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.