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Meeting Xethonteror

It was late when Vagan returned to the quiet comfort of his lair. Shrugging off his pack, he tossed it into the corner of his living quarters and flung himself face down on a large puff. While most of his brethren preferred to settle their avian forms in chairs, Vagan found them too restrictive; he liked the way the puff formed to his body, allowed him to stretch out completely.

Propping his tufted chin on his wingclaws, Vagan stared at the wall. The anger he’d felt seething inside of him due to King Arex’fay’s incompetence was slowly draining away, down through the floor and out of his body. Slowly, relaxation filled his mind and he sighed. Vagan was a Vahazayan who preferred to have control over his own immortal life, but the insistence he’d felt in his grove, and again in King’s lair, bespoke an otherworldly influence. That did not sit well with him at all.

Like most of his generation, those who’d grown up under Solarius’ guidance, he saw the golden paladin as his father, not a godling as those who’d come after his death. Of course, death was a foreign concept to the Vahazayi -- the finality of it all was not something they came into contact with regularly. One grew old and took oneself to the pyre to be rejuvenated. The death of a Vahazayi was so rare that it threw the community into a near apoplexy almost every time it happened. Where mortals held their beliefs of immortal souls and life after death, the Vahazayi did not consider such things. They were immortal already.

So Vagan lay there thinking. Was it possibly, he thought, that he was being manipulated from the other side? Such a concept did not shock him -- there were many things he’d seen in his almost billion years of existence, that if it were true, he wouldn’t have blinked. But Vagan did not like being manipulated.

Flipping over, he rolled his cool grey eyes towards the high arch of the ceiling, crossed his wingclaws over his chest. Be it a god or some deep instinct that was prodding him, he knew that he had to keep King in power. Slowly, the millennia of listening to Shekeira’s and Ventrishika’s ramblings began to make sense. The words he’d tossed at King hours before in the heat of the moment, which he’d had no connection to, took on a whole new meaning. Perhaps those two weren’t that wrong after all. Vagan knew that the accusations some of the Vahazayi rained on their heads were more out of fear of change than anything else. Indeed: what would immortals need with change?

Yet, change was what they needed.

Sighing, Vagan’s mind wandered. What would Shekeira do?

Yes, why couldn’t it be Shekeira upon whose head this whole travesty fell?

Fuck, he thought acidly. With another deep sigh, Vagan pressed all the corners of his vast mind, trying to find a solution. Tomorrow, he would go and ask Calgon Shekeira for his aid in training King; but that would not be enough. Swalecain was bound and determined to become the Lord of all Vahazayi; he would not keep to the rules of combat.

And that meant neither did King.

A slow, caustic smile crept up on Vagan’s black beak. He sat up, a plan suddenly coming to mind. There would be an element of danger, for if Swalecain found out where he was going, he could be overwhelmed by his cronies. As superior a fighter as Vagan was, he would be no match for a dozen balls of Phoenix Fire.

As an afterthought, the bronze-silver darted into his bedroom and plucked his warcollar from its protective niche. Slipping the well-worn accoutrement over his lithe, shimmering neck, Vagan called the Whavehole right then and there.

The journey was a short one. The dragon planet wasn’t that far from Phoenixia, larger by a third than the Vahazayi world. Slipping from the wide blue marble maw of the transport, Vagan rose high above the clouds, his pointed wings making travel so much quicker without having to resort to Living Fire.

He hoped he recalled the mental signature of ancient Kaevonteror correctly, if he were ever to find one of the Red Terror’s descendants.

Wide open plains passed beneath Vagan’s bronze belly, near-replicas of the ones that Phoenixia possessed. And yet King banished them, he thought grimly. Personally, Vagan had never a problem with the dragons, nor with their wyvern cousins. Yet, whatever they had done to King brought about their expulsion from Phoenixia. Twice removed from a home they had loved, Vagan recalled.

Slowly, the signature he’d been following grew stronger as he honed in on a scion of Kaevonteror. Throwing caution to the wind, Vagan slipped well below the cloud line, in full view of any dragon who chanced to look up. His pinions flared, their black tips scooping up air in preparation for landing; long black legs with their silver claws stretched out, knees canted. With his silver wave of a tail cascading behind him in a glorious wave, Vagan coasted in, claws striking the golden plain and sinking deep.

With a flip, he’d folded his wings into order, hooking his wingclaws before his chest. The cave that stood before him was sunk low into the plain grass, the mouth barely visible among the tall yellow stalks. The Falcon-Head stayed where he was, knowing that if this was a true scion of Kaevonteror, he would know that he was here.

Sure enough, not a moment passed when a great black head appeared at the entrance to the cave. Vaguely equine in form, the flaring black nostrils blew smoke into the crisp morning air. Baleful, gleaming fuchsia eyes stared at the Vahazayan, eye ridges creased in defense. “Who are you?” the deep booming voice demanded. Behind the head, the body shuffled, wings rustling in case he had to attack.

“Vagan Falcon-Head, of the Vahazayi.”

The fuchsia eyes blinked, the muzzle quivered in surprise. Slowly, the great behemoth heaved himself out of the cavern entrance, looming fifty feet above Vagan. Looking him up and down, Vagan was quite impressed: his ancestor’s blood bred true, then. The mighty red dragon, Kaevonteror Zenith, had reached well over one hundred feet in length before he died. His gleaming red hide and furious fuchsia eyes only deviated a person from the weapon that made him stand out amongst his kind -- an arm length triangular black tailblade. It was with this tailblade and bloodthirsty nature that had led a young Kaevonteror on a rampage across this world, killing any dragon, male or female, who stood in his way. But some time during this reign of terror, he stopped and took up the position as apprentice to the high mage of dragonkind, eventually becoming the wisest and most powerful leader they had ever had.

Kae had refrained from saying what exactly it was that had changed his mind, but he told Vagan once that it had been very profound. Now, Vagan stood before his scion, hoping that the blood was just as strong.

The black dragon’s silver throat membrane quivered as he took in the slight avian before him. “A Vahazayi? Aren’t you the ones who banished us?”

“Our Lord did, yes. But that is not why I am here. I come seeking a scion of the Red Terror -- are you such a one?”

Again, the membrane quivered. The black lowered his head, unsure. “I am Xethonteror; Kaevonteror was my ancestor. But, why do you seek me?”

With a mental smile, Vagan inclined his head. He hadn’t lost his touch after all. “I knew your esteemed ancestor a very long time, Xethonteror. His courage and fierceness in a fight was unmatched. For those reasons, I come seeking your aid in a matter.”

The black dragon stretched out his forepaws and rested his great frame on the ground before his cave. From behind, a long tail flicked, its tip graced with the very same blade Kaevonteror possessed. The fuchsia eyes narrowed as he considered Vagan’s words. “What matter would a Vahazayi need the aid of a mortal dragon?”

Ah, how to put it? “There is unrest on Phoenixia, Xethonteror. One of us seeks to overthrow our Lord and claim all his rights and powers. This cannot pass.”

Long black claws tapped the turf before him. Xethonteror raised his head, the great thick jaw clenching as he thought. “Is this the very same Lord who banished us for wrongs undetermined?”

Ah, ikcherie. “Aye, he is.”

“Then why should I aid you? Haven’t my people suffered enough humiliation?”

Leaning forward, Vagan willed his normally-backwards canted crest up in a show of good will. “Listen, and then decide. The one who seeks to overthrow King Arex’fay is called Swalecain. If the tales you were told about King were bad, Swalecain is worse. King suffers from paranoia and selfishness. Swalecain wishes only power. He would bastardize our position as Guardians, make us conquer the Universe. I do not want that; you do not want that.”

The gears turning in Xethonteror’s head were visible through his wide eyes. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“Your ancestor, the Red Terror, trusted me. And I am sure you have been told that Kae trusted few.”

“Kae.” Xethonteror breathed the name as if it were forbidden. “My ancestor did not allow people to call him ‘Kae’ … only …”

“Those whom he trusted,” Vagan finished smoothly, knowing that he had hit home. Things were looking better and better by the moment. Perhaps this threat by Swalecain wasn’t so bad after all. “And he severely beat or killed those whom he did not if they called him anything but his true name.”

“Aye,” Xethonteror echoed faintly. He lowered his head and stared at the bronze-silver Falcon-Head. “And what role would I play in preventing this coup?”

“I do not trust Swalecain to play by the rules. The law of the Challenge states that a Vahazayi must use only his natural weapons -- no magic, no fire, no other talents he or she might possess. If he breaks the rules -- and he will, I know -- I will have you waiting in the Whavehole, ready to attack when he does.”

Nodding, the black curled his hands before him. “And what do I receive in return?”

“Access to the Whavehole, as Solarius deigned long ago. Passage between here and Phoenixia.”

The dragon considered. For a long time. As he did, Vagan waited patiently, far more patiently than he would have for anyone else. After a long time, Xethonteror nodded. “I agree. And call me Xen.”

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