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The Ruby Wyvern

Legends of the lands
By: Master Belmos

Once upon a time, there was a man in the Keep, named Airion. He wasn't the greatest of magi, but he was friendly and well liked. His flock of wyverns, both Cobalt and Emerald, were his pride and his joy, and he would often admire them as the sun made their scales glisten and sparkle.
      One night, Airion had a dream, and he saw a wyvern in that dream. That in itself would not have been unusual, it so happens that he would often dream about his favorite creatures. But this wyvern was different; its scales shone in a deep red, a brilliant hue reminiscent of fresh blood. It was beautiful to behold, and Airion, after waking and realizing it was only a dream, felt regret that he didn't have a creature like that.
      Airion put the dream out of his mind, and he spent the free time of his day with his flock, as he was wont to do. But every following night, he had the same dream, and once a week had passed, he was sure it had to mean something. He started to do research on rare creatures and on the meaning of dreams, hoping to find a hint that the ruby wyvern might exist or whatever else it was that his dream was trying to tell him. As time went on, he became obsessed with his studies, spending less and less time with his flock and more time trying to make sense of his dream.
      He read through many tomes and scrolls in the library, starting with treatises on creatures but soon looking into other things. As time went on, he dug into ever more ancient books. And it was in one of those old books that Airion finally found a hint. In an old travelogue, he found this passage:
      "Here I came upon a village on the foot of one of the smaller volcanoes. The inhabitants were demure but friendly enough. They were remarkably unwilling to talk about themselves, considering these country people usually find great joy in sharing their stories and legends. A cave in the mountainside seemed to hold some importance, but any inquiry would only met with silence. Once I managed to extract a single sentence from one of the smaller children; she told me that it 'belonged to the ruby-scaled wyrmlet,' but an adult that passed at an inopportune moment overheard and quickly shushed her. I couldn't find out more, so I left two days later."
      Airion became excited and using the rather good description of the travelogue, managed to determine the course the long-dead magi had taken. He found that the village had to be deep in Voltar.
      Airion readied for travel immediately. He was no fool and so he didn't set out at once. Instead he took great care to bring his affairs in order, and also to make all the preparations necessary for a long journey through the hostile lands of Voltar, and he didn't neglect to consider that his journey would first bring him through the Etainian Desert as well. He was well prepared when he did set out, bringing all the attire and equipment that might be of use on his way.
      At last, when he was ready for travel, he called his flock to him and explained to them that he would be leaving. He told them that he might be gone for a long time, but that he would be bringing the ruby wyvern to join their flock. He knew his wyverns well, and so he could easily tell that they were unhappy with him leaving and them not allowed to accompany him. But his mind was set firmly and he would not budge. And so he set out alone on his journey.
      It was a long and difficult journey, but Airion persevered. After several weeks, he finally reached the outskirts of Voltar, and only another week later, he came upon the village that had been described in the old journal. Remembering the tale, Airion didn't mention the ruby wyvern to the village folk, but just said he was a traveller who would like to rest for a few days. He found the villagers friendly, but guarded, much like his source had described. He settled into the local inn and then set out to take a look around the village.
      He had soon spotted the entrance to the cave on the mountainside, but of course he did not dare ascend to there in broad daylight, when everyone could watch him. Instead he walked around the village more, remembering the tale in the travelogue. He tried to find a young boy or girl to talk to, hoping it would give him some information the adults would not be willing to share. But to his astonishment, and much unlike the other small villages he had come through on his way, there was not a single child to be found.
      After a while, he gave up, confused and a bit uneasy. There were adults in the village, and not just old ones. Many were just the right age for child-bearing, and there was no reason why there shouldn't be a horde of children of all ages running through the streets. Even in the Keep, a place of learning and not a regular village, there are always children around.
      Airion decided not to investigate further for now, nervous that he might raise suspicion. He went back to the inn for supper and then retired to his room early, claiming that his travels had made him tired and he needed to rest. There, he prepared what he would need for a nightly inspection of the cave. Then he lay down to get some sleep, intending to be fresh for his nightly endeavour.
      When night came, he sneaked out of the room and started his ascent to the cave. Knowing a magical light could have been seen from the village, he had brought a lantern that dimly illuminated the way in front of him. To his relief, there was a narrow path that led up to the cave. He had been worried about slipping on the rough ground otherwise. Whether thanks to the path, his agility, or just luck, he reached the cave without incident. The cave floor was well worn, and Airion quickly realized that someone, probably the village folk, was walking on it regularly. Even more curious now, he followed it, the cave leading straight into the mountain until he came upon a large metal door. He examined it in the light of his lantern and was exhilarated when he found it embossed with brass ornaments depicting dragons and wyverns. He pushed against one wing of the door and with nary a sound, it swung open far enough for him to slip through.
      After he went through the door, Airion found himself in a large cavern. His lantern wasn't bright enough to illuminate it fully, and so he could only see a small part of it. There was a hole in the roof through which he could see the stars, but the moon was not in that part of the sky and thus couldn't provide any light. He caught sight of something further inside, too far from the light of his lantern to make out more than a dark lump of indefinite shape. He took a few steps towards it, hoping to find out whether he might have found what he had came for, when suddenly he heard the door slam shut behind him with a metallic boom that reverberated through the cavern.
      Shocked at the sound, Airion spun around. Throwing caution to the wind, now that the sound had surely alerted whatever was in the cavern, he quickly cast a spell of light, a bright globe appearing in his hand that illuminated the whole cavern. With astonishment, he now saw that the whole village had lined up along the walls of the cavern. The innkeeper, the old man who had sat on a bench in the village center, the young woman who had peered at him suspiciously over her laundry, they were all there. Some were blinking, blinded by the sudden light, but others seemed to have been able to shield their eyes in time and were watching him intently. Almost as if they expected something of him.
      One of them, the leader of the village, pointed at the center of the cavern, where he had earlier got a glimpse of the dark shape. "See what you have come for!" he said in the strange accent of the Voltarian people. "Behold the ruby wyvern!"
      Airion turned around, both wary and excited at what he might see. In the middle of the cavern, the ground was rising, the stone forming a mound. On that mound stood the ruby wyvern, two feet tall, wings spread wide as if ready to take flight. The light sparkled off its ruby scales and Airion thought he saw the muscles rippling under them, but then he realized it was only a trick of the light. For the ruby wyvern was not of flesh and blood but made of precious stone, carved out of the largest ruby that anyone must have ever seen. Its eyes, purple amethysts, seemed to glow with an inner fire as the light of his spell fell on them, but there was no life in them.
      "But that is only a statue," Airion exclaimed. "Where is the ruby wyvern of my dreams?" He tried to turn his head and look at the village leader, but somehow he couldn't take his eyes off the statue. He slowly walked closer, hearing the villagers around him sigh expectantly as he approached it. Those purple eyes kept him mesmerized, willing him to touch the ruby wyvern, and he reached out to do just that.
      Somewhere deep inside him, Airion must have been resisting the fascination. It was not enough to keep him from reaching out, but maybe it made him slower, and that might very well have saved his life. His hand was only a few inches from the statue as he heard a loud screech and something hit him in the side. He was thrown to the ground, and as his head hit the hard stone painfully, he lost sight of the wyvern. In that instant, he snapped out of his dazed state. The village folk were shouting in anger, while more screeches echoed through the cavern. Looking around, he saw blue and green bodies flitting through the air, diving at the villagers and forming a protective circle around him. He recognized them instantly, and shouted in joy as he realized that his flock of wyverns had come to save him.
      The villagers, now that they had realized what was happening, were slapping at the wyverns angrily and trying to make their way to Airion. The flock tried to keep them off, but they were not as many as the humans, and thus he soon found himself grappling with the village leader, who was trying to push him toward the ruby wyvern. Alas, Airion was not especially strong, and wrestling had never been an interest of his, so he soon was on the defensive, trying to stand his ground but sliding back little by little. They were near the statue, and shortly, he realized he was only another push or two away from it. He redoubled his effort, but then another villager, who had been thrown off-balance by one of the flock, toppled against them both. The added weight threw Airion back and toward the statue.
      Just as he fell toward the statue, one of his wyverns dived between him and the thing. It couldn't hold him, but instead of him, it was his loyal creature that touched the ruby wyvern. Airion heard an agonized screech, but he couldn't see what happened behind his back. However, the combined weight of all of them made the statue topple and fall from the elevation it had been placed on. It crashed on the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces. Loud wailing erupted from the villagers around him, that turned into deep moans as their bodies turned grey and brittle and crumbled. Soon, only ashes were covering the floor where previously human beings had been, only stirred by the wings of the wyverns passing over it.
      When everything had settled down, Airion slowly got up and took a look around. None of the villagers was left, and only little pieces remained of the statue. Between them lay the shrivelled body of the wyvern that had saved his life, its formerly bright green scales now dull and lifeless. He cradled it in his arms, weeping for a friend lost. The flock alighted and gathered around him, keening for their companion. He looked at them through tear-streaked eyes and said: "You followed me, and saved me from certain doom. One of you even gave her life to preserve mine, even though I neglected you to follow my obsession. Never again shall I disregard you like I have."
      Airion buried his dead friend on the slope of the mountain, leaving a tombstone that read: "Here lies a better creature than I will ever be." He gathered all the pieces of the ruby wyvern and ground them to dust, which he then spread into the wind. He then returned to the Keep with his loyal flock; and whenever he would go to travel afterwards, he would never decide to leave his friends at home again.
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