Giveaway Time!

Enter now for your chance to win!

Not sure about where you are, but here in North Carolina, the summer heat is upon us.  And I love soaking up as much sun as I can…with a good book in my hands. 

So whether you find yourself chilling in the shade, hiding in the air conditioning, or sitting in the sand on the beach, my guess is you need some good books to read.  With that in mind, I have you covered! 

From now until July 31, you can enter to win a Summer Book Bundle (that includes The Dragon Collector) with more than 50 books spanning multiple genres.  But that’s not all.  You also have a chance to win a KINDLE! 

All you have to do is click here, then find the book bundle image.  Click on that to get to the entry page.  Once you enter your information, you are in the running to win a Kindle and a ton of books! 

Now with some more fun news.  In two weeks, the revised and expanded anniversary edition of The Dragon Collector will be available on Amazon…for FREE.  It will only be free from June 18-20, so be sure to snag your revised copy on those dates. 

I’ll post a reminder as well as a preview of the revised prologue and opening chapter on June 18. 

In the meantime, enter the Summer Reading Hamper for your chance to WIN.

A New Look for the Books

Big changes are coming to The Dragon Stalker Bloodlines Saga, and they start with revamped book covers. Check out the new covers below!

The next big change has to do with The Dragon Collector as the five year anniversary of its debut approaches. Stay tuned for details!

The Dragon Protector is Finally Here!

The book three years in the making is at last available on Amazon. And to make the release date extra special, today is my foster daughter’s fifth birthday. We don’t know if she will still be living with us on her next birthday, so I wanted to do something to make this day as memorable as possible for her.

Now about the story.

This epic fantasy adventure takes you deep into the heart of the Dragon Dimension, through the portal to modern-day Earth, and back again for a grand battle over the dragons that roam the Land of Zandador.

It’s now available on Amazon, so click the cover below to order your copy.

3: First Team Meeting

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

“That’s your plan?”  Taliya’s stunned words echoed off the walls of a vacant, musty house amidst the ruins in Nahat.  A splintered, dusty table propped up on its final leg near the door was the only furniture in the small room.  Light streamed in through two windows, one on either side of the door.  A torn, moth-eaten blanket hung from the ceiling in the far corner, separating the kitchen and living space from the bedroom area.

She, Javan, and Micah had retreated to the privacy of the house on the side of the river across from the portal to hear Javan’s idea.  She had always embraced bold, daring adventures, but Javan’s plan seemed too risky even for her.  “That is ambitious, but I don’t think you realize how long it will take to–”

“That’s the problem,” Micah said, cutting her off.  “It will take time.  Lots of time.  Javan, you know you only have three months left to collect two more dragons, right?”

“That’s plenty of time,” Javan said.  “It took me less than a month to collect my first two.  I would already have three if you hadn’t gotten in my way.”

“How did you get in his way?”  Taliya had always sensed tension between the two guys and wondered about their history.

“I did what I do; I beat him in a sword fight and captured Mertzer.”  Micah shrugged his cockiness away.  “But that doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is that Javan has access to a Dusk Stalker right now, the same one I kept him from collecting before.”

“No, I don’t,” Javan said.  “Mertzer is yours.”

“He doesn’t have to be.  My offer still stands.  Kill me and take him.  Then you can focus your attention on collecting a Midnight Stalker for the remainder of the year.  It’s your best chance at winning the throne.”

“No.”  Javan crossed his arms over his chest and stuck his chin in the air.  “That’s my easiest chance.  My best chance is to do what I’ve proposed.”

“What you’ve ‘proposed’ is madness.”  Micah’s dark skin flushed with anger.  He stood more than a head above Javan and about three heads higher than her.  His solid, muscular frame and long dreadlocks added to the intimidation factor when he turned his attention to her.  “Taliya, talk some sense into the boy.  Have you ever even activated the portal before?”

“I am perfectly capable of activating the portal.”  Taliya kept her voice cool, showing she wasn’t going to let herself be intimidated by him.  What she lacked in height, she made up for with attitude.  “I am a Protector, after all.  It just so happens that I have not yet had an opportunity to use those particular skills.”

“That doesn’t mean she couldn’t do it.”  Javan put his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes.  He was shorter and leaner than Micah, but he was also younger, quicker, and more agile.  “You know you want to try.  Why else would you have taken that book from Tulkar?”

Javan always unnerved her when he stared at her with those unusual emerald eyes.  Even after traipsing all through Keckrick with him, she still had a hard time grasping the fact this grown up guy with his wavy black hair, stubble-covered cheeks, and strong arms was the baby she had helped get through the portal.  She had told him about that night, but she hadn’t told him she remembered those glowing green eyes he was so sensitive about.

“Well…”  Taliya stalled.  She did take that book so she could learn how to activate the portal.  Only it was more about fulfilling her curiosity than it was about actually putting that knowledge into practice.  Many Protectors had died trying to operate the portal.  “It is an intriguing idea, but your plan could use a little tweaking.”

“Such as?  I’m open to suggestions.”

She wasn’t sure what recommendations to make and was thus relieved when the door opened before she could respond.  A tall man with bushy black hair, wide shoulders, and tan skin charged in and slammed the door behind him, causing the final leg of the broken table to collapse.  His black uniform and long sword that draped from his hip marked him as one of King Omri’s soldiers.

She didn’t trust any soldiers.  Taliya quietly took a step back and prepared to load her slingshot with one of her sleeping darts.


◊          ◊          ◊


“Hello, Vince.”  Javan hadn’t expected Vince to burst in.  The two had only met briefly for the first time earlier that day.  This man was his great-grandfather.  The family traitor.  The reason his father was banished to the Land of No Return and his mother was imprisoned by the Dark King when she was pregnant with him.

But he was also the one who orchestrated his mother’s escape eight months ago and sent her to earth to find him.  Something had caused Vince to betray Omri and fight for Javan to win the throne; Javan just wasn’t sure what the something was that caused his change of heart.

“What happened up there on that roof?”  Vince’s deep voice filled the small room, and he focused his hazel eyes on Javan.  “One minute you look ready to chop Micah’s head off, and the next minute you’re shaking his hand and walking over the bridge together like you are best buddies.”

“We’re not best buddies, but–”

“Why are you befriending a Dragon Hunter?”  Vince carried on as if Javan hadn’t said a word.  “How am I supposed to explain that to the soldiers who witnessed it all?  Their crazy speculations are already flying through the ranks.  What do you think they are going to tell Omri?”

“They’re not going to tell Omri anything because they won’t be returning to Zandador,” Micah said.

“Whoa, Micah.”  His ominous tone made Javan nervous.  “We can’t kill them just because they saw us shake hands.”

“I’m not talking about murder,” Micah said, rolling his eyes.

“What exactly are you talking about?” Javan asked.

“I’m simply suggesting that we capture the soldiers and give them a new home here in Keckrick.  All my father wants are the humminglos.  He won’t miss a few soldiers.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Vince said.  “He’ll order them straight to his throne room and demand to know what transpired here.  When they don’t show up, he’ll send one of his Justice Units to investigate.”

“Or the Dragon Destroyer,” Javan said.

“The what?”  Micah sounded confused.

“When I was in Zandador,” Javan said, “I learned that your father hired a Dragon Destroyer to discreetly execute you after you killed me.”


The story continues with Keep Keckrick Safe.

2: The Bloodlines Unite

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

Taliya studied the gap between the tips of her fingers and the roof.  If she jumped, she was sure she could grab the raised edge and pull herself up the way Javan had.  He had made it look easy.  Then again, he was a good five inches taller than her.

The crowd had grown quiet.  What could they see that she couldn’t?  Had Javan drawn his stalker swords?  Were the two men about to duel?  She had to get up there to keep them from killing each other.  But how?

“Just go for it, Taliya.”  At her own prompting, she bent her knees as low as she could from her perch on the railing and vaulted straight up.  Her fingers latched onto the wood, but that was as far as she could get.  She dangled from the corner, unable to tug herself up or swing her legs high enough to snag the roof and use them to take some of the pressure off her arms.

“Psst.  Mertzer.  A little help?”  Her words sounded soft and strained to her own ears and failed to get Mertzer’s attention.  She began contemplating the best way to contort her body to cause the least amount of damage upon colliding with the ground when the dragon peeked his head around the building.

“Hey, buddy.”  Her muscles burned, and her sweaty fingers started to slip.  “I know Micah hasn’t given you an official order, but—”  She lost her grip and braced herself for the inevitable impact with the ground.  But the dragon’s head broke her fall, and she landed flat on her belly between Mertzer’s eyes.

“Good thing you can move quickly.”  His scales were warmer than she expected them to be.  He needed to get out of the city and back under the protective canopy of the rain forest.  He would be able to if he was free like all dragons should be.

“Thanks for catching me.”  She rubbed behind his soft ears to show her appreciation as he lifted her to the roof.  She slid down his snout and landed discreetly behind Javan just as Micah was placing his sword in Javan’s hands.

“If I kill you, my father wins,” Micah said, dropping to his knees and putting his hands behind his back.  “That is why you must kill me.”

Taliya watched in disbelief as Micah lowered his head and Javan stared at him like a confused statue.  When nothing happened, Micah looked up.

“Go ahead,” Micah said.  “Kill me.  Take Mertzer.  Win the throne.”

Javan stuttered his reply.  “I…I don’t understand.”

Neither did Taliya.  What had happened in Zandador that made Michah want to turn on his father and die?

“It’s not hard,” Micah said.  “You need a Dusk Stalker.  Mertzer is the last Dusk Stalker alive.  The only way you can collect him is if you kill me.”

“I get that,” Javan said.  “What I don’t get is why.  The deal you made with Omri involved my execution in exchange for letting the people of Keckrick live.”

“No one else was in that room.  How did you know about that?”

“That’s irrelevant.  What matters is that I know the real deal.  So why are you changing the terms?”

“Because I found out what my father is doing with the humminglo plants.”


◊          ◊          ◊


Micah noticed Taliya take a step toward them at the mention of the humminglo plants.  Taliya?  What was she doing up here?  How did she get on the roof, and how long had she been standing there?

“What Omri is doing with the plants changed your mind?”  Javan sounded baffled.  “So it had nothing to do with the Destroyer?”

“What Destroyer?”  The sudden appearance of Taliya already had Micah distracted, so he wasn’t sure he heard Javan right.  Most of the Destroyer Bloodline had died out centuries before Micah was even born.  Why would Javan be talking about a Destroyer?

“Nevermind.”  Javan shook his head, tossed Micah’s sword aside, and pulled Micah to his feet.  “What’s Omri using the humminglo flowers for?”

Micah took a deep breath to regain his focus and explained what he had learned.  “When the liquid from inside the web of the flower is consumed, it somehow cuts off a person’s ability to think for themselves.  My father plans to use this substance to control the Land of Zandador.  He won’t need an army to enforce his laws, and he won’t need dragons to inflict punishment.  He’ll gain complete and total power over everyone.”

“Mind control?”  Taliya interrupted and walked over to stand beside Javan.  “Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t be willing to die if I wasn’t sure,” Micah said.  “And I am sure my father won’t bother destroying the people of Keckrick once he gets his hands on their entire supply of super humminglos.  The flowers are more important to him than anything else.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” Javan said.  “You like having control over people.  You should be trying to harness the power of the humminglos for yourself, not be asking me to usurp your father.”

Micah cringed at Javan’s assessment of his character.  That is who he used to be; it wasn’t who he wanted to be anymore.  He was willing to sacrifice his own life to prove it.  “My father is wrong.  People matter.  You taught me that.”

Determining that Javan would prefer to use his own weapon, Micah drew the stalker sword from the scabbard hanging on Javan’s right hip, pointed the tip at his chest, and forced Javan to hold the handle by smothering Javan’s hands with his own.  “But my father thought I was dead and didn’t care.  My death should bother him.  It will if you kill me and take Mertzer.”

Micah could tell by the way Javan’s chest heaved up and down that he was considering pushing that sword in a few inches.  He needed to.  It was the only way his father could be defeated.

“Don’t do it, Javan.”  Taliya put her hand on Javan’s shoulder.  “You’re not a murderer.”

“What other choice do I have?”  Javan kept his glowing green eyes glued on Micah’s for a long moment before shifting his gaze to Taliya.  They seemed to speak a silent language Micah didn’t understand, and he knew Javan would never act without Taliya’s approval.

“Javan, stop stalling.”  Tears dripped down Micah’s cheeks.  He needed this to be over.  He needed to die.  “Put an end to my agony.  Please.”

“I will.  But not by killing you.”  Javan yanked his hands away from Micah, put his sword away, and offered his hand to Micah to shake.  “Join me.  Be part of my team.  Fight with me and Taliya to overthrow your father.”


◊          ◊          ◊


Javan’s words reminded Taliya that she had already agreed to go with him to Zandador.  She was not thrilled with the agreement.  She had spent the first seven years of her life in that place and didn’t want to return.  The only reason she had said yes was so that she could continue to protect Kisa even though the Dawn Stalker now technically belonged to Javan.

“No.”  Micah refused Javan’s suggestion.  “Mertzer can never be a part of your collection as long as I am alive.  You need him.”

“No.  I need you on my side.”  Javan smiled.  “I know of another way to collect a Dusk Stalker.”

“There is no other way.  You have to–”

“You have to shut up and trust me.”

Micah cocked his head and narrowed his eyes.  “All right,” Micah said after a long pause.  “I’ll trust you.”  He stuck out his hand, grasped Javan’s, and shook.

“Fantastic.”  Taliya put both of her hands on top of theirs and lowered her voice as she looked at Javan.  “Now that we have this team thing established, let’s go somewhere with a little more privacy to discuss how you intend to collect a Dusk Stalker that doesn’t exist.”


The story continues with First Team Meeting.

1: The Protector’s Perspective

The following is chapter one of The Dragon Protector.  It picks up at the end of The Dragon Hunter, telling some of the final scenes of that book from differing perspectives.

The lights from the freshly activated portal that connected the city of Nahat in Keckrick to the city of Japheth in Zandador faded as Taliya wove her way through the crowd searching for Javan.  He should have returned by now, and she was hoping he had snuck his way through the portal along with the soldier who had just arrived from Zandador.

She was too short to see the soldier over the heads of the sweaty folks around her, but she could hear his haughty speech to the people of Keckrick.  “King Omri is pleased with the super flowers you’ve been sending, but he wants more.  I am here to oversee these valuable shipments and make sure none get left behind.”

“Those are my flowers,” she muttered between clinched jaws.  She had planted them with her grandmother shortly after her arrival in Keckrick fifteen years earlier.  After her grandmother had died in a sudden volcanic eruption, those fields and fields of humminglo flowers had allowed Taliya to feel connected to her grandmother long after her passing.  Now those fields had been decimated because of King Omri’s greed.

The thought of her precious flowers sitting in storage shelters waiting to be dissected by his physicians made her blood boil.  She wanted to stick every one of his soldiers milling around the city of Nahat with her poison-tipped darts to keep them from taking any more of her humminglos.  She started to pull one from her hip pouch when she spotted Javan.

“Javan!”  Taliya grabbed Javan’s hand and pulled him out of the crowd to a quiet spot under the dock.  “What happened in Zandador?”

“Micah hasn’t told you yet?”

“No.  He said he would make an announcement after he brought Mertzer back.  He was looking for you, too.  He won’t tell us anything without you present.  I was worried when I didn’t see you return with Micah.”

“I got hung up but found someone willing to help me return.”

“So what happened?  Micah said Omri was willing to negotiate.  Is that true?”

“Yes, but things are more complicated than Micah realizes.  I need to talk to him before he makes that announcement.  Where’s Varjiek?”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t seen him.”

Javan cocked his head and squinted his eyes.  That’s the look he got when he was listening to his dragon’s thoughts.  She envied that ability.

“Varjiek?”  Javan ran out from under the dock and looked around.  “Where are you?”

The Noon Stalker must have made himself invisible and answered because Javan glanced up to the top of the building attached to the dock they stood beside.  Without a goodbye or word of explanation to her, he took off toward the building.

He didn’t offer her an invitation, but she followed him anyway.


◊          ◊          ◊


Although it required serious upper body strength, Javan pulled himself onto the roof from the handrail of the dock.  He lay in a heap on the hot mud roof and addressed his invisible dragon through strained breaths.  “Thanks for the help, buddy.”

You didn’t need my help traveling to Zandador.  You shouldn’t need my help to climb on a roof.

“That’s why you’re upset?  Because I went to Zandador without you?”

You are my responsibility.  I cannot keep you safe if I do not know where you are.

“I thought you were my responsibility.”

Nonsense.  I became responsible for you the moment you landed on my back.  That’s what makes our relationship work.  It does not work when you disappear without telling me where you are going.

“Ah.  Okay.”  Javan stood and brushed the dirt off his clothes.  Varjiek felt left out.  Javan could fix that.  “Sorry I took off without you.  I would have told you, but you weren’t back from eating.  I saw an opportunity to follow Micah, and I had to take it at that moment.”

Varjiek snorted.

“It’s a good thing I went.”  Javan didn’t like arguing with an invisible dragon.  He couldn’t tell if Varjiek was still upset.  Since he wasn’t responding, Javan kept talking.  “I learned some things I need to tell Micah about.  We need to go find him before he finds us.”

Too late.

“Too late?  What do you mean?”

I mean he is here.


Javan turned to find Micah yelling for him atop the bridge.  He was sitting on Mertzer, his Dusk Stalker, and demanded the hushed attention of everyone in the vicinity.  “Javan, stay right there.  I have news for you and the people of Keckrick from the King of Zandador!”

Before Javan had a chance to respond, Mertzer sped down the bridge.


◊          ◊          ◊


The speeding Mertzer stole Taliya’s attention from the edge of the roof that she couldn’t quite reach from her precarious perch atop the rail of the dock.  The sleek white Dusk Stalker moved with ease through the crowd and delivered his rider to Javan by allowing Micah to jump straight from the dragon’s back to the rooftop where Javan stood.

She had had a chance to ride Mertzer with Micah halfway across Keckrick and had gained a new appreciation for the word “fast.”  Even though the dragon didn’t have wings, it felt like he flew over the land, and she was sure his claws spent more time in the air than they did touching the ground.

She just wished she had been there to protect him from Micah’s sword back in Zandador.  Then Mertzer wouldn’t be missing half his tail, and he wouldn’t have to live as a slave to Micah the Dragon Hunter for the rest of his life.

“I have spoken with King Omri on your behalf.”  Micah’s voice interrupted her thoughts, and a hush fell over the crowd.  She found her own breathing had stopped in anticipation of his next words.  Had he been able to convince his father to spare the people of Keckrick?

She started to feel a bit lightheaded from the lack of breathing when he finally announced, “He is pleased with the super flowers!”

Taliya let herself breathe again and jumped down from the railing.  That didn’t prevent her from keeping her ears tuned to the conversation between Micah and Javan.

“Micah,” Javan said, “before you say anything else, we need to talk.”

“No,” Micah said, keeping his voice low.  “I found a way to spare Keckrick.  If that is what you truly want, you need go along with whatever I say.”

“You don’t know the whole story.  Your father–”

“My father,” Micah said, raising his voice to address the crowd, “has agreed to spare the lives of all of Keckrick!”

That brought wild yells and shrieks of relief from the people in the streets of Nahat.  She wanted to dance and celebrate with them until she heard Micah’s next sentence spoken quietly to Javan.  “He only asks for one life in return.”

The sound of a steel blade sliding out of its sheath stole the joy from Taliya’s soul.  She had grown to trust Micah, and now he was about to kill her Javan!

“No!”  Taliya screamed from the dock and climbed back onto the railing.  She hadn’t been able to protect Mertzer, but she could certainly protect the Dragon Collector.  The only problem was that she was still an arm’s length shy of the edge of the roof.

If she didn’t find a way to grow in the next ten seconds, she would never be able to scramble her way onto the roof in time.


The story continues with The Bloodlines Unite.

Taliya’s First Friend

The rush of heat from the dragon’s breath of fire passed over Taliya’s back in less than two seconds.  Nevertheless, she waited another minute before moving just to make sure the dragon was done trying to kill her.  When she felt safe, she stood from her crouched position.  She couldn’t see the dragon anymore, but she could still hear him breathing.

“That was mean!  I’m sorry I stepped on your tail and all, but you were invisible.  How was I supposed to know your tail was in my way?”  Taliya wanted to reach out and touch the dragon, but she might not be able to duck fast enough if he decided to blow fire at her again.  Instead, she put her hands on her hips and continued her one-sided conversation.

“I know you’re still here.  I also know you don’t really want to hurt me or I wouldn’t still be here.”  Taliya ducked and waited for more fire to come her way.  When nothing happened, she stood tall, crossed her arms over her chest, and spoke with a confidence she didn’t feel.  “I came a long way today to meet a dragon.  I don’t want to hunt you or collect you or destroy you.  I just want to say hi and be your friend.  So you need to let me see you.”

She kept her arms crossed and stared at where she thought the dragon’s head should be.  Five minutes passed.  Ten.  Fifteen.  Her muscles wanted her to move, but her determination made her remain stationary.  She began to wonder if she was staring at air when the biggest creature she had ever seen appeared in front of her.

“Whoa.”  She found herself situated between a long white tail and a claw bigger than her entire body.  “You’re like a mini mountain, and you’re not even standing up.”  Taliya walked around the long dragon, marveling at its strong muscles and bright white skin, skin covered not with scales but with dozens of deep red scratches.

“You’re hurt,” Taliya said, approaching the dragon’s head.

The dragon offered a slight nod, and she could see the pain in his eyes.

“You must have just shed your scales.  I read that happens to dragons every ten years.  Some animals must have attacked you after you lost your scales.”

Another nod.

“If the books I’ve read about making medicine from plants is true, I think I can help you.  Will you let me?”

The dragon lowered his head and sniffed Taliya with nostrils that were as tall as her.  She must have passed his test because he snorted, laid his head on the ground, and slid his injured front leg toward her.

“Good.”  So much for returning home by dark when the city gates would open again to let in the supplies from Japheth.  “I’ll figure out how to heal these cuts, and I’ll stay with you to protect you until your scales grow back.”

The city gates would remain closed until next Saturday, anyway.  She just hoped she could survive until then.  If the dragon didn’t decide to eat her, would she be able to find food, water, and a safe place to sleep?

Rather than cower in fear, she smiled.  Life was finally becoming the grand adventure she had always wanted it to be.

Taliya Steps on a Dragon

The trees seemed to grow bigger and taller and wider and greener as she approached the edge of Noon Stalker Territory.  The excitement of exploring the wonders the jungle held helped her forget how thirsty and hungry she was becoming.

It had taken her longer to get across the meadow than she expected, and her legs were growing itchy from walking through the long grass under the hot sun.  The boring brown dress she and all the girls in Zandador had to wear hung just past her knees, and that left the bottom of her legs exposed to the grass.  Had she been smart, she would have snagged a pair of pants from the wagon full of uniforms she had escaped Oer in.

Next time.  Next time she would be smart enough to bring water, food, and pants with her.  For now, she would deal with being thirsty, hungry, and itchy.  That was better than being stuck in her room with nothing to do but read about the place she could now touch and smell.

Before progressing into the jungle, Taliya looked to her left.  She could still see the city she had escaped from, but she was certain no one there could see her.  She was too small and too far away.  Plus, no one would be looking for her.  If her parents ever bothered to discover she was gone, they would probably be happy they didn’t have to deal with her today.

“Well, I’m happy I don’t have to deal with them.”  Taliya smiled and studied the trees in front of her.  In a few steps, she would be standing in the jungle where Noon Stalkers lived.  “Time to find me a dragon.”

With her mind now focused on dragons, she trudged forward between two giant trees that had leaves bigger than her head.  She had no trail to follow, so she carefully weaved her way between trees and ferns and shrubs and flowers.  Wanting to keep the place as pristine as possible and keep from disturbing any creatures who lived on the plants, she found herself ducking under branches and dodging leaves in an attempt to touch nothing.  Being short finally gave her an advantage in life!

Everything around her smelled fresh and alive.  Colorful birds sang lovely songs above her.  Other animals she couldn’t see chirped and whistled.

This.  This felt like home.  This felt like a place where she belonged.  Maybe she would stay here.  Maybe she would never go back to Oer.

Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she had yet to eat today.  Maybe staying here wasn’t such a great idea, at least not until she figured out how to find food and water.  And a place to sleep.  She did like having a bed and a roof over her head.

She looked up at a bright red bird with a long black feather for a tail.  “I’ll go just a little bit farther, then turn back.  Even if I didn’t get to see a dragon, at least I got to meet you.”

The bird cocked its head, let out a high-pitched wail, then flew away.

“Fine,” Taliya yelled at the departing bird.  “I didn’t want to be your friend, either.” 

More birds fluttered through the trees, and she could hear animals on the ground around her scurrying in every direction.

“What is going on?  Do I smell weird?”

Confused and a little hurt by the sudden departure of all living things, she trudged forward.  That’s when she stepped on what felt like the root of a giant tree.  Only it wasn’t a root.  Or a tree.  It was the tip of a tail of a giant dragon, a dragon that became visible to her the second she came in contact with its tail.

She screamed and ducked just in time to avoid a flash of fire from the dragon’s mouth.

A Whole New World

“Uh oh.”  Taliya’s giggles turned to worry as she realized what she had done.  She had made it outside the city gates for the first time in her young life, but she was in the back of a moving wagon filled with clothes that she couldn’t stop or reach the top of to climb out.  The plan was to explore the land around her hometown of Oer, not travel all the way to the city of Japheth in the wagon!

She sat cross-legged in the middle of the long wagon and considered her options.  Should she yell for help?  She could tell the soldier driving the wagon that she just happened to fall in as he drove by, but then she would end up right back in the city.  Her boring parents wouldn’t even try to listen to her explanation, and she would probably have to endure some sort of unpleasant punishment.

What if she started throwing all the uniform pants that surrounded her out of the wagon?  That would get the driver to stop for sure.  Too bad she would still be stuck inside the wagon for the guy to find her and take her back home.  She was not going home until she had a chance to do some exploring.

The wagon hit a big bump and sent her flying face first into a pair of pants.  As she sat back up and brushed the lint off her tongue, she got an idea.  She just needed to act quickly, before the wagon picked up too much speed.

From her knees, Taliya began pushing the clothes toward the back of the wagon.  She stacked pair after pair of pants on top of each other until the pile nearly reached the top.  “That should do it.”  She nodded at her pile and began climbing. 

She made it halfway to the top when the wagon hit a rough patch of road and jostled her backwards.  Once the road smoothed out, she began her ascent again.  At the top, she could barely make out the city of Oer.  If she didn’t get out soon, she may not make it back to Oer by dark. 

Then the wagon began traveling faster.  Jumping out at this speed was going to hurt.  Did she want a few bruises, or did she want to get caught by the soldiers in Japheth? 

Bruises.  Definitely bruises. 

Taliya bit her bottom lip, closed her eyes, and jumped, curling herself into a tiny ball before smacking into the ground on her right side.

She grunted on contact and rolled several feet along the dirt road.  She waited a minute before attempting to move.  The sounds of the wagons faded away, and a breeze blew dust in her face.  She coughed, opened her eyes, and tested her limbs by extending them one by one.

Right leg.  Stinging, but okay.

Left leg.  All good.

Right arm.  Scraped up, but working.

Left arm.  Just fine.

“I did it.”  Taliya rose to her feet and gazed at her surroundings.  Nothing but beautiful green meadows stretched out on either side of the road in front of her, and the same meadows led to the speck of the city of Oer behind her.  “I really did it.  I’m free!”

She ran into the waist-high grass and laughed as she twirled with her arms wide open and her face toward the sky.  She twirled until she got too dizzy to keep twirling, then plopped onto the softest grass she had ever touched.

When her head stopped spinning enough for her to focus, she cocked her head, squinted her eyes, and studied the landscape to the right of Oer.  “There it is.” 

Her jaw dropped at the sight of the vibrant green plants and spectacularly tall trees in the distance that marked the edge of Noon Stalker Territory. 

She picked herself up and brushed herself off.  She had some exploring to do.  It might take her all day, but she wasn’t going home until she met a dragon.

Taliya Escapes

 Pine needles from the branch above her poked her back.  Taliya didn’t mind.  The open wagon full of uniforms from the factory where her mother worked would be driving by any time.  Once she jumped in, the pine needles wouldn’t bother her any more.

 In all her six years, Taliya had never been beyond the row of pine trees that divided the living quarters of the city from the government headquarters.  She could see the lake and trees and flowers as well as the beautiful buildings and cobblestone street that surrounded the lake from her perch in the tree, but no commoner like herself was allowed past the pine tree line.

 She didn’t think that was fair.  Why did she have to stay stuck in the part of the city that had no grass or trees or flowers, where row after row of identically built square houses separated by narrow dirt roads made her feel trapped and invisible?  She wanted to go beyond the tree line.  Beyond the cobblestone streets.  Beyond the city gates.

For the past two years, she had spent her days and nights reading about the world beyond the gates.  Glorious things awaited her in this Land of Zandador, and she was done reading about them.  She wanted to explore the world for herself.  She knew she was still too little to survive on her own, though, so she would just escape for the day. 

The western gates always opened at dawn on Saturday to send the uniforms produced in the factories that week to the capital of Japheth, and they always opened again at dusk to let in the shipment of food from Japheth.  She figured she could leave with the clothes and return with the food.  Her parents would never even miss her.

A whining mule captured her attention.  To her right, five wagons each pulled by two mules and driven by one soldier headed her way. 

She held her breath as they approached on the dirt road that led under her branch.  One by one, they plodded by.  The drivers stared ahead of them, so no one noticed when she let go of her branch and dropped into the last wagon in line. 

A giggle escaped from her lips as she buried herself under the clothes.  A tiny little girl had outsmarted a bunch of mean, stern grownups.  Now she was about to experience the best day of her life.

Too bad she would never be able to tell anyone about it.

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