Fudin awoke to the sound of rustling parchment and his brothers soft droning. The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon. Its red glow bathed the earth around him in a blood red hue.
Beside him, Nes sat cross legged on his padded bedding, with his spellbook in his lap. It was a red leather affair, embellished with a golden spine, lock and corners. It’s yellow pages were covered in orange lettering and symbols – his brother’s arcane knowledge transferred to the page. Fudin couldn’t read the spells as his brother could, nor did he have even a basic understanding of the arcane energies flowing through the world. He had never been as intelligent as his brother.
The dedication it took, however, to harness the energies of the world itself and force them to do ones bidding through the spoken word and sheer force of will, he did understand.
A year ago, not long before Nes and Fudin had set off on their coming of age journey, he had stumbled upon an oasis that was marked on no map. Its crystal clear waters had sparkled in the midday sun, welcoming him. He had neared the waters in awe, surrounded by lush foliage and rare, exotic flowers.
It had called to him.
In the pool bathed three of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes upon. They lounged naked in the pristine waters, laughing and singing joyfully. Each was as different as the last, alike only in their unearthly beauty. The sight of them ensnared him, like a fly in a spiders web, and he was powerless to resist.
He approached them without thought, as if he were in a dream. They greeted him and beckoned him join them in their pool. He had stripped off his fine, silk robes, tossed them upon the sand and come at their call. They hugged him as he drew near, placing their perfect, red lips upon his sun baked flesh. He reveled in their attentions, grew needy.
And then he appeared.
A massive dragon, tall as a palace, covered in brilliant azure scales, raised his horned head and spoke. His wings were missing, torn off in a long forgotten battle, but his sheer presence was no less terrifying for their lack. His voice shook the earth and caused blood to seep from Fudin’s ears. Fudin had not seen him arrive.
“Who are you?” the dragon had asked.
Fudin had shook with fear. Blues were among the most cruel of the dragon race.
“He is worthy,” one of the women had answered.
“We like him,” said the second.
“We have chosen him,” said the third.
“Have you?” the dragon mused. He narrowed his slitted eyes, each nearly as big as Fudin himself, and craned his long neck closer. He exhaled once, causing the waters to churn with crashing waves. “The Neraphim have chosen you, human.”
Fudin cowered, unable to meet the dragons eyes.
“Perhaps, now, you regret heeding their call?”
Beside him the women, the Neraphim, rubbed his back and sides. Their fingers gracefully teased their way lower. Slowly, Fudin’s tongue began to move. He spoke clumsily. “I… do not regret…”
The dragon curled up a corner of his mouth. “No?”
Fudin froze again, but shook his head. “No.”
The dragon laughed, a hissing, frightening sound that set Fudin’s hairs on end. “I am Tezzen. I am aged, and will not live much longer in this world. A few more decades, at best. My kin covet my knowledge, but it is not upon them whom I will bestow it. I seek a successor to my powers. A human successor, that he will change the very world with the gifts that I have given, and carve my name across the earth itself in thanks. All will know that I have done this, through him. They will know that all that is, was only done, because I willed it so. All will know that Tezzen has changed the world.” He eyed Fudin with disdain. “Think you he, human? The Neraphim think you worthy and, though nymphs are hardly the most knowledgable of creatures, if they know one thing, it is men.”
The women beside Fudin giggled at the dragons words.
“Oh, we know men,” one of them said with a sigh.
“We would know this man further,” added the second.
“Much further,” finished the third.
They pawed at his skin, and his body responded instinctively to their touch. But, Fudin did not look at them. He could not. He looked instead at the dragon.
Tezzen could end his life at a whim. Fudin was entranced by him. By his power.
“I am worthy.” he answered after a few moments.
The dragon smiled.
Fudin’s life would never be the same.
Tezzen bestowed his knowledge and powers unto Fudin, but the might of a dragon could not be contained within the body of a man. It overwhelmed him. It remade his entire being and then, through him, remade his entire world. His senses grew keener, his body stronger, his skin tougher, and his mind sharper. Blue scales burst forth from his skin, and his eyes grew slitted, turning azure as the sky. Fudin was no longer human. He was somehow, something more. Not yet a dragon, but neither a mere man.
He had stayed at the Oasis, luxuriating in the attentions of the Neraphim by night, and learning to harness his awakening draconic powers with Tezzen by day. At times Tezzen would grant Fudin a fraction more of his powers, and it would overwhelm him, causing him to black out. Always, he awoke stronger, wiser and more powerful than before.
He vowed then, to give Tezzen and the Neraphim all of his worldly possessions, and all those he acquired in the future, in exchange for the gifts they had bestowed upon him. He would live a life filled only with the touch of the Neraphim, and the powers of Tezzen. Forever.
Eventually, Tezzen sent Fudin from the oasis, more powerful than he had ever dreamed he could be, with nothing but a scrap of linen about his waist.
When he returned home, no more than a day had passed, but everything had changed. He viewed the world with new eyes and each night hence he walked through the deserts, alone, and was welcomed by the familiar sight of the Neraphim’s oasis. No matter where he was, no matter how far from home, they were always a mere hour walk away. It was a blessing. Magic.
Fudin smiled. He understood dedication, all right. He also understood luck.
Beside him, his brother stopped his droning.
“Huh,” Nes mused aloud.
“What is it, brother?”
Nes turned his gaze from his book and held up a card, much like the ones from the fortune tellers wagon, that had somehow become folded between the pages of his spell book. It was singed around it’s edges, and bore the image of two men seated at a table piled high with coins and treasures, each wearing a crow-like mask upon their faces. A human sized crow stood behind them, leaning over their goods. In the bottom left corner of the card was a small image of a key.
“It shares some iconography with the arcane symbols for loss and death.”
Fudin frowned, cautious.
Nes’ eyes went wide and he let out a terrified gasp.
Fudin jumped to his feet and leapt over to where his brother sat.
“My spells!” Nes shouted in fear.
“What is it brother?” Fudin eyed the spell book in his brother’s lap. The pages were burnt and illegible.
“All my studies and work, wrecked with – ” Nes flipped to the next page, but found it undamaged. He flipped through a few more pages and then sighed before looking up at Fudin with relief. “It is only the one spell that was destroyed, and a useless one at that! I have ever hated transmutations!”
Fudin groaned. He thought something terrible had happened!
His brother droned on. “What need have I of a spell that would alter you or I? Are we not perfect specimens as it is?”
Fudin eyed the sky, blood red with the breaking dawn, and frowned. He looked at the card again. Death. Loss.
Were the crows circling them even now?
Who was it they would claim?