The autumn chilled winds glided through the bustling port town, the inhabitants scurrying past the brine caked wooden buildings towards their unknown destinations. The sun shone down from its clear sky, though summer was long past, unable to keep the long cloaks and thick clothes off the people below.
People come from all over Atheran seeking safety within Shurin’s natural barrier bay. The winter storms had come early to the large Nahalian Sea that split the continent nearly in half.
Elves, in their brightly colored cloths, pasty flesh, and long pointed ears conversed amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to the other races around them. Stout dwarves from the far northern mountains, looking more and more like miniature versions of the towering rocks that housed them, grunting in their mismatched dialects. Human tarhyn, though, greatly outnumbered the rest of the races; clothed in earthy reds and browns, their stalls lined the cobblestone street, attempting to sell their wares to the quick visitors of the town.
Nestled between the buildings, was the ‘Black Lion’ tavern. Paint from the loosely hanging plaque above the door was slowly chipping off, making the writing difficult to read. The wood of the building was discolored and splintering, the windows covered in an opaque fog.
Just past the creaking doors, the tavern filled with a commotion of excitement. Sailors, from both Navy and private merchant ships, filled each seat of each table. The barmaids rushed around, attempting to keep the mugs of the drunken patrons full, unless to entice a brawl.
A single patron, though, sat at the bar, eyes intent on the rushing bartenders. An empty mug sat in front of slender fingers, which ended in slashing points. “Excuse me?” the patron asked in a soft, feminine voice.
The bartender stopped, staring at the cloaked customer, eyes bulging out of their sockets and sweat draining down his face. “What is it missy? Make it quick now, we are grossly busy.”
“I just want my mug refilled,” she said.
The man blinked, “With what? Refresh me.”
Narrowing his eyes, he leaned forward, attempting to see past the shadows of the hood. Two silvery-green eyes stared back at him, dark circles jumping out against the ashen skin. Strands of silver and red hair gently fell across the already shadowed, round face. Her petite facial features gave her a childish appearance.
“You be a half dragon, no?” he asked.
She glanced away quickly.
“Now, I am not like most around these parts. I would certainly serve you a drink if you paid, but now, a Navy ship had ported here and I am crowded with their sailors, who at any moment may cause a brawl and wreck my tavern. You understand my dilemma, don’t you?” He raised an eyebrow quizzically.
She nodded, “Of course, sir.”
“Thank you.” Smiling, he rushed to fill more orders.
The woman watched him, her eyes darkening. “Ass.”
The half dragon, or Atherien, named for the continent they once use to greatly inhabit, was mix of the tarhyn human and the great winged dragon. The races they share the land with mostly shun them. The Atherien race, as a whole, is comparatively underrepresented compared to the other races. Nowadays, the only Atheriens one sees are slaves and servants to the tarhyn.
The female Atherien looked around the rowdy crowd of men, and the occasional local woman. Her hood twitched, and face twisted in disgust from the vile smells of alcohol and vomit. A barroom brawl seemed to be the least of the tavern master’s worries.
Caraka spun around in her chair, leaning against the bar. The cloak fell back, revealing her clothes. Unlike most of the women, elvin and dwarven included, who wore long, ankle length skirts and dresses, Caraka wore scandalous black trousers and thin leather straps wrapped around her shins as makeshift boots. Her clawed, three toed, dragon-like feet made it difficult to find properly fitting shoes and boots of all kinds, unlike the males of her kind, who had a more human-like shape foot.
Her bright blue low cut vest hugged her curves, hinting at a more mature womanly form. The sleeves of the beige off shoulder shirt beneath skirted her arms, ending just below her wrists. Leather fingerless elbow length gloves covered the entirety of her forearms. A thick, jagged scar crossed her collarbone, over her shoulder, and ran down her back before disappearing beneath her clothes.
A black, furred tail uncurled behind her, the lighter blue, long fur at the tip lightly grazed the dusty floor of the tavern.
Caraka pulled her shoulder-blade length silver and red hair into a short ponytail, tying it with a small piece of ribbon. Strands around her face were able to still fall loose, of which she quickly tried to brush away.
A soldier, obviously inebriated, stammered towards Caraka. Casually leaning against the bar, he grinned, the stench of ale molesting her nostrils.
“ ‘Allo, miss. Are ye a local woman?” he asked.
Her icy gaze fell on him. “No.”
“Awe, c’mon. Do not be so stiff. Have ye ev’r spent time with a sailor b’fore?” He tilted his head, drunkenly.
“No, go away.”
“Cam on!” He grabbed her arm, “Why so prude?”
Caraka snatched her arm away from the man. Her soft lips curled back over her long canines threateningly. “I told you so screw off.”
He grinned. “Aye! I know what you can you use those teeth for…”
Caraka spun around, her sharpened claws at his chin. “I will not ask nicely again,” she hissed.
She watched at the man’s eyes drifted down, bulging at the sight of her sheathed long swords that were tied to her belt. “All rightly miss. I can take a hint.” Backing off, he returned to the table he had originated from, wherever that was.
She growled. She quickly grew tired of the crowded tavern, and of the sailors who were now staring darkly at her. Tossing a silver piece into her mug, she jumped down from the chair and glided through the crowd and out of the Black Lion Tavern.
Caraka shielded her eyes as she exited the pub, glancing up and down the street. She looked up towards the mountains that encircled the town, sloping into the towering cliffs towards the north. The mountains to the west seemed to touch the heavens beyond the omnipresent clouds that encircled them. Though she couldn’t see it, Caraka knew of the cliffs to the south, fully forming the bay the town sat in.
Her eyes lightly lingered on people as they walked past her, studying each hair, flesh, and limb of them. A pang of loneliness shot through her chest. Not one was like her. Even in a port town like this, though small, she could not find one like her.
She remembered the history her dragon mother tried to teach her. After the Great Fall of the Dragon civilization, also known as the Solstice Abyss, every half dragon that had not died in the genocide that followed went far north or far south, leaving central Atheran empty of the humanoid dragons. This gave rise to the tarhyn. Sadly, that was where she mainly resided.
Caraka knew of half dragons remaining in the center of Atheran, aside from the ones who were slaves, of course. Mostly mercenary groups or thief guilds. Not the most upstanding citizens of society.
Slaves. Her mind quickly jumped back onto that thought. Such a sickening insult the tarhyn had played. Half dragons had built the greatest of cities, created the most beautiful artwork, and had technologies tarhyn would only think of in their wildest dreams, and now they were the bottom rung of society, if there could be considered on the ladder at all. She bowed her head. Every time she played their words in her mind, a sense of emptiness filled her. There was no guarantee that she would be able to find anyone else who were both free and not a criminal. With the fear of death and enslavement hanging over their heads, they had become adept at hiding, even from their own kind.
Caraka shook her head. No need to think such darkening thoughts, she had more pressing issues to worry about; she needed to stay out of the sights of the Drecona soldiers. Upheaval has plagued the kingdom since their chosen heir had disappeared years ago. Now, any dragon-human could be arrested and incarcerated on sight, only sold into slavery for the kingdom’s wealthy, and even the poor.
Something smacked her in the back of the head, nearly knocking her off her feet. She clutched at her hair, something sticky and slimy knotting the strands together. She looked at her fingers, a brownish liquid dripping down them.
She spun around to see a small group of kids, who couldn’t even be in their teens, holding a basket of rotten fruit and smiles spattered across their faces.
“What do you think you are doing, you little snots?” Caraka snapped.
“Did your pimp let you out for a day pass? Or are you out running errands like a good little bitch?” called out the tallest boy, who had to be the pack’s leader.
She snarled. “How dare you! I should ring your scrawny neck!”
“Bring it, wench! I’ll just call the guard on you!” he yelled back. “Why don’t you run along home before your master has to give you a bath!”
“Is that the best you can come up with?” She laughed.
The kid picked up a rotten apple and threw it, hitting her in the face.
She spat the mush from her mouth, the remaining soften flesh dripping down her face. Her lips curled in threat and a low growl gurgled in her throat. Magic tingled in her fingers, but she thought better of it.
“Not so tough now, are you slave?” The kid snickered.
“I’m not a slave,” she said threateningly.
Another piece of fruit hit her in the chest, making her gasp for breath.
“What’s wrong, whore? Cat got your tongue? You are just as much of a pathetic coward like the rest of your kind!”
Caraka shook her head and walked away. That loud mouth kid wasn’t worth the waste in magic energy she would have to expel, and she needed to avoid that situation as much as possible. She needed to get to the docks as quickly as possible; they were the only place she could sneak away without being noticed.
The screeching sound of seagulls and boisterous talking of hundreds of people filled her black, lupine ears. Caraka quickly covered them. Sensitive hearing was not always an advantage.
More people crowded the docks than in the town. Towering ships sat in the calm waters of the bay. Some merchant, a few carried passengers she presumed; more obvious were the navy vessels. Smaller than the other ships, but they were quicker on the sea. Caraka made a note of staying far away from those ships.
A thing she noticed, was that there were far more tarhyn upperclassmen. Drecona nobles dressed in cooler blues, blacks, and greens. While Valiori, Drecona’s rival, dressed in warmer golds, reds, and paler yellows. It was quite strange that they were mingling.
Through the sea of color, though, the ominous black and silver made their appearance. Drecona soldiers, making their rounds of the port, had come into Caraka’s field of vision. A part of her hated the fact that they had taken the holy colors and bastardized them. There was no time to think about that now. She ducked slightly, she did not believe they saw her, yet, but she was not taking any chances.
She never understood the law. Ever since the heir to the Drecona throne disappeared three years before, the prejudice against the Atheriens had risen. She had been able to escape it for years; she was one of the few lucky ones who were able too.
Her silver-feathered wings and tail bumped and smashed into people as she attempted to escape. The cries and hollers from the people she bumped caught the attention of the soldiers.
Caraka paused, turning her head to see the rushing soldiers better. “Awe, crud.”
She bolted, cursing crowds and their inability to allow her to hide. People moved for the trio of soldiers, and made it harder and harder for her to get away from them.
The suffocating claustrophobia began to set in. Bodies crushed her against one another, whether from panic or in vain attempt to stop her, she did not know, nor cared. The docks loomed close to her, within reach. Safety and freedom so close she could taste it.
Something encompassed her waist, pulling her back; she cried out, only silenced by a large hand. A heated breath fell on her ear, freezing her despite the warmth. “I will advise you do as I say.”
Caraka struggled against the stranger’s grip. “Let me go!”
The stranger tightened his grip, “I can help you. Do you want to be arrested?”
She stopped. “You’ll help me?”
Caraka was spun around, forced to face the one who grabbed her. The man stood nearly a foot higher then her. The strikingly colored, liquid gold almond eyes danced across her features, slowly drinking her in. The wide brimmed hat shadowed most of his face, making the arresting eyes stand out even more. However, the heart shape was still obvious. “Of course, I must aid my fellow Atherien.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but the man turned his head, gauging just how far the soldiers were. “What’s your name?”
“Your name, what is your name?”
He turned back to her blinking. A flash of recognition fell across the man’s chiseled features, only to quickly disappear. “Yes. Now, like I said before, you must follow my lead, and I’ll be able to get you out of this.”
The man glanced over her shoulder quickly, and then suddenly pressed his lips against hers.
She was taken aback. This man, whose name she did not know, let alone his race, was kissing her. He said she should follow his lead, and she had no choice but to trust him.
Placing her hands on his cheeks, she kissed him back, hoping they seemed convincing. The hair of his goatee tickled her chin and his arms encircled low on her waist. Her hands fell across his strong jaw, thick neck, sliding down the bulging shoulder and arm muscles beneath his jacket.
He pulled back as the sound of clanking metal arrived next to them. The three soldiers glared at the little Atherien, seemingly protected by her ‘love’…she hoped.
“You,” said the first, tallest, and blonde haired soldier accusingly to Caraka, “where are your papers?”
“Papers?” she squeaked. She looked up at the stranger; he must have a plan….
“Excuse me, I would appreciate that you wouldn’t speak to my wife like that,” he snapped.
“Wife?!” Caraka felt the color drain from her face.
“Wife?” The soldier’s eyes bounced between the two. “Either way, neither of you have papers.”
The man dug inside his cloak and pulled out a scroll. “Now, now, my mother always said that you have to ask nicely and politely for the things you want,” he said with a grin.
The soldier snatched the scroll out of his hand and examined it. He looked up at him with a quizzical stare. “Kytheran Arakal?”
The man shifted slightly. “I get that a lot.”
The soldier shook the scroll in his face. “How do I know this isn’t fake? Do you know how many fake papers use the Crown Prince’s name?”
He put his hands up defensively. “Look at it, the seal is real. I was born a couple months after him and my mother liked his name, plus, Arakal is a pretty common last name. Lots of the poorer people take it as a last name, same with Sarugien.”
The soldier looked over at Caraka. “You, what is your last name? Your maiden name.”
“Sarugien,” she said simply.
He grumbled and handed Kytheran back his papers. “Do you have her papers?”
Kytheran patted himself down. “Well, oh dear. They must have fallen out somewhere.”
He grabbed Caraka’s arm. “Then, I guess it’s the hole for you.”
Her eyes widened.
Kytheran grabbed her other arm. “Now look, we don’t have to do that. I know how this little law works and I know that you don’t get nearly as much as the slave hunters who also catch our kind.”
The soldier narrowed his eyes. “Your point?”
He shrugged. “Well, you will have to go back to your little barracks, write up a big ol’ letter about my wife here, send it down to Tarthen, wait weeks, maybe even months, for information that may or may not be there. I mean, those are the rules. The slave hunters don’t have to follow those rules, but you hard working soldiers do. I just don’t want to waste your time over nothing, sir.” Kytheran grinned.
The tarhyn grumbled. “I guess your right. We never saw you, and I better never seen you again.”
He nodded. “Of course, sir.” Kytheran pulled Caraka away, back toward the town.
Once they were far out of earshot, Caraka snatched her arm away from him. “Who the hell are you?”
“Aren’t you the polite one?” he said.
She jabbed him with her finger. “Don’t pull that crap on me. How dare you just…grab me out of a crowd like that and-and kiss me like it’s nothing!”
Kytheran rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I just thought I would do something nice for a pretty lady…”
“Don’t try to charm me,” she snapped. “Who are you?”
“Like I said, my name is Kytheran Arakal. Do you want to look at my papers too?” he asked.
“No.” She looked back towards the docks. “Look, I appreciate you helping me. I’m not sure how I can repay you, but I really need to be heading off right now.”
He grabbed her wrist. “I don’t think so,” he said darkly.
Caraka’s hand went to her sword. “Let me go.”
“You tell me your full name first,” he said.
“You couldn’t figure it out from before?” she asked.
He snorted. “You could be lying.”
“My name is really Caraka Sarugien.”
“Good! Then you are the one I am looking for!” he said gleefully.
She looked at him, dumbfounded. “Excuse me.”
“Caraka Sarugien. I am suppose to look for Caraka Sarugien.” He tapped his chin. “I am curious on how the hell she knew you were here.”
“Who?” She looked at him quizzically.
He waved his hand. “Never mind that. I am suppose to take you to her. They are set up just outside of town.”
“What? She? They?” Caraka tried to pull her wrist from his grip. “Let go of me!”
“Look, I can’t really get into it here. Just come with me,” Kytheran pleaded.
“I don’t think so, you creep!” Caraka kicked his shin.
Kytheran yelped and let go of her wrist, allowing her to run off.
She took off towards the outskirts of town. It may have been the direction he wanted to go, but she wasn’t taking her chances with the docks again.
Caraka looked over her shoulder, he was chasing after her, weaving through the crowd. “Caraka! Wait! There is a misunderstanding!” he called out.
Like I’m going to believe you. She continued to run.
She felt that she needed to get out of this town, she spent more time running from people than anything else.
Suddenly, she slammed into someone, falling on top of them. She scrambled to her feet. “Oh dear goddess, I’m so sorry--”
Caraka looked at the woman better. She was a desert Atherien, with a sandy tail and membrane wings. A pair of feline ears, the same color as her tail, sat on top of her short, brunette hair.
The woman sat up, groaning as she rubbed her head. A strawberry-blonde elf knelt next to her, grabbing her arm. “Cipher, are you all right?”
Caraka froze. “Cipher?”
The woman looked up at her with hazel eyes--and silver pupils. “Caraka? Is that you?”
“W-What are you doing here?” she asked softly.
“What am I doing here?” The elf helped Cipher to her feet. She patted her hands. “Thanks, Aaralynn. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? You two collided pretty hard,” she said.
Cipher winked. “I’m good.” She turned back to Caraka, putting her hand to her lips in a mocked shocked look. “My! By what happenchance had me run into you here?”
Caraka pointed at her accusingly. “Don’t tell me you have been following me for the last five years.”
Cipher pointed at herself. “Me? Don’t you think I have better things to do?”
Then, Kytheran came up from behind Caraka. He groaned and started rubbing his shin. “You…are an evil woman.”
Cipher looked at him, confused. “What happened to you?”
He nodded towards Caraka. “She kicked me! I was trying to bring her to you and she kicked me!” He looked at his attacker. “Do you know how much that hurts trying to run on a bruised shin?”
Caraka snorted. “Tough it out, you big baby.”
“Excuse me? I am not a baby!” he snarled.
Aaralynn ran to his side, touching his arm. “Calm down, Kytheran. I’m sure all of this is just one big misunderstanding.”
“I’ll say,” Caraka said flatly. She looked at Cipher. “You know these two?”
She shrugged. “Sure I do. They are Kytheran Arakal and Aaralynn Veznais. They are acquaintances of mine.”
Caraka looked at Kytheran. “At least you weren’t lying about your name.”
He crossed his arms. “Couldn’t be said about you.”
“It’s all right, Kytheran,” said Cipher. “I can verify that she is Caraka.” She looked at her, eyebrows raised. “Most definitely.”
Caraka narrowed her eyes. “Well, pardon me. Didn’t know I had to prove who I was.”
“Getting onto more important issues, how did you know that she would be here?” Kytheran asked Cipher.
The desert dragon tapped her temple. “Call it a sixth sense.”
“Is she going to be joining us?” asked Aaralynn.
“Of course she is!” Cipher said cheerfully.
“Wonderful. A crazy one is joining us,” Kytheran groaned.
“Whoa! I don’t remember agreeing to join anything. Maybe I like being alone!” said Caraka.
“You are joining me, you already agreed,” said Cipher.
“When?” She narrowed her eyes.
“You know when. Stop acting stupid,” Cipher snapped.
“Maybe I am the wrong Caraka.”
Cipher grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “Stop acting childish. You have to come with me. The time has come.”
Caraka looked around, then raised her eyebrow. “Was something to click?”
“All right! Goddess, the last five years haven’t mellowed you out,” Caraka sniffed.
“And wandering around alone for the last five years hasn’t chilled or matured you.”
Caraka frowned. “I’m hurt.”
Cipher looked up at Kytheran. “Let’s get out of here, shall we? We can start heading north.”
“Why are we heading north?” asked Aaralynn.
Caraka glanced at her sideways. “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”
The elf glared at her. “Is it a crime to be curious? It’s not like Cipher gives us a ton of ideas on what we are doing.”
The shadow Atherien looked back at Cipher. “What rock did you find these two from?”
“Excuse me, don’t make assumptions. I could ask her the same question about you,” said Kytheran.
Caraka snorted. “I’ve known Cipher since I was eight. A lot longer than you.”
“Then maybe you can enlighten us on where we might be going?” Aaralynn inquired.
Caraka laughed. “Oh, dear goddess, no. I have not a clue on where this mad woman wants to go.”
“Pot and kettle, Caraka. Pot and kettle,” Cipher sighed.
“Look, Cipher, we ran into some trouble with the guards so we probably should get out of here,” Kytheran warned.
“All right, I get the message.” Cipher tugged on Caraka’s arm, forcing her to move forward. Kytheran and Aaralynn followed close behind. “Well, my dear, what have you been up to?”
Caraka narrowed her eyes. “Why would you care?”
“Why wouldn’t I care?” Cipher tilted her head. “You simply up and left us five years ago with absolutely no contact in the interim. Your poor grandmother will be absolutely pleased to know that you are all right.”
“We aren’t heading back there…are we?” Caraka asked nervously.
“Go back where?” asked Kytheran piping up.
“That is none of your business,” she snapped.
He shrugged. “Just trying to get to know you.”
“No,” said Cipher. “We are not heading there for quite awhile. I have things to do first.”
“For example?” asked Aaralynn.
“Oh, I have never failed you darlings before!” said Cipher.
Caraka sighed. “Just, tell us where we are going.”
Cipher’s face suddenly darkened. “I can’t.”
“What do you mean you ‘can’t’?” said Aaralynn, shocked.
She looked back at the elf. “I told you. I can’t.”
“Well, why not?” asked Kytheran. “You’ve been truthful so far, why now the secrets?”
Cipher looked at Caraka. “There are reasons. Once we get to this place, I will explain everything to you.”
Caraka looked back at her grimly.
“Could you at least explain who she is and how you know her?” he asked.
“Caraka is an old friend of mine. I’ve known her since she was eight, and she was raised in the mercenary group I was apart of. She’s been off on some soul searching for the past few years,” she explained.
“I could have figured that out,” he muttered.
After a while, the group exited the small town, entering the great forest that covered most of the land to the north. The forest was filled with old-growth trees, the canopy blocking out most of the sky and the sun’s rays.
Then, Cipher suddenly piped up. “Caraka are you still afraid of mirrors?”
Caraka glared at her.
“Mirrors? You are afraid of mirrors?” asked Aaralynn.
“Afraid wouldn’t be the word I would use.”
“Then what word would you use?” asked Kytheran.
Caraka fell silent for a moment. “Hesitant.”
Aaralynn looked over at Cipher. “What happens when she gets around mirrors?”
Cipher licked her lips. “I hope you never find out.”
“Is it bad?” Kytheran tilted his head.
“Look! It’s none of your business anyways!” Caraka snapped. “You can find out when I run into a mirror, otherwise, just don’t talk about it, all right? Just don’t talk about it.”
Kytheran shrugged. “All right. Fair enough. We won’t ask, right Aaré?”
She sighed. “Right.”
“Wonderful, I’m glad everyone is getting along so well!” Cipher said happily.
Caraka cracked her neck. “Always looking on the bright side of things, aren’t you Cipher?”
Cipher kissed her cheek. “If I didn’t, we would all be miserable, wouldn’t we?”
Caraka glared at her. “Don’t ever kiss me again!”
- 'Shadow's Dawn' - Ch. 1