Ley was not meant for this kind of work. After only two hours of her allotted time, she began to wonder why she had believed she could do this. She pushed on anyway. She was not a scholar. Her son was the scholar — she felt great pride at his achievements at the College of Tyneros, and grateful that he had been granted a reduced price for admission so that she could fund his education with her meager earnings as a laundress and seamstress.
Perhaps if she had frequented libraries before, and gotten used to the way they were organized, her explorations might have more readily met with success. She had only visited the College on a few occasions, and then only to meet with her son, not with research in her mind. It was her son who had convinced her of the dire need for this expedition, by talking to her about the theories being passed among the scholars at the College.
He would be furious that she had gone. She hadn’t told him her plans, though she had left a note. Not so that he wouldn’t worry, but to ensure that he wouldn’t pursue her. She couldn’t stand the thought of her son being forced to lay with Essalam for information. Essalam, it was said, preferred to be with women, but all of the dragons would lay with man or woman, given the opportunity.
There had been ten dragons for as long as any human knew. Even here, in the Diamond Library, there was no firm reference to the origin of the dragons, or the order in which they were born, or anything of true historical significance regarding the time before Vanaprimax had produced all nine of his children. There were only records of the myths, legends, and theories regarding the dragons which humanity had produced. Ley wondered if Vanaprimax had forbidden his son from recording the truth.
Ley managed to find the section of the library where such things had been recorded. The words in the library were written in a script unfamiliar to her, from the signs to the records themselves, yet somehow, she found herself able to understand the words regardless. It had to be Essalam’s magic at work.
The records themselves had been engraved into flat tablets of diamond, which fit perfectly into slots on the dark wooden shelves. Each tablet had been shaped into a long rectangle, onto which, engraved in tiny, perfectly even letters, was a wealth of information.
There was, of course, what Ley thought of as the primary myth regarding the dragons. Most people thought of it as history, with a sort of religious reverence, yet according to Ley’s son, scholars agreed that it was only what ancient people had believed or guessed to be the most likely version of events.
Vanaprimax came first. He was the Elder Dragon, and the progenitor of all nine of the others. It was said that he created the language of spellcasting even before he began to bear his young. Some myths claimed he created Draevum itself, by carving it out of the endless earth that filled all of creation. He was the greatest and strongest of the dragons, said to be able to reach up and touch the ceiling with his feet planted on the floor. To look upon him, to gaze at his scales, was like looking into a vast darkness of unknowable depth, in which all the colors of the world were trapped, never to escape.
He brought Onosang the Watcher into being as a lesser reflection of himself. While Vanaprimax’s scales were the black of an open void, Onosang’s were the black of utter ending, from which no light ever reflected. His eyes, however, were a misty purple, through which it was said one could see into far-off places. This mirrored his ability to manifest magical eyes, which he could send out to observe far corners of the world.
Feeling that Onosang’s appearances left much to be desired, Vanaprimax created Sophonalia to bring more beauty into the world. Her delicate white scales contrasted sharply with those of her father and brother, as did her lithe form and eternally graceful movements. While her father wished to convert the world to dragon kindred because he believed in the dragon’s superiority, Sophonalia wished to bestow her beauty on the world, and only chose the most beautiful beings with which to propagate.
With one child of black scales and another of white, Vanaprimax felt that the world lacked color. He thus created his third child Kiraimorvid the Passionate, whose brilliant red scales and wingless, serpentine body contrasted greatly with the features of his siblings. Kiraimorvid’s breath inflamed emotions and, some said, inspired creativity. Kiraimorvid’s kindred often had an extra set of limbs, as Kiraimorvid himself was possessed of eight legs.
Next came Volphyret, smallest of the dragons, though she still towered above any mortal beings. Vanaprimax gave her domain over the sky. With her four wings, she flew with greater agility and acumen than any of her other siblings, and her natural ability to manipulate the air to blow in her favor only furthered her strength. Unlike her siblings, Volphyret had feathers in shades of green rather than scales, and she showed great preference toward avians when choosing beings to bear her kindred.
Vanaprimax granted the seas and the waterways to his fifth child, Talonile, whose power over water and her ability to breath within it left her uncontested among her siblings in her claim over the lakes and rivers. She held primarily to the Dragon Sea, so named because her efforts had converted nearly everything that lived within it into her kindred. No humans dared settle on its borders or sail its waters, as harsh retribution befell any who disturbed Talonile’s children.
Though often unintentional, the dragons’ great stature and sheer potential for unintentional destruction has great capacity to wreak havoc on the world. Vanaprimax had no desire to destroy humanity or any of Draevum’s life, and so in his next child he instilled the desire and the capacity for cultivation. Krrgotst the Unyielding granted vitality and strength to all life within his domain. His kindred were strong, tough, and prone to nurturing those around him, and of all the dragons, he was the only one with kindred among plants as well as animals and insects.
Some scholars wonder if Vanaprimax regarded his next child as a mistake, for, though all of the Dragons obey their father, Hierosal the Bright came closest to defying him. Around Hierosal, the world was constantly bathed in daylight, making magic harder to work, but his true signature was his desire to bring order to the word. Not only had he been known to insinuate himself into governments in order to improve their structures, he had raised entire nations to the ground for falling prey to what he considered to be corruption and chaos. And, some said, he had either created the Dragong Laws himself or convinced his father to implement them.
Essalam, with whom Ley could now saw she was acquainted, was placed next in the order of birth, and like his brother Kiraimorvid he often found himself at odds with Hierosal. Essalam had no great respect or distaste for either law or chaos, but, as his library showed, he valued knowledge and its preservation above all else. He never forgot anything, and he believed the world should never forget. As a result, he despised death as an end to a being’s memory, and he hated Hierosal’s destructive tendencies. In fact, he had been known to physically oppose his brother — the histories, and not just the myths, held records of at least one time their father had been forced to intervene in their battle, lest they destroy one another.
Ivresaiad the Joyful was considered by many to be one of the least threatening among the dragons, after Essalam; but others thought of him as the most dangerous. He had a tendency to appear on fields of battle and participate, in his human form, using his martial prowess to aid one side or the other, or both, at random, for he took great joy in battle and saw beauty in everything, including violence and death. Those around him found themselves full of bravery and carefree ease, with their awareness of pain and injury dampened and their inhibitions lowered. Sophonalia, it was said, disliked him, for her found beauty in all things, while she respected only what fit her ideal of beauty.
In all her reading, Ley found no mention of a new child of Vanaprimax. Without evidence, there was no reason to suspect as such. Within the memory of humanity itself, the dragons had always existed; Vanaprimax had never birthed a new child, after his initial nine. Though there existed the somewhat official order of their birth, which she had just read, no records gave a scale of time between each new child. Some said they were all created in a matter of days, while others claimed it had taken centuries.
Nevertheless, Ley had heard the scholar’s talk, and she feared they were right: that Vanaprimax had created a new child, one whose gifts allowed it to subvert the Dragon Laws, to a limited extent.
As the end of her two days drew to a close, Ley knew she was not going to find that which she sought. The library was too vast, and she had no practice in parsing such vast quantities of information, or really, doing any kind of research. She decided to give up.
She sought Essalam in his chamber, shaking with exhaustion but also with the memories of what she had done with him in his bed. She had not lain with another man since her son’s father had passed away. Now, she had lain with another, and one who she could not rightly call a man.
Essalam’s human form stood waiting for her in the entry hall. The relief that passed over Ley when she didn’t have to enter the bedroom was almost enough to cause her to collapse.
“I can’t find what I came for,” Ley said.
“And?” Essalam asked, with that same voice that pressed down upon her ears, despite the fact that he spoke just above a whisper.
“And I forfeit the rest of my time,” Ley said, tears in her eyes. She had come far, and forced herself to work hard, but she didn’t have what it took. “I give up. I must ask you if the library contains the information I’m looking for. If it does… I suppose I’ll return, once I’ve given birth.”
Essalam smiled, his mouth spreading wide to reveal his row of perfectly white teeth. “Ask. If the library contains what you seek, I will tell you where to locate on your next visit.”
Ley found herself shaking. She stood in the presence of a dragon, and she was about to ask him questions about the other dragons. Would he answer? Would he destroy her for daring to ask such a question?
She had done too much already to let herself give up now. “Has the Elder Dragon born another child?”
“Why do you ask?” Essalam asked, tilting his head. “That’s not a question I’ve heard in some time.”
“The scholars at the College of Tyneros have some suspicions,” Ley said. “They’ve received some reports that indicate…”
“Reports, or rumors?” Essalam interjected.
“Ah, reports,” Ley said. “As far as I know. Given their nature, it would be hard to distinguish…”
“What do the reports claim?”
Ley’s mouth worked for a moment, but no words came out. She hadn’t expected Essalam to question her so sharply. She had anticipated a simple yes or no, if he deigned to answer her at all. “There have been reports of kindred being born that don’t fit with what we know of kindred of the known dragons.”
“Well, ah, there have been women coming to the college because they don’t recall getting pregnant,” Ley said.
“That could be Ivresaiad’s work,” Essalam said. “Particularly if he’s been working on women who are intoxicated on substances alongside his presence.”
“I guess,” Ley said. “I’m not a scholar. I just grew afraid, hearing the words of real scholars. But Ivresaiad doesn’t make people forget things, does he?”
Essalam pursed his lips. “Not directly, no. I think some would rather that he did.”
“There have been women who know they have given birth, and think it was a dragon kindred, but who find themselves unable to remember the event,” Ley said. “They can’t find the child after, though they are… otherwise affected by the birth. Physically.”
“How can they care for the child if they can’t find it?” Essalam demanded.
“I’ve wondered that myself,” Ley said. “Shouldn’t the Laws force them to take care of the child? But they have forgotten them, or something. Perhaps the children are invisible.”
“My father is no fool,” Essalam said. “Superior though dragons and their kindred are, when mixed with the weak blood of mortals, our children require care. That is why the Law that requires it exists. He wouldn’t create a child whose kindred made that impossible.”
“But if this child can force that law to be broken,” Ley said, “could he not break others? If this dragon’s power is forgetfulness…”
“He could force the humans to forget the laws,” Essalam said. “Making them careless. I suppose that’s possible.” Essalam strode away, his attention clearly turned elsewhere. “Begone from here. I have no answer for you on this.” He paused to look back at her. His smile from earlier did not return. “Perhaps if you return, in time, I might have records of what you seek. You will only need to pay the cost once more.”
Ley pressed her hand to her stomach, where she swore she could already feel the monster growing inside her. She fled the Diamond Library with only her pregnancy as a reward for her efforts.