egg tightened.
“The eggs!” Volteer, the Electric Guardian burst through one of the doors, out of breath. Two Dragon Knights rushed past him, down the corridor he had come from. “Save them! The Dark Master’s armies have come! Protect the eggs at all costs!”
“No matter what, the Dark Master cannot have the Millennial Egg,” Eldes’ scales had turned deathly pale, and his eyes were on the egg in Ignitus’ paws. “Take it, now! Hide it! I promise you, I will come back for the Purple Dragon’s egg! I won’t allow a single soldier of the Dark Master’s armies to touch it! Go! NOW!” Eldes grabbed the basket’s handle with his mouth and ran.
His mind too frozen to think, Ignitus dashed towards the door closest to him, exhaling a blast of fire and opening it. He almost stopped at the pedestal with the Purple Egg, but he couldn’t carry both, and he felt the Millennial Dragon plead with him to save it. Unable to let it go in exchange for the Purple Egg, he opened another door that led to a passageway out of the temple, and ran down it, his heart splitting in two. When he reached the end of the cold, dark cavern, he jumped out and spread his wings, flying among the mushroom trees with the egg securely in his paws.
He flew down as close to the ground as he could to avoid the notice of the Dreadwings approaching the temple from all sides. He heard the sounds of explosions, but they grew faint as he flew further and further away. His mind raced and his heart threatened to pound out of his chest, and his wings were beating like a hummingbird’s. The surroundings went by as little more than a blurry mess of colours, until finally his burst of energy began to fail him.
Ignitus slowed down and landed at the edge of the Silver River, watching the golden water rush down its path. He breathed heavily, knowing he would only be safe for a short while. He looked around and saw a mushroom cap from one of the trees lying near the water. It had come from a young tree, and its small size made it suitable for a cozy nest. Desperate to return to the temple and retrieve the Purple Egg, Ignitus walked over to it.
“May the Ancestors look after you…” Ignitus pulled the mushroom cap closer and gently placed the egg inside its center. He raised his head and closed his eyes, breathing in deep. “…May they look after us all.”
He wondered if the Millennial Dragon could even hear him, and if it could, if it was grateful for his prayer or annoyed by it. He didn’t think he would ever know. He couldn’t even be sure if the cursed egg would hatch, or remain an enigma long after he left it in the swamp, and long after he was dead, besides.
Ignitus held his breath and took a peek behind himself, looking up through the canopy of trees and at the temple on top the hill. He saw trails of smoke rising from it, and more flocks of Dreadwings coming its way. His heart sank, and he quickly turned back to the Millennial Egg, pushing its impromptu boat into the Silver River and watching the water carry it away until it vanished into the distance.
He took another deep breath and steeled himself for whatever came his way, and then leapt into the air. He flapped his wings with as much fury as he could muster, his thoughts now on the Purple Egg. He had done what Eldes had asked of him, and he could only hope that Eldes had kept his word. The Purple Egg was more to him than just a piece of a prophecy, and his suffering if he lost it would be tenfold.
After weaving himself through the trees and other vegetation, Ignitus returned to the tunnel and landed, running faster than he ever thought possible. A destructive fire grew within his chest, ready to be released upon hearing the call of its master. He tried to quell it, knowing that it could do unspeakable harm if he wasn’t careful with it, but in the end he let the rage and terror stoke the fire. It would serve as his righteous blade.
He heard wicked laughter and pained screams, and he bit back a scream of his own. He narrowed his eyes and jumped through the doorway, barring his fangs to challenge the invaders. But that moment of defiance was short-lived, and the reality of the situation left him speechless and petrified.
He saw Volteer lying with his back against the wall, unconscious and bleeding from his mouth. The remains of too many eggs were scattered around him, and Ignitus tore his gaze away. His attempt proved futile, because he found himself staring at Cyril, who was lying in the center of the room, covered in blood and eggshells. Looking further, Ignitus saw the unconscious form of the Poison Guardian as Apes walked all over him.
No matter where Ignitus looked, he saw either a downed Guardian or a downed Knight, and so many ruined eggs. When he finally managed to gather himself, he noticed the one thing he couldn’t believe he missed. The Purple Egg in the hands of an Ape. But not just any Ape. Gaul, the King of the Apes and the leader of the Dark Master’s armies.
…It is no wonder that the other Guardians were overrun… Ignitus trembled with both horror and sheer rage, retreating into the cloak of darkness behind, hoping he hadn’t been spotted yet. He noticed Eldes lying on the ground near Gaul, dazed and struggling to stand up. Blood trickled from a wound on his head.
“Nice try, Oracle…” Gaul pressed his foot down on Eldes’ head, and Ignitus’s heart clenched as Eldes’ body became deathly still. Gaul then looked over the egg. Ignitus couldn’t see anything except red, and couldn’t hold back any longer.
“You will perish before you get the chance to crush that egg, Gaul!” Ignitus shook the room with a mighty roar and charged towards Gaul. The fire had moved to the back of his throat, and he prepared to unleash it right into Gaul’s face. He pounced at the massive Ape and opened his mouth in another roar, feeling the flames move forward. Right as the flames left his mouth, Gaul leapt out of the way, causing him to smash into the wall and send waves of pain throughout his body. His vision blurred and his head started ringing, nausea filling his stomach.
“I would expect such weakness from a whimpering Oracle, but I expected so much more from a Guardian such as yourself…” Gaul sneered, handing the Purple Egg to another Ape and unsheathing his swords. “And you are quite mistaken about my intentions for this egg… Take solace in the knowledge that the Purple Dragon will live… as a pawn of my master!”
Ignitus recovered from the dizziness and rose to his feet, glaring at Gaul and shooting a torrent of flames his way. Gaul held his swords in front of his face, forming an X shape and diverting most of the flames away from him. The flames that did manage to hit him seemed to have no effect, and he moved the swords out of the way and marched towards Ignitus. His swords began to glow a sickly green.
“If it were up to me, I would slaughter all of you here and now…” Gaul snarled, slamming the swords into the floor and sending out a wave of green magic that hit Ignitus with the force of rockslide, slamming him back into the wall. Grunting, Gaul walked closer to the Ignitus and sheathed his swords. “But my master requires the power of the Guardians to be free of his prison, so today you walk away with your life. But as soon as you are no longer needed…”
Ignitus tried to shake off the pain and clear his head, but his vision grew too clouded for him to see anything except shapes and colours. He could see Gaul’s figure shrinking, and he thought he heard Eldes groaning until the ringing in his head grew too intense for him to bear. He fell to the floor, consciousness slipping away.
The Guardians and Knights had been overrun, the eggs mercilessly smashed, and Eldes’ failure allowed Gaul to take the Purple Egg. No, Eldes didn’t fail. The Oracles didn’t fail. The blame fell solely on the shoulders of Guardians such as himself. If only we had listened…
Tears dampened his eyes and his vision turned dark, and the horrible ringing gave way to a heavy silence. Oh… How wrong we were… How wrong…
He had succeeded in one thing, he reminded himself while he still had enough energy to. He had succeeded in one thing that seemed so small and yet so great. The Millennial Egg was safe, as Eldes had wanted.
With that thought, Ignitus fell into a tortured slumber.
As the chaos at the temple unfolded, the Millennial Egg drifted down the Silver River, its occupant unaware of the dangers lurking outside. Animals stopped and watched the egg travel, mesmerized by its beauty. They had never seen anything like it.
A log in the water stopped the egg’s journey, and the mushroom cap bounced off it and spun around, before finally floating against it. Two pairs of small, curious eyes watched it from behind the tall grass. Once the mushroom cap and its occupant were in no danger of being carried further downstream, the two Dragonflies, one blue and one green, flew out from the safety of their hiding place and hovered over the egg, staring at it in wonder.
"I’ve never seen an egg so large before…” the female Dragonfly reached her hand out to touch the egg, only to withdraw it and settle for just staring. Her lime green wings shimmered as she moved closer to the male Dragonfly, her eyes still on the egg. “Flash… Do you think it may have come from the people who live upstream?”
Flash thought about it, looking the egg over and nodding. They had never been upstream before, but they knew a town did exist in that part of the swamp, thanks to travelers who had been there. Its inhabitants were massive reptilian creatures with unfathomable power, and smaller peoples such as the Dragonflies knew it was best to stay away. But now that larger world had come to them.
“…There is no doubt in my mind, Nina,” Flash crossed his left arm over his chest while scratching his chin in thought with his right hand. Like Nina, the idea of touching the egg crossed his mind, but he shook his head and chased the thought away. “But why would it be here? Unless the situation out there is more dire than we had been led to believe all these years…”
“I see trails of smoke in the distance,” Nina said, looking in the direction of the town and shielding her eyes from the sun. Her hand fell to her side and she turned her attention back to the egg. “This poor child… I don’t even want to imagine what horrible fate has befallen its family…” She held her hands together, letting out a sigh. “I wonder what it looks like…”
Both Nina and Flash moved closer to it, only to fly back into the grass once a crack appeared on the egg’s surface. Flash held his breath and Nina covered her mouth as they watched the egg shake and crack even more, the creature inside desperate to escape. The creature growled as fiercely as it could, but its growls came out as little more than pathetic squeaks.
The creature’s thrashing caused its boat to start bouncing against the log and move closer to land. The mushroom cap collided with a rock sticking out of the dirt, and soon after a large piece of eggshell was launched into the grass. Flash and Nina flew out of the way as the eggshell fell into what had been their hiding place.
“…That was a lot scarier a second ago…” Nina scratched the back of her head, grinning wryly as she looked away from the eggshell and back to the creature. Its head and neck were sticking out of the hole it had created. Even with its eyes closed shut, it moved its head around as if scanning the area.
Dazzling purple scales covered the creature’s body, and there were two stubby, silver horns on its head. It let out a low-pitched whine, kicking at the eggshell with its back legs. Another piece broke off, and its long, slender tail was left dangling over the edge of the cap. It leaned its head back, snout pointing towards the sky. It flicked its tail around and tried to wipe some of the egg’s gunk off of its red underbelly.
Flash and Nina both gasped and placed their hands over their chests, taking in the sight. A child from the world beyond their home, from the town they had never been brave enough to visit. If they had, they would’ve known the inhabitants were called Dragons, and that this child was one of them.
“I didn’t even know they could be this small,” Nina whispered, leaning her head to the side. She chuckled, watching the infant’s antics. “It’s… kind of cute.”
The baby Dragon rolled over onto its side and started kicking and scratching at more of the eggshell. It attempted to snarl with its squeaky voice, tearing a piece of the eggshell to shreds within seconds. It became still as a statue afterwards, as if that simple action had sapped all of its energy.
“Cute?” Flash’s hands rested on his sides and he looked at Nina with a raised eyebrow. He pointed at the Dragon, trying not to laugh awkwardly. “That thing could swallow us whole if it wanted. Whole.”
The Dragon yawned and kicked at the air, trying to sit upright. It growled in frustration with each failed attempt, until finally it sat up and released a happy squeak in triumph. It reached its front paws out and started patting the area in front of it, searching for more eggshell to destroy. When it found none, it spread its tiny, leathery wings, preparing a bold leap out of what had once been its home and into the new world it had yet to open its eyes and see. Instead, it tripped and fell flat on its face.
The Dragon’s sky blue eyes snapped open and its voice turned shrill as it started bawling. It pawed at the dirt near it, scratching it up and tearing apart the hapless plants that happened to be caught in the crossfire. Its wings snapped to its sides and its tail thrashed about, its wails growing louder.
Flash and Nina winced and looked at each other while the Dragon wailed. They looked at it, and then back at each other. Flash shrugged and averted his gaze, and Nina cringed as the wailing intensified. Flash clenched his teeth and covered his head in a vain attempt to protect his hearing, and looked at the Dragon again. Nina did the same, her frown growing bigger. They looked at each other once more, and without speaking came to an agreement.
The Dragon’s wailing stopped as soon as Flash and Nina flew and hovered in front of it. Eyes wide with curiosity, it stared at them and leaned its head to the right and then to the left. Then it started wailing again.
“Shh, shh…” Nina said soothingly, and then slowly flew close enough to the Dragon so that she could touch it. She reached her hand out and held it in place, tempted to withdraw it. She shook her head and swallowed, steeling herself and pushing her hand forward against the ridge above the Dragon’s right eye. The Dragon’s crying stopped, as it tried to process the feeling of Nina’s small hand against its dark scales. Nina smiled. “…Can we keep her?”
“I’m glad you asked so I didn’t have to,” Flash chuckled, placing his hand on the ridge above the Dragon’s left eye. The Dragon’s gaze darted back and forth between him and Nina. He smiled. “I don’t like the thought of leaving a little one out here all alone. Even if she’s actually not so little… What do we name her?”
“Cynder. I mean... Whatever she is, lots of them breathe fire. I’ve seen them do it.”
“Well, it’s as fitting a name as any, I suppose. Welcome to the world, Cynder.”