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Chapter I: A Surprise Long Delayed! That Nest Belongs to Who?!
It was a beautiful dawn on Dragon's Peak, with the sun just barely peeping out from behind the mountains. The crisp morning air was filled with the song of birds...and the voices of many Dragons.
Filia Ul Copt, who was visiting the Peak, pushed her way through the crowd of Black and Golden Dragons with the Elder, Rashia. Filia was in human form—it made carrying Val's egg much easier. "What's going on, Elder?"
Rashia looked up at where the crowd was pointing. Respectfully, the throng parted as the other Elders made their way forward. "What's all this hubbub about?" Elder Vandar asked, going up to Rashia. "What's gotten you all astir this fine and beautiful morning—Oh!"
Filia blinked in confusion. "What is the matter, Elders?"
The Elders broke into joyful grins. "How astounding! After so very long!" Rashia exclaimed happily.
"Yes, at last, at last!" Elder Inelo said, clapping her hands together in delight.
"I wonder who it is!" Vandar grinned.
Filia, realizing she wasn't going to get any answers, looked up at the mountain ledge where everyone had been staring. Around her, Dragons in both their normal and human forms, whispered excitedly to each other. All she could see was a large castle of stone sitting on the ledge. Even from here she could tell it had been shaped by magic—the edifice had literally grown out of the mountainside itself.
More puzzled than before, she turned to one of the Black Dragon females who happened to be in human form. "Excuse me, but what is that?"
The Black Dragon looked at her. "Why dearie, that's a nest bower! It means that one of our young ones has finally come into Cycle!"
Filia's eyes lit up in comprehension. A Dragon was in Cycle! It meant that someone was ready to find a mate and either lay or sire a clutch of hatchlings at last! She understood the excitement. Dragons rarely came into Cycle—which was why there were so few baby Dragons in the first place. Even mated Dragons rarely produced more than one or two clutches of eggs, so when a young Dragon came into Cycle, or when older Dragons went into Phase, it was a cause for great celebration. Filia knew that she wasn't going to go into Cycle for a good three hundred years or more. When a Dragon youth went into Cycle, the Dragon experienced strange compulsions that prepared for the well-being of the future offspring. Building a nest was one. Finding a mate was another. If two Dragons, a male and a female came into Cycle at the same time, there usually was no problem about mating. Occasionally, a Dragon did go into Cycle or Phase alone, and they usually sought out mates from the Elven races. But the Elves had died out long ago, and the few tribes that did remain were so shy of outsiders that they simply couldn't be coaxed out from their realms any longer. Filia knew what that was like.
"I wonder who could have gone into Cycle!" "Do you think that..." "Ooh, that means that we'll soon have children in the Peak again!" "But there are no other youngsters in Cycle. Do you think that this one will leave us soon?" "How long has it been?" were only some of the things that the Dragons were excitedly chattering about.
The Elders were moving up toward the nest, to congratulate and identify who had gone into Cycle. Filia followed, as did the other Dragons, though they maintained a small but respectful distance.
The castle was large by human standards, but for Dragons, it was a medium sized home, just enough for two Ryuzoku and some young.
Rashia reached for the giant door handles and pulled easily.
The door opened and POOF all the Elders vanished in a cloud of gray dust.
"Elders!" Filia exclaimed in shock and horror, thinking there was a threat within. She prepared an attack spell, ready to avenge...
The dust cleared, and Filia let her spell dissipate in shock. Even the Dragons behind her were silent, amazement taking their tongues.
"...Elder Rashia? Elder Vandar? Inelo-san? All of you, what are you doing here?" asked a deep, measured voice, that voice tinged with confusion. Filia gasped and stared, a faint flush on her cheeks. Behind her, she heard several of the young dragon maidens murmur in surprise, then giggle, whispering eagerly to each other.
A handsome Dragon male moved over to them and helped dust off the Elders, while the other Ryuzoku took in his appearance. The young Dragon had his hair tied back from his face, his head protected by a kerchief, and his robes were rolled up, hitched up, and covered with stains and smudges. His human form's face was shiny with sweat and streaked with dirt, and what should have been lustrous golden hair was tarnished with dust. In his hand, he held a broom. "I'm sorry...I was sweeping the dust from my floors...as you can see, there's a lot..." the handsome Ryuzoku apologized in melodious, contrite tones.
"Ah, Lord Elder Milgazia...no, no, it was our fault, we really should have knocked." Vandar coughed. "We were just curious as to who built the new den."
Elder Milgazia smiled almost shyly. "Well, my old place was starting to get a little claustrophobic on me, so I decided to build a new home." He waved a hand behind him. The great hall beyond was neatly and expertly shaped, and done so with love and care. "I didn't want to disturb any of you, so I started working on it last night. Its almost ready for me to move my things in." He kept glancing behind him, as though itching to get back to work.
Elder Rashia nodded serenely, though everyone in Dragon's Peak knew that Lord Elder Milgazia had not complained of his 'bachelor pad' cave in the past thousand years, even though many had insisted that he move to quarters that befitted one of his stature.
"I'd invite you in, but as you can see, it's really not fit to receive guests yet." Milgazia's expression brightened. "I'll do that as soon as I finish."
Inelo patted him on the shoulder. "It's all right, Milgazia-san. We'll throw a housewarming party when you've tidied everything up. Do you need any help?"
Milgazia shook his head vehemently. "Ah, no, thank you, my friends, but I'd really rather do this on my own, so I can remember where I put everything." Elder Milgazia was also known as one of the most compulsively neatest Dragons there was, and everything in his cave was put in an exact place, so that one could see where they'd formed little indentations from settling in.
"Go on now, Milgazia-san. We'd like to see your new home as soon as you have it ready." Elder Tymar said kindly. Milgazia waved good morning to the other Dragons, who were still speechless, and bustled back inside. They watched him vanish into one of the side corridors, and almost immediately, a cloud of dust erupted from said corridor.
Filia gaped and thought bemusedly to herself: That's The Elder Milgazia? He doesn't look like ANYTHING from Lina-san's tales!
They left Milgazia to his almost frenzied housekeeping and headed back to the draconic village itself. Filia, confused and curious, rushed up to Elder Rashia and politely asked if the Elder could explain some things to her. The grandfatherly Elder, who resembled Saichuurouh but was more jovial, smiled encouragingly and told her not to be shy.
"Well...full-blooded Dragons normally go into Cycle when they're five hundred years old, ne?" Filia asked. Rashia nodded, knowing what Filia was going to ask.
"And you are wondering why the Lord Elder Milgazia, who is a thousand and a half years old, is only going into Cycle now?" Rashia asked. Filia nodded.
Rashia sighed sadly. "Come to my home, child, and I will explain why."
Once Rashia had prepared tea and some biscuits, and Filia had settled Val's egg into the Elder's bed of gold near the hearth, Rashia began to talk. "Milgazia, as you know, was one of the few to survive the massacre that Xelloss the Beast Priest perpetuated long ago in the Kouma Wars. His entire family, indeed, Milgazia's whole clan, was destroyed in that instant, and Milgazia himself barely escaped with his life. He was so wounded that he could not have survived had he remained in Dragon form, and it was thus that a band of bandits found him, and nursed him back to health. He discovered that this bandit gang was actually the survivors of a village that had been destroyed during the war, and in return for their kindness, he led them to the relative safety of the mountains for the duration of the war. When he came here, he found only the children and other youngsters of both Golden and Black lineage, and because he was eldest, they named him Elder and Lord. Dragon's Peak became our refuge, we who also lost our clans to the Wars. But when Vandar, Inelo, Haranzel, Tymar, Kishara, the others and I found the small clan, Milgazia had already started to lead the children into survival. Though he bowed deference to us because we were Elder than he, he had proven himself as a competent leader, so he remained Elder and a Dragon Lord. Mind you, Milgazia was born to the Golden Dragon nobility, but he was still a child. The other youths who were near his age went into Cycle and were the first to renew our race after the War, but Milgazia himself, to our surprise, never went into Cycle. The other Elders and I believe that it was because of his extensive injuries and the way he threw himself into his duties then that delayed the Cycle of Maturity. Come to think of it, it is only now that we Dragons have prospered since the Wars, and that duty has relaxed its hold on him." The Elder looked at the egg that Filia guarded with her life, her atonement for the sins of her clan. "I don't think he knows that he is in Cycle. There are a few who never go into Cycle. We'll just have to wait and see on how restless he'll get."
"Restless, Elder?" Filia asked.
"Dragons who don't know they're in Cycle exhibit the same symptoms that Elder Milgazia is showing now—restlessness, the need to change one's surroundings suddenly, the feeling that something's not right. Eventually, it will drive him out of Dragon's Peak—to search for a suitable mate, of course. But he won't know that. He won't know he's looking for a mate, until he finds her." Elder Rashia smiled. "And when he finds her, his perfect, ideal wife, he will move heaven and earth to make her his."
Filia nodded, suddenly envisioning a beautiful, and ultimately silly scene where Milgazia for some unknown reason, falls for a princess. After all, what princess would not want to be married to a Dragon Lord? Oh the romance of it! To go out and search for your one true love! Ooh, I can't wait to see how this all ends! It never occurred to her that most princesses wouldn't want to be even looked at by Dragons, and that most stories involving Dragons and princesses usually had the Dragons capturing the princesses for food. This particular oversight was due to the fact that the Ryuzoku were not even related to such Dragons, which were the Mazoku-Dragons. She never even paused to wonder why the Milgazia in her little daydream had a bejeweled sabre and looking particularly dashing—or ridiculous—with a wide-brimmed hat that had a rakish feather stuck in it. Right now, he looked like something out of the Three Musketeers. Such inconsequential details nev er bothered Filia in Sugar-Dream mode.
Rashia sweatdropped as little pink hearts swirled into existence around the Dragon maiden and said Dragon maiden developed a dreamy expression. "Filia? Filia-san?" Rashia wriggled his fingers in front of her nose. "Filia-san?"
Filia snapped out of her daydream. "Ah?! Yes, Elder?"
"You've requested to speak to some Dragon matrons, concerning Val. Are you intending to have him adopted by a family?"
Filia shook her head no. "Actually, I wanted advice...child-rearing, what to expect, that kind of thing."
Rashia's grandfatherly smile warmed her heart. "If you would like to stay, we've plenty of room, and we'd be very happy to have you here with us. Little Val would be the darling of Dragon's Peak."
Filia thought about it, then shook her head. "I want to raise Val on my own for a while, and perhaps, when he's a little older, we'll come back. I want to find a suitable place for us to live—So much has happened...I..." Filia stopped, shaking her head.
"I understand. Take your time, and stay as long as you like, Filia-san. Perhaps you could even address the council sometime, and tell us of what transpired that led to this." Elder Rashia looked back to Val's egg.
Filia nodded. "You have every right to know. If you wish to know, I will tell the tale."
Later, while Filia was unpacking in a guest cave, she reflected on the differences between her clan, who worshipped the Fire Dragon King Valbazard, and the ones of Dragon's Peak, who worshipped the Water Dragon King Rugradia. They're so much kinder, and more aware of the other races than mine used to be. They're respected, not feared, and Gold and Black Dragons live side by side, even intermarrying! That had come as a surprise—the newest young of Dragon's Peak, a clutch whose children were near her own age, were a mix of Black and Gold Dragon parents. The resulting young had the strength and size of the Black Dragons, and the wit and magical power of the Gold mother. Perhaps I will return, when Val's older. Acceptance is the lesson I want him to learn...the lesson that the others couldn't learn.
Filia put away the last of her belongings and picked up Val's egg, putting it into the pouch that kept it near her own body and kept it warm.
"Excuse me, Filia-san?"
Filia turned to see a slender elven maid standing in the entrance to her room. She brushed back her long golden hair and smiled, green and gold eyes twinkling. She was dressed in a white blouse trimmed with gold and wore dark blue leggings and with a bustier. "Yes, that's me. Can I help you?"
The elf grinned. "Actually, I'm supposed to help you. I'm Memphis Linesword, and Rashia-sama suggested that it would be best if I showed you around, since I know most of the ways around here on foot. Have you settled in? Is everything to your liking?"
"Oh yes, everything's very comfortable." Filia smiled, liking the young elf's liveliness immediately.
"You're supposed to meet with some of the Ryuzoku den mothers, aren't you, Filia? Well, I'll show you the fastest routes. Let's go, shall we, before it gets too hot." Memphis gestured out of the cave.
Filia looked at her as the elf strode out of the cave with long, almost feline steps. "Uh, I don't mean to pry, but I never thought to see an Elf here in Dragon's Peak. Where I used to live, there weren't very many left."
Memphis waved that away. "Oh, I'm just visiting with Milgazia-ojisama."
Filia blinked in surprise. "Huh...? Milgazia-sama's your uncle?"
Memphis looked at her in return as they stepped out into the sunlight. "Not really. He's a close family friend since I don't know how long. He's friends with Father. By the way..." she suddenly grinned "Is it true that Milgazia-ojisama built that Nest-bower? I didn't know because I went out on my predawn run and I hadn't noticed he hadn't slept in his bed at all!"
Filia laughed. "Oh, it's true. I was there when everyone found out."
"Yes!!!" Memphis pumped her fist in the air and skipped down the path. "It's about time he got mated! Bachelorhood's habit-forming, and that's not necessarily a good thing!"
Filia shook her head in wonderment as Memphis started to chatter about bacherlorhood and her uncle not equating. Things were certainly different here in the Valley.
"We're almost there, Filia-san."
Filia followed Memphis up the mountain ledge and stopped near a large cave mouth. In it, four young Dragon females, near Filia's own age and older, were chatting amongst themselves.
"I heard that the new nest belongs Lord Elder Milgazia! Is that true?" said one.
"Oh Jevel! You're so behind in the news! Yes, it belongs to him! I heard Father telling Mother when he came back from the morning hunt!"
The third female made a high pitched squeak and wriggled happily. "That means that Lord Elder Milgazia is in Cycle!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, he is!" said the fourth, and the lot of them sighed dreamily.
"Ah, if only we were going into Cycle too..." The second girl said.
Jevel sniffed. "Ylara, you're not going into Cycle for another century!"
The fourth giggled. "Yes, and I don't think the Lord Elder will wait that long!"
"Terena is right. Besides, were not the closest to go into Cycle. Why, Antimone is only twenty years away from turning five hundred!" said the third.
"Oh Venn, I really don't think that Milgazia-sama will wait even two measly little decades! He's in Cycle now."
"Ah, Milgazia-sama!" the foursome sighed in unison.
Filia sweatdropped. It seemed that the Lord Elder had a following. Memphis was wriggling with an effort to keep her giggles under control, and was just barely succeeding.
"A-hem, ladies..." Jevel, Ylara, Terena and Venn all jumped, startled by a voice that emerged from the cave. The head, neck and upper shoulders of a Golden Dragon matron, who looked decidedly reproving, immediately followed the voice.
"Instead of sitting around gossiping idly, why don't you get about with your chores?"
"Mother!" Ylara said in consternation.
"Ooh, they're going to get it," Memphis whispered to Filia.
"Aunt Jannia! Er, um, we were going to just do them!" Jevel ducked her head in apology.
" 'Just about' isn't the same as doing them, lass. Get your tails into the air before I nip off their tips! Hop!" Jannia snapped her jaws at the Dragon girls, but they were already fifty feet into the air before she had even finished talking.
"Heh, that's telling them, Missus." Memphis crowed, clapping her hands.
"Oh, good morning, Memphy. What can I do for you?" the Matron asked.
"Oh, not me, Missus. She's the one with business with you." Memphis jerked her thumb at Filia.
"Um, pardon me, Lady Jannia..." Filia looked up at the Golden matron. "My name is Filia Ul Copt, perhaps Elder Rashia mentioned me..." Jannia looked down, noticing Filia for the first time. She immediately radiated friendliness. Memphis pushed her forward.
"Why, yes, he did. Come in, come in, child! I'd heard all about you. From Karyu-oh no Shinden, am I right? Goodness, we've never had visitors from the Outside before." Jannia turned into human, and looked exactly as matronly as she sounded. Jannia's ash-blond hair was braided and coiled at the nape, and she wore a simply cut dress. She reminded Filia of a hen she'd seen once—herding all her chicks here and there. "Please, please, just call me Missus Jan. Everyone does. Except the Lord Elder. He always refers to everyone by their full given names, he's so serious." Missus Jan shook her head. "But then, I'm only seventy years younger than he, and Ceiphied knows that he's been through enough that weighs on him so heavily."
"Uh...yes, I suppose that is true." Filia said. "He seems very popular."
"Especially amongst the young, I'm sure you've noticed." Missus Jan said wryly. Memphis burst into giggles. "He's something of a catch here and it's fairly understandable." She chuckled. "It just so happens that there aren't any maidens in Cycle now...how ironic, considering there were a lot of them who would have been happy to become his mate."
Memphis snorted. "They're all but tying their tails into knots trying to get his attention, but Milgazia-ojisama is just too..."Memphis glanced at Missus Jan and rolled her eyes up to the sky "absorbed in his duties."
"That he is indeed, Memphy. You know your uncle best." The Ryuzoku matron put an arm around Filia's shoulders. "But gossip isn't why you've come to see me, is it, Filia?"
"Actually, I'm looking for advice on how to raise babies..." Filia said shyly.
Missus Jan laughed. "You've come to the right place! In all of Dragon's Peak, I've raised lots of young ones—enough to earn me the nickname of Missus anyway. Let's get to that over a cup of tea, hm?"
Filia smiled beatifically. "I'd love that."
Memphis waved goodbye. "I'll be off now. I'll see if Uncle's ready to move into his new house; and even if he isn't, I'll start packing. I'll pick you up later for lunch, okay, Filia?" she started to skip back down the path.
"Okay," Filia smiled. "Thanks for everything, Memphis,"
The golden-haired elf turned, her eyes warm. "Call me Memphy. Everyone does. See ya!" With that, she sprinted down the narrow rock and gravel road.
Two weeks later, a council was summoned, for Filia was to tell of the events that ultimately led up to the transformation of Valgaav—now simply Val—and to his future rebirth.
Every one of the twelve Elders of both the Black Dragon and Golden Dragon races were already there in the Hall of the Elder Council, but The Elder was not.
Elder Inelo looked at Elder Vandar. "Didn't you tell him that we were holding Council now?"
Elder Inelo started to get up when they heard the snap of wings echoing through the great tunnels. Seconds later, Milgazia glided into the great Council Hall and landed on his ledge, which, given his position as Lord Elder of Dragon's Peak, was slightly raised.
Filia gasped softly in awe. Milgazia was easily the largest Gold dragon she had ever seen. He was larger than even Supreme Elder Saichuurouh, who was the oldest Ryuzoku that Filia had ever known, and only a little smaller than the ghosts of the Ancient Dragons that Filia had seen.
Milgazia gravely bowed his head in apology and said, "Forgive my tardiness. I was baking a pot roast."
There was a full minute of shocked silence, then the Black Dragon Elder Kinneas roared to tell that the council was in session. Milgazia blinked in mild confusion, before regaining his composure.
Filia recounted her tribe's dark history, of their fear of a clan of the Ancient Dragons that ultimately led to genocide. Filia's tale elicited some worried murmurs and disapproving looks. They weren't directed specifically at the former priestess, as she hadn't even been born when these things had happened. Rather, they were reflected on the waste of what her clan had done—and the horror of the deed. Even dragon hatchlings and unborn had been killed, at a time when the dragons were trying to recover from the Kouma War, and most of all, Xelloss' attack. It was in Dragon's Peak and the Valley of Dragons that they had been able to replenish their numbers, and it was only thanks to Milgazia's leadership that this had happened. Dragon young were precious to the inhabitants of the Valley, and as they were so rare, each hatchling was cherished and nurtured. Indeed, it might have been Filia's only saving grace: the fact she wanted to atone for the sins of her tribe.
Feeling ashamed despite herself, Filia let her gaze wander around the great cavern. All the other Ryuzoku were in their natural form, and she alone was in the humanoid form that her clan had preferred. It was a rather different one from the Ryuzoku of the Valley. The Ryuzoku of Filia's clan tended toward forms that resembled the Elves of old. Valley Ryuzoku wore very human-looking guises, and the only thing that would give them away would be their eyes—The irises were often diamond-shaped, slitted, and a metallic gold color. Also, many of the Valley dragons sported antler-like horns, while Filia had none, though she had a golden mane instead.
Many humans would have had plenty of trouble trying to tell individual Ryuzoku in their natural form apart from the other, but Filia was Ryuzoku and thus did not have such a handicap. She spotted Elder Rashia talking to Elder Milgazia and one of the Black Elders named Navi. The discussion was intense, but carried in low, measured tones. It seemed characteristic of the Valley Ryuzoku to speak softly but intently. Filia did not try to listen to them. There were too many mind-voices echoing through the great cavern as it was, and to try and sort them was fruitless.
Finally, Elder Navi stood up. The other twelve folded back their wings to show that she had the floor. The Black Dragon was silent for a moment, then she spoke. "Filia Ul Copt, this saga that you have brought us is a tale of pain and shame, humbling us all. But perhaps that it is good that this has happened...for then can we Ryuzoku realize our shortcomings. In truth, we have become too aloof, too arrogant. The times have changed, and if we do not change with them, then we, who seek to preserve, will ourselves be wiped out. There are things that we Ryuzoku do not know or cannot comprehend...simply because we have eternity. Filia, daughter of Bazaard Ul Copt of Karyu-oh no Shinden, would you share with us what you know?"
Elder Rashia raised his head a little higher to show that he had something to add. "Yes. You have spent so much time amongst humans, that surely you know them a little better now. Please, stay here in Dragon Valley with Val and enlighten us."
Filia's eyes widened, realizing what was being said. In that invitation was the offer that she become part of the Clans that inhabited the Valley of Dragons. She stood, bowing her head so that her face was shadowed, as the Hall resounded with the other Dragon Elders' approval and agreement on this suggestion.
"Forgive me, Elders, but I must decline your generous offer."
Silence descended upon the hall, pregnant with surprise. Filia lifted her head, smiling gently, her eyes shining with tears. "I cannot accept. I do not yet know enough about humans...I grew up with all the arrogance of my clan. You offer me an honor I do not feel I deserve. I must find myself again. All that I knew was a lie, and every belief I had was shattered. I cannot have peace yet. Also, I know nearly nothing of Humans...I treated them badly, with disdain. To correct this gravest of errors, I will live with them, as one of them, and learn of them. I must learn...to value life as they do. Perhaps one day, I will return, with Val, to this sacred valley...but not now."
The assembled Dragons looked at her, then at each other. "You show the promise of wisdom, Filia Ul Copt. Indeed, I agree with Elder Rashia that we must now learn more about mankind, in order to truly appreciate the value of living." The Elder Milgazia raised his head high. "Their lifespans are short, therefore they try to spend each moment of it well. We who are eternal cannot truly understand this...until we have lived it ourselves. You choose to go and live amongst them; have you found a place to stay?"
Filia nodded solemnly. "I have, Lord Elder Milgazia. The fox-man, Jiras and Gravos the Troll, are preparing it for me and his Master Val. It is a port town in a valley known as Green Cradle. We chose the site because the inhabitants of Green Cradle and the town of Windy Meadow are mostly farmers and artisans, and lead peaceful lives, normal human existences, but meet many people and races at the same time. It is there that I plan to settle and raise Val."
The council looked at each other again and nodded. "As you wish, then." Milgazia intoned, closing his luminous golden eyes. Then he raised his voice slightly, opening his eyes and mouth to give emphasis to what he was about to say. "I believe that the time has come for us to start interacting with the other races once again. Sequestered here in this valley, we will be left behind in news as well as knowledge. To this end, I will accompany Filia to her new home and observe how much the world has changed since we withdrew into this, our home valley, a thousand years ago. This will help facilitate our initiation of interchange with the humans." He looked around to the others, awaiting protest or violent reaction.
No one protested, for Milgazia was the only one save Filia who had most recently dealt with any humans. They also knew that he spoke logically and truthfully, and that remaining aloof from the other races would lead only to the stagnation of their own. It also went without saying that Lord Elder Milgazia probably had other reasons for wanting to get out of Dragon's Peak, though he himself might not have known what they were.
Milgazia stepped down from his lofty perch and landed gently in front of Filia. He flowed into his human form and bowed to young Dragon maiden respectfully. "May I accompany you, Filia Ul Copt, into the lands beyond the Kataart Mountains?"
Filia bowed deeply, deeper than Milgazia did. "I would be greatly honored."
Later that afternoon, Filia made her way to meet with Missus Jan once again. She was walking down the path, adjusting Val's pouch so that the sun would warm the bag when she met some young Ryuzoku who were talking amongst themselves intently. The argument was loud enough that she could hear their mind-voices from a fair distance.
"...what they did was against the very purpose of the Ryuzoku!" lamented a male Golden Dragon.
Another young male shuddered in horror. "To commit genocide on another race of Ryuzoku, so soon after the Kouma War...simply because they couldn't take the idea that someone was more powerful than they?"
"A waste! A waste!" a female Ryuzoku keened. "The Mazoku has no purpose in this world if those who are supposed to delay the very End hasten the ending. How they must have laughed..."
Filia stopped in her tracks, realizing that most of the Ryuzoku did not approve of what had happened—indeed, they condemned what Filia's clan had perpetuated so long ago.
"You! You dare call yourself Ryuzoku after what you've done?" Filia looked up to see a Black Ryuzoku male towering over her.
Another Ryuzoku, this one a Golden female snaked her head forward, hissing. "It is a good thing you aren't staying here; you'll destroy the sanctity of this valley!"
"False dragon!" sneered another female, and Filia couldn't tell who it was any longer. "I heard you once traveled in the company of the Beast Priest! Go to him then! You and he are of the same ilk!"
Filia stepped back, unable to do more than stammer weakly in protest. Unable to deny the accusations, unable to defend herself in the face of the contempt of the young Dragons, she clutched Val's egg to her chest, tears welling out of her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. The young Ryuzoku advanced, hissing menacingly at her, one ebon female lowering her head, jaws slightly parted to reveal her giant fangs.
As Filia tried to think of ways and means to protect the egg and herself without harming the angry Ryuzoku, a great black shadow fell over them all.
"You will cease this at once," A deep voice declared sternly.
The Dragon youths looked up. "It's the Lord Elder!" a Dragon maiden gasped.
Milgazia backwinged to slow his descent, then his hind paws touched lightly into the ground. Filia curled her body around Val's egg, so that should she fall due to the inevitable gale created by Milgazia's wings, it would be cushioned from the stone. Milgazia's head snaked forward and past Filia, and stopped only to gaze with stony disapproval at the young Dragon nearest her. The young Black Ryuzoku drooped her head, slunk back a few meters away, then flattened herself on the ground submissively. Milgazia raised his head slightly to transfix the others with his stare, who all backed down, squeaking in fear.
"Foolish hatchlings!" Milgazia intoned, raising himself to his full height over Filia. "With your words, you are as the one you accuse! No, you are worse for not using the mind that Ceiphied has blessed you with! Filia Ul Copt is the last of her Clan, and though she is of that Clan, she had no part in the crimes of her kin! In her care is the egg of the last Ancient Ryuzoku in the entire world—her penance for the sins of the Dragons who followed Karyu-oh Valbazard. You bring shame to us by your undisciplined actions and ignoble reproaches! As punishment, I decree that all of you go into seclusion and meditate upon this newly discovered history and speak to no one save an Elder when you have reached a more sensible and logical flow of thought." He shook his head sorrowfully, turning away from them at last. "Leave now. You have much to reflect on, to my detriment."
Milgazia's thundering but quiet proclamation reverberated from the mountain walls, and long before the echoes had faded, the area was empty of the unruly young Dragons.
Filia gazed up at him in awe and a little in fear. Here was the Lord Elder in all his majesty, not the self-effacing, soft-spoken Ryuzoku, whose authority had only been hinted at in the Hall of the Elder Council. Gone was the image of the dust-smudged, preoccupied young man. In its place, was the image of the one who ruled the Ryuzoku of the Valley, and ruled it well.
Memphis suddenly appeared next to Filia, touching her arm in concern. "Hey, are you all right?" without waiting for an answer she looked up at the sky. "They're in trouble now, but don't worry about them."
Milgazia roared once then shimmered into his human form to stand next to Filia. "My most humble apologies, Filia. What just transpired was most uncalled for." His face was expressionless but his eyes betrayed his disappointment. "I am ashamed that our young ones acted that way."
Filia shook her head. "No, Elder-sama...they were right. Since I am the last of my clan, their sins are mine by blood and heritage."
Milgazia looked at her, and Filia flinched involuntarily, remembering the understated rebuke that his gaze could deliver. "That does not mean that they should disrespect you. You are still a guest, and such rudeness reflects badly on our clan."
Memphis frowned. "I'll say."
"Please, Milgazia-sama...don't waste your time for my sake. They are young, like me, and hot-headed." Filia demurred. "I have not earned their respect."
"Good manners and civility, young one, are never a waste of time. If you think that you have not earned their respect, then they doubly have not earned yours. And if no one shows common courtesy to the other, then respect will never even be born." Milgazia scowled up at the sky as though he could still see the now-vanished Ryuzoku young. "Stupidity is no excuse. They should not judge you. Judge your clan, perhaps, as I have been listening to them do, but not pass sentence upon you who are trying to atone. Nothing will ever justify genocide, Filia...nothing will ever erase the stain your clan have brought upon us all. But if we learn nothing as well from mistakes made in the past...then we have already beaten ourselves."
Filia's eyes widened. "Milgazia-sama..."
"That is why I will go with you, Filia. I have made a mistake in sealing up my people within the safety of this valley, to simply exist. We Ryuzoku are to preserve life, not stagnate it. Life means change and learning, and if it is disaster that brings about changes for the better, then we must let danger back into our lives. The very fact that Gaav and the Mazoku could disturb us here in the Valley proves that we are not isolated from the rest of the world...so we must not isolate ourselves from it."
"You know better than to simply turn us loose en masse though, ne, Milgazia-sama?" Missus Jan stepped out from behind the bend. "Best to change our way of thinking little by little first. One can begin to reshape the landscape with a single flower,* Lord Elder, and that is what you hope to accomplish."
Milgazia laughed. "I have been compared to many things, Lady Jannia, but this is the first time I have been called a flower." He chuckled again, the tension gone from the air and from his eyes. Next to him, Memphis gasped with laughter, images of dandelions dancing in her head.
Milgazia ignored his irreverent niece. "The roast I was baking earlier is quite done, and should be cool by now. Shall we adjourn to my home and sample it?"
Missus Jan grinned. "Milgazia-sama, we'd be delighted."
"More than delighted!" Memphis draped an arm around Filia's shoulders. "Just wait until you taste Milgazia-ojisama's cooking! He doesn't do it often, but when he does..." the elf girl smacked her fingers against her lips.
"Really?" Filia asked, wonderingly.
"Memphy exaggerates." Milgazia murmured modestly, glancing over at the two girls.
"Not this time, Milgazia-ojisama!!!"
With that, the four started to walk up the path to Milgazia's new home.
They set out two days later, after Milgazia had made certain that someone would sweep his brand-new house clean each day and Memphis, Elder Inelo and Missus Jan promised to keep an eye on it. Shifting to human-form once more, Milgazia swept his hand out toward the pathway that led to the labyrinth and the outside world. "Shall we begin, young one?"
Filia turned back to the Valley one last time, her eyes lingering on the thousands of dragons that flew over it, their backs and wings gleaming gold and black in the sun. She let her breath be swept away by the peace and ancient majesty of the place, and listened to the giant waterfall so that she could remember its roar and take it with her.
Filia clasped her hands together and prayed. Oh Rugradia, Seiryu-oh, watch over your patron clan, and watch over your Lord Elder as he ventures out with me into this world...Guide him and help him find what he seeks, and help me find peace.
The prayer finished, Filia straightened the egg pouch at her hip, and started to walk toward the Dragon Elder Milgazia. He then turned his back on the Valley and took his first steps, retracing in reverse, the path Lina Inverse had taken a long time ago when she had sought the Claire Bible. She had come to the Valley and found what she was looking for. The one who guided her to her goal was now leaving the Valley, seeking something that only his heart knew about, but his mind remained ignorant of.
Back at the castle Milgazia had built, the Elders Inelo, Vandar, Rashia, Missus Jan and Memphis looked at each other once, then up at the smooth stone edifice, knowing that one day, with Ceiphied's grace, its halls would be filled with the long-awaited cries and laughter of children.
*Quote originally said by Spock to Captain Picard; Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification Part 2.
Thanks to Pen for the important feedback that led to my revision of the chapter. It was greatly appreciated and put to good use.