Note: This is a partial chapter excerpt from Cinder: Book One of the Dragon Alliance. Dragons and humans are meeting in the Labyrinth, (the home of the Dragon Mage,) to discuss what to do about a concerted attack on dragon-kind from an unknown source. The Mage (a very old dragon) tells the story of Earthrose and Seabourne to those assembled. Cloud, is the proud leader of the sky dragons who have not yet been attacked. We see the scene through the eyes of Cinder, an orphaned earth dragon who has spent time living as a human girl.
“It has been said in recent centuries that Earthrose and Seabourne were dragons, that we, dragonkind, were the first upon the earth, but the oldest tales say that is not so. When I was young I heard the legend pure. Earthrose and Seabourne were the first of the wizards. Though some called them gods, they were human.”
There was a snort from Cloud, but nothing more. Cinder thrilled to hear the sound of the mage’s voice. It was not a roar like the sky dragon’s. It rumbled low but clear. Her voice kissed the walls of the hall, but did not bounce. In her demesne no echo would gainsay the Dragon Mage.
“It was an age of chaos. Humankind wandered the lands and seas in packs of two or three. They hunted and were hunted in turn. There were no leaders, and humans were lost in confusion. They could not fly, they had no scales or feathers, and they had little fur or claws or teeth. Their legs were slow, their arms were weak, and their offspring were helpless for years after birth. They were easy prey.
“When a predator was too sick or old to eat anything else, it ate human. The taste was never good, but they were filling and easy to catch.
“No one knows why humans survived this first age. Perhaps they were fertile. Perhaps most predators remained healthy enough to find more appetizing meals. Some say a spirit kept watch over these, the most defenseless of creatures.
“The earth is a tester of the living. Though you see around you thousands of different kinds of creatures, for every one you see today a thousand have ceased to be. When times of reaping come, many types of creatures die at once. It was at the beginning of one of these times, the time of great ice, that Earthrose and Seabourne came to be.
“Though Seabourne was born in the islands and Earthrose from the vast inland, each was raised in the shadow of a volcano.
“While still a helpless child, Earthrose crawled down a lava vent and found herself in a sea of magma. She was too young to know fear. She knew only wonder. As she looked about her and saw the stones become liquid and then become stones again, she learned a sacred word.”
“Ah, to know the sacred word.” Cinder spoke the response words along with each dragon in the lair. Earthrose and Seabourne was not just a tale of teaching, it was a tale of life. A tale of life is shared as well as told.
The mage nodded her satisfaction.
“Earthrose understood as a child understands. It is a way an adult cannot. Instead of flame consuming the child’s flesh, a flame lit in her heart.
“Seabourne was older when he walked to the top of his island’s volcano. He did not seek prey, but to see. He was still too young to hunt, and his mother could not take him when she sought turtle and shellfish along the shore.
“Seabourne reached the top of the mountain when a venting of gas exploded around him. Seabourne did not worry that his flesh should be melting and his bones cracking, for he saw something that distracted him from death. The dust and vapor and air mixed before him. Some fire came from the sun, and some from the earth. As he watched the elements mix, he saw the sacred sign.”
“Ah, to know the sacred sign,” came the response.
“Seabourne did not try to draw the sign in the sand, but preserved it in his heart, and then, as with Earthrose, a flame was lit within.
“Years later, ice moved across the earth. All life fled before it. Earthrose saw the shadow of ice gray the horizon. There were storms and cold winds such as she never felt before. The cold was uncomfortable, but it was the darkness that frightened her.
“Her father took her hand. They must flee the wall of ice. She told her father there was heat and light in the volcano.
“Though the fire was life to her, it filled her father with fear. Fear is the great life taker. Earthrose went alone.
“Earthrose wandered through the roots of the mountain and across the bones of the earth. She felt neither hunger nor thirst, for her nourishment came from the life fire around her.
“The journey was one of wonder each day. The voice of the deep spoke to her and told her the truths that remained hidden to those on the surface. Though Earthrose did not know day from day, she knew that time was passing, for as she wandered she became a woman.
“Seabourne was also on his journey across the bones of the earth. Like Earthrose he knew neither hunger nor thirst. The wonders of his days were visions that played constantly before him as he passed.
“Both Earthrose and Seabourne were satisfied in their lives of wonder. They also shared a common regret: that they experienced the wonder alone.
“When they met beneath the earth, there was a celebration in their hearts. Fire danced about them as they touched hands, embraced, and mated.
“It was here in the deep places that Earthrose and Seabourne paused in their wandering. Together they built a home.
“Earthrose took twelve small stones that fluxed between hard and molten and spoke into them the sacred word.”
“Ah, to know the sacred word.”
“Seabourne took volcanic gas that fluxed between gas and liquid and envisioned the sacred sign.”
“Ah, to know the sacred sign.”
“They took the twelve molten stones and placed them in the pool of cloud, and treasure was born on the earth. The twelve stones became jewels of surpassing brilliance. Though they were solid, they contained within them the flow of the sea and the light of the sky.
“They took four of the stones and set them below, and four they set above. The final four they set as a gate, and a lair formed around them. The stones transformed the walls of the lair to diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. The floor became gold, and the ceiling platinum. So was born the great earth hoard.”
“Ah, to see the great earth hoard.”
“Earthrose and Seabourne did not know how long they lived in their magnificent lair. Their days were spent in discovery. They explored the earth about them. They explored the depths each found in the other.
“In their paradise they began to wonder about those upon the surface. Was it right for them to live in splendor while humans above died in darkness?”
“Wizards, heroes, and dragons, come forth!” said Cinder along with those around her.
“Earthrose and Seabourne ascended and found the earth in darkness. The few humans who remained huddled in misery, awaiting their deaths.
“The two wizards told the humans to gather sticks, and when the wizards touched the sticks, they came ablaze. The humans warmed themselves at the fire and used the fire to keep predators at bay.
“When Earthrose and Seabourne compassed the earth, they found and saved twelve small gatherings of humans, six upon the mainland and six on the islands. Yet when they returned to the first, the fire they kindled was dead. The people suffered again.
“They taught the humans to tend the fires, but in time each group lost its flame. They could not return to their lair. Could they spend eternity traveling the earth, relighting these fires? If they did not, was it right to let all humanity die?
“Earthrose and Seabourne had no children of their own. Without these humans who were unable to keep their fires, the human creature would die. Who would there be to marvel at the wonders and inherit the legacy?
“Earthrose and Seabourne returned to their lair and pulled from its foundations the Great Stone Jewels. The gold, platinum, diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire lost their anchor and scattered from the lair to all parts of the earth.
“The two wizards brought the twelve stones to the surface and visited the last twelve tribes one by one. They looked into the eyes of each tribe member until they found the one with the most fire within. To this member they gave a stone. Earthrose spoke the sacred word, and Seabourne drew the sacred sign, and the human was bound to the stone.
“These humans learned to call forth fire. They learned to sail the seas and build lairs. They provided for each tribe’s needs and protected all from predators.
“When these stone-bound had children, some of them became wizards, some became heroes, and others became the first of the dragons.
“Humankind and dragonkind spread across the earth in such power that the walls of ice fell back before them. The humans built their towns and planted fields. The dragons watched and preserved the twelve stones and gathered the legacy of Earthrose and Seabourne wherever they could find it.
“At the peak of the golden age, ten thousand dragons blessed the sky, sea, and earth.
“The dragons were strong, and much of the legacy was found and preserved. It was then that the taking began.”
The mage fell silent. It was an odd ending to the tale. Cinder didn’t move. No one else moved, either. They wanted to hear the rest.
The mage looked over the dragons and humans present. For a moment her eyes fell upon Cinder.
Are you worthy? The mage’s words were clear, but they were not spoken.
I do not know, Cinder thought. She didn’t try to project the thought; she just thought it.
It is well that you say so. A testing will come.
Cinder did not hear the mage speak to anyone else in the room. The questions and answers were private.
When the mage met Cloud’s eyes, he met her defiantly, then looked to the floor.
Cinder did not know how long the silence lasted. Finally, the mage spoke aloud again.
“Dragons came to being in order to preserve the legacy. Our hoards are rich, but our numbers fail. A year ago our numbers were less than a thousand. Since the killers have come, who knows how many remain? When the last of us is gone, will the legacy of Earthrose and Seabourne die with us?”
“Dragon Mage,” said Cloud. “You have no reason for such fear. Nearly two hundred of us remain strong on Sky Mountain. We keep three of the Great Stones there, and we will not rest until we’ve secured all twelve. We will not fail in our diligence. The legacy will continue.”
“It is well, Great Dragon Cloud,” said the mage, “that the legacy remains. It would be tragic if, in fighting to preserve the fire, we quenched it ourselves.”