Steel shards littered upon the blood soaked earth. Broken bodies piled in all directions. Faces were frozen in expressions of rage and fear. Nicodemus stood at the center of one such display of deadly might, its stained talons suggesting its role in the carnage that had unfolded. But far better proof was the fact that outside the perimeter of the battle Nicodemus was party to, bamboo saplings, tall grass and orchids such as fragrant nodding ladies tresses, rose pogonias and grass pink orchids were rising out of the bloodied earth. Vandross stood perfectly balanced upon Nicodemus' head. On his hands, a great ivory bow was held, with an arrow notched and ready to be released. The bow was an marvel to behold, with its interlocking parts and sliding joints. Like the skeletal system of some bat-like animal born to hold taut the bowstring, the bow could adjust in size and shape to accommodate awkward positions or less spacious battlefields, or even collapse into a belt-like harness for easy carrying.
Nicodemus peered through its still functioning eye and carefully scanned the surrounding area for any possible sources of danger. Vandross glanced down upon Nicodemus' head and saw that his Onus Bonded dragon was already sprouting new strands of its silken mane. All it took was for Vandross to draw a strand, so whistle to it as he broke it free from Nicodemus' head, and it would twist upon itself and stiffen into a serviceable arrow.
Both Nicodemus and Vandross turned towards the source of the scream. Just outside the verdant perimeter the dragon had left in its wake, a small gang of four barbarians clutched their archaic weapons and held their ground. One of the four was on the verge of dying, with his bloated intestines spilling out of the flowering wound in his stomach. A violet bloomed just as the man inhaled to scream again.
"Monsters! The Ancestral Dragons had a pact with the Febhed! You spit upon the pact with your defiance!"
Vandross carefully studied the barbarians. The Febhed were the thousands of barbaric tribes that thrived in the wilderness outside the reach of the Faith. While the Faith believed the Ancestral Dragons watched over them and guided them, the Febhed on the other hand saw dragons merely as one of the many monsters that stalked the lands. In time, the two found themselves coming into a head-to-head conflict, and the many battles and skirmishes that unfolded in this terrible bloody came to be known as the Fang Wars. A truce was made to settle the battle, with the Faith reluctantly accepting the fact that any dragons that were found outside the domains of the Faith were unprotected by the Ancestral Dragons. The Febhed were free to do whatever they desired to such dragons. But today, that truce may have come to an end, with the actions of Vandross and his Onus Bonded dragon, Nicodemus.
"The Dragon," Vandross called out, "Where have you brought it?"
"The Patermaster will hear of this! You and your one-eyed lizard will be punished!"
Nicodemus raised a talon into the air. The four barbarians screamed, with three of them brandishing their weapons ready to defend themselves. Vandross shook his head, realizing how little these Febhed understood of dragons. Nicodemus brought its talon down to the earth, then flicked the claws upwards, spraying the dirt around. From the small hole the dragon had dug, a lone white orchid shot up, miraculously growing at such a heightened pace.
Vandross read the motions of the leaves as they extended outwards from the central stalk. He observed the dance of moving petals as the orchid began to bloom. He read the Dragon Song Nicodemus had such and understood what the dragon wished to say. Nicodemus had sensed the presence of the dragon they had come to save. It had sensed that the dragon was being imprisoned underneath the very earth where the battle had been fought. The Febhed had such abilities. Their leader, the Patermaster, had uncovered the secret voice of the earth, and has shared this language to those he personally trusted to use it for the good of the Febhed. With but the right intonation of key words, the Patermaster and his chosen Paterons could command and shape stone to some degree. More complex manipulations required more intense and carefully spoken intonations. Some even say that is why the Patermaster can never be found by those who are not Febhed; he lives deep beneath the bowels of the very earth itself. Some even fear he hides beneath the city of the Seat of Faith and spies on them.
Vandross, however, sensed more than just what Nicodemus wished to say. Such was the price of their Onus Bond. He sensed how Nicodemus was not too comfortable with the fact the dragon was still alive. He sensed how Nicodemus understood why Vandross was willing to risk the truce to save this errant dragon in the unprotected lands.
And he sensed that Nicodemus was not pleased.
An arrow was launched from the ivory bow in Vandross' hands. The bow flew swiftly, singing a single sharp tone as it cut the air. One Febhed barbarian raised an axe to parry the arrow, but the arrow unspun into threads of dragonmane, shot past the axe, and then rewove itself into its killing edge.
"Motud!" the wounded Febhed exclaimed, and immediately his role as the group's Pateron was unveiled. A wall of stone erupted outwards from the very ground and parried the arrow, shattering it into threads. The other Febhed barbarian gave out a war cry and charged forward. The chipped axe in his hand glistened with the blood of from his Pateron's wounds.
Nicodemus whipped its tail towards the barbarian. The scaled tip buried into the earth with the sound of a muffled thunderclap. A surging wave of growth shot outwards in a growing arc headed straight for the attacker. Bamboo shoots burst from the ground and stabbed through the Febhed the moment petals exploded outwards and took to the air.
"The dragon, Pateron," Vandross demanded as he drew a new strand of dragonmane to arm his bow, "Or more of your people shall feed the earth."
"The dragon, Pateron. Now."
And with a snarl, the Pateron intoned. The earth opened like a lotus welcoming the rays of morning. The imprisoned dragon within was revealed.