Hello there everybody! I'm back!
Well, it's finally here. I've been looking forward to starting this story for quite some time now, and it feels good to be back in the world of fanfic writing again. :)
So, without any further delay, please enjoy the first chapter of The Snare of Darkness!
Just a quick note: To anybody who doesn't know, this story is a sequel to my debut Spyro fanfic The Broken Line. If you haven't read it, please stop reading this Author's Note and go do it now. Otherwise, this story WILL NOT make sense.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any part of the Legend of Spyro franchise, nor any of the characters depicted therein. I do own all Original Characters that appear in this story.
Chapter 1: Illusions of Calm
In these forsaken lands, there was one simple truth that was all too apparent: time was torture.
Its passing was a harsh guarantee; steady, unvarying, and infuriatingly unsympathetic. It could be seemingly warped or delayed by those with the right power, but in the end it flowed unrelentingly. Nothing could stand in its path. Those who had tried were no more.
In the Dark Realms, this bitter truth was all the more evident. Time moved at an agonizing crawl, and every day it was the same trials, the same hardships, and the same torment. There was nothing to provide an escape or relief, nothing to do but sit as time was slowly, steadily stolen away.
A distant rumble echoed across the barren wastes of stone and sand, and in response a lone figure turned her gaze listlessly toward a faraway point on the horizon, where she could faintly see a flare of red and orange light as some outlying volcano erupted, just one in an endless cycle. Barely a second later the dragoness gave a disinterested huff and looked away again, her hard, blood red eyes flickering over the smoky horizon, the distant crimson glow casting an odd tint on her indigo purple scales. Her lips were drawn into a scowl, and her tail swished irritably behind her.
I can't wait to leave this hell behind me, she thought.
Nevertheless, despite the agitation and restlessness that plagued her, she knew inside that waiting was all she could do.
By this point she should have been used to letting time slip by her. She had spent countless years unable to do anything else, after all, sealed inside a crystal prison, but still it drove her practically to insanity. She was free now, and all she wanted was to be able to do something. She didn't care what it was, so long as it gave her an outlet for her pent-up energy and boredom, but in this place there was nothing. Even training gave her no relief, for it was nothing more than a pathetic substitute for the real thrill and excitement she craved.
She huffed again and sharply rose to her paws, unable to bear sitting still any longer. Ever since being released from her captivity she had been unable to remain in one place for any length of time, as if she feared that if she didn't move about she would find herself frozen once more, trapped. She began pacing agitatedly along the sharp ridgeline that overlooked the plains and desert below with no clear destination in mind, just moving for the sake of it as her mind worked over her brooding thoughts.
It has been long enough, she growled within her mind. What use is there in delaying any longer? We should act now!
Lost in her agitated contemplations, she didn't even realize where her wandering had taken her until she looked up and saw the low cave opening before her. She paused uncertainly, unable to decide whether to enter or leave again. She knew what she would find within, but then again there wasn't really anywhere else to go...
The dragoness gave a resigned sigh and entered the dim passage, moving slowly so as to allow her eyes to adjust to the gloom. The dim, familiar violet glow of the dark crystal veins in the walls caressed her scales, accentuating their shade, and something about it helped to ease a small amount of her troubles, though not by much. She paused for a brief moment in front of one such crystal formation, staring into it before lifting a paw and brushing it against the cold surface. The twisting patterns of light seemed to pulse at the contact, and the dragoness felt a small tingle run up her foreleg as her own body reacted to the energies trapped within.
Strange, the ways things are connected, she mused.
She shook her head to bring herself back to the present. Turning, she resumed her slow trek down into the cave. It was only a few moments more before the rough stone walls fell away to reveal a low, circular chamber, the same dark crystals casting their sickly light throughout it, leaving only the twelve hollows recessed into the walls concealed in darkness. These hollows were bare and empty, save for the one to the right of the entry passage which was where the dragoness had gathered together a makeshift nest of dry, brittle weeds and lichen to sleep on. The cramped space was hardly large enough for an adult dragon, but in this place options were scarce.
She hardly registered these sights at that moment, however. Her eyes were drawn solely to the hulking purple figure sitting hunched over the stone ring in the centre of the room.
As the dragoness stepped into their cave dwelling, Ragnor gave a low, rumbling sigh and slowly straightened. His back was turned, so she couldn't see his face, but the rolling of his powerful, bladed shoulders as he leaned back from the ring denoted the tension he held within him. As he straightened the shifting lights that had filled the ring like the surface of a rippling pool warped and dissipated, leaving only hard stone in their wake. The dragoness realized that her master had been viewing something through the ring, but whatever it was, he hadn't liked it. She felt herself growing wary as she cautiously approached.
She stopped when she was a few paces away from the larger dragon, now at an angle that allowed her to see his face. It was as she had suspected. His vicious jaws were set in a grimace, a dangerous light in his feral eyes.
"Problem?" she asked after a moment spent considering her words carefully, then abandoning all pretences and electing to simply be blunt.
Ragnor sighed again; a deep rumble that she could practically feel through the air. The dragoness's body was tense as she sat awaiting his response, every sense alert for a sign of danger. If his anger were to be sparked, she wanted to be ready to flee under the cover of Dragon Time at an instant's notice.
"Nexus continues to elude me," her master replied finally, his gaze not shifting from the empty stone ring.
His tone had been calm when he'd spoken, despite the tension in his huge frame. He made it sound like nothing but an inconvenience, though the dragoness knew that it must be much more than that to him. She knew the thirst her master bore for the traitor's blood, and this setback couldn't be sitting well with him one bit.
"That shouldn't be possible," she remarked after another careful pause.
"No," Ragnor agreed. "And yet I am unable to even glimpse him. Some deep, ancient power blocks my gaze, but I know not what."
The dragoness frowned, growing on edge. "A threat?"
"No," Ragnor said again. "This power holds no edge of danger in it. It is a covering, and nothing more."
The dragoness grunted, her own eyes hardening and drifting toward the ring.
She sensed her master's gaze shifting onto her, and she quickly lifted her eyes to meet it. The larger dragon's expression was as difficult to read as always, and she couldn't guess what he might be thinking. She could only wait for him to speak, which he did only a second later.
"Your eagerness for battle is refreshing. Don't worry; you will get your chance to test your might soon enough. For the time being, though, you must be patient, my servant."
The dragoness wanted to make some sort of retort, to say that she had done nothing but be patient for longer than should have been necessary. She was sick of being patient. She wanted the chance she had been craving for well over a millennium, to flex her talons again and rain despair and terror down upon the lands as she once had. The Dark Realms were not where she belonged, and sitting idly was not part of her purpose.
She kept her mouth shut, however, knowing that such remarks would gain her nothing. She was no fan of restraint, but when it was necessary, it was necessary. She only hoped it wouldn't be necessary for much longer.
A long moment passed in silence, but at length a new question entered the dragoness's mind, and she looked up at her master again.
"Are you waiting for him to show himself before acting?"
Ragnor immediately shook his head. "It is of no importance if he emerges from hiding or not. No, all that matters is timing. The stage must be set right before proceeding."
The dragoness frowned again. "But the longer we wait, the more our enemies recover their strength. Would it not have been better to strike while they were still weak?"
"It would have, but your condition didn't allow for that. But again, it does not matter. As they recover, they drop their guard. The quiet will make them weak again. Peace is like a disease, eroding the strength of those foolish enough to believe it can last."
The dragoness gazed up at her master with a look of puzzlement, finding his logic strange but knowing better than to question it. Instead she merely watched in silence as Ragnor lifted a massive forepaw and set it on the rim of the stone ring. The hard surface within rippled like water before being replaced by a hazy white light. Then, slowly, an image began to resolve itself in the ring's centre. Gradually a recognizable figure was revealed: a young dragon, sitting alone in the sunlight, with scales of a colour much like their own.
"Even the strongest succumb to its crippling effects," Ragnor growled ominously. "Let them sicken. They grow more vulnerable by the day, and they don't even realize it."
The dragoness said nothing in reply. Instead, she simply gazed down at the image in the ring, a faint grin slowly growing at the corners of her lips as her master's words instilled a dangerous excitement within her. The fools would never know what hit them until it was too late.
She could hardly wait to get started.
"Very soon, they will be helpless against us. Only then, when our success is guaranteed, will we strike, and when we do the world will fall to us."
Ragnor lifted one of his enormous paws and held it pad up in front of him. A sphere of earth formed above it, and the purple dragon slowly wrapped his claws around it, holding the solid mass of stone firmly in his grip. Then, in a single quick movement, he clenched his paw around the earth sphere and shattered it, reducing it to dust.
"You will have your retribution," he growled in a low tone, his eyes steely as he gazed upon the image of the young purple 'hero' in the stone ring. "And I will finally have my revenge..."
The dull roar of the waves crashing against the shore was at the same time impressive and soothing. Its tone and volume spoke of power, of the sea's relentless assault that even the mighty cliffs would eventually crumble against, but at the same time its steady rhythm was deeply calming. In a world where everything could change in a heartbeat and lives could be upended without warning, it was something that was constant and reliable, that would always be the same no matter what transpired elsewhere.
It was this kind of constancy and comfort that always drew Spyro back to this place.
The young purple dragon was motionless as he gazed out over the glittering sea from his perch on the coastal cliffs. The sheltered natural platform of stone that sat halfway up the sheer rock face had become a haven to him in recent months, offering a place of isolation and refuge that he could return to whenever the chaos of his life in the dragon city of Warfang became too much for him. It was something that he could have all to himself, and it seemed to be one of the few places left where he could be surrounded by nothing but quiet and tranquility.
Another wave crashed against the cliff face far below him, and Spyro inhaled deeply as the coastal breeze carried the fine spray up to him, the full, salty aroma filling his nostrils and the cool mist tickling his scales. A faint smile touched his lips, and when he opened his eyes again he felt contentment blooming within him as he soaked up the peaceful vista.
A few minutes passed in which he was utterly still, but then his gaze drifted down to the grassy soil by his side. A small patch of soft brown stone had been cleared in the middle of the grass, and in the centre of this a simple sculpture stood. With slow, calculated movements Spyro reached toward it with a talon and slowly traced a curving line across it, the tip of his claw glowing with a faint green energy. The stone in the sculpture responded to the motion, shifting and twisting as if molded by invisible paws. He made only small alterations at a time, gradually whittling away at the stone's form, each change bringing it closer to the vision he carried in his mind.
He spent a moment studying his work in progress. The sculpture was of two dragons, with their wings spread as though flying, looking as if they might be chasing each other or playing in the sky. It was quite simple in design, with no incredibly fine details or elaborate decorations. Still, though it may not be a masterpiece, Spyro was quite proud of how it was turning out. This was something that he had created himself, entirely as he wanted without any guidance or anyone watching over his shoulder. It was his, and his alone.
Giving a satisfied nod after looking over the sculpture again, the purple dragon turned his gaze back to the sea. He inhaled deeply, savouring the freshness of the air and letting the pure, clean scent play up his nostrils. A contented smile pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he sighed.
He decided that this must be what it felt like to live the life he had dreamed of having since he had learned what he was nearly four years ago. No fear, no danger, just the trivial worries of daily life to deal with. True, it wasn't entirely what he had hoped for; as a purple dragon there was always something else expected of him, and he was beginning to find fame to be a tiresome burden. Still, the moments such as this where all was quiet and calm were more than enough to make him feel like everything he had worked for was worth it.
A small, nagging voice in the back of his mind told him that he was a fool to think that things would stay this way. From the day he had learned of his nature and destiny he had known only trials and conflict, and it seemed that no matter how hard he fought against it those troubles would always find him again. Somewhere in the world there was always something poised to shatter the delicate illusion that was peace and happiness.
And there was still the question of Ragnor.
A troubled frown creased the young dragon's features as that name echoed in his mind like a shade from the past. The events of that day in the Well of Souls were ones that he wished he could forget but that refused to be dislodged from his mind. No matter how hard he tried to escape them, they would always return in both waking thought and in dreams.
Five months had passed since the battle, and yet he could remember every detail of it like it was only yesterday. The noise; the pain; the fear and desperation; the helplessness in the face of a seemingly unbeatable adversary; the way he had fought side by side with a dragon that up until that point had been his sworn enemy.
There hadn't been a single sign of Ragnor since that day, nor had Spyro been stricken by any more attacks of pain in his head which were apparently caused by Ragnor as well. Everything appeared safe and calm. Even so, that day plagued him with unease despite the way the world around him was thriving in this time of peace and safety. It left him with a pit of worry deep inside of him, as well as oddly unsettled.
The things they said about me... he thought distractedly. What could they mean?
He had struggled with this question often during the recent months, but no answers had presented themselves. The efforts of his friends had likewise proved futile to understand this puzzle, and eventually they seemed to have decided to just let the matter drop. He would also rather just push such questions aside and focus instead on what he knew about himself—that he had been raised to be good by his family, that he loved his friends and that he would give anything to protect them—but he couldn't help but notice the disturbing pattern that had begun to emerge.
He had encountered three other purple dragons over a matter of only a few months, and all three of them had insinuated that his background was of a more sinister bent than he had been led to believe by those he trusted.
An unnerving feeling of doubt and confusion churned his gut, but Spyro immediately shook his head to drive it away, forcing those troubling thoughts from his mind. He didn't need to listen to what Malefor, Nexus or Ragnor said about him. They didn't know him. They didn't understand the things he held dear to him, and what drove him through the struggles and trials that stood in his path. He knew what he was.
He gave another sigh, but this one was tinged with unease.
It was then that his sculpture caught his eye once again. He glanced down toward it, but when he did he paused for a moment, cocking his head to the side and frowning thoughtfully. After a brief examination, he decided that the left foreleg of one of the dragons still didn't look quite right, and so he reached down with a glowing talon to correct it with his earth power.
Just before he could begin his work, however, a faint sound caught his attention. He went still, straining his ears to make it out over the dull roar of the waves and the calls of seaside birds. For several seconds he was unable to identify it, but as its source drew closer he finally registered what he was hearing.
His light purple eyes turned upward to the clear sky overhead, a puzzled expression on his face. Who could be out here? His retreat on the cliffs was a fair distance from the city—part of its allure for the purple dragon—so he couldn't imagine why anyone would come out this way. Unless, perhaps, they were looking for him?
He felt a confused mix of concern and irritation at that thought. On the one hand, if someone was looking for him it might mean that there was some kind of trouble in the city. What if something had happened? What if some danger had been discovered that might threaten the peace he had fought so hard for and suffered so much to secure? He needed to know.
But on the other hand, he didn't want anyone to find this place. It was selfish of him, but he wanted to keep this haven a secret for as long as he possibly could. As soon as it was discovered he would likely never be able to find peace there again, and this was something that he desperately wished to avoid. There were so few places left where he could be left undisturbed, and losing this one would be a difficult blow.
It was too late now, however. The sound of the approaching wing beats told him that the intruder was closing in on his position. He wouldn't be able to leave without being spotted, and so his discovery was inevitable. Giving a resigned sigh, he simply waited to see who it was that was coming.
It was barely another minute before the dragon who was the source of the noise appeared over the lip of the cliff face above him, approaching from the east. When they did, however, Spyro straightened in surprise, for his unexpected guest wasn't an entirely unwelcome one.
"So this is where you've been disappearing to, is it?" Cynder asked as she touched down on the edge of the narrow platform. She regarded Spyro with a slight smirk on her face, and he could only stare back.
The dragoness folded her magenta wings against her flanks and examined her surroundings, her emerald eyes systematically scanning over every detail. Her midnight black scales glistened in the early afternoon light, and Spyro winced as the sun briefly reflected off of the viciously sharp blades that grew from Cynder's wings and tail. As she took in the view and the secluded atmosphere, a look of intrigue flashed across her expression.
"It's a nice spot," she commented a moment later before padding over closer to the purple dragon and sitting down facing him. A humorous sparkle shone in her eyes, but the look also bore a hint of accusation. "I'm surprised you never mentioned it."
Spyro found himself unable to come up with a reply for several seconds, still trying to decide whether he was pleased or annoyed that his companion had happened upon his location. At length, though, he gave a defeated sigh and his gaze dropped briefly toward the ground.
"I guess it would be stupid to think I could keep it a secret forever," he said. "But I just needed a spot where I could get away sometimes. You're not mad that I didn't tell you, are you?"
Cynder considered him for a short while, her eyes locking with his and seeming to pierce right into him effortlessly with their gaze. Not long after that, though, her posture relaxed slightly and her expression became a touch softer.
"No, I guess not," she told him. "I understand the need to be alone. I can't say I blame you for wanting to escape every now and then."
Spyro merely nodded, relieved that the black dragoness wasn't upset with him for keeping this secret from her.
"I do wish you'd told me about it, though," she added, turning her head to look out over the glittering sea. "It really is a nice little spot."
Spyro thought he caught something hidden in her voice at those words, and he studied her for a moment curiously. He couldn't keep the small smile from forming on his lips a second later.
"Well, there's nothing to stop you from coming along next time now that you know about it."
Cynder met his gaze again and smirked when she saw his expression.
Spyro chuckled, his gaze dropping to the grass at his paws again as he considered this development. Cynder watched him for a moment, but then her eyes seemed to pick out the small stone sculpture by Spyro's side and she leaned her head over to gaze at it curiously.
"And what's this?" she asked.
Spyro looked up at the question, and when he saw her looking at his sculpture he faltered in surprise.
"Oh," he said uncertainly, feeling an odd sort of embarrassment coming over him at having his little hobby discovered. "It's...just something I work on when I come out here."
"I didn't know you were interested in sculpting."
Spyro didn't quite know what to say in response to that. He merely waited as Cynder examined his work, feeling strangely anxious. What if she didn't think it was very good? He knew that he was no master in this art, but still, what if she dismissed his efforts as those of an amateur, or laughed at him?
"It isn't finished yet..." he said uncertainly as the silence drew on.
"I didn't think so," Cynder nodded, not taking her eyes off the sculpture. "But it looks good so far."
Spyro blinked, surprised. "Really?"
Cynder glanced up at him and noticed his expression. An amused smirk spread across her muzzle.
"Yeah, I like it," she said. Then she leaned down again and brought her face close to the miniature stone dragoness on the left, which was the more complete of the two. "So what's their story?"
Spyro didn't answer for a short moment, thinking and still a little surprised that Cynder had liked his sculpture, but also pleased. At length he simply shrugged, picking absently at the male dragon on the right with a talon.
"I don't know, just two dragons flying together, I guess. Flying, without any other worries weighing down on them, just living peaceful lives together with no fear or danger."
Cynder seemed to pick up on the faint trace of longing in her companion's tone, and she looked up at him again with a studying gaze, though she still bore a small smile on her lips.
"Anyone in mind in particular?"
Spyro shook his head, not catching the meaning of her words. "No, just two regular dragons. Could be anyone, I guess."
Cynder gave a quiet sigh and rolled her eyes in mild exasperation, but Spyro didn't notice this, his expression distant as he stared down at the sculpture, lost in thought. For a time they both just sat there, Cynder watching the purple dragon with an amused glint in her eyes. It was some time before she broke the silence between them.
"Well, this is all very nice and all," she said, glancing quickly around at the seaside view before fixing her gaze on Spyro once again. "But are you maybe forgetting about something?"
This time Spyro did notice the hint in her voice, and he looked up at her in confusion. She was gazing at him with an expectant look in her eyes, and clearly there was something that he was supposed to know about that she was referring to, but his mind was drawing a blank. His gaze drifted off distantly, a puzzled frown creasing his features as he tried to figure out what the dragoness was talking about.
It was when he looked up at the sky and noticed the position of the sun that it finally clicked. All at once a jolt of shock rushed through him, and he turned back to Cynder with wide eyes. A smirk appeared at the corner of her mouth.
"Oh, crap!" he exclaimed. "It's not that time already, is it?"
"Uh, yeah, master oblivious!" Cynder scolded him. "You were supposed to be ready and at the Temple courtyard over half an hour ago! Do you have any idea how long I've been looking for you?"
"Sorry, I lost track of time! How long do we still have?"
"Just over ten minutes. Come on, let's go!"
Spyro didn't waste any time with questions. Seized by a rush of urgency, he leapt into the air and beat his wings as fast as he could to keep up with Cynder as she raced through the sky toward Warfang's proud, towering walls. The city's polished walls and buildings gleamed majestically in the sunlight, and even from this distance Spyro could make out the shapes of dragons weaving amongst the rooftops. There were dozens of them in the air alone, all of them heading for the Guardians' Temple in the centre of the city.
"Come on!" Cynder urged him from ahead. "We can still make it if we hurry!"
Spyro nodded and put on a renewed burst of speed, straining his wings for every last ounce of speed he could get. It was only a couple of minutes later that the pair of young dragons sped over the city's wall and began dodging between buildings at a frantic pace, heading for their residence building.
The streets below them were a hive of activity, with creatures of all sorts mingling amongst brightly decorated squares and courtyards. There were dragons, moles and cheetahs, as well as many other races that Spyro had only encountered fleetingly in recent days; foxes, badgers, bears, leopards, and much more. There were also some creatures of a more magical variety, like the phoenixes, and the other day Spyro had even met a pair of griffins, which had come as quite a surprise to him since he had only heard of them once in passing from the Guardians.
The streets themselves were lined with stalls and vendor's carts, while streamers and banners were strung between buildings in a chaotic web that could easily snag any unwary dragons passing by. Flags of all colours and designs were everywhere, and the noise was unbelievable. Put simply, Warfang was packed.
Finally, what felt like ages later but was actually only another couple of minutes, the two young dragons dove sharply to the ground and landed just outside the entrance of their residence. They wasted no time dashing through the open doorway, both because they were pressed for time and because they didn't want to get intercepted by any of the many creatures in the streets. They ignored the moles rushing about the foyer and instead climbed the stairs at a gallop, soon emerging on their floor and bursting through the door to Spyro's room.
"Let's get that armour down here," Cynder instructed, pointing up toward Spyro's enclosed sleeping chamber. "I'll help you put it on."
Spyro didn't argue, and only a moment later he and Cynder had the various pieces of his gleaming silver ceremonial armour scattered on the floor of his chambers' common room. Wasting no time, Cynder grabbed the chest plate in her forepaws and she and Spyro set to work manoeuvring it into position.
"I can't believe you," Cynder grunted as she worked frantically to secure the straps for the armour, tightening them across his shoulders and back. Once that was finished she lifted up the back plate and buckled it to the chest plate's straps, letting it sit so that it covered the purple dragon's upper back between his wings as well as the upper portion of his flanks. While she worked, Spyro noticed that there was an undertone of amusement in her voice despite her scolding words, though. "You're lucky I found you. The Guardians would have been furious if you missed the ceremony."
"Tell me about it," Spyro groaned as Cynder began trying to set the tail plate of his armour into position. "They've been all over me about what my participation stands for, and how important it is tha—whoa!"
He yelped and jumped when he suddenly felt Cynder reaching around his hind legs to try and grab the strap for the tail plate to buckle it across his underbelly. The black dragoness rolled her eyes and shot him a wry frown.
"Don't get too excited, purple boy," she said dryly. "Now hold still so I can...there, got it. Now it's just the bracers and we're done."
As she moved around to stand in front of him again, Spyro picked up one of the bracers in his left forepaw and held it against his other foreleg. Cynder quickly looped the straps through the buckles and cinched them down, fastening the bracer in place.
"Good?" she asked.
"A bit tighter," Spyro replied, shaking his head, at the same time setting the shining silver helm upon his head with his free forepaw and wiggling it about to try and get it to sit comfortably in place. A second later Cynder finished with the right bracer and set to work on the left, pulling on the straps. Almost immediately, however, Spyro let out a sharp cry of pain and jerked his foreleg back, causing the bracer to slip off in Cynder's paws.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Cynder exclaimed quickly, a look of guilt and concern flashing across her expression. "Was that too tight?"
Spyro didn't answer for a moment, his features pinched as he gazed down at his left foreleg. His eyes settled upon the patch of misshapen, discoloured scales that marked where the limb had been crippled by Cynder's poison months before. He twisted his forepaw to stretch out the tense muscles beneath the scar, wincing slightly as the movement elicited another brief twinge of pain.
"Don't worry about it," he sighed finally. "It was an accident."
"Is it bothering you again?" Cynder asked him, concern in her tone.
"It's fine. Just a little twinge. It's gone now."
Cynder didn't appear convinced, gazing intently into his eyes. "Maybe we should take you to the healers' pavilion after the ceremony."
"The healers?" Spyro repeated in surprise. "Are you serious?"
"The physician said to go see him whenever it bothered you."
"Yeah, but I was just there last week."
Cynder said nothing, simply staring hard into her companion's eyes. Her expression was one of firm seriousness, and it was only a second later that Spyro found himself unable to hold that gaze any longer.
"Okay, okay, fine. But I'm telling you, it's nothing. Now, can we just focus on the ceremony for right now?"
Cynder nodded. "Hold on, this will only take a second..."
She set the bracer in place with more care this time, and a moment later she had it secured in place, the straps not quite as tight as they were on the other side but enough that the bracer wouldn't easily slide off. Spyro flexed his foreleg experimentally and frowned when he felt a dull ache in his scar from the light pressure, but he made no complaint. Instead he straightened his head and shoulders and squared himself to the black-scaled dragoness.
"Well, how do I look?" he asked, striking a formal pose.
Cynder chuckled, a grin forming on her lips. "Very heroic. That armour suits you."
Spyro craned his neck down to get a look at himself, trying to see if she was telling the truth. The armour was the same polished ceremonial set that the Guardians had placed in his room before he had first arrived back at the city. Crafted by the moles, the edges of the shining silver plates were decorated by an intricate array of embossed designs.
All four of the base elements were represented in these designs; fire, ice, earth and electricity, with the patterns divided into sections for each element. The transitions between these sections were so seamless that they were almost unnoticeable; if someone followed the edges of the armour with their gaze, they would often not notice the change until they were already well past it.
Aside from these designs, a series of royal purple accents were tastefully forged into the metal plates, matching Spyro's scales perfectly. All in all, the armour was of breathtaking quality and was worth more than anything Spyro had ever owned before or dreamed of owning. Wearing it made him feel like nobility, but it also made him tremendously anxious of accidentally damaging it and he decided he couldn't wait to take it off and set it safely back on his shelf.
"I just wish it wasn't so heavy," he commented, already feeling the added weight pressing down on his legs. "I'm glad I don't have to fight in this stuff. I doubt it would protect me very well anyway."
"Yeah, well, I doubt you have to worry about running into any grublins out there today. Now come on, we have to hurry. They're probably about to start."
Spyro nodded in agreement, and the pair hastened out of the purple dragon's room and down to the building's foyer, soon emerging out in the crowded streets once more. As soon as they had left the building, however, they were brought to an abrupt halt when they found the way before them completely blocked by a wall of bodies.
"I can't believe how packed this place is!" Cynder exclaimed. "We're never going to get through that!"
"Can we fly over it?"
Both Spyro and Cynder turned their gazes up to the air above them, studying the situation. It didn't look promising; there were strings of flags and banners everywhere, crisscrossing over the Temple's courtyard and amongst the buildings surrounding it in a thick covering which would be a nightmare to manoeuvre around. Aside from that there were still dragons circling about, trying to find places to land amongst the crowd, making navigating in that tangle hazardous.
"Not likely," Cynder grunted finally, a look of frustration in her eyes. "Besides, flying out in the open is just an invitation for you to get mobbed in this crowd."
"Well then what are we going to do?" Spyro asked, growing anxious. "It'll take us forever to circle around in the streets."
"I know, I know. Just let me think."
"Sounds like you two have a problem."
Spyro jumped and spun around at the new voice that suddenly spoke up from directly behind them. Beside him Cynder did the same, dropping into a defensive stance, but as soon as the pair set eyes on the intruder they faltered.
"Enigma!" Cynder exclaimed, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Before them stood a young dragoness of almost identical age as the two heroes, standing only a couple of inches shorter than Spyro did and nearly exactly on a level with Cynder. Her scales were a deep onyx black that were polished to a perfect sheen, and yet that still seemed to suck light into them instead of reflect it as much as they should have. Two long, curved silver horns sprouted from the back of her narrow, angular head, each with a much smaller pair flanking it on either side. Two more small horns protruded from under the base of her jaw, curving back much more sharply than the others. Her claws were of the same pale silver colour, as well as the hooked blade that adorned the tip of her tail and the long curved claws that extended from her wing joint. Her underbelly and wings were a deep navy blue, and her hard, intense eyes were the same colouring, as were the two symmetrical, thin markings far back on her forehead.
Spyro had first encountered this mystery dragoness just over three months before, and apparently Cynder had met her a couple of weeks before that. When he had first seen Enigma she and Cynder had been standing side by side, and Spyro had been forced to stop and do a double take after at first mistaking them for sisters. Upon closer inspection the resemblance wasn't actually all that strong, but it was still close enough to all but cement Spyro's suspicions that, had Cynder not been corrupted by Malefor's powers and granted with her uncommon elemental abilities, she would have been a shadow dragoness.
In the intervening time Enigma had grown to be a close friend to both of them. One thing that unnerved Spyro about her, however, was the way that she never seemed to display any emotion. Her face was always set in a hard, cold mask, her eyes sharp and piercing. He couldn't imagine why she chose to bury her feelings and show nothing to the world around her, and it was something that had taken some time to get used to.
"I came looking for you two," Enigma said in response to Cynder's inquiry. "The Guardians were getting worried."
"Yeah, well, someone got a bit distracted," Cynder replied wryly, casting an amused glare in Spyro's direction, and the purple dragon gave a sheepish grin. "And now we don't know how we're going to get around this crowd in time."
Enigma paused momentarily, her deep blue eyes darting over to the crowd obstructing their path before her gaze settled on Spyro, thoughtful.
"I can get you there if you would like."
Spyro and Cynder both blinked in surprise.
"You can?" Spyro asked, puzzled. "How?"
"We don't really have time for questions, do we?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Glad you understand," Enigma cut him off, at the same time closing the distance between them with two purposeful strides. Spyro was mildly startled when she reached up and placed her forepaw on his shoulder, her grip surprisingly tight and strong. "Hang on."
"Wait, what—" Spyro began, but before he could complete his question he suddenly found himself swimming in shadow.
It happened so suddenly that he couldn't make sense of it in his mind. All he was aware of was an impossibly total blackness all around him, as well as a profoundly strange and unsettling tugging feeling within him, as if his body, his very being was being stretched and distorted. He felt like he was being smothered, unable to find air to fill his lungs—not that it mattered, since his chest felt like it was being crushed in a vice and so breathing in would have been impossible anyway. He felt lost and helpless, and it was all he could do to fight against the horrible spinning of his head.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The darkness surrounding him was replaced by harsh, glaring sunlight, and he noticed that the jumbled roar of the crowd seemed to have shifted, so that now it was nearly all around him instead of just ahead. Wobbling precariously and feeling quite dizzy, the purple dragon blinked multiple times to try and make his vision fall into focus again.
"Oh, Spyro!" a familiar rumbling, earthy voice exclaimed. "There you are!"
The world around him finally resolved into something recognizable, and when Spyro looked up he found a large green head gazing back at him. The Earth Guardian, Terrador, looked quite relieved to see him, but where had he come from? Feeling utterly disoriented and very confused, Spyro looked around to see that he was standing behind a raised stone platform, with Terrador and Volteer standing before him dressed in their own ceremonial armour. Enigma stood beside him, watching him with that same impassive expression.
"What..." he forced out unsteadily, still wobbling slightly on his feet. "What did you just do?"
"I solved your crowd problem," the dragoness replied plainly. "I'll get out of your way now. I'll probably see you after the ceremony."
With that, swirls of inky darkness appeared around her body, and before Spyro could stop her or ask for an explanation her body dissolved into shadow, vanishing into a patch of blackness on the ground. The dark blotch that was all that remained of her then darted off out of sight, leaving twisted curls of black smoke in its wake.
It dawned on him that this was how Enigma had gotten him through the crowd; by pulling him into the shadows with her and transporting him here. He was stunned by this realization, since before then he hadn't even known that it was possible for shadow dragons to bring others into their shadows with them.
I wonder why Cynder never mentioned it.
"Well, you're right on time," Terrador said from behind him, jolting him back to the present. "Let's get this ceremony underway."
He lifted a massive forepaw and beat it twice against the raised stone platform beside him, which had been constructed over the past couple of days in the Temple courtyard to serve as a stage for this occasion. At the moment it served to shelter Spyro and the other dragons from the massive crowd on the other side, allotting them a small amount of privacy. When his paw impacted the stone Spyro felt a deep rumble pass through the ground beneath his feet, clearly a result of the Earth Guardian's element. Apparently it was a signal, for a second later a loud, self-important voice called out from out of sight up on the platform, projecting out over the roar of the crowd.
"Attention, everyone! I am pleased to announce that the time we have all been waiting for has come! Now, as you all know, we are gathered here today to mark a momentous occasion..."
"Come along, Volteer," Terrador said, turning to his yellow-scaled colleague. "Let's go join Cyril on the stage. Spyro, we'll see you up there momentarily."
"This is all so wonderful, incredible, fantastic, delightful!" Volteer chattered like an over-energetic hatchling as he followed Terrador toward the platform's steps. "I cannot even begin to describe how excited and exhilarated I am!"
"Oh, I'm sure you can, Volteer. I'm sure you can..."
Spyro watched with a grin on his face as the two Guardians disappeared up on the platform while Cyril continued his speech. For a moment all that could be heard was the jubilant thunder of the crowd and the Ice Guardian giving his opening address. Just then, however, Spyro heard the sound of a paw brushing against the cobblestones nearby, and he turned about to see a new figure that had just descended the steps from the Temple under the cover of the stage.
"Nervous?" Spyro asked with a smirk as the larger red dragon stepped up beside him, noticing easily the look of apprehension on his face.
"You have no idea," Sirius replied in a slightly unsteady voice. His whole body was shaking from anticipation and excess energy, his right forepaw repeatedly thumping against the ground. He seemed uncomfortable in his golden ceremonial armour, because he kept fidgeting with the chest plate and the helm as if they were stifling him. "I can't even remember the words for the speech I'm supposed to be giving up there. Oh, Ancestors, help me..."
Spyro chuckled and gave his head a small shake, unable to hide his amusement at the older dragon's anxiety. It was unusual to see the normally collected and confident dragon in such a state, and he was enjoying it.
"You must be excited, though," he said. "You've been waiting a long time for this. You should be proud."
Sirius nodded, a small smile tugging at his lips for a brief second. "Yeah, I am. I've worked so hard for this day, and dreamed about when it would come. But now that it's actually here...I just hope I don't pass out in front of everybody."
"Don't worry, I'll ice you if it looks like you're about to go down."
"Oh, thanks," the fire dragon snorted sarcastically, still as fidgety as ever. "Good thing I've got a pal like you watching my back."
Spyro grinned widely, chuckling to himself, and despite his nerves Sirius also gave a small smile.
Just then Cyril's voice up on the stage caught both of their attention, and they both looked up.
"...and so now, without any further delay, free citizens of the Dragon Realms, please give a warm welcome to our young colleague, Master of the Flame, Sirius the Dragon!"
The crowd roared with thunderous applause and approval, and beside him Spyro saw Sirius gulp nervously, his face paling and his eyes frozen wide with fear. He looked like someone that was about to step up onto the gallows. Grinning, Spyro nudged the larger dragon with a wing and nodded his helmeted head forward.
"Dear Ancestors," Sirius muttered. Then, after taking a long, deep breath, he squared his shoulders and ascended the stone steps, Spyro following right behind him.
The cheering rose to a fever pitch when the two of them appeared atop the wide stone platform for all to see, their armour gleaming in the sunlight. The three Guardians were standing a few paces over to their right, waiting for them and watching them approach with broad smiles on their faces. Sirius hesitated for a few seconds, struggling with his nerves, but then he forced himself to move over to join the elder dragons. Spyro followed before stopping a couple of steps back from the others, waiting for his turn in the proceedings.
As the three Guardians welcomed the younger dragon onto the stage with them, Spyro scanned the crowd in an attempt to locate any familiar faces. In the sea of bodies it was a difficult task, but at length he was able to spot Cynder a ways into the courtyard, sitting beside Enigma and looking back at him. When their gazes met she gave a smile and a small nod of her head, which he returned gratefully. Beside her Enigma's expression was still stony as ever, but it had at least softened a touch so that it wasn't quite as intense in light of the jovial atmosphere surrounding her.
Also in the crowd were Faren and Tythos, sitting much closer to the stage. Both fire dragons had huge smiles on their faces as they watched Sirius on the stage, the day they had all been waiting for finally having arrived. Spyro could tell that they were both immensely proud of their brother and son respectively, so much so that Faren hardly looked uncomfortable in the massive crowd, which would normally have terrified the shy dragoness.
Flash was the next dragon Spyro found with his gaze, the young light dragon's white scales and iridescent wings and chest hard to miss even in such a huge crowd. At that moment he wasn't facing the stage, however, but instead was giving a frown and a raised brow to the grey dragon sitting beside him, who was whispering something to him and sniggering. Spyro couldn't tell what it was that was so funny, and he wasn't sure he would like it if he knew. Instead he dismissed the matter from his mind and instead turned his focus back to the older dragons on the stage, who were now beginning the ceremony's proceedings.
"Sirius, in these recent months you have demonstrated an exemplary level of focus, discipline, and devotion in your training regarding the mastery of your element and in matters of governance and leadership," Terrador began in his deep, booming voice. "You have brought credit to your name and to your element, and you have demonstrated without a doubt that you are worthy of this prestigious title and office. You have made us all proud, young dragon."
Despite his anxiety, Sirius couldn't help but beam at those words from the respected Guardian. "Thank you, Master Terrador."
Terrador smiled, pleasure gleaming in his eyes. "On this day, the twenty third anniversary of your hatching, you come of age in our society and are thereby entitled to the full rights and privileges of an adult dragon of Warfang, including the appointment to stations of authority. On this day, it is our honour to bestow upon you the title of Guardian of Fire, if you will accept this position and this responsibility."
His smile growing wider by the second, Sirius nodded his head, all traces of his nerves slowly vanishing to be replaced by joy. "I will accept."
"I'm glad to hear it," Terrador beamed. "Now, then, you will be sworn in to your office. Do you, Sirius, as the new Guardian of Fire, swear to uphold the laws and traditions of our race justly and without bias, for the good of all the free races of these realms?"
Nodding his head, Sirius replied, "I swear."
Terrador stepped back with a satisfied nod, and Cyril immediately stepped forward into his place.
"Young dragon, do you swear to conduct yourself with the dignity and honour expected of one with your authority and position, and to uphold your integrity above all else for so long as you hold this office?"
Again Sirius nodded without hesitation. "I swear."
"Good lad," Cyril said with a stiff nod, backing away. Volteer eagerly moved up in front of Sirius, grinning from horn to horn with barely-contained excitement.
"Do you, upon taking up this mantel, swear to do all in your power to defend the peace in our lands and to ensure the safety, prosperity, and enlightenment of all those who live within them as your station prescribes?"
"I swear," Sirius replied, becoming giddy with the realization of what was actually happening in that moment.
Volteer grinned with pleasure and stepped back.
"It is our honour and our privilege, therefore, to grant you full authority as a Guardian of the Dragon Realms," Cyril declared proudly.
"May your reign in our order be long and prosperous, for so long as you chose to be a part of it," Terrador rumbled approvingly.
"And may this office bring you the joy, fulfillment, satisfaction and wisdom that it has brought to us over our many years," Volteer added brightly.
"Thank you," Sirius said, bowing his head gratefully to the three elders and beaming with pride and happiness.
Terrador turned his head and beckoned to a pair of elegantly robed moles that until that point had been standing back amongst the shadows of the decorative pillars that lined the platform's back edges. They quickly scurried forward, carrying a heavy relic of gold and crystal between them. Its shape was somewhat reminiscent of a torch, with a bright red spherical crystal sitting in place of a flame at its top. They stopped and held the relic up in front of Sirius, and Terrador smiled and gestured with a wing toward the fire dragon.
Sirius hesitated for a moment, staring into the deep, pure colour of the crystal in reverence and uncertainty. Then, with a look of resolve crossing his features, he held up a forepaw toward the crystal, the pad hovering just inches from its surface. A look of deep concentration creased his expression, and all became still in the courtyard as everyone watched with bated breath.
For a second nothing happened, but then the centre of the crystal seemed to flicker. A faint fiery glow appeared around Sirius's paw, and in response the crystal began to glow even more brightly. The magical energy of Sirius's element began to flow from his paw into the crystal, causing the light in its centre to flicker and pulse like fire itself, growing brighter with each passing second.
Then, suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of red light and Spyro winced as a wave of crimson energy exploded out from the crystal, sweeping over the courtyard and jostling the various creatures gathered there as it passed. A number of the observers uttered squeals of surprise and even fear, everyone jerking away and covering themselves from the magical shockwave. Then, when Spyro slowly looked back up, he faltered at the sight before him.
The crystal was now alive with a bright fiery light, its magnificent glow pouring out across the stage even in the sunlight. Across its polished surface danced wisps of flame, but Spyro noticed that the fire didn't burn the relic's delicate surface and the moles showed no fear of it, as if it could do no harm. The light radiated a comforting warmth with it, and it seemed to hold everyone present transfixed.
Then, all at once, the courtyard erupted with deafening cheering and applause. The two moles turned to face the crowd and hoisted the relic as high as they could manage, and in response the crowd's applause only increased in fervor.
"With the lighting of the sacred Relic of Flame, a new Fire Guardian has been named to our order!" Terrador proclaimed. "And let me be the first to say that I, Terrador, Guardian of Earth, approve of this appointing."
"I, Cyril, Guardian of Ice, also approve of this appointing," Cyril announced firmly.
"And I, Volteer, Guardian of Electricity, wholeheartedly and without reservation or hesitation approve of this appointing!" Volteer chimed in.
The crowd cheered once more. Taking his cue, Spyro stepped forward. The gathering immediately fell into an expectant hush, all eyes turning to the purple dragon. Spyro was silent for a number of seconds, subduing his anxiety. Then, in a clear and strong voice, he spoke.
"I, Spyro, purple dragon of this age and defender of these realms, declare my approval of Sirius's appointing as the new Guardian of Fire and hereby pledge my support to him and his office."
The crowd instantly exploded with jubilant cheering and approval, and despite his lingering nervousness Spyro smiled, pleased with the reaction and with his declaration. At first he had been hesitant when the Guardians had suggested he make this statement, worried about the ramifications of basically pledging formal allegiance to another dragon and to the order of Guardians, but then how many Guardians could say that they had been appointed to their position with the blessing of a purple dragon? In this regard he was happy that he was able to honour his friend in such a way on this momentous occasion.
"It is now official!" Terrador boomed happily, stepping forward to the edge of the platform. "Dragons and dragonesses, free peoples of these realms, let's welcome our young friend into his new station and wish him all the best in his many years to come!"
The response was deafening. Spyro added his own voice into the cheer as he turned to face Sirius, sitting back on his haunches and clapping his forepaws together enthusiastically. Sirius stood tall and proud, looking resplendent in his golden armour. A huge smile graced his features, and Spyro thought he saw the red dragon's eyes glistening with tears of joy and pride. After years of giving everything he had in him in pursuit of this dream, he had succeeded. Sirius was now the undisputed Guardian of Fire, and in that moment Spyro felt certain that a better successor to Ignitus could never be found.
He smiled. And all around him, the crowd cheered...
And there you have it! The story is officially underway!
I'm going to warn you beforehand, though; I don't know how quickly I'll be able to update this story, and I have doubts that it will be as quick as it was with The Broken Line. I'll do my best, but I'm also still working slowly on my publisher search for my original story (very slowly), so my attention is going to be divided between those (and university, of course).
But I'll try! And as long as you can be patient with me, this story will go on! So, I hope you liked this first chapter, and I hope you like the story as it progresses! I have big plans for it. Oh yes, big plans... X)
Until next time...