Chapter 3
The First Embrace

AZ 1454 - Autumn
The Ruins of Delphos, The Darklands

Corona did not know what to do. The Third Legion had been sorely routed and forced to retreat. Many were dead, including Duke Cronos. The enemy they faced in the ruins of the city known as Karas was not like anything they had faced before. Common fell beasts were no match for the Legion, but the dead that walked were not so easily defeated.
Once all the survivors were accounted for and reports given on what had happened, Ionathas retreated to his tent to grieve for the loss of the Duke. Only Corona was permitted to see his tears. It was a curious thing, the way humans grieved. She did not understand all their weeping and wailing, but for some reason, seeing Ionathas in this state made it feel like her heart was being crushed. Was this too a part of the emotion the humans called love?
For a long time, she simply watched him in silence, but finally she made the attempt to approach him and speak.
"I... am sorry for your loss, Ionathas," she began uncertainly. "I know you held your Duke in high esteem."
Ionathas' open weeping had long since subsided. It was as if his tears had drained the very life from him.
"I can't believe he's gone..." the young free knight said numbly.
"All men must die, Ionathas," Corona replied. "In these cursed lands, it comes all the quicker."
"You're not much comfort, Corona."
It was an offhand comment, but it made Corona feel pointedly uncomfortable. Even after all this time observing the humans, what did she really know about them? Not a thing, it would seem.
"I am sorry," she said. "I do not know how you humans console each other."
"Don't be sorry," Ionathas replied. "Sometimes I forget that you're not human."
On the one hand, Ionathas' words made her alienness stand out all the more. But on the other hand, it was surprising that he would ever be apt to forget that she was not human.
Corona held up her hand and looked at it, the long thin fingers, the small nails, the soft flesh...
"I have become strangely fond of this form," she said. "It is odd... When my powers were sealed, I saw this form the same as Xorgoth did. It was the greatest insult for a child of Tiamat to be trapped in the shape of a creature so feeble and so foolish as the humans. But then I came to know your kind. Yes, most of you are weak and stupid, but... some of you display a wisdom and a strength that even surpasses we Dragons."
Corona stepped in closer, knelt down and clasped Ionathas' hand in her own.
"Ionathas, you are stronger than you realize. These men, they need you. Not just your Hawks or the Notian auxiliaries, but all the men of the Third Legion. They need a leader. You can be that leader."
"Me?" Ionathas asked. "No, I couldn't possibly be fit for it."
"But you are, more than anyone else. They will see, just as I have seen."
Corona stared deeply into Ionathas' eyes and he into hers. She could not explain what followed. There was nothing in a Dragon's experience like it. It was as if some unseen force drew them together. She did not resist this force and neither did he. She yielded herself wholly to this power and for a brief moment, heart and soul, mind and flesh were one.