Part One - A Sign of Things to Come
“Master, when do you think I might be able to get my own dragon park?”
Targen smiled at his young apprentice and ran his fingers through his long white beard. “You are still young, Aiden Airgard. With time and patience, one day you will be lord of your very own six islands.”
Aiden lowered his head and nodded. “I know. It’s just hard to impress a girl when my job is to clean habitats and breeding caves all day long. Those caves are foul.”
Targen placed a hand on Aiden’s shoulder. “That is a job all dragon farmers have had. It’s a path we’ve all walked. Unless we work hard when we are young, we will not appreciate the glory and wealth we earn later.”
Aiden started to walk away.
“Who is the girl?” asked Targen. “I don’t believe you’ve ever mentioned her.”
Before the apprentice could answer, a black-robed figure materialized onto the shimmering portal outside the main entrance of Targen’s house. The figure slowly raised his head, lifted off a heavy hood, and walked towards master and pupil.
“Greetings, Lord Targen, Master of Six Islands and Keeper of Panlongs. I am honored to be in your presence.” The robed figured smiled, revealing darkened and chipped teeth.
“I am well,” said Targen, squinting his eyes. “You appear to know a lot about me and yet I do not recognize you, sir. From where do you hail?”
“Call me Naron. I am here to make you an offer than will benefit both of us beyond your wildest imaginations.”
Targen chuckled. “You may find me immodest, but I have imagined great things and achieved them. You see the island over to the east? It is occupied by forty-two panlong dragons. Long I have worked to make my park the way it is today. I am proud because I worked a lifetime for this. It is a lesson I try to teach to all, that with dedication and persistence, all is possible.”
“I offer you this and more,” said Naron. “I wish for us to strike an alliance. Bestow upon me one gem per day and I will reward you with a thousand times that in response.”
“Master,” gasped Aiden. “Can this be possible?”
Targen shook his head. “What you offer me,” he said with a grim smile, “is impossible to do.”
Now Naron smiled. “What I have to offer is indeed possible and it can be achieved instantly.”
Naron waved his arms and moving images appeared before the three men. Targen looked and saw seven islands all paved with golden paths with dragons of all colors and types raised to the 20th level of power. He saw volcanoes sending dark smoke into the air nearly covering the two dozen suns and moons overlooking the islands. He saw dragons he only heard about but thought long gone from the world. He turned slowly from the vision and towards Naron.
“Did you imagine this, Lord Targen?” said Naron with a hint of condescension. “Join my alliance and all this will be yours. Deny me this friendship and well…I know you will make the appropriate decision. I will return soon to receive your answer.”
With that, Naron waved his arms again and vanished. Targen and Aiden were alone again. Both stood quietly, appearing to wonder if the visitor had been imagined.
“Master, what is going on?” asked Aiden, visibly shaking.
Targen did not say anything. After a long pause, he gestured towards his home. “Come inside. It is time to tell you something I had hoped you would never know.”
Part Two - 54 Hours
"Aiden," said Targen as he gestured towards a chair. "Have you in your sixteen years of life ever known pain and sorrow to strike the six islands here?"
"No," said the apprentice.
"Have you ever known a dragon farmer to interfere in the affairs of others?"
"No," said Aiden again. "Farmers have only helped each other. Gems for gems. Coins for coins."
Targen smiled ruefully. "This is no accident. Dragon farmers have not always known a time of peace. In times before my own, during the days of my grandfather Tarwen, dragon farmers raised their flock to engage in wars against each other. Land was scarce and battles were fought to secure what little resources were available. Farmers killed or were killed scrapping for inches of ground, handfuls of coin, and baskets of eggs that may or may not hatch into dragons. It was a dreadful time."
"What changed?" asked Aiden.
Targen looked out a window. "The farmers changed. Slowly. After centuries of needless slaughter, a small group of farmers gathered in the name of peace to form a council known as the Dragonarium. The council of administrators established laws that covered all aspects of dragon farming. The dragonarium was made up of the most powerful wizards in all the land. With their willingness to work together coupled with their magical abilities, dragon farmers had the ability to acquire all the wealth, land, and dragons he or she desired. The possibilities were unlimited, except in one area."
Targen looked at Aiden. "The Dragonarium decreed that all farmers have a maximum of six islands. This was to prevent greed and pride from overwhelming farmers. If a farmer became too wealthy, he might be tempted to overthrow the Dragonarium. Six islands allows a farmer to retain a reasonable amount of wealth and is an achievement that farmers of all backgrounds can achieve at some point in their lives. This limit is a symbol of humility and cooperation passed down for over fifty years now. It has allowed all of us to have lived a life free from pain, from sorrow, from danger."
Aiden listened quietly, then spoke. "Lord, if six islands is the limit, why did Naron speak of having seven islands?"
Targen lowered his head. "I had long feared it was more than rumor, but now I know it for a fact. There are those among the farmers who opposed the Dragonarium and wished for no limits to what they could achieve. Nothing was enough. Not only did they seek unlimited wealth and power, they wanted everything instantly without the passage of time. These rogues, shunned by the Dragonarium and avoided by honest farmers, used unnatural means to create a seventh island as a symbol of their power and defiance to the laws of our council. Before today, their criminal acts did not affect us directly. But clearly, something is changing. The days of peace may soon be over."
"What could Naron possibly do?" asked Aiden nervously. "Dragons raise money for us. They don't hurt us. They've never hurt anyone. Right?"
Before Targen could answer, a man dressed in a dark blue robe materialized into the hall where master and apprentice stood. His robe displayed a symbol of a sun partially eclipsed by a moon. It was the symbol of the Dragonarium. Targen recognized the man to be Picks, a member of the council.
"Targen," said Picks. "You are being summoned to the council chambers now."
"What is it?" asked Targen. "What is going on?"
"In the chambers lies a dragon egg. We have never seen such a design before."
"Perhaps it is an egg created from times past?"
"No," said Picks grimly. "It appeared today from out of thin air right in the middle of the council table. Our books have no record of such an egg ever being seen or hatched before in our lands."
"What does it look like?" asked Aiden.
"It is black," replied Picks. "All black. We tried moving it out of the chambers. It does not move."
"Perhaps the incubation time might serve as a clue," offered Targen. "What did the sages say about that?"
Picks paused. "The sages said fifty-four hours."
"Fifty-four?" Targen said, with surprise. "That has never been the case-"
"We know," said Picks. "There has never been an egg that took fifty-four hours to hatch. We do not know what will come out of it, but we intend to find out. We would like you there, Targen. We are asking all the greatest farmers to be there when it happens."
Targen nodded in understanding. "When will it happen?"
"The egg appeared before us fifty-three hours ago," answered Picks. "We need to go."
Targen looked at the paintings that hung on the walls around him. He saw his great-grandfather Tarben's portrait painted two days before his death by the hand of a lava dragon. He saw his grandfather's picture displaying the look of a restful man who lived a time of peace in his old age. He saw his father's face stare back at him. His father Tarlen was the man who taught him that hard work and patience were the two most important skills he needed to become a successful farmer. He looked at each painting again and again as if it may be the last time he could do so.
Picks motioned for Targen to follow him out the door. As Targen followed, he turned and looked at Aiden. "My son, if I do not return, you will be lord. If I do not return, prepare the panlongs for war."
He handed Aiden a metallic shard. "Soon, you will understand why panlongs are my favorites."
Then, with a quick gesture, the master and councilman were gone.
Part Three - Darkness, Then Light
"Aiden Airgard, you are a silly boy. Why did you buy beanstalks? Do you have too much money in your hands?"
The son of Targen turned and glared at Sophie Sunblade, daughter of Amden the Blue. Amden and Targen were neighboring farmers their entire lives and had faithfully traded gems for most of that time.
"If you must know," answered Aiden. "I need a lot of treats and I really don't think I have time to wait for sarjin peppers or omega squashes."
"What do you need so many treats for?" asked Sophie. "All your dragons are of the 15th level and beyond."
"You never know," said Aiden. He placed a box of beanstalks by the entrance of his home. He looked over to the west where the Dragonarium was located. He felt the metallic shard his father had given him just hours ago. What had his father meant by panlongs being his favorite? Was he giving his son a clue? Aiden decided he had to find out somehow.
He turned to Sophie. "You wanna keep interrogating me or do you want to come with me to the dragon library? I have to do some reading on the panlongs."
Sophie smiled and nodded. "You are a curious one, Aiden. I'll go with you. Who else is going to sound out the long words for you?"
Aiden sighed and headed down a long marble path.
- - - - -
Darkness. Darkness everywhere.
An hour ago, Picks and Targen arrived inside the Dragonarium and joined the other members of the council. Targen recognized them all and knew most since childhood. He saw Morden Zilla, son of Moar. He nodded at Nate Khaos, son of Kevlar. They used to play in Lord Kevlar's dragon nursery as children. He smiled at Tatzel the Ink Master who was renowned for his works of literature as well as his farming skills. Finally, he shook hands with King Gree, lord of the Dragonarium. He held in his left hand the Bane Cane, the symbol of his power over all dragon farmers.
"All hail King Gree!" exclaimed Morden. The council saluted their leader.
"We are glad you could join us," said King Gree to the council members and farmers gathered. "Almost fifty-four hours ago, the black egg you see on the center of our council table appeared and we do not know how. It cannot be moved. Such an egg has never been seen before. We know nothing about it except that it is about to hatch. The sages have surrounded the egg with a protective field in the event that we do not like what we see."
The king nodded towards Tatzel. "Naturally," said the Ink Master. "We believe this egg has something to do with Naron and his visits to dragon farmers throughout our land. Most if not all of you received a visit from this person and were asked to join an alliance with him with promises of wealth and power beyond your dreams. But one must ask, why would someone of such power care if others were to join his cause?"
As Targen ponded this, he heard a gasp. Everyone turned towards the black egg. It was beginning to crack.
He remembered the light that broke through the cracks. Then, without sound or warning, darkness replaced it. It took with it the light from the council room and Targen felt blinded. He saw nothing as he heard the screams and explosions deafen him. He saw nothing as he felt a terrible gust of wind knock him to the ground against the council table. He reached out his hand desperately trying to grab onto something. Somehow, his hand found the leg of the table and he held on. He pulled himself towards the table until his body wrapped around it. Amid the screams, he thought of his son. I must live. I must live.
Then it fell silent. After a minute, or hours, Targen did not know. As he slowly let go of the table, Targen realized his eyes were closed. He opened them and found that he could see. Light had returned to the council chambers. The room looked as if nothing had happened to it. The papers on the table were still neatly stacked. There was no damage to the chairs or any other part of the room.
But almost everyone was gone. Morden Zilla, Nate Khaos, Tatzel, and the king. The black egg had vanished too. All that remained was Targen and Picks,
The two looked around in horror and disbelief. Targen walked to where King Gree had stood moments before and picked up the Bane Cane. Solemnly, he picked it up and handed it to Picks.
"It appears you are king now," Targen said. "And we are at war."
Part Four - Revelations
Eleven Years Ago
"Aiden, it is a beautiful day! I finally did it!"
"Father, why are you so happy?" said the five-year-old. "What have you done?"
"Look," said Targen. "See the design on the egg? What do you see?"
"It's red," answered the boy. "And there is something weird on it."
"It is the language of the far east."
"But father," continued Aiden. "You have one of these."
"I do," said Targen. "And now that I have two, I can have three, four, as many as I want. It is just a matter of time, son, before this whole island is filled with them."
Aiden did not say anything. He scratched his head for a few moments. "I don't understand. The only thing I know about these dragons is that they make a lot money. But you said before you have all the money you would ever want. So why do you want so many of these?"
Targen smiled at his son. "You are right. Money we have for we have been blessed. The true gift of the Panlongs I will show you when you are older, my child. For now, let's celebrate with a meal at Ye Olde Buffet. Chef Ryll has a special meal prepared for us!"
- - - - -
"I've gone through a hundred volumes and I've learned nothing that might help us," said a frustrated Aiden. "Any luck for you?"
Sophie shook her head. "I know the breeding times for almost every dragon now and I know a bit too much about dragon breeding positions. But nothing about panlongs that could help us."
Aiden sighed. "Well, this is the last book in this room," he said gloomily. "It's a book with my father's farming notes. I can barely read his writing and it's completely disorganized." He looked at Sophie. "You want to look through this while I check the next room?"
Sophie shrugged. "Sure," she said.
An hour passed. Just as Aiden finished a textbook on water habitats, he heard a squeal from the other room. Startled, he rushed back to see Sophie jumping up and down.
"I think I found something!" she exclaimed. "Look at this!"
Aiden looked at the page she was pointing at. It was titled The Panlongs. Under the title was a list. The son of Targen recognized most of the items. Lightning Statue. Dragon Egg Statue. Fire Statue. Shard of Tull. Dragonglass Tree. Emberstone.
"Aren't most of these things in your father's island with all the panlongs?" Sophie asked.
Aiden's eyes widened. "Yes," he said. "They all are except for the Shard of Tull. I remember he insisted we grow a Dragonglass Tree and purchase an Emberstone despite their cost. He said they were limited and that they would not always be around if we decided we wanted it later."
"But no Shard of Tull?" said Sophie. "I wonder what would happen if we put one on the island."
Aiden shook his head. He did not know. With a sigh, he put his hands in his robe pockets. He felt a cold, jagged object. With a gasp, he pulled out the metallic shard his father gave him.
Soon, you will understand why panlongs are my favorites.
"Sophie," he said quietly. "Let's go. I think I've figured it out."
- - - - -
"It appears the only reason we are here now is because we stood away from the council table as the egg hatched."
Targen approached where the black egg lay moments earlier. "Inches and feet...such is the difference between life and death."
"They may yet live, right?!" said Picks. "They may yet live! This is Dragonvale. Nobody dies in Dragonvale! I cannot be king. Gree is king. I can't lead. I'm too young!"
Targen walked towards Picks and put his hands on his shoulders. "Lord Picks, gather yourself. YOU know the Dragonarium Code. In the event that all council members are incapicitated save one, the surviving member becomes king by law. You survived today, and therefore, you are now King."
Picks lowered his head. "I only became a council member because my father was a council member. I cannot do this alone."
Targen smiled. "Your father Phickles was a great wizard and farmer. I assure you that you were not elected to the council just because you were his son. You are respected in Dragonvale for the same reason you are scared right now. You are humble and modest and a friend to all."
Picks wiped away tears.
"Now," said Targen. "I said you are King. I did not say you have to do this alone. It is dangerous here now at the Dragonarium. We must head back to my farm. If Dragonvale is to survive this war, we must raise an army."
As they walked towards the council doors, a black-robed figure appeared and blocked their path.
It was Naron.
Part Five - The Cherry Blossom Trees
Five years ago
"Father," said Aiden. "How is it that you possess cherry blossom trees in your park when no other farmer has them?"
Targen smiled. "That is because no other farmer had a wife as special as your mother was."
The apprentice lowered his head and remained silent.
"I never told you before, and I apologize," continued Targen. "A lot of things are not easy for me to talk about. Your mother was the best woman I ever met. Smart, funny, compassionate, and kind. In her own right, she was a brilliant dragon farmer. Her only flaw was a weak heart passed down from her mother and her mother's mother. On bad days, I curse the cruelty of her short life. On better days, I am thankful she chose me and gave you to me, my only son."
Targen pointed at the rows of cherry blossom trees before them. "These trees were grown through the expert planting skills of your mother. No other farmer possessed the knowledge or skill needed to do so. They serve as a reminder of your mother to all those who loved her. Me, her brothers, and her father, and now you. One day, I hope to use the magic that lies within these trees to develop a new type of dragon that will bring joy and awe to park visitors everywhere. But that is a task for another day. For now, let us just admire the beauty of these trees."
Father and son walked down the rows of trees silently, each thinking about the same person.
- - - - -
"I have returned," he said. "To receive your response on my offer."
"What is wrong with you?!" yelled Picks. "What have you done with the council?"
Noren laughed. "All you need to be concerned about is the decision you have before you. Join me or join your dead king."
"You will answer for this," said Picks, angrily. "This is a land of peace and you've stained it with your presence!"
"Watch yourself," responded Noren, his voice becoming irritated. "I chose who lived and died in the council room today. Do not make me alter my decision."
Without warning, a cloud of smoke appeared between the three men. "Quick, Picks," said Targen. "Use the bane cane!"
For a brief instant, the new king was confused. Then, remembering what he had observed King Gree do in the past, he tapped the cane loudly three times onto the floor. On the third tap, Targen grabbed hold of Picks's arm. The two men disappeared and instantly materialized outside the council chambers.
"Hand me the cane," said Targen, Grabbing Picks again, Targen tapped the cane. This time, they appeared in front of Targen's house. They felt a rush of relief, but it was short-lived.
Standing before them were three men. Targen recognized his father-in-law and his two brother-in-laws. Essiw the Dragon Thinker had reluctantly given his blessing for his daughter to marry Targen but over time, the two men grew to love and respect each other. Essiw's sons Halo and Adith considered Targen a blood brother and they often worked together to harvest dragon treats in the summer months. Still, Targen found it strange to see all three men at his home all at the same time. Despite the bond that farmers have with each other, one usually remained at one's own park.
"What is it?" asked Targen. "What is going on?"
"It's our islands," said Halo. "They are destroyed."
"What are you talking about?" asked Picks. "How could this possibly be?"
Essiw broke down in tears. Halo put his arms around his father. Adith walked over to Targen and Picks.
"It was black dragons. Black dragons everywhere," he said, almost whispering. "And they are headed this way."
Part Six - The Panlong Army
Targen felt his heart pounding. The black egg. Black dragons. Destruction. The childhood stories he dismissed as fantasy were coming to life.
"It's true then," he said to no one in particular.
The skies darkened. Without looking, Targen knew what was happening. He felt the vibrations on the ground as tens of dragons roared loudly above him. He did not hear Essiw scream, "It's them again!" He sighed as he turned around. My love, he thought. I will see you soon.
As he raised his arms to cast a spell, Targen heard a familiar sound drown out those of the black dragons. Amid the darkness in the sky was a sea of red, blue and yellow. It was his panlongs.
The men below watched as each panlong attacked a black dragon. Friend and foe were evenly matched. For each black dragon that fell from the sky, a panlong did as well. When the roars faded, the black dragons were gone. But so were the panlongs. All except three.
As the panlongs flew down from the sky to greet their master, Aiden and Sophie materialized onto the shimmering portal. "Lord," said Aiden. "The panlongs...the shard..."
Targen embraced his son. "If I had known, I would have just told you. You saved us all today." He looked at what remained of his panlong dragons.
"Hunter, Seemy, Yeemy," he said as he caressed Hunter's wounded face. "We are eternally grateful."
"They will be back," Picks remarked. "Naron will rebuild faster than we can."
"Naron is toying with us." Targen looked at the sky. "This was just meant to take down our defenses. He wants to defeat us with as much destruction as possible."
"We cannot match him dragon for dragon," said Halo. "There is nothing we can do."
"What are these black dragons?" asked Sophie. "Why do we not have any of our own?"
Targen smiled grimly. "These are dragons from our dark past. Black dragons were created only to cause destruction and do nothing else. They do not provide coin, gems, or serve any good to their masters. The Dragonarium decided long ago to forbid farmers from breeding them. In their place, the panlongs were created. Panlongs are tame and gentle except when confronted by a black dragon. This allowed farmers to protect themselves if the situation ever arose. But unlike black dragons which can be raised quickly, panlongs come to new farmers only once every twelve years and take a long time to hatch. Such is the contrast between good and evil. The evil path is a fast one to travel. The path of good is more deliberate."
Adith looked at his brother-in-law. "Surely there is something we can do before it is too late."
Targen did not answer. Picks looked at the group around him. He knew that Targen wanted to appear strong and confident but the old farmer betrayed an expression of heartbreak and fear. The loss of his panlongs affected him. Gripping the bane cane with renewed strength, he said "Targen and Essiw, send a message to all farmers to gather here now. Tell them their new king has a plan."
Part Seven - The Gathering Storm
Picks surveyed the hundreds of farmers gathered before him in the deepest level of Targen's Hibernation Cave. Meant to store dragons not in use, the cave was now cleared off to provide a safe meeting place for the farmers of all DragonVale.
The new king recognized many of the farmers. As a child, his father Phickles brought Picks on a tour of all the dragon parks in the land. Picks thoroughly enjoyed these trips. His father did too. "I get money and you get to see these beautiful dragons!" Phickles said.
The feelings of happiness from days past were distant memories now. Picks waited patiently as each farmer took a seat. There was no idle chatter, no sound. If Picks closed his eyes, he might have thought he was alone in the room. Each farmer appeared grim and worried.
"Friends," he began. "We are here because a great threat has entered our land. For years, we thought we had entered a time of permanent peace in which all of us could breed and raise dragons and create wealth and happiness for ourselves and loved ones. We thought we could live out our lives in peace within our own six islands and be governed by the laws established by the Dragonarium. But we were wrong. We have an enemy that wants to take what is ours so that they can have everything. We will lose unless we unite together."
"What would you have us do?" asked Lady Phynix, a farmer from the Western border of DragonVale.
Picks nodded towards Phynix. "I have much to ask of you all and you must trust me."
Several of the farmers looked uneasy. Picks was, after all, the youngest of the council members and barely an adult. Some looked at Targen who returned a reassuring look.
The new king continued. "Phynix, you are the only farmer who has successfully bred love dragons. I need you to breed as many as you can starting today."
Lady Phynix nodded. "Understood, my Lord."
Picks looked at Blaze, a farmer from the northwest. "Blaze, you are the only farmer with glass dragons. The Dragonarium requested that you stop breeding them years ago. Today, I give you permission to fill the skies with them."
Blaze smiled and said, "Yes, sir."
The son of Phickles then turned to Amden the Blue, Sophie's father. "Amden, you are the keeper of Time Dragons. We need you to raise them once again. As many as you can."
Amden smiled and nodded.
Finally, Picks turned towards Drago Nex, a farmer who lived south of Targen. "Drago, you had worked on breeding sun and moon dragons for years now hoping to create eclipse dragons. I ask you to try once more. Over and over. Keep trying and do not give up until we have a legion of them!"
Drago Nex stood up and said, "Yes, my Lord."
"All of you fellow farmers!" yelled Picks as he turned to face the entire room. "These four farmers need all the help you can give. They need your gems. They need your coins. They need your dragon treats. They need all that you can give."
"How many gems?" said a farmer.
"All your gems," said the new king.
The crowd murmured. Some did not appear happy at all. "I have saved over ten thousand gems," said one. "I am to give them up now with nothing in return?" Several nodded in agreement.
"I have over ten billion dragon coins," said another. "What will I pass down to my children?"
Before Picks could answer, Targen stood up and raised his arms. "Fellow farmers. Many of you have asked me before the extent of my wealth due to the panlongs I raised. I always declined to answer because, well, it didn't matter because it was not what made me happy. Money, gems, buildings, decorations. All that matters to me is the health and happiness of my dragons and my children. I hope this is what is most important to you as well."
Targen paused for a moment, holding back tears. "Today, in defense of our land, I lost thirty-nine of my dragons. No amount of gems or coins or Vernal Fountains can replace this loss. I lost thirty-nine dragons today but all of us stand to lose everything if we do not unite today to defeat Naren and his horde."
Targen turned to Picks. "My Lord King, I reveal to you today that I have collected in my sixty-five years of life over one million gems and 500 billion dragon coins. They are yours to use to defend DragonVale. I trust your judgement."
As he bowed towards the king, every farmer stood and roared. Each one, inspired by Targen's trust in the king, began casting spells to transfer their coins and gems over to Picks.
As the room continued to vibrate from the cheers of the farmers, Targen approached Picks and whispered, "My Lord, I truly hope you know what you are doing."
"If I am right about this," said Picks. "We will witness the greatest battle DragonVale has ever seen."
Part Eight - The Battle of DragonVale (1 of 2)
"My Lord King," said Targen to Picks. "We are ready."
It was dawn, and for the last two days, the farmers of DragonVale worked at a feverish pace raising dragon treats and pouring gems upon gems towards the breeding and hatching of time, glass, love, and the newly discovered eclipse dragons. Late on the first day, Drago Nex successfully created the first eclipse dragon. A few hours later, after hundreds of gems were used, a second eclipse dragon emerged from its egg. Hundreds more followed after.
"How many do we have?" asked Picks.
"Thousands. Thousands of each."
"That should be enough," remarked the king.
"It has to be or we are done."
"Who will be our generals?" asked Picks.
"Michael Zilla, son of Morden, Lord Nate, Liber, son of Nate Khaos, Mee, son of King Gree, and Chef Ryll."
"Chef Ryll?" said Picks, quizzically.
Tarwen cleared his throat. "Chef Ryll is a lady of many talents."
"Lady Phynix, Lord Drago, Lord Blaze, and Lord Amden will lead their dragons from the ground. Their safety is of highest concern to us."
Picks nodded. "What did the sages say about Naren's horde?"
"We have learned that Naren has three generals under his command. Narret, Anvil the Cardinal Earl, and Ages the Golden. Lord King...their army is massive. The sages estimate they have ten for every one of ours."
"Remember what you told me when I was younger?" asked Picks. "It is not the number of dragons one has, but the qualities within them that matter."
- - - - -
The five generals of DragonVale sat around the ancient oak table in the center of Targen's Dragon Inn. They looked at Picks, waiting for him to speak.
"What we ask of you is dangerous," said the king. "It is a lot to ask, especially considering the tragedies that have already struck the families of many of you."
"It is because of these tragedies that we must do this," said Mee, son of Gree. "We will avenge those we lost. We will avenge DragonVale."
Picks nodded. "Trust in me and your dragons during this battle. No matter how dire the circumstances seem, trust in our plan. It is the only thing we have to hold on to."
The generals nodded. "Today may be the last day of all our lives," said Picks. "But it is just as possible it will be our finest hour."
- - - - -
The black dragons appeared a few minutes after the sun reached its highest point in the sky. They were followed by sun dragons, moon dragons, rainbow dragons, and thousands of each other kind. If not for the fact they were here to attack the islands of DragonVale, Picks might have thought the sight beautiful. "It's like a parade," he said to himself.
Michael, Nate, and Mee were above him in the sky, each flying one of Targen's three remaining panlongs. Hunter, Seemy, and Yeemy all insisted on being part of the battle. Chef Ryll flew on a plant dragon. "They smell nice," he said, simply.
Behind the four generals was a small group of poison and fire dragons, fifty at most by Tarwen's count. "Now I really hope you know what you are doing," he said to the king.
Picks only smiled and said nothing.
Seeing the small group in front of them, the black dragons led by Narret rocketed forward at full speed. Naren's two other generals stayed behind with their armies. They wanted to watch some of the destruction before engaging in the massacre they thought was sure to follow.
"Steady yourselves!" yelled Michael Zilla as the black dragons approached. "Trust in the plan!"
The black dragons came ever closer. They breathed fire as they neared their target by hundreds of feet with every second. Closer and closer then came until Michael could see the expression on Narret's face. His face was filled with murderous excitement.
"NOW" exclaimed Michael and the four generals sped in different directions. As they did so, the sky shimmered. The black dragons smashed into what appeared to be an invisible wall. They had thrown themselves into a thousand glass dragons, each swinging sharp jagged wings onto their unsuspecting foes.
"That's one reason the Dragonarium had outlaws them," remarked Picks to Targen.
By the hundreds, black dragons fell injured from the sky. As they did so, poison dragons approached them and blew toxic fumes into their wounds. As they died, fire dragons burned their bodies until their ashes turned to dust and fell harmlessly onto the ground.
The farmers on the ground cheered. "Victory!" one yelled and others followed.
"NO!" said Picks. "Not yet. Continue with the plan. We must be careful."
They turned their attention back to the sky. Narret, disgraced, retreated back towards his fellow generals. Picks watched as Naren grabbed Narret by his robe and threw him off his dragon.
Then, looking at the land below, Naren raised his hands up into the air. As he did so, a sea of dragons materialized around his already massive army. "Not ten to one," said Targen soberly. "We are outnumbered a hundred to one."
For a few silent moments, Naren kept his hands raised. Then, with a look of anger, he threw his hands down. His dragons roared a fiery breath, and launched themselves downward.
"It is over," said Picks. "It is over."
Part Nine - The Battle of DragonVale (2 of 2)
Thousands upon thousands of dragons, Naren's second wave, launched themselves towards the ground where Picks, Targen, and other farmers stood. Picks immediately knew what Naren was doing. He saw Phynix, Blaze, Amden, and Drago and he meant to take them out.
"It is over," Picks said again, a smile appearing on his face. "Phynix, it's your turn!"
Lady Phynix nodded and began casting. As she did so, a thousand love dragons rose from the ground to meet the wave of enemy dragons.
"Love dragons," remarked Targen. "I wish I had a few of those in my collection."
"They may yet be available again," Picks said. "You never know what the Dragonarium decides from month to month."
As they neared Naren's second wave, the love dragons each began to exhale loudly. Each breath, visible because of their grayish color, lingered in the air. As Naren's dragons flew closer and closer, they slowed down as if mesmerized. Targen looked confused. Then, upon reflection, he started to nod and chuckle. Naren's dragons, breathing the magical air around them, had fallen in love with the love dragons.
But the feelings were one-sided. Having done their job, the love dragons flew away. In their place came a legion of blue fire and frostfire dragons. With their enemy's guard down in a drunken stupor, the blue fire and frostfire dragons sent an avalanche of cold fire forward. As their scaled skin became enflamed by the flames, Naren's angry scream woke the second wave of dragons from their lustful dreams. But it was too late. Ths second wave began falling from the sky and disintegrated into mist from the magical mixture of cold and fire.
There was no time for a victory cheer as a third wave quickly replaced the burning dragons. The sky burned brightly as ten thousand sun and moon dragons appeared in the sky and rocketed towards the farmers of DragonVale. "Drago Nex!" yelled Picks. "Now! Now now now!!!"
Lord Drago Nex did not hesitate. Raising his hands, a thousand eclipse dragons launched themselves into the air and the blinding lights of Naren's sun and moon dragons were blocked from view thereby protecting the ground from its heat and light. Then Picks motioned to Chef Ryll who then signalled to her left. Chrome dragons appeared from the west and flew between the eclipse and the sun and moon dragons. Covering themselves with their metallic wings, they sent the deadly rays of the enemy back towards them. Screaming in agony, the sun and moon dragons retreated.
"So this is why my suns and moons hate metal hybrids," commented Targen to no one in particular.
"This is also why we haven't allowed anyone besides you to breed metals yet," said Picks. "Too dangerous."
They looked up to see Naren now lead the fourth and last wave of his army towards the ground. Angry, humiliated, and flustered beyond words, he simply motioned to all his remaining dragons to follow him. Despite their heavy casualties, he still commanded a fearsome number of dragons. They and his two remaining generals Anvil and Ages now all followed him towards the ground.
But like the first, second, and third wave before them, they never reached their target. "Lord Amden, it's your turn!" yelled Picks. Amden the Blue smiled and began casting. As he did so, his time dragons emerged from invisibility and flew upward. As they did so, they raised a cacaphony of noise so harsh the farmers on the ground quickly covered their ears.
Slowly, Naren's last army stopped in mid-flight. They remained in the air, locked in their location. Naren and his two lieutenants, unaffected by Amden's magic, nearly fell foward off their dragons. They wrapped their arms around their dragon's necks, hundreds of feet from the ground.
The time dragons moved from the center of battle. Picks, Targen, the five generals, and the four wizards of Phynix, Blaze, Amden, and Drago each took a dragon and flew up to surround Naren, Ages, and Anvil. In desperation, Naren tried to summon more dragons. But each attempt was thwarted by the magic of time. After a few moments, Naren lowered his hands in defeat, his face filled with defiance and anger.
"In the end, you had to use the dark arts to defeat me," Naren said. "Your victory shames you."
"No," said Picks. "Your own dark arts brought your defeat. You bought yourself the illusion of wealth and power."
The king approached Naren. He paused for a second, as if unsure what to do next. Then, tightening up, he slapped Naren hard across the cheek. "You thought you could defeat us with your shortcuts and evil intentions. It never occurred to you that the farmers of DragonVale would work together and use our resources to create an army more powerful than your own. There are no shortcuts in life and good will always prevail over evil."
Picks moved back. "And, oh, one more thing," he said, looking at Naren as well as his fellow farmers. "There is a secret that the Dragonarium has carried for some time now." He was silent for a moment, and then he said, "Nobody dies in DragonVale. Not anymore." With that, he cast a spell towards Naren. The defeated lord cried out and then fell forward, unconscious. Then came a gasp and a loud cheer on the ground below them. Picks smiled.
The missing members of the Dragonarium - Morden, Nate, Tatzel, and King Gree, were all back, standing in front of Targen's house. With their eyes widened and tearing up, the five generals quickly flew down to meet the family and friends they thought they had lost. Surveying the scene, Picks felt an overwhelming wave of relief and triumph wash over him. The plan worked, he thought. DragonVale is safe forever. He started to cry.
"My lord," said Targen. "How did you do this? How did you know?"
Picks wiped his eyes and smiled. "Tie up Naren and his friends and meet me at Ye Olde Buffet. I will tell you everything."
Part Ten - Transitions
By the accounts of everyone who was there, it was the greatest party in the history of DragonVale. Every farmer in the land was at Targen's Ye Olde Buffet dancing, drinking, eating, and singing from dusk to dawn. Amden thought he saw his daughter Sophie kiss Aiden. He tried not to think about it.
Hours earlier, Picks returned the bane cane to King Gree. The king in turn declared that he was retiring from the Dragonarium as was Morden and Nate Khaos. He said he felt it was time for a new generation of farmers to lead the council. Besides, said Gree, he wanted to spend more time on his farm working on new breeds of dragons. "Perhaps something related to cherry blossoms, clovers, and Easter," he remarked.
The farmers quickly held a meeting and decided it would be approriate to elect their five generals as members of the Dragonarium. Lord Nate, Liber, Mee, and Chef Ryll all humbly accepted. Michael Zilla, however, declined. "I will serve DragonVale as an adviser from time to time. But I enjoy staying at home," he said. He suggested that Liber's wife Katie be elected in his place.
Then, the members of the Dragonarium voted to elect their new king. Not surprisingly, the majority of the farmers cheered for Picks. But he shook his head and said the excitement of the last few days were quite enough for him. "If every member of the Dragonarium is unavailable for some reason, then I will be king," he said. "But otherwise, I like where I'm at."
After some discussion, the council voted Mee, son of Gree, as their new leader. As Mee took the bane cane and raised it in the air, the farmers yelled "All hail King Mee! All hail King Mee!"
Finally, Naren, Narret, Anvil, and Ages were brought before the farmers. Using their dark arts, the four had amassed a collection of gems, coins, and treats greater than any farmer had ever seen before. "There must be billions here!" gasped Aiden from the back of the meeting room.
The council decided that the collection should be seized and used to help beginning farmers. Each farmer would get a small amount of gems, coins, and treats to get their parks started. The rest would sit in a magically-sealed vault to help certain farmers work on creating new dragons.
"This is your punishment," said King Mee. "Naren, you will return to your natural tenth level of power. You will return to your park as it was before you used the dark arts. You will learn to farm dragons the right way and with no shortcuts. You will find that you can still visit other farmers' parks but you will never be able to bring dragons outside your park again. We hope in time you will learn from what you have done."
"Narret," continued the king. "Before this whole incident, you served as an agent for DragonVale helping the council with business matters. But you decided to follow Naren. You will return to your park but will only to travel to see others only as a visitor. Also, you cannot serve as agent anymore. From now, you are simply Narret."
Narret nodded sadly.
"Anvil and Ages," said the king. "You two also chose Naren over the honest ways of DragonVale. When you return to your parks, you will find them free of gems. That is way it will be for some time. Learn to raise your parks naturally, all of you. You will find that you will enjoy your parks this way more than you would with infinite riches and resources."
With that, the men disappeared and returned to their parks, never to step in real form to another park ever again.
The King Mee called forward Lady Phynix, Lord Blaze, Lord Amden, and Lord Drago Nex. "Thanks to your special dragons and tireless efforts, DragonVale stands today. From this day forward, your heroic acts will be remembered as part of the history of our land and your presence will always be welcomed in the Dragonarium."
"Now," smiled King Mee. "Let's party!"
- - - - -
As the sun started to rise, only Targen and the council members remained at Ye Olde Buffet. They had spent much of the night laughing, joking about old times, and celebrating Picks's heroism.
"To Picks!" said Targen as he raised his glass. ""We are completely indebted to you."
"If it were not for your panlong army," replied Picks. "I never would have had a chance to plan. DragonVale was saved by the acts of many, not just one."
The group cheered their agreement. "Picks," said Tatzel. "How did you come up with your brilliant plan?"
Picks smiled. "Well, the people who use the dark arts," he said. "They can only create dragons that all farmers can breed. But among our farmers, we have dragons that have not been available for years. Love dragons, eclipse dragons, glass dragons, and time dragons. These are the dragons I used to help us defeat Naren."
"It is a good thing," remarked King Mee. "That Naren didn't have any of those dragons."
"Very true," said Picks. "It is a great thing that Phynix, Blaze, and Amden, and Dragon are good people. Still, we should take action to ensure these four kinds of dragons are never allowed to exist again."
"Even the love dragon?" asked Tatzel. "They are harmless."
"We'll see," said King Mee. "At least for now, we will move them all to a place free from danger and misuse."
"Do you think something like this can happen again?" asked Lord Nate.
"The dark arts will always be around," said Picks. "Farmers will always use shortcuts to make themselves wealthier. But never again will these farmers be able to affect anyone outside their own parks. They will be trapped in their own illusion unable to harm others in DragonVale. Besides, after what happened to Naren, they would be afraid to even if they could."
Everyone nodded in agreement.
As sunlight crept into the windows around the buffet hall, the group, one by one, began to stand. They hugged each other and arranged a time to see each other again for their first Dragonarium meeting. With smiles and a renewed sense of fellowship and unity, they left the building and headed home.
DragonVale was safe again. Forever.