Dragon Keepers -- chapter 7
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Olridian and Hadrian followed the rest of the procession, as Tor led the way through the long hallway to what he guessed was the first of the three circular chambers he had noticed when they had all first gathered outside the great hall. The hallway was made from the same rich blue lapis as the rest of the structure. There were no discernable ventilation ducts, but the air that flowed through was a little cooler and fresher than in the great hall. Unlike the great hall, which was decidedly stark aside from the dragon mosaic, the walls of the hallway were all richly decorated with large hanging tapestries attached to the walls. Luminescent quartzite globes were set into the walls between each of the tapestries, shedding a mild, cool and ambient light that lit each of them evenly and clearly, displaying in magnificent detail the histories of dragon- and keeper-kind by recording for prosperity, the deeds of the most notable and heroic of their number.
As Olridian passed them by, he made a mental note to come back later for a proper look. One tapestry, though, captured his attention, and he paused to examine it a bit closer. The tapestry looked ancient, but was extremely well preserved. It occurred to him that maybe a touch of `meddling' was keeping it that way, but that was hardly the reason why his curiosity had been piqued. There was something about this tapestry that niggled at him. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was something about the keeper who was portrayed, that had caused him to pause. His examination revealed that he couldn't define whether the keeper was male or female. The clothes they wore were from a period or place he had not seen before, so he couldn't tell whether they were meant for a male or female. Further study of the keeper revealed a remarkable lack of any distinguishing masculine or feminine characteristics. Instead, they seemed to posses a harmonious androgyny that combined both, and served only to confuse Olridian further.
"I suppose now is as good a time as any for a history lesson," Hadrian whispered, from just over his shoulder, causing him to jump a little.
"Was I that obvious?" he replied.
"Just a bit, as we've been left behind by everyone else. Let's pick up the pace a bit, and I'll fill you in on the way."
Hadrian collected his thoughts before beginning to weave his tale. "That tapestry was one of the first ones ever commissioned. There were others, but most have been moved to the Temple archives. The keeper in the tapestry is Udanakarashakavore Delatienatharaka, and has particular prominence here, because aside from being one of the very first Lord-Keepers, they were also the chief architect of this entire keep. In the beginning, as with all subsequent summonings, there were forty summoned, but unlike all others, there were twenty dragons instead of the normal ten. The forty that were summoned, though, were required to construct this, the first keep, before the selection could begin." Hadrian explained animatedly, waving his large arms for emphasis.
Olridian was having a little difficulty concentrating on the conversation, as Hadrian's proximity to him caused all sorts of reactions in him that he wasn't quite prepared for. He shook his head to clear it and tried focusing on the conversation.
"Denasi was present for the first summoning. Prior to selection, she performed a ritual that would separate each of them and ultimately result in our species."
"I see you're a little confused, but I'll explain. The first summoned were all Old-Ones who, until that time, were an immortal hermaphroditic race that had little need for procreation because of their immortality. Sure, they could be killed by disease or as a result of combat, but in their later years their ever-growing mastery over all fields of magic and uses of potential threatened to destroy all that the gods had created."
"But that is another story in itself."
"The other gods had noticed the same thing amongst their own peoples, and so, in order to protect the balance, they all decided to refashion their original creations in much the same way. The separation process caused the summoned to separate into not just two individual beings, but brought about two separate sexes as well. As the individuation process was taking place, Denasi removed from our species the natural affinity for magic that had corrupted our ancestors, because there were those who had succumbed to the lures of power, and set about enslaving not only those of their species who weren't strong enough to resist their might, but also whole tracts of land and the creatures that inhabited them."
"Thus were the first true Tyrants born, because there were few, if any, who could stop them. The separation of the Old Races had another, almost unforeseen, consequence. It rendered them all mortal, so the desire to reproduce needed to be added to our ancestor's genetic make up to prevent the absolute extinction of our species. After all the changes had taken place, there were now eighty individuals, and the first set of keeper pairs were all hetero. The genetic tags for homosexuality not being added until the next summoning, which wouldn't take place for another hundred or so years."
"The male offspring of the male keepers would go on to create the great houses, and begin a patriarchal line of descent. Female offspring would create the great families, and a matriarchal line of descent. The offspring of the other summoned would create the minor houses, families, tribes, and clans that in a few short years, under Denasi's blessing, would soon come to populate Tar'El." Hadrian's dialogue ended there, because the group had stopped to wait for something.
Olridian drank in the information as they walked along, and was broken from his contemplation of the implications by their sudden stop. He looked up, a little fuzzy from his deep thought process, and became a little awed by what he saw.
The procession had stopped in front of two large wooden doors, made from a type of wood he had never seen before. On each of the doors was an enormous carving of a dragonet; both of them facing inwards. The doors both had scroll work bordering around the dragonets, both of which were standing up on their hind paws with their forepaws resting against the borders. And while they were portrayed as being enormous on these doors, in real life they were about the same size as a small horse; and as such, were sometimes trained as cavalry mounts, though most were trained for squadrons or scouting packs. In appearance, they resembled their parents, but they lacked the wings. All bore tusks, but they didn't have the sharp ridges down their backs, so riders didn't have to worry about impaling themselves should they come to a sudden stop.
Suddenly the doors opened, and as the procession entered, thunderous applause greeted them. The chamber that they entered resembled a mini amphitheatre divided into quarters around a large central platform. The quarters were divided by walkways that each led to a door like the one through which they had entered Each of the quarters had terraced seating that went up for about five levels, and were crammed full of people all standing and clapping as they entered and made their way down the aisle. It wasn't until the keepers, dragons, and adepts were all on the central platform that the applause began to subside.
A grizzled old man stepped down from a chair in the north-eastern quarter, and approached Pelath on shaky legs. He stopped before him and bowed, before addressing him in a surprisingly rich baritone.
"Greetings new keepers, and honored guests. We gather in celebration today of this momentous occasion, and offer you our congratulations. My name is Wakeduned Arimonitel, master brood trainer, and chief of staff for this keep. I pledge my allegiance to you, Lord-Keeper, and by extension the others who have been selected today, and ask the rest of the gathered to rise and do the same."
One by one, everybody in the stands rose, introduced themselves, and pledged their allegiance to Pelath and the other keepers. The ceremony took a while, and Olridian found himself dozing a little as everyone filed past. Hadrian gave him a nudge that was a little harder than was intended, and just about sent him sprawling; but he found his feet just in time. He gave Hadrian a fake withering look, before quietly chuckling under his breath.
"What was that for?" Olridian asked, knowing full well that he had been snapped.
"Your snoring was beginning to interfere with the ceremony, and keeping the rest of us from being able to do the same," Hadrian replied with a grin. "Sorry about the nudge; I didn't mean to do it so hard. I don't realize my own strength, sometimes. Want me to explain what this is all about?"
"Would you? I know there's got to be a point to all this, but for the life of me, I can't figure it out," Olridian whispered, so that only Hadrian could hear.
"Sure. This is the cloister Ar-Tan, the main meeting hall for those in the keep who have been selected to be either brood trainers, who raise the baby dragonets to maturity, or squadron directors, who prepare the dragonets for military service. You'll notice that there are a lot of them, and that's because there are always lots of dragonets with every hatching. Each female dragon is capable of laying up to twenty dragonet eggs per ten-year spawning. The average life span of dragonets is about thirty years, the first nine spent in maturation before they are selected for their packs."
"Some dragonets, though, become bonded to human beings; just how or why is still unknown. But those that do so aren't capable of joining a pack, because their brood bonds are severed. Unless their bonded human wants to become a dragon knight, they will normally become little more than glorified house pets who, more often than not, will be treated better than the person's own family members. This is probably due in large part to the psychic link that is established between dragonet and bonded; somewhat like the link between a keeper and a dragon. Oh! I think we're just about finished. See those people there? Yes, I thought you might; this is what happens to those first twenty who were culled off at the beginning of the selection. They become brood trainers or squadron leaders, who mass bond with each other and the dragonets that they would care for."
Sure enough, the twenty who were led out of the hall earlier, were the last to file past and pledge their allegiance, before once again taking their seats. At the completion, Wakeduned rose from his seat and bid the rest of the gathered to do the same, before bowing gracefully, for one so old. The rest of the room did the same, and with perfect timing, the doors at the rear of the cloister Ar-Tan opened, to reveal another hallway. Pelath bowed to Wakeduned, before Tor once again led them through to the hallway beyond.
Another long hallway; but instead of being decorated with tapestries of keepers, these tapestries showed the bloodlines that descended from the first summoned, and the keepers who achieved ancestor status over the fifty thousand or so years of human existence. Quartzite globes illuminated the tapestries the same as they did in the first hallway, and as fascinating as they were, Olridian resisted the urge to peruse them further. Hadrian snickered beside him, and Olridian shot him an evil look.
"What?" Olridian asked, even though he already knew the answer.
"Just waiting for you to start with the questions, or hold us up again, or get so bored of staring at all the names that you fall asleep before stepping in as your unofficial tour guide," Hadrian replied, with a completely straight face.
"Smart ass," Olridian muttered under his breath, with a grin. Hadrian just chuckled, as they continued along the hallway, as silent as all the others.
Before long, the procession stood before another set of huge double doors made from the same unidentifiable wood as the ones leading into the cloister Ar-Tan. But instead of the enormous dragonet carvings, these doors each had a carving of a dragonarl, who was also facing inwards. While Olridian had heard of dragonarls, he had never seen one before, as their appearance outside of keeps, royal courts, embassies, and colleges of magic were rare. The pictured dragonarls resembled human-dragon half breeds. Generally, they grew no taller than about six feet. They were bi-pedal creatures, and like humans, they had four fingers and an opposable thumb on each hand that gave them the same advantages, though they had retractable claws, instead of fingernails on each hand. Their skin was scaled, like their parents, and while it was obvious that they were of the dragon species, their facial features were surprisingly human, as their snouts were flatter and less pronounced than their parents'. They were also fully lipped, and as was commonly known, had vocal chords that allowed them to speak mortal languages, unlike their parents and smaller siblings. The dragonarls were clothed in robes much like the ones that the adepts were wearing, though they lacked the cowls that were traditionally worn by adepts. Their hands were outstretched in front of themselves, almost like they were reaching for each other, but the gap where the door opened prevented them from ever touching. What their feet looked like was unknown because the hem of the robe covered them in the picture. They paused before the door once again, and after only a moment the doors were opened, allowing them access to the next chamber.
Entering this chamber was completely different from the first one, as a reverent silence greeted them. This chamber was also markedly different to the last, as instead of having terraced seating, the floor was completely flat, but was sectioned into quarters, with each of the quarters being again sectioned into three distinct areas, each of which bore a symbol representing one of the twelve major schools of magic. There was a large, slightly raised circular area in the middle of the room, much like the first chamber, to which the keepers were again led.
All around them stood initiates, novices, priests, masters, and adepts, all identifiable by the color and cut of their robes, and all standing on one of the twelve symbols that probably indicated their area of expertise.
At least that's what Olridian thought, until he felt the pulsating, rhythmic thrum of potential in the room, and realized that this room was, in fact, a node; a place of enormous power that was linked directly to the planetary potential core itself. The sections and symbols, while decorative, served another purpose. They acted like a faucet on a tap that regulated the flow of potential as the magics invested in each of the panels could be removed or replaced, level by level, in order to adjust the flow.
Each of the panels was also aspected to a particular type of potential, as indicated by the symbols, and changed the flavour of potential energies that flowed through them. In naturally-occurring nodes, the potential was always undiluted, and when accessed, very spectacular, though often at the expense of the mage accessing it. Most nodes where located early in the history of the planets' existence (well, the major ones anyway), and were either capped in much the same manner as present, corrupted by Tyrant Keloyan (as the Old-Ones referred to themselves, hence their language - Keloi),.or depleted from overuse. Occasionally new nodes were formed, especially after particularly bad earthquakes or lightning storms, though most were normally minor in nature, and quickly depleted.
Four mages approached Pelath, all wearing the typical blue colour of adepts in their chosen fields, but each had different colours and shading around the sleeves, hems, and the cowls of their robes. The cowls were pulled back, revealing their faces, though Olridian hardly noticed them; he was too busy trying to keep himself awake. His sleepless night, last night, was really making it difficult for him to concentrate on the business at hand. He was thankful that there weren't quite as many people here as there were in the last cloister, so this shouldn't take as long, hopefully.
A tall blonde woman, whom Olridian guessed to be in her late twenties to early thirties, stepped forward from the group and stepped a little closer to Pelath, while others held a step back. She bowed low, before addressing him.
"Greetings, new keepers and honored guests. We gather in celebration today of this momentous occasion and offer you our congratulations. My name is Tanig Ben-Heseg, Head of the Spectrum Council which presides over the Tower of High Magic here in Aletium city. I pledge my allegiance to you, Lord-Keeper, and by extension the others who have been selected today, and ask the rest of the gathered to do the same."
"Talk to me please, Hadrian. I'm finding it hard to stay awake, here. My lack of sleep is starting to catch up with me, and these formalities are wearing me a little thin," Olridian said, barely suppressing a yawn that threatened.
"Of course. These here people are called mages, and they have the uncanny ability to use hoodoo against people that they don't like very much..."
"Very funny. Could you try to be just a little serious, please, for me?"
"Sorry; thought you could use the laugh to wake you up, but obviously..."
"No, that's okay. This whole thing is just taking so long, and all I really want to do is just curl up someplace and go to sleep. Hell, I'd do it right here if I could, but last time I tried that, you just about sent me flying across the room."
"Hey, I said I was sorry. Sheesh, you are a grump, aren't you?"
"Gotcha! Seriously, though, I'm too tired to listen to this perpetual droning. Tell me something interesting. That should keep me awake long enough to get to where-ever we need to go, and get all of this over and done with. I can hear my bed calling me, and it's getting louder by the moment."
"Okay, then. Well, this is the cloister Ar-Kedu, the main gathering place for the high mages when they need to access the node for some of their more demanding magics and rituals. There is a Tower of High Magic, the headquarters of the Spectrum Council, located up at the keep proper, as well as the great college in the main city. As this is part of Pelath's ascension ceremony, he must be greeted by representatives of each of the five levels of mastery for each of the twelve magical disciplines who have been given the authority to pledge allegiance for the members of their respective sphere of magic. In this way they are binding themselves to protect and serve him for the duration of his reign, and in his acceptance he is promising to protect them in times of need. The initiates who were the next to be culled in the selection process have been briefed about their options, their necessary rituals have been performed and they have been released for the day. Don't worry, not too much more to do today and then you can go seek out your bed in your new quarters if you so wish but you need to be up and ready for the feast later on tonight."
"Oh, no; don't remind me. I didn't eat properly this morning, and I'm starving, too."
"You had plenty of time to have breakfast this morning. I would have thought that you'd have been first into the cafeteria, if you couldn't sleep last night. Or were you and Pelath too busy exploring each other similarities?" Hadrian asked, with a lascivious grin.
"Um... Not exactly..." Olridian filled Hadrian in with all the details of what had happened earlier this morning, up until the beginning of the selection process, while they waited for the formalities to be completed.
Hadrian listened intently as Olridian spilled his guts, and was unconsciously drawn into the emotional rollercoaster ride that the two guys had been on today. `No wonder he's tired,' he thought quietly to himself, as the story came to its conclusion.
"Holies... You've been through quite a bit in the past few hours, haven't you? Damn, me and Ty grafted ourselves to each other on the first day. Hell, we even..." Hadrian paused, as if he had just remembered something, and looked up to see that Ty was looking at the two of them, a mischievous grin on his face while he held a finger to his lips. Hadrian blushed a bit, and chuckled a little sheepishly, casting a sidelong glance at Olridian, who was waiting for the rest of the story, but noted his embarrassment, and grinned knowingly.
"You get used to having another person know exactly what you're thinking. It's a little spooky to begin with, but it soon becomes very comforting," Hadrian said, by way of explanation.
"Let me guess; you just got snapped, and now you're doing a back-peddle."
"Ah..., yeah. Something like that," Hadrian replied evasively, looking a little uncomfortable, and still blushing.
Olridian chuckled, and watched the last of the mages approach Pelath and pledge their allegiance. Tanig stepped forward again, and bowed low before Pelath, the sea of people around them doing the same. He returned the gesture before the doors at the rear of the cloister opened, and Tor led them through the next hallway, and on to the next cloister. Olridian just wanted to get everything over and done with, and hoped against hope that this would be the end of it.
End Chapter 7
Post Script: Hey guys and girls, thanks for all the great feedback from last chapter. Sorry that it was so short, but there was only so much that I could discuss in it without ruining this chapter. I apologize in advance for ending this chapter here, but I need to change perspectives for the next chapter to have the proper impact. And while body-jumping was okay at the beginning to explain the emotional and relationship development with the two main characters, it gets a bit annoying for the reader when you're trying to follow what - for all intents and purposes - should be a rather straightforward world-building process, so please don't jump on my neck for disappointing you with this rather abrupt ending. The next chapter is going to be a bit of a head-spinner, and will take a bit longer for me to write up as I thresh out the smaller details; so patience, please. I am also working on another three stories, two of which can be found on my group, and the other a gift to my friend Maddason. If you want to view it, I suggest you join her group at:
Because it is as I said; it's a gift to her for her friendship, undying support, and amazing literary talent in homo-erotica, in spite of the fact that she's a girl. Not to mention the fact that she swore to hunt me down and cause me grievous bodily harm if I didn't.