"Well I made it Nora. Now why did you send me here?" Estrid said, voice dry.
The only answer was the blowing of wind. It seemed to always be blowing up here in the mountains.
Looking across the forested valley, thousands of feet below, Estrid could see just how far she had traveled these past few days. The sun hung low in the sky; it would be dark soon. Letting her pack fall off her shoulders onto the hard ground with a dull thunk, she sat on one of the numerous outcroppings of stone that made up the ledge of the precipice.
Letting out a sigh, she pulled up a pant leg, revealing the tattooed obsidian flesh of her calf. A path of bright red dots snaked out of her boot and up the flesh of her leg like a road on a map. Taking off her leather gloves revealed more dots. A line on each finger merged together on the back of her hand before disappearing up her sleeve, reappearing on her shoulder and connecting to the other markings that adorned her face. Estrid started to massage the tender flesh of her leg. Wandering was her profession, or 'finding where the secrets hide' as her mentor would say, but it had been some time since she had climbed a mountain. The muscles were sore.
While massaging her leg, Estrid gazed around at her surroundings. This was the place she saw in her vision, there was no mistaking it. It was the only such precipice for a hundred leagues.
"At least it has a view; better than when I had to cross the Sands." Estrid continued to talk to herself, a habit she picked up after spending too much time alone. She paused for a moment before starting to work on the knots in her other leg.
"Maybe I'm early?" She scanned the sky for the Traveler, but it was absent. "Or late," She muttered.
She sighed again, another bad habit.
Then it started.
A huge twenty foot wide slab of dark granite in front of her started to shift, causing the entire ledge to quake. It started to rise out of the ground. Estrid jolted up from her seated position and prepared to run. Another section of stone, this one ten feet to the left of her, started to shift as well. Then a third, this one off to the right. A fourth. A fifth. And soon a sixth.
Estrid was surrounded, standing with her back to the ledge and only open sky behind her. Nowhere to run. She began to utter a prayer as the earth itself rose against her. The various slabs of stone started to fold and bend unnaturally, as more boulders appeared from beneath the earth, joining the various segments together. It was one thing she realized, one creature. She could see the various features now. A body, four legs, a tail, and a head as big as a wagon. An eye opened and stared at her — through her. As if she were no more than an insect.
She held her tongue, prayer caught in her mouth.
The creature continued to rise from its prone position. Estrid could see where the body ended and the land began, now that she knew where to look. It was a massive beast. The large buckler-sized eye in front of her blinked, and the creature started to talk.
At least, Estrid thought it was talking. Its maw was moving, revealing a set of razor sharp stone teeth, but whatever language it spoke was incomprehensible to Estrid. The words were rough, primal; the sounds of shifting gravel and the snapping of stone.
The beast paused and blinked again. It shifted its head, allowing Estrid a terrifying view of the inside of its massive stoney jaws as it started to speak again, this time in a different tongue. She could understand it now, having studied the language of the dragonkin when she was young. "Perhaps you grasp this vernacular?"
Estrid, taken aback and still braced for a fight, replied simply "I do," her teeth flashing as she forced her mouth to pronounce the aggressive syllables of the language.
"Verywell." The rock-creature continued to study Estrid, "The Fells of Grazzen are far removed from the domain of men. No idle flight would bring you here. What is your name, painted girl? What is it you hunt?"
Deciding the creature wasn't going to kill her, yet, Estrid let herself relax a fraction. "I am Estrid, daughter of Inga, and I.." she sighed, unsure how to phrase it, "I am following the will of Saint Nora."
The beast let out a gravelly laugh, "Yes, you two-leggeds always were captivated by your gods. Well met Estrid, daughter of Inga. I am called Kelzarak in this tongue, eldest of the granite dragons, He Who Watches the World, The Voice of Stone." The dragon rose up as he announced himself. Estrid willed her body to maintain its composure; she would not let the dragon know how small she felt.
"I am honored to meet you Kelzarak," Estrid said as she dipped her head in a polite, but short, bow, never taking her eyes off the dragon. "I have not met one of your kind before," she stated.
"That is not by chance. My kin prefer solitude. Now confess, why did your saint guide you to me? What is it you want?" the dragon demanded.
"I don't want anything. Maybe it was a coincidence?" Estrid offered.
"Coincidence. The greatest of lies utilized by men. Your so-called-saints are weak but they are not feebleminded. No. There is a reason." The dragon said, shifting his gaze to peer at the Watcher as it hung forebodingly in the sky.
"Really, I don't know!" Estrid sighed yet again, "She just gives me visions of places, she never tells me why; I just go. Most of the time I just end up finding bandits and thieves, or helping people who're lost. Occasionally there's some secret ruin or artifact hidden away. Information that helps me on later trips. But I don't—"
The dragon jerked its head back to Estrid having reached a conclusion, "The markings!" it said "You're here to signal me."
In confusion, Estrid repeated his words, "My markings? Warn you? All followers of Saint Nora have them."
Kelzarak was vibrating aggressively now as he started to scan the valley below. "There must be thieves." He said, ignoring the woman.
"Thieves? There's nothing here to steal!" Estrid wasn't following.
"Someone is hunting my knowledge. Your saint must have dispatched you here to warn me." The dragon replied, still watching for intruders. Sensing she wasn't following his logic, he continued, "When you arrived, I saw your markings like those of a bird. That you were attempting to attract a mate. I was amiss. Those are the marks of a snake; a warning"
Estrid felt it. As soon as he said the words, she realized the dragon was right. That must be why Nora sent her here.
"What do you know?" she demanded, wanting to know just what exactly someone might try to pry from the dragon.
"I know of many things men covet." The granite dragon snapped its head back to stare her down once again, stone plates rising along its spine in anger. "I have existed since the primordials ruled, and my memory is keen as my claws are sharp. I witnessed the division of worlds — the writing of the Discidium Laws. I have seen empires rise and fall like the tides. I lived through the Age of Magic and survived The Fall itself. I have even seen gods die. I know where the secrets hide. You would do well to not question me, girl."
Estrid fell to a knee. Where the secrets hide. That phrase. This was where all of her journeys had been leading her. Nora had been grooming her for this.
"I'm sorry. I.. I didn't mean to offend you," she offered, realizing she had angered him. "I think you're right. I am supposed to warn you — help you. I think.."
The dragon relaxed, "I do not enjoy being entangled in the plans of the two-leggeds' gods. But, if your saint concluded I need your help, it would be unwise of me to refuse it." Kelzarak scanned the valley below once more before seeming to make a decision. "Very well. Join me Estrid, daughter of Inga. Let us set a trap for those foolish enough to hunt He Who Watches the World."