Heart of Ice, Soul of Fire 2:
Making Contact

by Fur and Fantasy
PG-13
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

Caurver whimpered softly as his waking senses informed him he was not in his own bed, or anywhere on Patith. This bed was larger, softer and the bedding made of strange feeling cloth. The magic around him, usually so prevalent to his senses, was a distant background hum. He didn't want to move, to be seen in this grayed out state with dull eyes and limp feathers, but his stomach was so hungry and he needed to relieve himself badly.

"Kahvicuthi." He muttered and dragged himself from the soft nest he'd made of the square bed and it's bedding over the night, only then realizing he had no idea where he should relieve himself here.

"Morning, Caurver." Justin's voice said quietly from where he was leaning in the doorway.

"Good morning, sir." The Durikan responded reflexively even before he'd fully processed who was speaking to him. "Where does one relieve one's self?"

Justin blinked a moment at the 'sir', and just assumed that Caurver wasn't fully awake yet. "This way." He said leading Caurver out of the bedroom down the hall to the bathroom. "Toilet." He said simply, as he lifted the lid, and then stepped back out of the room. "Press the silver button on the side when you're done." He said, as he closed the door leaving the Durikan in privacy.

"Right." He nodded, grateful that it was at least still a hole to piss into and not something really odd. By the time his bladder had emptied and he'd tucked himself back under the concealing scale plate he felt mostly awake and wishing he wasn't even more than when he'd been half asleep, though he couldn't deny he felt a little better for the lessened pressure.

He flicked the silver switch with his tail as he turned around to check out the other parts of the room.

The shiny white stone that the toilet was made of had also been used to construct a large raised basin that could easily fit someone Caurver's size. On the one wall there were three metal knobs at about waist height and a metal pipe with an interestingly constructed head that came out of the wall above head height. This basin was across from the toilet. There was also a large alcove with little holes in the floor that was adjacent to the large basin. Next to the toilet was a smaller raised basin that had two metal knobs and what looked to be a metal spout of some kind.

He cocked his head and regarded the smaller one for a moment before poking his head out the door and glanced around for Justin. He spotted him standing in the hallway, staring at a small object in his hand.

"Justin, what are the other things in here?" He asked politely.

Justin stuck the object in his belt and walked over. "Okay, this small basin here is the sink. For washing one's hands and face primarily, and other small preparations like brushing teeth. Knob on the right controls the amount of hot water, knob on the controls the amount of cold water. Balancing the two gives you whatever temperature you want." He explained and then turned to the big basin. "This is the combination shower/bathtub. These knobs function identically to the ones on the sink, with the one in the middle determining whether the water goes to the shower head." He tapped the metal pipe above. "Or to the tub." He tapped the spout just above the edge of the white basin. "It's for washing up." He finished and then turned to the alcove. "This is a warm air jet booth for drying off. When you step into the alcove warm air blows up to remove the water left from bathing."

"Okay," he blinked several times, then ducked his head a bit as his eyes flashed a bright pink. "For cleaning up. Right. I forget most don't use magic for that."

"No, most don't." Justin nodded. "And some simply find the water relaxing." He smiled. "Hungry?" He asked, seeing as it was about breakfast time by his internal clock, though he had no idea what kind of food schedule might be normal for Caurver. Some of the Dragons only ate once a decade, but of course that was a non-biped Dragon and those were big.

"Sounds good." He smiled with a bit of a nod.

"Well let's go down and see what's for breakfast." Justin smiled encouragingly. "You want to eat in the downstairs eating area, or upstairs with a view?" He asked as they headed for the front door.

"A view sounds very nice." He suggested.

"There should be a nice breeze this time of the morning too." He said as they took the elevator down to the cafeteria. "How are you doing this morning? You were pretty out of it last night." He asked with honest concern.

"Trying not to think about it too much, honestly." He admitted softly in the privacy of the enclosed room. "It's very ... surreal."

"I guess it would be." Justin acknowledged. "Just let me know whenever it gets to be too much, so I can get you somewhere where you can relax."

"I will." He agreed with a cooperative nod. "A magic-rich spot would be most welcome, if there are any. It's so very still here."

"I'll have to do some research. I'm not sure if anyone's done a magic-field strength map of the Belt recently." He said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was one in New Camelot though."

"Anywhere a number of spell-weavers have gathered there will be a fair amount of energy, even if it is them and not the environment." Caurver said softly and nodded. "Magic really is rather rare here, isn't it?"

"It varies from place to place. It's more common back home on Eyrie than it is here, and far more common on Draconea. Earth has a very weak magic field, while Felsinor has an oddly strong one, for as little as the Felsin use Magic." Justin explained.

"That puts Draconea at the top of my list of places to visit." He chuckled weakly and made an effort to fluff his feathers out and look normal before the elevator doors opened for them to step out.

"You should get used to the idea of space travel first." Justin suggested as they headed down the hall to the cafeteria. "It's a long trip to Draconea from here."

"Well, I've been on a ship before. This would just be a very big one that goes a long way, wouldn't it?" He looked over with curious blue eyes.

"Well, as long as you didn't look out the windows." Justin said quietly. "I suppose it would be like a sailing ship, without the feeling of the waves."

"You see stars then, right?" He half guessed. "Like looking at the sky here."

"Yep, stars all around, except when you're in orbit." He nodded. "Actually, some people find looking at planets from orbit a very exhilarating experience."

"I imaging it would be, especially if you recognized what you are looking at. Much like the time I took a non-flyer up for a look at the world from sky-side."

"Yeah, I've done that a few times with non-flying new arrivals." Justin smiled. "They all loved it, except for the subterranean lady. She got terrified at ten feet off the ground, but I should've seen that coming."

"There are races that live underground?" He perked up curiously. "I've seen a couple mentions of such kinds in the wyver library, but nothing confirmed."

"Two of them in the Empire that I know of, and this one was a third from a part of the galaxy we haven't reached yet. "If you get the chance, the crystal caverns of the Derrax are worth the time to see. Miles and miles of living crystal tended for generations by the Derrax." He said with bright glimmer in his eyes.

"It sounds very beautiful, if a bit claustrophobic." He smiled with an understanding chuckle.

"Depends on how you respond to being underground in general." Justin nodded. "They tunnels aren't very narrow at all, because the Derrax like to keep the crystal far enough above so people don't accidentally bump into it and damage the crystal."

"Well, if the ceiling is high enough and the air flow reasonable, I don't imagine it would be too much different from being inside." Caurver considered it for a while.

"Well, I guess that's one of those things you just have to experience and find out." Justin suggested. "I thought it was kind of like being inside."

"You're a lot shorter too." Caurver chuckled softly with a playful grin for the Griffon. "The extra height does make a difference."

"Yeah, well that's the disadvantage of being from a scholar clan, instead of a warrior clan." Justin grinned back.

"Oh? Some of your kind are taller?"

"Most." Justin chuckled. "I'm a short member of a short clan. Some of the warrior clans are almost as tall as you."

"Ah, a very large race then." Caurver nodded and smiled. "I expect being short is generally an advantage in your profession, though. I can't imagine many newcomers being comforted by a guide as big as I am."

"Generally speaking, no. People seem more comfortable if their guide is a bit smaller than them actually." He agreed. "With the exception of those who want to feel protected. They like the bigger guides."

"I can definitely see that." He agreed easily as they approached the cafeteria. "I remember enough of before I could protect myself very well with magic, fire or claws that it was much less threatening when I didn't have to look up. Of course, that was before I could really fly well too."

"Everybody has their own comfort zone." Justin smiled as they entered the cafeteria. Numerous heads turned to take note of the new dragon-kin and there was soft murmuring, even though it was entirely polite curiosity. There were probably well over a dozen different races present, though only one was dragon-kin; a dark gray male who was seated by himself seemingly enjoying the instinctive respect he was getting from the others.

Caurver selected his meal with next to no attention for what was being chosen, simply trusting that it would be edible until he'd tried enough things to actually have a clue what he was looking at. His primary attention was focused on the highly magical dragon-kin, one that looked to him very under decorated with his lack of feathers and natural ornamentation, but it was the gray one's attitude that left him cold. As much as he liked the thought of having company of something close to his own kind, he couldn't fathom liking anyone who actually enjoyed being distant from others. Or being welcomed by such a person.

"Oh wow." Justin said quietly. "A Stone Drake. I've heard of them, but never seen one before." He added softly, noting Caurver's attention to the fairly buff male. "Seems like folk have him confused with the legendary Basilisk. I've heard they've been having that problem since they first made contact."

"Why is it a problem?" He asked curiously as they picked up their drinks.

"According to legend, the Basilisks could turn other creatures to stone by their gaze or touch." Justin said very quietly. "That legend has made many races keep a certain distance from the Stone Drakes, at least initially."

"An ... interesting ... creature." He shook his head slightly and glanced around for a table with a view.

"That they are." Justin nodded, letting Caurver pick a table. "Odd that he's by himself, they usually travel in pairs."

"Maybe his companion is still resting or just busy." He commented and selected a table that had only one occupant, a large Arctic Ursan, and a good view. "Excuse me, may we share this table with you?" He asked in his most polite tone.

The powerfully built male looked up and smiled. "I'd be honored." He offered the empty seats with a wave of one white furred, muscular arm.

"Thank you." Caurver smiled in return and settled nearest the window and across from the Ursan. "What is your name?"

"Maddrock Icerunner of the SeaCliff Clan." He said politely, as he took in the unusual dragon-kin and his Griffon companion. "And you are?" He asked politely, as the Griffon settled in an empty chair diagonal from both of the others.

"Caurver Ser'Onor of Berentia," he introduced himself fully and reminded himself that even six-limbed dragon-kin were well respected in this strange place. "And this is Justin SunTalons. Have you been in the city long?"

"About a week now." Maddrock grinned. "It's almost overwhelming in the hugeness of it all."

"That is so true." Caurver felt himself relax significantly. "I've never been anywhere with so many people so close together before. The lack of natural winds is just weird."

"Aye, and the lack of natural water, or wide open plains is strange as well." The bear nodded. "There are more people in this place." He indicated the residential facility. "Than in my whole village."

"I know the feeling." Caurver chuckled softly. "It's the same here. Berentia wyver didn't have sixty residents, and we had one of the bigger wyvers around."

"We had about fifty, and half of those were cubs and Elders." He said simply. "There were larger villages, but even the Master of the Clans had nothing as grand as this."

"I never even dreamed of anything like this was possible." He said quietly between bites of flavorful food. "It's like nothing on my homeworld."

"I'd heard of larger cities on my world, but they were in the south. Outside the territory of my people, and I'd never had reason to travel so far." He said simply.

"So why travel now?" He asked curiously with a cock of his head that trailed a few crest feathers off to the side.

"A slight mistake." Maddrock grinned. "I was supposed to be scouting some new territory on Tiberra. I think I cast the gate wrong, of course it could've been an unexpected surge in the Skyflame."

"So is Tiberra in the Imperium at all?" He asked softly.

"Not that I'm aware of." Maddrock shook his head. "I'd never heard of the Empire before. Tiberra was a new world the Seers had located. They said it had good hunting, and that no one had claimed it yet."

Caurver nodded slightly. "Sounds a bit like how I ended up here. Only I was working on getting a long range teleport spell weaving to work and ended up on the transporter platform."

"I found myself up to my shoulders in one of the public pools." Maddrock chuckled, a deep rolling sound.

"There are worse places to land by accident." Caurver grinned as his faceted eyes glittered an metallic cobalt inside the medium blue base.

"True but very surprising. I've never had a gate cast go so badly astray. I must have misunderstood one of the glyphs the Seer gave me." He sighed. "And I don't even have a clue when the base glyph for here is."

"The local mages don't either?" He asked sympathetically.

"No one uses the same gate magic we do." He sighed. "They've never even heard of the Ancients."

"Sounds like we're facing the same challenge." He said softly. "Translating magic and whatever else to figure out where we are relative to where we're going."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but I was very surprised to find Dragon-kin mixing freely with everyone else. They don't do that back home." He said quietly. "They rarely leave the citadels."

"So I hear is true of many worlds," Caurver inclined his head slightly as his eyes shifted to a dusty reddish orange. He glanced quickly at the Stone Drake that was apparently content to be alone. "It is not so on Patith, my homeworld. Particularly not for Durikan like me."

"I don't know that he is alone by choice." Maddrock said softly. "But it would be inappropriate for me to approach a dragon-kin."

"Were you told that here, or is that from back home?" He cocked his head with flakes of blue in his eyes.

"From back home." He smiled. "I never bothered to ask if that was true here." He said with a slightly sheepish smile.

"Justin?" He shifted his sharply curved muzzle towards the Griffon who had let them talk without interrupting.

"No, there's no rule about that here." Justin smiled. "It's just usually a good idea to be polite. Where's your guide, Maddrock?"

"Oh, Tyah wanted to catch a guest lecture at the Astrophysics Institute. Whatever that is." He said easily. "I figured I could look after myself for a day."

"Care to tag along with us then?" Caurver offered with a grin. "At least the parts that don't involve flying."

"Beats hanging solo." Maddrock grinned back. "Solo is good for hunting, but there's no good hunting ground on this rock. Fortunately, the food is plentiful anyway." He grinned as he raised a forkful.

"Very true," Caurver grinned back and dug into the meal that was flavorful, even if it had few tastes he recognized. "What fields did you train in?"

"Ice magic and its components Air and Water." He smiled. "And the magic of animals. The gate-casting is a very separate magic, not really related to the others."

"Sounds like quite a useful range of effects," he grinned. "I specialized in Matter-Energy effects."

"You might say I specialized in survival." He smiled back. "Ice and snow are what my people's land consists of, and the animals are our lives. The gates give us new places to live, so that our numbers do not overcrowd the land and its resources."

"Why not select less hostile places, since you have the gates?" He asked curiously.

"Because the land has made us who we are." He smiled. "Warmer climes do not suit us well. Besides, everyone wants the warm places. We have no interest in such conflict."

"That is the best reason I've ever heard for choosing a place to live." Caurver grinned at him, the corners of his muzzle quirked up.

"So what is the land of your people like, Caurver?" The Ursan asked curiously.

"We live all over our world," he said softly. "From the snowy wastes like your home to the hottest deserts and the deep sea. We lost the knowledge of where or even how we came to be long ago."

"Your shamans did not preserve this knowledge?" He asked, quite surprised.

Caurver shook his head. "There was a long time when my kind were persecuted, all six-limbs were. Many of the races were lost. Those that survived had their past stripped from them, either by the death of the elders and destruction of our records, or as the price of being spared when the armies and hunters came. We were already scattered across the world when it began, so when things settled and we were recognized as having rights again, there was nothing left to find."

"That is a great tragedy." Maddrock said quietly, with great sympathy in his voice. "Did your people try speaking with the spirits to reclaim the lost knowledge, or was speaking with the spirits something that was lost as well?" He asked, wondering how one could cope with having a void where the past should be.

"We ... do know how." He said carefully, reminding himself this was not Patith. "Seeking knowledge of that past is treason in every land, and even more, risks drawing the Impergium down on us again."

"To make the past a crime." Maddrock said softly in disbelief and shock. He really couldn't believe anyone could be so blinded by fear to do such a thing. "You must have many angry spirits in your land. Spirits do not like to be ignored." He said softly, more a warning and a concern, with no criticism even implied.

"That is not something I know of." He said quietly, hedging around the truth of things. "But to say there is great anger and pain in the lands is no lie."

"I do not doubt it, Caurver." Maddrock nodded his head. "Laws may prevent the living from speaking to the spirits. But there is no law that will keep the spirits from speaking, when their anger becomes great enough. How they express their anger will depend on the exact nature of the spirits." He said softly. "It is a precarious situation. A Great Circle of Healing would do much, but I'm afraid it would break the law you have spoken of."

"Likely it would," he nodded and didn't mention that it wasn't just mortal laws that were involved. Even his limited understanding of it left him with the realization that the spirits of the four-limbed were as active in this mess as their living counterparts. "We are very far from there at any rate."

"And very far from my people as well." Maddrock nodded. "And I'm no shaman, I'm afraid." He said, almost apologetically. "But it sounds that it is a good thing for your world that it is far away. Were it close enough for the Dracons to know of it, they would feel compelled to correct things. It is their way, from what I have been told."

"That would be very messy," Caurver murmured, doubting any good could come from such outside interference. "It would cost so many lives and souls on all sides to make it stick."

"I know." The Ursan said quietly. "That is why it is a good thing they do not know where it is. The True Dragons have great power, but from what I have heard, subtlety is not their strong suit. Hopefully a more peaceful, less destructive healing will find its way to your world." He said gently. "It sounds as though all sides could use it."

"The oldest say it has gotten much better since their great grandparent's time." He nodded. "I was allowed to learn powerful magic, something that still shocks my grandmother to think about. In time, things may become equal again."

"Hopefully so." Maddrock nodded. "But we both have a more immediately pressing issue." He chuckled. "Dealing with this strange new world. No offense intended Justin."

"None taken." The Griffon smiled. "This history of your people, Caurver, makes me fairly certain that your world is indeed in another dimension. Not that helps I realize, but it saves having to search one universe at any rate."

"Bridging dimension is no different from bridging space if one knows the glyph for where one is." Maddrock said quietly. "It becomes a mere turn of the wheel."

"What he said, with different words." Caurver chuckled softly then smiled at Justin to take the sting from the words. "Time, space, dimensions, it's all the same. You have to know where you are, where you are going and gather the necessary power to link the two. Magic does not recognize the flow of reality in the same way as mortals do."

"It's okay." Justin grinned. "You guys clearly know way more about gates and stuff than I do. Hell, you guys may know more than most of the Mages on the Belt." He smirked.

"And a fat lot of good it is doing the both of us, right?" Maddrock grinned at the Griffon. "There is a purpose for everything that happens. I'm sure we're both here for a reason. We just have to figure out what that reason is."

"And make the best of things until then." Caurver added with a slight nod. "But I doubt I know so much. I'm only a senior apprentice." He added and ducked his head slightly, his eyes swirling pink and gray.

"And I'm not even a Mage by profession." Maddrock smiled. "I'm a hunter and a scout. Magic is a tool much like my spear, though more flexible."

Justin chuckled. "Well, gates that cross dimensions are considered a pretty advanced topic here." He smiled. "Guess it's all in how you see things."

"That is true of everything." Caurver chuckled. "For me, telekinetic effects are very advanced. They're a major effort to get to work. But an apprentice much my junior is gifted at it and she can flings all sorts of things around with a precision that even Master Ko'ovi has difficulty achieving. On the same count, creating my clothes from the air and a little energy is a very simple thing for me and there are doubts she will ever master more than the simplest rotes of that nature."

"Which is an achievement many Masters are still trying for among my people." Maddrock nodded. "And weather control is something my people have known for centuries, while some of the southerners still can't manage it. But then their Mages can perform feats of transmutation that we consider quite amazing."

"It's all a matter of how you think and interact with the energy." Caurver smiled at Justin. "We'll probably make more sense in a couple years."

"Of course, a few years here and we may take some very interesting magic knowledge back home." Maddrock grinned. "And then again, our teachers may just roll their eyes at the bad habits we acquire."

"No doubt." Caurver snickered. "And nothing new to me. I have no doubt they're rolling their eyes right now at the mess I no doubt left behind with that spell."

"I can only be grateful no one was watching when I cast my gate." Maddrock shook his head. "However, the snow I brought with me was not appreciated."

"So you're the one who dumped the snow bank in the North Side pool." Justin chuckled. "It took a bit of doing to warm that pool back up."

"Oh, I bet." Caurver grinned and snickered softly. "Poor startled swimmers."

"Most definitely startled. " Justin grinned. "It was eighty-five degrees out that day, and snow was definitely not in the forecast. Certainly not two feet of it, in the public pool."

"I thought it was uncommonly hot that day." Maddrock said thoughtfully. "Of course I think the people sunning on the deck were even more surprised by the splash."

"Oh, sweet Sharall," Caurver laughed deeply. "What a way to introduce yourself."

"Yes, a lasting first impression." Maddrock laughed as well. "And since I'm such a forgettable person, no one will remember the event." The ten foot tall, white muscular Ursan said ironically.

"At least you didn't make anything go boom on arrival." Caurver offered helpfully.

"For which I'm grateful." The Ursan grinned broadly. "Though it's fairly rare for my magic to make things go boom."

"Ah, not something I can say for mine, but when you're doing almost all matter-energy conversions, a boom is only one miss thought away."

"I can imagine." Maddrock grinned. "My mistakes tend to shatter, or get buried under snow drifts. Or the occasional buckets full of slush. My teacher said that I 'created' the 'rain of slush' effect to demonstrate that 'half a success' was not only possible, but sustainable." He shook his head. "I never could quite convince him that it was a mistake."

"Oh, that had to have been wild." Caurver laughed in delight. "It sounds like some of the fun we had when Master Soeshi took in a weather witch as an apprentice. For like three years we could tell her mood by looking at the sky."

"Oh my." The Ursan laughed, a deep booming sound. "And I thought only Elder Tarsa had that effect on the weather. Her mood often showed in the weather, only we were quite sure she was doing it deliberately. Even though she claimed it was just the effect of her age." He shook his head. "The same age that seemed to boost her power when she needed it to."

"That is not uncommon among the Masters I know of." Caurver nodded. "They frequently hold back a great deal of their power until they truly need it."

"Which is usually for the best, since enemies often underestimate them because of it." He nodded. "Less experienced sorts who equate age with weakness."

"And take previously displayed power at face value." He added and sipped his juice.

"A common mistake of arrogance." Maddrock nodded, and sipped at his soda.

"And inexperience." He chuckled softly. "It takes a lot of knowledge to be able to accurately read the information your senses give you, and realize when they aren't telling you something."

"Because sometimes your senses don't tell you everything." He smiled. "Of course, for my first few days here I kept hoping my senses were just playing games with me."

"I still am." Caurver admitted quietly. "Most of the time. Sometimes it's seriously exciting in the possibilities for new magic and new skills."

"That it is." Maddrock nodded. "I'm still trying to decide what to do with myself." He grinned. "There are so many possibilities."

"Including being more than a second class citizen." He murmured, glancing out at the sky with a hunger that had nothing to do with his body.

"I've never been such, but I can understand the attraction of going from second-class to having respect just for being dragon-kin." Maddrock said quietly. "Must be something of a shock."

"It's unreal." He managed something of a smile. "It makes it very attractive to stay, even if I figure out how to get home."

"If you figured out the way back, it might be attractive to others among your people as well." Maddrock said quietly. "And from what I've learned of the Dracon, they would certainly be welcome."

"Maybe," Caurver hesitated, not all that sure it would be, or if they'd be allowed to leave alive. "I really don't know enough about things to say."

"Well, guess that's not really an issue till you figure how to get from here to there, now is it?" Maddrock smiled. "Somehow I don't think the solution is just gonna jump out in front of either of us. Today is busy enough, no sense trying to live in tomorrow."

"Very true." Caurver nodded and dragged his mind away from such worries. "What is on today's schedule?" He looked over at Justin.

"That kind of depends on what interests the two of you." Justin smiled encouragingly.

It was at that point that the Stone Drake finished his meal. He stood, drawing himself up to his full eleven-foot height, which revealed the glittering ridges along his spine and tail. It also revealed that he did not have wings. As he left, he looked at Caurver, meeting the Durikan's gaze briefly before nodding his head in some sort of acknowledgement.

"Did ... did I see that right?" The Durikan stammered somewhere between horrified and pity. "Wingless?"

"That's what I thought I saw." Justin said uncertainly. "But then again, maybe they're cleverly concealed or something. I honestly don't know. Stone Drakes are very rare."

Caurver swallowed and nodded slightly. "I don't think I could do that."

"I don't know much about the Stone Drake's home." Justin admitted quietly. "Maybe they have to conceal their wings there. It's possible they're as much second-class citizens as you are on your world. Just under different restrictions."

"Possible," he nodded, regretting the thought of another world under such strictures. "Is there a way to find out without asking him?"

"Possibly." Justin nodded. "We can check the Imperial Database on Race and Culture. If he or one of the other Stone Drakes mentioned it, it'd be in the Database."

"It's worth looking." Caurver said softly. "I'd hate to insult or hurt him over something that a little research could answer."

"Sounds like our first stop is the Imperial Survey office then." Justin smiled. "They're responsible for the Database, mostly because they created it to keep track of their explorations."

"Right," Caurver nodded and made quick work of the remains of his breakfast.

"Imperial Survey?" Maddrock asked curiously, between sips of his soda. "Would they be scouts?"

"Basically." Justin nodded. "They explored both new systems on the edge of Imperial space, and rechart old systems inside Imperial space."

"Rechart?"

"Some of the worlds inside Imperial space haven't been looked at in a thousand years, so the IS is trying to update all those surveys." Justin explained.

"Fascinating." Maddrock said thoughtfully. "So many of these worlds are unoccupied?"

"Most of them I think, a few have primitive cultures but not many." Justin nodded as he finished his breakfast.

"Amazing that something as large as the Empire would have so much unexplored and unoccupied territory." The Ursan said quietly.

"I think my brain is going to implode if I try to think about that much territory." Caurver shook his head with a bemused chuckle. "I much prefer exploring power, not space."

"To each their own." Maddrock grinned. "I'm a scout by nature, I love exploring places that no one has seen before. But I expect you can explore power equally well here."

Justin nodded. "Definitely."

"Sounds like you may have found your nitch, Maddrock." Caurver grinned at him. "It sounds perfect for you."

"Maybe." Maddrock nodded. "And then again, I may pick up my magical studies for awhile." He shrugged. "Don't know yet. I really have been away from my studies longer than I should."

"There's time for it all." The Durikan nodded.

"That's more than likely true." Maddrock nodded in agreement.

"Everybody ready to go?" Justin asked looking around the table.

"I am." Maddrock nodded.

"Yes," Caurver nodded easily and stood, unsure what to do with his tray and dirty dishes.

"This way." Maddrock said quietly, as he picked up his tray and headed for the opening in the wall where dirty dishes and trays went. He set his on the conveyor belt and it disappeared through the rubber curtain into the hole in the wall. Justin and Caurver did the same thing afterwards.

"Now, off to see the database?" Caurver asked.

"This way." Justin smiled, leading the way out of the cafeteria and down to the street. A fair number of heads turned to note the unusual threesome as they walked through the busy streets.

"I take it that a group like this is most unusual here too?" Caurver asked quietly, reminding himself forcefully that the eyes on him were not fearful or hating.

"A Griffon, A Polar Ursan, and a Dragon-kin with feathers?" Justin grinned. "Yeah, its unusual."

"I had figured it was simply the presence of dragon-kin." Maddrock said quietly. "Everyone seems to note their presence. Kind of like when a foreign clan leader entered the village back home. Curiosity and respect, bundled together."

"Ten foot tall Polar Bears get noticed too." Justin chuckled. "Snow White Ursan aren't that common, and Ursan aren't big travelers in any case."

"So I have heard." Maddrock nodded. "Something about them having volatile tempers as well."

"Most do, though not all." Justin nodded.

"On Patith they are peaceful and wise, though the most fearsome of people to anger when pushed that far." Caurver commented softly as he watched those watching them.

"Oh, that's pretty much true." Justin nodded. "Except the Grizzlies and the Cave Bears. They tend to have short fuses. Black Ursan are pretty easygoing sorts, and the Polars are easygoing until you tick them off."

"I believe I can keep up that appearance, even if I'm not an Ursan exactly." He said, watching a big male Wolf watching him. "I've never been checked out so thoroughly in all my life." He chuckled. "Not that I haven't been doing some of my own."

Justin chuckled. "I'd be surprised if they weren't. Just look out for female Ursan, they might have more permanent plans in mind."

"I do not plan on denning any time soon." He shook his head.

"Denning?" Caurver glanced at him.

"Mating and forming a family group." Maddrock explained. "We call it denning because the traditional word for a family home is a Den."

"Makes sense," Caurver nodded. "Mated is the usual term on Patith, but there are a lot of them."

"Mated for us merely means an exclusive couple." He said simply. "But there's not necessarily any intention to have cubs, or settle down. That's especially true when the mates are both male or both female."

"Ah. We don't make that distinction. I've heard of some having a breeding-mate and a mate, or something like that, but it's not in the common language."

"Well, it gets complicated 'cause sometimes a single gender pair will pick up a third from the opposite gender and start denning. And there's a few other arrangements." He chuckled. "Not that I paid a whole lot of attention. Denning is something that scouts come to late in life, if they do at all." He said quietly. "It's not a lifestyle conducive to long-term relationships."

"No, I don't expect it is." Caurver nodded, his voice gentle. "Mages rarely mate at all, and almost never outside our own wyver. It just doesn't work well."

"Ah, our Mages usually do. But that's because the Elders encourage it, to ensure the Talent is passed to the next generation." He smiled. "Mages are not always the most attentive of mates, but they do provide well and so are often sought after. Especially as third members by single gender pairings."

"Two reasons it doesn't work well on Patith." He nodded absently. "It is not so actively encouraged and I have yet to hear of one who would accept being a breeding mate. Especially not the female mages." He glanced around at those they passed. "It takes a lot to handle being a wyver mage's mate when you aren't one too."

"With female Mages it's an interesting arrangement." He nodded. "Since what many of them seem to want is a male who will care for the child once it is born, since our Mages easily get wrapped up in their studies to the exclusion of other things." He said simply. "But we don't have any real arrangements of mages beyond the student-teacher, so they're just part of the community as whole. The idea they have here of colleges of Mages is somewhat mind-boggling."

"I think it comes with the greater population." Caurver suggested. "Patith has something similar in the wyvers, though it is not nearly as easy to get admitted and almost no one ever leaves."

"Probably true." Maddrock nodded as the walked past a mixed group of young adults. There seemed to be felines, canines and a young Dracon who were all conversing quite animatedly. "We've always kept our population dispersed. It uses the lands resources more evenly." He said softly. "Though I have heard that some of my kind have formed an actual city on the coast were a warm ocean current keeps the land green most of the year. I was contemplating traveling south to see it, but never quite managed the time."

"You'll probably have plenty of opportunity to see such places here." Caurver said quietly. "There seems to be no limit to the number of places to visit now."

"Almost too many." Maddrock nodded. "It seems as though one visit a different place every week and never run out." He said in quiet, awed voice. "There seems to be a very interesting creature over there taking an interest in you, Caurver." He added in a very low voice as he pointed out the winged feathered serpent that was hovering in mid-air about fifty feet away looking at the Durikan with rainbow colored eyes. The feathered plumes were quite elaborate in their coloration, and creature's skin had a metallic, iridescent sheen. When it spotted Caurver noticing it, it darted away, moving with an amazing speed for a creature with wings that clearly were only for control, if that.

"What was that?" He gasped, shocked to see anything that reminded him of a Durikan.

"That was a Coatl." Justin said simply. "A young adult, if I read the feathers and scales correctly. Not really anything in the way of jewelry so he's probably not in any profession yet. A rare species, inhabiting a single world in the Terran Directorate, they've taken a great interest in seeing the galaxy since contact was established a century ago." He nodded. "Their inherently quite magical, and many of their elders are accomplished Mages."

"I can see that much," Caurver nodded, his bright silvery blue eyes following the creature's magical aura a bit further than vision could.

"They're a very laid back species, mostly scholars, historians and archaeologists. The newly discovered ruins on Elbereth II have brought a number of them to the belt." He added as they continued walking.

"Oh," he nodded as he lost sight of even the aura and turned his attention back to taking in everything.

As they crossed the plaza and were approaching a large stone building that had a sign that read "Imperial Survey", a creature that appeared to be the torso and upper body of a Black Lion Felsin merged with the lower body of a Black Lion quadruped exited the building accompanied by a black feathered avian humanoid who stood a good eight feet tall, making him a bit shorter than his companion.

Caurver couldn't help himself. He just stared at the feline-taur as he tried to figure out just how such a collection of parts worked.

"I'm guessing you don't have 'Taurs on your world either." Maddrock said quietly, to break Caurver's staring.

"Umm, no." He forced himself to look away with difficulty. "What an unusual configuration for six limbs."

"My first thought was a shapeshifter who'd gotten stuck between biped and quadruped." Maddrock said quietly. "But then a Lynxtaur was my first encounter with a race with six limbs that wasn't a dragon-kin. On my world only those from the Citadels have six limbs." He said simply, a statement of fact, nothing more.

"I pity anyone like that who had the misfortune of landing on Patith." He shook his head, still watching the Taur move, just a little more discretely. "As bad as it is to be like me, at least I'm still a biped."

"I take it quadrupeds have it worse?" Maddrock asked quietly.

Caurver blinked at him, an utterly blank look on his face as his eyes swirled to an odd shade of aqua-gray.

"Quadrupeds ... there are intelligent quadrupeds here too?" He asked very softly, his crest feathers flattening in a limp shimmer along his neck and skull.

"Well, I actually meant going on four legs like that 'Taur, as opposed to moving on two like us." Maddrock elaborated. "However, I did meet a pair of Maerlin's yesterday. They look like quadruped brown-furred rodents with a black mask, about five feet long, not counting tail. But they're very intelligent, and telekinetic as well."

"Like a raccoon from Earth." Justin commented though, he doubted it was a useful comment.

Caurver took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. He was so not ready for this. Too many races, too many new rules, too much weirdness and nothing like home for all they were very nice to him. Master Sun-Drenched was right. He wasn't ready to explore the more advanced texts on what existed beyond their plane.

"You okay, Caurver?" Justin asked gently, signaling a pause on the stairs as the Durikan gathered himself and willed his gray and reddish-orange eyes open.

"Yes." He answered quietly and did his best to fluff his crest up a bit. "It's just a lot to try to take in at once."

"Very true." Maddrock agreed. "It's a very different world. So much that is new and strange. Sometimes it's a bit dizzying."

"Master Sun-Dancer once said that a true mage is limited only by their imagination." Caurver shook his head slightly to open his crest feathers out and looked around with gray and reddish-orange eyes and a nearly forlorn look on his face. "I've seen things here already I couldn't even imagine."

"You've been given a whole galaxy to assimilate without the support of anything familiar." Maddrock said sympathetically, as he put a large, white-furred paw on the Durikan's shoulder. "Imagining is difficult when the mind is still reeling. And imagining has to have some basis in the known at some level. I expect that much of this simply has no foundation in what you knew before yesterday."

Justin nodded, though his limited empathy could tell that the Ursan was not nearly as settled as he pretended. Unfortunately, he had no more luck reading Caurver than he did with any other Dragon-kin.

"Part of me keeps saying I should have realized it was possible." He chuckled weakly at the self-deprecation even as he leaned into the contact a bit. "I was starting to study the outer planes. Imagination isn't one of my stronger skills."

"But it is one that can be developed." Maddrock said encouragingly. "Or so I have been told. But you've stepped from a single world based on magic, into a galaxy founded on technology. I had the advantage that some technology had been introduced on my world, so I knew what it was." He said quietly. "Perhaps the universe has sent you here, to help you develop your imagination." He suggested gently.

"More likely to test if I have what it takes." He managed a more real smile, though it was still very stressed and his eyes more gray than anything. "Whatever that actually means."

"Perhaps, though the universe was in a good enough mood that it sent you somewhere relatively non-hostile. You could easily have landed somewhere where every moment was a battle for survival." Maddrock said reassuringly. "And you arrived somewhere, where you have a measure of respect simply for being what you are."

"True," he agreed with a shudder. That was far too easy for him to imagine. "Though find that entire attitude rather creepy, honestly." Caurver shook his head. "It's the flip side of what I grew up with." He bit off the last few words to his comment.

"I expect that would be kind of creepy." Maddrock nodded. "It's kind of like the fact that people expect that I can shapeshift into a quadruped Ursan. There hasn't been a natural shapeshifter among my people since mythical times, and even those are suspect."

Caurver sighed and pressed his muzzle threw his fingers until his face was cupped in his palm with a soft groan as he tried to focus past just too many impossible things at once. "They're real too?"

"Shapeshifters?" Maddrock asked quietly. "Very real, though it's not a talent you find in many dragon-kin. A lot of the mammals do it though, and some of the avians too. Let me guess, no shapeshifters where you come from?"

"No." He shook his head slightly and drew it out of his fingers slowly. "It's not even done by magic, really."

"Ah, my people do it by magic some. Though it's mostly done for performing the creation myth plays to educate the young about our origins. Other than that we see little use for it." He explained. "Here it seems to simply be a part of who some people are, much as flight is for you."

"Such a strange place." He shook his head and took a deep breath. "I think we were going to check out what's available on Stone Drakes?" He looked at Justin.

"Just waiting to let you catch your breath." Justin smiled. "This way." He said leading the way inside, and back to a room that was labeled 'Public Access Area'. "Okay, here we are. Now what was it you wanted to know again?" He asked as he began pulling up the file on Stone Drakes.

"If they have wings, and what they look like." Caurver supplied easily, the image of the wingless dragon-kin firmly etched in his mind.

"It seems they do, but not always." Justin said as read through the fairly limited file. "It seems that the race was forced to go subterranean after a cataclysmic change in the surface environment of their homeworld. Wings got in the way underground so they evolved the wingless form that's familiar to most other races. They can transform to the winged form, but rarely do since they would have to transform back before going home."

"Whatever it takes to survive." Caurver nodded and relaxed significantly. "He looked like he should have them to me."

"And you're right." Justin smiled. "And he's probably still not sure how long he's going to be here, so he's staying with the underground form."

"It's just not a reason that occurred to me." He said very softly, his mind flashing back to that moment of his hatchling-hood when he realized how horrible the world could be. "I saw a Durikan that had his wings removed once. He was the saddest creature I've ever seen."

"I can imagine." Justin said quietly. "To have the sky taken from you like that." He shuddered involuntarily. "That would be hard to live with."

"I can't even imagine how he managed." Caurver shook his head a bit and pulled himself out of the downward mental spiral it usually caused. "Here, now ... I can do something about it. Even if it's only for a few hours at a time."

"The doctors here can heal an injury like that." Justin said softly. "It's not a quick or easy recovery, but it can be done."

"Somehow, I really should have known." He sighed softly and shook his head.

"On the other hand, dimensional travel is still something they're trying to figure out. Theories on travel to other planes of existence exist, but they're just ideas ... no one can seem to make them work." Justin said quietly. "Science has its limitations."

"Because it refuses to utilize all that is there." He shrugged slightly. "Ignoring something does not make it go away."

"Well, if you can't perceive something, you can't do much with it." Justin shrugged. "If someone can't see the color green, you can tell them about it all you like but they still can't see it. Scientists and magic work much the same way. They can't see it. Also, magic and technology don't work together very well, the cybermages have made small success but nothing big."

"I'm not even going there until I have a clue what technology actually is." Caurver actually chuckled softly. "Everything I understand says they are making a problem out of nothing, but that is another world."

"Technology is the applied form of science." Justin explained simply. "And you may be right. It may simply be an unnecessary division created over the centuries."

"Justin," he smiled gently to take the sting out of his words. "Saying technology is the applied form of science is about as useful a description as saying my clothing is the applied form of magic. I meant understand it, on the basic level of how it functions and interacts with the rest of reality." He waved a clawed hand in a general motion that took in everything with a wave of sparkling power. "The core tenant of everything I understand is that energy is energy, no matter how it is created or what form it takes. Once you understand that in your soul, everything is simply a manipulation of that energy by one means or another."

"Fundamental principle of Thermodynamics. Energy and matter can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed." Justin said easily. "Along with the basic principle of relativity that relates energy to matter. I think science kind of agrees with you; matter is energy."

"Then the dividing line must be fundamentally an artificial one." Caurver suggested as a statement of fact more than theory.

"Or there's a reason neither of us knows about." Justin said easily. "But then a human named Clarke postulated that Science sufficiently advanced becomes indistinguishable from magic." He shrugged.

"As long as you don't look for the magic fields, it's true." Caurver said simply with a nod. "A lot of this stuff looks familiar in function," he motioned around, "but we created and run it with pure magic. It's very weird to see so many things I understand as magical creations and not a trace of magic in them."

"The scientists and technicians responsible for them would probably feel similar if the situation was reversed." Justin smiled. "It's all in what you're used to."

"Except they would never know," Caurver actually chuckled. "They can't see the magic that runs it all. I can see, feel, the lack of it."

"Unless they looked closely." Justin grinned. "Somehow I expect the internals of magic-based gadgets look a lot different than those of technology-based ones."

"Oh, most likely, though if they know as much about technology from different origins as I've already learned about magic, they still might not pick it up without asking how it works." He grinned a bit. "I could probably comment on specifics in a few weeks when I've had a chance to figure out how things work here."

"Well, that's true. Some engineers are better with alien tech than others. Though with the number of independently developed technologies we have in the Empire, the term alien tech means that it's really weird. Like Mephit tech or something like that." Justin grinned.

"Yes, most of these races would have developed inter planetary travel before they joined the Imperium, wouldn't they?" He glanced around with a look of almost disturbed awe.

"Interstellar travel in most cases." Justin nodded. "The Dracons didn't want to move anybody along too fast. It was easier if the new races had already accepted the concepts of intelligent life on other words on their own, before contact was made."

"Yes, I imagine so." He nodded thoughtfully. "It developed on a lot of worlds, then." He murmured softly.

"Most of what you see is heavily Dracon influenced, but their are some techs that some races are better at then others. The Avar, for example, tend to dominate the aerospace design field. That's the design of flying vehicles, just in case you didn't know."

"Unusual," Caurver raised an eye ridge as his eyes swirled to an aqua and blue mix. "I think I can see the logic of that, but it's not something anyone who can fly usually bothers with back home."

"Well, the ones here discovered that they like flying faster than their own wings can take them." He smiled. "And wings don't work so well in the upper atmosphere, or in space. And the Avar do have an uncanny knack for piloting, of course so do my people, though we're not speed junkies like the Avar." He grinned.

"Considering you seem to be half Avar, I'm not too surprised." He commented, considering the odd twist to what he understood of how people thought. It was always the flightless ones that wanted to fly, and fly fast.

"There's a resemblance, but actually my species isn't related to Avar or the Felsin." Justin explained easily. "We're actually descended from the Sunhawk of Telgar III, and the Warcat of Masorath II. Courtesy of the Dracons." He chuckled.

"So the Avar aren't all birds?" His eyes flashed aqua before deepening to the curious blue.

"No, the Avar are all birds of one kind or another." Justin explained. "Though a couple of bird types aren't Avar. The Phoenicai and the Rayvenok are the two biggest examples. But Avar only refer to the bipedal sentient birds, where as the Sunhawk are proto-sentient. The Warcats are as well. My people were created by the Dracons from those two, and then nudged to sentience over the course of a millennia or so. At least that's what our history says."

"Oh," he murmured, his eyes flashing a bright aqua for a moment before settling into a silver-blue. "Very different from how we note races." He said quietly.

"Oh, everybody has had different ideas at some point. The current system is the one the Dracons created when they started exploring the galaxy." He smiled.

"The winners make the rules." He nodded, understanding that concept all too well.

"Fortunately, the Dracons are fairly good sports about winning." Justin nodded. "A few fundamental policies and taxes and they leave most of the rest to local jurisdiction."

"I'll refrain from commenting on that." Caurver said quietly. "The same could be said of Patith."

"Perhaps I should have said relatively harmless policies." Justin corrected himself. "Mostly involving interstellar trade, diplomacy and defense. And the common sense rule of 'Don't piss off the Dracons'. Fortunately, it's not easy to piss them off accidentally."

"That is a good thing," he nodded, knowing he hadn't made his point and not really caring. It wasn't like it was a good idea to point out that a 'hands off' policy could be abused just as easily as it could be a good thing.

"So, as long as we're here at the Database was there anything else you were curious about?" Justin asked encouragingly.

"Everything." He grinned a bit teasingly, though his eyes were a deep blue. "Actually, I was wondering if there was something I could use to study at my room." He started, trying to find the words to describe what he wanted. "At the wyver, I could teleport a book to me to read in my nest and return it the same way. They all had magical tags on them to respond to the calls and note if they were being used. Am I making any sense at all?"

"I can show you how to use the synthesizer in your apartment. You can ask for a book on whatever subject and it will give you a list of titles. You pick a title and it synthesizes it for you. When you're done reading it you can either keep it for later reference or put it back in the synthesizer to be recycled." Justin explained. "Probably more comfortable for you than reading on the viewscreen."

"Definitely more familiar," he regarded the screen they had been viewing. "Though I can see the advantages of learning how to use one of those. It makes searching much simpler from what you just did."

"Oh, they are a great help to searching. Especially if you want to go into some of the archived stuff." Justin nodded. "If you want to learn how, I'd be happy to teach you."

"Yes, I do." Caurver nodded seriously, then cracked a grin. "It's probably safe to assume I want to learn everything." He chuckled softly. "It's sort of a requirement for a Berentia."

"I'll keep that in mind." Justin smiled. "Not every new arrival is all that willing to learn, at least not right away. The computer in your apartment has tutorial lessons set-up, so that'll be the best place to teach. These computers kind of assume you know what you're doing." He patted the Database terminal.

"Excellent." Caurver grinned as he warmed up to having so much knowledge literally at his fingertips. "Then that can wait for after dinner when I'm settling in for the night. It's when I do my best studying." He glanced at Maddrock. "Do you like to swim?"

The question brought a broad grin to the Ursan's face. "I'm as at home in the water as I am on land."

"Then spend the afternoon in the pools you mentioned earlier?" Caurver suggested with a matching grin. "I'm warm, you must be roasting in all that fur." He started to reach out to touch but stopped himself.

"That sounds like a wonderful idea." He smiled. "Though I avoid the roasting issue with a small temperature adaptation spell I learned in trade from one of the Magical College students here." He chuckled. "He wanted to learn my rain of slush spell. Something about adapting it into a 'slushball' spell ... I believe I smelled magical prank in the works."

"I expect so." Caurver snickered. "Some things are a constant. Students and pranks being one of them."

"And I expect the larger the body of students, the more elaborate the pranks." Maddrock grinned.

"For all sorts of reasons." Caurver chuckled and flared his crest feathers with a grin and metallic cobalt eyes.

"Competition not being a small one." Justin smirked, having hung around with groups of students at both the magic college and at the technical university.

"Oh, yeah. Nothing like peer pressure to up the anti." Caurver shook his head and leaned against a nearby table.

"And the infamous 'getting in the last 'word'.'" Maddrock grinned. "It's a matter of pride to get in the last prank in some circles."

"Or at least the last untraced one." Caurver added with a smirk. "There's a level of bragging rights involved for not getting punished for something you pulled off."

"Well, that's true." Justin chuckled. "Though with psychometrists around, that can be damned difficult."

"Ah, but for everything that can effect something, there is a way to trace it, and believe me, teachers invest heavily in those skills." Caurver shook his head and laughed. "It's a job requirement they never mention."

"Actually, that's what a psychometrist does." Justin explained. "Reads psychic impressions on solid objects. They aren't as common as law enforcement would like, and Megacorp security interests grab a good share of them."

Caurver looked startled for a moment, his mind flicked across the languages he knew to trace where he'd mixed his terms up.

"You look a bit confused, Caurver. Did I throw something in there that didn't translate well?" Justin asked quietly.

"I'm not sure yet." He admitted quietly. "What you call psychometrists I'm more familiar with as divination, though for some reason psychometrists keeps getting linked to fire."

"Not sure." Justin said trying to figure out what was screwy. "Well, there is a branch of psychokinesis that deals with fire starting, it's called pyrokinetics." He offered. "Though psychometrists aren't usually thought of as Mages, they're considered part of the psi-aware community."

That made Caurver blink as his eyes went a nearly silver aqua blue and his feathered crest and spine flared out fully with his wide leather wings. He took a moment to gather his wits before speaking.

"I would ask why, but I am sure it is the same answer as to why technology and magic are not the same thing."

"Psi-powers are a lot more innate." Justin said trying to explain the difference. "And a lot more personal. But that could be just because of the way they developed over time. But you don't find anything like spells, or spellbooks for psi-powers."

"I think we had this conversation involving technology." He chuckled softly and shook his head. "Instinct and what training I have says that's not right, but I don't really know enough to have a real discussion on the topic yet."

"And neither do I." Justin admitted. "Deep theoretical and philosophical levels of magic, tech and psi are way beyond my training so far. Actually, I just exhausted most of what I know about psi." He admitted easily.

"There will be time for such discussions later." Caurver nodded and grinned. "Now, about that water and sun?"

"This way." Justin gestured with one wing as he stood.

"We will also need proper swimming attire." Maddrock added as he followed. "At least that is what I was told." He said somewhat perplexed.

"Yeah, the public pools aren't clothing optional." Justin chuckled.

"I'll handle it, if you want." Caurver offered easily.

"If it's not an imposition." Maddrock nodded. "It would be appreciated. I never really got into the creation of solid objects from energy."

"It's not. Though it's not technically from energy." Caurver grinned a bit, "though it's close. I still need to use matter for a chunk of the item."

"Certainly faster than the way I create clothing." Maddrock grinned. "By sewing."

"You can sew?" Justin asked in surprise.

"Sure, can't you?" Maddrock asked, equally surprised.

"I can manage a little mending if I really have to, but that's about it."

"He doesn't have to supply all his own needs." Caurver grinned at them. "There are advantages to bigger cities and specialization."

"Yeah, I guess there would be." Maddrock nodded. "Though as a scout, it's kinda handy to be able to make new clothes if needed. Assuming you can find something cooperative to make them out of."

"I was under the impression that was usually dinner." The Durikan looked at him with curious blue eyes.

"Well, not everything edible makes good clothing." Maddrock chuckled. "Fish make lousy clothing, but very good eating."

"Depends on the fish, but I take your point." Caurver chuckled as the followed Justin out into the sunshine.

"There are, of course, exceptions to everything." Maddrock chuckled as they walked. "Predators are often mediocre eating at best, but many have excellent pelts for clothing."

"Very true." Caurver nodded, his blue and silver eyes taking in everything and everyone around them.

Maddrock seemed about to say something, when four uniformed athletic males walked past them. A Panther, a Lion and two Alsatians all dressed in the same sharply tailored black uniform with a sleeve patch of two red swords crossed over a silver shield. The Panther seemed to be in charge, while the Lion had a fairly strong magical aura, and all four had the bearing of utterly confident hunters.

Maddrock tried to follow the foursome with his eyes without being too obvious about it, though he was fairly confident that at least the Panther had noticed.

"So who would they be?" Caurver asked for him.

"Those are NightBlades." Justin said respectfully. "I'm not completely sure, but I think the Panther is the NightBlade Commander Ebon SwiftClaw."

"What do they do?" He cast his own gaze at the Lion, trying to make sense of the aura that all but defied his attempts to place its components, beyond powerful.

"They deal with things that require more finesse than the Imperial Military." He chuckled. "They cover sabotage, espionage, assassination and a variety of more mundane Special Operations missions. Plus they do counter-Black Ops under special situations."

"I understood assassination, but not any of the rest." Caurver said quietly.

"Oops, sorry." Justin apologized. "Sabotage is the art of causing important things to collapse or blow up. Espionage is the more technical word for spying, and otherwise obtaining information that people don't want you to have. Special Operations is a section of the military that handles things that require small units of highly trained individuals to accomplish, usually deployed to assist the main military force in some fashion. Black Ops is the overall term for sabotage, espionage and assassination. Counter-Black Ops is defending against such activities by the enemy."

"Sounds as though war has become significantly more complicated." Maddrock said softly. "I have little doubt those four are good at what they do though."

"Anyone as magically potent as that Lion would be good at anything he set his mind to, assuming that's even a he, or a Lion."

"Well, if that's the NightBlade's Second-in-Command, it's definitely a he." Justin nodded. "Species is debatable, since he's supposed to be an incredibly gifted shapeshifter. The most popular rumor is that he's a Dracon noble who prefers the military life over that of the Court."

"That's the third most potent magic aura I've ever seen." Caurver shook his head. "And the only one that's been that indefinable. Though as a potent shape-shifter, that might explain it if he has a couple other magic talents at high levels as well."

"Rumors suggest that he has several." Justin chuckled. "But most of what's known about him is rumors. He's made something of a reputation out of being enigmatic."

"Many of such power do." Caurver nodded and let his attention wander back to the surroundings and other people, of which there was a great deal considering that it was a busy city of fifty thousand around midday. That those fifty thousand were spread among perhaps a dozen or more species made it a swirling array of colors, sounds and scents. The stores and businesses along the main street as they made their way to the pool, were equally varied with many being varieties of dining establishment catering to a wide array of tastes and cultures.

As they approached the pool they were passed by what seemed to be a dragon in miniature, perhaps five feet long including tail. It's red-gold body and iridescent wings were reminiscent of a butterfly, though they looked much stronger and radiated magic on a level the Durikan was unaccustomed to seeing. It took a brief look at Caurver with swirling blue green eyes before it flew off in the direction of the pool.

"That is the most unusual dragon-kin I have ever seen." He murmured in blue-eyed fascination.

"I believe that was one of the Verdan Drakes." Justin said thoughtfully. "Sometimes referred to as minidragons, though they're not fond of the term. Mischievous bunch as a whole, very friendly and they love to travel. They were positively overjoyed when a Imperial Scout ship introduced them to the concept of life on other planets." He chuckled. "Prior to that contact, they'd never thought about leaving their homeworld. Well, at least in this dimension. I guess they visit other planes fairly regularly, but as far as their concerned that's still not leaving the homeworld."

"Fascinating creature." He chuckled softly and regarded the other bathers as he selected what to make the swimming attire look like. Most of the male bathers seemed to be wearing variations on short pants, with how short being the big difference. Some were down to a little above the knee and slightly baggy, while others covered little more than the genitals and were quite tight, leaving little to the imagination. The females had a much wider range though again it seemed to range from modest to 'why do they bother'.

"Mmm, where in the range do you want them?" Caurver glanced at his companions.

"Medium length, and not as tight as some of them." Maddrock said observing some of the costumes. "I don't like clothing that constricts."

"I agree with the Bear." Justin chuckled.

"Right." He nodded easily and formed the spell in his mind, letting the magical energy loose a moment later to change their clothes into something appropriate for swimming. "I'll change them back after."

"Very cool, Caurver." Justin grinned as he looked at the change. "You can enter the water anywhere, the deepest part is still not over your head." He chuckled as they approached the pool where numerous people were hanging out lounging, or playing somewhat animated games of water tag in the case of a trio of Otters.

"The disadvantage of being tall." The Durikan chuckled and slipped into the deep end with a happy sigh. "Very nice."

"Yes, it is." Justin murred and he tucked his wings behind him tight and floated on his back.

"A bit warm, but very relaxing." Maddrock rumbled, as he submerged and swam around a bit, moving with remarkable grace under the water.

"Yes," Caurver smiled and relaxed, content to watch the world go by for a few hours.

Heart of Ice, Soul of Fire 2: Making Contact

PG-13

70 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written July 15, 2004 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Todd McCall

Setting: Eternal Draconian Empire, Patith

Primary Races: Bear, Durikan, Griffon

Contents: Furry. Gen. All Original Characters, Crossover, Magic, Sci-Fi

Pairings: None

Blurb: Caurver's first real day in his new life is quite a roller coaster, but a bit of it's looking up as he makes friends with another newcomer and a very well established Felsin catches his eye.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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