Chapter 1 - Unwelcome Reunion
By - SoulDragonWithFlow
Under the cover of starlit darkness, a lone spirit stood on the edge of oblivion, the silver moonlight reflecting off his inky black scales. The young male dragon considered his surroundings through closed eyes, his sharp hunter senses picking up tiny movements from the weary woodland creatures around him. Breathing steadily, his sharp hearing picked up the faint hoot of a stealthy barn owl hunting a tiny rodent in the distance and the smell of fresh water from the nearby river soothed his sinuses as the dense, cool, midnight air filled his lungs. Raiko felt his heart beginning to race in anticipation of what was to come. He thought of how long it had been since he had done this, the events which had grounded him in the first place, and of his beloved Twilight who had revived his broken spirit, allowing his soul to shine once again. A revival which now meant Raiko was free to do what felt most natural to him, without the pain of guilt. Being a Midnight Shadow, night-time flying was in his blood and part of him. To be a ghost among the stars, a silent demon in the moonlight striking fear into any prey he decided to target, that's what it meant to be a Midnight Shadow; fast, stealthy, and ultra-precise.
Spreading his strong wings and feeling the cold air around him, the black Dragon took one last, deep breath in and… Jumped.
At first, he didn't even attempt to pull up. Instead, he allowed himself to dive straight down over the cliff edge, like a black missile in the darkness, hurtling straight downwards at a hundred miles an hour. As he gathered more and more velocity, it began to feel like time itself was slowing down around him, and he himself would continue accelerating to an almost infinite velocity and he began to wonder how much risk he would take, how much time he would dare let pass before opening his wings to level out his seemingly suicidal trajectory. Suddenly, pure instinct forced his wings open completely and for a split second, the conscious part of Raiko felt every muscle in his body strain against the relentless resistance of the vicious wind as he exited his death-defying dive and leveled out a mere 2 feet above the forest canopy below him.
Then Raiko began to pull up, rapidly gaining altitude and shooting off into the midnight sky. Under the cover of darkness, he was almost completely invisible from the ground. Any creature who happened to look up would only see a tiny blink of the stars above them, as his shadow sped by silently overhead. Gaining more and more height, Raiko began to lean backwards, feeling the flow of cold air over his scales and allowing his weight to overbalance beneath him, flipping him over backwards until he was back facing the ground, in a completely vertical dive. Suddenly, Raiko's instincts were all at once on high alert, as his sharp night-time vision spotted a tiny movement in the shadows in the corner of his eye. Raiko immediately leveled out, and shot off once again gaining height until he was under the cover of the clouds. Above the clouds themselves, Raiko skimmed their surface, his sharp eyes scanning for any trace of whatever was sharing his airspace. Raiko new the chances were, it was probably just a small owl looking for a nighttime snack, but it was instinctive for Midnight Shadow to know everything in his airspace. Particularly if there was a potential for it to be a rival hunter, or something he could hunt himself. Suddenly, Raiko spotted the tiny shadow again in the distance. Just for a second, before he watched it disappeared below the clouds. Raiko was just about to dive beneath them himself, before Raiko had the wind knocked from his wings as he felt a shot from adrenaline surge through system and he saw a huge black body shoot straight up less than a metre in front of him at high speed. "Screw this." Raiko thought. Although he knew he could easily outmanoeuvre this creature, he was in no mood for dogfight. Sleep deprivation had made him inpatient, and the idea that this creature was playing silly games with him was making his blood boil even against the icy cold night air. With one quick sweep of his wings, Raiko dived just below the cloud line and performed a tight 360° turn, his eyes quickly scanning all three dimensions around him for the mysterious black figure. His sharp night vision quickly targeted the figure a hundred meters or so ahead of him. This time, he saw it for long enough to pick out at least some detail. From this distance, he saw that its movement was definitely that something organic, and it had wings which were too huge to be that of an eagle or an owl. Could it be a Griffin? A Phoenix? An Ecran? Whatever it was, it needed to be reminded to watch its proximity. Raiko's eyes coldly targeted creature in the distance, accurately judging the distance between them before Raiko fired a single, hot fireball. Raiko grinned with satisfaction as he watched his fireball pass within inches of the shape. He hadn't missed, It was supposed to be a warning shot, telling creature that it was not alone in the night sky, but the creature had taken it to be an act of violence because a few seconds later, Raiko spotted another fireball heading straight towards him at high speed. Raiko felt his body take immediate and automatic action, performing a tight, hard right turn, narrowly dodging the shot. Raiko immediately returned fire, hitting the creature with pinpoint accuracy. Raiko allowed himself half a second to enjoy the satisfying explosion, and the bright blue shockwave of light that followed, confirming he had hit his target perfectly before shooting back up above the clouds, and re-emerging a few seconds later in a completely different position in an attempt to confuse his opponent.
It was obvious at this point what he was fighting against. Its flight pattern was calculated and organic, it had at least some ability to control fire and apparently had skin which was resistant to flame. There is no way this was a Griffin or a large bird, this was definitely another Dragon; one that should know better than to behave in such an unusual and unpredictable way, while sharing the same airspace with another Dragon at night. Every Dragon knew the simple and clear cut rules of night-time flying. Be aware of your surroundings, watch your proximity and above all, always give way to any other Dragon sharing your airspace. Violation of these rules would always be taken to be hostile activity, as long as the creature violating them was definitely another Dragon. In such a situation, a "warning shot" was always the first action to take.
His eyes once again targeted his rival in front of him, and at a slightly lower altitude. This time it was much closer (less than 50 metres) and the creature seemed to be completely unaware of where Raiko was. Raiko took the opportunity to finish this little charade he had got himself into. He fired one last hot fireball directly at the dark shape, this time with far more force than he had been doing. Raiko watched as his smouldering opponent struggled to regain balance in midair and seized his chance. Raiko dived straight toward his enemy at full speed, impacting with full force, and knocking it out of the sky. Raiko kept his claws gripped tightly to the damaged body after impact, and both dragons fell from the heavens straight into the forest canopy below. Both endured pain and injury as they crashed down, entangled together, through the branches before smashing into the ground at a reduced speed. Raiko looked down at the Dragon in his claws beneath him and then saw with disapproving eyes, who it was. The Dragon in his claws lying flat on its back had light grey scales with green eyes similar to Raiko's, and also had unmistakable yellow, arrow shaped markings throughout his entire body. It was his brother Dash! It was Dash! So far from home they had met once again, but the emotional distance between them was just as far as the distance to the mountains where they grew up. A few months before the chain of events that had led to Raiko’s "mysterious disappearance", the bond between the two brothers had been irreparably damaged in a single act of betrayal. The light grey male Dragon looked up at his defeater with an irritating smug grin on his face.
"You always were better at everything than me weren't you Raiko?" He said trying to catch his breath.
"What the hell are you doing here you waste off scales!?" Raiko growled, not moving his paws from their firm position, pressed against the top of Dash’s chest, and keeping his claws fully extended and on the verge of piercing Dash’s skin.
"I might ask you the same thing." He replied darkly. "You're supposed to be dead." Before Raiko have any chance to reply, two more Dragons came bursting through the trees. Raiko looked up for the first time from his prey and was surprised to see a grey and orange male, and a purple and blue dragoness staring at him, both looking very shocked, and really quite annoyed.
"DASH!!!" Crystal cried out, horrified by the sight of her friend in the claws of another Dragon.
"What the hell are you doing?! Get your claws off him!" Raven growled, adrenaline already surging through his veins, preparing him for the possibility of a fight.
"Guys it's okay!" Dash managed to muster through Raiko's grip.
"Who are they then Dash?" Raiko growled back down at him.
"It's fine Raiko. This is Raven and Crystal. They're just friends." Dash replied, still under Raiko's control. "Raven, Crystal, this is my brother Raiko."
"You're dead brother? You lying son of a bitch!" Raven replied, suddenly diverting his anger toward Dash instead of Raiko.
"I wasn't lying! We thought he was dead; he disappeared off the face of the planet! No one has seen him for years!" said Dash, defending himself.
"And you know full well why I disappeared Dash! And who is ‘we' anyway?" Raiko growled.
"Everyone back home. Well some people anyway. Some people were clever enough to put two and two together. Why Zaphod’s name appeared on the tablets and yours didn't. The reason why the both of you disappeared at roughly the same time, and so shortly after Zoe’s accident. Some people worked it out pretty quickly. But the majority just ignored it and got on with their lives." Dash explained. "Officially, you are dead."
"How can I be officially dead?" Raiko demanded. "My name never appeared on The Tablets Of the Dead. That should tell people that I'm still alive by definition!"
"No one in the clan understands the magic well enough. The Alesi died years ago. There was no one to replace him. Everyone just assumed you were too far away." Dash explained, managing to keep amazingly calm under the circumstances.
"What’s Alesi?" Crystal whispered to Raven.
"The Alesi is basically their head magic within the clan. Handles problems, maintenance, teaches people, that sort of thing. Basically, if you have any problems or questions regarding magic, that's the person you go to." Raven explained, keeping his voice low and not wanting to disturb the two arguing brothers. Raiko narrowed his eyes at his brother, doubting the integrity of his words.
"I'm telling the truth Raiko. Why would I lie about something like this?" Dash further defended. He saw Raiko's eyes beginning to relax as he considered his words. More than making him question himself, Dash's words stung slightly. He did have a point. Why would he lie about something like this? What did he have to gain? More than that though, if Dash was telling the truth, it meant that everyone back home had pretty much forgotten about him straight away. His friends, his family, his teachers. Everyone. And it hurt. The thought that he could be so easily forgotten weighed heavily on his spirit, even though, the era of his life living in the Azimuth Mountains was long over.
"So you're saying, everyone just forgot about me? Just like that?" He asked.
"Sometimes, people prefer to ignore the truth than face a harsh reality." Dash replied. "Besides, not everyone just forgot. I remembered Raiko." Upon hearing his words, Raiko's anger suddenly flared back up again.
"Is there no end to your dishonor?!" He growled, suddenly being his claws back into Dash. "Even now, you should know me better than that! I prefer to be told the harsh reality, than a comforting lie. And you know it! DON'T LIE TO ME!" Dash squirmed under Raiko's grip. Even now, neither Raven nor Crystal dared intervene. "Don't tell me that you actually cared I was gone! You were always jealous of me. And you always too much of a show off to ever listen to anything I had to say when I tried to help you. I bet you loved it! Suddenly getting all the attention without me in the way!"
"Whatever happened between us Raiko, we are still brothers. And I missed you. We grew up together and until a very short time before your disappearance, we were friends." Dash struggled. Raiko considered him again for a second. Again, there was a genuine tone to his voice. He appeared to be telling the truth. "But there's more than that Raiko. I'm not the only one that didn't forget you." Dash started again.
"Seriously Dash? You sure you really want to bring him into this?” Raven said cautiously.
"There was someone else. Someone you should meet." Dash continued.
"More of your friends? And why would I do that?" Raiko demanded.
"Please… Raiko is it? It's important. You really will want to see this. You… You need to." Crystal said timidly. This had taken a lot of courage from her, and the only reason she had been able to muster such courage, was because Raven had spoken first.
"Actually, the first order of business I think is Raiko’s claws, digging into my neck!! Raiko, if you wouldn’t mind?" Dash choked. Reluctantly, after a few seconds, Raiko retracted his claws and lifted his weight from Dash, allowing him to get up. The trio stared at Raiko for a few seconds, as if waiting for an answer some kind.
"Fine! Just make it quick." Raiko said reluctantly.