Dragon Stalker Bloodlines

Explore the Land of Zandador and All Things Dragon Stalkers

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.

 

 

To be continued…

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.

“Thanks.”

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.

 

 

10: Home Again

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

“That scale right there.”  Taliya stood under Kisa’s wide chest next to Javan and pointed to a scale just above Kisa’s right front leg.  “That’s the one we should take first.  I can reach it if you let me get on your shoulders.”

“Why would we do that when we can take a scale from the bottom half of her leg without anybody having to get on anybody else’s shoulders?”

Taliya rolled her eyes.  Javan clearly did not understand how much appearance mattered to Dawn Stalkers.  “If you want to keep Kisa happy, you have to take the scales from places she won’t be able to notice.  If you do anything to mar her reflection—like taking scales from her legs—she won’t be able to function, and you’ll have a sullen, useless dragon in your collection.”

Javan leaned over and whispered in Taliya’s ear.  “Haven’t you ever explained to her that beauty comes from within? This obsession with her looks isn’t healthy.”

Taliya whispered back.  “My job has been to protect her, not teach her human lessons of morality.  But if you think now is a good time to tell her how wrong she is to be so vain, go for it.”

They locked eyes for a moment, then Javan shook his head.  “Fine.  We’ll do this your way.”  He walked over to the dragon’s front right leg and lowered himself into a squat.  “Get on.”

“Smart man.”  Taliya dashed to Javan and draped her legs over his shoulders.  He slowly wobbled to a standing position, and she reached up to take the scale she had pointed out.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t quite reach it.  “Hold still.”

While holding on to Javan’s hair, Taliya rearranged her feet, putting one at a time onto Javan’s shoulders.

Javan swayed beneath her.  “What are you doing?”

“Getting the scale I want.”  Taliya let go of his hair and walked her hands up the side of the dragon’s leg as she stood.  “Standing is the only way I can reach high enough.”

Taliya felt Javan’s wrists on her ankles as she extended her entire body to reach the designated scale.  When she finally wrapped her hands around the cool, smooth scale, she began to change her mind.  How could she pull it knowing it would cause Kisa pain?

“I’m not sure I can do this.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to hurt Kisa.”

“She’ll be okay.”  Javan’s voice sounded strained.  “It’s for the good of Keckrick.  Now yank it before I lose my balance and drop you!”

Taliya closed her eyes, turned her head away, and slowly began to inch the scale away from Kisa’s body.

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Kisa stomped her front leg.  Has she gotten my scale off yet?  I need this torture to be over!

“What is taking so long?”  Javan listened to Kisa as he kept his eyes locked on the third claw of the dragon’s front foot to maintain his balance.  His knees felt ready to buckle under Taliya’s weight.  He needed to speed the process along for his sake as well as for Kisa’s.  “You should have been able to remove a dozen scales by now.”

“I’m not going to apologize for being gentle.”

“You’re being too gentle.  Just rip it off.  Kisa will be fine.”

“You’re being too brutal.  I’m sure Kisa appreciates my approach.”

“Actually, she’s quite ready for you to be done.”

“She is?”

“Yes.  She said she wants the torture to be over.”

“Why didn’t you say so sooner?”   Kisa’s leg flinched a second later, then Taliya said, “Quick.  Walk me to the back leg.”

Javan was about to tell her to get down and walk on her own two feet, but he felt her weight shift forward.  To prevent a fall, he had to move with her.  He barely had time to stabilize beside Kisa’s back right leg when he saw the dragon’s leg jerk and heard Taliya announce, “Next!”

Once again, she swung her momentum forward, this time toward Kisa’s back left leg.  “Whoa!”  Javan tightened his grip on Taliya’s ankles and sped up to prevent her from toppling forward.  “Not so fast.”

“You’re the one who told me to speed up.”

“I meant be faster about ripping the scales off, not scurrying from leg to leg.”

“That’s not what I heard.” Taliya paused, dug her toes into Javan’s shoulders, and grunted.  “Got it.”

“Fantastic.”  Javan sighed and began to bend his knees so Taliya could get off.

“What are you doing?  Stand up and take me to the other front leg.  We still have one more scale to get.”

“Why?”  Javan straightened his legs and stared at a piece of grass to help him restabilize.  “We only need three scales:  two for the portals and one for the column in Stalker Square.”

“And one to make everything even.”

“Seriously?”

Kisa snorted.  I can’t walk around knowing an odd number of scales was removed from my body.  I’d never be able to face the world again.  Make her take the last one. 

“I bet Kisa will tell you she wants the extra one removed.”

“She just did.”  Javan carried Taliya to the final front leg, grimaced as her right foot dug into his neck, and watched for Kisa’s involuntary jerk reaction that signaled the scale had been removed.  Once he saw her leg shiver, he said to Taliya, “Sit back down on my shoulders, and I’ll lower you to the ground.”

“No need.”  Taliya leapt off Javan’s shoulders, spun around in the air, and landed facing Javan.  “Look at these beautiful scales.”  She untucked them from her waistband one by one and stacked them in the palm of Javan’s hand.

The bottom scale seemed to vibrate in his hand while he could see his reflection in the smooth surface of the whiter than snow top scale.  “Stunning, Kisa.  Your scales are stunning.”

Yes, I know.  I work hard to keep them that way. 

“We should probably go,” Taliya said.  “The storm will be starting soon.”

“All right.  I’ll wait for you here.  But you need to be back in an hour whether the storm is over or not.”

“Deal.”  Taliya nodded, checked her pocket time piece, and put her hand on Kisa’s leg.

We’ll be back, Kisa said.  Before Javan could say another word, both Kisa and Taliya vanished just as the downpour began.

Javan sprinted toward the trees to find cover when Varjiek swooped down, blocked Javan’s path, and spread out his wing.  I’m not scared of a little rain.  Hide here, young Collector.

“Thanks.”  Javan jumped on top of Varjiek’s back left foot and wiped his wet hair away from his face.  Varjiek let his extended wing rest on the ground, providing a cozy shelter for Javan.  He rested his head against the dragon’s body, closed his eyes, and listened to the soothing pitter patter of the rain drumming on the wing above him.

With nothing to do except worry that Kisa and Taliya would never return, Javan allowed sleep to chase his worries away.

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Taliya’s body tingled from head to toe.  She wasn’t sure if that was due to the teleportation or to exchanging the humid, stuffy air by the river for the cool, clear air of Kisa’s cave.  Whatever the reason, the tingling dissipated after a few deep breaths.

Kisa didn’t appear to be bothered by the sudden change in location.  Her focus seemed to be on her reflection in the shimmering rock walls of the cave.

“See,” Taliya said, walking to the nearest wall and pointing at Kisa’s image, “you look as amazing as always.  Even you can’t tell any of your scales are missing.”

Kisa studied her reflection from all possible angles before looking at Taliya and nodding her agreement.

“Now that you see you are just fine, can you take me to my home?  I want to see what’s left of it and salvage what I can.”

Kisa nodded and reached out her leg.  As soon as Taliya touched it, her body tingled again as it teleported across the forest to the tree that once held her home.

 

The story continues with Javan’s Discovery.

9: How to Negotiate with a Dawn Stalker

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

The gentle breeze had upgraded itself to a moderate rustle, bringing with it the distinct smell of rain that was bound to pour from the darkening sky at any time.  The prospect of getting wet didn’t bother Javan.  What bothered him was the fact that one of his dragons had disappeared while the other snoozed alongside Taliya.

How could Varjiek and Taliya rest when there was so much to do and so much on the line?  He had spent the last half hour wearing a path in the grass while attempting to contrive a contingency plan for every aspect of his main plan that could go wrong.  What if they couldn’t find a Dusk egg?  What if they did find the egg but Taliya couldn’t open the portal?  What if the egg didn’t hatch once they got it to earth?

He didn’t yet have solutions to those potential problems, but he did think he could convince Kisa to give him some of her scales to set the action in motion…if she ever returned.

“I have a solution for that problem, too,” Javan mumbled as he marched over to Varjiek.  The dragon’s head rested peacefully on the ground, and Javan stood on his tip toes to yell up into the dragon’s ear.  “Wake up, Varjiek.  Time to fly.”

The startled dragon jerked his wings up and stood, sending Taliya rolling under his tail.  Fly?  Who said something about flying?  Doesn’t matter.  I’m ready.  Let’s go.  Where are we going?  It’s not the desert, is it?  I can’t fly over the desert.

Javan ignored Varjiek and rushed over to Taliya.  “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”  Taliya cocked her head from side to side as she took Javan’s hand to help her crawl out from under the dragon’s tail.  “That was a brutal way to wake up.”

“Sorry.  I guess I should have known better than to disturb a sleeping dragon when a person was sleeping right beside him.”

“I’m glad I could help you learn that lesson.”  Taliya flashed him a smile and looked around.  “Did Kisa come back?”

“No.  I decided we’re going to go find her.”

We won’t have to go far.   

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Taliya noticed Kisa before Javan did.  The dragon was standing just upriver from them on the other side of the berry bushes staring at herself in the water.  Sadness filled the dragon’s eyes, and Taliya knew it was because Kisa couldn’t stand the thought of losing any of her scales.  How could Taliya protect the dragon’s pride and get her to willingly surrender the scales they needed for the portal?

“I see her.”  Javan’s irritated tone cut through Taliya’s thoughts.  “She better stay put until we can get to her.”  He started to stomp his way through the bushes, but Taliya grabbed his wrist before he got more than two steps in.

“Javan, wait.”  If he approached Kisa with that attitude, he was sure to spook her into teleporting again.  “You’re the one who needs to stay put.  Just give me a minute.  Let me talk to her alone first.”

He sighed, nodded, and backtracked out of the bushes.  “If that’s what it will take to get her to give up her scales, go for it.”

“Thank you.”  Taliya gave his wrist a gentle squeeze and wove her way under and around the branches, leaves, and juicy violet berries of the bushes.  When she emerged from the patch of bushes five minutes and two spider kills later, she found herself freshly in awe of the white dragon in front of her.  Kisa wasn’t as massive as Varjiek, but she still made Taliya feel like she was an ant approaching an elephant.

Despite her insignificant size in relation to the dragon, Taliya knew she could convince Kisa to do whatever she wanted.  The trick was to stroke the dragon’s ego first.  “Hey, girl.  Looking good.”

Kisa swiveled her neck and focused her gaze on Taliya.

“You know, your scales do more than just look fantastic on you.  They’re also quite powerful.”  Kisa’s ears perked up, and she moved her head slightly closer to Taliya.  “They are the only things that can properly disable the portal and keep all of Keckrick safe from King Omri’s dragons.  That will make you a great heroine.”

The dragon stood a little taller, and the pride in her eyes began to overtake the sadness.  Confident that she had Kisa’s attention, Taliya kept schmoozing.

“Think about it.  A few days ago, no one knew you existed.  Now you can forevermore be known as The Dragon Who Saved Keckrick.  The best part is that no one will be able to see your missing scales.”

Kisa looked away at the mention of missing scales.  Taliya had to talk fast to keep the dragon interested.  “Giving up a few scales is a tiny price to pray for the glory you’ll receive.  Plus, we’ll make it as easy on you as possible by taking one scale from the underside of each of your legs.  You’ll still be a magnificent creature, and you may even gain the ability to run faster without the weight of those scales holding you back.  In return, Javan will let you return to your cave for a bit so you can hide from the storm that will soon be blowing through here.”

“I will?”

The sound of Javan’s voice above her startled Taliya.  She looked up to see him jump out of the sky and land beside her.  “Javan!” she said, punching his forearm.  “You can’t be hovering around on your invisible dragon and dropping in to private conversations like that.  It’s rude!”

Instead of apologizing, he rubbed his arm and smiled.  “I gave you the minute you requested.”

“Just for surprising me,” Taliya said, trying to think of some way to shock Javan the way he startled her, “you have to let me teleport back with Kisa.”

His smile vanished.  “What?  Why?”

That seemed to hit a nerve.  Good.  Maybe he wouldn’t pull anymore appearing acts on her after this.  “You’ve asked me to leave my home and everything I know to go with you.  And I’m in.  I’d be a lot happier about it if I had a little bit of time to gather a few things to take with me that weren’t destroyed when the white winds blew my house apart.”

“Guess that makes sense.”  Javan turned to Kisa.  “You promise you’ll come back?”  He must have gotten an acceptable answer because he then turned to her.  “You promise you’ll both come back?”

“My home no longer exists, and my dragon is with you.  I have no reason to stay in Keckrick anymore.”

“Then it’s settled.  Kisa lets us take her scales, and you both get to take a short trip back to Fralick.”

“Excellent.”  Having gotten what she wanted from both Javan and Kisa, she linked her arm with Javan’s.  Kisa may have agreed to give up her scales, but Taliya still wasn’t about to get too near the acid-breathing dragon without the Collector as close to her as possible.  “Let’s get those precious scales.”

 

The story continues with Home Again.

8: Micah’s Choice

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

By the time Micah reached his unconscious friends, the soldier had already tied Cyr’s hands behind his back and was in the process of tying Lydia’s hands.  Micah wasn’t sure whether he should praise the guy for his efficiency or berate him for shooting his friends.

He cleared his throat and opted for a little of both.  “Nice work, soldier.  What’s your name?”

The man glanced up, resumed his tying, then jumped to his feet a second later holding his Jolt Blast.  “You’re Micah.”

“Yes.  I am aware of that.  I want to know who you are.”

“Ramsey.  I’m, umm, Ramsey.”

“Why did you shoot these people, Ramsey?”

“They tried to cross the bridge.  People aren’t allowed to cross the bridge.  Unless it’s you.  You can do whatever you want.”

“Of course I can.”  Micah found his characteristic cockiness comforting yet obnoxious.  No wonder he never had any friends until he boarded the Iria and learned how to be part of a team.  Although it irritated him to listen to himself, he remained in the cocky mode Ramsey expected.  “I can also get you to do whatever I want.”

“Yes, sir.  What can I do for you, sir?”

“Drop your Jolt Blast, untie this man, and bring him to me.”

“Right away, sir.”  The weapon clanged against the wooded bridge, and Ramsey quickly cut through the ropes on Cyr’s wrists.  “Where am I taking him?  Back to the portal to take to the castle’s dungeon?”

“No.  We’re not going back to Zandador just yet.”  Micah picked up the Jolt Blast with one hand, slung Lydia over his shoulder with the other, and used the weapon that looked like a handheld crossbow to point to the house he had just come from.  “Bring him to the second house on the left.  I’ll wait for you there.”

While the man struggled to lift Cyr, Micah marched to the house, gently placed Lydia on the dusty cot, and waited for the soldier.  As soon as Ramsey dragged Cyr inside, he turned to Micah for further instructions.  “What now?”

“Now?”  Indecision paralyzed Micah.  He could jolt Ramsey and escape, or he could jolt Ramsey and stay to explain Javan’s plan to Cyr and Lydia once they recovered from the electric shock of the blast.  Either way, Ramsey needed to be zapped.  “Now I shoot you.”

Micah pulled the steel bow string back, clicked it into place, and engaged the trigger.  A spark of electricity flashed through the shaft made of Midnight Stalker scales, and the string that scraped along the top helped create a lightning bolt that shot straight into Ramsey’s right shoulder.  He jerked and twitched his way to the floor.

Lydia began to stir.  If Micah was going to go rogue, this was his only chance.  He had to leave before she woke up.  Why weren’t his feet listening to his head?

“What did that man shoot me with?”  Lydia sat up, shaking her head and rubbing her arms.  “My blood feels like it’s on fire beneath my skin.”

“It’s called a Jolt Blast,” Micah said.  “It stings for a bit, but you’ll be completely recovered in an hour or so.”

“Fantastic.”  Lydia stood, wobbled, and regained her balance by leaning against the wall.  “Where are Javan and Taliya?”

Micah looked at the door, then back at the short-haired warrior struggling to stand.  In that instant, he made his decision.  “You might want to sit down for this.”  He stepped over Ramsey and helped Lydia resume her seat on the cot.  “They’re working on a plan to keep Keckrick safe, and we’re going to need your help to execute it.”

 

The story continues with How to Negotiate with a Dawn Stalker.

7: Snags in the Plan

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

“Do you see her?”  Javan leaned to the left while holding onto Varjiek’s neck as they coasted over the walls of Nahat.  Exchanging the sight of battered houses and broken buildings for the colorful trees, plants, and flowers of the rain forest allowed him to relax and drink in the energizing air.  The trick now was finding Kisa somewhere amidst the foliage.

“Not yet,” Taliya said from behind him.  “Where did you instruct her to go?”

“I told her to find a good hiding spot outside the city gates and wait for me to come get her.”

“Have Varjiek fly over the river.  She’s bound to be near the water.”

“Good point.”  That dragon did like to look at her reflection and keep her scales ridiculously clean.  Her constant fixation with bathing had driven him nuts as he rode her across the western half of Keckrick on the way to Nahat.

I found her.  That was all the warning Varjiek offered before taking a sharp dive, skimming the water of the river, and landing in a wide clearing edged by a clump of berry bushes to the right.  He noticed Kisa laying in the tall grass licking her tail ahead of them, but the sight of the fist-size, violet berries stole his attention and made Javan’s stomach rumble.  The rumbling reminded him that he hadn’t eaten a thing since dinner the previous night.  He had been too nervous to eat breakfast and too busy to find food at lunchtime.

“These look delicious.”  Javan slid down Varjiek’s leg and tugged a berry loose from the nearest plant.  The sweet grape-like aroma caused his mouth to water while the soft outer shell felt squishy in his hand.  He licked his lips in anticipation of taking that first delightful bite.

Taliya knocked the berry out of his hand before he could sink his teeth into it.  “Hey.  What did you do that for?”  He wasn’t sure if he was surprised by the fact that she snuck up on him or angry at her for ruining his snack.

“It’s going to be hard for you to collect any more dragons if you’re dead.”

Javan swallowed at the implication.  “You mean that berry is poisionous?”

“Yup.  You would have been dead before you finished chewing.”

“Oh.”  He looked down at the splattered berry on the ground and no longer felt hungry.  “Thanks for the assist.”

“No problem.  Now good luck getting Kisa to give up her scales.  I doubt I’ll be able to help much with that.”  Taliya patted Javan on the back, crossed her arms, and leaned against Varjiek’s side.

You want me to what?  Kisa jerked her head up and stared at Javan with her round, trusting dark eyes.

“Hey, Kisa.”  Javan figured the dragon might respond best if he started her off with a compliment.  He slowly walked toward her and said, “Your scales are looking immaculately white and stunningly clean today.”

Varjiek glared at Javan.  You’ve never said anything that nice about my scales.

Of course he hasn’t, you Noon Stalker.  Yours are grey and always look dirty.  Mine are as white as white can be and sparkle in the sun.  They won’t be this clean for long, though.  She hung her proud head.  A storm is coming.  The wind and rain will cover my scales with dirt and debris.

“We can get out of here before the storm comes,” Javan said.  “I just need one small favor first.”

Sure!  Anything to stay clean.

“Well, in order to disable the portals and keep the people of Keckrick safe, we kinda need your help.  You don’t have to do anything, and it probably won’t hurt too much.  It’s just a little–”

“Goodness man, just be blunt.”  Taliya threw her hands in the air.  “Javan needs to rip three scales off of you.”

Rip? My? Scales? Off?  Not today.  Not ever!  Kisa doused the bushes behind her with an enraged stream of acid.  The leaves and berries immediately withered as Kisa vanished.

“Umm…where did she go?”

“She teleports when she gets mad.  Guess we have to wait for her to calm down and return.”

Dawn Stalkers, Varjiek said with a sigh as he nestled into the grass and closed his eyes.  They are unnecessarily dramatic.

“I think Varjiek has the right idea.”  Taliya snuggled against Varjiek’s body in the shade created by his hind leg.  “This is a fabulous time for a nap.”

“A nap?  Now is not the time for a nap.  We need to go find Kisa!”

Taliya didn’t respond.  Neither did Varjiek.  In the silence, Javan’s head began to throb.  How was he supposed to follow through with any of his plans if he had a high-maintenance, uncooperative, teleporting dragon in his collection?

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Micah watched Varjiek fly away with Javan and Taliya, then sat down on the stone steps of the porch to think.  His head had been spinning since he had learned how his father intended to use the humminglos to control the people of Zandador, and that spinning only got worse once he learned his own father wanted him dead.

Ironically, he had been ready to die, but his death would have been on his terms and for a worthy cause.  Now with every breath he took, he grew more and more determined to live.

How would he live, though?  Did he really want to follow orders and fight alongside the Collector?  Wouldn’t he be better off fighting by himself to bring his father down?  He could still be on Javan’s side; he just didn’t have to be by the Collector’s side.

If Micah worked on his own, he could move with speed and precision.  He wouldn’t have to bother debating plans and could act on his decisions immediately, decisions like destroying the portal.

Mertzer was wandering among the ruins near the house.  One sharp whistle would bring the dragon to him, and one command would force the dragon to surrender one of his scales.  Micah still had enough sway with the soldiers to walk by them without arousing suspicion.  He could have Mertzer’s scale in one of the portal slots before anyone realized what he had done.

“My way is best,” Micah said, mumbling to himself.  “Forget the team.  I’m going to take care of the portal, then ride back to Zandador on Mertzer.  I’m not waiting for any Destroyer to find me.  I’ll find him first.”

Micah stuck his pinkies in the corners of his mouth and prepared to whistle for his dragon, but activity on the bridge caught his eye.  Lydia, a Chief from Lower Keckrick, and Cyr, the Captain of the Iria, were halfway down the bridge walking towards him.  Lydia pointed at him while Cyr waved.

Micah lifted his hand to wave back just as a soldier shot both of them from behind with a Jolt Blast.

 

The story continues with Micah’s Choice.

6: Finalizing Details

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

Taliya watched the color drain from Javan’s face.  He looked like he wanted to be alone to mourn the implied loss of his mother and grandmother, but she had too many questions she needed answered.  Micah, however, spoke up before she did.

“You have an invisibility trick?  How is that possible?”

“That’s irrelevant right now.”  Taliya knew Javan could make himself invisible by inserting a scale from his Noon Stalker into the triangle-shaped slot between the blade and handle of his stalker sword, but Micah wasn’t aware of that ability.  This was not the time to share such stories.  “What’s relevant is discussing this Ravier person.  Why do we need him?  The smaller our team, the faster we can move.  We’ll be fine with just the three of us.”

“Being fast won’t do us much good against the army of soldiers guarding the portal to earth,” Javan said, the color returning to his cheeks.  “That’s why we need Ravier.  He knows how to get people safely through the portal and back.”

“Oh.”  Taliya couldn’t argue with Javan’s logic.  “I guess that would be helpful considering getting through the portal is an important part of our plan.”

“Getting to him will be a problem, though,” Micah said.  “We have to get to Japheth, and there is a dangerous desert between us and the city.”

“The desert isn’t a problem,” Taliya said.  “We can skip right over it.”

“No, we can’t,” Javan said, shaking his head.  “We’ll be disabling the portal.”

“Are you forgetting about Kisa?  She’s this Dawn Stalker you went to a lot of trouble to collect.  She’s been to the Land of Zandador before.  Do I need to remind you what power Dawn Stalkers possess?”

“Right!”  Javan slapped his forehead.  “They can teleport to places they have been before.”

“Yup.  Before we disable the portal, we send her to the eastern portal near Dusk Stalker Territory and wait for her to return.  While we wait, we make sure the portal is disabled.  Once she comes back, she can teleport us all there when we’re ready to go.”

“Sounds like a solid plan,” Javan said, walking to the door.  “Micah, you stay here and work with Lydia, Cyr, and the Iria crew on the best way to capture the soldiers; just don’t make any moves till we get back.  Taliya, you come with me.  Kisa may be more willing to give up some of her scales if you can explain to her why we need them.”

“Excellent.”  Taliya clapped her hands to break up the meeting.  “Chit-chat time is over.  Let’s get to the action!”

Taliya skipped through the door ahead of Javan, excited about the adventure that awaited her.  She wasn’t elated about returning to the Land of Zandador and facing her father after fifteen years, but she did like the idea of hunting for dragon eggs and visiting earth.

She had read much about that strange dimension beyond the portal and was eager to explore that unfamiliar territory.

 

The story continues with Snags in the Plan.

5: Javan’s Grand Plan

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

“Right.  The plan.”  Javan rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants.  The sweat made him feel nervous, and he needed to sound confident.

“It’s simple,” Javan said.  “We find a Dusk Stalker egg, take it through the portal to earth, wait for it to hatch, then bring it back to Zandador.  While it’s growing big enough for me to ride, we head to Midnight Territory to collect the Midnight Stalker.  Done and done.”

“That is not simple!”  Vince’s shriek made Javan flinch.  “To begin with, Midnight Stalkers are the toughest dragons to collect and live in the most difficult territory to get to and navigate.  You can’t stroll up there, snap your fingers, and ride the first dragon that appears.”

“Point taken,” Javan said, his mind churning.  He needed a counterargument.  Quickly.  “So we take a Midnight egg with us as well.  Baby dragons are a lot easier to collect than full grown dragons who are centuries old.  At least I think so.  I’ve never actually seen a baby dragon.”

“I have,” Taliya said.  “They are adorable.  Until they get big enough to eat you, which doesn’t take long.  They grow fast.”

“You’re overlooking the second problem,” Vince said.  “Dragon eggs are not easy to find.  Protectors are very good at protecting their locations.  Trying to locate the Dusk egg will be challenging enough.  If you do happen to find it, do you think you’ll be able to keep it safe while traipsing through the rough terrain in Midnight Territory?”

“I guess that could be problematic.”  Javan surrendered to Vince’s logic but held his ground when it came to his original plan.  “We’ll just focus on the Dusk egg for now.”

“Except you’re forgetting the third thing:  getting through the portal is impossible.  It’s constantly guarded by dozens of soldiers, plus you have to have a Protector to activate it for you.”

“That’s me,” Taliya said, raising her hand.  Strands of her long, dark hair had escaped from its braid and brushed the skin of her dark brown face.  Her bright blue eyes sparkled with pride when she introduced herself.  “I’m Taliya, Dragon Protector.”

“A Protector?”  Vince cocked his head.  “That does make a difference.  I assume then that you know where to find dragon eggs and have experience activating the portal.”

“Those assumptions may not be entirely accurate,” Taliya said, tucking some of those stray strands of hair behind her ear.  “However, I do know where to find someone who knows where to find Dusk Stalker eggs, and I have the Protector’s book to teach me about activating the portal.”

“Wonderful.  You know someone who knows something, and you have a book.”  Vince rolled his eyes, reminding Javan of his grandfather Ravier.  No big surprise.  Vince was Ravier’s father, and the two men evidently shared the same no-nonsense, no-fun attitude.  “Javan, your plan is foolish.”

“Thank you for agreeing with me,” Micah said.  “Now we can get back to my plan.”

“No, we can’t.”  Javan wasn’t about to let these guys dictate how he would go about collecting the rest of his dragons.  “We’re going to find a Dusk Stalker egg.  We’re going to take it through the portal.  We’re going to bring it back to Zandador after it hatches, and that is that.  Since that is what we are going to do, our mission is to work together to figure out how to make it all happen.  Understood?”

Micah sighed.  “Fine.”

Taliya smiled.  “Count me in.”

“Vince?”

Vince nodded, put his sword away, and slapped Javan on the back.  “Decisiveness.  I like it.  I don’t like your plan, but I like your confidence.  I won’t be able to help much in order to maintain my cover, but I can put you in touch with Ravier.”

“You can?”  Javan’s eyes widened.  “You know where he is?  Is he safe?  What about my grandmother Hannah?  And my mother Esmeralda?”  He hadn’t had any contact with them since he left Gri weeks ago.  If they were able to reconnect with his mother, she could teach Taliya how to operate the portal.

“Return to Japheth in three days to put your Dawn Stalker’s scale on the column in Stalker Square.  I’ll make sure Ravier is there to meet you.”

“You didn’t answer my questions.”  Javan had a sick feeling in his stomach.  Ravier and Esmeralda had gone searching for Hannah after Gri was destroyed.  Vince’s elusiveness made Javan think their search had not ended well.  “Is my family safe?”

“Just be in Stalker Square in three days.”  With that, Vince spun around and marched to the door.  Before he left, he turned and said, “Be ready to implement that invisibility trick you showed me in the castle.  It will be hard for Omri to kill you if he can’t see you.”

The door closed behind him, filling the room with a heavy silence.

 

The story continues with Finalizing Details.

4: Keep Keckrick Safe

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

“What?”  Javan’s words punched Micah in the gut and made the room spin.  Of course Omri would make sure Micah had succeeded in killing Javan.  Then he would make sure Micah was as dead as everyone thought he was.  That also meant that everyone who had seen Micah alive during his brief trip home would also soon be dead. The part that didn’t make sense was that a Destroyer existed and that Omri was working with someone from another Bloodline.

“New plan,” Micah said, his anger rising.  He needed his father to know he no longer controlled him or the people of Keckrick.  He also wanted to ensure Keckrick remained safe once Omri got all the flowers they provided.  “We strand the soldiers here by blowing up the portal here in Nahat and the one in Tulkar so that Keckrick is no longer connected to Zandador.”

“That’s ludicrous,” Vince said.  “Why would we do that?  That would be an act of war, and the people of Keckrick can’t defend themselves against Omri’s dragons.”

“He can’t send his dragons if the portals are no longer operational, and he won’t risk sending his dragons on land through the desert to attack Keckrick.  It’s too dangerous.  He may send his army because he won’t care how many of them die on the trip, but Keckrick can fight off people a lot easier than they can fight dragons.”

“You do make some valid points, but I’ve known you too long to trust anything you say.”  Vince drew his sword and stuck the tip of it right under Micah’s chin.  “How do we know you’re not pretending to be Javan’s friend so you can betray him when the time is convenient for you?”

“I could ask you the same question.”  Micah fought the urge to defend himself by reaching up to grab the sword that rested in a sheath across his back.  Instead, he took a deep breath and calmly carried on the conversation.  “You’ve always demonstrated complete loyalty to my father as his top scalologist, and some of the uses you devised for dragon scales surpassed even my father’s cruel imagination.  I’m inclined to believe you’re going to report everything you witnessed here today to Omri.”

“He wouldn’t do that,” Javan said, stepping between them and forcing Vince to lower his sword.  “He’s my great-grandfather, and he’s committed to seeing a Collector win the throne.”

Micah studied Vince, then Javan.  The two did have an uncanny resemblance to one another.  “You’re telling me my father has had a spy from the Collector Bloodline working for him for centuries and never knew it?”

“He was aware of my heritage,” Vince said.  “That’s why he kept me close, only I wasn’t a spy.  I was truly devoted to him and wanted to use my talents as a scalologist to serve in his army.  Until about eight months ago, anyway.”

Now Micah was curious.  “What changed eight months ago?”

Vince shook him off.  “That would take too long to explain, and my soldiers will get suspicious if I don’t return soon.  You’re the one I’m concerned about.  I have never known you to be on any side except your own.”

“This time he’s on mine,” Javan said.  “I trust him as much as I trust you, and I think we need to listen to him about the portals.”

“Wrong,” Taliya said, stepping out of the shadows.  “Destroying the portals isn’t necessary.  All we need to do is handicap them, make it impossible for any other portal to link to them unless and until we want to use them.”

“Handicap them?”  Micah let his skepticism at such a wimpy idea drown his every word.  “That is absurd.  Destroying them is the best, safest option.”

“It’s not very strategic,” Taliya said, fighting back.  “What if Javan does win the throne and gains control of Zandador?  If we destroy the portals, Keckrick will be cut off from Zandador and the rest of the Great Rift forever.  It’s too final.  I won’t allow it.”

“You won’t ‘allow’ it?”  Why did this girl think she had any kind of power?

“I won’t either,” Vince said.  “The feisty little lady is right.  We can easily handicap the portal with an electrified scale taken off a Dawn Stalker older than seven.  It will send a charge through the portal that makes the portal inoperable as long as the scale is in the slot.  The hard part is taking the scale off the dragon.”

“I’ve taken a scale from Varjiek before,” Javan said.  “I know he’ll comply.”

“No!”  Taliya and Vince shouted in unison, then Taliya explained.  “The Zandadorian portals only work when you put seven-year Dawn scales in the slots.  If you put any scale other than a Dawn scale in one of the slots, it shuts the portal down for good.  That’s the reason we no longer have access to Xyies, the northernmost region of the Great Rift.”

Micah took a mental note of this new information.  Perhaps he could get a scale from Mertzer and shut down the portal with a Dusk scale before Javan could return with a scale from Kisa.

“Okay, then,” Javan said.  “I’ll get scales from Kisa, and we’ll use them to make the Keckrick portals unusable.  Vince, we need you on the inside, though, so you’ll need to return to Zandador alone while the portal still works.”

“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me how you plan to go about collecting your final two dragons,” Vince said.  “The fate of Zandador is in your hands, and I need to know that you know what you are doing as a Collector to ensure you win the Battle of the Throne.”

Micah forgot about his plot to break the portal permanently and waited for the show.  He wasn’t sure how Vince would react to Javan’s crazy plan, but he was sure it would be entertaining.

 

The story continues with Javan’s Grand Plan.

The Story Behind the Stories

Once upon 2012, I was getting NOWHERE as a novelist.  So I decided to scrap the novel-writing quest for a while and focus on writing short stories.  I figured it would give me a chance to establish a writing routine, improve my storytelling ability and build my confidence as a writer.

I thus set up a blog, convinced about a dozen people to read the stories I posted and began writing.  And that’s when my buddy Kyle started harassing me.  “You should write a story about dragons,” he would say.

I would roll my eyes and dismiss the idea.  Why would I want to write a story about creatures that didn’t exist?  Made no sense.

I carried on writing my sensible stories.  He carried on pestering me about dragons.  Then another friend began telling me I should write a story about cops.

I finally realized the only way to get these guys to stop nagging me was to do what they asked; then I could get back to writing about what I wanted to write about.

In February 2012, I wrote a short story entitled, “Cops, Robbers…and Dragons?”

The main character was Darcy, a bestselling author in search of an idea for her second book.  To find an idea, she went on a ride-along with a police officer.

In the process of the story, Darcy and the officers come across some Dragon Stalkers who hail from the Land of Zandador and are hiding out on earth.  At the end of the story, Darcy decides she’s going to write about these Dragon Stalkers, and I decided I would use her name as my pen name if I ever wrote a book about dragons.  That’s where the “D” in my pen name D.K. Drake comes from.

It turns out I had a lot of fun writing the story, and my friends had fun reading it.  One friend even read it to her daughter’s sixth grade class, and they loved it.

I realized I had a good idea for a novel on my hands, so I decided to develop my fantasy world a little more in depth.  I just had two rules:  God had to be the Creator of my world, and no magic—no witches, wizards, spells, that kind of thing.

I also needed to sketch out a map of my world, but I’m a terrible artist.  Fortunately a friend of mine is a great artist, so she offered to come over and draw for me.  She came over in August of 2012 with a piece of poster board and pencil and drew what I described.  She also asked questions along the way and helped me clarify a lot of things.

Then as I wrote, she designed the cover of my book.  My jaw dropped when I saw it.  That was my dragon!  The dragon I saw in my mind was now in living color on the page!  Incredible.  I wanted to let Kim know how much I appreciated her help, so the “K” in D.K. stands for Kimberly.

As for Drake, it’s easy to say and spell, picks up the D and K sounds, and rhymes with the nickname my Dad gave me as a kid:  Flake, a nickname that reminds me to let my imagination soar the way it did when I was a kid.

The underlying reason I chose to write as D.K. Drake is to keep me humble.  Rather than get caught up in the fun of seeing my name in print, I want to stay focused on using the gifts God has given me to bring glory to Him.  If I can do that, then I’m successful, no matter how many books I sell.

It took me a year of off and on writing to complete the manuscript, then it took me another ten months to work up the courage to publish it.

I finally got fed up with myself for being too scared to take a risk and publish the story.  I realized I could sit and wonder for the rest of my life if I was any good at this writing thing, or I could take a leap of faith and try.  If I was leaping in the wrong direction, I knew I could count on God to catch and correct me.  But He wouldn’t be able to correct my course if I kept standing still, paralyzed by my fears and doubts.  So on June 17, 2014, I leapt.

I published The Dragon Collector on Kindle.

Then strange things started happening.  People I didn’t know started finding it and buying it.  It was supposed to live in oblivion until I started promoting it, but Amazon started promoting it for me.  As a result, I have now reached thousands of people with this story.

I also started getting requests for an old-fashioned, hold-in-your-hands, flip-through-the-pages version of the book, so I did some research and decided to go with Amazon’s printing service to publish my book.

It took several months and many proof copies to get the formatting right, but I was finally able to offer the paperback version for sale in November 2014.

Writing book two presented its own challenges, but I was pleased with the final version of The Dragon Hunter that was published in March 2016.

Now I’m working on book three, The Dragon Protector.  I’ll be releasing it chapter by chapter on this blog until it’s published in May 2018.

I am thankful for each and every person who has bought these books.  I am thankful for my friends and family who believed in me even on days I didn’t.  And I’m especially thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to write as well as the opportunity to publish my own stories.

I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but because of God, my family and friends, I sure am enjoying the journey.

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