– Yes, ceris?
– Will you tell me the Legend again?
– Hhh… Wouldn’t your cousin do that?
– But, granna, he’s not here. Please?
– I don’t really know, ceris.
– But you tell it so much better.
– Oh… All right, ceris. Are you comfortable?
– Aye, granna.
In long, far away times past the dragons ruled this world in their magnificent forms covered in scales of the most amazing colours, of sapphire, emerald and deep blue like the ocean. Their wings were of all sizes, but they were all magnificent with eyes that glowed like diamonds. They were beautiful and breath-taking with long necks and tails swishing up in the freedom of the wide heavens, their home and domain.
The dragons were wise and fair rules with hearts of pure gold. No dispute went unsettled and unhappiness was mostly unheard of in the dragon kingdoms. In fact, the dragons would let no one’s child go hungry, they made the land fertile and used their favourite pastime, hunting, to feed the people. The people in the dragon kingdoms lived long and peaceful lives filled with happiness. The dragon kingdoms were the gems of the world filled with wonders people far and wide came to see.
It was these foreigners who were the first to raise discontent amongst the people who had lived under the rule of the dragons for millennia. For as time had went by the dragons had become very rich as there people gave them gifts of the most beautiful craftsmanship made of gold and gems. Some of the most talented artisans made the dragons jewellery to mark their rank.
Those who visited saw these riches and coveted them. In other places in the unknown and wide world there were humans who had become leaders when a dragon was not there to take their place. The human lords became envious of the beauty of the dragon kingdoms and sought to destroy them. In their desire, they became twisted and instead of humans, they treated those they ruled over as well as slaves. The dragons had only ever treated the people who lived in their lands with warmth and friendship.
The human lords sent agents to create discontent amongst the people. As the humans began treating their dragon lords with contempt the dragons became defensive and modelled the human lords treating the humans more and more like slaves who could create them beautiful artefacts. They became obsessed with the riches, the human lords seemed to covet.
This was not all dragons, the older dragons who had seen the world develop saw the young dragons losing control and sought to intervene, but there were many young and they rebelled against the old order destroying their wise ancestors.
As there was no one to caution the young dragons anymore, their tyranny was unstoppable. Humans were mere animals who served their lords who sat on mountains of riches high in caves. The people lived to dig out the riches wanted by their human and dragon masters, as the human lords deemed themselves too good to do labour and dragons had always been unable to change their surroundings manually.
What followed was starvation, diseases and death. The bodies of children littered cities that had thrived years before. Humans became weaker in body and in mind. They lived shorter times as the lust for gold drove the dragons to madness making them unseeing of the suffering they were causing to those that had been their friends and equals.
At the edge of the world there was a group of humans who were called the Guardians of the World. They saw as the once magnificent dragons twisted into horrible creatures of evil and greed. The best of the wise men of the Guardians took with them the most innocent girl they could in their midst and sent her to save the world that was in danger to become a great domain ruled by horrible monsters and eternal slavery to anything that lived in it.
The girl did not travel alone. The wise men went with her and they came through many trials that are written in many poems to the holy mountain of the dragons that was their birth place in legend. And on the mountain they found a statue hallowed by all dragons, the statue was a depiction of the very first dragon whose pure soul was locked uncorrupted in the stone. There they broke the ancestor made of stone and sent it to the body of the pure child. In this way, all dragons, those magnificent rulers of the sky, were trapped in the form of a weak and flightless human. And from then on these mortals were called the Dratoans.
The Dratoans were unable to hold their power over the humans any longer, so they left the lower lands and went to live far in the high mountains with all the riches they had gathered where they could be as close to the sky as possible. For even if the Dratoans could not reach the sky as they once had, they remembered with sadness the time when they had ruled the skies and nothing had kept them from the beauty of the vaults of heaven. And there they built magnificent cities, on the boundary of the heavens and the earth to always remember what they had lost.
Time went by and the snakekin grew in number. They learned to use tools and weapons in the way they hadn’t before. They regained their pride and decided to extend their kingdom back to its former glory. The humans of the lower lands had rebuilt their lives after being freed from the rule of the dragons and were unsuspecting of the danger.
After they had learnt to live in their new forms, the Dratoans had found that they were stronger and more agile than the humans. With their newly attained knowledge, it was easy for them to win the wars they fought against the humans. They expanded their kingdom and built mountain-like cities with high towers and thick walls. The Dratoans still reached for the sky with their buildings.
The surviving humans were taken as servants to work for the snakekin and tend to their lands. For many centuries they ruled a peaceful kingdom where humans had gained some rights that made their lives less unfair then right after invasion. Yet over time, the Dratoans became weaker as the snakekin and humans blended together.
The decline came to a head when the majority of the people who were poor servants of the land tied to where they were born until death saw their chance to take back power. They revolted and pushed back the snakekin who had become lax in their arrogance and good governance.
The humans did not want to give the snakekin a new to chance to grow strong and take over the lower lands again, so they vowed to destroy all of the Dratoans to the very last one. The humans took the war deep in the snakekin’s ancient homeland, the mountains and their mount top citadels. Very few of the old cities were saved from destruction and the surviving snakekin was taken back to the lower lands to be slaves.
On to the remnants of the old Dratoan Empire many new lands formed, the greatest of these was Deles, the land of the descendants of the ancient land servants which thrived on agriculture. In Deles all the power was held by the ruling king. The kingdom was nearest to the mountains and the capital was situated in an area where one of the mighty mountain cities of the snakekin had once guarded the fertile planes, Caroon, the centre of Dratoan administration.
The city of humans was called Ferengeti, the capital of the mightiest of human kingdoms that lived in its gold age. There the mix race descendants of the Dratoans, the Draacs, had been made slaves. The Draacs where the children of real Dratoan whores who had the strong body of a snakeman, but the weak mind of a human. They seemed no better than common cattle.
When the humans had taken their captured snakekin down from the mountains, they had escaped and hidden near Ferengeti into the ancient underground maze of Caroon where only the ancient markings of the snakekin told a traveller how to navigate in its in many dark pathways.
Some of the snakekin in Caroon were the city’s original residents who had hidden in the maze like cowards. They had known nothing could be done about the rising power of the humans. As the snakekin of the lower lands and those from the mountains mixed, the Dratoans regained their original strength.
Ranadin was one of these snakekin who lived in the labyrinth of Caroon. When moving at the gates of the maze, there was always the danger of there being an attack by the bloodthirsty Ferengeti militia. The habitants of Caroon were no secret to the rulers of Deles who sent their men to attack the colony in hopes of capturing Dratoan women. All men and children were killed as they were not fit for labour or birthing Draacs.
The snakekin had organised the food gathering. The labyrinth was organised into several villages. In each village there lived about ten individuals who were led by an elder. Tomari was one of these elders and the gatekeeper of Caroon. In the villages, the food gathering was divided into shifts of two people sneaking out of the labyrinth to steal necessities. There was always a danger of getting caught, but the risk was much smaller when one had returned to the protection of Caroon.
Ranadin was raised by her grandmother Tomari and her cousin Gav. She had been told, that when she had been a year old, the Ferengeti militia had attacked Caroon. It had been the turn of Ranadin’s parents to gather food. Gav had been playing with his little cousin when they had heard the screams of Dirro and Daralan, Ranadin’s father and mother, from the gates of Caroon.
Hearing the screams, Gav had snatched the little one in his arms and rushed to the centre of their village and left the child in the arms of another villager. He had then returned to the gates, and the villager who he had left the child with had soon followed after taking the child to her grandmother. When Gav and the villager had come the scene, it was already too late. Daralan was gone and Dirro had been on the edge of death. Gav had gathered his uncle in his arms and carried him back to their village.
”They took Dara”, Dirro had said struggling to breathe. ”Let me see my daughter.”
Dirro had fought hard to say those words as he had been severely wounded. Tomari had brought her son’s child to him and Dirro had lifted his blood covered hand to Ranadin’s small cheek.
”My skylion”, Dirro began his last blessing. ”Grow strong as a mighty jungle cat and wise as the high heavens. Be a joy to your family, do not cry for your father, nor your mother. We will return to the skies and fly once more freedom under our wings. We shall never again worry about the riches of the earth or the destinies of man. We will be dragons once again and we shall always watch you. Never fear, you are not alone. See it done.”
He paused to breathe and then continued.
”We will meet again, my child, on the holy mountain of our ancestors where our spirit was broken. Only there do we have final peace, all of your people. Remember your name, Ranadin, and free our people. The blessing of the heavens be yours, may the stars watch over you and be my eyes. For the sky is our home and the land our enemy, from the beginning of time to the end of forever.
”Do you still think of them?”
A lizard like man turned towards a young woman who was watching him with her yellow eyes. The man had black hair and he had the limber of youth in his limbs, but his eyes betrayed an old, worn soul.
”How could I not, Rana? If even one thing had gone differently, Daralan or Dirro, or even both could be here with you. They are your family!”
The young woman shook her head rigorously which made her hair escape from behind her hair. The strands were a shining pure white like the beautiful mountain tops that loomed above them, unattainable. They glowed in the dim light coming from the gates of Caroon. The young man reached out his arm to tuck the locks behind her ear to keep them from obscuring her beautiful face. The young woman grabbed his hand with her own and kissed the palm.
”I have a family”, she said and looked into her cousin’s red eyes. Gav turned his gaze away.
”Rana…” he began and sighed when Ranadin drew Dratoan symbols on his face.
”Stop”, he pleaded and shook under her gentle touch. Her piercing yellow eyes did not even blink as she continued writing.
”Ranadin Dirroceris!” he snapped and stood. Ranadin rose beside him calmly. Then she suddenly shot through the maze corridors with the echoes of her cousin’s apology chasing at her heels.
Tomari was an excellent cook. All the inhabitants of Caroon knew this, so she was in charge of the feasts the community tended to have every now and again to commemorate special occasions. A special part of Dratonian culture was the ceremony of adleten, maturity.
As in all other feast preparations, Tomari was very particular. But this particular feast she was preparing was special. It was the feast dinner for her granddaughter Ranadin’s maturation ceremony. The child had lived twenty full years in the protection of the labyrinth of Caroon. Fewer children were born each year and even fewer survived to their adleten.
Tomari was the guardian of the eternal gates and it was Ranadin’s task to begin her formal apprenticeship under her grandmother, to become the next guardian as Tomari had only had sons. As the guardianship could only be inherited by a female descendant it had become the young snakewoman’s duty.
Such positions in the Dratoan community were inherited from one generation to another, and always from mother to daughter or father to son, these never mixed.
Gav helped his grandmother in the preparations for adleten. He had raised Ranadin like his own child, and like any parent he both looked forward to and feared the young woman stepping into her own.
A time of excitement for any young Dratoan, Ranadin knew she should have been happy, but instead she seemed restless and deep in thought.
“What troubles your mind?”
Ranadin did not answer keeping her gaze somewhere far away and deep in her own world. Tomari waited for a while, but she did not repeat her question. With no answer, the elder woman left the youth alone.
During the ceremony of adleten it was customary to give the one stepping from childhood to adulthood a gift only a Dratoan could give. The elders of Caroon gathered into a half circle as had been tradition for millennia, even when the snakekin had lived in the vast sky unbound to the earth.
”Step forth, Ranadin Dirroceris, you who is known as the earthly form of the sky lion and who comes from the lines of Daralan Yoningceris, the blue eagle, and Dirro Tomariceris, the canvas of stars”, the elders began in voice in accordance to protocol.
”She listens to the wise words of her elders”, Ranadin answered.
”Members of your family, ancestors of your lines, the one who is celebrated this day, are here with us in the council of elders. Step forth Yoning, the colour of balance, and Tomari, the dust of earth, she who guards the gates of Caroon, the ancient mazes”, the council continued.
”We hear the wise words of the elders”, Ranadin’s grandparents spoke.
”Are those of the family of the one who is celebrated ready to give the one we recognise as the sky lion, the last wish before she steps into the realms of eternal responsibility?” the elders asked.
”Aye”, Tomari answered, but Yoning, Daralan’s father, stayed silent. His silence was appropriate as only one of the family members needed to speak, especially since Ranadin would be Tomari’s heiress.
Following the ways of old, Ranadin knelt in front of the council of elders to speak her wish.
”May the sky see its child who is on her way towards the realms of responsibility, the border that makes the world of a child different the world of those of age. She has come to present her last wish. Let the stars be our witness that we have given the holy promise to grant her wish if it is in accordance to the wellbeing of her being and the being of our community. As it is known that these conditions are followed, may the stars hear the words of the celebrated and let them see it done by the council of elders to their best ability and through the abilities given to us by the star and the skies.”
So spoke the oldest of the elders, and from this Ranadin took her cue.
”Honoured council, hailed heaven, who has shared with us your domain, acclaimed stars who light our paths when the world is dark and who are our brother and sisters, hear my last wish! May it work as the door and its fulfilment as a key for me to move from childhood to be of age, to enter the realm of responsibility. Hear then my only, which is to follow the path laid out by the words of my father, Dirro Tomariceris, the canvas of stars, to follow my destiny and do right by his last wish. It is to free my people and return our honour. And as I have heard these words and dreamed of their fulfilment, I wish to leave Caroon and travel through the domains of men to the last kingdom of our kind and to bring to safety those of our people who have been wrongly imprisoned in the cities of men.”
Ranadin bit he lip nervously as her request caused a restless stir amongst the snakekin of Caroon. The council elders seemed to be as surprised about her request as the other Dratoans. Because of this amazement they were unable to answer and ask for silence that was required from outsiders during the ceremonial proceedings.
Order returned slowly and the first one to recover was Tomari, keeper of the gates, who commanded the people to be quiet. The snakekin respected the guardian, but complete silence was returned only when the rest of the elders returned to their senses and emphasised Tomari’s words.
A troubled silence fell over the Caroonians as the council didn’t know how to proceed with Ranadin’s most unusual request. No one had ever left the mazes for a trip that took more than half a night after the beginning of the golden age of men. The elders exchanged bewildered glances with each other waiting anything to happen, even Ranadin to retract her words. It was Yoning, who had always been a rival of Tomari, who took control of the situation.
”The ceremony of adleten will be halted for the time being”, he declared with an air of authority that was not immediately questioned by the other elders. Before anyone was able to say another thing he continued:
”The council will gather to discuss the request of the celebrated.”
Only when Yoning was leading the council through the mazes, did the others truly realise what had happened and began protesting Yoning’s actions. Never in the history of dragons or snakekin had there been a case when the ceremony of adleten had been halted for any reason. A lack of comparable cases highlighted the unusualness of the whole situation.
Much discussion and debate about what happened followed amongst the inhabitants of Caroon. Some thought that it was impossible to grant such a wish, and others thought that the easiest way was to just let the girl leave on her impossible mission.
The general consensus was that it was about time that Dratoans would rise back to their glory and reclaim their birth right, ruling over the humans. Others thought that it was good to express opinions, when some took no stance at all. There was of course those who had opinions that nobody took really seriously as they made no sense at all and in many cases had nothing to do with the actual topic.
The council deliberated on the matter until sunrise without coming to a conclusion. Even the keeper of the gates could not evaluate how long it would take for the elders to come to some decision. She did not know what to say about the matter, but her silence only encouraged Gav to speak even more.
The snakeman paced restlessly from one end of the family room to the other. It took him only three large steps to come to one end before he had to turn again. Ranadin was staving off her boredom by counting his steps. Gav would not let her go anywhere, but continued ranting and lecturing endlessly. Ranadin didn’t bother to listen to most of it. She quite caught the overall message.
He called her an irresponsible, unthinking child who had no understanding about the evils of the world and thought she knew everything. According to him she was a defiant and spoiled egoist who did not want to live in the shadow of humans. But Gav did not leave it there.
He also attacked himself with several colourful words amongst which he called himself a bad educator and he apparently could not believe that he had been unknowing of his cousin’s plan to ask such an appalling thing that would unbalance their whole city.
”…How could you even think to leave your safe home and your family? A home where you can create and raise your own family? … Do you not love us any longer?”
When her cousin finally tired of his long speech about things that Ranadin had thought about for several years, she got up, turned to her panting cousin and grandmother who had been still as statue this whole time.
”There is one thing that will and never has changed and that is the love I feel for my family. Life here is good and safe, but I have tired of the pain felt by all those who suffer under the rule of humans. I can feel the pain, like a dull ache that never leaves. Their voices call out to me each night and my sleep is uneasy.
”We have surrendered to our fate. Us, who are the most magnificent beings in this world. It is shameful and we should not accept it any longer. We should be soaring through the skies, not underground where we can’t even see the stars when we wish to as we have to fear for our lives constantly if step a foot outside the gates. No more!”
Tomari nodded to Ranadin’s words and got to her feet. She left the room without a word. Gav’s red eyes burned. He watched his white haired cousin intently as the anger simmered in him.
”If they let you leave, I will be coming with you or else I will never forgive you”, he hissed through his teeth.
”Excellent! Now you can get used to the thought.”
Ranadin flashed him an innocent smile and ran out of the room as the meaning of her words sank into him.
She could hear his voice yelling in outrage. She had planned it all along.