The last chapter (chronologically, chapter 3) received a total of four reviews. After having a look around, and finding out that 12 reviews for a climactic chapter is generous, I've since counted myself lucky to obtain this many on an introduction chapter! I truly can't express how much your words of support mean to me, especially since my own confidence in this story started out rather slim. Thank you for giving me more reason to press forward!
This chapter gave me some slight difficulty, so you may notice that the latter parts are somewhat lower-quality and for that I apologise. I almost considered postponing the chapter until I fixed it up, but I am determined to maintain my schedule of a new chapter every Sunday. Upcoming exams in school didn't help matters either. As always, feel free to point out any typos/mistakes you notice, and constructive critiques are always welcome!
With this chapter, the Induction is over. We should be going into the main meat of the story with a faster pace now, so be ready!
With a return to the city had come a flood of celebrations. Spyro had loathed the attention he received, and despite the immensity and intricacy of the city he now found himself residing within avoiding the flooding crowd had proven futile. The purple drake had quickly learnt that large cities didn't provide an easier time of dodging notoriety – in fact, it made it more difficult. It was fortunate he had deduced this within mere hours of arriving in the city again. With how commonplace strangers were, Spyro found himself almost overwhelmed. After all, he had lived in a small village most of his life, and even his time with the Guardians in the Dragon Temple had been one of relative solitude, away from the prying eyes of those he did not know. Now, being hailed as a saviour and thrust into the gaze of thousands of people, Spyro had no idea what to do with himself.
His only solace came in the understanding and protective embrace of the Guardians themselves, who currently had him sequestered away in a library somewhere in Warfang's "Hightown", a phrase Spyro still didn't entirely understand. Cities were a new concept to him, and he had yet to take the time to familiarise himself with his surroundings. The enormous, expansive room he found himself in felt like a cavern – a simile he felt comforted by – but the narrow rows split by towering shelves made him feel tiny, inconsequential. Tomes of every size, shape and thickness dotted the multitude of bookcases, and he soon found himself lost in the wealth of knowledge they offered to him. He had quickly picked out a spot near the window, sitting on a low stool covered in cushions, absorbing the information before him like a starved weasel while enjoying the warm rays of the sun filtering through the blinds, distracted for a moment by the golden flecks of dust floating about. Books were scattered about him, the remnants of his craving, left opened and pages vulnerable, ignored in his voracious hunger for the knowledge left within. The librarian, while a rather old crone who furrowed her brow at his careless treatment of the library's contents, couldn't help but smile at his eagerness, leaving the Spyro to happily devour any and all wisdom. Occasionally she would stride up to his side and replace a book that had been heedlessly tossed aside, but otherwise she left him to his own devices.
So enraptured by the tomes before him he barely noticed the jet-black dragoness watching him sharply from within the chasm of bookshelves, gazing at him with a longing, trepidatious intensity. From the safe veil of the shadows, Cynder found herself hesitant to approach her friend. Barely minutes after arriving back in the great Dragon City the Guardians, while exuberant with the duo's safe return, had quickly spirited the two adolescents away from the clamouring crowd, keeping them in isolation for the time being. The dragoness was silently thankful for their rapid understanding – after weeks upon weeks of battle and travel and chaos and hurt, the last thing that she wanted was to be forced to face a judgemental mob. Spyro and she had been waiting in the silence of the library for several hours, pensively expecting the Guardians to re-emerge at any moment from the massive mahogany doors.
Or at least, Cynder was the pensive one. Spyro seemed unconcerned, losing himself in his books while the dragoness simply sat back, hesitant to approach.
Her thoughts were interrupted when a loud rumbling broke through the air, shattering the quiet of the library, as the doorway opened and three immense drakes entered, each a different colour – icy blue, brilliant yellow and mossy green. Spyro's head shot up, shocked by the intrusion, but his surprise was rapidly replaced by glee when he recognized the figures, a warm smile spreading across his snout. Cynder likewise was relieved, anxious that someone would interrupt, but the sight of Cyril, Volteer and Terrador eased her worries.
Nevertheless, Spyro was unprepared for the blazing golden light that rocketed past the much larger dragons straight towards him, embedding himself on the purple drake's neck in a grip stronger than iron.
"Spyro!" Sparx cried out, embracing his brother perhaps a bit too strongly. "Spyro! I can't believe you're ok! You rotten purple lump, making me worry like that!"
"Sparx, it's good to see you too," Spyro replied, covering his neck with his wing in an awkward, but heartfelt embrace, concealing the glowing dragonfly behind his protective shield. "Likewise! Don't you think for a second that I wasn't worried about you! I half expected you to run off in pursuit, following me and Cynder into the Burned Lands like I told you not to!"
"Pfft," Sparx replied, his voice somewhat muffled by Spyro's wing. Cynder couldn't help but chuckle, a similar sound of amusement emanating from the collected Guardians. "Be glad that I let you take the lead for once. That's never gonna happen again, ok? I'm never letting you leave my side. I gotta take care of you, and I don't think I could handle watching you run off into danger a second time."
"We are all exuberant, buoyant that you've returned to us unharmed, young dragon," Volteer commented, his elderly smile still full of youthful warmth. "These past days waiting grimly for your uncertain return have been exceedingly and uncompromisingly difficult."
"Sorry," Spyro apologised sheepishly, a silly grin still covering his face from Sparx's unfaltering, vice-like grip. "Ow, Sparx, you're going to hurt me!" After extricating his brother form his neck as gently as possible, he turned to his elders. "We were held up along the way. The Realms are harder to navigate than you'd think, and I admittedly don't know much about them other than what you've told me. Thankfully, I had a brilliant guide."
"We are all of us grateful to have you and Cynder back without incident," Terrador assured. He took a seat next to Spyro, his fellow Guardians following suit, and they quickly formed a semi-circle around Spyro's ring of tomes, which he was now gazing at with an embarrassed expression. "Speaking of the dragoness, where is she?"
Cynder took this as her cue to flee the shadows, despite her reservations. As she let the sun brighten her form, she held back a shiver when Spyro was the first to notice her, his amaranthine eyes quickly seeing her movements.
The Guardians turned to look at the interruption, and they all smiled in welcome. With all eyes on her – especially Spyro's own – Cynder suddenly felt extremely small. The moment this feeling erupted in her mind, Cynder immediately summoned her own, powerful loathing for it. She didn't know why, but it felt unjust for her to, in any way, feel cowed in front of her only friends. The sudden mix of emotions faltered her speech, rendering her tongue numb to all commands, but thankfully a reprieve from her inaction came from a most unlikely source. Sparx, of all people, finally relinquished his grip on his brother and darted towards Cynder, clamping his tiny, insect arms around Cynder's neck. While the force of his tackle was nothing compared to an adolescent dragoness, the sheer shock of the golden dragonfly hugging her, who had all but despised her not too long ago, was enough to knock the black dragoness back several steps.
For a moment, Cynder simply sat there stunned, while Spyro was the only one grinning happily among the gathered dragons. When Sparx let go, hovering near eye-level with Cynder, the Guardians simply looked confused. The dragonfly coughed, clearing his throat, obviously somewhat embarrassed. Cynder just stared at him, both with a wry smile and a raised, quizzical eyebrow.
"I…uh," Sparx faltered, rubbing the back of his neck. "Well, I guess uh…Spyro's back safely so…you kind of…well, kept your promise," he explained, squinting his eyes almost painfully. The loathing with which he spoke those words was almost palpable, and Cynder forced herself to hold back a chuckle. "So, I guess I should…uh…th-thank…y…you…ugh. That's why I hugged you, ok?" He immediately grunted, spinning away from Cynder and crossing his arms. "I still don't like you."
Cynder shook her head slowly, the smile never leaving her face. "Oh Sparx, you're pathetic to watch. Really, you can't even thank me properly? I expected better of you."
Sparx scowled indignantly, glaring at Cynder. "Hey, that took a lot of effort, so be grateful! You'll never hear me say that again!"
Cynder just chuckled, echoed by the rest of the gathered dragons. "I'm just kidding Sparx. Thank you, it means a lot to have your gratitude."
Sparx nodded tersely, retreating back to Spyro's flank. Seeing the two brothers side-by-side again reminded Cynder of how long they had been gone, and a wave of relief washed over her once more. The Guardians however, had their own agenda, and Cyril cleared his throat to gain the attention of everyone present.
"Yes, yes, while this reunion is indeed touching and tear-inducing, I do believe many questions still remain unanswered," he began. "I take it from your unharmed selves that you were victorious over Malefor, and that he is no longer a threat to the Realms. I can accept that, unsatisfactory explanation for now, but there is a notable absence that we need to account for."
With those words the mood immediately grew grim, with Cyril's tirade sapping any mirth that might have remained. Cynder quickly looked at Spyro, frowning in worry for her purple friend, but despite his sullen gaze he held himself rigid, seemingly determined not to show any weakness. After what had happened in the Burned Lands, Cynder was unsure whether his façade of strength was to hide his sorrow or to hide what had happened that day. Either way, Cynder understood his situation.
Neither of them had been looking forward to confirming Ignitus' death.
Cynder wanted to spare Spyro the pain of telling the Guardians, but when she had discussed the issue on their way back to Warfang he had been adamant that he would be the one to break the news. In retrospect, Spyro had never had time to grieve for the fire Guardian, never had time to wish farewell. Even upon Ignitus' impromptu death, Spyro had pushed on ahead, determined to finish what the old drake had begun. Without a chance to mourn, Spyro had become numb – on their journey to Warfang, Spyro had been unable to cry for his parental surrogate, no matter how intense his mood had grown, no matter how crushing the realisation.
It was a forlorn feeling, for Cynder to watch her best friend become so dazed to one of his greatest tragedies.
Spyro finally sighed, his determined expression faltering for a moment. The helplessness in that one sigh was all that was needed to tell the Guardians what had transpired, and although all three of them grew sorrowful upon Spyro's exclamation Cynder had a growing feeling that they had known the truth all along. Nevertheless, they needed to hear it, as much as Spyro needed to say it.
"Ignitus has passed away," Spyro whispered sullenly. Next to him, the golden orb of Sparx flickered dimly, putting a hand on Spyro's neck as a sign of support. "He…he gave his life to get both Cynder and I through the Belt of Fire. There was no other way…"
Terrador and Volteer exchanged glances, and Cyril simply stared at the ground in front of him. Despite the bright sunlight that still filtered through the window, Cynder felt as though all light had been momentarily snuffed out. She simply looked at her paws, desperately desiring to say something comforting but not trusting her own words.
"I suppose we knew that this event, this sacrifice, struggle, affair, result would occur," Volteer said, breaking the silence that had shrouded the group. His usually, cheery demeanour had disappeared, leaving a quiet, reserved Volteer in its place. Cynder found it extremely out-of-character, and it made her uncomfortable to see the electric Guardian so dour. "Ignitus was always certain of his mission, and his faith in you, young dragon. I've no uncertainty, not a hint of doubt that he knew he would give his life for you one day."
"I know now, looking back on it, that there was no other way," Spyro began, his voice low. "But that doesn't really ease the pain."
"The only medicament for your pain is time, young Spyro," Terrador assured, placing an enveloping wing over the purple drake's back. "Nothing can be said that will help, but we are all sharing the same grief. You are not alone."
"Besides," Cyril interjected, lifting his eyes and gazing at Spyro. Cynder noticed a strange glint in his eyes, a sharp, dangerous, assured shine that was entirely foreign for the ice drake. Cynder knew that Cyril was a pompous, proud old man, but the ambition that she saw in his gaze was completely unlike him. "Knowing Ignitus, he would most likely be furious at us if we dared to mope his passing for any longer than is reasonable. The crone never feared death, did he? He was always so invested in his own little crusade that I doubt he'd know what to do with himself when we finally won."
Terrador and Volteer shared a warm, reminiscent smile with Cyril, but Spyro simply stared at them quizzically. Gone was his sullen attitude, but neither was he altogether happy.
"What do you mean?"
"Ignitus was more devoted to the War than anyone else we knew," Terrador explained. "It took the loss of all three of us Guardians to make him lose hope, and even then events transpired that assured his faith in his cause never wavered, in no small part to you, hatchling. Cyril believes, as do we, that Ignitus would never have known what to do if he was alive when we succeeded over Malefor. He had so completely dedicated himself to his downfall, and our survival."
Spyro went quiet, trying to process their words. Before he could speak however, Terrador stood up, gesturing for Spyro to do the same.
"Come, Spyro," he beckoned. "There will be time to mourn later. For now, I believe we should prepare accommodations for you and Cynder both." He smiled, a warm, comforting smile that eased some of Spyro's pain. "You deserve a long, quiet rest after what you have both been through."
- ҉ -
The doors to the council chamber were massive beasts, made of ebony with gold and bronze decals. Around the handle were four insignias, each one representing one of the Four Nations. From his high perch near the roof of the hallway, hidden within the thick wooden rafters, Sparx could see everything that happened in the building with ease, barring that which occurred beyond those enormous doors. Dragons, cheetahs and moles, all decorated and clothed in extravagant jewellery, expensive robes and lavish cloaks. And, as Sparx's keen eyes happened to notice, they were all mingling with a tension that betrayed their intentions. The dragonfly didn't trust a single one of them – thus, his perch above them.
Sparx shared his brother's hatred of politicians, and these councillors and senators were no different. He was grateful that he didn't have Spyro's life, being forced to mingle with these unscrupulous people day in and day out, but that didn't stop the dragonfly from loathing any and all contact he had with them. If it were up to him, Sparx wouldn't come within a hundred meters of the place, but he had an obligation to look after his big purple brother, so he repressed the urge to pummel everyone in the room and waited as patiently as his ego would allow.
But the wait was beginning to get on his nerves. Every now and then he would flicker his wings in frustration, knock a stray splinter from the rafter and watch it fall to the ground below, or flash momentarily to draw the attention of the crowd below before concealing himself behind a wooden beam, chuckling like an idiot. But even this mundane entertainment failed to occupy his thoughts, and so when the ebony doors finally creaked open and the purple lug that was his brother finally emerged, Sparx was at his side faster than light, hovering next to his shoulder and firing off glares at the wary gazes of the surrounding politicians.
As it was, Sparx didn't need to discourage the people around him. For if looks could kill, the scowl that clothed Spyro's face would have rendered everyone in the building comatose right that instant.
"Hey, Spyro, you ok?" Sparx questioned, noticing his brother's deathly gaze. "What happened in there? Come on, don't leave me hanging!"
"Just pompous fools delaying the inevitable," Spyro spat, causing his brother to shy away. "It's impossible for them to agree on anything, no matter how sensible it is. It's all about them, all the time. No quarter for anyone else, is there? If it doesn't help their own country, they'll have nothing to do with it. It's always the same."
"Whoa, buddy, slow down," Sparx exclaimed, holding his hands up and hovering in front of Spyro's muzzle. "You're speaking in riddles! What's going on?"
Spyro stopped at the exit of the chamber, halting at the threshold between the sunny, bright courtyard and the stifling, thick air of the senate. He sighed, leaning against the doorway and facing his brother with a tired expression. People continued to pass around him, respectfully inclining their heads towards him or muttering some polite greeting under their breath. Spyro ignored them.
"It's concerning some of the reconstruction efforts, particularly in Arida," Spyro began, his tone downcast. "Sedula, Ambassador of Arida if you don't remember, was furious when reports of Vitaean support teams were leaked and suggested that they weren't providing as much aid as they could have. Some isolated reports also indicated that some teams were doing reconnaissance on the faded military presence still under Arida's command. Levis naturally refuted all claims, but the evidence shown is disconcerting. I don't like what is suggests."
Sparx frowned. "Well don't keep me in the dark. What does it suggest?"
Spyro swallowed nervously. "If my instincts are right, then this could be the first hints of war."
Sparx took a double-take and his eyes widened. "Wait, war?" The dragonfly exclaimed. "But we just got out of a war! Why would they start a new one?"
Spyro looked at his brother with a hard-eyed gaze, only traces of emotion in his amethyst eyes. "Sparx, do you want me to be perfectly honest with you, or would you rather I gloss over the more sensitive subjects?"
"They might go to war because it's the perfect time to do so," Spyro explained, rubbing his forehead with a wing. He gestured to his brother to follow him, striding out of the council chambers and into the white-stone courtyard of the Warfang Citadel. The entrance was ringed by a large wall, which held a multitude of managerial offices from other minor officials, all from either the Four Nations of Warfang's own administrative council. Unlike the hallway into the senate, the courtyard was mostly empty and devoid of others, and Spyro took advantage of the dearth to speed towards the exit. "The Maleficarum War just ended. Vitae is most certainly back on its feet now, in stark contrast to the other three countries, which are still trying to recuperate. If Vitae decided to declare war against any of the other nations, then they would have very little difficulty in seizing them for their own. That would ruin the already-precarious political stability that we have right now, and probably plunge the Dragon Realms into another continental conflict, which we really do not need right now."
Sparx scowled, trying to process what Spyro had said. The dragonfly was unfamiliar with politics, having been spared the political maelstrom that Spyro had been subject to. His only foray into that tangled world was from Spyro's own words, and the few chances he had been able to watch his brother debate with the Ambassadors, and even that had been to the dragonfly's distaste.
"So what do we do about it?"
Spyro shrugged in defeat, sighing despondently. "I have no idea. I don't think I can do anything. Maybe all we can do is wait for the inevitable conflict to arrive."
Sparx chuckled, much to his brother's confusion. Spyro stared at him quizzically, but Sparx just grinned broadly. "Well hey, then it'll be like the old days," he began, boxing the air in front of him with clenched fists. "Just you and me, walking around beating up bad guys. Going into mortal danger every second day. Saving your tail from imminent death. You know, everything I hated about the War."
Spyro grinned at Sparx's antics, but he couldn't shake the cloud of foreboding. "While it sounds great to watch you make a fool of yourself again, I doubt I could participate if there was a war. I'm an arbiter, remember?"
"What do you mean?"
Spyro sighed for what must have been the umpteenth time that day, and gave Sparx a tired look. "I'm the purple dragon. I can't take sides in any political debates. If war was to break out, and I took a side, I'd lose all credibility. No one would listen to me anymore, and I'm sure quite a few extremist groups would be flinging the name "Malefor" around again."
Sparx grunted. "Yeah, as if! Anyone compares my brother to that psycho, I'll give 'em a good one right between the eyes!"
Spyro chuckled. "Last time you did that you knocked a pirate bird clean out."
Sparx smiled broadly, rubbing his chest with his fist in a display of pride. "Actually, last time I did it was at that stupid party you went to and that girl started trying to throw herself at you. Her boyfriend popped in at an inconvenient time and started getting angry at you, so he ended up with a nice bruise on the snout courtesy of me!"
"And then Cynder had to bail you out when he was about to incinerate you. I don't even think you bruised him. That guy was built like a tank, after all."
"I gave him a piece of my mind though."
"That you did. Try not to get killed next time you do though, ok? I'd hate to break the news to mom and dad."
By now the two brothers had exited the courtyard and had moved onto the paved, red streets of Warfang. It was a beautiful day – the sun was high in the sky, heating the streets like a frying pan, and the sparse clouds that dotted the sky kept well away from the glistering orb of the sun. Despite the heat, the cool southerly wind continued to blow, keeping the city's denizens fresh and rejuvenated. While people criss-crossed the street ahead of them, dodging carts and mingling with passers-by, the drake and dragonfly kept their attention towards each other, laughing and jesting and rapidly forgetting the concerns if the court as they swiftly lost themselves in the back alleys of the Dragon City.
- ҉ -
Cynder, as much as she detested it, had been couped up in the manor for the better part of the day. The sunny, bright, magnificent day lay outside the door down the hall, beckoning her, but despite having long been freed from chains it felt as though an unbreakable leash bound her to the floor, forcing her to endure the palpable boredom of planning. The dragoness found it difficult to believe that something that had once filled her with excitement now fed on her enthusiasm, sucking all motivation from her body and mind. Then again, in retrospect forming tactics and strategies for an upcoming campaign was far different from organising accommodation and ensuring that construction rights were still valid and accounted for. Cynder dreaded what would happen if she overlooked some pastoral or heritage claim that prevented the foundation from being laid. There were enough deliberations in order to claim the rights in the first place, let alone trying to circumvent them. For a moment, Cynder thought she understood Spyro's venomous disposition towards the bureaucratic nature of politics, and she shared it with equal disdain.
"Terrador, how long will this take?" She asked the elderly earth drake, who was sitting not too far away from her, a large stack of papers accumulating before him. At his side was Volteer, who himself was flicking through an assortment of blueprints and schematics, combing over their contents with a rapid eye. Cyril, however, was nowhere to be found, having gone off for parts unknown within the Manor. "These stupid legislations are starting to grind on my patience, which isn't necessarily known for being robust. What else needs to be done before preparations are complete?"
Terrador cleared his throat before speaking, not having spoken for over an hour now, and tidied his work before inclining his head towards Volteer. "Technically, all preparations are made. We simply wished to overview our progress to ensure that there are no mistakes or blunders that would hinder our progress."
Cynder looked dumbstruck. "So the last two hours of sifting through this skyscraper of paper has been for nothing?"
"No, Cynder," Terrador sighed. It was blatantly obvious that Cynder's frustration was beginning to wear off onto the earth dragon. "Do you want to have a rest? You're not obligated to assist, after all."
"Yes, please!" Cynder exclaimed, abandoning her trove of work and quickly disappearing down the hallway. Within moments she was on the terrace, leaning against the railing and enjoying the cool breeze against her scales. Ah, finally, she thought, spreading her wings to completely soak up the midday sun. Her black scales absorbed heat more rapidly than other scale hues, and the contrast between the crisp wind and the burning sun kept her mild and refreshed. One minute more inside and I think I would've gone into a coma from boredom.
In actuality, as much as Cynder was grateful to be released from Terrador's request, his words had stung her more than they should. It felt as though she had to help. Every time the Guardians, or Spyro, or Hunter, or someone else she knew asked for her assistance with something, no matter how tedious, boring or arduous it was, Cynder felt obligated to help in any way she could. The crimes from her enslavement continued to weigh her down, and being as generous as possible was the only relief Cynder knew of. Even enjoying the day out on the balcony as she was, blissfully ignorant of her duties, a tiny thorn of guilt pierced her solace.
Cynder really didn't have much to do otherwise. Beyond helping her friends and those she was indebted to, the black dragoness had very little to occupy her time with. Inebriated partying and charity balls weren't common occurrences, and the former option always left a sour taste in her mouth that she had grown to loathe enough to stay away from it, and yet beyond that she had no official "duties" or "responsibilities" to disrupt her youthful freedom. Unlike Spyro, who deliberated with the Ambassadors day-in and day-out, or the Guardians, who had their hands full with trying to reinvigorate their spiritual duties, or even Sparx, who was kept busy with his missionary duties between his hometown – if it could be called that – and Nubila, Cynder had no position that required her attention or mantle that she was required to uphold. Any other adolescent would have begged for her life, but Cynder had other restrictions that stopped her from enjoying her time.
Key among them was mistrust. Most attitudes towards her had mellowed out over the three years since the Maleficarum War, but there was still an extremist or two that felt compelled to call her out whenever she revealed herself in public. She could always pinpoint them in a crowd, staring at her with intensive glares, but with the steadfast aegis of Spyro's presence they were far more hesitant to call her out or mention her past. Without him, however, they would throw insults as freely as charity, and it infuriated her.
The sharp clamour of the door sliding open shattered Cynder's reverie, and the dragoness was shocked when she turned to see the aged, icy blue, relatively frail figure of Cyril coming to rest next to her flank, opting to lie down rather than rest against the railing like her.
"Where have you been?" Cynder asked, rather surprised by his sudden appearance. "Don't you have something to do with the other Guardians?"
Cyril snorted, frowning at the dragoness' tone. "Watch your tone Cynder. That's not the way you address an elder."
Cynder chuckled darkly. "Right. I've always cared about respecting my elders, after all."
Cyril retained his disposition, but a slight smirk began to tug at his snout. "Ah yes, always the reverent one, you. To answer your question, even I tire of such meaningless work after a time. I've grown accustomed to dodging the responsibility, much like you have."
"Well, that explains your absence," Cynder laughed. The mirth quickly disappeared from her disposition, however, and Cynder quickly reverted to her tired, solemn expression as she gazed out over the City. Cyril noticed her mood, and the aged ice drake frowned in both curiosity and, surprisingly, worry.
"Cynder, something plagues you. May I help on the matter?"
The dragoness shook her head, immediately hardening her expression to hide her thoughts. "Nothing's wrong Cyril. I'm fine."
Cyril scoffed. "Young lady, I've lived for over a century. I've met and mingled with many a people, famous and infamous both. I've dealt with my fair share of grief and difficulty. Do not think that even for a second you can hide your mood from me. You are far easier to read than you seem to proclaim."
Cynder simply stared at the Guardian with a look of mild shock painting her face, before sighing in frustrating and gripping her forehead. "Cyril, I don't think I've ever seen you try and reach out to me. What's going on?"
"Nothing," he dodged. "Every other time I seek to help you simply go to Terrador or Spyro instead of me. Granted, I hardly blame you, but that doesn't meant I don't wish to help you."
"Fine," Cynder began, gritting her teeth in frustration before sighing for a second time. Perhaps it would help if she told someone, anyone about her problems. "I just…I don't know what I'm doing with myself. All around me I have friends who have responsibilities, who are doing something for themselves. Just look at Spyro, or you Guardians, or Hunter, or ancestors forbid, Sparx! You're all doing something to help others, or at least to keep you occupied. What am I doing? I have no position, no career, and it frustrates me."
Cyril hummed, pondering his next move. Cynder simply sat patiently, removing herself from the railing and curling up in a sunny spot not too far from the ice dragon. The wind had softened slightly, but it nevertheless kept her cool. "Well, this is a problem that strikes every hatchling at some point before adulthood," he elucidated. "Fortunately for most of your friends, circumstances put them in a position where they have something to occupy themselves, although for some I doubt it is of a favourable or enjoyable nature. To begin with, you should consider what you enjoy doing. Hobbies, pastimes, anything that occupies your time."
Cynder supported her head with a paw, scratching at her chin idly as she thought. "Well, the first thing that comes to mind is battle. One of the few things I look forward to is the weekly sparring session I have with Spyro. He always keeps me on my toes and fighting is something I have skill in, for obvious reasons." A forlorn groan escaped her muzzle. "Other than that…I don't know. I've always loathed working as a secretary for the Guardians, and as important Spyro is to me I hate being around the court just as much as him. I guess there are a few things that might interest me, but I've never actually done them so I have no idea what to expect."
"It there truly nothing else that interests you?"
Cynder chuckled. "Dancing maybe."
Cyril folded his paws, shifting himself more comfortably. Cynder waited patiently as he thought, his eyes closed in concentration. "Well, I can always suggest that you search around, perhaps dipping your toes into an area that interests you. You have plenty of time to make mistakes and find your true calling, for you are still young and finding your way in the world. The interesting circumstances of your upbringing only grant you more leeway than others. However…" Cyril stared at Cynder with a curiosity that sent a shiver down her spine. "Another option comes to mind."
"What is it?" Cynder queried hesitantly.
"Have you ever thought about looking for a mate? Settling down, perhaps?"
It took Cynder every ounce of willpower to avoid rolling her eyes. The sheer audacity of what Cyril had just said struck her with the force of a boulder, and she clamped her laws on the balcony floor with enough force to crack the stone. "Really, Cyril? That's what you suggest?"
Cyril chuckled. "It's only one path you could choose. Only trying to help, dear."
"For your own amusement, I'm sure," Cynder spat back, forcefully hiding her own entertained grin. She had to hand it to the old drake, he knew what buttons to push to make her both laugh and groan. "Seriously, Cyril, I'm a young girl who is too independent for her own good. Who could you see me settling down with, really?"
In retrospect Cynder really shouldn't have asked that question, for even before Cyril opened his mouth the dragoness knew what his answer would be. Alas, it was too late for her to change her mind.
"Well, beyond the obvious Cynder," he muttered, flashing a knowing grin in Cynder's direction. "Do you truly believe that you hide your affections for our purple friend well enough so as to fool us?"
Cynder's head fell to the floor, resting comfortably in the crook of her arms. Her tail fidgeted slightly, a clear sign of her discontent. "Am I that obvious?"
"Your infatuation is not difficult to see, no."
"If it's so obvious to everyone else, why can't Spyro see it?" Cynder snarled, clutching her forehead with a claw tightly in frustration. "It's been three years, Cyril. Three long, forsaken years for him to at least acknowledge how I feel, and he's barely said a word on the matter. Doesn't he know? Is he that oblivious? He's smarter than that, I know it, so why doesn't he talk to me about it?"
Cyril shrugged. "Perhaps he is scared. I know one or two people who have been afraid to confess their feelings to someone they loved." The elderly drake sighed deeply, letting loose a gentle torrent of cold air. His gaze drifted towards the manor, staring at the two other dragons still sitting comfortably within. "Sadly, I cannot say it had a happy ending."
"So what do you suggest I do, Cyril?"
"Why don't you confront him yourself?" Cyril posed, poking the dragoness in the chest gently with a claw, taking caution as to not injure her with his much larger limb. "It may not be expected of a woman to ask a man, but at the very least it will make him aware of how you're feeling, or, if he has known this entire time, force him to acknowledge you."
"But that frightens me," Cynder countered. "What if he doesn't feel the same way? What if I've wasted these past three years for nothing?"
The clatter of a door opening emanating from within the manor interrupted the conversation, jolting Cynder back into alertness. Both she and Cyril jumped to their feet, staring at each other quizzically, before opening the door to the manor and entering, swiftly making their way to the living room. When Cynder turned a corner in the hallway, only to see a lavender-hued figure standing opposite of Terrador and Volteer, her eyes widened and she gasped in surprise.
"Spyro? What are you doing here?"
To the dragoness' shock, piles of paper and schematics were still scattered around the floor and table, no effort having been spared to hide them. From the equally-surprised expressions of Volteer and Terrador, Cynder dared to assume that Spyro's entrance had caught them unguarded as well. The purple dragon himself merely stood at the entrance to the living room, gazing at the mess with a profound sense of confusion smeared across his face. Sparx hovered next to him, his hands covering his mouth in horror.
Well, there goes the surprise, Cynder thought derisively.
"I…" Spyro began, faltering as he tried to take in his surroundings. "I guess I got out early. What's all this? Why is the place such a mess?"
Cyril stood forward. "Erm, we were…planning."
Volteer stood up, dusting himself off and tidying his work. "I do see that our surprise is markedly ruined do to your unfortunate timing, young Spyro." When Spyro's confused expression turned guilty, the electric dragon held up a wing. "Feel not sorry, nor guilty, nor apologetic, Spyro. It was not your fault you arrived."
"This is meant to be a surprise?" Spyro asked, still utterly confused. "All I see are schematics and forms. What's this for?"
"It is a project we have been working on for quite some time," Terrador explained, his baritone voice a welcome change from Volteer's ecstatic and Cyril's haughty. "A reconstruction project, to be precise. We kept it secret from you due to the nature of the building we are attempting to restore – it happens to be your old home, for however long you spent there, and a place of knowledge and safety."
It took a moment for the realisation to click in Spyro's mind, but when it did the awe was apparent. "You're rebuilding the Dragon Temple?"
Cyril's affirmative nod only spurred him on. "This…this is great! Why did you need to hide it from me?"
"It was supposed to be a surprise for you," Cynder said, glaring venomously at Sparx, who was now hiding behind the safe, red sanctuary of Spyro's wing. "We didn't expect you to be back from the court so soon though, so we thought we had more time to prepare. Obviously our little watchman forgot the whole reason we sent him with you, to stall should something happen."
Spyro turned and looked at his brother with a mixture of amusement and protectiveness. Sparx, in the meantime, was safely hiding from the deathly overtures of Cynder's lethal expression.
"I'm sorry! Things slip my mind sometimes!" He pleaded.
"Anyway," Spyro said, waving away the issue of Sparx and continuing. "Either way, it's great news. I'm glad that it's being rebuilt, although I wonder why it's only just being proposed."
"After the War, the Four Nations and Warfang itself were in such a state of shock to make a sustained re-materialisation improbable and enormously insignificant when taking the concerns of the populace of the Dragon Realms into consideration," Volteer elucidated, his electric tongue wagging once more. Cynder wondered how Terrador had put up with it all on his own. "Now that time has marched on and many of the festering wounds that plagued the nations have been closed or covered up, only now has a proper expedition to see the Dragon Temple reformed been considered in the realm of possibility."
"And we have elected to seize the opportunity," Cyril interjected before Volteer could continue speaking. "We were intending to have you lead the project, in fact. It is, after all, as much your home as ours."
"Thank you," Spyro said, his voice filled with gratitude and his facing mirroring such feelings. "That means a lot to me. What have we decided so far though? I'd like to know the details."
"If you'll allow an old drake to bore you with statistics," Terrador began, gesturing to the sheets and figures that covered the table. Everyone quickly took a seat before Terrador continued, with Cynder placing herself firmly next to Spyro. Terrador handed Spyro several sheets and began to explain. "We've been in discussion with the Ambassadors for some time now. The old Temple was in Nubila, and for a change in scenery – and to appease the other nations somewhat – we have decided that the new Temple will be located in central Vitae, along the tundra."
"I can't imagine the other Ambassadors took that well," Spyro commented, perusing the sheets with interest. Cynder smirked in amusement, seeing Spyro's quizzical gaze and empathising with his confusion as to the contents of the sheet. He had no idea what he was reading.
"Indeed it most certainly was," Volteer confirmed. "But we somehow managed."
"How long until we can start? I'm eager to get out of Warfang as soon as possible, to be honest."
"We should be ready tomorrow, hatchling," Cyril answered, smiling at Spyro's brightening face. "I thought that might excite you. We have been planning this for several months now, keep in mind. We have everything ready for a departure tomorrow – labourers, quartermasters, supplies, transportation, permission – all we need is the go-ahead from you."
"Why bother asking?" Spyro said, an audible laughed escaping as he gripped the table in his joy. Cynder stood back slightly, happy and smiling warmly at his intensity. "I'm ready to leave first thing tomorrow morning!"
"You'd better pack your bags then, young drake," Terrador advised. "You as well Cynder. We'll visit you tomorrow morning then, and we'll leave about midday, assuming everything goes according to plan. Which it rarely does."
Cynder smiled. "Ah, just think of it Spyro," she commented, addressing Spyro directly as the Guardians began to clean up the table, a task that she did not envy. "It'll just be you, me, maybe Sparx-" she waited as Sparx interjected with a hurt "Hey!" before continuing- "All alone in the countryside, working on what we do best, eh? How does that sound to you?"
Cynder watched Spyro's reply carefully, but the hero was too distracted by his excitement for the morrow to see the hidden test behind Cynder's words. "Are you joking? I can't wait!"
And that was what she wanted to hear.