Dragon’s Honor, 1 of 3
by Joe Jackson
Laeranore, Terrassia, ME 2873
The tracks led right into the forbidden valley. Kari spat in disgust.
Sebastian dropped from his perch in the trees, landing with nary a sound on top of a boulder, and he looked down to see what had caught her attention. “What is it?”
“Demon tracks,” she answered, staring along the line of clawed footprints that trailed away through the dark soil. The light was muted here with such a heavy canopy above, but it meant there wasn’t much in the way of underbrush, and the soft dirt gave away movement easily. She pointed down the trail. “And they head directly into the forbidden valley.”
The elf leaned over a bit, glancing under the lower boughs of the trees. The intensity of his emerald gaze was tempered by the slight frown, and she knew what was coming. “We are forbidden from going this way. You know this.”
“You are,” she answered, taking in the slight disturbances in the soil beside the more obvious tracks. She measured the distance between them, and confirmed her suspicions. When she sat back on her haunches, she looked up and found the elf’s unblinking gaze fixed upon her. “You know I respect your people and your queen, Sebastian, but I’m here to do a job.”
“Kari…,” he sighed, then reverted to the more stilted and formal elven tongue. “You do not understand. This part of the forest belongs to a powerful dragon who has already done great harm to our people. It is the queen’s decree that we should leave him be, that he will in turn leave us be. Should you enter his territory and aggravate him, you may cost hundreds or even thousands of people their lives.”
The demonhunter rose to her feet, stretching her wings briefly before she folded them tight to her back. “And what of the demons?” she returned in elvish with an impatient gesture toward the trail. It irritated her to have to speak the more formal tongue of the elves, doubly so since she was still learning all of its nuances. In truth, she didn’t really need to, but whenever her elven friends reverted to their native tongue, she felt compelled to follow suit. “I mark at least four of them, two of whom are brys. Half of the reason I remain in your homeland is to root these things out. If you allow them to hide in a dragon’s territory behind the decrees of your queen, they will never cease being a problem. And this is to say nothing of the possibility that they are working with the dragon…”
Sebastian nodded curtly, stroking his hairless chin. “Then we should report these findings to the queen, that she may make the decision,” the elf insisted.
“Sebastian, that would no doubt take weeks,” she returned, though she knew that alone would be a fruitless argument. The elves saw everything in the long-term; with their extensive lifetimes, they rarely understood the more immediate nature of shorter-lived beings such as the humans or Kari’s people, the rir. “By the time we are able to deliver a report and return – and this assumes the queen will allow us to – we will have no idea where these demons have gotten to. You are correct, however, in one thing: You should go report this to the queen. As for me, I will give chase to our enemies before they can make their escape or pester us elsewhere.”
The elf glanced at the tracks before meeting her gaze again. “You mark four serilian demons, including two brys, and you wish to go after them alone?”
“They’ll never see it coming,” she answered in the common tongue with a shrug.
“And with good reason.” He sighed again while he took in her draconic form. He reached out and touched her snout, running his fingers down the side of it affectionately. They’d become close over these last few months while he taught her the intricacies of tracking and traversing the realm as the elves did. There was too great a difference between them for their friendship to ever go beyond that, but he now saw her less as an outsider and alien, and more as an ally. To earn such friendship from the elves was not an easy task, and Kari understood how special her bond with these people was.
At last he continued, “I know why you place so little value on your life, Kari, but that does not mean we place little value on it. You need not risk suicide to prove your courage to my people; we have seen enough of it in recent months.”
“The brys are the only ones that concern me,” she said, returning to the elven tongue again. She ran her hand back through her long, ebon hair. “Here in the forest, however, I hold the advantage over them. Four serilian demons on my own will be a test, no doubt, but I can handle it. Believe me, I have handled far worse in my life.”
He blinked his cat-like green eyes slowly, his features grim. “I know better than to argue with you. If you should come across the dragon or its lair, retreat to friendly territory. There may be other ways to deal with this situation.”
“Or I could just kill it,” the demonhunter returned.
“Wouldn’t be the first dragon I killed.” She wondered if it annoyed him when she went back and forth between languages.
Sebastian stared hard at her, but ultimately shook his head. “The tales you could tell,” he mused. “One suspects you have hardly told my people even half of what you have accomplished in so short a time. So you are going, then?”
“Yes. Let me take care of those demons, and I’ll make sure I keep away from the dragon if I can help it. You get word back to the queen, and if you don’t hear from me… well, until we meet again, my friend.”
She held out her black, clawed hand, and he took it in a firm grip. “Until we meet again, my friend,” he returned. He glanced down the trail one last time, then he scaled a tree and began to run along its boughs, deeper into the forests of Laeranore.
Kari blew out a sigh and turned back to the trail. “What the hell am I doing?”