War of the Scaleborn (World of Warcraft: Dragonflight)
What have you done, Alexstrasza? Vyranoth wondered as she soared over the rising spires of Valdrakken. What is this place?
In all her long years, Vyranoth had never seen dragonkind build such strange aeries. Alexstrasza—Vyranoth’s oldest friend and the newly made Dragon Queen—had called Valdrakken a city. Vyranoth rolled the word over her tongue, thinking it tasted like titan magic. City. A foreign word befitted so foreign a place.
Vyranoth understood none of the sights below: Hand-wrought stone spires perched upon the mountains of Thaldraszus. Rivers ran through the sky on gilded spines. Floating islands nested in the clouds, their waterfalls tumbling into the open air. Young drakes chased one another, nipping at each other’s tails and laughing. Dragons roosted on grand platforms, talking together and enjoying the beauty of the day.
Valdrakken. City. A place that seemed to radiate peace . . . and yet dark doubts crept into Vyranoth’s heart. Every dragon in sight bore the mark of the keepers’ Order magic, which had utterly transformed them, mind, body, and soul. Vyranoth did not recognize the ordered as dragons, though they were certainly dragon-like. On the ground, the ordered folded their wings against their backs like birds, whereas natural, primal dragons like Vyranoth relied upon their wings both on the ground and in the air. The ordered did not look like proper dragons; not anymore. By embracing this strange power, Alexstrasza and her followers had turned their backs on the very planet that had given them life.
As a primal dragon in Valdrakken, Vyranoth was an outsider among her own.
So many of you have chosen the keepers over your own kind, she thought. With a great flap of her wings, she crested one of the city’s peaks. Even as she cruised along the city’s outskirts, she counted hundreds of ordered dragons, their jewel-toned hides glittering in hues of blue, black, bronze, green, and red. Each color represented one of the five dragonflights led by an individual Dragon Aspect.
The five Aspects had been the first to be infused with the keepers’ Order magic, to embark on a dangerous path, to turn their backs on the natural order of things. Now, they had convinced so many others to follow them into this folly.
Vyranoth checked her speed, then dived beneath an arch of ornamented stone. The shadows of her wings rippled over the city’s jarring angles and sharp, golden edges. Below her, the titan-forged swarmed over the mountains like flies on a carcass, carving stone from the rocky flanks to build their spires and arches.
Even if the Aspects had dreamed up Valdrakken on their own, the city brimmed with their masters’ power. Here, the keepers’ influence was omnipresent, inescapable. Order imbued the very wind that filled Vyranoth’s wings, nostrils, and lungs, sending a shudder across her scales. Had Vyranoth not made a promise to Alexstrasza, she would have turned tail and never looked back. Yet Vyranoth was a dragon of her word.
Today, the Dragon Queen and the red dragonflight would swear an oath to defend their world. Azeroth, Alexstrasza had called it, though it sounded like yet another titan word. Alexstrasza had personally invited Vyranoth to the ceremony; perhaps she hoped that Vyranoth could be convinced of the righteousness of the Aspects’ cause. Vyranoth knew her old friend to be honorable and true. Alexstrasza would not have chosen this path without good reason. Still, Vyranoth’s doubts remained. Why should dragons have to change themselves to fulfill the wishes of the keepers? To her mind, it made no sense.
A great trumpeting echoed off the city’s spires. On instinct, Vyranoth banked toward the sound, sweeping past the hollow bones of a half-finished spire. A multitude of dragons took flight, their scales flashing in the sun. The thundering of their wings whipped up the wind and turned the clouds into a froth. Had Vyranoth not been so unsettled by the sight, she might have found it exhilarating. She climbed higher with ease, lofted by the air currents that swirled off a thousand wings.
“Vyranoth, my friend!” A red dragon glided into Vyranoth’s airstream. Like all ordered dragons, the red had a sinuous, elongated neck and longer forelegs, which when on the ground would allow him to stand on four feet rather than two. The ordered had slim heads and lacked a primal dragon’s thick, impenetrable armor on the skull and spine. This particular red had two heavy, twisting horns on the top of his head and frills over each eye.
The red was accompanied by a small contingent of other reds—four, to be exact. In the Dragonwilds, no one would have dared approach Vyranoth with such an easy manner, especially not in a pack. Had the keepers’ magic made them forget the customs of their kind?
“I am Saristrasz,” said the first red, performing an elegant roll in the air, as if in greeting. “Majordomo to the Dragon Queen. Alexstrasza has asked me to be your escort during your stay in Thaldraszus.”
“I thank you, but that shall not be necessary,” Vyranoth said, not wanting to offend. “I do not plan to stay in Valdrakken long.”
“Alexstrasza thought you might say that,” Saristrasz said with a laugh. “And she was right, you speak very well for one of your kind!”
Your kind? Vyranoth narrowed her eyes but said nothing.
“At the very least, allow me to show you where today’s ceremonies are to be held,” Saristrasz said. “You are our honored guest.”
“Very well,” Vyranoth replied, following the majordomo as he banked right. The other reds followed them, close in pursuit.
As they came around the corner, the whole of Valdrakken opened to them. A white spire rose in the distance, scraping the clouds overhead. Rivers flowed around its base. Lush, purple-leafed trees clustered close along their banks. At its peak, there looked to be a landing platform of sorts.
“That is the Seat of the Aspects,” Saristrasz said, his voice lilting with pride. “The tower is the soul of Valdrakken, where our honored Aspects conduct business on behalf of the five flights. But the Seat is not our destination today. Come, Vyranoth, and let me show you Tyrhold!”
“Tyrhold?” Vyranoth asked, suppressing a harsher tone. She recognized that name—Alexstrasza had spoken to her often of Keeper Tyr and his interference in the affairs of dragonkind. If she recalled correctly, Tyr had been the one to suggest the Aspects be ordered.
“Yes, a great edifice in the east,” Saristrasz said, nodding to the stone rivers. “It is the source of the life-giving waters carried by aqueducts throughout the city.”
“Aqueducts,” Vyranoth said, testing the word carefully, looking at the water shimmering below. “Tell me, why is it important to move the water from one place to another? Why must you remove it from its source, especially when it flows in such abundance throughout the Broodlands?”
“The water serves many purposes in Valdrakken,” the majordomo said as they crested a hill. “It is easier to conduct the water via aqueducts than by any other method.”
Vyranoth looked at Saristrasz from the corner of her eye, lifting a brow.
He chuckled. “I admit, Valdrakken was startling at first—the buildings, the aqueducts, the temples, the gardens. But I promise you, it will make more sense in time.”
Buildings? Vyranoth thought. Temples? What need does dragonkind have for such things?
“Perhaps,” she said, uneasy. Nothing about Valdrakken made sense to Vyranoth, and she wasn’t certain she wanted that to change.
Her escort led her past a waterfall that splashed down a mountain’s face. Cool mist dampened their wings. They swept over neatly tended emerald gardens that filled the air with the scent of sweet honey, then dipped past the scalding heat of the black dragonflight’s forges.
There should have been a certain delight in following Saristrasz through the city, in swooping beneath its arches and scudding over the clouds, in listening to the joyous calls of the dragons as they headed for the ceremony. Yet everywhere Vyranoth looked, all she could see was what Valdrakken could have been without the titans’ influence. How tall had that mountain stood before it had been whittled down into “buildings” by the titan-forged? Why had the gardens been pruned into an orderly perfection, rather than be allowed to flourish and grow in their own wild designs? And what of the noble, primal silhouette her brothers and sisters once had—the strong carriages, the majestic bearings—why had those, too, been carved away for order’s sake?
Where the titans had found flaws, Vyranoth saw unbroken beauty. The world needed no improvements, no titans, no Order magic. Perhaps the world did not need cities and buildings and Aspects either.
Saristrasz and Vyranoth skirted the flank of a sharp cliff. A grand spire rose in the distance—no, Saristrasz had called it a tower—and its white marble walls gleamed in the sunlight. The tower pointed to the heavens, shooting a bright beam of light into the sky. Tall white stones encircled its base, reminding Vyranoth of outstretched wings. All the rivers in Valdrakken seemed to flow from its source.
Tyrhold, Vyranoth thought, her lip curling in upset.