The Rowan

(Thanks to NamesFromGraves for the beautiful cover, your hard work is always loved :) )
Before the Falling, there were Dragons.

Dragons who's breath could set a forest ablaze, who's wings could cause hurricanes, who's claws made canyons in the rocky earth, who's scales shone like glass and who's bones were made of gemstones. Fearsome guardians of all elements.

There were no humans who could tame such beasts. Not until The Rowan.

The Kingdom of Tiber was a harsh place, where magic was outlawed, and even the Dragons were on the verge of extinction. But in the middle of hide, the last pair of Dragons find a human baby, cold and alone, left to die with their strange appearance.

As the child grows under their care, a war begins brewing, something ancient stiring beneath the surface, and a prophecy to be fuffilled by The Six Branches, a band of six adventurers who must give up their lives to go and complete training to save their kingdom from destruction.

But they sent the wrong six.

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8. The Sixteenth Buck Moon

 

Castellia ducked under the branches as Julij held them out of their path, moving fluidly through the forest as if their feet were gliding over the rough terrain. As Julij had suggested, they had begun their journey to the Seal, although they knew it would be a long one that took perhaps even weeks, to maybe a month or more. They wanted to see if the Branches had opened the door yet, and Castellia had admitted that she had always wanted to see it for herself, since it was a site for very strong magic.

Julij had found that their companion was good company, for where they remained silent, Castellia filled the silence with wild hand-gestures and explanations of how the Magicals sourced their powers, as she was currently explaining.

"You see Julij, Magicals draw their power from within," Gesturing to her chest, Castellia looked to Julij to check that they were looking and understanding "but that's only their core powers, more extravagant spells require power to be drawn from the world around us." Flinging her arms open wide to the shady forest, skin matching the dappling of sunlight cast from the birches.

"I don't believe Dragons use magic." Julij added, attempting to focus their weak eyes on the path ahead rather than looking at their friend, although, friend did not seem to be the right word to use at that point in time, more of an acquaintance that Julij owed a debt to. Though, Julij thought, that if perhaps they had been asked as to their feelings for the Magical, they would admit feeling that they possessed some deep connection.

"Well, what about Dragon-fire, I heard that it's meant to be the most potent thing that can burn!" Julij shrugged in response, they had grown-up around the fire that Castellia spoke of, but they had never seen the capabilities for it to burn through materials. They had been taught that to touch it was a death sentence unless you were a Dragon, or covered in their scales, which had been part of the reason for Julij's unique coat.

Stroking the scales they wore fondly, Julij thought of Wyrim and Dracia, how their red and blue scales had been their home for so long, and now, they were heading off on adventures with a Magical who's skin was pretty and reminded Julij of the different stones that made-up the walls of their cave, swirls of lighter and darker mixed together to form one unique structure. Castellia seemed to always have new patterns emerging in different lights, and Julij always took their time to look at, especially with those deep green eyes.

They walked in silence for a while longer, eventually coming to rest by a river, and the soft gurgle of the water passing over the stony bottom reassured both of the party that they were safe for a while, although Castellia held Julij back from the water's edge, a furrowed brow on her face.

"Do you know how to swim Julij?" Seeing her company shake their head, she sighed and then laughed, the sound bouncing off of the trunks of the trees around them, making the place seem to resonate with happiness. "You've lived on a mountain, of course you wouldn't have, don't worry. I'll teach you."

Setting down her backpack, Castellia stripped down to her under-garments, revealing her thin and petite form to Julij for the first time, and Julij averted their eyes, a pale blush coming to their cheeks. They had learnt that normal humans did not like to be seen without their clothing, although Julij saw no reason to be embarrassed about the form of the body. Turning back, they squinted through their glasses to see that Castellia was shoulders deep in the water, which seemed to be rather cool in temperature since she kept making squeaking noises.

Sighing, Julij removed their own clothes and joined Castellia in the water, only wading waist deep. It was certainly cold, but something that Julij was more used to. Without their glasses to hide their eyes from the light, the water seemed almost blinding as small beams of sunlight fell upon the glassy surface, forcing them to squint to see anything. Suddenly, Castellia took Julij's hand, and led them deeper into the river, although it only reached Julij's chest. 

"Lay in the water, I've got you," Castellia soothed, holding onto Julij's hand with a tight grip, assuring them that they would not let go. "that's it! Now just kick your legs a little." And so the lesson began, both in the soothing water with the sunlight catching their skin occasionally, shedding warmth onto the pair as they began to swim. A treat to Castellia, who blushed each time she caught sight of Julij's broad and lean figure in the water, and to Julij, a chance to learn something new.

Neither were aware of how much time passed, as they swam, floated and picked up stones they thought matched each others eyes and skin. Julij having to hear Castellia describe herself in detail several times to try and find that perfect stone. Both were happy, but Castellia's thought were clouded by the fact that if anybody saw them together like this, they would probably both be hanged. Those thoughts soon left as Julij came back to her, holding stones against her warm skin to check that the colour was correct.

"You two ladies having fun swimming?" A voice called out, and both jumped, Julij pushing infront, grabbing their knife from the bank of the river and holding it towards the voice. Claw glinting in the now fading light. Castellia's heart beating faster as her fears became true before her eyes, a young man with a lanky frame but somehow muscular and dark tousled hair came out into the light. A smirk on his face as he watched the two in the water, Castellia's blush rising as she watched him scan her body in particular.

"What are you doing here, who are you?" Julij demanded, voice gravelly and causing goose-bumps in the already chilled water, the stranger laughing, stepping closer as he realised that Julij could not see properly. His eyes a startling yellow, something about his skin not quite fitting onto his body.

"Well, this is MY forest. It's full-moon after-all. But you may call me Caelen." The smirk dancing on his lips, teeth seeming too sharp in his mouth, crooked and his breath seemed odourless, which was odd. Almost as if he was too blank, something that could be moulded over and over again. Castellia found her heart beating even faster in her chest, but some reassurance came from Julij, who pointed their knife at his throat, a low growl building in her throat.

As the twilight settled around them, Castellia, and even Julij, who had to squint even more in the fast fading light, they watched as the boy began to peel his skin off infront of them. Revealing fur beneath, and that's when Castellia's breath caught in her throat entirely.

"Skinless."

 

 

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