by Debbie Mumford
Luag sat tail curled around paws in the great gallery of the ice aerie. The massive black dragon closed his eyes, basking in the cold solidity of the cavern floor, soothed by the soft susurrus of scales sliding on ice. He inhaled deeply, dragon smoke and the unique tang of glacial ice— the scents of family and home.
Content, he opened his eyes and let his gaze travel up the smoothly carved blue-gray walls to the curved dome with its sparkles of refracted light. Bright passageways led off in every direction, their rounded openings glowing with possibility. The dragons who had created this aerie had been masters of light and space. Their creation never ceased to amaze and delight Luag.
He swung his great head in a slow arc, studying his fellow dragons. So many colors— malachite, bronze, garnet, azure, and every hue in between. Such a range of sizes; from the smallest hatchling to the mightiest elder. These were his weyr-mates. The dragons he had grown to adulthood among. If fate were kind, they were the dragons he would lead into the future. He bowed his head, fully aware of the honor the aerie did him in acknowledging him as rex-in-waiting.
He had always known and accepted his destiny. Had studied diligently and spent every moment he could find in the company of his rex. For the Rex was not simply the leader of his flight, a dragon to be admired and emulated, he was also Luag’s foster father. The male who had watched over him and his siblings since the moment their eggs had cracked. The adult who had always been there for him, whether to answer the questions of a naive fledgling, or to discuss philosophy with the adult he had become. The Rex was authority personified, but more than that, he represented all that was good and just among dragon-kind. Luag prayed to the First Egg to have a tenth of his mentor’s wisdom when the time came for him to lead the aerie.
A firm but gentle thought nudged the link in Luag’s mind. He opened immediately, welcoming his rex. You’re very quiet today, young black. Is anything amiss?
No, honored one. I am merely thoughtful.
Brooding, some might say.
Luag’s head snapped up and he searched the hall for his foster father. Their gazes locked across a sea of dragon scales. Brooding, honored one? Why would you say that?
Join me on the ridge, answered the Rex. We can discuss what ails you while we sun.
Biting back the impulse to deny that he was ailing, Luag inclined his head while maintaining eye contact with his rex. As you wish, honored one. Some time in the sun will be pleasant.
The Rex huffed his amusement and moved toward the entrance to the great gallery. Luag followed from across the room.
A short flight later, the two massive males settled into well-worn stone depressions on the ridge above the aerie’s entrance. The afternoon sun shone upon perhaps a dozen dragons lounging in various states of wakefulness, though the Rex had chosen wallows well away from the others. Not that their conversation could be overheard. Dragon telepathy ensured that only those meant for any given conversation would be able to take part.
The Rex stretched onto the warm rock with a sigh of relaxation, closed his eyes for a moment, and then prodded Luag with a thought. Now, tell me why you’ve been so preoccupied these past weeks. Surely you’re not mourning Brandubh’s loss.
Luag followed his mentor’s example and relaxed into his depression, letting the warmth of the rock seep upwards into his belly while the sun’s afternoon rays heated his back and unfurled wings. Brandubh isn’t lost. He’s hale and hearty and thoroughly in love. I do miss seeing him, but he’s only a thought away. One of these days I’ll visit him and Ghaliya in the collective’s new weyr, but for now, I’m content to let him wrangle his hatchlings without my assistance.
The Rex nodded. That is as it should be. Brandubh and his bond-mate are settling into their new life and enjoying their clutch. I’m glad to know you’re neither pining for your twin nor jealous of his happiness, but something is not right. Tell me so that we may find a cure.
The last vestiges of tension flowed from Luag’s body as he considered the last several months. Morag and Goban’s eggs had hatched. He now had two nephews and a niece here in the ice aerie. The blue female and the green male had already shifted forms numerous times, but the charcoal male had remained stolidly dragon. Brandubh and Ghaliya’s clutch had also hatched revealing two shifter hatchlings, and two who had shown no indication of the family magic. One of the non-shifters would have plenty of magical ability regardless, for he was a gold.
And there was the heart of his discontent. The aching tooth that his tongue refused to let be. A gold. A magic-user. A dragon who would never join Luag in the ice aerie. He opened his eyes to find the Rex studying him, waiting patiently.
I’m concerned, honored one. About the seeming antipathy between our home and magic. I’m not disappointed that Brandubh and Ghaliya chose the collective as their flight. I’m concerned that they had no choice, that Ghaliya could not comfortably live in the ice aerie. What would have happened to her gold egg had she remained? And then there’s Taran; he was so ill as a dragon. Would he have suffered so if he’d been hatched and raised in a different environment? What is it about our aerie that stunts the flow of magic and prevents gold eggs from being clutched?
The Rex nodded, his eyes somber. These are excellent questions, Luag, and ones that touch your family deeply. I have no answers. Your mother, Sorcha, was the first to report the link between the ice aerie and a lack of magic, but frankly, no one paid that problem much heed. After all, she was a human wizard transformed into a dragon by the Heart of Fire. We’d never before seen her like. Had no idea what to expect. I think we all assumed her human magic was simply incompatible with dragon physiology. Taran is also a human wizard, his ailment could have had the same roots. But Ghaliya? No. Ghaliya is fully dragon. There is no reason she should have suffered here. He paused, sighed, shook his head, and continued. At least, there is no reason we remember.
Luag shifted in his wallow, furling his wings and turning his body to better catch the descending sun’s rays. Breathing deeply, he savored the scent of warm rock, icy run-off, and crisp, clean air. He loved the ice aerie, with its tunnels and lairs carved from the blue-white ice of a living glacier. He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. One by one, his siblings had discovered their destinies, but his had never been in question. He belonged here, among dragons, in the cool depths of the ice aerie.
Aislinn had chosen to bond with a human, to join the royal family of Rossal. He wished her happy and had been delighted when she had given birth to a healthy shifter son, but he had no desire to live his life among his mother’s people. Not even in Glengorm where his parents, Sorcha and Caedyrn, and his siblings Taran and Eibhlinn made their homes.
Eibhlinn. He sighed as he thought of his gentle, emerald green sister. Her road to bonding had not been smooth and he’d worried about her during the last several months as she endured her trials. Still, she had emerged with a beautiful, thoroughly human, infant daughter… and a crown. For despite a disastrous first mating (with a human cad) and an illegitimate (by human standards) infant, Eibhlinn had formed a true bond with Leofric, King of All Glengorm, and was now his queen.
Sighing once more, he shook his great head. No, human form was fine for a visit, but he wouldn’t want to wear it permanently.
Nor was he interested in joining Brandubh, his physical twin, in the new weyr Ghaliya and Taran had created in a dormant volcano off the coast of Rossal. Like Morag, his home was here. But it galled him to learn that his beloved ice aerie had a flaw. A potentially dangerous one.
Share your thoughts, foster son. What are you thinking?
Luag blinked, returning to his conversation with the Rex. I need to know why, he said, meeting his foster father’s gaze. I need to know how this oddity came about. May I have your permission to research the problem?
You may. The historians will be glad of your interest. They are too often forgotten in the day-to-day life of the aerie. The massive red-brown dragon closed his eyes and relaxed bonelessly into the warmth of sun and stone.
The interview was at an end.
Want to know what happens next? Find Dragons’ Destiny at your favorite online bookseller!
Want to read the entire series? Find my Sorcha’s Children Omnibus Edition here!