The Spirit of Dragons
In ages long past, the world and all its kingdoms were united under the great Shailon Empire, ruled by Emperor Hawk. Dragons and humans were allies in this great civilization. Together they built wondrous cities and fabulous devices. It was this partnership that first opened humans to magic. The partnership was known as The Brotherhood.
All was peaceful until Emperor Hawk died. He was replaced by his son, Jeremy, a cruel man obsessed with gaining every scrap of power he could. He hated The Brotherhood. To him, man was superior to dragons, which were, to him, simply large beasts. However, he could not yet move openly against The Brotherhood; it had too much support. So he began to turn the race of man against dragon-kind by whatever means he could.
In secret, he bred a hybrid dragon that fit his poor view of the species. This hybrid was just a shadow of a true dragon, a stupid, flying slave that would follow his commands with unbending loyalty. He set these hybrids upon the people, claming that they were real dragons attacking the villages. The empire had declared war on The Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood was enraged by this and fought back, creating powerful weapons to be wielded by the human half of the order. But over time humans stopped partnering with dragons and the order shrank. The Shailon Empire was winning.
In a last act of defiance the remaining dragons and their human counterparts attacked the capital city of the Empire, where Jeremy resided. And there in the city of Amondray, they fought for the future of the world. Dragons filled the sky, battling the emperor’s creations and troops while their human partners penetrated into the castle. It was here that they erred for Jeremy had kept his best troops in reserve and now captured all but one Brother and one Sister.
Amongst the captured was Gary Connell, the brightest commander of The Brotherhood. It was he that told the free Brother and Sister to flee to their dragon partners and escape, for they carried great weapons of power and to let them fall into enemy hands could end the war. Then he and all those remaining committed the ultimate sacrifice. All the dragons channeled every scrap of magic power they possessed into their human counterparts and released it. The resulting explosion destroyed all the hybrid dragons, the city, and everything around it.
The free Brother and his dragon partner survived the escape, but the Sister was sorely wounded though her dragon was not. Together they fled into the mountains and were never seen again. The empire was gone and many kingdoms rose in its place. It was at this time that the people finally understood what had happened and what a great loss the death of The Brotherhood was. The Shailon Empire and its banner became a symbol of evil and the story of the dragons’ sacrifice was told for many generations, but it eventually died away. However, a prophecy was foretold:
The darkness will return.
As in an age long past
The defenders are gone
Sacrificed to stop the first.
Look to the survivors
Two fighters with the Spirit of Dragons,
Two fighters of the order’s blood,
Wielding the weapons of the order.
Both raised in the way of dragons
They will stem the tide of darkness
And return the order to its former glory.
The kingdom of Lorilan was a quiet, peaceful place. Villages kept to themselves, for the most part, as they were often many miles apart. Many of them hadn’t seen a tax collector for generations; and the people were happy, until they came. In the winter an army the likes of which had never been seen before, entered the kingdom, marching under an ancient banner, the banner of Shailon. Like a rushing river they swept over the land, capturing everything and killing all fighters they came across. One such place was the small village of Hilltop. The soldiers came in the night.
The village, under the shadow of Drakan Mountain, was quiet. The mountain was named for a cave at the top, which had the shape of a dragon’s head with its mouth open. Legend said that a dragon watched over the land from that cave. The only light came from the stars, shining brightly down onto the squat houses below. A slight breeze blew down the main street, swinging the inn’s sign with its customary squeak. The night watchman was asleep on the bench on the porch of the inn; nothing ever happened in an out-of-the-way place like Hilltop. In the house next door a low voice is heard, soon joined by a second from within the same house.
Bill Fellstrike walked into the room and looked down at the two sleeping children, Jeen Fellstrike and his best friend Dan Thornpoint, from a similar family of fighters. Both were three years of age. Bill was a tall, well-built man. Lean and athletic he was a fighter, Hilltop’s best. He had a handsome face and a mouth that loved to smile. His brown eyes loved to smile as well, but would harden and strike fear into an enemy as soon as danger threatened.
Smiling to himself now, Bill said out loud, “Are there any children still awake? I must have imagined it.” Muffled giggles emanated from under the covers. Quietly Bill snuck up to the bed and whipped off the covers. Squealing with surprise, the boys tried to run away, but Bill was much too fast and grabbed them both. He then began to tickle them, one after another, until both boys suddenly turned and started to tickle him. Laughing Bill called for his wife, Luan, who came to the door, trying to look stern, but couldn’t help but smile.
She was much like her husband in appearance, tall and athletic. She, too, was a fighter. Her piercing blue eyes were capable of freezing a foe in its tracks in one minute, and laughing the next. She, like her husband, possessed a merry outlook towards life; an outlook that turned life into a grand game. Her eyes were laughing now and as Jeen fell away from his father, she deftly intercepted him and began the tickling anew.
Outside the watchman was woken up by the laughter. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he slowly stood up from the bench. Yawning, he raised his head, coming face to face with the helmeted head of a soldier. Soldiers were all around, dressed in black chain mail and carrying swords. Quietly, they were spreading throughout the village and had begun entering homes. Before the watchman could even ask who the soldiers were, an axe blasted into his chest, hurtling him backward over the bench and through one of the Inn’s windows. The laughter stopped. Quickly, it was replaced by screams from other houses.
“What’s going on?” Luan asked as she grabbed the children.
Bill grabbed his quarterstaff. “I don’t know but it’s bad,” he responded.
A second shatter of glass, this time from the main room of the house spun Bill around, just in time to duck the swinging sword of a soldier. Spinning the staff he parried the next thrust, and whipped one end up into the side of the soldier’s helmet with a resounding bong. The soldier crumpled to the floor. A thump from behind turned him around to find another soldier, fallen to Luan’s short sword. Bill smiled ruefully at Luan and grabbed the children. The four of them then raced out the backdoor of the house, Bill slamming a soldier with the door on his way out.
All around them there were screams of pain, anguish, and fear. As they ran and fought to escape the village, a few other families met up with them. It was decided to make for the storage cave, which was not far from the village, at the base of Drake Mountain. The cave had only one exit, which would allow the men and women to hold off the soldiers until help from a neighboring village arrived.
After an exhausting run the refugees made it to the cave. Many had fallen in the battles to make it there, including the parents of Dan, Dave and Jay Thornpoint. The children were hurried to the back of the cave, the men and women taking up position around the cave mouth. A light began to grow outside, the light of fire. The soldiers had set the village ablaze! Unwittingly several men and women tried to rush to the cave mouth to see, only to be killed by arrows.
“STAY BACK!” Bill shouted, as much to keep the rest of the survivors away from the cave mouth as to keep away the soldiers.
From the midst of the soldiers gathered outside the cave emerged four, led by a man wearing a fearsome black armor covered in spikes. The leader stepped in front of the cave mouth, the fire turning his armor to a demonic red, and spoke.
“I am Colonel Dulong of the new Shailon army. This land and all on it is now the property of Emperor Jerem. This includes you. You will come out and pledge your loyalty to Emperor Jerem or you will be killed where you hide. What is your decision?”
His answer came in the form of a barrage of sling stones, killing one and wounding two. However the stones simply bounced off of Colonel Dulong’s armor, except for two well-slung stones, from Bill and Luan, which clanged off of his helmet.
“Very well then,” Dulong calmly decreed, “You have chosen death.”
With that he turned, slung the two unconscious soldiers over his shoulders, and walked back to his soldiers. As soon as Dulong had passed beyond sight the soldiers charged, pressing into the cave mouth. Quickly they overwhelmed the defenders, who retreated into a ring around the children; but suddenly the soldiers retreated back outside the cave.
“What’s going on,” several men asked Bill and Luan.
“I don’t know,” Bill replied.
Quietly he crept up next to the cave mouth. Listening carefully he thought he could hear a voice chanting. Suddenly everything became clear.
“WIZARD!” he shouted just as a bright dimensional door opened on the floor, covering it, and transported everybody out into the middle of a field outside. As the defenders’ vision cleared, the soldiers surrounded them. Colonel Dulong stepped forward once again.
“You could have surrendered and become loyal servants to Emperor Jerem.”
“You mean slaves,” Bill retorted.
“It does not matter, for I am not going to let any of you leave this field alive.”
With that, the soldiers rushed forward. The villagers formed a defensive ring around the children, but it could not last. One by one they fell, man, woman, and child, until only Bill and Luan were left, back-to-back, standing over terrified Jeen and Dan; but even they could not hold back the tide. Both were forcibly restrained, the children forgotten by the soldiers as they endeavored to hold the two warriors. Dulong sauntered up to the pair and stood in front of Bill.
“You would have been a great soldier; it’s a pity you’ll never get the chance,” Dulong taunted.
“My name is Bill Fellstrike, and I would never fight for scum like you and your emperor,” Bill growled back.
Ignoring him, he moved on to stand in front of Luan. “My you’re a pretty thing,” he said as he stroked his pointer finger along her cheek. “You would be a great toy; I think I will keep you.”
“OVER MY DEAD BODY,” they both screamed in unison. In a single fluid motion Luan kicked out, hitting the soldier’s hand that held Bill’s sword arm. At the same time Bill reached over and drew the sword from that soldier’s sheath and sliced off the finger Dulong had touched Luan with. With a cry of pain Dulong fell back, replaced by his soldiers who dove upon Bill and Luan. Not even that fighting pair could hold off so many soldiers. Eventually they were overcome, but not before taking a third of the remaining soldiers with them.
“Are you alright sir?” a soldier asked Dulong.
“I will be fine. The emperor will not be pleased with the losses, but our mission has been accomplished. No fighter was left alive,” Dulong answered.
“Sir,” another soldier shouted, “there are two children that are still alive.”
“Leave them,” Dulong replied, “it’s winter, they will be dead by morning.”
A chill wind sprung up as the soldiers pulled out of the village, moving on to destroy the neighboring ones. In their wake they left the burned village of Hilltop, a field stained in blood, and two children, Jeen Fellstrike and Dan Thornpoint, shivering in the cold. As blackness fell over them and they slumped unconscious to the ground, something blocked the wind.
16 years later
Talon and Scale stalked through the forest on the mountainside, heading towards the smoke of a campfire. Campfires on Drakan Mountain meant two things, people or a band of orcs. There were never any people on Drakan Mountain. Blending almost completely into the forest the two warily approached, conversing quietly in Dragon.
“How many do you think it is this time?” Scale whispered.
“Can’t be more than a dozen, they’d have more fires,” Talon responded, “We can easily handle that many.”
“Right. Think they’re loud enough? We heard them all the way back at the cave. They’re either strangers to these parts or even more stupid than usual. I’m guessing it’s the second.”
“I bet you’re right. Ugluck would never let a band of strangers wander around his mountain. They’re camping in a clearing and have made a fire; they’ve got to be from his tribe.”
Quietly the two snuck up to a clearing edge and looked at the twelve orcs, all drinking and eating from a no longer recognizable carcass. Half of the orcs were not even wearing their armor and weapons, a sure sign that the drink was a very potent alcohol.
Silently the two brothers nodded to each other and made their way around the clearing, one to the north end and one to the east. They had done this sort of ambush many times on similar bands; they did not need to talk to know what to do.
Talon was the first to reach his position, the north end of the clearing. To let Scale know he trilled “ready” in the dragon tongue. To anything that did not know the language of dragons it would sound like a simple birdcall. A few seconds later, a similar trill came from the east end of the clearing; they were both in position.
The orcs never knew what hit them. All they knew was that they had been drinking and eating when suddenly two orcs slumped over with an arrow in one of their backs, and crossbow bolt in the other. Panic ensued as the orcs snatched up their crude hatchets and stood, searching for a target in the trees. From the east a bolt hit one of the orcs in the head, dropping it to the ground. With a roar the nine remaining orcs turned, only to have two arrows, in rapid succession, strike two more in the neck, killing them as well. Another crossbow bolt came hurtling out of the east to impact on another orc right in the chest, blasting it backwards and on top of the first orc felled by a bolt.
The orcs split into two equal groups, three charging the crossbow in the east, and three charging the bow in the north. The eastern group entered the woods and disappeared into the bushes. Suddenly the bushes shook violently and a fierce roar emanated from that section of woods. Three orc heads came rolling back out from the bushes. The orcs heading north entered the bushes surrounding the clearing and there was silence. Suddenly there was a roar of equal intensity, series of loud cracks, and one of the orcs came flying back out of the bushes, it’s chest crushed by a powerful blow to the breastbone. The other two followed a moment later, one with a broken neck and the other with a slice across the face.
The clearing was silent for a few moments then two young men, Talon and Scale, stepped out of the trees. Walking towards each other they slapped hands and surveyed the damage they had done.
“Nice job Jeen, you’re getting better and better with that bow,” Dan said.
“Yeah, but I still like my throwing knives better,” Jeen replied. He then produced one from seemingly nowhere, spun it around in his hand, and returned it to where it came from.
Both Jeen Fellstrike and Dan Thornpoint had grown to be strong young men, lean and muscular. Also, both were dressed in greens and browns to help blend in with the surrounding forest. Jeen wore a light, brown leather tunic over a light, forest green shirt. His pants were of the same leather as the tunic and loose fitting to allow air circulation. His boots were an earth brown color and very solid.
Dan was by no means short, but he was not tall either. He kept his brown hair short, so as to keep its maintenance to a minimum. He had dark green eyes that would sometimes seem to blend in with the forest, just as easily as his clothing did. His pants were a dark forest green, as was his sleeveless shirt. Around his waste was a thick leather belt with a silver buckle. About his shoulders he wore a brown cloak. Strapped to his back was a crossbow and in his hands he carried a large two-handed sword.
Jeen was slightly taller than Dan, with dark brown hair kept short but long enough to have bangs. His eyes were a deep, dark blue and seemed to observe all that went on around him. On his back was a quiver of arrows and a bow. In his right hand he carried an unusual spear. This spear had a longer blade than the usual, more for melee combat than throwing. All over his body he had hidden knives. The knives were his preferred weapons for ranged combat.
A Strange Family
After gathering together their arrows and bolts and cleaning their weapons in the grass the two young men set off up the mountain. As they scaled the mountain a loud roar from the peak stopped them for a second. Grinning at each other they continued, passing a break in the forest that extended around the mountain.
“Mom’s discovered we’re missing,” Jeen chuckled.
“Yeah, but she’ll be happy when we tell her why we were gone,” Dan replied.
“Hope so. Good thing Kendro and Rikku aren’t here yet.”
“Yeah, they’d hate getting left out.”
Soon they arrived at the cave at the peak of the mountain, the cave that gave the mountain its name. Walking inside they descended down several sets of natural stairs that curved around a massive chasm, networked with tunnels, and into a cave. A large opening a little further down the stairs, opened into a huge cavern. Light filtered down from many cracks in the ceiling.
The cave was sparsely furnished, two pallets of hay for sleeping, two chairs, a couple trunks, and an array of pegs on the wall to the right of the entrance they came through for weapons and clothing. A small stream of clean, clear water ran down the wall a little ways past the pegs. There were a few clean pewter dishes lying on the floor next to the stream. The cave was rather large, but appeared small, most of the open floor space in the middle taken up by a huge female western dragon.
“Where have you been?” Kylora inquired as she reared onto her hind legs. Seek was Kylora’s dragon name. Dan and Jeen, who had grown up with the dragon, were not threatened in the least. Kylora had raised them ever since the Shailon Empire had left them to die in the field. She had saved them, brought them back to her cave, and cared for them as if they were her own. She had given them their dragon names, Talon and Scale, had taught them the dragon language, and had raised them in the ways of dragons.
“There was another band of orcs near the break again,” Jeen answered.
“We ambushed them in that clearing about half a mile southeast of here; none escaped,” Dan added.
“Well, I’m just glad to see that you both are alright. However I do not think your brother and sister will be so forgiving.”
As if summoned by their mother’s words Kendro and Rikku soared into the cavern and landed outside the cave. Immediately they began interrogating the two young men about their activities. Dan and Jeen told them all that had happened, then began questioning the two young dragons on how their final flying lesson had gone.
“It went very well,” Kendro told the two. Wing was Kendro’s name in Dragon. He was a slightly reflective dark blue that could almost disappear into the night and his eyes, in the nature of dragons’, had diamond-shaped pupils. Kendro’s eyes were the exact some color as himself, and coincidentally, almost the same as those of his favorite brother, Jeen.
“Mother has now deemed us strong enough to carry you around, though we are not to leave the mountain yet,” Rikku added. Eye was Rikku’s name in Dragon. She was a dark green color, which her eyes matched. Again, there was that strange happenstance where her color almost matched the eyes of her favorite brother, Dan. She was slightly smaller than her brother, Kendro.
It was quite a surprise for Kylora when her two eggs hatched the night she brought the two, orphaned children into her home. A dragon egg does not hatch until six years after it has been laid so she knew it was going to happen soon, but she had not expected then. What was even stranger was that the children, both dragon and human, immediately went to each other. Together they curled up and slept in a small group in the warm hatching nest. In all of Kylora’s thousand years she had never seen nor heard of anything like that. It was as if destiny had brought them together.
Fortunately for the humans, dragonets grow relatively quickly. So they grew in size in approximate proportion to full growth at the same rate as that of their human siblings. They were now nearly full grown, and were about eleven meters long, including the tail, and two to three times thicker than Dan or Jeen was from shoulder to shoulder. However their necks were just the right thickness for riding.
“Alright! Ready to fly,” Dan and Jeen cheered.
“Yes you are all ready to fly, and thus I have a test for you,” Kylora told the exuberant siblings. She then switched to Dragon, “I have not been there in quite some time so I do not know how it has changed, but I think you will find the trip most interesting. Fly north through the cavern until you come to a tunnel with a large door in it. Beyond that tunnel is a twisting labyrinth of caves and chasms. Many monsters inhabit this area but I feel you can handle them. On the north end of it is a room of great beauty and magic power. Bring me back proof that you have been there and you will have passed the test.”
Excited, Dan and Jeen immediately began gathering supplies for a few days, and packing them in two sets of two large bags. These bags would then be strapped around Kendro and Rikku’s necks, just behind where Dan and Jeen would sit when riding. Meanwhile, in preparation for the journey Kendro and Rikku flew out of the cavern and caught two of the many goats that lived on the mountainside. Quickly they devoured them and then drank from a nearby spring. They would not need to eat again for a little more than a week. They returned around dusk to find Dan and Jeen had packed the supplies and, exhausted, had already gone to sleep. Kendro and Rikku curled up near them and soon dropped off to sleep as well.
Kylora was still awake. Staring at her sleeping children she wondered. Are they ready for this test? I have prepared them in every way I could. I just wish I could know whether they really are the ones, the ones to restore The Brotherhood to its former glory. This test will not tell me, only answer some of the doubts. If I am wrong I don’t know what will happen to Kendro and Rikku. I can only hope I am right.
The next morning everyone was up bright and early. Moving into the cavern, Kendro and Rikku eagerly stretched their wings while Dan and Jeen strapped the bags around their necks. Then, when ready, they said their goodbye to their mother. Kylora touched her muzzle to each of their faces, the closest a dragon could come to a kiss. “Be careful. Return to me greater than you were before,” she told them. Then, stepping back to give some room to take off she raised her wings in a farewell salute.
Jeen and Dan leapt astride Kendro and Rikku, and with powerful strokes of their wings they took off. Circling once around Kylora they cried their farewell and streaked off, northward, down the cavern. Soon the dragons settled into a comfortable rhythm and level flight. They all began to chat about what adventures they would have.
“This is incredible! We’re actually flying!” Jeen exclaimed.
“Of course you are,” Kendro responded, “You knew I would take you once Rikku and I learned to fly. I must admit though that this is incredible.”
“What kind of monsters do you think we’ll find out here?” Dan asked.
“Who knows,” Rikku answered, “whatever they are, we can handle them.”
“You’re right, Rikku. What monster would dare attack two dragons and the two warriors riding them?” Jeen stated.
“They’d be pretty stupid if they did,” Dan chuckled.
All four laughed at that and continued to talk until they reached the tunnel with the door. They reached it around midday and landed for a break. Kendro and Rikku weren’t tired, far from it, but Jeen and Dan had to stretch after their first ride. Also it was an excellent spot for a lunch break.
Landing required swooping down then back winging to break the momentum and land. This was the first time Kendro and Rikku had done this with riders and the first back wing sent Jeen and Dan hurtling over their heads on to the ground. Unhurt they picked themselves up laughing and reminded Kendro and Rikku to be a little more careful next time. Not about to let the humans have the last word, they then reminded Jeen and Dan to hold tighter when landing. The dragons then lay down on the ground and Jeen and Dan sat, leaning back against the dragons’ bellies, and ate.
None of them could stop looking at the door. It was gigantic. Three dragons of Kendro and Rikku’s size stacked on top of each other could pass through that door with wings fully extended. Not only was this door huge, it was a work of art as well. It was seamlessly connected to the tunnel walls, seeming to be just as much a part of the tunnel as the walls themselves. The door was perfectly smooth and was covered in runes and pictures of men and dragons. There did not seem to be any kind of handle to push it open or closed, but when Kendro pushed it with his tail, it swung open.
Feeling ready to go, Jeen and Dan climbed back onto Kendro and Rikku. They then walked through the door. As they walked through, the door slowly began to close behind them. The area behind the door was no less spectacular than the outside. The tunnel walls had been smoothed and were completely solid, no cracks for light. Instead, a soft light seemed to come from the very walls themselves, lighting the tunnel to about the same brightness as the cavern back the way they had come. Ahead there was another door of equal make and appearance. This door would not open until the first had completely closed.
The caves beyond were like something from a miner’s fairytale. Huge monoliths of crystal jutted up from the floor and out from the wall. Veins of gold, silver, nickel, copper, and even mithril ran along the walls. An unusual lichen, which grew on the floors and ceilings, gave off a strange greenish glow that reflected off the mineral veins and refracted through the crystals, turning the caves and tunnels into rainbows of color. Mouths open in awe, they flew through the caves and tunnels, always making their way north. A waterfall cascaded down the wall and over several ledges of one tunnel they passed through, looking like a river of molten color. They didn’t notice the strange creature on the ledges until an arrow whistled past Kendro’s head and another skipped of the Rikku’s scales right behind Dan.
Immediately the two dragons sped out of range. All four were shaken by the experience and were reminded of Kylora’s warning about monsters. They continued to fly north but eventually had to land. Even dragons need to rest. Choosing a relatively small, defensible cave, Kendro and Rikku landed and discharged Jeen and Dan. Quickly Jeen set up camp while Dan fixed a small dinner. The dragons settled down in the front of the cave, watching the outside while the humans fixed everything to their liking.
Camp consisted of a pair of straw pallets for sleeping on and a small bag filled with straw for a pillow. Their weapons were laid out next to their pallets. Dinner was some precooked meat and a shared canteen of water. Both Dan and Jeen cleaned up and worked out who would stand watch when. The dragons, with their innate sense of time, would always have at least one of them on watch. They decided that Jeen and Kendro would stand the first watch, and Dan and Rikku would stand the second.
The first watch went quietly, Jeen and Kendro occasion talking quietly in dragon but mostly just enjoying each other’s company. At the appointed time they woke Dan and Rikku, then went to sleep. Dan and Rikku sat and watched the outer cave, enjoying the colorful show that the crystals and mineral veins created. Dan thought he saw a slight movement in the corner of his eye. Rubbing them to cast away any last vestiges of sleep, he looked again, nothing. Assuming it was just his imagination, he leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. That look saved his life. Lowering down from the ceiling over him was a spider the size of a large dog, its venom-leaking fangs the size of daggers, and it wasn’t alone. There were at least ten of them.
“RIKKU! JEEN! KENDRO! WE’VE GOT COMPANY!” he shouted as he whipped his sword off his back and sliced the spider in half. All around them the spiders dropped to the floor and attacked. Jeen and Kendro instantly awoke. Jeen had just grabbed his spear on the ground next to him when a spider leapt onto his chest and reared back to strike. He thought it was all over, until Kendro swiped the spider aside with his tail, splattering it against the wall.
“Thanks Kendro,” Jeen gratefully said as he leapt to his feet.
“Any time,” Kendro replied, stomping a spider into the floor as he did.
The battle was all but won; the four had removed all but three of the spiders, when disaster struck. Another spider came racing into the cave, a spider roughly the size of a horse. With Kendro, Rikku, and Dan all engaged with other spiders, only Jeen was in a position to counter the spider’s charge. He met the spider’s rush with his spear haft. With a loud crack the spear snapped in half and the spider’s momentum hurled Jeen backwards into the cave wall, partially knocking him out. He was standing, but swayed from side to side and did not seem to be entirely conscious. The spider, however, was unhurt and prepared to charge him once again.
“JEEN,” Kendro shouted, and with a fury that surprised everyone, including himself, raced passed his current target and grabbed hold of the giant spider. The smaller spider immediately leapt onto his back and began biting, searching for an opening in the dragon’s scaly armor. The giant spider struggled but was no match for the enraged dragon’s strength. Kendro then opened his mouth and let loose a blast of destructive fire that obliterated the giant spider. It was then that the smaller spider found an opening, a small chink in Kendro’s armor, and sank one fang into the dragon’s back. Kendro roared with pain as the fiery venom began to leak into the wound, burning the flesh. The pain knocked Kendro out cold. Rikku and Dan redoubled their efforts to defeat their foes, but would not be able to get to the wounded dragon in time.
“Kendro,” Jeen mumbled.
The sight and sound of his friend and brother in dire straights had raised Jeen from his stupor. Knife after knife leapt from his hand into the spider on Kendro’s back, the first knocking the spider off. Even though that first knife had also killed its target, Jeen continued to send knives whistling into the dead body until his supply was exhausted. He blinked, and, realizing the spider was dead, stumbled over to his friend, where he fell down, unconscious, next to him.
The last two spiders were quickly cut down and Rikku and Dan rushed to the fallen pair. They immediately checked for signs of life, both were breathing. Unable to move Kendro, Rikku stood guard in front of him while Dan pulled over one of the pallets and gently moved Jeen onto it. Together Rikku and Dan watched over their brothers, hoping that they would be ok.
“They’ll pull through this,” Dan said aloud. “Kendro’s a dragon and I’ve seen Jeen with worse than this. They are going to be ok. Right Rikku?”
Rikku, not taking her eyes from the tunnel outside, responded. “They will be all right. They are both strong and will survive these injuries.”
Something in Rikku’s voice said her mind wasn’t on the conversation. Dan picked up on this and said, “Right, they’ll be ok. So what has you so distracted?”
“Noticed, did you?” Rikku replied, showing her teeth in a draconic smile. “I’m wondering about the fire that came from Kendro. How did he do that? Mother never taught us anything like that though I know she can breath fire as well.”
“Why don’t you ask him when he wakes up? I’m sure he’ll tell you.”
Both Jeen and Kendro were unconscious for most of that day, Jeen waking up a few minutes before Kendro. Jeen was weak from the hit and would need to rest for the remainder of the day if he had any hope of travel the next. Fortunately for Kendro dragons are extremely resistant to poison. He would heal quickly and also be ready to fly by the next day, but he would have to be very careful about his back until the wound healed. After a hearty dinner, Rikku asked her question.
“Kendro,” she asked, “ how did you breathe fire back during the battle?”
Kendro was caught off guard and took a couple seconds to respond. “I…I don’t know. I just got so angry at seeing Jeen about to be killed that it just happened. I’m sorry but I can’t tell you any more. I don’t know any more myself.”
“That’s ok. Maybe mother can tell us what happened, and how to do it.”
By the next morning both Jeen and Kendro were fit to fly though neither was entirely well. The four left the cave around midmorning, Kendro and Jeen lagging a little behind Dan and Rikku. It was in this way that they landed, around noon the next day, outside the room Kylora had sent them to find.
The outside looked like a Greek temple. There were two lines of 6 giant pillars supporting a massive roof that jutted out in front of the doorway into the room. On the inner side of each pillar was etched a large rune, each the same as the one on the pillar across from it. On the floor in the exact center of this area were two large, golden circles, about three feet apart and seemingly part of the very ground yet obviously not. In between these two circles were two pedestals, back to back, each with an open stone book facing a circle.
There was a strong magic in that room, very strong. It was so strong that all four could feel it, a tingling energy in the air. For the first time since the battle with the spiders Kendro and Jeen felt themselves again. To their surprise they realized that their injuries had completely healed.
Together, the four walked under the roof. Then something strange happened. They felt a pull, an unmistakable urge for Jeen and Kendro to enter one circle, and Dan and Rikku the other. Upon entering the circle they turned as one, facing their respective stone pedestal and book. The books at first seemed so worn by time as to be unreadable, but suddenly words appeared on the pages. Again that urge appeared and the pairs began to read aloud in a language they did not understand. Pieces that they read sounded like a form of Dragon, but one they had never heard before. Kendro and Rikku read the phrases in that language and Jeen and Dan read phrases in a language they did not understand. Each time a pair finished reading a phrase, a rune on each of the columns would light.
On the last phrase, both the dragons and the humans read it, voices overlapping and uniting. As the last rune was lit the circles came to life. A great ball of swirling light enveloped each pair of dragon and human. They could feel the magic pulsing through their bodies, and something changed.
Just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. The balls of light died and the pairs were left standing on the floor, their eyes glowing, but that slowly faded away as well. However, the change was still there. Jeen was the first to describe it.
“I…I can feel where you are, Kendro. I can…can sense your moods and feelings, I can even hear some of your thoughts,” Jeen stammered.
“You’re right,” replied the equally startled Kendro, “ I can sense those, and even your location. I feel that if you were to call my name, from anywhere, I would hear you.”
A similar conversation was going on between Rikku and Dan. However, both were cut off as a very old man in a brown cloak appeared in front of the door.
“Ah, so you have come at last. I have been waiting for you.”
Weapons of the Order
“It has been too long since dragons and humans last bonded,” the old man said. He wore a brown robe, belted at the waist by a belt etched with the same runes as those on the pillars. His face was covered in wrinkles but the sparkle in his gray eyes belied a youthful spirit. “Come, come, there is no need to be afraid. I am just a man, preserved by magic of this place so as to last out the ages. My name is Ranweld and I will not harm you,” and with that the image turned, walked up to the doors to the room, and opened them.
The four hurried forward and stood behind the old man as the doors opened. Dan was the first to speak. “Bonded,” he inquired, “is that what we did? I can feel Rikku as if she were simply an extension of myself, and I of her.”
“Yes, you bonded,” the Ranweld replied as he walked down a stark white hallway, Jeen, Dan, Kendro, and Rikku following closely behind him. What the walls were made of none of the four could guess. It seemed to be some kind of metal, one the likes of they had never seen nor heard of before.
“Bonding,” Ranweld continued, “is an ancient magic used to unite the souls of two members of The Brotherhood, a dragon and a human. Your forefathers were all members of the order. It is only right that you should come here, where your forefathers were bonded with their partners, to be bonded with yours.”
“You knew our ancestors?” Jeen asked with astonishment.
“Why yes, I did. Your ancestors were of the Order, Jeen, and yours as well, Dan. They had their children fostered by other parents. To be at war with the Shailon Empire meant they could die at any time, leaving their children alone in the world,” Ranweld responded. “As for our fine scaled friends here, your grandparents were the lone survivors of The Brotherhood. I have had many a fine talk with your mother, Kylora, and I believe that, other than the bonding, this is why she sent you to me”
As he finished he led them into a medium sized room of great majesty. The ground was soft and large green plants grew out of it, spreading their soft leaves into the air. Everywhere small streams gurgled and fountains bubbled. A small path ran through the middle of the room, branching off four times, in two pairs of right and left of the path, before reaching the opposite wall.
As Ranweld led them down the path he would stop at each branch and pay his respects. He explained as he did so that these small paths led to the burial places of those that survived the fall of The Brotherhood. The first two paths led to the burial places of the two dragons, and the second two to their partners.
Already overawed the four were struck dumb by what they found upon reaching the end of the main path. Hanging on the wall were two magnificent weapons, undeniably magical in nature. Both were made of that same strange metal that made up the walls of the hall and room they were in.
The weapon on the right, in front of Jeen, was very similar to a quarterstaff. However, this quarterstaff had a one and a half foot blade on the top end. The blade had a slight curve to it and appeared wickedly sharp. The whole staff was white, but the blade was silvery in coloration
The weapon on the left, in front of Dan, was a large two-handed sword. The blade had to be four feet long and a half-foot wide. The blade was the same silver color as the staff’s blade and was sharpened on just one end, which extended out and then at a diagonal up to meet the unsharpened side of the blade in a point. The hilt was white, like the staff, with five dark green jewels set in a line perpendicular to the blade on each side.
“Kylora wished for you to bring back proof that you came here,” the Ranweld stated. “Here is your proof,” and he gestured towards the two incredible weapons. Jeen and Dan couldn’t believe what they had just heard and had to ask again. Ranweld assured them that they were to take the weapons.
Together, Jeen and Dan reached out to their chosen weapons, Jeen to the staff and Dan to the sword. At first tentative, then with a firmer resolve, the two gripped their weapons. The sword and staffs seemed to be partly embedded in the wall, but with a gentle tug the weapons slid from their slots. As the weapons came free, a rune in the shape of a curled dragon appeared in the center of the staff and the center of the blade of the two-handed sword. The rune on the staff turned a dark blue, and the rune on the sword a dark green. With a burst of magical energy and a bright flash Jeen and Dan were hurled back into Kendro and Rikku, still clutching the weapons. Picking themselves up off the floor they looked back at the wall where the weapons’ slots were. There was no sign that the weapons, nor their slots, had ever been there in the first place.
The dragons and their human partners were still dumbstruck by what had happened as they passed back out of the doors into the room. So much had happened to them over the past few days, Kendro breathing fire, both Kendro and Jeen getting injured, the bonding, and now the acquisition of two miraculous weapons. Ranweld was still there and now addressed them.
“The weapons you hold in your hands are of great value. Learn well how to use them, and never let them be taken from you,” and with that he turned and went back into the room, the doors closing behind him.
As soon as they had closed Jeen and Dan immediately showed Kendro and Rikku their new weapons, then turned and showed them to each other.
“Hey Jeen, the color of the dragon on your staff matches Kendro,” Dan stated with some surprise. Kendro curled his great head down to see. Indeed the color was the same.
“The color of the dragon on your sword matches Rikku, Dan. How about that?” Jeen observed with equal surprise. Again, the color was a perfect match.
Stepping slightly away from the dragons, so as to avoid accidentally hitting them, the two took a few practice swings of the staff and sword. Both were amazed at how light and balanced the weapons were, how easily their blades cut through the air. On an impulse, Jeen spun the staff in a blur and struck out behind him, cleanly stabbing straight through a stalagmite! Withdrawing the blade from the rock he then examined the blade; it was not damaged in any way. Dan, in a similar test, slashed sideways at another stalagmite, neatly bisecting it; the free end thudding to the ground at his feet. Again, the blade was unmarred.
“Now that’s a blade,” all four said at the same time. They looked at each other before bursting out in peals of laughing. In a grand mood, Jeen and Dan mounted Kendro and Rikku for the trip back home. What a story they had to tell Kylora.
As soon as they were out of sight, the Ranweld came back out of the room and made his way around a corner into a cave that would be out of sight of the doorway.
Inside the cave sat an anxious Kylora. “How were they? Were they all there? Was the bonding a success? Did the staff and sword accept them?”
“They were fine, Kylora. They were all there and, as you should know, they were in perfect health by the time I met them. You know that the magical energies of this place heal all but the most grievous of wounds, and as for the bonding it was a complete success. They bonded exactly as you had predicted. Jeen and Kendro’s was a little more complete than Dan and Rikku’s. Jeen and Kendro could transmit thoughts to each other. I believe this is due to the fact that they have already saved each other’s lives once before the bond ever occurred-”
“How? From what?”
“I do not know, Kylora. That is something for them to tell you. A bond that complete does not occur often, and has never if they hadn’t already proven their loyalty to each other through an act of bravery and compassion. As for the staff and sword-”
“They accepted them. Jeen took the staff and Dan the sword. If nothing else proves their lineage, then that does. They are certainly of the blood of the Order.”
“Yes, they are, but if they are the ones in the prophecy they now must pass a much harder trial. I fear for them. The Spirit of the Dragons can only be awakened by a moment of intense anger and pain. I do not wish to know what will cause that for them.”
On that parting note, Kylora took off. She knew of many shortcuts throughout the labyrinth and would be home well before Jeen, Kendro, Dan, and Rikku were. On her whole flight back she worried about what destiny had in store next for her precious children, both the natural and the adopted ones.
For Jeen, Dan, Kendro, and Rikku the trip was much more enjoyable. They were not attacked by anything for their whole trip through the tunnels. Word must have spread of what had happened to the spiders. Together they talked and laughed the whole way back, passing through the giant doors early the next morning.
They were welcomed home by a crystal clear bugle from Kylora. Kendro and Rikku bugled back, Jeen and Dan adding cries of their own while waving their new weapons in the air. Kylora couldn’t help but smile as they landed nearby and raced over.
The four spilled out the whole story, Kylora occasionally asking questions. Kylora was pleasantly surprised to find out about Kendro’s fire breath and welcomed him to mature dragondom.
When they finished telling about the battle with the spiders, Kylora sat back and nodded in understanding; so that’s how Kendro and Jeen had saved each other’s lives. As they finished the story Kylora looked down upon them with pride. They had seen and accomplished much, but they still had much more to learn.
“The weapons you hold in your hands are very old. They are heavily imbued with magic; very few would have been able to take them from that place. Care for them as you would care for each other and they will save your lives as you will save each other’s. Jeen, Dan, you two must adapt your skills to these new weapons. I feel you will need them before long. I will begin to teach Kendro and Rikku about their fire breath very soon; I feel they too will soon need it.
A New Companion
It was a bright spring morning when the wagon caravan entered the forest at the base of Drakan Mountain. Narwen Hisilrandir hummed merrily to her self as she walked along next to one of the wagons. A young woman of medium height she had long brown hair she kept in a ponytail. Thin, but not too thin, she was considered beautiful by many, which helped in her line of work. Her blue-gray eyes watched the forest around the caravan as she marched along next to it. She walked with the confidence of an experienced warrior, and belted to her hip was a long sword. The sword was sheathed at the moment but the casual way a hand rested on the hilt showed that she knew how to use it. She wore a blue, light shirt with long sleeves and a brown, light leather jerkin over it. Her pants were also of the same light leather and her boots worn but solid. It was an outfit designed to protect but allow movement.
Narwen was a smuggler, and it was a good time to be one. Ever since the new Shailon Empire had taken over this kingdom and instigated its reign of terror, business had been better than ever. The empire heavily taxed the working class while leaving the rich to themselves, and would occasionally appropriate children from their parents. No explanation was ever given for why the children were taken, but they were always from long lines of fighters. Resistance groups had sprouted up all around the kingdom to oppose the empire. These groups were constantly in need of weapons, supplies, and information. Smugglers were more than happy to oblige, for a price.
Narwen’s wagon, along with several others, were one such group of smugglers, making their way towards a secret meeting spot with one of the many resistance groups. Their directions said to travel through the woods at the base of Drakan Mountain and meet at the remains of a burned village. Looking at the six horse-drawn wagons, one of them hers and packed with goods, she could almost taste the profits. The three other smugglers and eight guards seemed equally pleased by thoughts of the soon to come money. Their merry mood continued until they reached the base of the mountain where the twenty Shailon soldiers appeared from amongst the trees.
Quickly the caravan was surrounded. A Lieutenant rode forward and conversed with the head of the caravan, Jack Meelin, then ordered several soldiers to begin inspecting the wagons. As the soldiers looked through the wagons, Narwen strolled up to the Lieutenant and Jack, confident that her hidden smuggling compartments would hide her contraband.
“…rumors of smuggler activity in the area,” the Lieutenant stated as Narwen walked up. Ignoring her, he continued to address Jack. “We are under orders to search all wagons that come through the area.”
Glancing at Narwen, Jack responded, “We are just honest traders passing through. We wish to make it to the nearest village by tomorrow morning.”
“If you are as you say you are then you will. We will not take any more time than necessary,” the Lieutenant replied.
A shout from behind turned all three towards the wagons where a soldier was waving his arms and signaling towards the wagon right behind Narwen’s. When she saw what the soldier was pointing to she cursed under her breath. Some idiot had left a smuggling compartment on his wagon slightly open. As the three walked up to the soldier, Narwen and Jack passed some secret signals to the other smugglers and guards, be ready. All the smugglers and guards begin to inconspicuously draw closer together around the wagon and finger their weapons. The lieutenant walked up to the soldier then bent down to examine the partially open compartment. Inserting his finger into the small opening he then pulled, opening the compartment entirely. With a gasp he whirled around to shout to his soldiers but was silenced by Jack’s swinging mace. The soldiers, seeing their commanding officer fall, attacked. Fights erupted all around the wagons, but the numbers were against the smugglers and their guards.
Narwen had her back to the side of her wagon, facing the woods and four soldiers. Holding her sword in front of her she prepared for the soldiers’ attack. Grinning at each other and making lewd comments they slowly stalked towards her. Suddenly one of them tripped. The soldier did not get back up and four pairs of eyes settled on the crossbow bolt lodged in his back. Another bolt came whistling out of the woods to strike another of the three remaining soldiers in the heart, dropping him to the ground as well. Not about to question her good fortune, Narwen charged at the soldiers’ backs, bowling over the first and running the other through with her sword. With a deft flip of the wrist she reversed her grip on the sword hilt and whipped it out and behind her, into the chest of the other soldier, who’s weight bore her and her sword to the ground.
She rose and pulled the sword from the dead soldiers chest. Turning she prepared to run to the aid of whomever needed the most help, but the fight was already over. One smuggler had been wounded and four of the guards had been killed. All twenty of the soldiers were dead, eight of them to mysterious archers. A noise in the woods behind her whipped her back around, just in time to catch a glimpse of two young men dressed in greens and browns disappearing into the trees.
Slowly the survivors reorganized. The wounded smuggler was cared for and placed inside one of his wagons. Outside, the remaining smugglers and guards were meeting to discuss what had just happened.
“What I want to know is what idiot left the compartment open,” one guard grumbled.
The owner of the compartment’s wagon pointed toward one of the dead guards. “He did,” the smuggler said.
“Good. If he wasn’t dead I would have killed him myself,” the guard stated.
“Who was it that fired those arrows?” Jack asked. “Whoever did took a guy off me.”
“A crossbow got one off me.”
“Crossbow took two off of me.”
“Don’t know who did it but that person is one hell of a shot. Took down three of those soldiers before they managed to reach me.”
“So nobody here fired the arrows or bolts?” Jack inquired in disbelief. He turned to Narwen. “You were the last helped, did you see them.”
Something inside Narwen told her to keep that glimpse a secret. Whoever those two men were they had saved her life. If they didn’t want to be seen she wasn’t going to tell, unless she could profit from it. There was a mystery here and mysteries usual held profits. She wasn’t about to share it with the others. “No,” she responded, “I didn’t see them, but I have one question. The Shailon Empire’s patrols are usually twenty-five men. Why were there only twenty in the battle?”
At that question the whole caravan went silent. Some of the guards looked over their shoulders, as if expecting to see the last five standing right behind him or her. After much discussion it was decided to begin moving, but all the guards and smugglers, except for the injured one, would be patrolling around the wagons.
They found the last five of the patrol only minutes after starting. The five soldiers were behind bushes only a short distance away, all dead. Apparently they were going to ambush the wagons if they decided to run, but something or some one had gotten to them first. Two were dead from stabs with what looked like a short sword, one from a crushed esophagus, and two from slashes by a large blade. What was baffling was where the cuts and stabs were. The two that had been stabbed had been stabbed in the back, the stabs going right through their chain armor. The slashes that had killed the other two soldiers had had been across their chests and stomachs. Those slashes had cut cleanly through the mail shirts they had been wearing. At a guess, whoever had shot those arrows and crossbow bolts had also taken care of these soldiers as well. Narwen tried to remember if the men she’d seen had been carrying anything beyond a bow and quiver of arrows on one and a crossbow on the other, but she could not.