A warm breeze drifted past Dragon's face, blowing his fedora off his head. He snapped an arm back and caught it before it drifted into the Temple and out of his reach for the duration. Pushing it firmly onto his head, he stepped all the way out onto the grassy plains of the Dragon Lands. Behind him, the doors to the Temple swung gently shut.
Dragon turned to look at the Temple. From the outside, it looked as magnificent as the inside once had. It was a tiered structure, not unlike some of the shrines to the Buddha. The overall structure was made of white stone, with gold-etched designs running over the surface.
Behind the Temple was a massive mountain range, so pure and clean that their whiteness shone as the backdrop to the Temple. They looked as if they had been carved by some giant hand, lovingly crafted until each inch was perfection and beauty.
Dan took in a deep breath and stretched his arms out, turning around to look out over the Dragon Lands. The land before him was covered with grassy hills. His view was blocked by a nearby hill, so he couldn't see very far into the land beyond.
Dragon walked towards the hill, wiping sweat off his brow with his fedora before replacing it on his head. He pulled his trenchcoat close around him and trudged up the hill so he could stand at the top and get a better view.
His new viewpoint gave him vision over a wide valley, stretching for what seemed like miles. There were other hills in the distance, but nothing that indicated technology or civilization. It was a pure, virgin land. Dragon smiled, finding the sight inspiring. The smile quickly faded when he saw two humanoid figures running towards him in the distance, obviously struck with terror.
The two figures had to be dragons. Each was roughly eight feet tall, with massively scaled hides. They ran on two legs, with two fully articulated arms pumping madly as they raced towards Dragon's position. Their serpentine tails swung behind them as if acting as propellers.
It wasn't long before Dragon saw what had them so spooked. Twelve hairy beasts, each about five feet at the shoulder, came charging at them on all fours. They had ebony fur and bright white faces with demonic features. Even from his vantage point so far away, Dragon could see the taint of the Wyrm about them. He watched the first four creatures run past the hapless dragons and get in front of them, cutting them off and forming the beginnings of a circle that the other eight quickly closed.
Dragon touched a control on his belt and felt the jet thrusters that Defender had supplied him with kick in. He was flying much slower than his normal velocity, but it was quick enough to land him next to the dragons before any of the creatures could move.
When he touched down, Dragon pulled his katana out of its sheath with a loud grunt.
"You'll have to go through me," he growled.
None of the creatures seemed to have any problem with that. Two of them leaped, stretching out their foreclaws as they came at Dragon. He used the sword to block one of them away, cutting a minor slash in its paw. He completed the move by spinning and blocking the other one with his arm, letting its momentum carry it over and to the other side of him. He allowed himself a momentary bit of pleasure at the maneuver. The Teacher would have been proud, he thought. Or maybe not.
The green scaled dragon next to Dan opened his mouth and let loose a burst of fire which scorched two of the creatures even as the rest scattered away from the unleashed fireball. His companion, with red-tinged scales, did the same, although her fireball was much smaller, and only hit one creature. That creature was engulfed, however, and quickly turned into a blackened husk, screaming pitifully as its bones turned to ashes.
The other creatures moved in then, rising to stand on their hind legs and swiping at their opponents. They howled madly in anger at the loss of their companions. Both Dragon and the other two dragons were quick, but were unable to avoid the numerous blows. Each suffered at least one cut, made worse by the burning venom that infected the wounds even as they were made.
Dragon lashed out with his sword, stabbing one of the creatures in the chest. It fell over and cried out in pain, then disappeared in a puff of smoke. He continued to block the other attacks while his companions spewed their fiery breath again.
The creatures were down to six now, with one having fallen to Dragon's sword and five more to the combined fireballs of his allies. The creatures dropped down to all fours and ran out a little bit, enclosing the three of them in a moving circle once more. Every so often, one would make a move inward, as if about to bite, keeping their prey on the defensive.
The female dragon opened her mouth to breath fire, but was so caught up in the movement that she was unable to dodge when one of the creatures jumped in and slashed her. Her fireball went wild, striking the grass in the distance and setting it ablaze briefly before burning out.
Dragon dropped his sword and pulled out the blaster Defender had given him. He ducked as one of the beasts came flying in at him, narrowly avoiding another wound. His fedora flew off of him, and he heard the dragons gasp at the sight of his all-too-human features. He pushed the thought out of his mind and focused on the fight.
When he stood up, he touched the keypad on the blaster's handle to a precise numerical code and aimed it outward. The power cable attached to his belt pack pulsed blue as energy flowed from it into the blaster. Dragon swung the blaster in an arc, releasing four shots. He hit two creatures, destroying them, and the other two shots went wild.
The creatures were unsure what to make of such a weapon, and they faltered long enough for Dragon's allies to open up with flame bursts, taking out two more of the creatures. The remaining duo turned and ran for the hills. Dragon holstered his blaster and turned to face his allies.
The look on their faces was not one of gratitude. And to him, it didn't look like they thought the fight was over yet. In fact, they seemed more frightened now.
Dragon spread his arms out, palms up. The dragons just kept staring at him.
"What's the matter?" Dragon finally said.
The dragons hesitated, but the green one finally returned, in a King's English accent, "You're a human."
"Yes?" Dragon said, raising his eyebrows.
"We thought you were a superstition," the green dragon explained.
Dragon rolled his eyes. "In my dimension, it's you who are the superstition."
"Well, that makes sense," the green dragon said. "We've visited your world long ago, just like you did ours. But no one has visited in modern times. Ever since the dimensional barrier went up, humans have been just a superstition. There are those who believe you still cross over. I wasn't really one of them."
"The barrier," Dragon said, his voice full of excitement. "The one that was enacted after the Wyrm's first defeat?"
The green dragon nodded slowly, looking at Dragon with suspicion. "Why are you here?"
"I'm looking for Okage. He is here, and I need to see him."
"Another legend," said the red dragon. Her voice was young, probably early twenties. "Okage was destroyed fighting the Wyrm."
"No, he wasn't. He escaped to my dimension and was later banished...it's a long story," Dragon finished. "Listen, I need to find him."
"Perhaps, if he is still alive, he is in the Eastern Lands. That is where he once ruled," the green dragon offered, although his facial expression showed Dragon exactly how likely he thought that was.
"Where am I now?"
"You're in the Northern Lands, near the border of the Southern Lands," the red dragon said.
"What is the quickest way for me to get to the Eastern Lands?"
The green dragon shrugged. "Probably to talk to the Chancellor of the South."
There was a long pause and the green dragon said, "We're heading that way."
His companion shot him a nervous look. Dragon pretended not to notice and gave them the warmest smile he could manage.
"You don't mind traveling with a human?" Dragon asked.
"Not one who saved our lives," the green dragon answered. "It seems obvious now that the stories are wrong."
"I am Godfrey, a knight," he said with a bow. He gestured to his companion. "This is my squire, Persephone."
Persephone bowed to Dragon as well, although her eyes never left him.
"Most people call me Dragon," Dan said. "I guess that would get confusing here. You can call me Dan."
The three of them set off, walking across the plains. And as they walked, they shared tales of their homelands.
"We are in the Northern Lands," Godfrey began. "Persephone and I are traveling to the South to offer our assistance to another kingdom near the border. They've been having trouble with Oni."
"I thought the dimensional barrier would prevent Oni from getting in?" Dragon said.
"Getting in, no. Our dimension is as easy to reach as any other. It's generally acknowledged, except in public circles, that the Wyrm brings the Oni into the dimension. No, they can get in quite easily. It's getting out that's near impossible."
"Mind you, it didn't used to be. Oh, I'd hear stories from my etreaine..."
"Excuse me, your what?" Dragon interrupted.
Dragon stared at him blankly. Godfrey attempted to explain.
"I am descended from him. He was born nine hundred years ago."
Dragon nodded and wrote it off as something he'd never understand. But he realized that dragons must be long-lived if this one had spoken to his nine-hundred year old predecessor.
"There were stories as he was growing up about dragons who crossed the dimension, before the barrier went up. They would go to your world, and woo your maidens. Of course, the knights wouldn't stand for it. They all became insanely jealous and went around killing dragons that went anywhere near your maidens."
"They couldn't kill them all. I imagine there are still some half-dragons on your world. Perhaps even you have dragon blood in your veins. It would be much diluted by this time, but it is still in the bloodline of some of your people."
The thought struck Dragon as odd. If he had dragon blood, it meant that his father, his brother, his son and daughter all had it as well. Given what he knew about each of them, he could almost see it. Not that it mattered, he thought. Although that would explain why Long Walker had seen him as a dragon. And why she had been able to exploit dragon weaknesses.
"Are you listening?"
Dragon shook his head and blushed. "Sorry, Godfrey, I was just thinking about what you said. Did you just say something about the Northern Lands?"
"I said, we're the smallest land mass, and the least respected. The feudal lords bicker with one another over who gets to rule what part of the Northern Lands, and the Spiritual Consulate writes us all off as barbarians who are no threat to anyone. I daresay they're right."
"Spiritual Consulate?" Dragon prodded.
"Yes. They are the mediators of our world. They rest in the Eastern Lands. Each of the lands sends a representative, called a Chancellor, to different meetings. The Northern Lands have ten such Chancellors, the Southern and Dark Lands have but one each."
"The Spiritual Consulate makes very few absolute rulings. There is only one...is something wrong?"
As they crested the new hill, Dragon stopped and pointed, out across the expanse of water they now saw. Stretching up from the sandy beach and over, as far as the eye could see, was an intricate bridge made of solid ice.
"That's the ice bridge," Persephone said. "It's been here as long as the dragons have. Mages have studied it, scientists have studied it, but nobody can figure it out. But it's the easiest way to the South."
Dragon fumbled for his belt pouches, hoping that Defender had slipped a camera into one. In his mad search, he accidentally unlashed the Dragon Gem, which slipped out and dropped onto the ground.
Persephone screamed, and Godfrey looked on in horror. The two of them unfolded their wings and flapped their way into the sky. Dragon called out to them.
"Wait, what's the matter?"
"You'll not trap us, human!" came the reply. They flew away, back into the Northern Lands. Dragon knew his power supply wouldn't allow him to catch them. He wasn't sure he could explain anyway. He put the Dragon Gem back in his belt and found a camera. After snapping a few pictures of the ice bridge and the surrounding area, he inhaled again and started in the direction of the ice bridge.
"I guess I'll find my own way from here."