Snow Warning! It’s blizzarding outside, and it doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. To clear it, everyone will have to work together.
A violent winter storm has unexpectedly swept down from the mountains. If the blizzard is not stopped, it will rage forever, trapping all of Galsreim in an endless winter. You must work together with everyone else—both dragon and human—to gather enough mana to halt the storm’s advance. Mana crystals may be found throughout the site, or conjured using alchemy. Once everyone has gathered enough mana, the story will advance, bringing you a step closer to victory over the bitter cold. Fill up your personal mana bar for entries in the Holiday raffle (details to be announced later).
Chapter 1 - Unsettling Portents
You trudge doggedly through the ever-deepening snow, turning your hood up against bitter, relentless winds. The storm struck without warning: it seems as though only hours ago the sun shone clear and bright overhead, with the coming of winter only a chilly promise on the breeze.
Now, the world is a howling wall of white.
A faint glow pierces the haze in your path and you pause, wary. Is it merely another trick of this unforgiving weather? But the glow persists, bobbing rhythmically like a pale lantern in the distance, growing larger and brighter with each second, until -
A Solstice dragon bursts through the pelting snowfall before you, landing with a toss of her golden-crowned head and flooding the air around you with startlingly warm light. “Thank goodness you’re safe!” she exclaims, her telepathic voice ringing clearly in your mind despite the vicious winds. “Come with me; the others have begun to gather in a clearing nearby.”
Mantling her gilded wings to shield you from the storm along the way, the Solstice dragon explains, “My name is Aurora. This blizzard has spread across all of Galsreim, and I and the other holiday spirits do not have the strength to hold it at bay. However, if we all work together to harvest enough mana, then perhaps we will be able to identify the cause of this dreadful storm and protect both dragon and mortal alike from harm.”
You reach the clearing, adding the mana you managed to gather to a growing pile watched over by a weary-looking pair of magi dragons, and Aurora takes wing in a flurry of snow to join the other Holiday dragons at its center.
Looking around, you are struck by how many other people have made it here in the storm–and how few dragons. Several have taken shelter in a heap on the lee side of a massive stone dragon, but it is obvious at a glance that many dragons are still lost in the storm. Still, in the presence of the assembled spirits of winter, you find it hard to despair.
You turn to watch as the assembled group of Holiday dragons–seven in all, standing wingtip to wingtip in a wide, colorful circle–draw upon the magic of the gathered mana crystals, bathing the entire clearing in radiant, magical light. After several eerily silent moments the glow fades; Aurora, the Solstice dragon, takes flight and hovers over the other six, projecting her telepathic voice now to everyone present.
“This is no natural disaster, my friends. If we do not uncover the source of this fell magic and put an end to the storm, Galsreim may forever be trapped in a harsh, unforgiving winter!”
Chapter 2 - The Maw of Winter
“Adventurer,” a bright voice intrudes into your thoughts. Turning, you find yourself face to face with the Winter Magi and startle badly enough nearly to drop your scrolls into the snow. He croons in what can only be described as dragon laughter before continuing.
“I am Godsibb. I and the other Holiday spirits are grateful for your help so far, but the blizzard has not relented and many dragons and their eggs are yet in danger. With your help, I might be able to hold the storm at bay long enough for everyone to seek warmth and safety.”
The pile of mana crystals has grown significantly with the combined efforts of you and your allies. The two magi dragons, now rested, can’t resist occasionally rolling in the precious gems, much to your amusement.
The Winter Magi stands proudly in the center of the clearing, drawing upon his control over the weather in an attempt to tame the blizzard that continues to rage far and wide. This ritual goes on far longer than before and your heart begins to sink as time passes with no apparent change in the weather. Finally exhausted, the Winter Magi slumps down into the snow, the concerned Ribbon Dancer flitting to his side in a symphony of jingling scales.
“It is done,” he manages at length. “My fellow Winter Magi have set out to help protect those still at the blizzard’s mercy and bought us time to identify and reverse this accursed storm, but I fear our strength will not hold forever.”
Chapter 3 - Seeking the Source
You, like many of the other humans and dragons assembled about the clearing, have discovered exactly how pleasantly warm it is in the stone dragon’s shadow. After some heated, gestured negotiations with a family of Neotropicals that found their way here thanks to the Winter Magi’s spell, you’ve found a moment to pore over your scrolls and make some much-needed additions to your dragon encyclopedia.
As you absently scratch one of the Neotropicals under the chin, a Snow Angel flops down beside you, smothering you with one gold-feathered wing. Her mirthful presence in your mind is almost infectious. “Wonderful weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
You stare at her from underneath the wing you were in the process of laboriously removing from your head, and after a moment she blinks. “Because I’m a snow...angel...you know what? Let’s move on. Godsibb’s recovered his strength, and we think we know how to pinpoint the cause of this awful weather. However, the magi dragons told me that the last spell drained our mana supply. The others are already out collecting more, but we could always use extra help.”
The Snow Angel leaps to her feet with a more artful flourish, turning to add before taking flight, “Name’s Joy, by the way.”
Owing in part to your redoubled efforts, the cache of depleted mana gems has been replenished. More and more dragons have found their way safely through the storm and sought refuge in the relative safety of the clearing. Again the seven spirits of winter have assembled in a circle, this time with a curious artifact at their center.
As the dragons begin to channel, you sit back, preparing for another lengthy ordeal, but no sooner have you gotten comfortable than you hear a chorus of shocked and disgusted snarls echoing from the scrying circle.
Turning toward the uneasy spectators, the jingling of her ribbon-like scales only just audible over the constant dull roar of the storm, Graciella the Ribbon Dancer exclaims, “This blizzard could only have been conjured by the Avatar of Change!”
Chapter 4 - A Matter of Scale
The Yulebuck is the first to break the scrying circle after reaching a silent accord, picking you out instantly in your place of ‘honor’ sitting atop one of the stone dragon’s toenails. One may begin to wonder if the old beast harbored any resentments over being turned into furniture, but fear not: she is quite comfortable and soundly asleep.
“Quickly, little one–climb on my back! We’re going to stop the Avatar of Change.”
You rush to gather your belongings, glancing around to see a few other adventurers clambering up onto the backs of the Snow Angel, Holly, and Solstice dragons.
“All right, friends,” Aurora says, her telepathic voice projected only to those gathered for the search party. “The storm is still too violent for us to fly, so we must seek out the Avatar on foot. Godsibb, Graciella, and Nikolaus will remain in the clearing to maintain the wards and continue gathering mana. Reed,” the Yulebuck stands to attention, “you and your rider make a path. Janus, follow behind and make sure none of us gets lost.”
The stately old Holly dragon growls his assent. As you and the rest of the party turn toward the howling storm, Reed the Yulebuck’s voice fills your mind once more. “I will protect you as well as I can from the cold, but I am no red dragon. Hold on tight!”
And with that, the four dragons and their passengers charge headlong into the freezing wind.
You imagine the fact that you can still feel your fingers–or still even have fingers–isn’t far from a miracle. While you and the rest of the search party are thankful that the relentless knives of wind grow calmer the nearer you draw to the Avatar’s mountain lair, that observation has also made you uneasy.
Has the Avatar of Change gone mad? The stony path up the mountainside feels almost balmy with an otherworldly springtime heat, and a low, rhythmical rumbling reverberates through the very stones all around you, and you cling just a bit more tightly to Reed’s mane at the thought that he might be plotting to age everyone instantly to dust the moment they set foot on his rise.
Ultimately, it is Janus who volunteers to investigate the Avatar’s lair. With a methodical air that seems like actual calm, a stark contrast to the discomfort of the human clinging to his back, the scarlet dragon dips first his long neck and then half of his body into the cave’s yawning darkness, then -.
“I think he’s...snoring.”
The dumbfounded expressions of you and the rest of the party are cut off by Joy’s bubbling, telepathic laughter.
“O great Avatar,” Janus posits with a shrug of his emerald wings, “we seek your wise counsel!”
The rhythmical rumbling ceases all at once, casting the precipice into eerie, soul-swallowing silence. The presence that fills your mind immediately after is awesome in both its headache-inducing power and its undeniable obliviousness. “...Just...five more weeks...mmm....”
“Well, I never!” Aurora huffs, deftly unseating her passenger and plunging headlong into the cavern, the glowing orb between her antlers barely more than a mote in that vast blackness. A moment later the ground shakes with the force of an indignant snarl and a massive dragon more or less spills out into the light, dazzling in his iridescence and all but filling the entire space. In his wake flaps a still-bristling Solstice dragon, who pauses in the air over the groggy Avatar’s head just long enough to bat him a few times with the down-strokes of her gilded wings.
“What is the meaning of this?” the Avatar whines, his voice a shockwave inside your skull. “The magics are balanced, the seasons are in order.”
“They certainly are not,” Reed interjects as Aurora weighs the satisfaction of heckling the Avatar further against the potential consequences when he regains enough of his senses to take offense. “Your blizzard has gone wild and trapped all of Galsreim in what may very well be an endless winter.”
“My blizzard?” The Avatar scoffs indignantly, nearly unseating Janus from his perch on the mountainside, drawing a startled yelp from his rider, as he spun around to regard each dragon and its mortal companion in turn.
“You mean you didn’t conjure it?” Aurora’s passenger shouts, emboldened.
He snorts disdainfully in reply, as though the answer were self-evident. “I’ve been resting since the equinox. What reason would I have to upset the balance of seasons?” Pausing, the Avatar flattens his crest with sudden discomfort. “I say, does anyone else feel a draft?”
The assembled dragons and their riders shoot mystified glances at one another as the colossus cranes his neck and lifts his wing in a vain attempt to study his haunch.
“Is something amiss?” Janus remarks, wary of venturing down from his new, higher seat.
Aurora, already aloft, flits around the massive dragon to get a better look. As she did so, she lets out a chortling gasp. “He’s missing a scale!”
Chapter 5 - Ice to Meet You
“The Avatar of Change may not have caused this storm, but whoever did used that scale to do it,” Reed says. You and the other mortals are part of the Holiday dragon circle now–with the exception of the Solstice, who has not yet gotten her fill of scolding the thoroughly-cowed draconic demigod.
“So what do we do?” you ask.
The Holly dragon huffs thoughtfully. “We find it. The Avatar of Change is magic incarnate; I imagine he can sense an object of such magical power as his own scale at a great distance. Then he need only point us in the right direction.”
At long last, the Solstice dragon rejoins the group. “He will help us find the scale,” she says wryly, “but the Avatars honor the Guardian of Nature’s desire to preserve balance and neutrality, so we’ll have to bring it back ourselves.”
You turn to watch as the Avatar settles back on his haunches, flaring his wings and baring the multitude of gem-like scales lining his belly scutes and embedded in his wing membranes. They gleam brightly for an instant before their light sinks in glittering whorls into the depths of each gem. Fighting back the urge to ask him how the gems work, you climb upon the Yulebuck’s back.
Without moving, the Avatar says flatly (and, you think, with a tinge of lingering embarrassment), “I have marked the path for you, travelers; it isn’t far. Please return my scale to me.” Ruffling his wings, he turns back and vanishes into the dark, gaping maw of his cave. The dragons set off down the mountain path once more, their passengers in tow.
It becomes clear very quickly what the Avatar meant when he said he had marked the path. Several times one dragon or another attempts to stray from the main path in search of more certain footing, only to be stricken with a grave and gnawing sense of unease. Following along the path, narrow and winding as it is, you feel confident, even giddy. It’s the first time since the blizzard hit that you find yourself imagining Galsreim delivered from the clutches of this terrible storm.
Abruptly, something sweeps Reed’s talons out from under him, sending you sprawling into the waist-deep snow and nearly causing a pile-up of the other dragons following behind.
“We have arrived,” Janus muses sagely.
You sit up and wipe the snow from your face, squinting to get a better look at the obstacle over which your mount stumbled. “It’s a...dragon.” At that moment, the dragon rolled over and stretched luxuriously, catlike in its contented laziness. “An ice hatchling!”
Materializing through a wall of windblown ice, a Frostbite dragon greets the party with a throaty roar, her telepathic call raucous and booming. “Welcome to the party, pals!”
Dragons and mortals alike turn their heads as one. “The party?!”
Chapter 6 - Festivus Interruptus
“The party, yes! Did nobody tell you?”
“Well, not in so many words,” Reed remarks sourly. His warning, like yours and anyone else’s, was sudden biting winds and roiling clouds giving way to endless sheets of snow.
“N-never mind that,” you interject, not much enjoying the thought of a battle breaking out involving the dragon you happen to be riding. “What’s the occasion?”
The Frostbite dragon grins, a plume of cold vapor spilling out of her mouth even in this bitterly frigid air. Her voice drips with reverence as she recounts the tale. “Winter, of course. But not just any winter–no, it has been foretold that this shall be the Winter of Ice Dragons! With her mystical stone, our great clan leader shall lead us into a golden age of frozen glory!”
“Fantastic,” Joy pipes up, cutting you off with a wink. “We’re kind of ice dragons too, you know. I for one would love to meet this clan leader of yours.”
With the Frostbite dragon’s gushing over her clan leader (and she had prattled on at great length, with little urging from anyone), you have understandably high expectations. However, after wading past group after group of ice dragons of all shapes and sizes frolicking ecstatically through the snow, your group’s guide leads you to a simple stony outcropping upon which a rather large ice dragon, festooned with jewelry and accoutrements fashioned crudely out of shards of ice, lay with all the pride of a queen.
The Frostbite dragon offers her clan chieftain a private word before excusing herself back to the festivities. Leaving you and your new friends to the leader’s appraising eye. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she crowed. “When I found the stone, I thought about using it to build a giant ice palace into the mountainside, but it seemed a bit pretentious, if you ask me. Now, a blizzard–nothing says winter like a good old-fashioned snow storm.”
“Certainly,” Aurora counters, growling, “but this old-fashioned snow storm you’ve conjured for your clan is threatening to bury all of Galsreim in a perpetual winter.”
“What do you mean?”
You clear your throat, digging through the stacks of vellum stuffed haphazardly into your haversack. “That stone you found isn’t a stone at all. It’s a dragon scale imbued with immensely powerful magic, and by using it you’ve spawned a storm even you cannot hope to control. Our best hope to protect Galsreim is to return the scale to its rightful owner.”
The ice queen looks aghast at you for a long, tense moment, opening her mouth to object.
“And if you think it isn’t your problem because you’re Ice dragons, what do you think you’re going to eat next year when everything’s frozen solid?”
Her mouth clicks shut, swallowing a low growl. You see out of the corner of your eye that her long, wicked claws are digging deeper into the earth, but you dare not break eye contact despite your fear.
Janus breaks the silence. “You must admit, our little friend has a point.”
“Yes,” the Ice queen concedes, grinding her teeth unpleasantly, then continues with a long sigh, “I suppose so. Perhaps I would have done better to settle for the palace after all. Nothing bad ever comes of building gaudy, enviable fortresses to flaunt one’s unimaginable wealth and power. Wait here; I shall retrieve the sto- the scale.”
Dragging her considerable girth along the rock face, the chieftain locates a nearly-invisible crevice barely wide enough to admit one of her taloned paws and reaches inside. Suddenly, her eyes widen.
Pulling her paw out of the crevice, she shows the assembled group her empty talons.
Chapter 7 - High Altitude, High Jinks
“Could one of you do something to stop her unbearable wailing before the whole clan hears and thinks we’ve killed her?” Reed asks, pawing plaintively through your pack. Exasperated, you tie it shut and throw it over your shoulder before he manages to tear your scrolls.
The ice queen remains where she flopped in the throes of her tantrum, shrieking curses to the gale winds at her misfortune with tears frozen solid on both cheeks. In spite of her strident cries and Reed’s mounting irritation, Janus maintains his usual air of composure and reflection, studying the area from where he sits.
It is a poor spot for footprints, even in the blizzard–and, perhaps, because of the blizzard. What ground isn’t solid rock is quickly scrubbed clean of marks by the wind, and even the dragons’ trail into the ice queen’s makeshift court has long since been filled in with snow. Joy bounds lightly across the snow’s surface as only a Snow Angel can, hunting for any faint scents or signs to follow.
You sigh. Even the warm glow from Aurora’s crown doesn’t seem to be enough to cut through the raging blizzard and your darkening mood. Without so much as a broken twig to point the way, you feel the weight of hopelessness begin to creep in once more.
“We could always go back to the Avatar,” you offer with a helpless shrug, raising your voice to be heard over both the Ice dragon’s keening and the wind. Not for the first time since setting out, you wish that you could communicate telepathically, too.
“It’d waste precious time we don’t know that we can afford. Best keep that only as a last resort.” Aurora’s eyes are shut tight, her muzzle turned into the wind. Solstice dragon whiskers are sensitive to the weather, you know, but you’ve never really been able to figure out how.
“Look there!” one of your mortal companions cries, pointing frantically into the endless wall of white.
Eight pairs of eyes–for the ice queen had cried herself into an exhausted stupor–strain to pierce the pelting snow, and for a moment you swear nobody so much as breathes. Then, an unnaturally radiant glint, like bottled starlight, cuts through the gloom, fades, and shines out again. With a whoop you bound over to Reed and scramble onto his back, followed in short order by your companions as you charge toward the irregular glimmer in the distance.
It takes little to cover the intervening distance, and when you draw near you can’t help but let out loud peals of laughter.
Three Nilia pygmies, sinking all the way to their necks in the snow with every step they take, are squabbling loudly and valiantly for control of a brilliantly iridescent scale easily twice their size.
Chapter 8 - Pint-sized Pilferer
“Hey you,” you call out, gripping Reed’s mane tightly as you lean over to pluck the scale away from the thieving pygmies. It takes a couple of extra shakes to dislodge the most tenacious of the three from the scale, and when you straighten back up on the Yulebuck’s back you look down to see three pairs of bright golden eyes glaring hatefully up at you. “Sorry! It’s important.”
“I don’t think I would want them knowing where I sleep,” Joy smirks.
You reach into your haversack and produce three large, faintly-glowing mana crystals that you made earlier in anticipation of rejoining the refugees in the clearing and toss each one into the snow by the pygmies. They dive into the deep drift, one surfacing with two gems before being tackled by the one that came up empty-mouthed.
Your would-be murderers thus distracted, you take the chance to examine the scale more closely. It is denser than you expected and seems to almost thrum at your touch, shining a bright, iridescent gold in spite of the dark and dreary skies.
“Let us away,” Janus’ telepathic voice cuts through the almost entrancing hum of the scale against your palms, “before Her Majesty has a change of heart. Aurora, do you remember the way?”
She nods silently in answer and sets off at a brisk pace through the snow, the other dragons and their passengers following the glow she leaves in her wake as they circle wide around the Ice dragon revelries and make for the Avatar’s lair.
This time, when your party reaches the Avatar’s den, the distant rumble of his snoring is not there to greet you. The blizzard’s winds have begun to penetrate whatever protective wards the dragon set to protect his home; this, at least, makes you frown.
Holding the scale high above your head, you shout, “O great Avatar, we have come to return what was stolen from you!”
The Avatar of Change steps out into the dreary daylight, towering proudly over your expedition force, all traces of his earlier embarrassment gone. “Ah,” he says, his telepathic gravitas undeniable, “well done. Thank you.”
“Can you stop the storm now?” Joy pipes up, hopeful.
“I cannot interfere–however,” he adds with wry amusement as Aurora’s expression darkens. The gems along his belly scutes glow brightly again as he closes his eyes. The scale in your hands thrums more energetically for a moment and then goes still, its otherworldly sheen fading and leaving it seeming almost...empty. The iridescence remains–veritably, any who did not get to see it before would never know the lack–but that spark of power is gone. “The scale is depleted,” the Avatar explains, “and without it the storm cannot persist indefinitely.”
Janus and Aurora bare their teeth in what you imagine passes among dragons as a grin.
“Rejoin your companions below; tame the savage winds. But beware–without its master, the storm will be more violent and unforgiving than ever until it wears itself out.”
You nod, drawing your cloak more tightly about yourself and taking a firmer hold on Reed’s mane, and once again the eight of you set off down the mountain path and back into the howling storm.
Chapter 9 - A Light in Dark Places
You thought the blizzard was harsh before, but as the Avatar’s final words echo in your mind and you cling doggedly to Reed’s neck in a vain effort to shield yourself from the biting wind, you realize you had no idea. Straight-line gusts threaten to rip you from your mount and you can hardly even see his candy-striped legs through the dense snowfall.
Chancing a look over your shoulder, you can easily make out the soft glow of Aurora’s orb and the faint golden glint of Joy’s feathered wings, mantled to shield her rider against the worst of the storm, but Janus’ large silhouette is nearly impossible to make out.
“Slow down!” you shout into Reed’s ear, hoping that the tempest doesn’t simply snatch the words away. “We’re getting split up!”
Reed pauses, fluttering his holly-leaf wings with consternation. Aurora catches up, followed in short order by fleet-footed and somehow still high-spirited Joy. Janus, hampered as he is by his greater size and advanced age, joins the group a few minutes later, noticeably winded.
“Are we getting close?” his rider calls out.
“Do we even know where we are?” Joy adds, ruffling her feathers as her passenger begins to shiver harder.
Reed bristles at the veiled accusation. “We’re headed in the right direction,” he retorts, “but it’s hard to see anything in this accursed blizzard.”
Aurora’s rider sits up higher on her withers, his face illuminated by the softly-glowing orb between her antlers. “We’re lost, aren’t we?”
“Calm down, everyone,” Janus says, “we’ll get nowhere if we lose our heads, and everyone is counting on us to get back to the refuge. Joy, you are the most nimble of us. You and your rider go behind us and make sure none of us wanders off course. Reed, I will cut a path for you to follow. Aurora, do you think you can sense Godsibb’s weather wards from here?”
The Solstice dragon tilts her head, her tufted tail switching concernedly across the snow’s powdery surface. “I think so–yes, faintly.”
“Then lead the way, if you please.”
Reed chimes in, a bit of his good humor returning. “Aurora with your orb so bright, won’t you guide our -.”
“Finish that sentence,” she growls, brandishing her golden horns as she takes her place at the head of the procession, “I dare you.” You slap the Yulebuck’s neck in a good-humored scolding gesture.
With freshly renewed spirits, you set off once more on your corrected course, and before long you begin to see a light beyond the soft glow of Aurora’s crown.
Chapter 10 - Ending the Storm
“Look!” a young balloon dragon cries from his vantage point drifting over the others’ heads. The colossal stone dragon, now very much aware of the small city of activity going on around her flanks, rolls one lazy eye in the indicated direction as dragons of all shapes and sizes flock to see the commotion.
The pile of mana gems has continued to grow in your absence, and when you set eyes on the glittering pile of crystals you find yourself dazzled nearly as much as when you saw the Avatar’s magical scale. Its magi dragon guard has grown as well, bolstered by an Arsani and a diligent pair of Soulpeace dragons who seem oblivious to the burst of activity as they set about inspecting each newly-added mana gem for imperfections.
When you reach the clearing at last, a cloud of newly-fledged hatchlings flaps and chitters excitedly around you and the other members of the expedition, their racing thoughts impossible to understand. Only the soft crooning of their Frill dragon governess manages to call the hyperactive flock away.
Graciella swoops in, making room with a sweep of her jingling, ribboned tail. “We feared you had perished in the storm!” she exclaims as you and your companions dismount, stretching stiff and weary limbs. “Tell me, did you stop the Avatar?”
“The Avatar was not involved,” Janus says.
You hold up the depleted scale in lieu of a lengthy explanation. “He wouldn’t calm the storm, but now that this is drained we should be able to put an end to it together.”
“Ah, that,” Nikolaus says, his arrival timed almost perfectly. The Wrapping-Wing’s garishly-patterned wings flutter against his sides with consternation. “We have continued to gather mana in anticipation of your return, but I fear even all we have accrued will not be sufficient to tame this wild tempest.”
“Then we’ll just have to get more,” Aurora’s rider muses, dusting off his cloak.
“Yeah,” you agree. “Together.”
Throat dry with awe and anticipation, you gaze tight-jawed at the tableau before you. Every capable dragon and human in the clearing has gathered side by side, forming a vast ring around a far smaller circle of Holiday dragons in the center. In the space between, the magi dragons–with Godsibb’s meticulous guidance–have arranged the hoard of mana crystals into an intricate, scintillating array of arcane runes. To your left stands a majestic golden dragon, his aureate scales glinting with light reflected by the gems; to your right, a Hellfire wyvern.
Even with the constant muted roar of the wind beyond the weather ward, there is no mistaking her long, low growls. She glowers and bares long, curved teeth when you meet her eye, and hastily you look away.
An argument could be made for giving wild dragons a wide berth in the future, you think.
“Citizens of Galsreim,” Janus’ words intrude upon your thoughts as he rises up on his haunches, his tone soft and conversational despite reaching out to everyone present. “thanks to your valiant efforts, we finally have the strength to calm the storm that threatens our home.”
“Only one test remains,” Joy chortles eagerly.
Flaring her metallic golden wings, Graciella follows him in standing up to her full height. “The blizzard has only grown more savage without guidance. If we delay any longer, all of this will be for naught.”
“Do not despair!” Nikolaus cries, leaping to his feet. “We have all proven that we are survivors, strong of will and pure of heart.”
“Now we shall prove our clarity of purpose -“ Reed rears up proudly for a moment, slicing at the air with his talons, “- to ourselves, and to all of Galsreim!”
Godsibb straightens, adding his voice to the collective. “Now, draw upon the rune of power. Focus your will upon the skies!”
All around the circle, humans and dragons alike do as they are bidden, each focused will causing the sigil to glow brighter and brighter, burning away the snow dusting its surface. In the center of the rune, barely visible beyond the rune’s kaleidoscopic radiance, the seven Holiday dragons spread their wings wide and add their own might to the incantation.
A violent pulse of energy erupts from the rune, knocking you and many of the other channelers back and vaporizing what remains of the Winter Magi’s weather wards protecting the clearing. Instinctively you wrap your cloak tightly around yourself, but the wind never comes. The air is silent and still, and after a moment a light snow begins to fall.
At the sigil’s heart, Aurora launches into the sky with a triumphant, ringing cry. “It is done! Thank you, heroes! The storm has gone silent, and the seasons are in harmony once more.”
From your vantage point high upon the stone dragon’s flank (sleeping again, now that the excitement is past), you stare down in silent wonderment at the aftermath of the spell. All of the mana gems you collected over the past several days, their stored magic utterly spent, fused together with the rest and embedded into the very rock, even its most delicate ley lines inscribed forever in diamond upon the earth.
Now that the celebrations are over, the masses have begun to disperse, yearning now for home after so many harrowing days and carrying with them the memories of what transpired in this clearing. Eventually you, too, must return to your studies–not on dragonback this time–but not quite yet.
You pull a strip of blank parchment and a quill from your haversack with a wistful sigh. As you begin to sketch the runes for your encyclopedia, a familiar voice intrudes.
“Crazy, isn’t it?”
You look up past your drawing to see Aurora’s rider scaling the stone dragon’s side to join you. “Yeah.”
Silence falls for a moment, punctuated only by the scratch of your quill. Your drawing complete, you set about packing up your supplies when he extends one gloved hand. “Name’s Avery.”
“Well met,” you say, shaking the proffered hand before turning to go.
“I’d keep a hold of that if I were you.” The Avatar of Change’s depleted scale glints from inside your pack. “They’re supposed to be lucky.”
Chuckling, you fasten the haversack more securely. “Absolutely. See you around, Avery.” And with that you descend the stone dragon’s flank and strike out toward your own home, one more adventure behind you and another only just beginning.
“No peeking, Reno!” Ronin snarls, shielding a ragged-looking object in one taloned paw.
The other paw makes a half-hearted swipe at it. “You’ve been at it for hours! How am I supposed to get anything done when you keep hogging our hands?”
Any further discourse is abandoned in favor of a chorus of crocodilian hisses and snapping jaws as the Bloodscale dragon’s two heads vent their mounting frustration at one another.
For a creature that shares everything with itself, one would not expect the giving of gifts to factor high on a list of holiday traditions, but–now that the heavy snowfall on their volcanic mountainside has lessened to a pleasant dusting–giving is practically the only thing on the dragon’s two minds. Therein lies the problem: the more he tries, the more apparent it becomes that Renronin (as he is known) is not the most adept at keeping secrets from himself.
“Fine,” Ronin concedes with a growl, flaring his gilded fringe and tossing the knick-knack onto a pile of similar items with a clatter, “how would you suggest we do this?”
Reno countered, “We should both go pick out a gift–to share.” Before Ronin can voice his assent, he adds: “and this time, I get to fly.”
With one head smug and the other grumbling sourly, the Bloodscale dragon takes wing, circling leisurely above the ever-boiling steam vents as he climbs higher and higher into the sky.
It would be difficult for Renronin to find decorative treasures for his lair even in pleasant weather. With Ronin’s love of unusual ores and Reno’s fossil fascination, settling down into a cave within a short flight of an exposed quarry was one of the easiest decisions the two-headed dragon ever made, and it’s no surprise when he veers that way now.
Perhaps with a little luck this will be the day he’ll finally be able to find a nice paleolith preserved in a slab of gold-veined stone.
Alas, the scene that greets Renronin’s collective eyes is not a quarry of exposed ore and loose shale, but a deep drift of virgin snow. Crestfallen, Reno lands with a muted crunch in the deep powder at what should be the hollow’s edge, fringe drooping dejectedly. “Oh.”
“It’s okay, Reno!” Ronin reassures him, all thought for their squabble only moments ago banished from his mind. “We don’t have to get another pretty stone. The cave is ever so full of them as it is. What about...” Wresting control of their shared body, he lashes out and scoops up a grey streak out of the snow, “...this!”
Clawing and chewing impotently at the dragon’s talons, as fluffy as it is furious, is a hissing, spitting, absolutely livid cat.
Reno sputters and bites back what might be the beginnings of a laugh, his lips twitching at the corners. His telepathic voice, however, is stubbornly unhappy as he pushes both talons to the snowy ground and releases the bristling animal. “What are we supposed to do with a gamey old cat?”
“I don’t know,” Ronin shrugs, “I just figured...oh, silly me. Reno, I just realized you’ve already given me a gift worth more than all the fossils and fancy ores in our hoard.”
“What?” Reno tilts his head, puzzled.
Reno stares dumbfounded at his other head; then, slowly, his face cracks into a glowing grin. “D’you mean it, Ronin?”
“We both know I’m a rotten liar. Now let’s head back to the cave; we can always dig up some more stones for our collection after the weather improves.”
Reno nods, and this time when the Bloodscale dragon takes off and banks toward home it is with the concerted efforts of both counterparts, their movements fluid and harmonious as only two creatures bound together since birth can make them.
Chapter 12 - Bonus: Winter's Chill
As the wind and snow continue to overwhelm Galsreim, a very eager Nhiostrife struggles to fly his way back home.
“I have to make it before sun down,” he says to himself. “But this wind is brutal...!”
His home, a modest cave in the mountainside, is fairly close. What would usually be only a few minutes’ flight has turned into one that has lasted almost an hour, and his wings are weary. In his large talons he holds something that glimmers even through the blinding whiteness of the storm.
A small break in the storm gives him the chance to take a glimpse of the cave’s entrance in the near distance. Just that sight alone is enough to brighten his mood and he flaps his wings a few times to fly faster.
“It’s so close!” he exclaims, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Another few minutes of strenuous flying later, he finally makes it to his destination— home. He swoops in and lands on the ground, careful not to scrape his already sore wings or crush the object in his talons.
“Orelia!” he calls out with his mind into the darkness of the cave.
The wyvern hears a gentle growl. “Kuno,” a tired voice speaks, weakly resonating in his mind.
Kuno quickly makes his way to the back of the cave where a weary Gold Dragon lies, curled up around a single glimmering egg. Orelia raises her head enough to see Kuno as he enters her line of sight.
“I was worried you were never going to return, you’ve been gone for so long,” she says to him.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “But this weather is doing nothing but getting worse and it’s hard to fly, even with four wings.... how is our egg doing?”
Orelia’s gaze shifts to the egg she has close to her. “It’s so cold, I haven’t felt anything within for hours.”
There is a stunned silence before Kuno approaches his mate and their egg. “I-I’m sorry, I really wouldn’t have left you both here like this for so long... oh no...”
Orelia slowly shakes her head in understanding. “What was it that caused you to leave so suddenly?” she asks him.
He gives her a slightly more relieved expression. “You’ve been struggling with keeping the egg alive. Well, we both have, so I had to go find something to help us,” he explains as he sets the glowing object on the ground and nudges it towards her. “I searched and searched until this kind human gave this to me.”
The Gold female lowers her eyes to the glowing object on the ground. “! This is...?”
“A huge crystal of fire mana,” Kuno finishes. “Maybe with this, we can save our child.”
Only the soft glow of the heated fire mana breaks up the darkness of the cavern. Kuno, the worried father, finds himself constantly going back and forth between the entrance to his home and Orelia. The storm seems to have worsened over the past few hours and though the fire mana is warming the egg, the frigid weather is doing nothing but impeding the process.
“Kuno, you’re tiring yourself out,” Orelia observes as the somewhat frantic Nhiostrife heads over to her once more.
“I can’t help it,” he responds before he sits down in front of the female Gold and their egg. “I don’t know what to do other than pace around. I mean I could always lay over the both of you, but I’m not sure if that would help or just bother you.”
She shakes her head for what seems like the tenth time in the past half an hour. “Sometimes you are a little too considerate,” she responds quietly and gives him a gentle look. “I’m sure your wings would be an even better shield for this cold than mine are.”
The Nhiostrife hesitates before he nods. He scoots up closer to them before draping one large striped wing over them both. “How is this?” he asks.
Orelia simply nods and lowers her head to check on the egg. “I still haven’t felt anything move... you don’t think that it...?”
Kuno shakes his head vigorously. “If anything happened to this baby, I would never forgive myself. We finally have an egg and to let it die in some random tempest? I won’t let it happen.”
Just as Orelia begins to speak, a loud, echoing boom reverberates throughout the sky and cavern as a rush of magical energy charges the air in a wave. Both dragons wince and cover their heads, preparing for the worst.
But the worst never comes.
It is the Nhiostrife that first uncovers his head and peeks out from underneath the edge of his wing. What was once a wall of white outside of the entrance to his home is now a clear view of the landscape outside with small snowflakes drifting through the air. He feels his chest tighten.
“Orelia, the storm is over!” he exclaims.
The rattled Gold dragon opens her eyes and peers out from behind her mate. She lets out a surprised gasp.
“What happened? It suddenly just...ended?” she says with confusion.
Kuno nods. “It seems so,” he says as he slowly raises himself from the cavern floor. “What was that magical pulse just now?”
However, another gasp from Orelia draws him from his thoughts. “Kuno! The egg!” she exclaims as she raises her wing. The wyvern removes his wing as well and looks to their precious egg, noticing the cracks that are beginning to form on its golden shell. A small paw prods against the inside of the shell of the egg and finally pushes through, creating a small hole.
Both parents watch in shock as a small baby Gold dragon wiggles its way through the shell of its egg. It fumbles around slightly against the floor as it tries to find its footing, making small whimpers and growls in the process.
“O-Orelia,” Kuno whispers.
The mother of the newborn begins crying with joy and relief before she nuzzles her head to the smaller Gold dragon. This makes the father smile before he joins in on the nuzzling of the baby with his own head.
Not only has Galsreim been saved by that courageous band of humans and dragons, but a family has been, as well.
Chapter 13 - Bonus: Izquez the Taleteller
When old Izquez comes to the clan gatherings to share her stories with the hatchlings, everyone gathers around in excitement. Even the more reluctant older dragons find their way to the outskirts of the loose circle of dragonkind.
They say she’s mad, the storyteller, but she remembers simpler times, and her stories captivate minds young and old. With hatchlings sheltered beneath her faded swirled wings, the youngest playing with her wrist frills to keep their attention on her tales, the revered dragoness begins the first tale of many.
“It was a cold winter’s night, much like tonight that we saw the first winter dragons. It was strange, they said — a sight like dragons had never seen before, these drakes from the snows of the mountains arriving in the caves of the land we share. I was just a hatchling myself, like you, little ones, when I first heard this story.”
She blows a gust of the powdery snow piled up around her feet around her, to the amusement of the hatchlings–it’s snowing just for them! As they snap at the falling snowflakes and cavort around her feet happily, she thinks back to the first time she’d been told the tale by one of her clan’s elders.
“It’s a special story, little ones, only to be told on the coldest of nights in close gatherings of clan and friends,” she continues, her telepathic voice tinged with quiet laughter and warning. “Gather close, and keep warm, and I will tell you where they came from, like my elder told me.”
Her tale wound from the frosty mountains down to the warmer vales of the land, and like all the best storytellers, she added a bit of flair to her telling of it. Mischievous flicks of her tail and puffs of her breath kept the snow swirling around the hatchlings nearby, and she changed her mental voice along with the characters in the story.
“Well then,” she concluded, voice gentle enough not to rouse the few hatchlings that had dozed off in a pile of warmth. “What else do you want to hear about, little ones?”
There was a flurry of snow and excitement as a little Red dragon hatchling bounded up to the front of the gathering of youngsters, stumbling over one of his clanmates.
“Where did the first dragons come from?” he asks excitedly, eyes glittering hopefully as he looked up at the storyteller.
“No, no! What about where Stripes got their colors?” asked a curious Pygmy, perched on her Guardian friend’s back.
She took the opportunity to stretch her wings and neck, settling back in for a long night of storytelling, stretching the membranes over the hatchlings at her sides to keep them warm through the night.
“Don’t worry little ones,” Izquez laughed quietly, the tone rich. “I’ll be here all night to tell you all about everything until your guardians come to take you to nest.”
Chapter 14 - Bonus: Feast or Famine
Hailing from the lush, balmy jungle, Skreega has had little experience (rather, none) weathering the harsh chill of a proper winter. After a few moments of careful consideration–and a lot of shivering and ending up wing-deep in snow–she decided she would much rather never needing to experience it again.
Now that the great blizzard has subsided, she and the rest of the Howler drake troupe find themselves hard at work, digging hungrily for whatever frozen remnants the storm has buried. Skreega doesn’t know famine, either; each time her burrowing exposes naught but a swath of frozen soil, she whines more loudly and plaintively than the last.
One more burrow, surely.
Her claws are chilled thoroughly to the bone, but she hops out of the latest freshly-dug snow hole to start another all the same, shrieking briefly to scare away another Howler that has been staring covetously at the rotted-out tree stump she wants to investigate.
He can find his own tree.
With a bark and a last perfunctory flash of her red-eyed wings at the scattered Howlers nearby, Skreega sets to work excavating around the stump with renewed intensity, snow flying out behind her with each swipe. Before long, streaks of black earth join the spray of snow, until at last she unearths a priceless treasure: a fairy ring of frosty mushrooms, perfectly preserved beneath the ice.
Suddenly, she hears the loud rustle of leather and a deep shadow falls across her back. A telepathic chirp prods at her primitive mind. “Whatcha got there?”
Craning her neck upward, the Howler immediately flares her wings to their full, intimidating width and lets out a blood-curdling banshee scream.
Harley the mischievous young Neotropical dragon ruffles his massive wings and leans away as though pushed back by the force of Skreega’s shriek. “Wow!” he exclaims before straining to see down into the hole again.
Skreega howls again, and by now the entire troupe of Howler drakes are peeking up out of their individual burrows, bristling instinctively at their compatriot’s warning cry. Two more Neotropicals glide down amongst them like windblown leaves, rolling playfully in the powdered snow.
“You gonna eat that?” Harley asks, and Skreega answers with another raucous shriek more insistent than the last. Her voice is joined by others as first one Howler then another is disrupted by the other neotropicals gamboling through the snow.
Emboldened by the green dragon’s hesitation, Skreega, still snarling every few seconds, frantically begins stuffing her mouth with the still-frozen mushrooms, not bothering to savor the taste.
Granted, frostburned as they are, they don’t taste like much.
Harley makes as though he means to join the Howler at her banquet table and she answers with a vicious swipe.
“What a fun game. I love treasure hunts!” With an excited squeak he leaps up off the stump and over her defensively flared wings, bowling into one of the other Neotropicals. All three of them begin rifling through the hard-packed snow, sending loose powder and startled Howlers flying to a chorus of indignant screams. Skreega shrieks as the flying snow buries the remains of her hard-won meal.
At last, the chaotic Neotropicals pause, panting, to admire their work. What had been a sheet of white only moments before is now a patch of loose brown slush littered with toadstools and fat tubers. As they realize what has taken place, the Howlers’ hateful cries become barks and shrieks of joy at their windfall, and within moments the lot of them are feasting on the frozen fare.
Harley lobs a chunk of dirty snow at his clutchmate and catches Skreega’s wary gaze as she gnaws appreciatively on a root, grinning obliviously back at her. Thus famine is turned to feast and, for at least this brief time of good will, staunch ‘enemies’ become friends.