Valentine’s Day Special 2016
A few years prior, before Daniel started wandering the wastes, he lived in the Southernmost Den. The den was the most common type of Draconian village; a tall mountain hollowed out through magic. The bunker-like structure made them able to survive the world’s collapse and the strength of the people inside prevented them from being stolen by bandits. The space was shaped in a very traditional way, with rooms along the outer edge and a large lake of water filling the centre. The peak of the mountain was removed to let in the sun and the water was heated with geothermal energy. Few places could be as comfortable for Draconian than a den. Floating on the centre of the lake was a temple made from sturdy wood, where the elders of the den conducted meetings, rulings and rituals.
In a house on one of the middle layers was the family house where Daniel was raised. He lived there with his sister, mother and her three mates. His mother was a red matriarch, a powerful warrior who subdued two of her mates with pure force and, prior to becoming a matriarch and giving up her place in the kinship to take a leading position, led the Selby kinship to destroy several nearby towers. It was her power that led the den’s elders to push her third mate onto her and that order that led her to take a position on the counsel. Daniel’s father, her third mate, was a Golden Den reject, born from a line of golden Draconian but none the less being yellow. As such, as soon as he reached a level of training where he wouldn’t disgrace their den they pushed him off to be someone else’s problem and pretended it was for the sake of strengthening ties. Any golden children he had, such as Daniel’s sister Aria, could return to the Golden Den and join the Isaksen kinship, but he himself could never return home.
His mother hadn’t been particularly happy with the arrangement and referred to him as reject trash, but eventually came to tolerate him enough to mate with after taking on raids while her other mates were away. The fact that Daniel and Aria’s ages were more than ten years apart spoke wonders about how little respect she had for the man. If not for the fact that her other mates were infertile, and therein existed solely for her enjoyment, neither Daniel nor Aria would have been born.
Aria, despite being a golden Draconian, had only grown her claws and become an adult recently, at the late age of fifteen. That kind of delayed growth was expected from weak bloodlines, such as white or blue Draconian, but for a golden born of a powerful red it could only be seen as shameful. It was shameful to the point that despite her tall build, fair skin, radiant golden-blond hair and sweet personality, she was still picked on and bullied. There were many times that Daniel had to shoo people away from her. Even if he clearly had traces of yellow in his scales, few in the den would mess with a Selby.
It was a few days after Aria grew her claws that it was announced that she would undertake the Rite of Ages once the elders who had gone to the Southwest Den returned. They had heard rumours about that den having a new prodigy, and went to negotiate to have it mate with someone from the Southernmost Den to strengthen their tries with powerful offspring. Although it was possible to communicate between the dens with either magic or technology, the meetings were done in person out of tradition. Although he understood and respected the tradition, he as annoyed that the delay it caused would prevent him from seeing Area emerge from her rite. On the day after her rite was now scheduled to begin, the Selby kinship would depart on a tower raid.
Part of Daniel had hoped that after the rite she would join the Selby kinship, but it seemed to him that it was very unlikely that she would stick around when she had the opportunity to join the Isaksen. His cousin, Land Selby, just responded to his worries by saying, “You’re both dense and blind, my young kin, and that’ll get you killed faster than anything in a tower.”
Daniel wasn’t numb to the point Land was trying to make, Draconian were incredibly genetically complicated and a child born between direct sibling had almost no extra risk of deformity. That combined with the far less restricted environment around mating and the human taboo of incest simply wasn’t understood by Draconian. Land knew that the pair was close and, having fought with Daniel at his back, thought any child they had would work out well. Land had light brown scales and his tower class was Sniper, with that and his tendency to try and pair people together he earned himself the nickname Freya. Although he disliked being compared to a goddess, he liked that it gave his suggestions more credibility too much to stop people from saying it.
Lifting his trusty f2000, Land continued, “That girl would tear the wings off any elder that tried to force her to leave, and that you doubt that at all is a wonder to me.”
Daniel had no idea where Land got that impression, both that Aria would act violently and that the den would order her to leave. Even if it strengthened ties with the Golden den, having her there meant more golden blood in the den gene pool.
A few days passed and Aria would be leaving for her rite the next day. As Daniel arrived home from training drills he found Aria standing outside their house waiting with a worried expression. When she noticed him, her face lit up with a shining smile, an action that infected him and he felt himself grin like an idiot. As she rushed over and greeted him, she held his hands and looked up into his eyes. He could feel her excited heart through her hands and his mind was slow to comprehend what she said; only focusing on the beautiful gleam in her red eyes. Only after agreeing did he run what she said through his mind.
“Since you’ll be gone after the rite starts, we won’t see each other for a while,” she had said, “because of that, would it be alright if we went on a date tonight?”
Since he had already agreed he couldn’t go back on that, instead he quickly got cleaned up and changed clothes. Not long after they were moving through a cave system towards the lower levels. There were very few traditional date locations with the den. Draconian dates typically came in two forms, bedding or bloodlust; either coming to an understanding after spending time getting to know each other or killing things ‘till their bodies were too filled with adrenalin to think clearly.
Despite the Selby reputation for the latter, Daniel wasn’t completely willing to risk Aria’s life on the former. Daniel’s opinions on the matter were, thankfully, not important as Aria was constantly a step ahead of him, subtly directing him while making it look like they were just walking randomly as they spoke. She asked him about his Rite of Ages, about the Selby kinship and other things like that. While the questions themselves made it sound like she was worried about her future, her voice hid a hint of confidence that undermined the effect. He just laughed inwardly at how cute she was acting and enjoyed the sensation of her on his arm.
As they reached their coincidental destination, Daniel couldn’t help but feel surprised; having lived in that large cave for all his life he had though he had seen all of it. Before them was the edge of the lake, stretching out for hundreds of meters, cloaked in the darkness of the night and reflecting the billion stars like a water was claiming them as its own. The soft ripples on the water dispersed the light and revealed the cave walls, showing colours that seemed somehow truer than in the harsh day light. The ripples gently churned the steam, the scents around them seemed to blend together and in the haze, Daniel could only think about Aria.
Separating herself from him, Aria fetched a bottle and a dish from behind a nearby rock. Once again wrapping herself in his arms she poured herself a drink. From the aroma her knew what it was; whiskey. The den brewed a couple varieties of drink but whiskey seemed to be the most popular. Daniel didn’t really drink much, but he enjoyed drinking together with her. With a dish in her hands, reflecting starlight against her metallic scales, Aria shone in the night, as luminous as the sun and as warm as dawn.
Aria could only drink the cheapest stuff, but he promised her that he would someday bring her some from a tower, some old world whiskey that had aged through the fall. Hearing his promise, she smiled and blushed, nuzzling her head against his chest. Together, in that moment, they felt content and happy. More than the pride he had as his mother’s son, the reason he worked so hard during tower raids, why he never missed a deployment, was to keep that promise and to become strong enough to protect her.
After nearly an hour of simply enjoying the view and each other’s presence, they finally began to head back. Along the way, Aria made a confession.
“When I was waiting for the elders to see me,” she began meekly, “I overheard their discussion; they want to force me to go to the Golden Den and will send you to the Southwest Den to stop you from causing trouble over it.” He could see tears start to form in her eyes, and felt like a piece of him broke on seeing that. But despite that, he couldn’t help but carry doubt.
“Oh sweet thing, the elders can’t force you to go, and there’s no reason for the Southwest Den to let me in. I know you’re anxious but there’s nothing to worry about.”
“But that’s the thing, there is a reason. Their new prodigy, a pink Death Bringer called Leah Lemann, they want to offer you as a potential mate once your next tower run’s over.” The concern on her face was real, and the point she raised was a valid one. He let out a deep sigh and replied.
“Even if that’s true, all we have to do to stop it is say no. No, you won’t go to the Golden Den and no, I won’t go to the Southwest Den. Simple as that.” His confidence seemed to help sooth her a little and her anxious face started to relax.
Early the next morning, Daniel woke up first. Partially do to her anxiety, though mostly not, Aria slept together with him. Using all of his stealth training, he managed to get out of the bed without waking her. As with most mornings, he started the day with stretches and a basic workout. Unlike most mornings, however, there was a messenger from the elders there to interrupt him. The Copper patriarch snarled at him and began to speak is a whispering voice which could embody the meaning a malice.
“Tread lightly and think things through carefully. It’s more important to us that she goes to the Golden den than it is that you stay alive. Make sure she makes the right choice.”
Having delivered his not even thinly veiled threat, the messenger left, leaving no trace of his visit behind. The way the elders were handling it filled him with a kind of anger he hadn’t felt before; it was a mix of righteous fury and simple loathing. If that messenger had stuck around he might have attacked him, even to the point of disregarding their status differences. The anger inside him made him feel too petty to even mention it to Aria and instead focused on making their last morning together for a while enjoyable then seeing her off to the rite.
Not long after the rite started, he got a message over the radio, saying that the Selby kin would be departing a day early. With a sudden sense of urgency, he rushed towards the meeting point to prepare. With the rush of the departure, he had completely forgotten about the ominous words of the council representative.