Chapter 5

The next day was rather busy. Apparently, the day after a caravan arrived was a big trading market. Items from different regions of the Basin and beyond were bought and sold in the village and supplies obtained by the caravan masters for the journey. We really didn't have time to enjoy the market. In the morning, I questioned the caravan masters about the sauropods and jotted down notes while Jeanne and Alatris were conscripted into helping oil the armor due to their inherent strength. There was a good reason for this, the plates of armor were absolutely massive! The smallest plate was half my height! This started early in the morning, before most folks were even up, in the scant twilight before dawn.

At first, I was concerned about waking the village up, but was reassured that no one would comment. The sauropods were already awake and guided out to a safe place to feed. Apparently, when keeping a sauropod, rising early became a way of life. I was allowed the chance for an hour to observe the sauropods in their feeding, and what I saw was a scientific marvel.

You must understand this first, dear reader, as I did twenty years ago when I first witnessed it, chewing is very inefficient and for a sauropod, and animal that can easily dwarf an elephant, efficiency is paramount. I saw them crane their heads high up into the branches and strip leaves, needles and fronds clean off and gulp it all down. They also were in constant communication, low bellows, and whale like calls, almost like singing, as they moved. And Lilith preserve me! How they moved! For such a large creature, they could move fairly quickly when they wished, but with a stately and majestic air about them and the ground shook with their footsteps. When they couldn't reach any higher on the particular tree they where eating from, on occasion, one would push the tree until it fell down and then continue to feed from there.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay long and was escorted back to the village where I met up with Jeanne and Alatris and we made our way to the hatchery. Olaudah greeted us but couldn't stay. There were some minor paperwork formalities, nothing overly important and we were led of to see the eggs. Half an hour later we left with a special insulated and heated rigid bag carrying inside it the egg of a larger, but more sociable relative of Allosaurus, known as a Carcharodontosaurus. Very few of these beasts were kept as a companion, mainly by the Lords of the kingdom and sparingly few of them, which was a shame as when raised from hatchlings, they were great with children, learned rapidly, and were fierce protectors if something attacked. I asked about that.

"Well," the matron in charge said, "There is a case of out near the Reptile desert, where things get into dry desert scrub and rocky waste away from the oasis and rivers, one of the Lords of that region keeps a trained Carcharodontosaurus to protect his lands and children like a trained hound would. Reportedly, it's fended off attacks by the Coel bands and Sand Pirates on a regular basis."

The rest of the day, once the egg was placed in a secure location was spent lacing and tying together the massive armor plates and strapping them to the sauropods and Thornshield who had arrived. Caravans usually started at dawn so there was great urgency by many of the folk to finish this task. Much grunting, heaving and clanking of treadwheel cranes later the sauropods, or "buses," were fitted with their freshly oiled armor and were loaded up with supplies and crates. There was a leaving feast, which involved more wonderfully exotic jungle food, and we soon returned, packing the last of our things and crashing for the night. I drifted off, having the distinct feeling that we'd have more little dinosaur hatchlings to raise in future years.

We rose before dawn and packed the rest of our things, as small as they were onto the Paralititan. This was a very massive beast and the herd leader so we were honored to be allowed to ride upon its great back. Soon we were allowed to board and the rest of the caravan finished final preparations and the Paralititan which was named Trench gave out a low hooting call and we left the barn and village.

In the predawn, things were quiet, even the sauropods, which normally stayed in constant vocal communication in some form or another kept silent. I jotted this observation down and whispered lowly to the caravan leader, "Is something the matter? I never thought they could be this quiet, no offense meant to Trench and the others. From what I saw yesterday, they were in constant communication."

"Wait until after the sun rises please, sir," The leader whispered sternly, but politely. "I do understand your curiosity, but right now just hold that in."

I respected his words and held my tongue. In the silence, the grey mists hung and clung to the trees, creating deep and ominous shadows in the gloom. It was not long afterwards, I noticed that the drivers or more correctly mahouts scanning the forest on both sides of the trail and their assistants took over the guiding duties. Jeanne was dozing with the egg and Alatris too was scanning the forest. Everything made me uneasy. We continued like this for a time, even the smallest snapping of a branch or rustle catching the attention of the mahouts. Several times Trench halted the herd, and the lead sauropod sniffed the air before continuing onwards. I was relieved when dawn finally broke and the sun burned off the mists.

As the sun's rays burned off the mists, the mood became a little lighter and the sauropods started calling. The Lead Mahout answered my question finally.

"Thank you for waiting sir, I apologize for any perceived insult, but before dawn, it's best to keep silent. The Tyrannosaurs and the other large carnivores hunt during those hours heaviest, and so silence is the best way to avoid their attention."

"So, the herd was still communicating then?"

"Yes, by touch. If you noticed, every member stays withing tail touch distance at all times that way there is no need to close ranks when silence is needed. It reassures our friends and binds the herd together."

I had indeed noticed it and made a note of it in my journal which was becoming quite filled. I'd have to get another at the next stop. We fell into silence again, not because of a need, but because there was no conversation to be had at the moment. Jeanne roused herself and Alatris soon took her place snoozing, but I had a feeling that should trouble arise, she'd be up in a flash, ready to fight. I spent my time jotting down our travels thus far and mapping our route, with a little input from Jeanne. I was and still am no artist, but Jeanne was fairly handy with it and morphing herself into her fully human form, she sketched images of herself, Alatris, me and some of the other creatures and people that we had encountered. This wasn't the easiest thing to do on the back of a sauropod.

The movement wasn't like that of a horse, but more akin to the rolling and rocking of a ship in gentle seas. Nonetheless, we persevered and continued with the journal. We passed under several beautiful flowering trees and vines and I wanted to preserve some of the blooms that Trench's head knocked into the howdah, but the Mahout quickly stopped me and brushed them out remarking that these blooms in particular were incredibly toxic to men and Mamono. To make up for this, further on, the Mahout gathered up a large number of orchid flowers in an array of reds, pinks and yellows and blossoms of other plants of astounding shades of blue, purple, vibrant crimson red, yellow, and even the darkest black. I carefully placed them in a spare book I had been given to dry them out and the Mahout who came from our destination of Scalecrest mentioned that the town did indeed sell and propagate plants and seeds of the numerous different flowers, vines and trees. Many I could identify by their flowers as either monocot or dicot but what genus or species or even their names I had no idea and jotted a description down. All had beautifully star like shapes to their blooms, and in a fit of silliness, I wove a vine filled with some of the deepest indigo blue flowers into Jeanne's braid and hair. These I could identify as a type of monocot plant, but further than that besides having some relation to orchids, I couldn't tell.

"What are you doing, Iaconus?" She asked me as I did this.

"Just stay still a moment, Jeanne dearest. I'm almost done. There," I grabbed a small hand mirror that we picked up the previous day. "Take a look."

Jeanne was captivated by the indigo blue flowers that were speckled with tiny white dots in her hair. "Oooh, these are absolutely perfect." She touched one of them as I carefully preserved the others, "Oh! They're like velvet and so delicate and covered in very, very fine hair like a peach! These growing around pillars of a garden would be stunning along with the other flowers! We have to buy some seeds in Scalecrest!"

I chuckled amused at Jeanne's behavior. I had only once seen her act this girly before and that was when we went shopping with Lilith and Lord Michael volunteered me to be the pack animal and then went off to hide. Even now, it was still adorable. The Mahout looked at me and flatly said, "Man, don't you ever let this one go." He grabbed another vine of those flowers for me to pack away and returned to his duties of leading the caravan.

The rest of the day was quiet, though there was a worrying moment when we came across a partially eaten carcass of a large creature that had bites in it that could only have come from a Tyrannosaurus. The hooting warning calls of the local raptors in the distance heightened the fear, but nothing came of it. Alatris woke up from her nap and the convoy continued on through the jungle until nightfall.

As the sunset, we came upon a palisade. This wasn't a village but one of the very few safe havens for resting at night. It contained a very small outpost and not much else but it was welcome protection against the Tyrannosaurs which prowled the area. Only once during the night where we were jolted into a wakeful state by yowling roars and growls was our sleep interrupted. The Mahouts raised lanterns and in the depths of the forest, beyond the palisade, we barely saw dark bipedal shapes of Tyrannosaurus and the yellow gleam of their eyes as they prowled around looking for a way in. Finding none, they vanished into the darkness and we settled down again.

The next week continued in this former manner. Then we entered the deep heart of the Basin. There would be no palisades to rest behind here. We all were on high alert, knowing that at any moment, the carnivores of the region could burst out from the depths of the forest and bring down a sauropod. The herd no longer traveled in convoy, but as a dense grouping. Thornshield kept close to Trench and this grouping seemed to put the sauropods more at ease though nothing was certain. I noted that the tail to flank touching had increased and the smaller members of the herd moved towards the center of the group.

I kept up my notes and assisted the Mahout and his deputy, both of whom were glad to have another pair of eyes on watch. I learned the Mahout's name, Indra, and his assistant was called Oosnav'ii, which was certainly different. Thunder rumbled regularly in the distance but we so far had managed to avoid any showers by a dint of luck.

We kept on the move for three days, stopping only twice to allow the sauropods to rest and feed for a while. On the fourth day the rains hit us.

Day in and day out the rain came down in sheets. Rubbered canvas was draped over the armor of the caravan to direct most of the rain away from the armor. Thunder rumbled constantly and our pace was slowed and much of the time lanterns had to be raised to keep things illuminated for those on watch. It was miserable. The howdahs had wooden roofs but when the wind kicked in, we still got soaked. What little conversation happened was short and not worth recording. When I wasn't helping Indra and Oosnav'ii with watch, after descending to deploy Thornshield's rain protection and check on him, I spent my time huddled in the back of the howdah which was somewhat enclosed with Jeanne and Alatris keeping warm and minding the egg as well as beginning to compile my observations into a story of a sorts.

There was no stopping the caravan, we stayed on the move at all hours. The rain lasted a week. Luckily for us, we had no large rivers to cross on our way to Scalecrest. I did what I could, but thanks to a nasty respiratory infection as a child, I had become much more prone to lung issues like pneumonia so stayed sheltered. Indra remarked about my reluctance, but softened when I explained.

"Man, that blows. Mine sister has had problems breathing before and has always needed to be watched in case of something like that."

Jeanne looked up from her sketches, "There are a few magical plants that I'm aware of in Dragonia that can help strengthen the lungs, but that's a month or more behind us. Elsewhere, there's nothing."

"Hmmm, perhaps after our business is done here in the kingdom, Jeanne, we will go to Dragonia," I remarked.

Just then, as we broke into a clearing, Trench let out a warning bellow. The herd formed up to make a stand and we waited with baited breath staring into the trees where the mists clung in the gloom, shadows ghosted across the forest floor and every tree appeared to hide a large carnivore. We didn't have to wait long, which in a way was a relief.

Slowly, the Tyrannosaurus pack emerged from the mist wrapped forest, snarling and circling the herd. When one got to close for comfort, Trench whipped his massive tail creating a massive crack! The Tyrannosaurus flinched and backed off a bit while one of the mahouts acted as a type of translator. We were carrying baskets of large smoked fish and at a signal, cut them loose. At this the largest of the Tyrannosaurs bellowed and backed away from the trail, and the rest of the pack followed its lead, letting us pass.

I glanced back once the caravan made it through, and the great carnivores had closed in on the fish. I caught only a brief glimpse of their feeding and it was more a mob than pack. We all hoped that this would be the last incident.

It wasn't. Two words was all it took. Three days later, after passing through a stand of giant Horsetail Trees we came face to face with one of the worst things in the Basin. A Gigant.

For those of you who do not know, a Gigant is the Mamono version of the Giganotosaurus and are just as nasty as their unmonsterized counterparts. All they want to do is fight.

"Uh, ok, this isn't going to be good. How do we get out of this mess?" I asked. I didn't like the odds right now as the Gigant shifted and charged at us in her primal form.

"I'll handle this," Alatris muttered and leapt into the air. Now a Gigant in its primal form is about fourteen feet tall. Alatris in her Mamono form? Ten feet tall, but is one of the dreaded Black Dragons.

"Oh, dear," Jeanne muttered, "Alatris must really be bored. I dare say this isn't going to end well for the Gigant."

"Listen Gigant," Alatris called, "I know full well you can understand me. Let us pass in peace or you'll regret it."

The Gigant didn't listen and charged at her.

"Well, I didn't want to have to do this but looks like it's necessary," she sighed and then thrust a clawed hand out and flatly said, "Lightning Burst."

An icy crystalline mass formed from her palm and slammed into the Gigant, unleashing as massive electrical burst causing the Gigant to roar in pain. "Back off Gigant, you know what I am."

Alatris had her massive black and grey wings spread wide. The Gigant snarled but didn't want to try her luck and lumbered off as Alatris rejoined us.

"Fhew! I was concerned that I'd have to use that move," the Alatre said as she settled down.

"What move?" I queried.

"Escaton Judgement. An extremely powerful elemental shockwave when I switch elements or get really irritated. From adult Alatres and unmonsterized Alatreons it's enough to wipe out this entire caravan."

"Yes, thank you for not doing that," Jeanne quipped, "We do need to survive to make it to the Capital."

The caravan moved on. The last four days were quiet and we made it into Scalecrest at dusk on the fourth day. We were all relieved and had a renewed burst of strength to unload supplies in the barn and allow the sauropods and Thornshield a few days rest. The armor came off quicker than it went on, thanks to the ropes and cranes. A bath was sorely needed and as there weren't any real rooms here except for the mahouts, the three of us found the inn and paid for a room for a few days to recover and clean up. Everyone was glad to be out of the Basin.

The baths that the inn had were nice and after cleaning up, we turned in. The next morning, I left the girls to sleep and went to find out where the gardens or whoever sold the blossom seeds were. Lilith had given both Jeanne and I each an expanded coin purse and while we hadn't gone through even a sixteenth of what we had, we were trying to be frugal, but as luck would have it, caravanners gossiped and my fame for killing a Skull Crawler netted me a large trunkful of seeds and preserved cuttings as well as a guidebook on how to plant and raise the blossoms from the Cornie Lamia who ran the glasshouse.

She was full of information, but very much tied down to her village and boyfriend, but we spent two hours discussing the classification and breeding of the different blooms, vines and trees. I left when she suddenly slithered off in a rage at some devil bugs that had entered her glasshouse. When I returned to the inn, Jeanne was waiting for me, anger on her face, which melted when I embraced her and displayed the trunk of seeds.

"You remembered," she softly said. "I hope that someday we can create a beautiful garden filled with these."

"Not just a flower garden, Jeanne," I replied as Alatris joined us. "But hidden ponds, pools and cascades as well as fountains and birdbaths. Perhaps something like a botanical garden for people to visit. With butterfly houses and a play area for children."

In Scalecrest, there wasn't much to do outside of the crystal mines which didn't allow visitors so we kept to ourselves, and occasionally checked on Thornshield and learned how to communicate with him from Indra.

"Most dinosaurs have their own tongues, consisting of different roars, hoots, barks and other noises and while some families, such as the horned dinosaurs can speak like humans, at first it is preferred if you attempt their tongue. The larger carnivores can understand human tongues, but never speak English. Only raptors and the occasional Allosaurid like the Carcharodontosaurids with learn how to communicate effectively with their own tongues and translate English."

"Interesting," I murmured, then tried a basic Ceratopsid greeting. This consisted of a low-pitched grumbling bellow with the lips shut and then a cough-like bark. To my surprise, as well as Jeanne and Alatris, I nailed it. Thornshield responded with the corresponding greeting and to the surprise of all of us, spoke in fluent English.

"Very well done, Iaconus. Yes, I know your name. Greetings to you as well Jeanne d'Arc and Alatris of the South Reptile Ridge," he answered in a bass tone that had a gravely pitch to it. "I am well and am quite enjoying my new freedom away from the herd. Indra here is indeed correct with his statement."

"Is there anything you'll need on our travels, Thornshield? A companion or anything else? Food we will bring, but anything else you can think of for your own needs we do not know," I asked him.

He rumbled in amusement, "I have no need for a companion right now. At least until our little shark-toothed friend there hatches out in a few days' time. A wagon or cart may be necessary, for while I have no problems carrying supplies, the hatchling won't be able to keep up with our potential traveling pace. That and there is more room for supplies and can double as a shelter for you humanoids in a pinch." He shook his frilled head with pride and then left to rest and eat. Since I haven't described Thornshield yet, I shall do so here. At a little over sixteen feet long and eight foot at his highest, he was mostly a dark green with black stripes across his back. His great frill was adorned with two bright red eyespots with rusty red accents. His great nasal horn was a stony grey as were his smaller ornamental horns.

"Right. I forgot," Jeanne remarked, "You're used to getting wet in the Basin and weather doesn't generally bother your kind. Indra, there are covered wagons, right?"

"Yes, though it'll cost you around thirty-five to forty gold Maous depending on the size. You'll want a larger one I expect?"

"Absolutely, and meat for us and the young Carcharodontosaurus. I know we'll have to hunt eventually, but if we can help it, I'd rather minimize the risk. Carcasses attract larger things to them and we don't need that situation," Jeanne said, cradling the egg basket gently. Indra led us to where the wagons were kept and after a bit of haggling, we came away with a rather large wagon in full working order as well as harness for fifty gold Maous. Our next stop was the butcher's for meat, cured meat and some packed in barrels of salt. For fresh meat, we'd have to hunt down an animal.

The rest of the day was spent gathering supplies. Fodder for Thornshield, blankets and other bedding, barrels of water just in case, and other items.

"Oof," Alatris exclaimed when we started filling the wagon. "At least this all will be lighter after some spells are cast on it."

"Grrah!" I grunted, heaving the seed chest into the wagon, "A good thing that! Ugggh! Hold on, here's another barrel. Jeanne, what this one?"

"Smoked freshwater eels. These last ones here are full of Onchopristis meat, Salmon and Sturgeon roe, and the Ouranosaurus meat in those four barrels."

Right, Scalecrest was known for the large lakes and rivers that were teaming with giant fish and made famous for the roe or fish eggs that were exported as well as the Ouranosaurus that roamed the area, a particularly unintelligent species of Iguanodontid that was hunted for its rich meat. This industry was monitored by the local Lord and the Capital as well, in the interest that nothing went extinct. Of course, this made the region a haven for crocodiles and Spinosaurus which fished and hunted the waterways of the region. Dates and other fruits were common and the clothing of the region were generally flowing or loose due to the heat.

"Here, let me help with these barrels, Iaconus."

"Thanks, Jeanne. There, that's the last of them. Let's get the rest on and then spell it all."


This took the rest of the day which also included checking the harness on Thornshield who commented that it felt fine, nothing too tight or loose. We unhitched him and left him to his rest and food while we finished packing. Dinner was crocodile meat, grilled over flame and seasoned with pepper and oil alongside a native tuber and palm hearts. Alatris had discovered a liking for beer and was drinking that, while Jeanne and I were sipping on local wine, though I did have a shot of gin later on. Before night fell, I took Jeanne on a date to the glasshouses to see the blossoms. The Cornie whom I had previously met allowed us entrance and we spent a peaceful half hour together strolling among the exotic and ancient plants. We didn't need to say a word, under the flower blossoms things were perfect. In time, we knew, we would be as one.

We left early, crossing the floodplain and entering a rock studded grassy plain that contained the Great Tower Ruins and Ruined Ridge. I rode up front, learning more from Thornshield as we went, jotting down a few observations in my journal.

"What are you looking for at the Tower Ruins, exactly?" Alatris asked. "This time of year, it's not advisable to go there. To many unmonsterized dragons and wyverns congregate there and the Kushalas and Valks fight fiercely in that area, plus the Deviljhos that roam the kingdom."

"I want to at least see them on my journey. Who knows what we'll find; maybe some old weapons or treasure that we can sell later on."

"That would be good," Jeanne remarked, "Our coin is getting somewhat depleted and anything that we could sell would be useful."

Our travels were uneventful for the next few days. At night, when we camped, Jeanne and I would spar before it grew dark. This allowed me to master the volcanic fury that my glaive contained and I could now activate it at will.

It was towards dusk on the fifth day, when we started seeing the Ruined Ridge, the egg began to hatch. Needless to say, this was a very important moment.

Before we knew it, a little sandy brown chick emerged from the egg and started cheeping at us.

I lifted the hatchling from the egg, "Welcome to the world little one. Hungry?" The plaintive calls that came from its mouth made that very clear. Jeanne started feeding the hatchling, mothering it as Thornshield came over to inspect the new arrival.

"It's a male," he rumbled after sniffing it. "While males of his kind tend to be the dominant and larger of the sexes, the three of you are clearly emitting enough of an aura to let him know the pecking order. You Iaconus, clearly are the Alpha Male here in his eyes and Lady d'Arc is the Alpha Female with Alatris as your Beta." Thornshield, we had discovered had deeper insight than we had originally thought, though at times he was of few words. He returned to his rest by the fire while Jeanne and I came up with a name for the little critter. Shard for the little ridge of spines on his tail.

Shard was still fresh from the egg, and while he could walk already, he tired quickly and was soon out like a light. Hatching was a very tiring ordeal after all. Jeanne and Alatris curled up around him while I took first watch. He was so ruddy adorable. Time would tell on his intelligence. We had taken shelter in some old ruins and had gather old gear that was in good condition to sell later so we were safe so when I turned in, I let the others sleep.

Jeanne's magical scent helped put me to sleep and soon, I was able to enjoy a pleasant rest, with dreams of little Dragon daughters running around a garden in a palace as Jeanne and I along with Alatris and others who were shrouded from me watched on.

The next few days were interesting now that Shard had hatched out. We all quickly learned just how smart he really was. Within a day, his baby chirps had coherence to them, and by the second, we could understand him in his tongue, carnivores not having the right voice box to speak English. I to the surprise of no one was Alpha. Jeanne much to her embarrassment was Momma Alpha Jeanne, Alatris was Big Beta Alatris or big sister.

On the third day, we reached the tower. I was amazed by its size. "My word. This thing's ginormous! I can't even begin to imagine how this was built or how long it took!"

Above our heads we heard what sounded like a jet engine and we looked up. There, just visible beyond the clouds, was a Valstrax.

"Wow," Jeanne breathed, "I had heard of the Valstrax from Ancia who has visited the Kingdom before, but never thought it would be so incredible."

"Like a living fighter jet," I murmured, "That thing has got to be going at least Mach 3."

"They're fast alright," Alatris commented, "And ruddy brave too for their fragile bodies."

As we were admiring this, Shard started calling to us. He had found something. Jeanne and I went over while Alatris surveyed the area. When I saw Jeanne kneel down and pick something up of the ground, I grew curious.

"Jeanne, what is it? A relic or something?"

"I think it's a scale. But it is as black as can be and very rigid. I can't bend it and it doesn't want to flex."

"Interesting. Alatris, can you identify this thing this scale?"

"One moment." The rubble clacked and ground, crunching as Alatris make her way over. She took the scale from Jeanne and held it for a moment or two and then handed it back quickly dusting her hands off. "Fatalis scale. Shed a long time ago. Keep it if you want, Jeanne. It has no major use, not a scale that small. Unless you want to look around in the Capital for an esoteric ritual to become one of the rare Fatalis Mamono."

We returned to the wagon and quickly found a sheltered place to spend the night. Shard settled down for a nap and Thornshield blocked the entrance with his bulk once we left to explore. There were bits of armor that we found, from some long-lost age, swords, spears, even a helmet or two. Each trip we made, we found more and more stuff, but it was getting late, and we started gathering firewood. As we settled in for the night, Jeanne asked Alatris something that caught my interest.

"Do you even think that there is a ritual or some magic that could make me an Elder Dragon, Alatris?"

"Who knows? Well, aside from Lord Rep, but he won't tell you anything. Only time he ever interferes with mortals is to prank them and that's usually indirectly. Maybe a branch of the University there will know. It's all a mystery, rumors and legends told, retold and half forgotten."

When we awoke the next morning, we had some unpleasant company. Asleep not five hundred feet from us was a Deviljho.

"Well, shit," Alatris swore, "We'll have to drive it off. No way in hell am I waiting for the Hunters to show up and drive it off."

"Alright, but we need a backup plan in case things go south," I said.

Just then, I heard a screeching roar and the sound of a Valstrax. And then thunder clamped and it began raining and the Deviljho woke up and saw us.

The clash began. I'm sure you're thinking end this with a volcanic burst. I thought the same. Then I realized after a while when it didn't work. Deviljhos can negate any elemental attacks thanks to the Dragon energy. Which made my glaive just about useless. Still we fought on in the storm.

Jeanne took a swipe at the Deviljho with her sword and tried to cut of its tail. No luck. The Deviljho spun and jumped, bucking this way and that trying to eat us. Once in a while, either Jeanne or Alatris would latch onto the back of the beast and do some major damage to it for a time, before getting flung off. What did the most damage was when the monsterized version of a Valstrax, a Valk dove it and slammed into the Deviljho, using her odd wings as massive bladed weapons, though she too was knocked back.

I rushed in to distract it but wasn't quick enough. As I thrust my glaive towards its head, the jaws of the Deviljho snapped shut around the end and it began shaking me like a ragdoll. I lost my grip and was thrown, and slammed into something hard, losing consciousness.

I watched in shock as Iaconus was thrown into a large rubble pile by the Deviljho which then bit down on the glaive, shattering in into splinters. My attention was caught by an eerie shriek of anguish and rage from Jeanne. It curdled the blood in her veins and I turned to see what was going on as the Valk landed. "Aw, fuck. This isn't good at all." That summed it up.

Jeanne d'Arc was trembling in rage and grief, her scaled and clawed hands clenched in fury and smoke flew from her gritted teeth as her tail lashed. Then, her form began to swell, shifting and reshaping as she grew. Muscles thickened, bones broadened and lengthened, claws sharpened to wicked points, fair human skin was replaced with thick hard, impenetrable scales, her neck grew serpentine and her beautiful human face twisted and distorted into that of a terrible draconic beast as Jeanne finally finished her transformation into the enormous plum, black and silver scaled Dragon. As she landed on all fours, Jeanne roared her hellish fury, mouth filled with dagger like teeth and a crimson forked tongue curled upwards. Her black wings fanned wide, and made her already cathedral sized body appear even larger. Her eyes, which normally sparkled like gems, were slit and blazed with an inner inferno.

I quickly backed up. The Deviljho, realizing what it had stirred up, turned to face this bigger, and better meal. Jeanne wasn't having that.

Her massive form slammed into the side of the Eater of Worlds, her obsidian black talons spearing through the armor and skin deep into the flesh. The Deviljho, not expecting this, collapsed under the weight and fury of the enraged Dragoness. It thrashed, trying mightily to get free and stand, to feed it's never ending hunger, but the Dragon that Jeanne now was, wasn't having it.

Sinking her fangs deep into the flesh of the throat, Jeanne pulled back with such force, she tore the throat out of the Deviljho in a massive spray of blood and gore, before spitting it out and proceeding to burn the body to ash with a white-hot flame. I wasted no time in examining Iaconus. When I was finished, I let out a relieved sigh at this point.

"Jeanne! He's alive! He's badly hurt and needs medical care, but he's only unconscious aside from some broken bones and bleeding, not dead!"

Jeanne's primal Dragon form swayed in shock and the twisted and shrunk back to her Mamono form. She sprinted over, and hurriedly checked over Iaconus' unconscious body.

"Thank Lilith. But the nearest city is weeks away."

The Valk who helped them in the fight strode up with the shattered remains of Iaconus' glaive. "I can get you to the Reptile Capital. My sister works there in the Emergency Room of the University. All I ask is that I be able to travel with you."

"Teleport?" Jeanne asked the unnamed Valk as I went to gather Thornshield, the wagon and Shard.

"Yes. The name's Viviana, by the way." As I led Thornshield up, the shattered remains of the glaive and glowed a fiery red and crumbled to ash as an energy flowed from the splinters into Iaconus body. Viviana looked us over and thrust out a clawed hand. A giant runic circle appeared and glowed on the ground, crackling with arcane power. In a flash of light, the Great Tower Ruins vanished.

Then next thing I felt were my feet hitting the cobblestone ground of a courtyard. Mamono and humans of all sorts were just standing there in shock. Iaconus' injured and unconscious form lay there on the ground.

"Well don't just stand there!" I snapped, towering above most of them, as Jeanne cradled Iaconus. "Get your fucking asses in gear! He's hurt badly and needs a doctor!"

There was a massive scrambled as several Mamono dressed as nurses rushed out with a stretcher. After loading Iaconus onto it, they rushed off. Jeanne attempted to follow, tears streaking down her face, but she was halted by a burly orderly.

"He's in good hands," the orderly rumbled, "They're getting him straight to the Emergency Room for examination and Treatment. Let's get your wagon to the stables and you two washed up."

Jeanne wasn't in any state to argue and followed me in silence. Thornshield soon was resting in peace and we were able to wash up. Jeanne needed it as the blood from the Deviljho transferred back to her Mamono form and was pretty nasty. Once we were cleaned up and in a fresh shift of clothes, I grabbed little Shard, who was hungry and wanted attention and we were led off to a waiting room.

Jeanne was near inconsolable, but was able to gain comfort from Shard whom she distracted herself with. Viviana joined us soon after, dressed in a loose set of trousers and a tube top. She raised an eyebrow at little Shard and shook her silver and red tipped hair, but didn't say a word. Sitting down she said, "One of the nurses caught me. The young man you were travelling with is going to be alright. However, he'll be unconscious for a while. They said that he was lucky and his healing was helped along by a magical elemental energy that seemed to pervade is body and held traces of fire, earth and hints of water as well. Settle in for a while."

Just then, a Troo, the monsterized counterpart to a Troodon appeared in a Doctor's uniform. "Viviana, good to see you." She turned to us, "I take it you're with the latest arrival? He's in a room, but is not to be disturbed for an hour. If you wish to explore the University or ask the researchers questions, you are free to do so."

Jeanne handed Shard to me, and stood, "Actually, I would. Where are the best experts on monsterization, Dragons and rituals found?"

"Hmm, most of that would be in the Mad Science Division, along with the Magical studies Department. Both often cross fields so are located next to each other. Why you need those in particular I'm not going to ask. Here," she handed us each a slip of paper, "Your room number. Maximillian?" She called out. Another orderly showed up, "Please escort this young lady, my apologies I didn't get your name?" "Jeanne, Jeanne d'Arc. One of Lilith's leading tacticians." The Troo didn't seem phased, "Thank you. Please escort Miss d'Arc here to Alexander's office."

At Jeanne's questioning gaze, the doctor clarified, "Alexander Petrovski is the best expert on monsterization here in the Kingdom. His colleague Anna Sutton is part of the Wycademy and the best expert on native Dragons. As for rituals, Dr. Hestia Spark is the expert here. Off you go, and once you're done, just ask any orderly that's not busy for help finding your room. And welcome to the Reptile Capital." The Troo then left.

Jeanne followed Maximilian off and another orderly, a Mamono this time, led us to our room. Viviana stayed outside the room until I offered her a seat.

"So, what reason brought you here? I assume you were traveling her to the Capital, that's the primary route to get here after all."

I paused, not sure how much to tell her, but in the end, gave her a brief rundown.

After bidding Alatris farewell for the moment, I followed the orderly known as Maximilian through the maze-like halls of the University. Neither of us made much conversation, I, being to wrapped up in my grief and drive to find out a solution to my potential problem. It stung, not being able to protect that greatest of my treasures, though I would not admit that fact aloud. Maximilian was a silent man, and asked no questions as we traveled through the halls as students and researchers scurried about to their destinations, arms loaded with tomes and scrolls, quills and parchment.

Eventually, we ended up in from of a closed wooden door that bore a brass nameplate with the name "Petrovski, Alexander A. R., PhD." Maximilian knocked firmly on the door and a voice, somewhat startled called out, "Come in, I'm just in the middle of some minor research!" The voice was a man's, but somewhat hyper.

Maximilian opened the door and led me inside. For the first time, I heard him speak, it was deep, "This young lady had some questions. Dr. Mariam sent her here. She's part of that group that just came in not two hours ago."

"Ah, yes, I got that alert. You can return to your duties Max. Dismissed."

Maximilian left, closing the door behind him. Dr. Alexander was quite unremarkable, but for sake of posterity and at Stefan's insistence, I shall describe him here. At five foot five he was shorter than me, but then again, most human men were. He had tossled brown hair and deep brown eyes and a tanned complexion. Dressed in slacks, dress shirt and a lab coat, he sat behind his desk, with an intensity in his gaze that most professionals had.

"Ah, young lady, please sit down. Make yourself comfortable. It's not often that I get a Dragon seeking me out on the topic of monsterization."

As I sat down, curling my tail as to not squish it, Dr. Petrovski started, "My word! You're Jeanne d'Arc! This is something indeed! Now, what brings you here?"

I took a deep breathe the steady myself, and told him, "Two things, the second links to the first."

"Most second things do, but I digress. Continue on please."

"Well, I have this," I pulled out the Fatalis scale that I had found and Alatris identified, "And before you ask, a traveling friend of mine already identified it as a Fatalis scale."

"My word!" Dr. Petrovski exclaimed. "How you managed to find this is astounding. I must say, from what I can tell it's incredibly old, though I'm not the expert here on Dragons. That would be Dr. Anna Sutton. But I get the feeling there's more to the tale then first glance reveals, yes?"

"Indeed. Two months back, before I set out with my original companion, her majesty, the Overlord Lilith herself mentioned that while I was a strong Dragon, I was one of the extremely rare few who had not reached my full potential yet. It is something that has been niggling on the back of my mind since we, that is, my companion Iaconus and I, set out and brought to the forefront after not only our recent disastrous fight with a Deviljho, but a near fatal encounter with a Skull Crawler in the Stormforest Basin. I had intended to at least, once we had arrived at the castle before our fateful encounter with that Deviljho, see if there was a way to further monsterized into an Elder Dragon. A ritual or something," I pleaded.

Dr. Petrovski was contemplative. "Hmmm, well it's not something that comes up very often, but there are records of a hyper rare few Mamono, maybe one in every ten million even, that have a potential of monsterizing further into a stronger variant or new subspecies. But it's the first time I've heard of a Dragon being like this. If you could wait here for a few minutes, let me page Dr. Sutton and Dr. Spark. We might be able to figure something out."

He vanished into a side room, and I heard a door shut. For a mad scientist, he was rather sane. I glanced around at his office. The walls were covered in bookshelves and packed with tomes and scientific equipment. I settled into a breathing rhythm that I had learned as a soldier, to calm and steady myself.

A while later, Dr. Petrovski reentered the room, as the door behind me opened admitting two women. One was a Dark Mage in a lab coat, the other was a Ryu, also in a lab coat.

"Miss d'Arc, meet my colleagues Dr. Hestia Spark," The Dark Mage waved, "She's our ritual expert, and Dr. Anna Sutton," The Ryu gave a polite bow, "Welcome to the University."

"Now, Hestia, Anna here's the, well, I guess patient is the closest thing. Jeanne d'Arc here is one of those one in ten million cases."

"Hmm," Hestia murmured, looking me over as the Ryu, Anna examined the Fatalis scale. "Interesting. There are the few snake cults that have rituals to turn a woman into a lamia, that's where we should start looking, Alexander. Anna, any thoughts?"

The Ryu spoke in a dignified manner, "If young Jeanne here wants to use this scale, and attempt to, for lack of a better term, evolve into a Fatalis Mamono we're going to need some serious punch to account for the difference in strength. Am I right, Hestia?"

"Quite so, but not as much had Miss d'Arc here been a normal human woman attempting this. Depending on if she was born a Dragon or monsterized into one, we could use that energy to, shift it somewhat. Girl, were you born a Dragon or monsterized?"

While it grated on me to be referred to as "girl" I kept from snarking Dr. Spark, but instead answered, "I was monsterized into a Dragon."

"Ah, so you were a former Dragon Slayer that got monsterized in Dragonia then?"

"No. I was monsterized by the Overlord Lilith herself." The room was dead silent at this. All three doctors were staring at me in a mixture of disbelief and excitement. Then Dr. Spark, in a breathy whisper asked, "You're joking about that, right? That can't be true."

"I remember it like it was yesterday."

A diabolical grin crept over the faces of the doctors as Dr. Spark pulled some equipment out from some pocket. It was hard to describe, but was like a magical scanner of a sort, it was covering in gems and wires were going everywhere and attached to an arcane circle etched within a stone. She waved it over me as Dr. Sutton stood behind her the gems flashing and then glowing.

"Amazing! Well, I dare say there's enough remaining energy from Lilith in you that with just a nudge and the right ritual circle, you should be able to become a Fatalis."

"Nudge?" I asked her. That couldn't be good.

"A matter for after we've figured out what will work. Anna? Alex? Shall we get started?"

The three doctors rushed about in a frenzy, jotting down notes and pulling books. Dr. Petrovski, as he passed me said, "You're free to go, Miss d'Arc. This could take a while. We'll send someone to get you once we have more of this figured out. Oh, and keep the scale on you, we don't need it quite yet." He then darted off to some shelf while I retrieved the Fatalis scale and exited the room of mad doctors and tracked down an orderly. I was swiftly shown to the room I would be sharing.

Inside, Alatris and Shard were passed out on a recliner and Viviana was snoring on the couch in the room. Quietly shutting the door behind me, I wandered over to one of the beds in the next room and just collapsed onto it.

"Oh, sweet Demon Lord! An actual bed!" I thought as I relaxed and drifted off into much needed and comfortable slumber.