Chapter 1: Prologue
The ancient dragon circled slowly over the unfamiliar terrain, using an updraft to ease the strain on his aching wings. As his faculties gradually returned, he winced at the deep pain on his right flank. Where on the face of Mother Earth was he? The storm he'd encountered off the coast of Ireland had tossed him off-course and the lightning strike had addled his navigational abilities. At some point, he'd lost consciousness, despairing of ever seeing dry land again. Though dragons required consciousness to fly, they could coast on thermal updrafts in their sleep, which he must have done, for who knew how long.
He peered at the forest below. The fauna here was as strange as the landscape. There wasn't a sheep or a cow to be seen. In his present damaged state, he wasn't up to tangling with the grizzled brown bear he'd just passed. Over to the left, he spotted a quick flash of white and he focused his gaze, relieved to see the familiar shape of antlers. Within moments, the stag was a pleasant aftertaste. Now for water.
The flat, wooded terrain beneath him began to give way to lush, rolling hills, so green and lovely that for a moment, he could almost believe he was back in Ireland. There was magic here, too, he could sense the raw power that coursed through the land. More importantly for the moment, however, sparkling blue lakes dotted the landscape beneath his wings.
There were settlements, though unlike any he'd seen. Round huts formed a circle around a central fire. The human inhabitants wore hides and pelts, without a single piece of woven cloth. He was definitely not in Ireland anymore.
He chose a small lake away from the settlements and circled slowly downward, watching for humans. It was a myth that the creatures were tasty. There wasn't much meat on the things and they showed an annoying tendency to fight back, or even initiate a battle. That George fellow in England, for example, had caused no end of unpleasantness between the species.
Having determined that his watering hole was blessedly free of humanity, he heaved a great sigh and allowed his weary body to drop into the water. Lying belly-down on the bottom of the pool, with his head resting in the muddy shallows, he let the cool caress of the liquid ease his aching muscles and charred flank. Opening his mouth under the surface, he drank deeply, paused for half an hour or so, then drank again.
As the sunlight began to fade into purple sunset, the ancient one roused himself to find shelter for the night. The hilly landscape suggested the possibility of caves and he was relieved to find one that was both uninhabited and spacious enough to house him, with a steady trickle of water further in. Yawning mightily, he belly-crawled deep into the chasm, his talons finding good purchase on the sandstone floor.
Perfect. He could stay here for days while he recuperated. He could even sense the comforting presence of a magical ley line nearby, perhaps flowing right under the cave. He could tap into its power to gain strength. Another enormous yawn split his jaws, rattling the sides of the cave. Curling into a large ball, he buried his snout beneath his wing and wrapped his tail around his body. Then, finally at peace, the ancient one slept.