220 Provincial Dragon Academy

    "Two weeks?  I thought you said this would be a short trip." Nix dropped all semblance of being cordial.

    "The short trip was in reference to the distance covered, not the time that you might be gone."

    Nix spent the next thirty seconds displaying his rather extensive knowledge of curses words, instead of getting angry Deidra seemed to be trying to remember them all.

    "Want to know the worst part of being a dragon?"

    Nix scowled at her.  "If I had to guess, it would be the ridiculous horns sticking out of your head."

    The woman's laughter echoed in the small meadow.   "I may decide to keep you Nix."

    "No thanks.  What am I doing here?"

    Nix took a moment to take in his surroundings.  Deidra had taken him to some kind of staging area.  Other dragons in human form were arriving every few minutes, each of them were escorting small groups of people.  They were on the edge of a vast forest, the trees were many times larger than the forest giants Nix had seen in Inuit.  Each of them was about a hundred meters in width and extended skyward thousands of feet.  The trunks of these trees were covered with a rough brown bark that extended all the way into the clouds.

    "Every five years there is a great competition among the Dragon Houses of the Sky Kingdom."

    "Hmmm... Why should I care?"  Nix only knew about Solomon City, he had never really considered that there must be many cities in the Sky Kingdom.

    Deidra held up a small vial of red fluid. "This is pure Dragon Blood Nix, its value among your kind is endless. Survive the first week of the trials and I will give this to you."

    Nix had to focus to keep the greed from showing on his face. If he were to give a single drop of that to each of his companions, their potential would skyrocket.  "Tell me what I need to know."

    Deidra nodded in satisfaction.  "This is the trial for the Provincial Dragon Academy.  I am allowed to enter six participants.  My son Juri would have been in the last slot, however, he is still recovering."

    "I don't care about the Academy, tell me more of this trial."

    "The first week starts at sunset tonight, it is strictly H & K."

    "I see."  Nix pursed his lips, "what's H & K?"

    "Hunt and Kill."

    "So... Survive for one week while I'm being hunted by dragons.  Anything else?"

    Deidra shook her head.  "Not everyone here is a Dragonspawn, there will be many Dragon Descended among the competitors.  There will also be a few elementals like yourself."

    "Why me?  This isn't payback for me leaving is it?"

    "For no reason other than I wish to test you, the empty slot gives me the opportunity to do so."

    "Fine.  What's after the hide and seek week?"

    "After the week is over, the survivors will team up and divide for the War Games.  I really don't care about your final score, you probably don't want to attend the Provincial Academy."

    "No, I don't." Nix noticed that the other arrivals were being dropped off and almost immediately were heading in the same direction. "Where are your other entries?"

    Deidra pointed North. "A few miles north of here is a great Tent City.  Groups and temporary alliances have been forming since the trial grounds opened up three days ago. My other entries are there already."

    Nix slipped off his armor and changed into his High Stealth gear.  "Anything else?"

    "You can summon companions and use any sort of skills at your leisure.  However, there are many here that can detect such things. You don't have to worry about flight abilities, this is strictly a no-fly zone."

    "Where do I go after the week is over?"

    "The living will all be summoned to Day 1." Deidra opened up her hud, "I will contact someone for you now, and give you a moment of privacy."

    Nix nodded.  "Shae Balefire please."

    Deidra used the Direct Communication ability to contact Shae, the pretty redhead's holo brought a smile to Nix's face.

    "I'm undertaking a special mission, it may take up to a week." Nix could tell that she was in her elemental world.

    Shae didn't bother to hide her disappointment.  "I have less than two weeks before I need to report back."

    "I will make it up to you."  Nix was tempted to summon her but decided against it.  "Please let everyone know."

    Shae nodded.  "Okay, Nix.  Be careful."

    "I will."

    Deidra waited until they were finished and then she closed her hud. "You are free to make alliances, but be cautious.  Many of those here specialize in subterfuge and charm abilities.  If you find yourself trusting someone without cause, they may be influencing you."

    The Mistress of Sky Kingdom's House of Dragons left a few minutes later.  She gave Nix a few last words of advice and then stepped through a breach.  Apparently she was unaffected by the limitations put on those who entered the trials.

    Nix has activated his bloodline.

    [Second Form: Salamander]

    An emerald salamander appeared where Nix had been standing.  Quickly, it headed North.

    Nix activated his Ice ring and immediately stealthed.  He left Dragon Eyes off since Deidra had mentioned that skills like that, especially Dragon Skills, could be tracked by specialists.  His own stealth wasn't a skill or ability but instead took advantage of natural camouflage.  He also felt comfortable using the Ice ring.  It used his own Ice ability to lower his body temperature, he had been standing within a few feet of Deidra earlier, yet she hadn't detected anything.

    The emerald salamander scurried through the woods, keeping to the well-worn trails.  He skirted around the rather impressive looking Tent City and headed deeper into the woods.  Without a doubt, there would be others like him who were only interested in hiding for the next week, so Nix moved as quietly as he could.

    After two hours of steady travel, Nix finally turned off the main trail and headed into the dense looking fern growth that covered everything beneath the trees.  The forest itself was one of the ugliest forests Nix had ever seen.  The long brown trunks punched through the lower cloud layers, there wasn't a single branch or leaf visible from the ground.

    He turned toward the west and started looking for a good opportunity to leave the forest floor.  It was important that his physical trail and scent be difficult to follow.  A small river falls that was banked on both sides by rocks gave him the opportunity to move into the water.  His salamander form slipped into the water and headed downstream.

    He floated leisurely for a while until he found a good exit point.  The river's current had been increasing for several minutes, the culprit behind this was a small waterfall that dropped about sixty feet.  "I think I can make that jump."

    Nearly fifty feet away was the nearest tree.  Given the height of the river falls, Nix felt that he should be able to cover the distance to the trunk.  It was even easier than he thought it would be.  He leaped to the tree from the falls, his salamander feet stuck to the rough bark without any issues.  He only hesitated for a moment before he scurried upward.

    The low cloud ceiling existed above six hundred feet above the ground.  The tree he was climbing showed no evidence of branches or of narrowing.  The salamander ran up the side tree, not slowing when his visibility suddenly changed to a few feet.  The clouds were different than he would have imagined, it was like entering an extremely dense fog.

    Climbing in the clouds seemed to take a long time, but in reality, it was probably only a few minutes.  Everything changed as soon as he cleared them.

    The squinted in the bright light of the sun, the temperature climbed several degrees.  The canopies of the vast forest were finally visible.  Green branches dozens of meters thick pushed outward from the trunk.  It was here that Nix finally stopped.  The ground was no longer visible, the cloud layer completely blocked it out.

    Nix climbed out onto one of the thicker branches and changed back to his human form.  He stretched his arms over his head and realized that the climb had taken a lot of effort.  The branch he was standing on was more than large enough to hide on, however, Nix had a different idea.

    "If this doesn't work, I'll go with Plan B."  Nix took a small acorn out of his inventory and examined it.

    One-Tree Acorn: Unique [Treehouse]

    Description: Three-level treehouse, please

    ensure that tree dimensions exceed 15 meters

    in diameter and 50 meters in height.

    "Well... this definitely exceeds 15 meters in diameter."

    Nix pushed the acorn against the side of the behemoth, a few moments later a large brown door formed.  It was round and much higher than his head.  "I don't remember the one in Loki being.."  His words trailed off when he stepped inside.
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