It took close to an hour, at least, it felt like an hour, to reach the rear of the cavern and the short— by dragon standards, at least —tunnel leading back into Baalhalllu’s personal chamber.

Although this chamber was smaller, it was still massive to her human eyes. Although she clearly sensed the size of the chamber, everywhere she looked was nothing but deep shadows over deeper shadows. She could make out none of the details.

“Kaito, can you get us some light?”

“Oh!” he said in surprise. “Of course. My apologies.”

After a moment, a large globe of pale yellow light appeared above his head.

The chamber walls, now clearly illuminated, were lined with bookcases, the shelves blanketed by books of every size, shape, and description imaginable. In the center of the room, a massive— even by dragon standards —tome stood open upon a pedestal.

“Much too obvious,” she whispered and Kaito gave a soft chuckle.

“The books, perhaps?”

“Seems unlikely,” Dauria said. “But we should at least look. Do you want to go look in the chamber to the left of this one? That’s where he keeps his magical trinkets. Perhaps something in there has a chance of being useful to us.”

Kaito nodded, though he looked unhappy about it. “I’ll leave you the light.”

Dauria nodded in appreciation and flashed her best smile. Kaito flushed almost crimson and strode from the chamber.

What is that human phrase? she wondered. ‘As shy as school children’? Or was it ‘as giddy as school children’? Gah, it matters not. The expression never made any sense to me anyhow.

Dauria pushed the thoughts away and moved to her left to scan the spines of the books on the shelves. She wasn’t at all certain of what she was looking for, but still felt certain she’d know it when she saw it.

Title after pointless title, most seemed to be personal treatises on history and philosophy. Nothing jumped out at her as useful or important.

With each shelf she searched, her frustration mounted. Perhaps the whole venture had been pointless. What if there was nothing here that could help her? What is she was stuck in this human body for the rest of her life?

For that matter, how long was the rest of her life likely to be in this body?

Kaito is still around, she thought. And by all appearances, has been so for a great, many years. Perhaps the human form does not affect our lifespans?

Not that that matters much. There’s no way, even if I could get to them, that the Elders would listen to me like this.

“These might help.”

Dauria jumped at the sound of Kaito’s voice. She’d almost forgotten he was there with her.

“What are they?” she asked, turning to him. He carried an armload of seemingly random things, from earring and amulets to oversized armbands and thin, wooden wands, circlets, knife sheaths, and more. “I don’t sense anything from them,” she said in consternation.

Kaito frowned. “I was afraid of that.” After a pause, he continued, “Each does something a bit different. From enhancing natural draconic abilities to magical enhancements to shapeshifting. They all seemed as though they could be helpful to you.”

“Thanks, Kaito. I don’t imagine a shapeshifting trinket will be of much use to me, though.”

“Considering that you can’t even sense the magic in them, I expect you are correct. But if extra power is needed, they may be useful.”

“That’s true. Want to help me search the books?”

He gave a silent nod and went to the bookcase at the opposite side of the entrance. He gently sat the trinkets on a table to the side of the bookcase and set to work.

“What am I looking for?” he asked.

“Anything to do with magic, shapeshifting, locking a dragon in human— or other —form, or manipulation of one’s connection to the arcane.”

“Got it.”

Time passed slowly. Kaito worked in silence and Dauria struggled to keep her temper reined in while she canned through shelf after shelf after shelf of pointless volumes.

“Have you checked the tome in the center?” Kaito asked.

Dauria scoffed.

“I realize it’s unlikely,” he said in mollifying tones. “But did you check to be sure? Maybe this is where they learned how to do it.”

“Calling that unlikely is quite the understatement.”

“So you didn’t check.” It was not a question.

“Nope.”

Kaito’s boots scraped on the floor of the chamber as he stepped to the center. The tell-tale snapping of bone and popping of flesh alerted her that he had shifted his shape, presumably to have the native size to see over the pedestal and read from the immense tome.

Dauria ignored him and continued skimming titles. Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, all the Great Wise Men of the ancient past seemed to be represented here.

She skimmed titles and occasionally Kaito turned one of the massive parchment pages.

“By the gods, Dauria, I think I’ve found it!”

“What?”

“I’m almost certain this is it!”

In spite of herself, her heart raced with excitement. She looked up at Kaito. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. But you’re not going to… oh, dear.” He stopped speaking then.

Dauria narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing the dragon. “What is it?”

He didn’t answer. The scales of his face lost a bit of their luster as his eyes raced across the pages.

“What is it, Kaito?”

His yellow lips whispered something, but she couldn’t make it out.

“Kaito!”

“It’s Kaiyutaulliaund,” he said softly. Her jaw dropped, hanging open.

Kai… Kaiyu… how is that…?

In her shock, it took her a minute to form words again.

“The lost one?” she whispered in a rasp. “But Kaiyutaulliaund disappeared more than a millennium before The Sleep. Presumed dead. If he is you…” Her voice strengthened as she finished, “Where have you been?”

“I am sorry, Kwallindauria. I would love to bore you with the details, but this is more important. You need to find Graayyyavalllia and address the situation with the other Elders. I fear your time is running short. Let this act prove my devotion to you. Let it prove my worth and my love.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me,” Dauria said. “Wait, did you say–“

She was cut off by a whirlwind of power, a tempest of magical energy. The pile of trinkets flew through the air. A few landed on Dauria’s human form— an armband clasped to her bicep, a pair of earrings stabbed into her lobes, and a ring slid onto her finger —and the rest struck the gold dragon, embedding themselves into his scales.

Kaiyu raised his wings and sucked in a deep breath. Air and warmth drained from the chamber over the seconds it took the gold dragon to pull in his enormous breath.

He held his breath, body poised, seemingly ready to leap, for several moments while Dauria stared, dumbfounded.

A hurricane of force tore through the chamber. Kaiyu deflated and all his inner mass seemed to disintegrate. A tornado of arcane power ripped through the chamber, taking up the books, quills, ink, tables, a few loose coins which had tumbled in from the main chamber, a few loose pages from the massive tome, and even the bookcases themselves and twirled them all about the room as though they were so much detritus.

After a minute, Dauria herself was sucked up into the twister. Something small struck her forehead and liquid dripped down into her eyes. Something larger struck her hand with a crack which sounded like snapping bone. The hand felt like it was on fire. Something even larger struck her full in the back— probably a whole bookcase —and she cried out in pain.

Nothing more struck her, but she was tossed and flung about the chamber by the wind as though she weighed nothing, as though she were a child’s toy.

After several minutes of terror, the wind died down and Dauria was released. A moment before she struck the floor, a massive gust of torrential arcane power slammed into her, thrusting her into the wall and pinning her there.

Kaiyutaulliaund shrieked in agony, the sound piercing Dauria’s receptors as though she had been stabbed with razor-sharp claws.

Her heart ached with the sound.

Then his shriek ended and incredible warmth suffused Dauria’s body. After another moment, the power released her and she slumped to the floor, the world fading into darkness.

A bright, silver flash consumed her vision for an instant, then all went black.

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CHANNILLO

Metal and Stone, Chapter 9
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Dauria had lost track of how long they’d been in the tunnel some time ago. Daylight was little more than a memory and even her enhanced eyesight was beginning to fail.

“Is this it?” Kaito asked, glancing up.

The tunnel branched in three directions.

“Yes,” Dauria said. “The left was my chamber. The center was my dam’s and the right was my sire’s.”

“Which do we think is most likely to be where we need to be?”

“Right, almost definitely.”

Kaito nodded and moved down the fight fork.

“How’s your vision, Kaito?”

“Dragonsight is perfect, or course. The human eyes are pretty much useless down here, though.”

Dauria nodded. He wasn’t looking at her, but she felt certai...

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