Tony felt a minute of inescapable panic as he was confronted with his would-be attackers. Both man and beast were colossal and Tony, who had always been short all his life, keenly felt the intimidation of the height discrepancies.
He was about to turn tail and run when another sound reached his ears. He risked turning around and was confronted with a sight he would never forget. Liagoth was snarling, sounding as loud as a beast more than triple her size. Her eyes snapped with rage, and smoke, thick and black, streamed from between he bared teeth and out of her nostrils. She had her wings outstretched wide and Tony was almost surprised by the rush of gray, black, red and white, the litany of emotions blindsiding him.
Tony was bolstered by it, that this little dragonling, who'd barely known him all of three months, would stand up for him against so large an opponent. He stopped backing up, drew himself up and puffed out his chest the best he could. Liagoth came up beside him and together they faced down the threat.
Who started laughing. Loudly too.
Beside him Liagoth lowered her wings slightly, as if sensing that the threat, while still there, was no longer imminent. The giant said something, and both Tony and Liagoth shared a look of incomprehension. The giant sighed, cleared his throat and spoke again.
"What are you doing out here, all alone at night? The Unvuffden could catch you." His voice was thick with an accent that Tony could only slightly place, almost as if he'd come from the United Kingdom, but different somehow. Tony and Liagoth shared another look and, before turned to address the giant, Tony placed his hand between Liagoth's antlers, one blue and silver wing coming out to wrap around his leg.
"Uh...what?" Tony questioned, intelligently considering the situation he thought, and the giant rolled his eyes again.
"Let me guess. You have no idea where you are?" He asked, and received twin nods from both human and dragonling. He sighed, rubbed his forehead and then patted the great creature next to him on the shoulder. "I thought as much. You're on Alfheim, Realm of the Light elves, and sanctuary to the few Dragon-Chosen pairs that remain. I am Sabjorn, and this is Jerekt, my dragon. Who are you?" He asked.
Tony and Liagoth shared a split-second look before Tony spoke. "I'm Tony, and this is Liagoth." He said, gently patting his dragon in emphasis. The giant, Sabjorn, nodded and smiled.
"Well, Tony, Liagoth, you might as well follow me. It can get cold here at night, and I imagine you might be hungry." As if to prove his point, Liagoth's stomach rumbled loudly and Tony smirked softly. Leave it to her to be hungry when they were on an alien planet.
Sabjorn chuckled along with Tony and then turned, motioning to follow as he and his dragon led the way through the tall grass. Tony didn't know how long they walked, but soon he could smell the distinct scent of wood smoke, though it smelled of nothing he'd ever smell before, and he could see the shadows of a high flame flickering over the grass.
At last Jerekt's massive body broke the veil of foliage, and Tony saw something he'd only seen described in books A massive gorge of the darkest stone he'd ever seen. In the very bottom was lit a massive bonfire, with what seemed to be whole trees leaned up against one another. The walls of the gorge were lined with smaller openings and Tony could just see jeweled shapes of every size and shade sleeping within.
But, as they approached, the gorge seemed to come to life. One beast leaned his massive ruffed head out of his cave and trumpeted a warning, which Jerekt returned, and Tony was startled to feel the very ground beneath his feet shake with it. The gorge was soon ringing with the sound of dragons and Liagoth joined in, even her small voice sounding like a great horn in the cacophony of sound.
They followed a smooth path down to the bottom of the gorge, and Tony watched with amazement as the dragons came gliding down from the caves, beings of every size and race perched on their backs, waving to Tony in greeting. Soon they were ringed all around with dragons and their Chosen, fifteen of each, Sabjorn and Jerekt not included. Liagoth pressed into his legs, and Tony would have been knocked silly with the wash of colors and emotions if he weren't used to it already.
Interest, excitement, nervousness, joy, fascination. All of it flashed across his mind's eye before he could really register what was going on in his own head, and Tony reached a distracted hand down and ran it down her neck from the top of her head. Sabjorn turned to him with a smile and threw his hand out, motioning to the gathered dragons and Chosen.
"Welcome, Tony, to Southwind Hollow, home of the Dragons."
An hour later, and Tony was overwhelmed. First, Sabjorn had allowed the others to introduce themselves and their dragons, and Tony's brain was processing the information as fast as he could. There was everyone from Ulftin the Warbear, a dwarf, and his dragon Valtkyr, a massive orange brute with golden and white markings to Sylis Lightfoot, an elf and his dragon Dvalinn, a smooth scaled gray and purple queen.
Finally, when they had completed the introductions at last, they gathered around the large bonfire, and Tony was given warm stew and cold wine while one of the older dragons slid over a quarter of venison for Liagoth to gnaw on. While he ate, the others spoke and Tony listened with interest as they covered everything from the origins of the dragons and their Chosen to what this place was.
Tony briefly felt ill when he thought about losing Liagoth to anything, let alone a fight brought on by disease-induced insanity and the others nodded in understanding sympathy when he had to put his food now momentarily and rub his hands over Liagoth's side, as if reassuring himself that she was still there.
Southwind Hollow, as it turned out, was land gifted to them by the Queen of Alfheim, to be held by at least one dragon and Chosen pair for all of eternity. Every dragon and their Chosen ended up at Southwind eventually. Because they aged with their dragons, so long as they weren't mortally wounded or took terminally ill, they could live for centuries and centuries. The best example of this was Halaani and his dragon Suramar.
Halaani was of a race long thought dead by the same name, a race of large wolf-like humanoids, who populated the same mountains as the dragons. Halaani had been but a pup, just Chosen by Suramar when the Great Illness struck, and he'd been guarded and trained by the good wizards. Now, thousands of years old, he and Suramar were the only permanent residents at Southwind Hollow. And while Halaani's fur was rough and gray and Suramar's cream and gold scales no longer glittered as they used to, both were still formidable, and Tony received the impression of great power when the old the wolf had reached and grasped his arm in a gesture of greeting.
It was halfway through the night when he realized that he might be missed considering he wasn't exactly in his kitchen anymore. Or Earth for that matter. Sabjorn had laughed warmly and smiled disarmingly as he leaned back against his dragon's side. "You'll be fine. Time travels differently here than it does on Midgard. If my calculations are correct, and they usually are, you've only been gone for about half an hour, and Suramar and Jerekt will be showing your little one how to do the Bifrost spell here in a minute, so you can return home and make arrangements."
At Tony's look of confusion, Ulftin smiled. "You didn't think we sent all new dragons and their Chosen out into the world without any kind of training did you. No. Here you'll get about two and a half years worth of training in about two weeks on Midgard. But if you're worried about being thought missing after only half an hour, you definitely need to make arrangements for two weeks." Tony nodded. That made perfect sense.
Finally, an hour later, Jerekt and Surmar had been successful in teaching the Bifrost spell to Liagoth, and both she and Tony were preparing to leave. Tony shook hands or hugged each person in turn, and touched foreheads with each dragon before taking a firm grasp on one of Liagoth's back spikes.
There was another wash of color and sound and Tony found himself back in his kitchen, sprawled on his floor with Liagoth lying next to him. Tony grinned at her and Liagoth flashed back with affection and amusement. Tony scrambled to his feet. Only to come face-to-face with Pepper, who looked annoyed at his disappearance and reappearance act on the kitchen floor.
"So. Would you like to explain what just happened?"
It took about forty minutes to explain to Pepper everything that happened and at the end she merely smacked her forehead lightly with the folder she was carrying. "So let me get this straight. Liagoth reached a milestone in her development, preformed accidental magic, and teleported you to another realm?"
Tony nodded. "So far you're good." He said, grinning cheekily. She rolled her eyes.
"And once you were there, you met sixteen other beings, all of varying races, that had also become, what was you called it? Oh, right, Chosen, and now resided in a place called Southwind Hollow, which is land gifted to them by the Queen of the Light Elves."
Another nod. "Spot on." He said, taking a sip of his coffee. It tasted a little weird after the odd, almost non-alcoholic wine he'd been given in the Hollow. Pepper watched him as he took a strip of bacon off his plate and effortlessly flipped it to Liagoth, who was lounging on the floor, her snout buried in her bowl of milk, cornmeal and venison blood. An odd combination, but one she enjoyed every morning.
"And now, you need to go away for about two weeks, which in reality will be about two and half years, so you can train with the others how to be a proper Dragon-Chosen. Is that about it?" Tony nodded and scooped an egg onto his piece of toast.
"Yea, that's about it. Look I know it's hard to imagine that's what happened, But seriously? We've had a dragon in the mansion for the past how many months. How is this any weirder than that? I mean I have a giant glittering tattoo on my chest just from touching her. That's magic, if nothing else. Or, you and I are both locked in some shared delusion and we need some serious help."
She snorted and bopped him lightly on the head, which earned her the usual roguish smile as he lounged in his chair comfortably, looking for all the world like a particularly happy cat. "Oh very well. I can watch the company for a little longer. I'll tell the Board that you took some time off to deal with your illness and that you're unreachable on some little island north of Laos." He raised his brow at her in confusion.
Finally, the day arrived that Tony was due to leave. He'd packed extremely light, only a small backpack, containing the very essentials. He and Liagoth were standing on the beach, waving to Pepper, who was standing on the porch, looking nervous.
With one last wave, he grabbed one of Liagoth's spines. There was the usual, and now familiar, rush of color and sound and this time, when they landed, Tony only had to pinwheel his arms to keep standing. Halaani and Suramar met them this time and the old wolf had smiled, showing teeth. He took Tony's bag, faced he and Liagoth north and then growled.
"We're going to work on your speed today." Was all he said and when Tony turned, he saw Halaani in a starting position, Suramar crouched behind him.
"You get a five second head start."