Dragons in the Valley

Where did they come from??

By OutisTheNobody

5/10/202314 min read

“There weren’t always dragons in the Valley.”

Tylon’s whisper seemed to have been to himself. The poor elf often did that, mumbled some unheard truth of the world while the rest of us did our best to just keep soot out of our eyes. No one else seemed to hear the soft trill of history, but Tylon’s soft brown eyes glared at me across the campfire as if I were the only one who needed to have heard. No sooner had he said it, he turned back to Meekal who was addressing the whole of the security detail.

“Ye know what ye signed up for,” Meekal preached. “This’ll be useful for e’ryone ‘tween Byron and New Dalia. The two main roads been suffering more and more in the past month. No one knows why. We’re thinking a breeding season needs more water this year than normal, but regardless, a new route between kingdoms is needed.”

Meekal was a competent dwarf. His long beard was always braided and tucked deep within his armor. His bow and arrows were always sharp and keen. No one felt “safe” during this excursion, but we all knew that Meekal hired based on skill alone, with no preference for race or history. What we were doing was dangerous, but at least we wouldn’t have to be looking over our shoulder while we did it.

“The new path’s dangerous,” he continued. “Gnolls been seen paradin’ through this part of the Valley. However, the largest concern is meeting a dragon while moving through the tunnel. To this end, I turn yer trust to Lord Yukus.” He lowered his head and rested it on the end of his bow as I stood up.

“Thank you Meekal,” I began. “As head Diviner for New Dalia, I had been tasked with finding a different path through the Valley that was far away from the grand river Milway. The council gave me ample resources in order to send several possessed woodland creatures throughout the valley during these past three weeks in an attempt to find an acceptable path. In the past week, 6 golems were sent to dig and fortify a tunnel that linked through what appeared to be an old cave system out through the other side. While I can promise that the tunnel is connected all the way through, and can confirm that there is no evidence of any draconic activity, I cannot guarantee that the gnolls will cede their territory so easily.

“Two of the Golems were destroyed during their final excavation. The golems were commanded not to harm any of the creatures that lived in those caves, so they were not equipped to protect themselves. When engaging gnolls, it is important that they see us, the ones who wish to use the tunnels, as the primary threat. If they encounter us with the golems, they will assume we are reinforcements. If we prove formidable, we may be able to broker a permanent truce, using the tunnel for supply runs and having it protected against other threats like harpies and bandits.”

“If we keep them well fed,” Meekal chimed in. The rest of the camp chuckled at this.

“Of course,” I responded. “New Dalia has, if nothing else, a surplus of meat.” I laughed as well, attempting to match the mood of the group best I could. “I’d say a dozen of our sheep will be a great point to start our negotiation. If not, we can always bring more.”

“Agreed,” Meekal stood up. While only 4 feet tall, he had immediately taken control of the crowd again, and I took my seat. “We also have two civilian wagons,” he continued. “The 4 golems’ll be posted ‘round them while we take the front and back of the caravan. It’s a small shipment, but ye know how important them sheep livers are to the north. Every bit we can squeeze through helps both our lands considerably. They’ve not had any in a month and the nobles are getting nervous.”

“We could just take’em and run,” a voice called out. Heads swiveled toward Ferrick, a half orc, that was known to be incredibly lithe and agile. Even now, he had buried the head of his greataxe into a tree stump and was resting on the handle, balancing his bodyweight and that of a stein of mead on just his tiptoes. His tusks were small, but still jutted inky black from his bottom lip.

“C’mon,” he continued, “That’s what everyone’s said. It’s not dragons, but the guards made off with the livers and sold ‘em on the black market. Not saying I’d…”

He was cut short by two arrows striking his mug in quick succession. The force was enough to throw him off balance and send him falling to the ground. No one even looked to see where the arrows came from.

“Now then,” Meekal continued “Isn’t there a certain insurance against that sort o’ thing?”

“Indeed,” I answered. “Each of you, prior to this mission have been marked by satinblood before joining us here correct?”

The group nodded affirmative. I held up my hand and a ring on my index finger began to glow a verdant green. Throughout the caravan, every member of the group began to glow in a similar hue. For most, the glow came from a dot on their wrist, but it seemed some got it on the back of their neck or ankle as well. “That drop will allow even a novice diviner to find any of you, wherever you might run off to. I can also use it to keep us coordinated throughout our trip. Once we clear the valley and make it to the town of Byron, we will have it removed. I expect there is no opposition to this?”

Meekal nodded. I wasn’t really concerned about treachery, not with Meekal at the head. He’d done lots of work for New Dalia in the past and his reputation was far more valuable than a few crates of livers. He would have brought trustworthy people, but I thought it prudent to remind everyone all the same.

“We leave at first light,” Meekal concluded. “Any other questions?”

I looked out over our small group. Excluding Meekal, there were 4 other dwarven archers, four or so strong human warriors who looked like they had worked together before, Tylon the elven sword singer, Ferrick and his two orcs, the four golems, two wagons and two civilians. I was the only mage among us, but New Dalia wasn’t keen on keeping too many mages in their employ.

There were no more questions, and the group dispersed to their tents and began to settle in to prepare for the dangerous morning trek. The quiet shuffling of boots and dragging of bags droned about while mutton stew was being prepared for the evening. The perks of specializing in divination was that it was my job to always know where everyone was at any given moment. The wagons were parked in the center of the camp to protect from ambush, and I began to move my way towards them. I had to speak with her before the night was over.

Sitting on top the wagon, was the merchant Jilpa. A stout man, Jilpa was decidedly human and loved to show it off. His hair was long, while his face was completely shaved. He wore thick gauge earrings to accentuate the roundness of his ears and always wore leathers and furs of grazing, domesticated animals. He waved at me as I slipped into the wagon.

Inside, sat Maria and Philpa. Maria was Jilpa’s daughter. She too had long black hair, but she always wore it in a bun so as not to interfere with the work of her hands. She wore a dress, but had it drawn and tightened in places with leather strips, and sat with a confused look on her face as she stared at Philpa, the golem.

“I can’t possibly,” she began. Between them, on the seat was a game of sheep races. There was a board made of several symbols with the goal being to get all of your sheep across the finish line first. It was clear that while the game had several moves left, Maria had already lost.

“Every time,” she continued.

“I could always go easier on you Maria,” Philpa cooed from her side of the wagon, her stone fingers half-covering her mouth.

“No no,” Maria laughed. “How will I ever get better if I don’t get trounced every so often. I say Lord Yukus, you ought to teach your golem more restraint.”

“She hasn’t the knack for it,” I laughed. “Are you at least giving her a fighting chance Philpa?”

“The only chances are those she arranges for herself,” Philpa said dryly. “I’m afraid this is the way of life for those of us not born to nobles.”

Maria pouted for a moment, then laughing turned to me. “Do you need her alone for a bit?”

Maria asked.

“If I may,” I whispered without meeting her gaze.

“Very well!” Maria said, standing and climbing out of the covered wagon. “I’ll see if Father knows any more strategy I can employ.” Maria landed on the ground quite silently and walked towards the driver’s seat of the wagon, leaving Philpa and I alone.

The air hung cold and still. I looked down at her smooth stone legs and articulated joints. She was bald as most golems were, but had taken to carving glyphs into her skull depicting a dragonfly alighting on a waterlily. Her eyes were expertly carved and inset with two beautiful sapphires that hid beneath eyelids made of stone sheered so thin, it was almost transparent. Whomever designed her was an expert in their craft, and the attention to her eyes seemed to amplify the recognition of the soul within.

“You’re staring again,” Philpa said smirking.

“I apologize…”

“I don’t mind.”

There was another soft silence, which again she broke.

“Are you worried?”

“I am. My star is missing one of its points again. There’s something I’m not…”

“Hey,” she whispered. Her cold hand was soothing as it took mine. “You can’t know everything.

It’s rare to even have as much information as we do now. You’ve done well.”

“But Petra and…"

“They knew the risks. All of us did. There is a reason why tunneling is as profitable as it is. You never know what you will find down there, and all it takes is to be caught off guard.”

“That is my worry. Why did they attack you? There is no way they would have seen something like you down there before. That alone should have made them cautious.”

When Philpa sighed its sounded like music, a wind playing through some long and old carved instrument.

“Perhaps we were close to their nests. If there were younglings nearby, they would have attacked unprovoked.”

“I guess. . .”

“And if that is the case, there is no way they would have kept their nesting grounds near the tunnel we completed, so we should be safe tomorrow.”

“And why would they have waited till you completed the tunnel?”

“Yukus,” she said my name sternly and without a title. “You are a powerful mage. All my directives allow for my full functionality in combat now. Meekal is here, and we are only moving two wagons through the tunnel. We are as prepared as we will ever be. We need you in the moment, now, able to adapt to things as they come up. You need to rest and be present in the morning, do you understand?”

I nodded. She leaned over and gave me a soft kiss on the forehead. Again, it was cold, but the intent behind it always made it feel so warm.

“We’ll come out of this alive,” she said. “If not, I will have the best craftsmen of Alezia build you a fine golem body.”

This finally made me laugh and I leaned over to give her a long embrace. “Make sure the wagons are safe. No matter what, this cargo needs to make it to Byron.”

“Of course,” Philpa smiled. “But I will warn you, if it comes to it, all of Byron be damned. I will come to save you.”

“You are such a disobedient golem.”


We held each other a while in the back of the wagon for a few moments more. I kissed the wings of the dragonfly humming above the flower on her head, and then climbed out. As I walked away, I could see Jilpa and Maria laughing about something, the sound bouncing upwards towards the stars.

I returned to my tent and lay on my cot. It was warm and lonesome. After a few moments of staring at the star charts I hung above my bed, I heard a soft voice coming from outside.

“Lord Yukus,” it was Tylon’s voice.

“Come in,” in answered.

Tylon stepped inside. While elvish, he had long since foregone the elegance said to be innate in his people. He was rugged and wore sharp edged hide armor and shoots of blue fabric that swung out to the sides. They were laced with enhancement magic and I assumed they were parts of an old mage’s robes, though I thought it best not to ask their origin.

“How can I help you, Tylon?” I asked sitting up.

“You are a diviner, yes?” he whispered. I had come to recognize the tone he used. Often, when one is out of options, desperate men and women seek out one who can peer beyond the veil and give them a glimpse of the future. The question “are you a diviner” is never a question of fact, but more a confirmation of their own resolve.

“What is your question,” I said bluntly. I was quite cranky and knew that while I would be able to sleep off a divination, I still would have preferred not use the energy in case we were attacked at night.

“I…,” he paused. “I used to be a diviner myself. Nothing nearly as accomplished as you, but my mother taught me some basic divination when I was in Mistlehold.”

I recognized the name Mistlehold, but had no idea that Tylon had come from there. The city held the largest collection of elven mages in recorded history. Their libraries were the stuff of legend. Perhaps I wasn’t the only mage in the camp after all.

“I see,” I said, hoping to hold onto my quickly dissolving veneer of authority.

“Well sir,” he continued. “I usually do a small ritual before battle. A leaf divination using maple. I’ve done it dozens of times in the past and it always reveals some insight into the future. The leaf will darken if the battle will be rough, or sway from side to side to indicate some uncertainty or uneasiness.

“But tonight sir, when I performed the ritual, nothing happened. It was as if the magic had failed entirely. I retried it four times, each with the same effect. Is there some celestial alignment that is blocking the magic perhaps?”

I did my best to hold my composure. “It is difficult to tell,” I said at last. “A maple divination is quite rudimentary, though it should still provide reasonable results.” I stared into the poor elf’s eyes. “You are quite a bit older than me, but may I offer you some advice when it comes to divination magic?”

“You may.”

“Do not trust it.”

Tylon raised one eyebrow in curiosity. “What do you mean Lord Yukus? Do you intend to lead us into battle unawares?”

“I do not,” I responded. I lowered my tone in the hopes of instilling my voice with more weight. “However, if any diviner tries to tell you the future, always know that they are lying. I specialize in knowledge of the present. I know the golems completed their tunnel, I know they lost two of their number due to my incompetence.”

Tylon inhaled sharply. I continued. “I know that there are gnolls between here and Byron, and I know that our number and skill could easily disband a normal collection of gnolls their size. I know our men are strong and I believe none of them would betray us.”

At this point I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I had held in. Tylon did so as well.

“But Tylon, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I don’t know if these are regular gnolls. I don’t know if there is something worse lingering in those tunnels, and I don’t know if any of us are going to make it out alive. Magic that peers into the future like maple divination pulls at the strings of fate already planted in the past and does its best to predict where those strings may lead. But fate is born by how we play those strings, how we weave and pluck and cut them in the moment. Magic that observes the past is powerful. Magic that confirms the present is my specialty. But magic that peers into the future is always imprecise and i is most affected by the fools that use it. The future goes onto infinity, and even with the aid of magic, attempts to decipher infinity will always, at best be a guess.”

The sounds of men and women settling in for the night rustled about the tent. The main campfire began to be lowered and I could hear the movements of the few unlucky soldiers forced to join the golems for first watch of the night.

“So, to look into the future is pointless then,” Tylon said finally.

“Not entirely,” I reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Think of it this way. Being a student of the past and present, helps us plan for the future. While I may be a diviner, I trust Meekal’s instincts far more than I do any divination magic. He makes solid plans and has been in enough battles to be able to predict what is best to do when the unknown strikes. That is why he is leading this caravan and not me.

“If he falls, I will be counting on you and Ferrick to pick up the slack and lead from there. Your experience is why we rely on you both. Knowing what could happen is far less important than knowing what to do when things go sideways. Do you understand?”

Tylon nodded. I could tell he was not entirely convinced. His hundreds of years suddenly began to show behind his static elven features. I could tell he was beginning to see through me.

“What did you mean earlier,” I said trying to change the subject. “The dragons. What did you mean when you said the dragons weren’t always in the Valley?”

Tylon stood up and began fastening his gear tighter. He pulled at the straps quickly and seemed to be trying to distract himself from something. “I meant what I said. Dragons didn’t always plague the Valley as they do now. My grandfather was alive before they moved in.”

“And where did they live beforehand?” I asked.

He looked at me and I could see he was beginning to hold back tears. It seems he saw through me after all. “I supposed,” he said at last. “They lived anywhere they wanted. For in the past, the dragons flew.”

I stared at him, and he looked at me again with those warm brown eyes. “I will not run,” he said finally. “I will stand with you tomorrow.”

“I thank you, truly.”

“Lord Yukus.”

He bowed and left the tent.

The night air crept in cold and I lay back on my woolen cot, staring at the start charts. “Flying dragons,” I whispered to myself. If such a thing were true, they surely would have been unstoppable.

Divination is mostly the study of the past and the present. There are many researchers and theorist who use divination to decipher the future. Many have had great success, but there is always a bit a charlatanism when it comes to whom they can convince to listen to their grand hypotheses. The field has been mired with much misinformation because of this, as true research of the topic is often corrupted by those who wish their particular theories to only reinforce their positions of importance.

However, there is one, irrefutable law of divination that no snake oil salesman or palm reader would ever dare pretend to be untrue, as the volume of magical evidence is overwhelmingly clear.

One cannot divine past the point of one’s own death.

I lay there in bed thinking about Philpa and the others. One confirmed casualty at least, and Tylon no less. What matter of danger lay in wait for us in those tunnels? Could gnolls really put up that much of a threat? I thought that I should gather a few more animals and send them as scouts in the morning just to be sure.

I looked at my brown sheep leather backpack that lay on the ground near the entrance of the tent. I stared at it for roughly 30 minutes in the darkness. All at once, I stood up and opened one of the side pouches. I unrolled a maple leaf and set in on the floor of the tent, opening a small vial of syrup. I held my staff in my left hand and poured the liquid with my right.

“Flesh of the tree, blood of the same

Lord Yukus Mavery is my name.

Fallen leaf from fallen tree

For tomorrow alone tell sightless me,

What do your ancient eyes see?”

I dripped the syrup onto the maple leaf, and waited.