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.