The villagers knew to never venture into the forest unless they wished to meet their end. Their small village was nestled in the mountains, overseeing nothing but the thick forest below. The forest was known to be the domain of a dragon. To their left was the Kingdom of Ayr, and to the right was the Kingdom of Zeya. Neither had claimed the small village in the mountains, but it was only a matter of time. They bordered two kingdoms and would hold a tactical advantage for whoever dared claim the spot. The villagers believed that the dragon stopped the kingdoms from invading – that it had claimed that village as its own territory, forbidden to both kingdoms. They had never dared to provoke the dragon.
The small village knew that the Kingdom of Zeya had declared war on the Kingdom of Ayr. They took no sides, but they knew the soldiers of Zeya would be upon them before long. The villagers believed they were safe in their village. They believed they were valuable commodities to the Kingdom. They were willing loyal subjects to whomever finally claimed their town and stubbornly refused to leave. Surely, if the soldiers wanted a tactical advantage, they wouldn’t kill villagers aligned with either Kingdom. Surely no Kingdom would massacre innocents. Human ignorance facing down human greed. A recipe for slaughter.
Azur’s ears twitched as screams echoed through the silent forest. She rose from the ground, green eyes peering into the darkness. Flames flickered beyond the mountains, soon engulfing everything in sight. The smoke bellowed across the sky, blocking out the stars. One of the kingdoms had finally made a move. Azur stretched her wings out, green scales momentarily glinting in the moonlight before the gentle glow disappeared behind smoke. She knew the forest would soon be overrun with soldiers, pawns in the game of some greedy emperor. She would have none of it. Her peaceful solitude within the forest was over; it was time to move on and avoid the humans and their issues.
She flapped her wings, ready to leave, when a small whimper stopped her. It was so quiet that no human would have been able to hear. Azur lowered her wings, golden eyes scouring the forest floor for the source of the noise. She soon found it. A small child was stumbling through the trees, burns coating the petite frame. The child’s clothing was tattered, crumbling with each brush of a branch. Charred blonde hair framed the fragile face while emerald green eyes squinted to try to see in the darkness. Small whimpers escaped the child’s mouth as it stumbled sightlessly through the forest. Azur could not fathom why a child was here – had the parents escaped without it? A child would slow them down as they fled, and humans were innately selfish. It made sense. The young child had been abandoned by selfish parents. A strange sensation overcame her as she watched the child walk without direction. She admired the determination and sheer force of will in such a small child.
The inevitable weakness of humans caught up to the child. It made some distance from the mountains but soon collapsed in the forest, doomed to be trampled by enemy soldiers when they raided the forest for survivors. Azur didn’t know why, but the child seemed to call to her. Perhaps she could imbue her knowledge into this small human. Maybe she could change one human from their selfish ways. She had no chicks of her own, no family of her own. Maybe this was meant to be. She scooped the unconscious child up in a talon and deftly flew into the sky. She soared past the small village, glancing down at the flames that now consumed it. The soldiers never intended to keep villagers there. No one would survive the occupation.
Azur flew high in the sky, carefully keeping the child cocooned within her talon. When she reached the haven of the high mountains, she slowly lowered the child to the ground. A bright glow engulfed her, and her dragon form melted aside, leaving the figure of a young woman. Azur cracked her neck, grimacing uncomfortably as she stretched the new form. She rarely took human form; it was too much energy to maintain and far too uncomfortable. But she would not be able to care for this child in her true form. Emerald hair whipped behind her as the wind rushed past. The fog was thick, swirling around each crevice and hiding the mountain from the humans below. Trees were thick and the grass long, still untouched as it had been decades ago. It had been a long time since Azur had been on this mountain. It had been her home long ago until she had been forced to leave. It felt strange to be standing on the mountain again. Especially with a human.
Azur glanced over at the child. Blonde hair spilled over the grass, still long despite the burns. The thin arms were badly burned, and the face scorched. The child was clearly malnourished, likely thrown aside in favor of another. She crouched beside the small child, focusing on the small frame. She could see the power within the child, a power she had not seen in generations of humans. There was a fire burning within – it was powerful, almost dragon-like. Perhaps this was what called to her. The fire burned brighter, slowly turning greener as it grew. Dragonfire. It had to be. Azur had only seen Dragonfire once before and the selfish human had reigned destruction on the dragons. That could never happen again.
Azur needed to stop it. She needed to prevent another human from destroying the dragons. But something within her halted. She couldn’t bring herself to end the life of a small child, especially one who had suffered so much. Maybe she could help the child master her power and use it for the good of dragons rather than devastation. Azur tilted her head and stretched her fingers out, lightly brushing the child’s cheek. A golden glow engulfed the small body, healing every physical injury. When the light faded, the child’s eyes were open. Wide and confused.
“Do not panic,” whispered Azur, clearing her throat. It had been many years since she had last spoken the human language. “What is your name?”
“Elnora,” muttered the child. “Where am I?”
The child had a slight stammer. “You are safe. You are a female? How old?”
The child nodded. “I was born…” she paused, frowning as she concentrated on her fingers. “Three moons ago.”
Humans didn’t understand years or how they passed. They didn’t understand the planet’s rotations, but dragons had seen it all. They knew it all, unlike the humans. The sun disappeared completely behind the moon once a year, giving the moon a halo. This event started each calendar year for the humans. Simple, but it worked. She was only three.
“Why were you in the forest?”
Tears started to trickle down Elnora’s cheeks. “Momma. Momma said we’d be safe there. But momma… momma left me there. She said my little brother was more important. I would only slow them down. I’m too weak.”
Azur frowned. It was exactly what she thought. A small child was abandoned because humans were too selfish to try to take her with them. Pathetic. No dragon would ever leave behind their child. “You are not weak,” said Azur, straightening up. “I would not have brought you here if you were weak. There is strength inside you, child. The strength of a dragon. I would recognize it anywhere.”
Realization crossed Elnora’s face. “You’re a dragon,” she whispered. “The dragon of the forest?”
“That is what the villagers called me. My name is Azur.”
“You look like a human.”
“I can take human form, but it is uncomfortable and hard to sustain. I cannot maintain this form for long, so you must learn to take care of yourself. I will teach you all I know and protect you from the humans.”
Elnora stumbled to her feet, gripping Azur’s tall frame. “You won’t leave me?”
Azur gently patted Elnora’s blonde hair. “I will not abandon you,” she said. “You are now my child; no dragon ever abandons their young.”
“Thank you,” she sobbed. “I won’t let you down.”
“I believe you,” said Azur. “Now come, we have work to do. There is much to teach you before I must return to my natural form.”
Elnora gripped Azur’s hand tightly, almost as if she feared it would disappear. Azur led her further into the mountains, determined to find a place of complete seclusion for herself and her new child. She would raise this child and teach her everything she knew. She would bring forward the fire within, bring out the power within Elnora. She could be a powerful human destined for a better path than other humans. Destined for a path to revive the dragons. That is the hope Azur had.