Dragon Stalker Bloodlines

Explore the Land of Zandador and All Things Dragon Stalkers

20: Friend or Foe?

The following is chapter twenty of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

“How far away did you say Japheth is from here?”  Taliya looked out the window of the secluded cabin while Micah sharpened his sword on the other side of the spacious room.  She could see a giant barn to her left, rolling hills in front of her, and a gently flowing river to her right.

“A half a day’s journey by foot,” Micah said, “but only a handful of minutes by Noon Stalker.”

“Then why isn’t Javan back yet?  He’s been gone nearly half a day.”

“He’s probably still waiting for Ravier.  Vince never said what time to meet him there.  Getting into Japheth is not an easy task.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Ravier waited until dark to show up.”

“I hate not knowing what’s happening.”  First Javan had sent her ahead to Dusk Territory.  Now he had left her behind while he went to put his Dawn Stalker scale in the column at Stalker Square.  Some team they made.  She wanted to play an active part in this mission, not be left out of all the action.  On the plus side, she did enjoy sleeping in an actual bed last night and eating fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden on the property.

“I understand the feeling.  Have you forgotten that you and Javan left me behind while you got yourself captured and almost killed?”

“Nobody in Japheth wants to hang me.  Javan should have let me go with him.”

Movement near the river caught her eye.  She opened the door and stepped on the porch to get a better look.  Sure enough, a woman was securing her canoe to the dock.  “Micah, didn’t you say this training camp belonged to you and that no one else ever came here?”

“Yes.  My father had this place built just for me.  Only myself and those who trained me even know this place exists.”

“You might want to add that woman to the list.”

“What woman?”  Micah popped out of his seat and joined Taliya on the porch.  “Who is she, and what is she doing here?”  He propped his sword against the wall.  “I’m going to send her away.”

“Not so fast.”  Taliya grabbed Micah’s arm.  “You’re dead, remember?  You need to stay inside and out of sight.  I’ll go.”

“If she’s wandering these hills, she’s probably in hiding herself and hasn’t heard about my untimely passing.”  He jerked his arm free from her grip.  “Besides, it’s just a woman.  She looks perfectly harmless, and I doubt one conversation with her will somehow get back to my father or the Destroyer that wants to kill me.”

“Fine.  Go.”  She watched him walk away, then went back inside for her slingshot and darts.  She had a strange feeling that the woman wasn’t as harmless as Micah suspected.


◊          ◊          ◊


Javan pushed the sleeves of his light weight green shirt up past his elbows, letting the warm Zandadorian sun kiss his tan arms.  He probably should have worn the one brown shirt he owned that matched a normal civilian’s clothes for this trip into the capital city, but this shirt Esara had given him in Keckrick with its sweat-resistant, cooling material was his favorite.  It also happened to be stylish and made him feel like a dashing warrior even though it desperately needed to be washed.

I cannot wait quietly here much longer, Varjiek said as a streak of scales on his tail turned golden.  The peak of my feeding time may still be hours away, but my stomach wants food now.

“Give me five more minutes.”  Javan clamped his hand over his mouth and pressed his back firmly against Varjiek’s side as if that would make him more invisible.  Every word had been magnified from his position on the stage in Stalker Square, and he hoped no one would investigate the noise in the otherwise empty amphitheater that made the one in Oer look shabby.

It had ten times as many rows of concrete seats.  The seats wrapped three quarters of the way around a square half the size of a football field paved with Stalker scales.  A wall with arched openings near the top that separated the square from Omri’s castle rose higher than the rows of seats, and four fountains with life-size statues of Dragon Stalkers as centerpieces decorated the four corners of the square.

The rainbow-colored Dawn and Dusk Stalkers in the front two corners and the golden Noon Stalker and black Midnight Stalker in the back two corners were Javan’s favorite part of the arena.  He could enjoy the magnificence of all four fountains from his place on the theatre-sized stage in the middle of the square.

He had managed to stay still and quiet since they landed on the stage at sunrise, but that stillness was mostly the result of a very long nap he had taken curled up beside his dragon.  Both of them had needed the rest, but now Javan felt anxious to meet Ravier and get on with the day.

Where was his grandfather?  Had Vince been able to get word to him?  If so, had he been able to sneak Ravier into the city?  Javan assumed the answers to those last two questions were yes and that Ravier was watching and waiting for him to put Kisa’s scale in the Collector’s column.

Ravier would have no way of knowing Javan had arrived if he continued to remain invisible.  With that in mind, he untucked the scale from his belt and stepped away from his cloaked dragon.

What are you doing?  You are fully exposed!  The stage shook, indicating Varjiek had risen to his feet.  Draw your invisibility sword.

He shook his head and exited the stage by way of the front spiral staircase.  Nerves wracked his body as he made his way to the front left column.  Being in plain view of whoever happened to pass by made him feel vulnerable, but he forgot all about his surroundings when he reached the column.

The handprints he had made in the soft, malleable surface on his first trip here remained.  Forming those handprints had officially entered him in the Battle of the Throne and brought him face to face with the Dark King at the same time.  He traced his handprints as he recalled that terrifying meeting, then brushed his hand down the vertical line of four triangle-shaped holes above his handprints.

Varjiek’s scale filled the top slot and retained its intense, golden glow despite having been placed there on his second trip to Stalker Square almost a month ago.  On this third trip, he would give Kisa’s scale a chance to shine.

He rubbed Kisa’s white scale one final time, gave it a kiss, and inserted it in the slot just below Varjiek’s.  Javan jumped back as the column hissed and sparked while the scale intensified to a blinding white.  Then with one loud pop, the scale began to display four bright, distinct streaks of red, orange, pink, and purple.

“So cool,” Javan whispered.  “Kisa would be so proud.”

“Are you going to stand there staring at your dragons’ scales all day,” said a gruff but quiet voice in his ear, “or should we get out of here before you’re arrested for violating the dress code?”

He turned to find the familiar green eyes of Ravier, but nothing else about him looked the same.  He wore the black uniform of one of Omri’s soldiers.  As if that wasn’t surprising enough, his slicked-back, shoulder length brown hair and wild, bushy beard were gone, leaving his head bald and his cheeks bare.

Although he was still tall, his wide shoulders and once thick chest had lost most of their muscle mass.  Had the man eaten anything since Javan had last seen him weeks ago?

“Grandfather?”   Javan had to work to keep his voice low to prevent it from the magnifying effects of the amphitheater.  “What has happened to you?  And where did you come from?  How did you sneak up on me like that?”

The gate opened before Ravier could respond, and nine soldiers carrying a combination of Jolt Blasts and swords entered the square.  One of them yelled at Raiver.  “Why are you in Stalker Square, soldier?  This isn’t your area to patrol.”

“It’s a good thing I passed by,” Ravier said casually, directing his gaze to the stage rather than the small army.  “I’ve just caught the Collector adding a scale to his column.  I was going to arrest him for his blatant disregard of the civilian uniform law, but I don’t think his dragon will let that happen.”

“What dragon?” the soldier asked.

“That one.”  Javan pointed to Varjiek, who immediately uncloaked himself and roared a streak of fire through the air.  “Nice, V!  Grab Ravier and take him back to the camp.  I’ll meet you there.”  He drew his Dawn sword, confusing Ravier.

“What are you doing?  You don’t need to stay and fight.  Fly away with your dragon.”

“You can go with Varjiek.  I don’t like traveling by claw.”


Varjiek swooped down, scooped Ravier up in his back claw, and flew away.  That left Javan alone with the soldiers, one of whom had his Jolt Blast aimed right at Javan’s heart.  Javan smiled and waved as the soldier pulled the trigger.  He vanished a split second before the lightning bolt reached his position.


◊          ◊          ◊


When Micah stepped off the porch, he planned to shoo the woman away.  But the graceful way she moved as she eased out of her canoe onto the dock captivated him.  With her honey-colored skin, wavy auburn hair that brushed past her shoulders, and standard brown dress that somehow perfectly fit her tall, slender figure, she looked unlike any woman he had ever come across.  What was such a vision doing wandering in the valley between the Land of Zandador and Midnight Territory?

“Are you going to stand there and stare at me all day,” the vision said in a silky sweet voice, “or do you intend to say hello?”

“Hello.”  That wasn’t the word he wanted to say.  He wanted to say something witty to impress her, but watching her saunter down the dock towards him apparently dislodged the wit center of his brain.

Her brown eyes twinkled as she stopped right in front of him.    “You’re still staring.”

“And you are intruding.”  He finally made his brain form words while the wonky feeling traveled to his knees.  He usually towered over women, but she was only a mere two inches shorter than him and smelled like roses.  “No one is allowed here without my permission.  How did you even know about this place?”

“I have my ways.  Besides, I was told you were dead.”  She shrugged.  “I didn’t think you would be using this place anymore, and it would be a shame to let all that food in your garden go to waste.”

“Ah.  You know who I am.”  This brought a smile to his face and helped him relax.  Now he could use his status to impress her.  “I could have you arrested for trespassing, but I’m willing to overlook it if you cook me lunch.”

“There’s one problem with that.”  She locked eyes with him and placed her hand on his cheek.  “I’m not really the cooking type.”

“Oh?  What type are you?”

She slid her hand down to his neck and flipped it over so that the sharp edge of a ring he hadn’t even noticed she was wearing pricked his neck.  “The kind who follows orders.”

“Orders?  What orders?”

“The king’s!”  Javan yelled the answer to Micah’s question from somewhere behind him.  When had he returned, and why would he choose this moment to make an annoyance of himself.  “Get away from her now, Micah!  She’s the Destroyer!”

The Destroyer?  Not a chance.  Javan had to be mistaken.

“How did he know that?”  She backed away on her own.  A combination of shock and anger filled her once-inviting eyes, indicating Javan was right.  “I guess we’ll have to finish this later.”  Without another word, she sprinted down the dock, leapt in her canoe, and rowed away with a speed Micah admired.

Too bad she wanted to kill him.  He kind of wanted to marry her.

“She almost slit your throat,” Javan said, spinning Micah around.  “Are you okay?  How did she know you were here?”

The jerk from Javan plus the warm trickle of blood down his neck brought Micah out of his trance.  He should have thanked Javan, but the realization that he just avoided an embarrassing death brought a defensive question out of his mouth instead.  “How could you not tell me that the Destroyer was a woman?”

“Why would you assume the Destroyer was a man?  You should have stayed out of sight and let Taliya deal with any visitors.”

“To be fair,” Taliya said, approaching them from the cabin carrying her slingshot, “it is Micah’s land, and I told him to go talk to her.  When I saw her put her hand on his neck, I had a dart ready to shoot her with.  Then you teleported yourself into my line of sight and ruined my shot.”

“Um…Taliya?  Javan can’t teleport.  He needs Kisa for that.”

A strong breeze followed by a thump interrupted the conversation.  A bald soldier appeared in the grass a few feet away, and a suddenly visible, partially golden dragon turned a somersault in the sky as if to say hello, then vanished.

“Don’t you ever tell that dragon to carry me in his claw again,” the soldier said, shaking his finger at Javan.  “I ride on his back or not at all.”

“Sorry, grandfather,” Javan said.  He shrugged and tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile.  “We needed to get out of there quickly, and that was the fastest way.”

“No.  The way you left was the fastest way.  How did you get from there to here without riding on your dragon?”

“Yeah, Javan,” Micah said, wondering the same thing.  “How did you get here without riding Varjiek?  Don’t tell me you really can teleport.”

One look at the Collector’s sly smile answered Micah’s question.


To be continued…

19: The Ghost

The following is chapter nineteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

The door creaked open, awakening Taliya out of a fitful sleep.  How much time had passed since she had talked to Javan?  Had he had enough time to get Micah, and had Micah ordered the governor to release her?  Is that why the door was opening?

Two soldiers carrying lanterns burst in, hung the lights on hooks on either side of the door, and retreated.  The tall, slender figure of Governor Emilia decked out in a purple shirt and black skirt replaced the soldiers, and she waited until the door eased shut before speaking.

“Today is a day of grand celebration.”  The light danced off Emilia’s shiny black hair that she wore slicked back into a bun, and her dark skin seemed to glow with delight.  “I’ve ordered the closure of all the factories, and every citizen will be in attendance to watch you hang from the gallows on the stage in the amphitheater.  You will be a fantastic demonstration of what happens to those who break the law.”

Taliya remained impassive on the cot.  Micah obviously had not had a chance to chat with Emilia yet, and she needed to stall to give the guys time to get to her.  “If you had been sentenced at the age of six to a lifetime of slavery, you would have been inspired to break the unjustly harsh law as well.”

“You are to be on your feet when speaking to me.”  The governor reached over, yanked Taliya’s hair, and pulled her off the bed.  “Nothing will give me greater pleasure than watching you swing from that rope, but you don’t have to die today.  We can instead make this the day we restore you to your place of slavery in my home.  All you have to do is tell me how you escaped and where you have been hiding for the last fifteen years.”

“That bothers you, doesn’t it?”  Taliya straightened her hair and teased the tyrant.  “You can’t stand not knowing how a little girl got out of your big, fortified city.”  She paused for effect and held up two fingers.  “Twice.”

“You are of no significance to me.”  Emilia’s eyes narrowed, telling Taliya she didn’t believe her own words.  “As the leader of this city, I simply need to know where the security lapses are.  If you can provide me with that information, I will allow you to live.”

“Nah.”  Taliya shrugged.  “I think you need to learn you don’t always get what you want in life.  I’ll take my methods of escape with me to the grave.”

The governor slapped Taliya’s cheek and pounded on the door.  “Guards!  Come get the prisoner and take her to the gallows immediately!”

So much for stalling.  Taliya bit her bottom lip, wishing she had kept her mouth shut.  Now she had made Emilia so mad that even a pardon from Micah may not have the power to save her.


◊          ◊          ◊


Micah could feel the tension in Varjiek’s muscles beneath his golden scales as he slowly circled the city center of Oer with Micah and Javan on his back.  Men, women, and children dressed alike in the drab brown uniforms Omri required all Zandadorian citizens to wear filled the streets around the amphitheater, leaving the dragon no space to land but an abundance of food to eat as his feeding time approached.

Eager to get off the dragon and send him away to eat, Micah leaned forward and spoke in Javan’s ear.  “Have him drop us off on the roof of the tallest building.”  He pointed to a stone building that stood two stories higher than the rest of those around the square.  Its flat roof overlooked both the amphitheater on one side and the fountain in the middle of the square on the other.  “That’s where the governor conducts her business.”

Javan nodded and relayed the instructions to Varjiek.  Without hesitation, Varjiek zoomed to the roof and darted away as soon as Micah and Javan jumped off him.  At least Micah assumed he darted away.  He had made himself invisible as they approached the city, and Micah could no longer see him once he lost contact with the dragon.

“What if we didn’t get here in time?”  Javan’s voice sounded strained as he peered over the side of the building.

“We did,” Micah said.  “People are still streaming into the stadium looking for seats, and only a rope is hanging from the gallows.  If they had killed her already, her body would be hanging there until sundown.”

“We can’t let her get to the gallows.”  Javan turned his attention from the crowd to Micah.  “You’ve met the governor before, right?  She’ll listen to you?”

“Yes.  And she should.  She’s my father’s cousin and follows his laws to the letter.  I’ve been here a few times to conduct standard inspections, and she’s always treated me with the same reverence she treats my father.  Whatever I tell her to do, she’ll do.”

“Good.”  Javan nodded, walked to the steel hatch door in the middle of the flat stone roof, and crouched to put his hand on the latch of the door.  “Ready?”

“Yes.”  Micah expected Javan to open the door.  Instead, he drew his sword.  And disappeared.  “Javan?  Where’d you go?”

Javan clamped his hand over Micah’s mouth, suddenly reappearing.  “Shh.  Not so loud.  Just hold on to my shirt and don’t let go until we find the governor.  As long as you are in contact with me, we’ll both be invisible and can go wherever we want without being noticed.”  Javan dropped his hand and once again vanished.

“Whoa.”  Micah reached out to what appeared to be thin air and touched Javan’s ear, making him visible to Micah.  “How is this possible?”

“I don’t know how.  I just know that when I put Varjiek’s scale above the hilt of this sword, I can become invisible.  Anyone I touch can also become invisible when I’m holding this sword, so stay close and don’t touch anyone else.”

“Definitely not.”  Micah kept his excitement in check as they slipped into the stuffy attic.  He recalled Vince mentioning Javan’s invisibility trick when they were in Nahat, but Micah didn’t think Javan could actually become invisible.  This ability gave the Collector incredible power, power he was currently sharing with Micah.  What kinds of things could they do as invisible men?

“Where do we go from here?”  Javan’s question brought Micah back to the present.

“Emilia’s office encompasses most of the first floor.  A stairway at the end of the hall will take us to the front entrance, and we can get to her office from there.”

Javan nodded and led them through the empty hallway and down the spiral stairwell to the front entrance.  It, too, was empty.

“That was way too easy,” Javan said.  “Where is everyone?”

“Outside.”  A glance out the windows revealed soldiers prodding the crowds toward the amphitheater.  “The governor will wait for the crowd to settle and will be the last one to arrive.  The gongs will sound right before she addresses the people and orders the execution.”

“Then you better intercept her before she can even get down there.”

“Her office is through those doors.”  Micah pointed across the lobby to a pair of cedar doors with a bust of Omri on one side and Emilia on the other.  “I can handle her on my own.”  He broke contact with Javan and crossed the lobby.

Without bothering to knock, he flung the doors open.  “Emilia, I demand that you drop all charges against this Taliya and release her into my custody straightaway.”

An empty room greeted him, and only the sound of a deafening gong reverberating in the distance answered his demands.


◊          ◊          ◊


Taliya’s breaths became faster and more shallow as a guard lifted her onto a box and slipped a scratchy rope around her neck.  Yet she refused to let herself cry.  She kept her head held high, determined to die with as much dignity as she could muster while the hem of the brown dress she’d been forced to put on tickled her knees.

Javan and Micah were nowhere to be seen.  Neither were her parents.

The last faces she would see before dying belonged to scared, heartless strangers.  That wouldn’t be entirely awful if she could at least impart some final words to them, but since her mouth was stuffed with a cloth and the cloth was tied tightly in with a gag, she couldn’t say a word.

Perhaps if she had gagged herself from childhood and learned how to obey the laws that made no sense to her, she wouldn’t be in this predicament.  Her mother would have loved a quiet, obedient child, and Taliya wouldn’t have felt the need to run away.

She also never would have truly lived.  She would have been a shell of a human being forced to follow oppressive instructions and never allowed the freedom to learn, to explore, to discover her strengths.  Although her life was being cut short at the age of twenty-three, she preferred death to the hundreds of years of lifeless living the people watching her die had to endure.

Once Taliya was in place and the guard secured her hands behind her back with a rope, the gongs sounded again, and the governor stepped onto the stage in front of Taliya.  After the echoes of the gongs faded, Emilia spoke.

“I want each of you to take a good look at this girl.”  Her words sounded more obnoxious than the gongs, but they were infused with a sense of authority that even caused Taliya to pay attention.  “She chose to break the law and go beyond the city gates.  For that she was sentenced to a life of slavery, an act of mercy on my part because she was so young.  How did she repay me for not banning her to the Land of No Return for her crime?  She escaped again!  And she found the world outside of these walls so harsh and unforgiving that she chose to return more than a decade later, knowing she would be facing the death penalty for her second crime.”

Taliya tried to rub the gag off her mouth with her shoulder.  The people needed to know that the Land of Zandador was a spectacular place that they should be allowed to explore.  She wanted to encourage them to fight for the right to come and go as they pleased, not believe the governor’s lies that the world beyond the gates should terrify them.

“Let this be a warning to all of you.  You’re safe here in the city.  Dangers you can’t even imagine lurk outside the gates.  And if you break the law, you will be punished.”  The governor turned to Taliya with a smirk that revealed her heart of stone.  “Kill her.”

The guard tightened the noose so that the course material dug into her throat.  What a terrible way to die.  Alone.  Unable to speak.  Unable to defend herself.  She closed her eyes, suddenly fearful of what would happen to her soul when she took her last breath.

Only death didn’t come.  Shrieks of shock and wails of surprise pierced her ears.  When she opened her eyes, she saw no reason for the confusion, but everyone on the stage and in the stadium looked like they had seen a ghost.

“There he is again!”

Taliya’s eyes followed the pointed finger of an old woman to what appeared to be Micah standing on the far left end of the stage.

“Amazing,” the governor said.  “Micah is so concerned about seeing justice served that he has come back from the grave to witness this girl’s death!”

The governor kicked the box out from under Taliya’s feet, sending her swinging and gasping for air.


◊          ◊          ◊


Javan froze at the sight of Taliya’s body dangling from the gallows.  Seeing the “ghost” of Micah was supposed to paralyze the Governor, not prompt her to speed up the execution.  He left Micah’s side and ran toward Taliya.

Micah crossed the stage alongside the invisible Javan, talking as he walked.  “Wrong!”  His booming voice reverberated through the air, and Javan was impressed with the acoustics of the amphitheater.  “I came to take her with me.”

Javan wasn’t sure what Micah meant by that until he saw Micah wrap his arm around Taliya’s waist.  Javan immediately touched Micah, making all three of them disappear.  Then using the sword he already held, Javan jumped up and sliced the rope that had been strangling Taliya.

She slumped forward, and Micah adjusted his hold so that he cradled her in his arms.  They dodged out of the way right before the governor swiped the air under the gallows.

“Where did she go?”  Emilia sounded spooked.  “Why would he take her before she died?  Is he going to come back for any other lawbreakers?”

That question created sheer mayhem.  People flooded the aisles of the stadium.  Those that couldn’t reach the aisles began climbing over each other up the concrete seats, and the panicked yells and screams became a deafening roar courtesy of the amazing acoustics.

“Guards,” Emilia said, “get control of these people and send them back to work.  Anyone who misses their shifts will be fined three days worth of food.”  She snapped her fingers and waved the guards toward the fleeing crowd.  She shivered as she studied the space under the gallows again, then exited the stage.

“Stay still and stay quiet,” Javan ordered Micah and Taliya.  Their best option was to hide in plain sight until the area cleared completely.  Or until he could teleport them out of there.

He closed his eyes and pictured the stones by the lake outside of the city.  But because of the noise that continued to surround them, he didn’t need to open his eyes to let him know his teleportation effort was unsuccessful.

Need a ride?  Varjiek’s question connected with Javan’s mind above the commotion.

Javan didn’t know how to answer without giving away their position.  Fortunately, he didn’t need to.  The dragon swept the stage with his front legs, gathering the trio in one claw and smashing the gallows with his other one.  Before Javan could catch his breath from the sudden jolt, Varjiek had them in the air and flying away from the city at a speed that made Javan’s teeth rattle and ears pop.


The story continues with Friend or Foe?

18: Imprisoned

The following is chapter eighteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

Taliya pounded on the door for the hundredth time.  “I demand to speak to the governor.  I have a right to be heard.”

The problem was that no one heard her, not even the guards.  She had been led to the lowest level of the prison to the smallest room at the end of the longest hall.  One door.  One cot.  One stinky bucket.  No windows.  No light.  All she had for company was complete darkness and complete silence.

How had she let herself get caught?  She should have shoved her mother, grabbed the bag, and ran away.  That stupid boy had shocked her.  She had never even considered the possibility that her parents would have another child.  For one, her mother hated children.  For another, she didn’t think her parents would be granted the right to have another child after Taliya had caused so much trouble.  The fact that her brother existed made Taliya wonder what kind of favor her mother or father owed the governor.

The further fact that she was currently sitting in a prison cell made her believe she was the favor.

Taliya beat the door again, ignoring her sore hand.  When no one came, she crossed the room in two steps and collapsed on the creaky cot.  Hopefully Javan had been able to grab the bag with the map and scales and was already on his way back to Dusk Territory.  He had been with her when she hid the book of codes under some rocks.  Surely he would be able to read the book on his own, decipher the codes, and get himself through the portal with an egg.

She threw her arm over her eyes and tried to force sleep upon her.  “Useless.”  She huffed and returned to the door.  “I’m thirsty!  Bring me something to drink.  How would it look to the governor if you found me dead of dehydration before she had a chance to hang me?”

“Maybe you wouldn’t be as thirsty if you didn’t talk as much.”

A response.  She wasn’t expecting that.  And she certainly wasn’t expecting that response to come from a familiar voice.  She put her ear against the heavy wooden door.  “Javan?”

“Yup.  Sorry it took me so long.  I’ve been wandering this maze of dark hallways for hours trying to find you.  I’d let you out, but I don’t know where the key is.”

“The head guard wears it around his neck.  You’ll never be able to get it off him.”  She sank to the floor, sadness filling her next words.  “You can’t risk getting caught.  You must leave me and get out of here.  Go find the egg.  Take it to earth.  Finish your collection.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  I’m stuck here until they walk me to the gallows.”

“Then I’ll wait until they come to get you.  I’m invisible at the moment, so it’s not like anyone can see me.  When they open the door, I’ll sneak in, grab your hand, and make you invisible, too.  We can run out of here together.”

“These halls are too narrow, and there will be too many soldiers in the way.  We’ll never be able to pull off that kind of escape.”  She sat up a little straighter.  “But if you brought Micah–”

“We don’t need Micah.  He needs to stay hidden.  We have Varjiek.  I can have him set fire to the gallows as a distraction, then grab you and run.”

“That’s one way.”  She imagined the fire missing the mark and burning the people standing around the stage instead.  She shook the image out of her head and proposed a less destructive plan.  “Micah has the power to override the governor’s decree.  He can set me free with one word, and the governor has to comply.  I would be able to live in Zandador as a free woman without worrying about the governor’s guards hunting me down.”

She had to strain to hear Javan’s answer.  “That’s not nearly as fun, but I’ll get Micah.  In the meantime, swallow your spit.”

“Swallow my spit?”

“You said you were thirsty.  Drink your spit so you don’t die of dehydration before we have a chance to rescue you.”

Taliya chuckled.  “That’s not the kind of refreshing drink I had in mind.”  Nevertheless, she leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and swallowed a mouthful of saliva.  Somehow that simple act made her not feel quite so thirsty or quite so alone in the overwhelming darkness.


◊          ◊          ◊


Specks of sand tickled his face.  Micah brushed them off, turned over, and kept snoozing.  But when a wall of sand smacked his entire body, he immediately sat up, snatched the sword laying beside him, and tried to locate the source of the commotion.  Was it an animal?  The wind?  A person?

Two large, round eyes glaring at him under the early glow of the pre-dawn sky confirmed the first option:  a dragon.  “Varjiek.”  Micah blinked the sleepiness out of his eyes and stood, looking around for Javan and Taliya.  “Javan, there are better ways to wake a man up than to have your dragon throw sand in his face.”

Varjiek moved his snout so close that Micah could feel the breath from the dragon’s nostrils on his chest.  “Javan,” Micah said slowly.  “What’s with your dragon staring at me like he wants to eat me?”

Varjiek gave a slight shake of his head back and forth while keeping his eyes locked on Micah’s.  This time Micah decided to talk to the dragon directly.  “You’re not trying to eat me?”

He shook his head again and seemed to want Micah to ask him another question.  “Where’s Javan?”

The dragon snorted and sat down, keeping his head locked in place.

“Ah,” Micah said, understanding the dragon’s frustration.  “That’s not a question you can answer.”
Varjiek nodded.

“Okay.  Only questions with a yes or no answer.”  Micah smiled, intrigued by the concept of having a conversation with a dragon that was not his slave.  “Are Javan and Taliya here?”

A shake of the head no.

“Did they make it to Oer?”

A quick nod yes.

“Did they make it out of Oer?”

A nod and a shake.

“Yes and no?  You’re confusing me.  Which is it?”

Varjiek lowered his body to the ground, touched Micah with his nose, and swiveled his neck around to touch his back.

“You want me to come with you.”

A nod.

“Are they in trouble?”

A short, quick nod.

“Then let’s go.”  Eager for action, he gathered what few things he had and hopped on Varjiek’s back.  As they zipped away, Micah wondered what kind of trouble Javan and Taliya could have possibly gotten into in the insignificant factory town of Oer.


◊          ◊          ◊


Javan’s head hurt from the teleporting back and forth between the prison and the lake.  He had been tracking the head guard looking for an opportunity to take the key from him while making sure he didn’t miss Micah’s arrival.  He didn’t need Micah charging into the city on Varjiek without knowing what was going on.

If they didn’t arrive soon, though, Javan would have to stay in the city and somehow rescue Taliya on his own.  Noon was less than two hours away, and the crowd had already started to gather in the amphitheater to watch the show.

He sat down on a large stone by the shore and held his tired, hurting head in his hands.  “God,” Javan prayed, “help me find a way to save Taliya.  She would still be safe if I hadn’t made her come back here.  Please don’t let her die because of me.”

“Why is Taliya in danger of death?”

Javan looked up to see Micah standing over him.  Javan jumped to his feet, a sense of relief filling his anxious heart.  He wasn’t going to have to face this challenge alone after all.  He murmured a quick thanks to God, then said to Micah, “I’ll explain on the way.”

Let me guess, Varjiek said, keeping himself invisible, you need a ride into the city.

“Good guess,” Javan said.

Then let’s go.  Varjiek appeared long enough for Javan to see where he was standing.  Half of his scales had already turned golden.  All this flying has made me extra hungry, and soon I will not trust myself to keep from snacking on the people in the city.

“What did Varjiek guess?” Micah asked.

“It’s not important.  What’s important is that we get to Oer before the governor executes Taliya and before Varjiek wants to eat every person he sees.”

“Executes Taliya?  What kind of mess did she get herself into in less than a day?”

“The kind of mess only the king’s son can get her out of.  Like I said, I’ll explain on the way.”  The two men hopped on the hungry dragon and flew towards Oer.


The story continues with The Ghost.

17: Retrieving Information

The following is chapter seventeen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

I cannot just drop you off and leave you.

“We’ll be fine,” Javan said.  Now that daylight was fading into night, Javan was ready to get going, but he couldn’t allow Varjiek to come with them into the city.  “We’ll be invisible when you drop us off, I can keep us invisible for as long as we need to be, and no one except Taliya’s dad will ever know we were even there.”

What if you need an emergency rescue? 

“Then I will teleport to this spot.”  Javan pointed at the stony ground by the lake Varjiek had brought them to before they reached the city.  Wild strawberries the size of baseballs decorated the rolling hills around the water, and a sprinkling of massive pine trees provided enough privacy for Javan and Taliya to talk and stretch without being seen or heard by the guards on the walls.  They didn’t provide enough coverage to hide a dragon, though, so Varjiek had kept himself invisible while they waited for the sun to set.  “Come back here after you drop us off.”

I should come with you. 

“You’re too big and you know it.  Take us into the city now and return for us at midnight.  Stay in stealth mode.”

Fine.  Varjiek rolled his eyes and crouched so Javan and Taliya could climb up.  Once they were settled into flying position, he pounced up and into the sky.  They zoomed over a drab city with rows and rows of uniform, box-like houses and large, loud factories until they crossed the river.

On this side of the river, mansions acres apart from one another dotted the land in the northeast corner of the city while official-looking government buildings constructed in a square around a glowing fountain rounded out the northwest corner in front of the gates.  A large amphitheater separated the city square from the mansions.

People dressed in the standard Zandadorian garb of brown shirts, brown pants, and brown dresses streamed out of the buildings and made their way in single-file, obedient fashion toward the lone bridge.  “My father works in the building closest to the city gates.  He hates crowds and is always the last one to leave.  We’ll follow him home and hope my mother has a late shift at the factory tonight.”

“You don’t want to see your mother?”

“No.  If she finds out I’m back, she’ll report my presence to the governor.  And if the governor catches me, she’ll have me hanged.”

“What?  Why?”

“I’ll explain later.  Right now have Varjiek land in the wide open space at the top of the amphitheater.”

“You hear that, Varjiek?”

Yes, indeed.  The dragon floated down to the cobblestone street.

Javan drew his invisibility sword and was the first to slide off.  Taliya followed, staying in touch with Varjiek until she took Javan’s hand.  “See you back here at midnight,” Javan whispered to the dragon.

I’ll be waiting, Varjiek said and flew away.

Javan was about to ask Taliya for an explanation about the hanging threat when a pair of guards walked by.  She put her finger up to her mouth to warn him not to talk and led them quietly across the city square to wait for her father to exit his building.


◊          ◊          ◊


“That’s him.”  Taliya’s breath caught the second she spotted her father Hizel walking out of the double doors of the three-story stone building.  She remembered him as a tall, muscular man with a well-trimmed black beard and wise, alert brown eyes.  The man she saw before her now had a stoop to his tall, thin frame, an uneven long beard speckled with white strands, and lifeless eyes.

He walked with no zeal, making it easy to follow him as he worked his way over the bridge and through the narrow dirt streets on the other side of the river.  Here the familiar stench of the housing district attacked Taliya’s nose.  The combination of rotten fish and decomposed garbage caused her to force back a gag reflex.

She still felt like puking once they reached the house in the middle of the row of other identical houses and couldn’t wait to get inside away from the horrible stenches of the streets.  She watched her father open the door and go in before whispering to Javan.  “Promise me you’ll stay invisible no matter what when we go inside.  This will go quicker if my father doesn’t know you’re here, and if my mom comes home in the middle of our conversation, I don’t need you getting caught, too.”


She squeezed his hand.  “Promise me.  No matter what.”

“I promise.”

“Thank you.”  She dropped his hand, eased the door open, and stepped inside, the invisible Javan right behind her.

The dim light from the fireplace in the front right corner revealed the house looked the same as Taliya remembered it.  The loft that used to be her room hung over the kitchen in the back left corner, her parents room took up the back right back corner, and bookshelves covered the walls of the common room that spanned the width of the house.

The only furniture was a round table with three chairs near the kitchen and two rocking chairs near the fireplace, one of which was currently occupied by her father.  Seeing that third chair at the table surprised Taliya.  Her parents must have kept it there as a reminder of their lost daughter.  Encouraged by the fact that they did miss her after all, she approached Hizel.

“Good evening, father.  I’m here for some information about dragon eggs,” she said, maneuvering herself between him and the fireplace.  “I need to know where the Dusk and Midnight eggs are kept and how to get them through the portal.”

He father stopped rocking and calmly opened his eyes.  That wasn’t the startled response she was expecting.  “Did the Collector collect the Dawn Stalker I sent you to Keckrick to protect?”

“You haven’t seen me in fifteen years, and the first thing you want to know is did the Collector collect his dragon?”

“You haven’t seen me either, and the only thing you want is information.  I didn’t think we were going to do the sappy how-have-you-been stuff.”

“Correct.”  Taliya pushed her emotions down and her shoved her shoulders up.  She desperately wanted to hug her father, sit in his lap, and tell him all about her adventures in Keckrick since her arrival there.  But her mother would be home soon, and she did NOT want to see her mother.  “I will answer your question if you answer mine.”


“The Dawn Stalker Kisa is now a part of Javan’s collection.  To finish his collection, we need to gather a Dusk egg and a Midnight egg, take them through the portal to hatch, and bring them back to Zandador so he can ride them.  You know where the eggs are and how to decipher the codes to activate the portal.  I’ve read the book of codes kept in the library in Tulkar but would appreciate a summary.  That’s one thick book.”

“You still are a fast talker, huh?”  Her dad smiled and stood.  “Hand me your bag.”


“You’ll see.”

Taliya lifted the strap over her shoulder and handed him the bag that held her darts and scales from Kisa.  She kept one eye on the door and one on her father.  The door remained closed while her father moved a stone from the hearth of the fireplace and pulled out a small blue bag as well as a rolled up parchment.

“This bag contains the four scales you’ll need to activate the portal to Earth.  Once you insert them, pay close attention to the flashing colors.  Whatever color flashes first is the dominant color and determines the order in which you’ll tap the scales.”  He put the small bag in her bag and held up the parchment.  “This is the map that will lead you to the Dusk eggs.  They are in an underground that serves as an incubator for the dormant eggs, and the cave is protected by several traps to ensure predators do not disturb the eggs.

“After you remove the egg from the cave, you have a maximum of forty-eight hours to get it to earth.  Otherwise the baby dragon will die before it ever has a chance to hatch in Earth’s atmosphere.”

“Where is the map for the Midnight eggs?”

“I am not the keeper of that map, but it doesn’t matter.  You won’t have time to gather more than one egg, especially with Ayzyd roaming the land in Midnight Territory.  She is the largest, fiercest, most dangerous Midnight Stalker to ever live and has been known to eat humans even when he isn’t hungry.”

Taliya shivered at thought of encountering such a dragon and was about to ask what kinds of traps they could expect when the door opened.  Her mother stepped inside, followed by a boy who looked to be about ten years old.

She stared at the boy in disbelief until the sharp, grating voice of her mother broke her concentration.  “I thought I was rid of you.”


◊          ◊          ◊


Standing behind the rocking chair within arm’s reach of everyone in the room, Javan forced himself to remain invisible despite his immediate distaste for Taliya’s mom.  She wasn’t much taller than Taliya and had the same brown skin, black hair, and strikingly beautiful face but with an evil edge to her eyes and harshness to her voice Javan wasn’t prepared for.  Taliya apparently wasn’t prepared either because she stood with her mouth gaping open staring at her mother.  Or was she looking at the boy beside her mother?

“What?  The talkative Taliya has no response?”  The woman cocked her head as she continued her speech.  “Perhaps you’ve learned some manners wherever you have been hiding, but that won’t do you much good when I return you to the governor.”

“You can’t turn her in,” Taliya’s dad said, putting the bag on the mantle and stepping between her and Taliya.  “She’s here on important business and was just leaving.  There is no need to mention this little visit to the governor.”

The woman smiled.  “As a loyal citizen of the Land of Zandador, I must obey the law.  That includes turning in wanted criminals.”

A wanted criminal?  What had Taliya done to warrant that title?

“You know as well as I do that she is not a criminal,” Taliya’s dad said.  “All she did was explore the land outside of the city.  Even as a child, she had the courage to do what none of the rest of us dared.  You can’t punish her for that.”

“The law says we can, Hizel.”  Lily grabbed Taliya’s arm and spoke to the boy.  “Samson, hold on to her other arm.  We’re going to collect our reward from the governor when we turn your sister in.”

Javan lifted his sword and was about to shout when a pale Taliya looked in his direction and shook her head.  She mouthed the words “Take the map,” and eyed the bag that her dad had put down.  Then without a fight, she let her mother and brother lead her out of the house.

Once the door closed behind them, he sheathed his sword.  His sudden appearance caused a high-pitched yelp from Taliya’s father as he tripped over the hearth.  Javan didn’t bother trying to calm the man’s sudden fears.  “What kind of a man are you?  How can you let her take Taliya away like that?”

“Where did you come from?  Who…who are you?”

“The name’s Javan, and you’re coming with me to get Taliya back before they take her to the governor.”  Javan reached for the man’s arm, but the man’s hand touched Javan’s cheek first.

“Incredible.”  He rubbed his thumb under Javan’s left eye.  “I didn’t notice those eyes the night you were born, but now I see the prophecy is true.  You are the boy whose eyes shine like emeralds who has entered the Battle of the Throne.  You are the Collector.”

Javan brushed the man’s hand away.  “Yes.  I am.  And I need your daughter to help me find a Dusk egg and get me through the portal.  Without that dragon, I can’t complete my collection.”

“Correction.  You need a Protector.  I am a Protector.  I can help you find the egg and open the portal.”

“No.  I need Taliya.  We need to go get her now.”

“It’s too late.  My wife is right.  Taliya broke the law and must pay the consequences.  She’ll be hanged by noon tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?  We can’t let that happen!  Where are they taking her?  How can we help her escape?”

“Nothing short of a pardon from the king himself can save her.”

“I’ve got two swords and a dragon that say otherwise.”

“Listen, boy.”  Hizel’s voice lowered and took on a threatening tone.  “The throne is more important than one person.  She has done her duty by keeping Kisa safe for you.  Her purpose has been served.  My purpose remains:  help you win the throne.  I got you to earth when you were a baby; I can get you to earth again.”

“Unbelievable.”  Javan shook his head in disgust.  “No wonder Taliya didn’t want to come home.”  He snatched the bag with the map and scales.  “First, I’m going to save your daughter.  Then I’m going to win the throne.  When I do, I will find some sort of fitting punishment for parents who betray their own blood.”

With that said, he gripped his Dawn sword and teleported to the rendezvous point by the lake.


The story continues with Imprisoned.

16: The Dreaded Trip

The following is chapter sixteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

Taliya woke up with the sun and decided to take a stroll down the beach while the guys continued to sleep.  She soaked in the feelings of the sand between her toes, the cold water lapping at her ankles, and the warm breeze blowing through her hair.

The orange and red hues of the rising sun played with the deep purple ocean, and the stunning beauty of this quiet haven beckoned her to stay.  Her heart and mind agreed.  They knew the next stop on the journey would be Oer, and that was the one place in the Great Rift she never ever wanted to go again.

She had been gone for fifteen years, having left at the age of seven.  Would her parents recognize her?  Did they miss her?  Had her father told her mother where she had gone?

Not that her mother would care.  She had wanted to give Taliya away long before Taliya ran away when she was six to explore the jungle of Noon Stalker Territory that loomed behind the city walls.  Taliya remembered the look of disappointment rather than excitement on her mother’s face when Taliya returned from her exploits as well as the look of relief when Taliya was sentenced to a life of slavery as her punishment for leaving the city limits.

Taliya had often wondered if her mother had suggested that punishment to the governor just so her mother could be rid of her once and for all.

Memories of that miserable year as a slave in the governor’s house made Taliya feel queasy.  She dropped to her knees in the sand to keep the food she ate last night from coming back up.  O how she dreaded having to face that place and those people again!

“Are you okay?” Micah said, sprinting up to Taliya.  Beads of sweat dotted his forehead, and his breathing was faster than usual.  Apparently he had interrupted his early morning jog to check on her.  “You don’t look so good.”

“I’m fine.  Just nervous about returning to Oer.”  She nodded in the direction of the campsite that she was too far away to see.  “Is Javan still asleep?”

“Yes.  You want to wake him up while I keep running down the beach for a bit?  We should probably get going once I return.”

“I say we let him sleep.  It’s been a crazy few weeks, and we could all use a quiet morning to recover.”

“A nice long run on the coast followed by a swim in the ocean does sound rather appealing.”  Micah slapped Taliya on the back.  “Deal.  Let’s take the morning to ourselves and head out right after Varjiek returns from his noon meal.”

“Noon?”  Taliya felt the color drain from her face.  “That soon?”

“You really don’t want to return to your hometown, do you?  What has you so scared?”

“Scared?  Me?  Nonsense.”  Taliya forced herself to her feet.  She liked to talk but did not know Micah well enough to spill her life story to him at this moment.  “You enjoy your run.  I’ll be ready to go long before Varjiek returns.”

To end the conversation, she trudged back toward the camp.  She wasn’t scared.  Apprehensive?  Sure.  Nervous?  Absolutely.  Terrified?  Most definitely.

But Taliya the Dragon Protector was not scared of anyone or anything.


◊          ◊          ◊


“No,” Javan said, shaking his head.  Sleeping late into the morning had him feeling renewed and ready to win the current argument about how best to get to Oer and who should make the trip.  “They aren’t coming.”

“Then I’m not going, either.”  Taliya plopped down and sat crossed-legged in the sand in the spot where her bed was the night before.  She had already dismantled the campsite by the time Javan woke up and before Micah returned from his run.  “We’re a team.  All of us.  Including the dragons.  Where we go, they go.”

“We’ll only be gone for a few days.  After we talk to your dad in Oer and pick up Ravier in Japheth two days from now, we’ll come right back here.  Varjiek is the only one who can fly, so he is the only one we’ll take.”

“Mertzer can run almost as fast as Varjiek can fly,” Micah said.  “He won’t slow us down.”

“He will when we get to the river,” Javan said.  “He hates water and will not want to cross.”

“Not a problem,” Micah said.  “Once we cross, send Kisa back to teleport Mertzer to the other side.”

“Kisa is the problem,” Javan said.  “She’s amazing when she can teleport, but she is much slower than Mertzer and Varjiek.  Plus she’s exhausted.  Teleporting two dragons such a long distance has zapped her energy.  She was zonked out when I checked on her, and she is in no shape to travel anywhere today.”

“I left Mertzer once,” Micah said.  “He’s my dragon.  I’m not leaving without him again.”

“You don’t have to leave without him,” Javan said.  He cleared his throat and stood tall, knowing Micah wouldn’t like what he was going to say next.  “You can stay here.”

“And miss the action?  I don’t think so.”

“I do.  You need to remain hidden.  We’re going to have enough trouble finding the dragon eggs and getting through the portal.  We certainly don’t need the Destroyer knowing you’re alive and back in Zandador.  If that happens, we’ll have her chasing us trying to kill you.”

“You want me to hide?  That seems cowardly, but I’ll stay.  And when this is over, I will find the Destroyer before she finds me.”  Micah kicked the sand and walked away.

“Now we must take Kisa,” Taliya said, standing up and whispering.  “We can’t leave her here alone with a Dragon Hunter.”

“She’ll be fine.  Micah knows she’s my dragon, and he can’t touch her.  Besides, we don’t have a choice.”  Javan took Taliya’s hand and led her slightly inland to where Kisa was curled up and snoring loudly under some trees.  “Look at her.  What do you see?”

Taliya gasped.  “She’s…filthy.”

“Exactly.  She’s so tired that she doesn’t care that her body is covered with a dusting of dirt and her tail is buried beneath some leaves.  We can’t take her anywhere, and we have to trust Micah to look out for her.”

“But that’s my job.”

“Not anymore.”  Javan tried to suck the words back into his mouth as soon as he said them, but the damage was done.  Taliya bit her bottom lip, and tears filled her suddenly sad eyes.  He needed to do some fast talking to keep her from crying.  “I mean it’s your job to look out for all dragons, not just Kisa anymore.  That includes Varjiek on this trip and whatever Dusk and Midnight Stalkers I end up collecting.  So please come with me and be Varjiek’s Protector.”

Taliya sniffled, threw her shoulders back, and uttered one word.  “Fine.”

“Then it’s settled.  You, Varjiek, and I will leave as soon as Varjiek returns from eating.”

Did I hear my name?  Varjiek swooped down through the trees and landed beside Kisa.  The Dawn Stalker kept snoring.

“Yes,” Javan said.  “We need you to fly us to Oer.  Do you know how to get there?”

I know the city.  Its walls are high.  Its factories are loud.  Its people are mean. 

“He says he knows where to go.”  Javan reported Varjiek’s relevant thoughts to Taliya.  “Time to get our stuff and leave.”

“How exciting.”  Taliya turned and walked away, looking and sounding like the least excited person in the world.


◊          ◊          ◊


Varjiek kept to the coastline as he flew Taliya and Javan north.  Once they crossed the wide river that cut Zandador in half and dumped into the ocean, he adjusted his flight to more of a north-west trajectory that sent them flying slowly over hundreds of miles of the Noon Territory jungle.  They needed to wait until nightfall to approach her father and were thus in no hurry to reach Oer, located along the northwest corner of the Noon Territory border.

Taliya clung to Javan as she studied the vibrant green plants and the sparkling blue waters of the winding rivers below them.  She wanted to jump off and play among the foliage and waterways.  What plants and animals did they have here that weren’t in the rain forests of Keckrick?

Varjiek must have read her mind because he dipped down and drifted just above the tops of the trees.  She reached over and let her fingers touch the fuzzy leaves.

“Taliya, careful!  You’re going to fall.”

“If I do,” she said, her left hand hooked to Javan’s belt, “head on to Oer without me.  I think I would like living here.”

“I’ll be sure to have Varjiek bring you back here after you’ve helped me collect the rest of my dragons.  Until then, you’re stuck with me.”  He reached back, hooked his arm around her waist, and forced her to return to her upright sitting position.

“You’re no fun.”  Taliya sulked long enough to let Javan feel like he had won the battle for her safety.  Once that small threshold passed, she stood and used Javan’s head to help her maintain her balance on the dragon’s wide neck.  “You’ve got to loosen up a bit and let yourself enjoy these moments.  We’re flying on a powerful dragon over some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen.  The view is absolutely amazing!”

“I can be plenty of fun, and I am enjoying the view just fine from my seated position.  The possibility of plummeting to the ground has a way of bringing out my boring side.”

“But standing changes your entire perspective.  You should try it.  From here I can see monkeys dancing in the trees up ahead and–”  She plopped down on her bottom, her brain refusing to form the words needed to finish the sentence.

“What?”  Javan turned his head to look at her.  “What did you see?”

“Oer.  I saw the city walls that surround the city of Oer.”

No more words were spoken as Varjiek maintained his trajectory toward the city.


The story continues with Retrieving Information.

15: Waiting for Javan

The following is chapter fifteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

I didn’t expect Micah to leave with Taliya, Mertzer said.  Good for him.  I think I’m starting to like the man who made me his slave.

Javan ignored the dragon’s observation and kept his gaze focused straight ahead.  He tried to blink away the image of Taliya leaving in a flurry of colors with Micah, but it would be forever burned on his brain.

Why did he care?  She was just a Dragon Protector who had agreed to help him collect two more dragons.  He shouldn’t be jealous of her leaving without him and being alone with Micah.  Besides, he’s the one who encouraged Micah to go with her.  Which in hindsight was foolish.  He should have gone and let Micah stay to disable the portal.

Javan, Varjiek said, floating in a lazy circle above the city square, wouldn’t now be a good time to do something with that scale in your hand?

Varjiek’s words snapped Javan out of his stupor, and he stepped toward the portal.  But it activated before he reached it.

“Oh, this isn’t good.”

And it wasn’t.  The figures of several dozen soldiers appeared as the cloud of colors faded.

Javan did the only thing he could think of in the moment.  He drew his invisibility sword and charged the portal.


◊          ◊          ◊


“Amazing!”  Taliya’s insides felt like they had been shaken, scrambled, and rearranged, but she considered that part of the thrill of portal travel.  She now found herself on the eastern coast of Zandador at the time of night when the moon had just taken over full control of the sky.

In the moonlight, she could see the dark purple hue of the ocean and hear the waterfalls behind her competing with the crashing waves in front of her.  A hundred feet or more of fine bronze sand stood between the water and the combination of trees, cliffs, and boulders that marked the edge of the shoreline.  “This place must look spectacular in the daylight.”

“I suppose.”  Micah shrugged and walked off the portal.  “We should be able to set up a decent campsite under some trees along the beach.  You work on finding a good spot and building a fire, and I’ll work on finding something to eat.”

“Sure.”  She watched Micah disappear into the woods, then spoke to Kisa.  “I know you’ll appreciate the beauty of the land.  Walk with me, help me pick out a campsite, then head back to Javan.  When you return, you’ll be able to teleport directly to the campsite.”

Kisa nodded her understanding and delicately stepped off the portal.  Her front claws sank in the soft sand, and she snorted as she reared up on her back legs and shook the sand out of her claws.

“Really, Kisa?  You’re going to let your obsession with being clean keep you from enjoying a moonlit walk on the beach?  That’s a shame.”  To show the dragon she had nothing to fear, Taliya took off her leather boots and socks and jumped into the squishy sand.  She giggled as it tickled her toes, and she began jogging down the beach.  “Come on, Kisa!”

With the ocean on her left and the forest on her right, Taliya jogged past rocks and shrubs before settling on an inviting cluster of tall, skinny palm trees.  She pointed to the cluster and called to Kisa.  “Found a spot.  You won’t have to come far, and you can leave as soon as you check it out.”

The dragon hesitated before leaving the solid ground of the portal.  Then she quickly pranced her way to Taliya as though the sand was made of lava.  She disappeared the second she laid eyes on the designated campsite.

“Bye, girl.”  For the first time in fifteen years, Taliya was too far away from Kisa to offer her protection.  That thought made Taliya feel helpless and without purpose.  “She’s not yours to protect anymore.”  The reminder didn’t take the sting out of the new reality, and Taliya wondered if she would ever get used to the idea that Kisa belonged to Javan.

“Stop your sulking, and get to work.”  Taliya obeyed herself.  She used the large leaves from the trees to make three beds on the soft sand, then went to work building a fire while Micah hunted for food.

She finished her job before Micah returned from his hunting mission and before Javan arrived from Keckrick.  Part of her enjoyed the soothing sounds of the crackling fire and crashing waves under the bright moon and starlit sky, but most of her felt out of sorts.  She was in a new place that she couldn’t yet explore.  She was hungry but had nothing to eat.  She was tired but couldn’t sleep due to a growing suspicion that something had gone terribly wrong for Javan and the dragons in Nahat.

That suspicion grew worse the more time she spent alone, and she finally decided she couldn’t take the solitary inaction any longer.  She picked up her bag and began marching toward the portal until Micah yelled at her from behind.

“Hey!  Where are you going?”

Without turning around, she declared, “I’m going back.”

“Back?  Back to where?”

“To Nahat.”  She paused and looked at Micah.  “Javan should have returned by now.  What if Omri realized what was happening and sent half his army along with his dragons to Nahat?  They could be fighting a battle while we’re sitting here staring at a fire.”  She took the two activation scales out of her bag and held them up.  “We need to go fight with them.”

“Can’t we eat dinner first?”

Taliya glared at Micah until he dropped whatever animal he had caught and was preparing to cook.  “All right,” he said.  “I’m coming.”

“Good decision.”  She waited for him to catch up to her, gave him one of the scales, and they walked to the portal together.  Fortunately, none of the slots in this portal were filled with slish, making it easy to use.  Micah put his scale in the Dusk slot while Taliya put hers in the Nahat slot.

The portal sputtered, threw off a few sparks, then shut down.  Taliya started to panic.  “It doesn’t work.  The portal doesn’t work.  That means we’re stuck here.  Without our dragons.  Without Javan.  Without any way to get back to them.  I’ve never been separated from Kisa before.  Why did I agree to this plan?”

“Whoa!  Calm down,” Micah said, putting his large hands on her small shoulders.  “The portal isn’t supposed to work if Javan did his job.”

“True, but something’s wrong.”  Taliya shook her head, ducked away from the too relaxed Micah, and picked up the scales.  “What Omri isn’t the problem?  What if the people of Nahat are mad because we cut them off from the rest of the Great Rift?  What if they attacked Javan and did something with him before Kisa teleported back to him?  We have no way of getting there to help!”

“Varjiek and Mertzer are there.  Kisa will find them.  I wouldn’t want to be standing between a Collector, two of his dragons, and a third dragon he can communicate with.  They’ll be back soon enough.”

“How can you not be concerned?”

“Because I’m too hungry and tired to think about anything except food and sleep.”  Micah started walking back to the campsite.  “If Javan and the dragons aren’t back by morning, then we’ll figure out what do.”

“You want to wait until morning?  We need to figure out something now!”

Micah ignored her and just kept walking.  Raging with frustration, she marched back to the fire.  Although the idea of eating sounded enticing, she had no intention of sleeping without knowing how she would return to Keckrick.


◊          ◊          ◊


As Micah carefully turned the pheasant he had caught over the fire, he considered what to make of their current situation.  Should he go find Mertzer, wait for Mertzer to find him, or continue north to Noon Territory to find a Noon Stalker and continue his own quest for the throne?  If Javan had been harmed and couldn’t complete his collection, the only way to stop Omri would be for Micah to hunt three more dragons.

That was a near impossible task to accomplish in a mere two months, and he would certainly need Taliya’s help.  But would a Protector be willing to help a Hunter harm three dragons for the greater good of the Land of Zandador?

He glanced over the fire at Taliya.  She had made herself a seat in the sand and was absorbed in a book.  He was about to ask her what she was reading when a cacophony of animal shrieks and rustling leaves cut through the night.

Micah jumped to his feet and drew his sword, ready to fight whatever predator was responsible for the disturbance in the woods.  However, the quick action caused him to drop the bird in the fire.  The flames engulfed the meat, ruining the meal.

“So much for dinner,” Taliya said as the shadow of two large dragon figures appeared on the sand.  The wingless one disappeared, and Javan slid off the other.

“Hey, guys,” Javan said, walking up to the fire.  “I sure am glad to see the two of you.  I didn’t think we were ever going to get out of there.”

“What happened?”  Taliya’s eyes grew wide as she looked beyond Javan.  “Where are Kisa and Mertzer?  Are they okay?”

“They’re fine.  Kisa couldn’t teleport two dragons this far at the same time, so she went back for Mertzer.  She’s going to take him to the portal area so he can easily zip into the woods and get away from the ocean.”

“That doesn’t explain what happened,” Micah said, glaring at the Collector.

“I can tell you a cool story that explains everything,” Javan said.  “See, right after you left, dozens of soldiers arrived before I could disable the portal.  They started blasting people with their Jolt Blasts, but Varjiek put an end to it.  He swooped down in invisibility mode and began knocking the soldiers out with his tail.  It was so funny watching those soldiers try to fight an invisible dragon, and I could hear Varjiek talking junk and laughing at them the whole time.  In the middle of the chaos, I managed to sneak onto the portal and stick Kisa’s scale in the Nahat slot.”

“That happened right after we left?” Micah asked.


“That was hours ago,” Taliya said.  “We’ve been worried.  What took you so long?”

“I haven’t finished my story.”  Javan paused to sniff the air.  “What’s burning?”

“A bird that took me forever to catch.”  Micah put his sword away and crossed his arms.  “This better be a good story.”

“It is.”  Javan nodded and continued.  “Once the people in Nahat saw the soldiers start to fall, they decided they wanted to fight.  They rallied together, overpowered the confused soldiers, and tied them up in the storehouse with the other captives.  I tried to leave, but they insisted on cooking me a feast first.  I ate so much that I’m stuffed!”

“How nice for you,” Micah said through clenched teeth.  He had to hold his arms a little closer to his body to keep himself from punching Javan.

“I’m glad you had time for a feast.”  Taliya picked up a stick and threw it in the fire.  “We haven’t had a chance to eat anything yet.  We were too busy finding food and wood for this fire and setting up camp so we would have a place to sleep tonight.  And now that our very late dinner is ruined, we will have nothing to eat.  So you can take your stuffed self and chill in the bed I made you while our stomachs rumble from hunger all night long.”

Javan held up a bag.  “Or you can eat the food I brought.”

“Oh.”  Taliya cleared her throat and changed her tone.  “That would be nice.  Thank you.”

Micah watched with amusement as Taliya held her chin high and took the food from Javan.  She had said everything he had wanted to say, but because she began her rant before he could, she was the one who had to endure the embarrassment of misjudging Javan.

Micah also noticed that Javan didn’t say anything more to Taliya to make her feel guilty for trying to make him feel guilty.  He simply sat by the fire and let them eat in peace.  Interesting.  And admirable.

This Collector knew how to treat people well, and that was a skill Micah desperately wanted to learn.


The story continues with The Dreaded Trip.

14: Portal Travels

The following is chapter fourteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

Javan stared at the slot at his foot.  It led to the Land of No Return, the region Omri had banned his father to before Javan was born.  What if his father was still alive?  Javan needed to go to find out if his father was still alive.

This portal could take him to find out, and the sword on his hip could help them both return.

“Javan.”  Taliya waved her hand in front of his face and snapped her fingers a few times.  “Javan, did you hear me?”

“What?”  Javan shook himself out of his self-induced trance and noticed in the dim light of the setting sun that everyone except Micah had shifted to the right side of the portal, leaving Micah as the only one standing in the city square on the left side of the portal.  Why the shift, and how had he missed all the commotion that must have accompanied the brief migration?  “What’s going on?”

“You seriously didn’t hear anything I just said?”

“No.”  Javan scratched his head.  “Nothing.  My mind was elsewhere.”

“That I believe.”  Taliya led him off the portal to where Micah stood.  “We have to get the slish out of the slot to make the portal work.”

“Yeah.  I get that.  So?”

“So we don’t have time to chip away at it with a chisel,” Micah said.  “But a drop of Kisa’s acid will eat through it in seconds.”

“Say what?”  Javan’s eyes widened.  “You want to play with a dragon’s acid?  Won’t it destroy the whole portal if we try that?”

“No.”  Taliya shook her head.  “The slish is a hardened rock that won’t be able to resist the acid, but the acid shouldn’t affect the scales surrounding the slish.”

“Shouldn’t?  Are you sure?”

“Sure enough to try.”  Taliya blew her Kisa-summoning whistle.  A moment later, the boards of the bridge rattled as Kisa and Mertzer stampeded over it, charged across the open square, and stopped side by side in front of the trio.

Finally, Kisa said.  Javan had to concentrate to hear her thoughts over the gasps and whispers of the crowd.  I am ready to get out of this dirty place.  Whom shall I teleport to Zandador first?

Relax, Varjiek said, making his appearance known as he landed beside Kisa.  Nobody is leaving yet.  The humans need something from you first.

Of course.  Kisa strutted to the center of the portal and held her head and tail high.  They want to admire my beauty.

“What is she doing?” Taliya whispered to Javan.

“She thinks you called her here to let everyone admire her beauty.”

That’s not why I’m here?  Kisa turned and lowered her head so her eyes stared into Javan’s.  People don’t want to admire me?

“Yes, they do.  And they are.”  Javan gulped as he felt the heat emanating from the flared nostrils of the dragon.  “We also called you here because we need a touch of your acid to make the portal work.”

Kisa cocked her head.  Now you want to make the portal work?  I thought you took my scales so you could break the portal?

“That’s true, but before we break it, we need to open some of the closed slots.  That way we can send our friends back to Tulkar and us to a strategic place in Zandador that you haven’t been to before.”

“Kisa,” Taliya said, leaning down and sprinkling dirt on the Tulkar slot, “think of this as your very first opportunity to show off in front of hundreds of humans.  If you put one little drop of your spit right here, I can guarantee this crowd will clap and cheer for you when your acid dissolves the slish.”

It would be nice to be recognized for both my beauty and my power.

You won’t be recognized for anything if you don’t act soon, Mertzer said.  I’m sure I can claw out whatever is closing up those slots just as well as your acid can dissolve it.

“Interesting proposal,” Javan said, looking at Kisa.  “Are you going to let Mertzer be the hero here?”

Kisa snorted.  Out of my way.

“Gladly.”  Javan backed off the portal along with Taliya.

Kisa wiggled her body, cleared her throat, and hovered her snout over the Tulkar slot.  She then let a large dollop of acidy spit drop off the pointed end of her long, pink tongue.

The acid made no sound as it spread itself over the slish, eating away at it layer by layer.  In a matter of seconds, a perfectly shaped triangle slot appeared amidst the scales of the portal.

“Oh good,” Taliya said, breathing an obvious sigh of relief.  “It only ate the slish and not the scales.”

“I thought you were sure it wouldn’t.”

“I said I was sure enough to try, which meant I was only about ten percent sure the plan would work.”  Taliya shrugged and smiled.  “Sometimes risks pay off.”

Javan shook his head at Taliya’s bravery.  He preferred to be at least ninety percent sure his plans would work before taking action.  What had he missed out on or not accomplished because he had been too uncertain of the results to even try?

My cheers, Kisa said, her nose once again stuck high in the air.  Where are my cheers?

“They’re coming,” Javan said, thankful for a reason to not dwell on the answers to the question he had just asked himself.  He walked across the portal and encouraged the crowd to cheer for his acid-spitting Dawn Stalker.


◊          ◊          ◊


While Kisa strutted through the crowd and let the people gawk at her imposing figure, Taliya took one of Kisa’s scales from Javan and handed it to Lydia.  “As soon as you return to Tulkar, put this scale in one of the open slots on the portal.  Keep that scale in the slot until Javan returns.  Don’t reopen the portal unless you are prepared to contend with Omri’s dragons.”

“Understood.”  Lydia nodded and focused on Javan.  “You realize this will cut us off from the rest of the world.  We’re depending on you to win the throne and re-establish trade between all the regions of the Great Rift.  Otherwise we will become a forgotten society with no hope for progress.”

“Then I guess I’ll just have to win.”

“Good answer.”  Lydia offered Javan a nod and hugged Taliya.  “It has been a privilege traveling with you.  We will forever be in your debt for the humminglo flowers you sacrificed to keep Keckrick safe.”

“Thank you.”  To keep herself from crying at the prospect of saying farewell, Taliya stepped back.  “You better go.  The longer we delay, the less likely we are to succeed.”

“Right.”  Lydia held up Kisa’s scale and drew her sword.  “Crew, let’s say our goodbyes and head home.  A fight with some unwelcome soldiers awaits!”

In a flurry of handshakes and hugs, the crew of the Iria bid farewell to Taliya, Javan, and Micah and wished them well in their endeavor to defeat Omri.  As the trio watched from the grass, Cyr put an activation scale in the Nahat slot, and Andre put one in the newly uncovered Tulkar slot.

After a slight delay, the portal burst to life and whisked the crew away.  Once the whirling flurry of colors dissipated, Taliya immediately began searching for the Dusk slot by starting in the center of the portal and walking directly east.  It only took her a few moments to locate the slish-filled slot, and when she did, she whistled for Kisa.

The dragon seemed to sulk her way back to the portal and did not look happy about being taken away from her walk of fame.  “Sorry to cut the party short,” Taliya said, “but we need one more drop of that acid, girl.  This time it’s our turn to travel.”


◊          ◊          ◊


Micah stood transfixed by the events he had just witnessed and taken part in.  How did Javan and Taliya get Kisa to do exactly what they wanted her to do without demanding she obey their every word?  Reasoning with dragons rather than ordering them around like slaves was still a curious concept for him to grasp.

Then came the goodbyes.  Real handshakes from genuine friends he would actually miss made his heart hurt.  This, too, was a new concept.  Never before had he parted from people he wanted to be around who wanted to be around him.  He was used to being treated harshly by his mentors or feared by everyone else.  He was used to keeping himself separate from the common people, not living as a friend among them.

As he watched his friends disappear in the cloud of colors produced by the portal, he found himself questioning the sanity of letting himself experience the human emotions involved in friendship he had been trained his whole life to ignore.  Watching the people he had come to care about leave was much too painful.

Not everyone left, though.  Javan and Taliya remained.  Were they his friends, or were they just three people working together toward a common goal?  Could a Hunter really be friends with a Collector and a Protector?

Friends or not, they were going to be stuck together for a while, so he might as well make the best of the situation.  It sure beat being alone.  “How much longer, Taliya?”  He approached her on the portal while she studied the acid eating away at the slish.  “Every minute we wait brings us one minute closer to an attack by Omri, especially after he realizes the Tulkar portal no longer works.  These people are not prepared to defend themselves.”

“It’s hard to tell now that it’s getting darker, but I think the slish is gone.  Micah, you, Kisa, and I better go.”

“Wait,” Micah said.  “Just me, you, and Kisa?  What about Mertzer?  I’m not leaving without him.”

“The portal is only big enough to send one dragon through at a time, and we only have one more set of activation scales that we took from the soldiers.  We can send Kisa back for Mertzer as soon as we get there.”

“You can send Kisa back for me and Mertzer as soon as you get there.”  Micah marched over to his dragon and climbed up.  “I’m not leaving without him.”

“But that means Taliya will be left alone in Zandador,” Javan said.

Micah hadn’t thought of that. Was it more important for Micah to wait with his dragon or travel ahead with his friend?

“I’m a big girl,” Taliya said, nudging Javan off the portal.  “I can take care of myself, and you need to take care of business here.  Are you sure you know what to do as soon as the portal resets?”

Javan held up one of the scales he had taken off Kisa that afternoon.  “Put this in an open slot and wait for Kisa to return.”

“Exactly.”  Taliya took two scales out of her bag and waved Kisa onto the portal.  “I’ll see you all in a few minutes.”

She put one scale in the Nahat slot, and as she walked under Kisa’s body to get to the Dusk slot, Micah found himself yelling, “Stop!  Wait for me.”  He slid off Mertzer and ran onto the portal.

“You don’t have to come with me,” Taliya said.  “I’ll be fine.”

“So will Mertzer.  I’m ready to get out of this life-sucking humidity and return to Zandador.”  To prevent her from arguing, he took the second scale out of Taliya’s hand and placed it in the Dusk slot.

The portal whirled and shook and blinded him with its brilliant colors.  The last thing he remembered seeing was the look of sheer excitement on Taliya’s face as the colors swallowed them up and transported them to the Land of Zandador.


The story continues with Waiting for Javan.

13: Liberate Nahat

The following is chapter thirteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

With dusk approaching, Micah’s mood darkened.  He was forced to haul humminglo plants from the storehouses to the portal while Javan and Taliya escaped the grunt work to play with dragons.

What was taking them so long?  All they needed to do was get a few scales from Kisa.  During the hours they had been gone, he had managed to capture a soldier, strategically place the crew from the Iria around the portal so they would be ready to capture the remaining soldiers, and carry countless numbers of plants to the portal through a torrential rainstorm.

He hadn’t been required to haul any flowers.  He wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to fall in line and help, but it did sound like a better option than sitting around doing nothing.  At least it had a few hours ago.

Now he smelled like a brutal combination of sweat, rain, and dirt, and he had so many pieces of dried humminglos stuck to his skin and clothes that he was certain he could recreate an entire flower from the debris.  The worst part was knowing that the longer they waited to shut down the portal, the more flowers his father would get.  Judging by the almost empty storehouse at the end of the row of empty storehouses, his father would be getting all the flowers Keckrick had to offer.

He threw one of the last bushels on his shoulder and spit out a piece of a leaf that floated onto his tongue.  It left a tart taste in his mouth as he marched along the path by the river toward the portal and finally dissipated as he neared the bridge.  That’s where Lydia fell into step beside him carrying a few flowers under her arm to look like she was working.

“We can’t wait any longer,” she whispered.  “My people are ready.  We need to act now, before the last load is sent to Japheth.”

“I agree.  Tell your people to move as soon as I drop this last load of flowers.  Then we’ll have to hope Javan gets back before Omri sends any more soldiers here to investigate.”

“Did I hear my name?”  Javan seemed to appear out of nowhere right in front of Micah.  He was holding one of his swords and had a silly grin on his face.

“It’s about time you got back.”  Micah hoped his stern response helped mask his surprise.  He also wanted Javan to know it was time to be serious, not joke around.  “Did you get the scales?”

“Yes.”  Javan nodded, put his sword away, and leaned in.  “We’re ready to commence with Operation:  Save Keckrick from the Tyranny of Omri by Disabling the Portals with Dragon Scales Plucked from Kisa.”

“You need to work on your operation-naming skills,” Lydia said.

Javan shrugged.  “It sounded better when Taliya said it.”

“I doubt it.”  Micah scowled and looked around.  “Speaking of Taliya, where is she?”

“She’ll be here soon.  She’s riding in on Kisa.”

“We can’t wait for her to get here,” Lydia said.  “Some of the soldiers will be returning to Zandador the next time the portal is activated.”

“What concern is it of yours when we return to Zandador?”  A soldier slightly taller than Micah with wide shoulders, oversized hands, and a bushy white beard interrupted their conversation from behind.  “Enough with the standing and talking.  Your only concern should be getting those flowers you are holding to the portal as fast as possible.”

Micah dropped his bushel of humminglos and glared at the soldier.  “We will stand here and talk as long as we want, soldier.”

“Not on my watch.  I have a job to do, and I’m not going to let anyone—even the king’s son—keep me from doing it.”  The man reached for his Jolt Blast, but he slumped into Micah’s arms before he had a chance to retrieve the weapon.  Surprised by the weight of the large man, Micah fought to keep his balance and stumbled backwards a few steps.  Once he stabilized himself, he lowered the unconscious man to the ground.  That’s when he noticed a dart stuck in the back of the man’s neck.

“What is happening?”  Lydia asked her question while swiveling her head in every direction rather than focusing on the fallen soldier.  Micah stood, followed her gaze, and saw what she saw:  every soldier on and around the portal was dropping to the ground as lifeless as the man at Micah’s feet.

“Taliya made it back.”  Javan pointed to the roof top where he and Micah had faced off earlier that day.

Taliya stood there now with a slingshot in her hand, took a bow, and yelled over the crowd who had yet to realize what was happening.  “Tie up the soldiers, boys.  Nahat belongs to the people of Keckrick again!”

Over the cheers of the people, Micah mumbled to himself.  “How did she do that?”  She was a tiny little woman with a tiny little weapon, and she had taken out an entire squad of soldiers in less than a minute.

“I’m glad she’s on our side,” Lydia said as she picked up the bearded soldier’s lifeless arm and dropped it on his chest.  “I want no part of whatever kind of poison these darts are tipped with.”

“She greeted me with one of those darts when we first met,” Javan said, “and I know from experience these guys are not going to be happy when they wake up.”

“Then let’s get them tied up and moved to the storehouse.”  Micah used the string that held the bushel of humminglos together to tie the soldier’s hands behind his back and tossed the man over his shoulder.  As he carried the man to the storehouse, he decided he was never going to underestimate Taliya again.


◊          ◊          ◊


The flurry of action had Taliya’s blood pumping and mind racing.  She had transitioned from super focused while shooting each soldier with her darts to crazy active while retrieving the darts, helping tie up the soldiers, and delivering the antidote.  Now she was back to a state of concentration as she stood on the portal she had only read about and studied endlessly in books.

She felt smaller than usual in the middle of the giant white portal made entirely of Dawn Stalker scales.  She also felt a sense of awe knowing this circle had the power to take her anywhere in the Great Rift she wanted to go.  The trick was figuring out where the openings were hidden while Javan, Micah, and the entire crew of the Iria stood all around the portal staring at her.

Lydia must have noticed that Taliya wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing because she crossed her arms and asked, “Are you certain this portal connects to Tulkar?  We’ve never been able to transport to anywhere except Zandador as long as I’ve been alive.”

“I’m sure,” Taliya said.  Maybe talking through her book knowledge would help her come up with a solution.  “Every portal in the Zandadorian system is interconnected.  The first king of Zandador built the portals so that anyone could go anywhere in the Great Rift whenever they wanted to travel.  Most of the population lived in Zandador, so four portals exist in Zandador, two here in Keckrick, and only one in the remaining regions because fewer people wanted to live in those places.”

“That reminds me,” Javan said, joining Taliya in the middle of the portal.  “There is a portal in Dusk Territory.”

“Yeah.”  Taliya shrugged.  “So?”

“So, we can find the connecting link to that portal as well.  After we send the crew to Tulkar, we can send you, Micah, and the dragons to portal in Dusk Territory, then I can follow after I disable the portal here.”

“That could work.”  Taliya nodded her approval.  “It’ll get us a lot closer to both my hometown of Oer and the capital city of Japheth.  The only place Kisa could get us to right now is Southwest Zandador because that’s the only place in Zandador she’s ever been.”

“It’ll be safer, too,” Micah added.  “Omri’s army is heavily patrolling Dawn Territory and the surrounding area.  He has no need to station any of his soldiers on the east coast in Dusk or Noon Territory because Javan has no reason to be in those areas of Zandador.”

“Great plan, guys,” Lydia said, “but can we get to Tulkar first?  We’re ready to go home.”

“Right.  Of course.  And to do that, we have to find the slot that will take you there.”  Taliya closed her eyes and pictured a fully-operational portal she had seen in one of her books.  She could envision ten outer links but knew that the link for Xyies at the very top of the circle was a dead link.  The other two links on the top half led to Gibbet and Tirza, two of the regions north of the Land of Zandador.

The two links to the left and right of the middle slot where she stood led to west and east Zandador.  That left five links on the bottom half of the circle.  The two on the left side connected to Upper and Lower Keckrick, the one furthest south connected to the Land of No Return, and the two on the right side connected to a town in the middle of South Zandador as well as a city in the middle of the region of Varzack.

She opened her eyes, faced the bottom half of the portal, and studied the circle.  The one visible link on the outer edge of the portal coincided with the Nahat slot in Upper Keckrick.  Somewhere between it and the bottom half of the circle was the slot for Tulkar.

“I know what to do.”  Taliya walked to the southern end of the portal, dropped to her knees, and felt the scales.  She talked as she let her fingers search.  “The portal is constructed of seven-year dawn scales that feel cool and smooth to the touch.  The way Omri blocked access to the other portals was by filling the open slots with slish, a white substance that hardens over time and resembles a dragon scale.  But it has a slight roughness to it and no sense of coolness.”

“Okay.”  Javan followed her and dropped to his hands and knees beside Taliya.  “We’re feeling for a rough patch somewhere in this vicinity?”


Less than a minute later, Javan declared, “I found it!”

“Really?  Let me feel.”  Taliya bumped Javan out of the way and put her hand where Javan’s had been.  Sure enough, the surface looked exactly like the scales around it but felt bumpy.  “That’s it.  Now all we have to do is find the Tulkar link.”

“I thought I just did.”

“Not quite.  This is the link to the Land of No Return.  I wanted to find this one first because the link to Tulkar is halfway between here and the already open slot for Nahat.”  She pulled Javan to his feet and positioned him on top of the slish-filled slot.  “You stay put to help me figure out where the halfway point is located.”

She stepped back toward the middle of the circle, approximated the midpoint between Javan and the Nahat slot, and skipped to it.  “This has to be it.”  She squatted and let her fingers dance all over the area.  Sure enough, they encountered a slightly rough patch among the otherwise smooth scales.  “Ha!  I found it!”

When Javan didn’t say anything, she looked up to see his face contorted into a strange, pensive look as he kept his eyes locked on the slot that would lead to the Land of No Return.  Why would he care about that place?  No one did.  That’s why it was called the Land of No Return.  “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.”  Javan shook his head.  “Let’s just find the slot for Tulkar and get on with the day.”

“Umm…I just said I found it.  It’s right here.”

“Oh.  Right.  Good.”  Javan had clearly jumped to a different place in his head and was in no mood to share his secrets.

To keep herself from asking questions to discover what had Javan preoccupied, she turned her attention to the newest problem—the slish.  How was she supposed to get the slish out of the slot without damaging the portal?


The story continues with Portal Travels.

12: Limitations

The following is chapter twelve of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

Javan’s legs caught a sturdy branch on his clumsy plummet to the ground.  He wrapped his legs around the scratchy bark and searched for Taliya from his upside-down position.  “Taliya?”

He felt light-headed, dizzy, and confused.  Why had he ended up in this tree?  He had intended to teleport himself to the ground in front of the treehouse where he, Micah, and Taliya were standing when the white winds whisked them away.  Instead he found himself in the tree that used to hold Taliya’s house.  His teleportation technique obviously needed some work.

“I’m here.”  Taliya appeared below him.  “I would suggest you let go so I can catch you, but we both know that wouldn’t work out so well.”

The image of Taliya attempting to catch him brought a smile to his face.  “Right you are.  Is Kisa around?”

“I’m sure she is since she just brought you here.”

“She didn’t bring me.”

“Did Varjiek fly you here?”  Taliya molded her face into a scowl and crossed her arms across her chest.  “Did you not trust me to come back to Nahat?”

“No.  I mean yes. I mean–” Javan shook his head and started over.  “I figured out how to teleport on my own and somehow ended up in your tree.”

Taliya’s eyes grew wide.  “You have the ability to teleport?  On your own?  Without the aid of a portal?  That’s unheard of.”

“Not anymore.”  He hoped she would still be impressed once she learned he needed his Stalker Sword to teleport, a sword that was no longer in his hand.  Where had it landed?  Or did it vanish on the way here?  Was it only good for one teleportation jump?

“Prove it.  Take me back to Nahat.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Javan said, scanning the ground below him for his sword, “I’m kinda stuck in a tree.”

“Good point.  You know, I do have a whistle that summons Kisa.”  Taliya tugged on a long, thin black string around her neck and held up what looked like a dragon’s tooth that was attached to the end of the string.  “I suppose I could blow it if you ask nicely.”

“Are you serious right now?”  The branch creaked, and Javan had a hunch it wasn’t going to hold him much longer.  “My life is in danger, and you’re harassing me about saying please?”

“If we’re going to be working together, I want to know I can expect you to be polite and respectful no matter the situation.”

He could tell by the amusement underlying her words that she was simply enjoying his precarious predicament.  Still, he decided it was in his best interest to play along.  “Please blow the whistle.”

“Was that so hard?”  Taliya smiled and blew the whistle.  Javan didn’t hear anything, but Kisa appeared in the clearing ten feet away from the tree seconds later.  He had to get himself one of those whistles.

“Hey, girl,” Taliya said.  “Your Collector needs some help getting to the ground without breaking his neck.”

Kisa cocked her head and studied Javan.  Why are you hanging in the tree?

“I’m not really sure.  Can you please just get me down?”

Kisa walked over and lowered her nose underneath Javan.  He walked his hands up her long snout, unhooked his legs from the branch, and plopped on the dragon’s head.  She dropped her nose to the ground and let Javan slide off.  He planted his feet beside Taliya and wobbled slightly until the blood that had rushed to his head while hanging in the tree redistributed itself throughout his body.

If it’s time to go, Kisa said, tell Varjiek to make himself visible.  I can’t teleport him back if I can’t see him.

“He’s not here,” Javan said, kicking the long grass under the tree searching for his sword.  “One of your scales enabled me to teleport myself here when I put it in my sword.”

Kisa took a step back.  A human can teleport?

“Yup.  I’ll show you as soon as I find my—aha.  There it is.”  A glint of sun reflected off the rainbow-colored steel on the other side of the tree.  He picked it up with his right hand, walked back to Taliya, and offered her his left hand.  She didn’t take it.

“I think you’re forgetting I can’t hear Kisa’s side of the conversation.  I’m not sure what you’re wanting to do.”

“I’m wanting to show you and Kisa I can teleport.  Please take my hand, and I will return you to Nahat.”

“This should be interesting.”  Taliya placed her hand on his palm and wrapped her fingers through his.  “Let’s go.”

Javan liked the way her hand fit his and squeezed back.  He smiled, closed his eyes, and pictured the bridge in Nahat.  He waited for that whirling, swirling sensation that accompanied his first teleportation trip, but that sensation never came.

“If you wanted to hold my hand,” Taliya said, breaking his concentration, “you could have just asked.”

Embarrassed, Javan opened his eyes and dropped her hand.  “I…I don’t understand.  I got myself here.  Why couldn’t I get us back?”

Your mind isn’t strong enough yet, Kisa said.  Teleportation requires intense mental focus, and it’s especially hard when you are trying to teleport someone else that has a mind of her own.  It will take time and practice to learn.

“What’s she saying?” Taliya asked.

“She’s saying she’s going to teach me the fine art of teleportation.  Since we don’t have time for any lessons right now, though, she’s going to take us back to Nahat herself.”

I said all that?

Javan glared at Kisa.

Of course I said all that.  I’m your dragon.  I’ll be happy to teach you how to teleport.  It will be fun taking you to my favorite places by the waterfall and—

“Kisa!  Nahat.  We need to get back to Nahat.”

As you wish.  Kisa lowered her neck to the ground.  Javan helped Taliya up, then let her help him climb up behind her.  A heartbeat later, Kisa had whisked them back to the clearing near the gate of the city.


The story continues with Liberate Nahat.

11: Javan’s Discovery

The following is chapter eleven of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

A loud growl jerked Javan out of his sound sleep.  He sat up and instinctively drew his swords.  That’s when he realized the rain had stopped and the growling was coming from his stomach.  “I need food.”

He put his swords away and crawled out from under Varjiek’s wing.  The sun had returned with a vengeance, having already dried the grass and plants and causing drops of sweat to form on Javan’s forehead.  He wiped the sweat away and tapped Varjiek’s wing.  “Hey, V.  Thanks for the shelter.”

Good.  You are awake.  Varjiek shook out his wing and folded it against his body.  My wing was growing stiff.

“Have Kisa and Taliya returned yet?”

Not that I am aware.

Javan checked the time:  4:11pm.  “It’s been nearly an hour.  They should be back soon.”  His stomach grumbled again, reminding him he needed to eat.  “Do you see anything around here that is edible?”

No, but I did find a patch of blackberries when I was hunting for my meal earlier today.  I can take you there.

“Can you go get them and bring them to me?  I need to make sure I’m here when Kisa returns.”

Sure.  I need to stretch my wings anyway.  Varjiek extended his wings and lifted himself in the air.  If they aren’t back by the time I return, I’ll fly you to Fralick.


Varjiek nodded his head and flew north.

Javan suddenly found himself alone in the middle of the rain forest.  No Taliya.  No Micah.  No dragons.  Just him amid the chirps and howls and hisses of the animals he couldn’t see all around him.  “This is rather unsettling.”

He drew the stalker sword hanging on his right hip with his left hand, knowing he was now invisible thanks to Varjiek’s scale in the triangular space between the handle and the steel blade that was a bright golden yellow on one side and a dark midnight black on the other side.

“Hmmm.”  Javan studied the scale.  If it made him invisible, would Kisa’s scale give him the ability to teleport?  “That would be so cool!”

Javan had tucked all four of Kisa’s scales between his belt and his back.  He took one out and switched it with Varjiek’s scale in the sword.  He wrapped his fingers around the handle, closed his eyes, and pictured Taliya’s house.  He waited a few seconds, then opened his eyes.

“Oh.” He hadn’t moved an inch.  The river was still in front of him, and the poison berry bushes were still beside him.  “That’s disappointing.”

He swapped the scales back and resheathed his sword.  As he did so, the sun bounced off the golden side of the blade, temporarily blinding him.  And giving him an idea.  “I wonder…”

Javan drew both swords and studied the blades.  The golden/black blade represented the Noon and Midnight Stalkers, and he became invisible when Varjiek’s scale was inserted between the blade and handle of the Noon Stalker side.  The blade on his other sword was a beautiful mix of colors:  red, orange, pink, and purple for the Dawn Stalker on one side and pink, purple, blue, and green for the Dusk Stalker on the flip side.

He had assumed they were called Stalker Swords because of the colors of the blades, but what if that wasn’t the full meaning?  What if they allowed him to take on the same abilities of Dragon Stalkers if he had a scale from each Stalker to insert in the triangular gap just under the blade?

“That’s why I can become invisible when holding the sword with V’s scale in it, and that’s why Kisa’s scale didn’t work with that sword.  I bet I’ll be able to teleport if I put her scale in the Dawn side of the blade of the other sword.”

He once again put the golden/black blade away and retrieved one of Kisa’s scales.  He took in a deep breath as he inserted Kisa’s scale under the swirls of the red, orange, pink, and purple blade.

He kept a tight grip on the handle with his right hand, closed his eyes, and pictured Taliya’s face.


◊          ◊          ◊


Taliya had spent the last hour searching the perimeter of the treehouse she had called home for the last eight years.  All she found was half of a book cover, a fork, and a handful of feathers from her mattress.  Everything else was gone, carried away by the white winds that had taken her, Javan, and Micah to South Keckrick weeks ago.  The only thing that the wall of white winds hadn’t blown away was the tree itself along with remnants of the floor and roof of the treehouse that dangled from the tree like extra branches.

This treehouse been a lonely home, the place she had retreated to after the volcano wiped out her village and killed her grandparents.  But it was her safe place.  Her learning space.  Her laboratory.

She had a clear purpose when she lived here.  She woke up every morning knowing she had a duty to protect Kisa; experimenting with plants to develop medicines and healing ointments turned out to be a nice bonus.

Now that Kisa was no longer hers to protect, she wasn’t sure who she was or how she fit on Javan’s team.  Until she found a new purpose of her own to pursue, she would have to be content helping Javan fulfill his duty.

“I’m going to need more darts for that.”  She dropped to her knees at the base of the tree and opened a small door that gave her access to the hollowed-out tree.  She crawled through the hole and stood inside the dimly lit space that was wide enough to let her stretch her arms and tickle the smooth bark with her fingers.

Years ago, she had carved shelves in the thick walls to hold her most important treasures:  her darts, the poison she tipped them with, the antidote for the poison, samples of her medicines, and a collection of the scales Kisa had shed over the years.  Most of the shed scales were buried in specific spots in the area around the tree, but Taliya had kept some at hand to use in her medicinal experiments.

“I think I’ll miss this place the most.”  She took a slow last look around the inside of the tree, then got to work stuffing darts in her dart pouch and filling a leather bag with a variety of her medicines as well as the poison and antidote for the darts.  Then she carefully added five scales, knowing they would prove valuable assets in Zandador.

She flung the bag over her shoulder and was about to exit when the tree shook.  The shake was followed by a grunt, and she heard someone yell, “Ouch!  Where am I?  This isn’t good.”

Taliya crawled through the door and looked up to find a man swaying by one arm from a thin branch fifteen feet above her.  “Javan?”

“Hey!  Umm…is Kisa around?  I could really use her—”  Javan didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence thanks to the sound of the snapping branch.


The story continues with Limitations.



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