Varjan saw a journey of ten thousand days in the face of a flickering fire. The volcanic eruption that birthed him, the sea of blood he had left in his wake as a youth, the glory he had earned as a soldier for the unification of dragons and humans, the strange but fulfilling love he had shared with the human princess of Dragon’s Landing, the inherited rivalry which had doomed one of them to death since their birth. Even as they became distant memories, all burned alive and well once contemplation overtook the bloodlust of the wander-wearied one-winged warrior.
Though Varjan’s fate since he was born was to satisfy his blood feud, to strip the wings off the backs of the other four dragon variants to reunite with the Element (entity from which all life springs), he had long postponed such for the sake of stilling his madness, finding an unexpected respite at the rest spot for all life, no matter their means of origin. Helping others, he found his fire until the death of Arya, the human embassy that gave him shelter, left it cold, and stirred him to stoke the flames of purpose once again.
While Varjan had seen many bathe in the fires of his wrath, he also saw himself in the flickering flames, a metaphor for his past, his present, and his personality. Under the towering visage of his forebearers, he found the perfect distance. The fire he had created was both an unlikely mirror, a metaphor for all the days that he was cursed with as a familiar of fire. As he retreated from it, the fear of the cold forced him to revise his thinking, the directionlessness of navigating a starless night pushed him back to the safety of the shore. Meanwhile, growing close to the fire seared his flesh, sending him into retreat. This isn’t literal, as fire wouldn’t burn a dragon who was blessed with the element of fire. Good thing that metaphors aren’t beholden to the laws of physics.
All this talk of fire, but what of the stars? Humans believed that they were the eyes of their ancestors looking down on them, shining brightest when they were in despair and dullest when they were in a position of comfort. It was no wonder, then, that on the edge of civilization, where the only remnants of guidance that Varjan had was the stone statues of his ancestors looking down upon him, standing as the gatekeepers between chaos and civilization, between the monstrous and the mortal. It was uncertain with whom the name originated, but these statues came to be named the Dragon’s Ribs, probably because they looked like a ribcage offering guidance to the heart of dragonkind: the Polaris Crystal, the lone light for the part of the planet, Avaria, where no other light shines.
The fire was growing colder. Varjan had the option to feed it, yes, but the longer he fed it, the longer he straddled the line between wandering aimlessly and embracing his fate, the longer he would torture himself with memories of the past, the longer he would swim in the fear of not knowing whether or not the one circumstance made both his brother and his rival was truly the last place he had to look.
“The Valley of Black Sand. Brother Aequs, is this really where you’ve gone? Am I so brave that I can follow in your footsteps? I could turn back, live among the humans, forgive their sins, forget they started this war between us with their venomous words. No, forget that last part. Violent is how we are, they just stoked our fears of each other, breaking a fragile peace that was never meant to last.” Varjan pondered. Bowing his head, letting his fatigue consume his demeanor, he cast his senses to the fire with his past grievances.
“Great creators of Dragons’ Landing, give me guidance. Snuff the fire in front of me if I’m meant to follow my brother, and let it rage to the stars above if I should abandon my journey!” Varjan closed his eyes, half expecting the fire to climb to the ceiling. Instead, the bright orange glow that blazed in front of his eyes turned a dark blue. For various reasons, Varjan feared the answer that his predecessors would give him, but the one that he believed fate had handed him was a path towards closure, a satisfactory end to a millennia-old feud.
In but a bound, Varjan’s three wings– one of fire, one of wind, one of earth– propelled him forth to that relic the dragonic held to be sanctimonious. His speed cut through the chilling desert wind, the black sand and the fears of the monsters that were fed human ears via word of mouth by the human caretakers of the border. They were happy to see Varjan when he when I arrived, but when he revealed that he wasn’t long for this world, their expressions turned sour. He was known as a peacekeeper to the far reaches of Avaria. Alas, what a shame that in his hour of need, none were able to bring him peace but himself.
Just as the air trembled with Varjan’s flight, so too did the ground quiver in fear. Sand or not, unlike metaphor, the land that was his unexpected victim was subject to the laws of physics. Even Varjan, whoever, who saw fit to make the ground shake with his step, could not help but be humbled by the radiant glow of a giant blue crystal that towered high enough to harbor the souls of an entire species of insanely powerful creatures. Like he was back in front of the fire again, under the watching eye of his creators, he could only stand back and appreciate the majesty. It was both humbling and terrifying. Varjan, like most dragons, stood around seven feet, and yet standing under the crystal was like standing under a clear blue sky. It was the only liht source that the Valley of Black Sand had, but it was frankly all he needed.
“Aequs,“ he called with no return, “Aequs!”
“Brother.” the sleek water dragon, called a Hydracon, returned. His voice stunned Varjan into silence, so again Aequs called out to him: “Brother!”
Though the echo was thunderous, Aequs’ demeanor was calm as a still pond, bordering on a confident arrogance. Though his footsteps are light, like Varjan’s, Aequs’ feet shook the earth as he walked. The sand absorbed the sound, but as Aequs was a water elemental, the sand hardened beneath his feet, allowing him to walk without issue.
“It’s been too long. I can see in your eyes the pain that you’ve been on a long journey. The years have worn heavy on you.”
“How dare you look down on me?! After all the years I spent away, after cutting off our psychic connection, you think you can stare down at me?!”
“I didn’t mean to offend. I merely meant to show compassion, to console you with kind words so you might go to the end of your long journey easily.”
“One of us will meet our end in a matter of moments, but I thank you for, if nothing else, your kind words. It almost fills me with sorrow to see one of us die.”
“You’re the only one it affects. I was in a dreamlike state that was parallel to death, so it’s hardly a change for me.”
“So by all rights, there’s no loser in this fight, just someone who won’t make it back to their creator.”
“If that’s the path that you’ve chosen. Then I won’t stop you.”
Relating to a great defense being a potent offense, Aequs’ lubricated scales simultaneously became his sword and shield. Meanwhile, Varjan, treating the fire in his fists as his sword and slightly bigger sword. Strategy vs. strength. Each held their own merit, but only one way would allow one to lay the other to rest. As the two collided, fire and water formed a blanket of steam.
With the advent of this strange mist, Aequs’ focus shifted. Though his posture changed, Varjan was unfettered, he was still his same aggressive self. A swift strike staggered Aequs as he stood stagnant. Fire covered his phalanges the same way that water lubricated Aequs’ scales. A collision of elements, like their psychic link had never been severed, like they had never been born from different springs of nature. Their styles of fighting however, like their elements, collided and contradict one another. Aequs was a river in the forest, a calming presence that thought with a clear mind at all times. Likewise, the Hydracon looked at his brother with a condescending empathy, weeping as he wordlessly berated Varjan’s reckless aggression. How ironic that Aequs was now staring down his nose, as this was a sort of naked rage that the two once shared. Aequs used to be less a flowing river than a raging whirlpool: anyone caught in his path was torn apart. Like Varjan, Aequs was rescued from an injury that left him domicile for long enough to ruminate on past injustices, to let the emotional scars heal with the physical. Once Aequs healed, he found his way to this crystal, this sacred artifact that cut dragons from humans and others of their kind. A near-Nirvana bereft of thought, a peace for dragons sanctified by humans and the Element. He had a nature, a manner of being, but the pressure he was placed under tested the strength of his resolve.
Unlike Varjan, Aequs moved past his fetish for conflict, using his strength to protect instead of raze open fields. For his kind, for his protectors, for his own peace of mind, Aequs knew he couldn’t let Varjan off his leash. No, he knew as soon as he saw Varjan that only one would walk away, and that if his brother sought conflict, it would be foolish to let him live. So, when Varjan swung with his trademark reckless abandon, like humans did when they used fear to turn humans and dragons against each other, he used Varjan’s own innate aggression as a countermeasure against a supposedly stronger creature. When Varjan broke through the steam, Aequs moved his punch to the side with the ease of a feather floating in a lake. The fiery rage behind Varjan’s punch was quickly cooled by a calm hand. Suddenly, like a tsunami catching a fishing village unawares, Varjan’s haste gave rise to an opening for a counterattack, his deflected punch leaving an opening to strike Varjan’s neck. Remember, with enough speed, water can even cut through metal.
Feeling Aequs’ open-fisted strike closing in on him, Varjan panicked in the midst of his punch, shifting to a haphazard defense and mitigating the blow as best as he could. The strike sent him flying beyond the fingers of his ancestors. A small price, surely, for the ability to survive past his temporarily apparent expiration date. Like a stone skipping on a pond, Varjan’s body was sent careening, bouncing haphazardly across the naked dunes of the black sands at the ends of the Earth. Most times, however, the rock skips carelessly, unaware of the force that cast it forth. Sometimes, if the skimmer is unskilled, the rock will simply sink. Rarely, if ever, does the rock bounce back and attack its launcher, but in this case, this was the best way to summarize Varjan’s reaction.
With the might he could summon from his own loins, Varjan returned serve. While he was in the face of Aequs, he quickly halted his momentum. Varjan’s halt again launched sand into the face of his brother. Likewise, he weaponized his wing and struck Aequs in the side. Aequs’ strength was by no means close combat. Even if by some miracle, Aequs was made stronger by his years of meditation, Varjan would still be a bad match. The latter held the power of earth, wind, and fire.
By Varjan’s mercy and Aequs’ elusivity, the battle continued to rage for hours. Aequs would occasionally land a blow cleanly, but the discrepancy in strength and the healing mist made sure nothing truly progressed beyond a stalemate. That was, of course, until a third party stepped in to expedite the process and offer a hope of resolution. A wind dragon, a Galeic, emerged from the distance, canvassing the terrain with a curious win, causing the environmental hazard to dissipate. As they were involved with other matters, the dragons were nescient to the third party. That was, of course, until the creature, a lightfooded Galeic with a voice as wispy as the wind, reintroduced words into this prolonged pugnacity.
“Water. Calm from a distance, only hostile once tempted. Fire, enemy to all but so quick to burn itself.” the Galeic, Illa, said with a pretentious airiness. Clearly, she heard the legend about wind dragons being the Element’s favorite because she sure was good at putting on airs.
“Please, pay me no mind. Continue with this ruffian scrum of yours.”
“Why even come down here if you’re just going to look down on us?” Varjan asked.
“Well, there was this repugnant odor coming from around here and I thought I’d do a service. Just because there are no people around doesn’t mean we need to let ourselves fall into disrepair.” Illa explained. The psychic link between Aequs and Varjan was severed, but with a glance they shared a thought: this bitch.
“Aequs. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ve been holding back until now. Unlike you, I have a sense of honor among combatants. But just say the word, and I’ll end it all.”
“You always were the confident sort, weren’t you,” Aequs laughed, “fine, but I’m giving it everything I’ve got, as well. By the end of the day, one of us are going to know what the Element looks like!”
The wings on Varjan’s back violently vibrated, kicking up black sand as his skin shifted from tan and red to covered in glowing ashy brown patches, glowing as a symbol of a (hu)man(oid) possessed. Meanwhile, Aequs shed his scales, as if he unlocked the luminous glow of the Polaris Crystal. Varjan’s body was so hot that his body melted as they stood across from him, while Aequs’ newfound might was unshackling his soul from his body, was unshackling himself from his bodily avatar, so though neither said so, each one of them knew that this would be their final attack. As the two prepared for collision, it was almost as if their power was shaking the realm of the gods itself. Varjan, holstering the power of the three wings on his back.
Finally, with a great roar, Varjan and Aequs charged towards each other. Raising his fist, Varjan screamed as though his skin was on fire (oh… right). Meanwhile, while Aequs’ movement was quick, he stopped short of Varjan’s fist. Slipping under the fiery punch of his Burnjaw brethren, Aequs’ gambit paid off. For a moment, they shared a glance, one that communicated all of Varjan’s fear and all of Aequs’ empathy.
I’m sorry we had to meet again like this, Aequs apologized telepathically, I see the pain you hold in your heart, the fear that you won’t be remembered for your bravery but instead your moments of weakness where you resorted to deception. I’m sure you already know this, but humans have no right to judge our burdens. They are the ones we stand against each other to this day. I see your past. Though it might be a fool’s dream, I hope we can be allies in the next life. I feel your pain, your belief that we cannot exist in the same world, and this strikes my heart so with equal remorse. Whoever you become, I’ll bless you from the realm beyond flesh. Sleep easy, brother.”