Prologue

“It happened during the time of peace:  when men, elves, and dragons were able to live side by side without any repercussions.  Well…almost without any repercussions.  There were always the skirmishes with the Fiery dragons that we had to look out for.  It seems that those little skirmishes increased in frequency once the humans arrived in the Great Forest.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Allow me to introduce myself and I will tell you about what happened during the time of peace and the events that led up to that.  My name is Chisk.  I am one of the Snow dragons, a member of one of the five classes of the Great Dragons.  My story goes back several hundred years to when the humans first arrived on our shores…”

****

Rinoth was still a fairly young land.  Most of its inhabitants were elves and dragons, although there were several other species as well.  The five classes of dragons lived in and around the Himacha Mountains, at the northern boundary of Rinoth.  The elves were scattered about, having several villages in the forest, the desert, and the plains…but their main city was deep in the forest, hidden to all except those who knew how to find it.  It was often that the elves visited the dragons.  They were great allies and helped each other when necessary.

One day, Chisk was flying over the forest, when he noticed something out of the ordinary…a thin plume of smoke rising above the trees.  Quickly returning to his home at the tallest peak in the Himacha Mountains, he called for Miok.  After only a few moments, the Green dragon appeared in the sky, his green scales blocking out a portion of the morning sun, and gently came to land in front of Chisk.

“You called for me?” Miok asked, once he had his wings tightly folded against his body.

Chisk nodded and looked past Miok toward the plume of smoke.  “Miok…you live down in the forest.  Have you noticed anything different?”

Miok was silent as he thought about what his king had asked.  “Different?  Like how?” he finally asked after several moments of silence.

“There is a plume of smoke rising above the trees.  I want you to check it out, but remain hidden.  We do not know if these beings are friendly or hostile.  And whatever you do, do NOT tell the others about this yet.”

Miok nodded and then unfolded his wings before launching himself into the air.  He caught an air current and lazily drifted upward, gaining altitude before flying off toward the smoke.  Chisk impatiently waited for Miok’s return, pacing around the front of his home.  Finally, just as the sun reached its zenith, the sun was temporarily blotted out and Chisk glanced skyward in time to see Miok’s circling approach.

“My lord…there are several families of strange beings.  They look like elves, but not like elves at the same time.  I do not know what they are or if they can be trusted,” Miok reported once he had landed in front of Chisk and refolded his wings.  Chisk nodded and gazed toward the smoke plume, trying to decide what to do.  After a while, Chisk made the decision to see for himself and he flew toward the smoke.  Keeping high in the air, he looked down upon the makeshift village, noting in particular the beings that were wandering about.  Humans!  I’ve heard about these creatures…but I never thought that they would come to Rinoth! Chisk thought as he started to circle back toward the mountains.

There was another who had noticed the arrival of the humans.  Minok was keeping a close eye on the newcomers, his temper already flaring just at the sight of them.  He angled for the mountains, intending to speak to Chisk about what to do with the trespassers.  Minok arrived shortly after Chisk and waited impatiently to speak with the older dragon.

“Those beings are a menace to all!” Minok exclaimed as soon as Chisk looked at him.  “They’re trespassing on OUR lands!  What are we going to do about it?!”

Chisk only looked at Minok silently for a few moments.  “We will do nothing.  Leave the humans in peace, and they will do nothing to harm us.”

“PEACE?!” Minok yelled, his red scales shimmering with his unvented anger.  “Nothing good will come from this!  I say we should kill them now and be done with them!”

“No!  You will follow directions and leave them in peace.  You and the rest of your class are to not cause any damage to the humans or to their new village,” Chisk warned, gazing directly at Minok.

Minok turned away, grumbling, and quickly launched into the air, buffeting Chisk with his wings in his anger.  He followed directions for a short time…until the humans started to cut down a portion of the Great Forest.  Outraged, Minok returned to Chisk, intent on getting his way.  “I TOLD you that nothing good would come from those new beings!  They’re cutting down the forest!  If we don’t stop them NOW, the entire forest will be gone!”

Chisk looked at Minok placidly and said, “They need space for their homes and farms.  They won’t cut down the whole forest.”

Minok continued to try to get his way for several minutes, but to no avail.  He finally left, planning on taking care of the problem himself.  Early one morning, Minok gathered together several of his friends and relatives that felt the same way he did and flew toward the new human village.  They quickly blew fire at the homes, catching them on fire before moving on to try to destroy the fields…but the fields were already barren, so the offending dragons returned to their homes, leaving the humans to deal with the fires.

Once the humans had managed to put the fires out, they proceeded to cut down several more trees to rebuild their homes.  Minok and his companions continued this for several more days, until Chisk finally called Minok to his home to reprimand him.

“You will stop this immediately!  Don’t you realize how foolish it is to try to burn down the homes of the humans?!  One stray spark could send the whole forest up in flames!  What were you thinking?!” Chisk asked calmly, yet firmly.

Minok only looked at Chisk angrily, and then stalked off, refusing to answer.  I’ll show him!  Chisk has NO IDEA how to rule us!  If he had any sense, he would be trying to get rid of the humans!  Not try to help them! Minok thought as he returned to his home.  He paced around for a few moments, trying to figure out something to do in order to get his revenge on Chisk.  Suddenly it dawned on him, and he had to restrain himself from roaring out his joy.  “The Stone!  I can go after the Stone of the Great Mystery!” he exclaimed as loudly as he dared.  Minok started to plan out his escapade, and wondered just how he was going to find the Stone.

****

The Stone of the Great Mystery.  It was forged by the elves long before anyone can remember and given to the dragons as a token of their goodwill.  The dragons gave it its name because no one knew what its powers were, since there wasn’t anyone who was able to hold the Stone, or wield it, safely.  Every attempt always ended in disaster, and eventually, my great-grandfather hid it deep in one of the numerous caves for safekeeping.

“The elves have always said that one day, someone would come who would be able to wield the Stone…but they weren’t able to say whether it was for good or evil.  We can only hope that that someone will be able to wield it for good…”

****

Minok spent the next several years trying to locate the Stone.  He spent all of his time in his search, so there was peace among the elves, dragons, and humans.  Finally, he was able to pinpoint the location to a cave on the western edge of the mountains.  Early one morning, he flew to the cave and quickly glanced around before entering.  He failed to notice the young Cat dragon that was playing nearby, however.  Lukai watched Minok curiously for a few moments before realizing that something was amiss.  She attempted to launch herself into the air, but she was only getting used to flying and ended up crashing back to the ground.  Lukai quickly scampered into hiding while Minok returned to the cavern entrance to investigate the crash.  Upon seeing nothing out of the ordinary, Minok gave one last look around before returning to the cave.

When Lukai was certain that he was gone, she poked her head above the bed of violet flowers that she had hidden herself in and gave a quick glance around before standing up and trying her wings again.  After several failed attempts, she finally succeeded in launching herself into the air and Lukai quickly flew toward home.

“Chisk!  Chisk!” the young dragon called out when she spotted the large Snow dragon.  Chisk stopped what he was doing and looked around, trying to pinpoint the voice.  He finally looked up and stepped out of the way in time for Lukai to make a bumpy landing.

Chisk looked down at the young dragonling and asked, “What is it, child?” Lukai climbed to her feet and looked up at Chisk, unsure of how to begin her tale.  Chisk waited patiently and soon, Lukai started to tell what she had seen.  “Chisk!  I saw Minok go into one of the caves!  He made me nervous because of the way he looked around before going in.  It was like he was trying to make sure no one saw him.”

Chisk was silent as he thought about this new bit of information.  He knew how upset Minok had been over the past several years, but he wondered if Minok was brazen enough to actually search out the Stone.  Salni will know… he thought as he shifted his gaze back to Lukai.  “Go on home, Lukai.  I will take care of this.”

Lukai nodded and started to turn away as Chisk told a messenger to request Salni to come.  The young dragonling faltered for a while, seemingly unnoticed by Chisk until an elderly Dark dragon appeared.  When Chisk came forward to greet Salni, he noticed that Lukai was still there.  “Didn’t I tell you to go home?” he asked, gazing down at the young Cat dragon.  Lukai tried to think of a way to answer when Chisk shook his head and said, “No matter now.  Lukai…tell Salni what you told me.  About what you saw Minok doing.”

Lukai nodded and proceeded to tell Salni the same thing she had told Chisk.  When she was finished, Salni looked at her and then asked kindly, “Can you describe the cavern for me?” Lukai nodded and described it to the best of her ability, and Salni gasped in surprise.  “It can’t be!  He’s found it!  After being hidden for centuries, Minok has found the Stone!” Salni exclaimed before slipping into muttering about the consequences of what could happen.

“Lukai.  Go home,” Chisk commanded the dragonling.  “And no dawdling this time!”

Lukai nodded and quickly scampered away toward her home in one of the forest caves.  She hid in the dark recesses of the cavern and curled up, trying to forget what she had heard.

“I’ve sent Miok to monitor the cave,” Chisk told Salni once Lukai had left.  “We should find out soon whether or not Minok’s found it.”

Salni nodded, and together they sat down to wait for Miok’s return.  The Green dragon’s return took some time, and when Miok finally arrived, he stood to one side and waited for Chisk to notice him.  “What have you found out, Miok?” Chisk asked, turning to look at the Green dragon.

“Minok left the cave carrying something.  I was too far away to see what it was, but Minok was looking smug about it,” Miok reported.

Chisk nodded and thanked Miok before the Green dragon left to return to his home.  Chisk turned to Salni and said, “We must do something about this.  Minok cannot be allowed to unleash the power of the Stone!” Salni only nodded in reply and returned to her own troubled thoughts.  By request of Chisk, Salni stayed the night and by early the next morning, Chisk had thought of a way to at least keep Minok corralled.  Chisk went to a high overlook and said a spell that cursed Minok to never be able to leave the Himacha Mountains.  I only hope that it’s enough… he thought as he turned to head back inside.

Minok had been ecstatic over his find and he couldn’t wait to try it out.  At about mid-morning, when he was sure that everyone would be awake, Minok went outside and spoke the words that had been inscribed above the Stone’s hiding place.  Soon a fine, gray mist started to settle over the mountain and valley and Minok quickly retreated to his home to wait out his victory.

Chisk noticed the mist start to settle and was immediately worried.  “We must hide deep in the caves,” he told Salni.  Together they ventured down into the heart of the mountain.  Chisk’s only hope was that everyone else would be able to survive.

After two days, the mist finally dissipated and Minok ventured outside reveling in his victory.  And now I will assume my rightful role as king of the dragons! he thought as he excitedly hopped up the mountain.  Chisk climbed out of the caves at about the same time as Minok was just rounding a bend.  Upon seeing Chisk and Salni still alive, Minok muffled a roar of outrage and quickly retreated back down the mountain.  Once he was out of sight, Minok took to the air and returned to the cave where he had found the Stone.  The moment Minok stepped into the cave, the entrance was blocked by a massive rockslide and Minok was trapped with the Stone.

Salni and Chisk ventured down the mountain in search of any survivors.  Soon they came upon Miok wandering aimlessly around.  “They’re gone.  All of them are gone…” Miok managed to say in a dazed voice when Chisk questioned him.  Chisk nodded and continued down, continuing his search.  Soon they came upon Lukai curled up tightly in front of her home, shuddering slightly.  Salni lay down next to the dragonling and wrapped her tail around Lukai, trying to comfort her.  Finally, Lukai lifted her head enough to look up at Salni and then her gaze shifted to Chisk and Miok.  “What’s going to happen to us?” Lukai asked softly.

****

“And that is what happened during the time of peace.  Due to the treachery of Minok, the dragons and elves were just about wiped out, with only a small pocket surviving.  The humans experienced only a small amount of the mist in their village and were largely unharmed, although several of them migrated to the south toward the large human city.  Our last hope is that the elves were right about someone coming who was able to wield the Stone…and hopefully that someone will be able to wield the Stone for the good of all rather than for the destruction of all.”

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