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?

 

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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.