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Master Malace

Dragon Warrior: Warrior's Way

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Prologue I - 20 years ago.

 

Jon stood in a world of silence. All thought of the carnage around him dispelled in a state of perfect focus. He had not witnessed the battle, but it was coming together in his mind's eye. He noted the noonday sun, but pushed aside the peculiarity of monsters attacking even in the dim light of dawn. Many more monsters lay dead than humans, which meant that the attack was planned. Monsters don't usually travel in large groups. That there were more dead monsters than humans also meant that the humans were skilled fighters. They were also well armored. A military contingency of some kind. Again, Jon pushed aside the peculiarity. There were no wars being waged that he knew of. Judging by the charred vegetation, as well as many charred bodies on both sides, magic was weilded here. Jon frowned, some of it came from the sky. He took account of the various kinds of monsters dead. Some could fly, but none of those weilded any kind of magic.

 

As Jon picked his way through the rot, stinking blood and guts squishing underfoot, his eye caught on something odd glinting in the sunlight. Ash and smoke drifted through the air, but sunlight enough shone through to light various pieces of armor and weaponry, but this was out of place. It was smaller. He bent to pick it up, then noticed it had been attached to a chain, though that was now broken and incomplete, small bits barely visible scattered amid the blood and mud. It was an emblem of some kind, an eye, with an oval, cat-like, obsidian pupil. Though it was crafted in silver, the iris was pure gold. He wiped the grime from it, and placed it in his herb pouch. It would be an inquiry to persue at a later time.

 

He began to inspect the scene of the battle once more, but stopped short. A spine-shattering scream broke from the trees to the east. In a blink his world became silence again. Perfect focus drove him into a run, blood was to be drawn once more this day.

 

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Prologue II - 10 years ago.

 

Returning to himself, Vanin took a quick survey of the surrounding woods. He knew he was approximately three miles away from his target, that is what he intended before turning for the journey. His intention never failed him, as it sometimes did with others. That was one reason he was made the Eye, commander of the Dragon's Body. For this journey, he only brought his closest, most trusted men, the Dragon's Fang. Those six were all that would be necessary. He had no patience with humans, though this one particularly nettled him. It did so because he had cause to thank it, something he never wanted to give to a human.

 

Gesturing in the direction of the small cluster of buildings that lay beyond their sight, through the dense forest, Vanin spoke softly, "You know what we came here for. Just remember that there's no need for violence. We have no fight with these people. You're here for the impression, nothing more. Locate the boy if he is not at his home. When you find him, persuade him to return home, do not force him. Our objective is not a kidnapping. It is his cooperation we seek. Now move out."

 

Vanin took a direct route to the buildings, while his men spread out to cover the surrounding area in case the boy was in the woods in the vicinity. After about thirty minutes at a strong jog, they had covered the distance and the small cluster of buildings came to view. Vanin slowed his pace and stepped out of the woods at a stroll. A man who had been cutting wood immediately saw him and drew a knife from his belt. Vanin showed his hands to demonstrate his placidity and studied the man as he approached. He looked to be a few years older than he was himself, with bits of grey creeping onto the edges of his short-cropped hair. He was muscular, and tall for a human. What convinced Vanin most though, that this was a dangerous man, was his eyes. Those deep piercing brown eyes didn't waver in the slightest. Though they never left his own eyes, Vanin knew the man had already taken a quick survey of him, marking down mentally everything of note.

 

It occurred to him that perhaps the man's eyes never left his own because they were so different than any the man had likely ever seen.

 

Neither smiled, though Vanin wanted to let his amusement show a bit, as they came to stop before each other. Though they were close enough to shake hands, they didn't. They merely stood facing one another, guaging each other. They understood each other, they were men who knew how to kill, and knew it when they saw another like themselves.

 

After a time Vanin finally broke the silence. The man's necklace, an eye of silver and gold, embedded with obsidian, took his attention and he needed to know. "That is a fine necklace. Where did you get it?"

 

"If found it, a long time ago." Came the steady reply. "What of it? You don't have the bearing of a thief."

 

Vanin took a moment to respond, then let out a sigh of resignation. "No. I suppose I don't. Though, taking that necklace would not be theft. You see, it belonged to my wife, a long time ago." The man's face paled slightly. "It seems I have some thanks to offer you. I know that the boy you've raised is not your own. He is my wife's, and therefore mine. You may keep the necklace, as a show of my gratitude. Besides being a keepsake of my long dead wife, it has other value to me as well, so know that allowing you to keep it is indeed a show of my gratitude. But the boy must return home with me now." Vanin watched as resolve set in on the man's face. "For many years I had believed my son lost and dead like my wife, Lisana. That he is not, I have you to thank. However, he must now return home with me."

 

At last the man turned his eyes away. His brow was wrinkled and his cheek muscled flexed. He ground his teeth and clenched his fists as he sought a way out. When he spoke, it was with a firm, unmoving edge. "He is my son. Though not by blood, I have raised him that he was. You know what it means to lose a son, so you must know what it will mean to take him from me. I am sorry for your loss, but he stays with me."

 

Just then one of the Fang came through the trees with a boy trailing. Vanin had to lock his knees to keep them from buckling. In the boy's face he saw so many features of Lisana that a flood of memories and emotions threatened to drop him like a rock. Before he could school his voice he breathed in a heaving gasp, "Orvin." A high-pitched whistle broke the air. It was too high-pitched for the man to hear, but the rest of the Dragon's Fang would hear it and return, knowing that the boy had already been found. Orvin flinched and glanced at the man walking in front of him with a quizzical look.

 

As Aluin, the Fang who had found the boy, a short, but deadly quick man, with dark brown hair and a pleasant demeanor strengthened by his warm yellow eyes, approached with Orvin, Vanin, back under control, took a better look at his son. Hmm. He hasn't yet begun his development. Circular pupil, underdeveloped lobe, blunt canine. He doesn't know, yet.

 

Vanin quickly leaned toward the man, grabbing him by the arm. "We have to talk, in private."

 

"Fine. Come inside." The man turned to Orvin. "We have some visitors, Orvin. I need to talk to them for a bit." The other five Fang started entering the little bunch of buildings. The man noted them, but continued speaking to the boy. "The ladies should still be out picking blueberries. Go get them, and bring them back here quickly. I want to introduce them to our guests." Orvin nodded, eyed each of them once more in turn, stopping a brief moment longer on Vanin, then turned and scampered back into the bushes.

 

Sethin, tall and strong, with jet black hair and soft-gold eyes, unparalled in his school of magic, spoke briefly to Vanin. "We saw the Lady and the girl about a half-mile out to the north, the way the boy took. They didn't see us though. You should have plenty of time to speak with this man."

 

Vanin nodded, and then followed the waiting man into his home. It wasn't a large building, little more than a shack. The room they entered into had a table and a wood stove, with two doors at either end, presumably leading to the quarters of the boy and the man, each. Shelves lined one wall with various earthenware and jars filled with foods. As he was motioned to sit, Vanin realized he didn't know the man's name. "So. What should I call you?" It was blunt, but he wasn't very much in the mood for civilities.

 

"Jon. You?" Jon didn't seem to be in the mood either.

 

"Vanin. Now, there are things you need to know, and I'm sure once you know them you'll reconsider what I said." At least, that was Vanin's hope. Surely, the man could see reason.

 

Jon simply shrugged. "I doubt it."

 

"Well, we will see. I assume you haven't kept the fact that you're not his blood father from him." Jon nodded. "Good. That will make things easier. I noticed that you called him Orvin as well, how do you know his name?"

 

Jon sighed. "I spoke to his mother before she died. I did what I could for her, but the monsters wounded her beyond my abilities. I do have training with medicines, but I'm no expert. Anyway, she told me his name. She asked me to rescue him. He had been taken by the monsters. When I caught up with them, they seemed to have been preparing some kind of ritual. I've never been able to figure out what that was about, but I dispatched them and brought Orvin back here. At first, I expected you to come, and I would have gladly given him over to you then. You are his father, so naturally that is what I would have done. Time went by though, and things changed. It's been ten years. I had long given over that you would come. You can't expect me to give him up now."

 

"I respect your candor, Jon, but there are things you don't know. I know you've noticed my eyes. You've noticed all our eyes. You must also have seen Lisana's eyes." Jon's brows came together. For the first time he seemed uncertain. He finally nodded. "Orvin's eyes too, will change, and become like ours. Their color will change, his pupils with lengthen. His eyes will not be the only things to change." Vanin pulled his own long hair back, exposing his ears. Jon nearly let out a gasp. "Not all of us develop this, but many of us do, and some of develop differently. Orvin's ears may lobe like this, like a fish's tail, or they may elogate, or develop some other way. Or they may remain as they are." Vanin smiled, exposing his long, sharp canines. "His teeth, too, may change. Like mine. Or they may remain as they are. Though many of his physical changes are uncertain, those aren't the only changes that will take place as his development continues. There are other, more certain changes. You see, Jon, we are not human."

 

Jon seemed frozen in place. He seemed desperately seeking something in his mind. Then something seem to come together, and his eyes focused. "Dragons. Or a dragon race. I recall, many, many years ago, reading something of you. But that was supposed only to be myth." Then something else seemed to fall into place. "The magic." Vanin frowned, wondering what the man was going on about. Jon noticed his expression. "Before I found Lisana, I was inspecting the scene of the battle. That's where I found this." He held up the Eye necklace, the symbol for Vanin's position as Eye of the Dragon. "I noticed a few odd things about the fight, one was that magic had been brought down from the sky. But it wasn't brought down was it? It was sent down, by one of your kind. Am I right?"

 

Vanin nodded. "That is likely. We are trained in many methods of combat. You probably witnessed the afterimage of one of those methods." He paused a moment to let it all sink in. Then, when he saw the look of understanding he was waiting for, he attacked. "Then you must know why Orvin can't stay with you. He is about to begin developing things he won't know how to control, things only we can teach him about. Without our help, Orvin could hurt himself badly, or worse, he could hurt people around him that he cares for. You must know that what I ask is in his best interest."

 

Jon looked as though he had been stricken with news of the death of a loved one. He turned to face away from Vanin and his men. He leaned on the stove, his shoulders tight. It took time, but when he spoke, it was low and dangerous. "How long?"

 

Vanin took no time with his reply. "Immediately."

 

"He will not want to go. He loves his life here." Jon remained facing the stove. He knew what was coming.

 

"You must convince him to come with us." Vanin knew how hard that would be.

 

Aluin, who had been standing at the door, watching for Orvin and the girls, put his hand on Vanin's shoulder and spoke low. "They're here."

 

Vanin stood. He spoke to Jon's back. "Orvin is back with the women. We will be outside while you tell them whatever you wish. Again, thank you for raising my son, for keeping him safe all these long years. Now I ask you to return him to my care."

 

With that, Vanin and the Fang stepped out of the building.

 

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Prologue III - A few days later.

 

The little boy peeked around the corner of the bed. He saw the new boy sitting on his bed crying. He had arrived a couple hours ealier, and had been shown to this room. He had been expected for a while. Everyone said he was Vanin's son, and his name was Orvin. Orvin had something shiny in his hands. He was holding it tenderly. Suddenly, he put it around his neck, then wiped his tears. "The way of the warrior is always difficult," he said, then stood and went to get the bag he'd brought with him.

 

The little boy climbed up on the bed, and cleared his throat so he wouldn't frighten Orvin as he unpacked his things. Orvin whirled around with fists drawn in a defensive stance. The little boy put on his friendliest smile so he wouldn't want to fight anymore. "You're Orvin right?" He nodded. "We're going to be like brothers now. I've never had a brother before."

 

Orvin frowned. "I've never had a brother before either. You're Vanin's son, too?"

 

"Well, not exactly," the little boy responded. "He did raise me, like your other father raised you, but my parents died a long time ago. I don't even remember what they looked like. But that's ok. Father says that you're older than me. I'm eight, how old are you?"

 

"I'm ten, so I guess he was right." Orvin shrugged. "What's your name?"

 

"Me? I'm Turuk." He stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you."

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Chapter 1 - Training Day

 

The ringing echo of silver meeting stone echoed through the corridor. When the sound died away, Orvin huffed and bent to pick up his father's medallion. More and more lately the links on the chain were coming apart. He would have to have Brent link him a new one, reattaching this one was becoming a nuisance. Brent was the apprentice metalsmith. He and Orvin had been friends on and off over the past ten years, as they were near the same age, but often quite disagreeable. The two of them were currently on good terms. It wasn't that Brent was a bad guy. Quite the contrary. He was devoted, sincere, and quite a charmer with the ladies. They just never saw eye to eye, and some of those differences of opinion we about things which were close to Orvin's heart.

 

For instance, the grand ceremony of this day. It was Training Day for many of the young officers. Training Day, as it had come to be called, was the day a Student of the Dragon entered his nineteenth year. This was the day they began formal training as the Dragon's Scales. That meant, they would receive their Dragon Orbs today. It was both prestigious and honorable, but it was also something all trainees needed in order to enter the Dragon's Body, which Orvin knew was nothing more than a fancy name for an army.

 

Two years ago, Orvin turned down his Dragon's Orb, declaring that he had no desire to be part of that army. He had spent the last ten years in opposition to his blood father, Vanin. He wanted nothing to do with his people's magic. To him, engaging in it felt too much like a betrayal to his true father, the man who raised him.

 

When Orvin had turned down the Dragon's Orb, Brent had taken strong exception to it, calling him a traitor to his people, and a disgrace to his father. Orvin stood his ground, though, insisting that being part of the army was a choice that they all were privy too. Brent, himself, wasn't even part of that army. Brent, however, felt it necessary to point out that there were few who were as talented with the blade as Orvin was, and that he should be walking in Vanin's footsteps, since Vanin was the commander of the Dragon's Body, the Dragon's Eye. Of course, Orvin didn't deny all of this, he simply didn't care. He would soon leave to return to his true home, to his true father, then he could live as freely as he had once, those long years ago, before he ever heard of Dragovina.

 

Dragovina was the name of this place, where his kin lived. It was a kingdom in the sky. Orvin knew that it was magic which suspended the rock there, upon which was build the city, though it was beyond his comprehension. It was a place seperate from the world of men, where it secluded itself from the troubles of the world. It was a place full of life, yet all the same the quiet of it reminded him of the silence of the forest. In these heights, all sound was carried off by the winds.

 

It wasn't always this quiet though. There was a time, before Orvin arrived there, or so he was told, when not even the winds could quench the noises of the streets. A time when all the inns and the palace were overflowing with merchants, pilgrims, visiting dignitaries and all sorts of different adventurers from the world below. It was a peacefulness, an open trust between humans and Dragovinans that had begun centuries before when human travelers had saved Dragovina from destruction.

 

Now, the halls were empty, and the streets only mildly active, but it was the most hustle and bustle Orvin had ever seen, so it was full of life all the same. Orvin had learned that years ago, monsters had begun attacking Dragovinan travellers sporadically, but consistently. The attacks always came without warning, but were always clearly planned, and decisively executed. Many were killed in those raids, Orvin's mother included. Turuk was also a victim of the attacks, both his parents being killed when he was an infant, like Orvin. It had been reasoned that somehow the monsters knew when and where the travellers were going to be ahead of time. Thus, it was discovered that there was a spy somewhere in Dragovina.

 

This began a series of checks of all visitors to Dragovina, to ascertain the culprit. The attacks lasted two years, the attack on Orvin's mother and her travelling squad marking the first, the attack on Turuk's family marking the last. The reason for the attacks was never discovered, though, some time later the spy was. It turned out to be a closely trusted member of the Dragon's Fang, the best of the Dragovinan army under the commander. That man was human, and had been a confidant of Vanin's for several years. He held an honorary position among the Dragon's Fang, and indeed the entire army. He was the only human ever included among the ranks of the Dragon's Body. The betrayal wounded Vanin deeply, and he has since never trusted humans.

 

This was an affront to Orvin, who's father by adoption was human. Jon had raised him with the knowledge that he was not Orvin's birthfather, but Orvin had always loved him as though he were. Orvin had more distrust of dragovinans than he did of humans, though he loved a great many of them. His best friend, Turuk, above all others. Turuk had been the first person he befriended when he came to Dragovina then years ago. The two of them had much in common. They were both orphans of the same trajedy. They spent the past ten years under the same roof, Vanin's. They were the best two students of the sword, though Orvin was two years the elder. While it was said that Orvin's potential with magic was vast, yet untapped due to his opposition to it, Turuk's mastery of the magics he was taught was unparalleled with the other students. Both had been expected to become generals in the army, though to the disappointment of many, most particularly Vanin, Orvin turned down that offer already.

 

Today, however, was a day of great excitement throughout the city. Today, Turuk, the orphan prodigy would ascend into the ranks of the Dragon's Body, becoming a Dragon's Scale. It was the lowest rank, but it was a step any of them had to take. No doubt, if Brent had not been born into a family of metalsmiths, and had actually joined the army himself, he would never pass beyond that rank. His coordination didn't suit the wielding of the blade, only its forging.

 

Orvin bent the link in the chain back into place with his teeth, then place the medallion back around his neck. He tucked the silver-and-gold Eye, embedded with obsidian, into his shirt and smiled at the familiar cold of the metal against his skin. It was a gift his father had given him the day Vanin came to bring him here. He told him that it had belonged to his mother, and that he should always wear it as a reminder of all the things Jon had taught him. During his time here, he had learned that it was a symbol for the Eye of the Dragon, Vanin's position as leader of the Dagovinan army. He now wore it both as a reminder of his past, of his father, but also a symbol of his defiance toward Vanin, and the ways of the Dragovinans. He tested the chain with a slight tug. Satisfied that it wouldn't come apart again before he had a chance to see Brent about it, he made his way to the morning's event.

 

After navigating a series of corridors through the palace, he finally came out into the morning sun. It was always sunny here, as they lingered above the clouds, and it was usually quite brisk, though the cold never bothered him like it once did. That was his Dragovinan blood maturing, he had been told. That wasn't the only thing that changed for him though. His canines had sharpened and had gotten slightly longer. Turuk's were noticably longer, but Orvin had been told that each of them developed differently. Brent, for instance, had his ears grow out quite large, and were ribbed like a bat's wings. Orvin's were similar, but much smaller, little more than a human ear with slight ribbing. Turuk's hadn't changed at all. All of their eyes changed, though. They all developed oval, cat-like pupils. Turuk's irises turned gold, with black flecks through them. Orvin's had also turned gold, but with white flecks. Vanin said they were like his mother's. Brent's turned red with orange flecks. Some said that it meant he would could learn fire magics. Others said eye color didn't mean anything. It was common for dragovinan eyes to change colors with maturity, and autumn colors were quite common, though blues, purples and greens came just as frequently.

 

He was at the training grounds. The grounds had been cleared of the training equipment to accomodate seating arrangements for the large numbers of attendees for the ceremony. There was, however, ample space in the center to allow for the students ceremonial excercise. For most of these students, it was more than mere ceremony, though. For most of them, this would be the first time they turned into dragons. Some were born with the talent for this transformation in their blood. For them, they simply needed to learn to control this gift. For most, the Dragon's Orb was necessary to wield the magic.

 

Both Orvin and Turuk needed the Orb to achieve the transformation, but since Orvin refused it, he never knew what it was like. Turuk would receive his Orb today, and ascend to the ranks of the army, and for the first time, take on his dragon form here before everyone gathered in the training grounds, and anyone watching from their balconies above.

 

Orvin spotted Turuk. The ceremonies were starting soon, but even if they weren't the two of them wouldn't be able to talk until afterward. It was an unassuming part of the ceremony to meditate on the theory of theirs studies before putting it into practice, as they would soon do. So, in order not to interrupt that meditation, they were allowed to speak with no one. Noise was also kept low as people filed in and preparations were made, in order to help this along.

 

Orvin found a seat right up front, so that he wouldn't miss a bit of his best friend's achievement. The Orb was given in order of student rank, the most advanced first. This meant Turuk would be first. An idea suddenly occurred to him, and he moved to the second row, and closer to one of the doorways. Turuk was going first, after that he would have no reason to stay. Hours of boring ceremony wasn't what Orvin had in mind for the rest of the morning and afternoon. After Turuk was done, he could make an inconspicuous getaway.

 

For the next little while he simply sat and watched people as they came in and sat themselves. The place filled up quickly, and before he knew it, trumpets blared to begin Training Day.

 

Everyone stood, to Orvin's disappointment. He wasn't tall like his father, so he couldn't see very much of what was going on. There was a procession, and between the shoulders he was able to snatch quick glimpses of his friend. There were five students this year who were entering their nineteenth year. They spread out uniformly, making two rows of two and three respectively. They faced Vanin, the Eye of the Dragon, who would be presenting the Orbs, as was customary. Orvin couldn't see Turuk's face clearly, as he wasn't facing his way, but he could see that he was calm, confident.

 

Their teachers held a place of prominence on the far side of the grounds, their faces beaming with pride. Orvin knew each of them well, as he was once a student, but they were not why he was here. His attention was on Turuk. He looked magnificent in his military regalia. He was clearly strong, though he did nothing to flaunt it. He simply bore himself with a solid confidence, a young man used to victory. Only Orvin had ever been able to best him in anything, and that was in swordplay.

 

The sword was the only part of his training that Orvin actively took up. It was something his father, Jon, had begun teaching him only shortly before he came to Dragovina. Unlike the use of magic, the sword felt right to him. It was an affirmation of who he was as Jon's son, where magic was a denial, an acceptance of the dragovinan life which was forced on him. So, it was to the sword that Orvin placed all his energies. Turuk was talented, but Orvin was impassioned.

 

Coming out of his thoughts Orvin realized he was sitting, and so was everyone else. He must have sat on impulse when everyone else did. He looked to Turuk, and realized with dismay that he'd missed the entire presentation speech. Turuk was already receiving the Orb. At least, Orvin thought, I didn't miss this part.

 

"Accept this symbol of your ascension into the ranks of the Body of the Dragon." Vanin gave the Dragon Orb to Turuk reverentially. "Use it now to demonstrate your commitment to her service."

 

Turuk bowed to Vanin, then stepped to a designated area for this part of the ceremony. A young girl stepped toward Vanin, presenting to him a folded blanket. Vanin took it, then turned to watch Turuk.

 

Turuk stood focused with raw intention aimed toward the Orb in his hands. This part was of vital importance, Orvin knew, since the final intention of the man before the transformation was what drove the mind of the dragon. While Turuk was a dragon, he would lose his sentience, and only take on a basic instinctual awareness. Over time, and with much practice, this awareness could be developed and honed into a kind of sentience, but only the truly masterful were truly self-aware in their dragon forms. Thus, it was of singular importance to focus upon intention before taking on the transformation, in order to guide one's actions as they lapsed into their subaware dragon forms.

 

After a couple of moments, the Orb began to resonate an aura with the rhythm of Turuk's breathing. Some muffled gasps broke out, accompanied by quiet murmers of astonishment. Since this was the first time students actually used the Dragon Orb, it often took them time to get a feel for applying their theory in practice. That Turuk accomplished this as fast as he did was unusual. Orvin smiled to himself. He knew as well as his teachers did how well Turuk grasped theoretics and translated it to practice. Where Orvin learned through applied experience, Turuk learned through applied theory. What Orvin mastered after days of practice, but without studying its theory, Turuk mastered after days of studying it, but only having practiced it for a short period of time.

 

That he was able to apply his study of the use of the Orb's magic as quickly as he did came as no surprise to Orvin, as it clearly didn't to his teachers, who watched with pleased confidence his Turuk's ability. Turuk's lips began to move, his attention and intention toward the orb never faltering. The words were too low to hear, but everyone knew he was speaking the words of transformation.

 

The first time was always the hardest. The body is not used to the changes that take place, and it is often quite painful for the students. They are prepared for this in advance, and have a good idea of what to expect. Orvin had seen it before, and he didn't relish the idea of seeing his best friend endure such torture. Many students required the aid of their teachers to maintain their focus on the intention they directed to the orb. None of the teachers batted an eye when Turuk grunted as he fell to his knees, taken by surprise by the strength of the pain. They knew as well as Orvin did that he would regain and maintain his focus, and he did just that, though he didn't bother to try to regain his feet.

 

He remained on the ground, panting and grunting, every now and again twitching as though kicked in the sides. His eyes locked onto the orb in focus on the task. Without warning he let out a wail as his skin tore open, along the backs of his arms and legs, and down his spine. Popping sounds filled the air as his chest and back expanded. His torso and limbs grew long, and spikes ripped up along his spine, out his kneecaps and off his elbows. His old skin fell away and the length of his body was covered in slimy, grey-gold scales. His screaming mouth jutted out, as the skin tore aware from his face. His neck became elongated and two massive horns drew out from the back of his skull, round to a front-facing point, similar to bull horns. His fangs grew long, as did his fingernails and toenails grow into claws. His wail turned into a deeper, howling dragon-scream as a tail snaked away from his back. The Orb had disappeared into his hands, becoming one with his new body.

 

The scream died out into hoarse panting, as he stood, a dragon, with head hung in fatigue. Finally, one more surge of pain coursed through him as wings tore rapidly from his back. The other students had stepped back in clear terror and what they would soon be experiencing. The teachers stood with grim composures, knowing full well what Turuk had just endured. They knew also, what was to come next.

 

Turuk, the dragon, lifted his head, a new determination filled his eyes. The intention had gripped his instinctive awareness. With wings spread wide, he inhaled an enormous breath, raised his head skyward and let out a magnificent roar. This marked his ascension into the ranks. It was accompanied by a roar of cheers and applause.

 

As Orvan raised his hands to cheer what his best friend, and veritable brother had accomplished, something unexpected happened. There was a deafening crack and boom. They were so loud that it felt like his eardrums had burst. The effect was disorienting, and when he returned to his senses he found that he had closed his eyes. They snapped open to find out what was happening, and his heart jumped up into his mouth.

 

There was dead silence. He had thought that it was just because of the loud blast had temporarily deafened him, but he now saw the real reason. Where he expected panic, and possibly hysteria, he saw only bodies. There was no one left standing in the training grounds. He was the only one. Everyone else was one the ground, and appeared to be unconscious. He feared they were dead. He thought he must be crazy. He looked again to see if anyone else, anyone, Vanin perhaps, was up and could say what had happened, but he too was on the ground, unconscious. Even Turuk, returned to his human form, was on the ground, unconscious and naked. He had expected that part, that was what the blanket was for, but Vanin hadn't had the chance to put it on him.

 

Orvin bent to check the pulse of the person nearest him. A pulse, good, he's still alive. The rest should be too. He was about to go to Turuk, when a voice stopped him dead. He didn't understand the words, but the voice was like a whisper, but resonating with loud clarity. It was as though some snakeman were speaking, but there was nobody around that he could see. The words were just... there.

 

His heart was racing, and he felt dirty all over, like the words were acid oozing over him off the air. He didn't know how long he remained like that, but after a time he realized the words had faded away. He looked back toward Turuk, he seemed to be stirring. As he started toward him, he realized that everyone was coming too. Instead of stopping at Turuk, Orvin continued to Vanin. He grabbed the blanket, then moved back to put it on his friend. When he bent to cover him, Turuk looked up, dazed with confusion.

 

"What...?" Was all he could ask.

 

"I don't know." Orvin said softly, shaking his head. "I don't know."

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Bent over the table in his private study, with the dim light of long-burned candles as his only light, Orvan could hear the vastness of the silence which gripped the world about him. The only sound which met his ears was the unceasing ring which had been with him since the Training Day ceremony. The explosive sound which caused that ringing was still a mystery, as was everything else that happened. Orvan had refused to discuss the matter with anyone, and had kept himself locked where he was for most of the day, pouring over his maps and plans, anything to keep his mind from the troubling events of the morning. Anything to keep his mind off that chilling voice.

 

After regaining themselves, everyone at the event had been detained for questioning, and the students taken to safety. Their ascension was yet to be discussed when Orvan left, but he was sure it wouldn't be happening for a while, and when it did only close family would be involved. Orvan stayed long enough to ensure that his friend was ok, but short enough to escape heavy questioning. He wanted to find out what had happened himself. He knew what happened involved him somehow, and Turuk, but he couldn't begin to comprehend what it might be. That it happened on Turuk's ascension day couldn't have been coincidence, nor could it have been coincidence that Orvan was the only person conscious while everyone else had been knocked unconscious.

 

He knew that if they found out about that, they'd want to detain him, question him, seek answers from him he couldn't give. He had no time for that, he had plans. Plans which he would not put off any longer. It was time he left this place. He was old enough to be out on his own. His training, and his mastery of it, showed he could take care of himself. He wasn't book-smart like Turuk, but he knew enough to get by. His main goal, though, was to find his father. He knew it couldn't be difficult. He had been studying the maps for years, and he recognized the places he heard his father talk about when he was a child. He had determined almost precisely where his father's home should be.

 

His ears perked at the first sound he'd heard in hours, aside from the ringing in his ears and the whispers of his own thoughts; there was a knock at the door.

 

"Who is it?" Orvan didn't need to speak very loudly, he knew.

 

"It's Turuk," came the muffled reply.

 

Orvan quickly unlatched the door, and opened it to a very tired looking friend.

 

"Turuk," Orvan gave him an understanding smile and squeezed his shoulders. "Come in, please."

 

Turuk offered him a weak smile, and stepped toward the table. "Finally decided to leave, have you?"

 

It wasn't a real question. Turuk knew. Question or not, Orvan's attention was on something else. He had caught something in Turuk's voice, and in that weak smile, that he had never before seen in Turuk: uncertainty.... and fear. Absently, he replied, pointing to the map resting unfolded on the table.

 

"The land temple is here, as you well know. I am told that travelling there from our temple here is instantaneous. The journey to Port Snow takes about a day on foot. From there, I will hire a ship to take me across the sea to Hollow Bay. I am told that the trip varies by weather conditions. It could be half a day to more than two. I have been watching the clouds below. I believe they are favorable for sailing. I predict that I will be on the western continent in two days time."

 

Orvan knew that Turuk only asked simply to make conversation, but that his mind was elsewhere. Turuk knew Orvan's plans well enough, since he'd helped make them. They spent many late hours discussing such things. Nevertheless, Orvan continued. He knew what turmoils the heart could make.

 

"From there I will proceed south, to the Kingdom of Seludra, where I hope to find an old friend. If I am successful, I may stay for a few days to catch up with her. If not, I will continue south to where my father's home should be. I expect the trip, judging by travel documents I've examined, to take no more than a week and a half, two weeks if I find my friend in Seludra. After staying with my father for some time, I wish to take him to Dharma Temple with me, so that he might offer me advice on what new training I might seek there. After taking up a new professional art, I will return with him to his home to live, and continue to hone my skills and hunt and fish, and anything else that I might find to please my father."

 

As Orvan trailed off, he looked to see a smile lingering on the corners of Turuk's mouth.

 

"A fine plan," he said after a moment. "I wish to come with you."

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"What!?" Orvin exclaimed.

 

Turuk had been expecting his brothers' reaction. They weren't really brothers, not by blood. But they had lived as brothers for the past ten years, and Turuk only ever though of Orvin as one. Thinking about the day Orvin had arrived in Dragovina, a frightened, but resolute boy, often brought a smile to Turuk's face. He didn't remember his parents, and Vanin was a good man, but living as his only son (adopted though he was), had been difficult, and often extremely demanding. When he had found Orvin, so much focus and attention had been shifted, it freed Turuk to study more at his leisure, rather than doing it out of diligence.

 

But Orvin had been more than a boon for Turuk, he admired his older brother immensely. Orvin had been stripped of his family twice, once when the humans betrayed Dragovina and the monsters attacked, and once again when Vanin took him from the man who had raised him. Once had been enough for Turuk; he couldn't imagine being taken from Vanin at that age. Yet, Orvin had borne it well. He adapted quickly to life here, not to mention life as the son of arguably the most respected man in Dragovina, and all the pressures that came with being heir to the expectations of his father's military genius.

 

Right from the beginning, Orvin had resisted his father. He refused to touch anything to do with his magical heritage. He refused to accept his Dragovinan blood. At least, that's how everyone else saw it. Turuk knew better. During their youths they had spent long hours talking, playing, training and even arguing together. He knew his brother too well. He didn't reject his blood. Orvin loved his mother. He never knew her, but she had given him to Jon. He cherished the Dragon's Eye medallion, not just because it was given to him by Jon, but also because it belonged to his mother.

 

What Orvin rejected was Vanin. Vanin and his hatred for humans. Turuk could see Orvin's side of it, but he also felt Vanin's side of it too. Too deeply, in fact. Many arguments had been made of this point. Orvin loved the humans he was raised by and with. Turuk, well he only knew that his parents were dead because humans had betrayed them. Nevertheless, Turuk was willing to stay his feelings for the sake of his brother. He was willing to give Orvin the benefit of the doubt, and suspend his judgment of all humans for the sake of his brother. But that was not what was driving him at the moment.

 

"I wish to come with you," he said.

 

"I heard you, and believe me I would love your company, but... why?" He stressed that last part. "I mean, Turuk, I understand that what happened today..." he trailed off, looking down at Turuk's hands.

 

Turuk looked, too, and was surprised to find he'd drawn his sword. Clearing his throat, he re-sheathed it. "Yes, well, about that. I just spent the last eight hours being questioned. They have no idea what happened, and I'm sick of thinking about it. They're not going to get any answers. That's one thing we Dragovinans seem to do fairly poorly." He tried schooling himself. Losing his temper now, frustrated though he was, wasn't going to help anything. "I need to get away from here. I'm part of the Dragon's Body now, so I don't have to tell you what leaving means. Aside from that, father would never approve. You know I'm not rash, Orvin. Whatever station I had in this life is over. Sure, I'll be part of the Dragon's Body, but after today, they won't trust to put me into the higher ranks. Ever since The Betrayal, our people have been suspicious of most things. Not that I know what it was like before, but it can't have been like it is now. I will forever serve as a rank of the Dragon's Scales. Honorable though that is, I couldn't live with it. I've trained too hard, too long, and lived with too much recognition to be subjected to a life of mediocrity and suspicion."

 

Orvin gave him a considering look, then said, "it can't really be that bad. I mean, you're Vanin's son. Everyone respects you. They've been anticipating your potential for years. Nobody knows what happened this morning. They can't blame you. It's ridiculous. Give it some more time, things will settle down."

 

Turuk took a step forward and grabbed Orvin by the shoulders.

 

"I can already hear them whispering, Orvin. 'It's him,' 'do you think he's going to hurt us?' 'what does Vanin think?' I need to leave, and I'm going with you. And that's that."

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Chapter 2: Departures

 

They made their way through the winding walkways of the sky city, toward the Portal of Descent. It was located in what was called the Sky Temple. Near the center of the city, it served as a place of prayer, and was once the place where humans traveled to and from Dragovina to their world below. It was connected to the Land Temple through twin portals; the portal in Dragovina was called the Portal of Descent, the one in the Land temple was the Portal of Ascent.

 

The portals were magical gate structures that, when passed through, brought you through their twins. It was the only way for humans to come here. Dragovinans could, of course, fly back and forth. That wasn't an option for Orvin though, since he never received a Dragon Orb. Orvin and Turuk would need to use the portals to descend to the earth. Restrictions were in place that prevented underage Dragovinans from going to earth, though even the adults rarely used them. Orvin was worried. He wasn't sure whether recent events would mean nobody could travel in or out of the city. More than that, he was afraid Turuk's presence might complicate things.

 

The pair walked quickly, Turuk matching Orvin's pace with a kind of feral eagerness. Orvin was still worried about Turuk. He didn't really understand his reasons for coming. He supposed they made sense, after a fashion, but he felt that Turuk was exaggerating peoples' reactions. But, he couldn't deny that having his brother along would be nice. He wasn't sure what he was venturing into, and he felt better having his brother there to watch his back. Sure, he knew what to expect with his father, and the people he'd grown up with, but what was the rest of the world like? He was both excited and nervous.

 

Turuk seemed different somehow, since his transformation, and Orvin wasn't sure he liked it. He couldn't put his finger on what exactly it was. Orvin was always alert, he'd been trained to be so, but there seemed to be an edge to it now, like he was expecting things to jump from the shadows and attack. He'd never seen his brother afraid, or uncertain of himself. But, when he had spoken to him in his rooms, he seemed almost frantic. It was disconcerting to say the least.

 

Well, Orvin supposed, he is leaving his whole life behind. He's always looked forward to his life in the Dragon's Body, but he's turning his back on his dreams. I can't imagine how uncertain that would make me. What if I gave up on going back to my father? And at that, Orvin made a promise to himself to be there for his brother, whenever he needed him, and especially when he needed him the most.

 

They arrived at the temple, and went in. There were a few people inside, praying silently. One of the priests was standing at the altar preaching quietly for any who would listen, but not too loudly to disturb those there to pray for themselves. Orvin ignored him and moved to the right side of the temple, toward the portal. The room was guarded by two soldiers of the Body. Orvin stepped forward to pass through. They barred his way.

 

"Nobody is to leave the city, by order of the Commander." The thick voice belonged to a thick body. The soldier wore a look like he was about to grin, his winged ears quivered challengingly.

 

"The commander is my father. Let me through." Orvin spoke levelly, controlling his urge to jaw the man.

 

The grin Orvin had been half expecting grew as the man spoke, "he said that you, especially, were to be kept from leaving. He knows where your loyalties lie, we all do, human-lover." He ribbed his fellow soldier, "I hear tell you were the only one at the ceremony who saw what happened. Some say you caused it. I think you were jealous of your little brother and wanted to ruin his chances in the Body. Two-bit hack like you can only succeed by putting others down." He leaned in to breath in Orvin's face, "I hope your daddy locks you up for a good long time, traitor!" Spittle flew from the man's mouth and landed on Orvin's face.

 

Quick as a blink, there was a sword at the man's jugular. His companion belatedly drew his sword and held it threateningly. The man with the blade to his throat looked shocked and outraged. Then he saw who held the hilt.

 

"Tu... Turuk! What are you doing?" He sputtered.

 

"Speak that way to my brother again, and I cut out your tongue." Turuk's voice was cold, hard. "Step aside, we're leaving the city."

 

The man swallowed a gob of saliva, licked his lips, then said carefully, "our orders stand. Nobody is to leave the city. Not even you, Turuk. Cut me down, and your life here is over, you know that." His fellow was still waving his sword threateningly, if a little nervously. "We will not step aside."

 

Turuk looked to Orvin for direction. Orvin shook his head, and made a placating motion with his hand. Turuk put his weapon away and began to stalk off. Orvin followed. The thick man called after them as the were leaving, "I won't forget this, Turuk!"

 

Turuk stopped, turned around, looked the man in the eyes and said dangerously, "neither will I", then turned and left the building.

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"I think maybe you're right," Orvin said when they were back outside, "things are worse than I thought they were. I thought you may have been exaggerating, but after that, I'm happy to get you out of here too."

 

Turuk nodded, but shook his head at the same time, "That's great, but how are we going to leave?"

 

Just then Orvin caught sight of a familiar face; Brent the metalsmith was making his way along the street toward them. "Great," Orvin muttered, "the last thing I need. Let's get moving. I'd rather not talk to him right now." Orvin gestured toward Brent. Turuk looked toward Brent, but didn't really seem to see him. Orvin began moving away in the opposite direction, and Turuk followed automatically.

 

Brent, however, wasn't to be put off. "Orvin! Turuk! Wait up!"

 

Orvin cursed his luck, but slowed his step to allow Brent to catch up.

 

"Tried going through the Portal of Descent did you?" He had a whisper of a smile, and looked as though he was about to have a moment of triumph. Orvin was getting fed up.

 

"Yeah. What's it to you?" He said it with non-committal air.

 

He suddenly seemed to see the tension between Turuk and Orvin, and became very serious. "Look, I've heard some pretty nasty things being said about you, Orvin. Not to mention that people aren't certain what to do with you, Turuk. Now, we haven't always seen eye-to-eye, and you know that's rather something of an understatement, but I know you two to be honorable. Whatever happened at that ceremony, I'm sure you two are innocent. Hell, Turuk, you haven't shut up about becoming the Dragon's Eye someday for the past three years! And you," he poked a finger at Orvin's chest, "for all your holier-than-thou attitude about us Dragovians being something wicked, or whatever, I like to think I know you better than that. I've never seen you swat a fly, much less plot some kind of devious crime against us, and especially on his day." He said this while jerking his head at Turuk. "Look, I guess what I'm really trying to say is, I don't want to see you guys treated wrongly. So I'm going to help you get away from here."

 

Orvin was dumbstruck. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect this from Brent. He wasn't a bad guy, at worst being really annoying, but he hadn't expected to see any kind of heroism from the guy. Maybe he'd been harder on Brent than he deserved.

 

Brent's ghost of a smile came back. "Besides, this way I'll finally be rid of you." Perhaps he hadn't been too hard on him at that.

 

Turuk, who had seemed as confused and then stunned by Brent's diatribe as he himself had felt, found his tongue, "There's only two ways out of here, and the only one open to us has been shut. How exactly do you plan to help us?"

 

Orvin found himself nodding. As much as a boon Brent's offer had seemed, he realized Turuk was right, how was Brent supposed to help the situation?

 

"We can't talk here. Come on." He started off down the street in what appeared to be a random direction.

 

Shortly, their direction became clear; they were heading toward Brent's smithy. The shop didn't belong to Brent, it was Master Grax's place, but Brent had apprenticed there and recently became a full on metalsmith. He continued to work under Master Grax, but no longer under his constant supervision. Brent took all his own orders, and sold all his own wares. Master Grax simply took a cut of the profits for allowing Brent to carry on his business out of his shop. They arrived before long, and Brent led them inside and toward the back, where it was quiet and he could speak to them alone, undisturbed.

 

"Okay," Turuk began, but before he could get his second word out, Brent cut him off.

 

"You'll be leaving through the Portal of Descent." He announced, looking as though he was anticipating disbelief and confusion. Well, he got it.

 

"But it's guarded, with standing orders not to let us through. And not just us, nobody is allowed through!" Turuk looked irritated, like he'd been given a glimmer of hope, only to have it dashed by stupidity.

 

"Well of course it is!" snapped Brent. Turuk threw up his arms, and turned to leave. "At least, the main entrance is." That gave Turuk pause. Orvin was intrigued. Seeing the questions in their eyes, Brent continued. "Two years back, Master Grax and I received an order to seal an old, unused entrance to the Portal room, just off the West wing of the Temple. We were commissioned to smelt some chains and locks for the job, then asked to see to the sealing of the entrance ourselves. It's part of the sewage system beneath the streets. Master Grax told me that the city used to be smaller, that the sewers used to be the streets of the city, and over the centuries, as the city built up, those old streets were built over, and were made into sewer systems. There are great large stairs leading up to the sealed entrance, like that used to be the main entrance to the Temple. Nobody remembers that entrance, and I'm certain it's not being guarded."

 

"So you have the key, then?" Turuk asked.

 

"Well, you see, there's actually a couple of doors. There's a small foyer between the sewers and the Portal room. Place like that, forgotten and left alone, all quiet and private like, that's a nice place to take a girl for a little tickle and such, without being disturbed. So, naturally, I forged a key of my own that nobody knows I have. Well, nobody except Miss Sallay, but she won't say anything." Brent suddenly got a look in his eye, like he was seeing something he really liked. Orvin rolled his eyes.

 

"Well?" Turuk asked. Orvin and Brent looked at him stupidly, "What are we waiting for!?"

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After leaving the smithy, the three made their way toward the south of the Temple. Brent led them down a dark alley, the buildings crowding in. He stopped about halfway down, and pointed to the ground. "We can get in through here."

 

Orvin and Turuk looked where he was pointing. There was a circular stone, larger than the rest, that seemed like it could come loose from the ground. They looked back at Brent curiously, who rolled his eyes are their stupidity. He grabbed a nearby stick, one he'd clearly used before, judging by the marks worn into one end. He jabbed it into a small hole between the stone and the ground and levered the stone upward, revealing a hole about the same size as the slab. He propped it up using the stick, and immediately climbed down. Orvin followed, then Turuk.

 

They found themselves in darkness, and it stank bad. Brent made some noise like he was feeling around for something. "Aha!" he said, then lit the torch he'd clearly kept there for his jaunts with Miss Sallay.

 

With the light, Orvin got a better look at his surroundings. They were inside a stone tunnel. The ground looked like it had once been a street, but had a trench dug into the middle of it where sludge oozed by.

 

"This is the crappy part," said Brent with a grin on his face. "Just hold your breath. You'll be fine." Then he started off at a trot down the tunnel, North, toward the Temple.

 

They walked for about four minutes then skidded to a stop when they heard a loud noise, and a woman's scream come from behind them. The three looked at each other sharply, and Brent cursed under his breath. Something about a bloody woman.

 

They backtracked to the entrance and found a frightened Miss Sallay standing just below the entrance hole, which was now black. The stone slab had fallen back and covered Brent's exit. "Sallay!" Brent exclaimed, sounding exasperated, "what are you doing!?"

 

She looked nervously between the three men, then glared at Brent. "Don't you yell at me! I just about died, and it's all your fault! What are you three doing down here? Why didn't you bring me? That stone nearly fell on my head!"

 

Brent was looking angrier by the second. "Well you shouldn't have come down here on your own! I didn't bring you because we're..." he looked at Orvin and Turuk, "doing guy stuff. Anyway, how did that stone fall? That was my only way out you know! Now what the hell am I supposed to do!?"

 

"I was trying to follow you guys down here to see what you were sneaking about for, when my dress got caught on that stick of yours. I tried get get it free, but I slipped and fell, and pulled the stick and rock with me! You know it's a good thing that hole isn't bigger or I'd be dead right now. Then who would you tickle down here, Brent? You should be thankful I'm alive!" She had been shaking a finger under Brent's nose.

 

Brent swatted her hand away. "Bloody, clumsy woman!" There was supposed to be more, but he didn't get it in.

 

"I said don't you yell at me! I have half a mind to turn you three in for mischief. Now are you going to tell me what you're doing down here or not?" She folder her arms beneath her breasts and began tapping her foot.

 

"How did you know we came down here, Sallay?" Surprisingly, Brent kept his tone level. Orvin was getting anxious. If Sallay had followed them, who else might have? He looked at Turuk. He seemed worried too, and he was looking at the shadows of the tunnel like they were hiding something sinister.

 

"I followed you from the smithy." Brent let out a low groan. "Don't worry, you great baboon, I had the brains to make sure nobody else followed along, and nobody did. Now! Tell me what you're doing down here, for Master Dragon's sake!"

 

"Fine. I'll tell you, but you keep your mouth shut!" She nodded emphatically. "Do you hear me? I mean it!" She glared at him. "Good. Now, I'm not sure this even matters anymore, because I don't know any other way out. I was taking these two to the Portal of Descent, so they could leave Dragovina, then I was going to continue my life happily as Dragovina's best metalsmith. Now, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. If I let them go, and then walk out the front door, I'll be in big trouble. Hell, Sallay, you've put me in a pickle."

 

Sallay's eyes had gotten bigger and bigger. "You're taking them to the Portal of Descent!" She looked at Orvin and Turuk, "You're going to earth?!" They nodded dumbly. At this, a fire seemed to light in her eyes. "Oh Brent! Let's go with them!"

 

It was Brent's turn to go bug-eyed. "Wh.. wha.. w... NO! Are you out of your mind!"

 

"Oh PLEASE! It would be so much fun!" she flashed him a grand smile and batter he eyelids until Brent seemed to melt inside.

 

"Damnit..." he muttered. "Well, I suppose my life here is kinda screwed anyway. Let's get going"

 

Sallay did a caper and practically started skipping down the tunnel, hanging off of Brent's arm. Orvin looked at his brother. Turuk gave him a shrug and a weak smile. "It could be nice, having a couple more friends from home along." Orvin gave a non-committal grunt, and started after the two who had the light. Turuk jumped after him.

 

They soon came to the large stairs leading up to the Temple. Brent went ahead and unlocked the first set of doors. They proceeded through the small foyer. Before Brent unlocked the next set of doors, he turned and grabbed Sallay by the shoulders, who was still hopping with excitement. "Listen, Sallay, this is important. The other side of this door is the Portal room, as you know. It's other entrance is being guarded by two Scales who have orders not to allow anyone to use the Portal." He looked at Orvin, "Master Grax announced the standing order as it was relayed to the shop." He turned his attention back to Sallay. "We need to be quiet, and make sure those oafs don't hear us. We need to get through the Portal without being heard or seen. Think you can handle that?"

 

She nearly punched him in the gut. "Did you notice me following you?" He shook his head. "Then don't talk down to me. Just open the door and let's get going."

 

Brent, looking beaten, turned and unlocked the doors, then quietly pushed it open. Everyone got really tense when the door started to squeak. Brent stopped. In the hushed silence, they could hear chanting coming in from the other side of the room. Maybe they didn't hear, Orvin hoped. Brent made a squeezing motion, then opened the door just far enough to squeeze his body through. It squeaked again, but softly.

 

Sallay squeezed through after Brent, followed by Orvin and then Turuk. They then made their way on tip-toe to the center of the room, and around to the other side of the Portal gate. The chanting was still going on in the Temple, and Orvin could see the guards, faced away from them. The big thick one, who had spoken to him, started scratching his butt. Brent tapped Orvin on the shoulder, then Turuk, and with their attention he started counting down on his finger. Three, two... Orvin caught on at the last second... one, and all four of them jumped through the gate at the same time.

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Chapter 3: Ruins

 

Orvin was surprised on many levels upon stepping through the portal. He had expected something, not quite sure what, but something. Perhaps he had expected colors, or light, or physical trauma, or something. There was none of that. It was like stepping through a regular doorway, except doing so blindly, since on Dragovina's side the portal looked like there was a heat haze, obscuring what was behind it. But there was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to say they had just descended thousands of feet. It seemed strange that this should be so.

 

They stepped into air even more frigid than Dragovina's. They stepped into a gray gloom. He could see his breath. This was a second surprise. He had expected earth to be like he remembered it, warm and bright and green. He recalled that this temple was on a northern island, so he supposed that explained the atmosphere here.

 

The third surprise was that he found that they were in the middle of ruins. He had expected a well-tended temple, even if unused. Hadn't Dragovinans been using the Portal of Descent, even if humans weren't allowed to? Hadn't they? He suddenly realized that he couldn't recall anyone in particular having ever used it. He had always heard vague talk of patrols and scouting groups going out. Had they said they were using the Portal? Or was he just assuming that? He looked to Turuk and the others, who looked as confused as he felt.

 

Though the air was cold, they didn't shiver. Dragovina often got to these temperatures during winter months, and frost often had to be dealt with, but being above the clouds, they never had to deal with snow. Was there snow here?

 

"Where is everyone?" It was Sallay. "I thought there were supposed to be people here, keeping the temple."

 

"Just be glad nobody's here," Brent mumbled, "otherwise jumping through that gate like we did would have been a lot stupider than I realized."

 

"Well are there any towns nearby?" Sallay persisted.

 

"There's a port town, Port Snow, west of here, but that's a day away. It's also the only town on the island." Turuk sounded thoughtful as he continued, "This temple is the only way humans can get to Dragovina. In the past, before they betrayed us, trade with humans was heavy. Merchants from all over the world came to our city to sell their wares, and take what we offered back to their countrymen. The only way to Dragovina was this portal, and the only way here was across the sea. The port was built to the west, and a city grew around it. Any kind of supplies we could need should be there. But that was near on twenty years ago. Would that city still live, devoid of the travelers that once supported it?"

 

Orvin, who was only partly listening, was examining the ruins about them. When Turuk stopped speak, he said into the momentary quiet, "Turuk, do these ruins look like they've been abandoned for 20 years?" Turuk began looking closer at the rubble. "It seems to me," Orvin continued, "that these ruins look like they haven't seen tending in a much longer time than that. Though, perhaps I don't really know what 20 years of abandonment can look like."

 

Turuk was frowning. Did he agree with Orvin's assessment?

 

"Well whatever," said Brent, sounding a little exasperated. "If this Port Snow is a day away, then we'd better get a move on. I don't know about you two, but Sallay and I would rather get there sooner than later."

 

"First, let's see if we can find the exit, then we'll decide what to do." Orvin said, taking the lead. "We don't want to be traveling under the cloak of night. We may need to camp here until morning."

 

The other three seemed to hear the sense of it, and they began exploring the ruins. They passed through grand courts, narrow corridors which were flanked my dozens of small rooms. All cold and quiet. Before long, the came to what appeared to be an entrance. Against a far wall, there was a huge wall of snow that looked like it had come through a large opening.

 

"Great!" Brent seemed to be really irritable. In fact, he seemed to be that was since Sallay showed up and he was forced to come along. Sallay still clung to his arm. She seemed excited, like this was all just part of the adventure. "How are we going to get out, then?"

 

Sallay tsked. Stepping forward, raised her hands, whispered something Orvin couldn't make out, and a ball of fire burst from her hand and shot toward the snow. It melted a giant hole in the snow, and through it they could see an overcast sky. Sallay turned back to Brent, smiled primly, then returned to his arm. He turned a little red.

 

Turuk, who had gone close to the whole and was checking the sky, turned back and said, "I can't tell what time it is. I think we should camp here, wait until night falls, then take turns standing watch until the sun rises again, then we can move out."

 

Orvin nodded, "That sounds good to me. We're going to get a bit hungry, but better that than getting lost out in that snow. I'm not even sure how we're going to find the place without the guidance of the sun. Anyway, Sallay, you think you could light us a campfire with those wonderful hands of yours?"

 

She smiled broadly, "I'd love to."

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Night descended quickly. They only then realized how long they'd been wandering the ruins before they found the exit. Orvin figured that the reason they didn't notice the time pass was because they were so caught up in the excitement of the situation. This was the first time any of them had been outside of their home. Well, it was the first time the other three were away from home; he was heading home. It was still an adventure, though. As much as he really just wanted to go find his father, he was still a little excited to see the world his father was from. Vanin was wrong, he was sure of it. Humans weren't evil. The size of the temple had to be a testament to that. The place was huge, since they must have wandered the place for hours.

 

Orvin looked toward his sleeping companions. He had taken his time as watch a short time ago. Before him, Turuk had taken first watch for about two hours. What had their ancestors thought of humans? If the temple to Dragovina was so large, it bespoke of great friendship between their races, didn't it? His own father, Jon, he knew Orvin's mother wasn't human, yet he took her son to protect, and care as his own. No. Humans were good people. He would prove it.

 

During his time in Dragovina, Orvin had come to a resolution. He had always wanted to get back to his father, and he surely would, but there was more. As much as he loathed Vanin, and rejected his own heritage by refusing to join the Dragon's Body, he had come to realize that he actually didn't hate his race. He had met many people there who he respected greatly. He always felt honored to be a brother to Turuk, and his pride grew ever deeper for this as Turuk grew and became more skilled in everything he did. Orvin needed a way to reconcile his two worlds; he needed to bring Humans and Dragovinans back into a living trust. How he expected to achieve this, he had no clue. He just knew that he must.

 

Unconsciously, Orvin's ears perked. This drew his attention, and he listened for whatever it was that he heard in the quiet of the night. It came again, a faint squishing noise. His senses suddenly kicked into full alertness, and he held his breath as he strained to hear the noise. He heard it again, the same faint squishing, except is it getting louder? Louder meant closer.

 

He drew his sword as he rose to his feet. He paused again, listening for the sound. His eyesight had grown accustomed to the darkness a while ago, so seeing wasn't difficult as long as he didn't focus on any one particular thing. He heard it, and moved silently toward where he thought it was. He stopped again, listening. There! He rushed ahead, sword forward. Seconds before his sword landed true, he held back. There, cowering before him was a small blue blob. It blinked at him, then quailed.

 

What is it? How could a thing like that be alive? Orvin wasn't sure what to do. He didn't know if this little thing was dangerous, or just trying to survive here in the cold. He'd skipped his monster lessons, back in Dragovina, whenever he could, just like he skipped most of his lessons. He decided to act on a hunch and sheathed his sword. The little thing looked confused, but less afraid. Orvin crouched low, and slowly reached out his hand. He left it a few inches away from the creature, and waited.

 

It looked at him, then at his hand. It still looked confused, and began looking to see if it could make some kind of retreat.

 

Orvin tried to make himself sound nice, "It's okay, little guy! I'm not going to hurt you." He made an encouraging motion with his outstretched hand. "I don't have anything to give you to eat, not that I really know what you would eat, but if you like, I can keep you warm and safe." Just then, Orvin realized that he wasn't sure if he could live up to that offer.

 

It seemed to ease the little fella, and it bounced over to Orvin's hand. I sniffed at his fingers, seemed satisfied, then bounced up onto Orvin's arm.

 

The suddenness of it shocked Orvin and he leaped up, stifling a yell. Still on his arm, the little blue blob looked worried, so Orvin made a soothing motion, "Oh, sorry. It's okay. You just surprised me, is all. Well, we should get back to my friends. I'm supposed to be standing guard for them."

 

The creature made a quiet mewing sound and bounced up Orvin's arm to settle on his shoulder. It left little wet circles all along his sleeve. I hope Turuk knows what it is.

 

The new friends made the short way back to camp, where Orvin saw light beginning to fill through the hole Sallay had made. What? How can it be morning already? It's only been about three hours!

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"EEK! What is it?!" Sallay stood pointing at Orvin with horror in her eyes.

 

"What? Oh, him?" Orvin realized she was pointing at the creature he'd met a few minutes earlier. He shrugged, "I don't really know, just found the little guy wandering by himself."

 

Unsure of what to do about the short night, Orvin had decided to wake everyone up. They were all groggy and complaining about how quickly morning had seemed to come. Orvin was just about to explain that it really had gone quickly when Sallay let out her shriek.

 

Turuk came over to take a closer look. "That looks like a vulgaris virus!" Everyone looked at him dumbly. "Oh don't any of you pay attention in school? It's known as the common slime. They're harmless, really, unless you're a complete dolt. Sometimes they roam in packs of up to eight, then they can start to get interesting. If you really want to see the cool side of these guys, make them feel threatened, they can become a rex virus, or a king slime. Oh man, would I like to see one of those!"

 

Sallay had started to become used to the idea of the little blue blob, and came for a closer look herself. Brent, who seemed the least interested in it, and wasn't even looking in their direction, asked over his shoulder, "So? What are you calling it?"

 

Everyone looked at Orvin expectantly.

 

"Oh," he mumbled, "well I hadn't thought of that. Umm, I guess I do need to call him something." Orvin scratched his head as he thought about it. "You know I've never had a pet before."

 

Sallay sighed impatiently, "If you don't name him quick, I will. Looking at him, he's starting to look real cute. Want me to name him fluffy?" She gave a wicked smile.

 

"No! No." Orvin cringed. "I'll name him, I just want to make sure it's right." Orvin thought about their meeting, how he'd heard squishing noises, and then how it had bounced up his arm leaving little wet marks. "I know! How about puddle?"

 

Brent sniggered, Turuk hid a grin, but Sallay openly ridiculed the name. "Puddle!? What kind of a name is puddle? Sounds like something that should be stepped in and splashed about! Is that what you think about that little guy? You want to step on him and splash him about?!"

 

"Splash! That's it!" Orvin cheered. "From now on, you're called Splash, little guy! Welcome to our little adventure." Splash bounced around on Orvin's shoulder, demonstrating his approval.

 

Brent piped up again, "Great, now that the little puddle has been named, what the heck is going on? I know I didn't get a full night's rest."

 

"No you didn't." Orvin said. "The sun was only down for about three hours."

 

"Three hours!" Sallay shouted. "How can that be?! It's always down for eight hours back home! You'd think it would be down longer this close to the ground!"

 

"Ten, actually." Brent chuckled, "You just sleep for eight."

 

"Whatever!" Sallay gave Brent a dark look. He raised his hands defensively.

 

Turuk, who had been quiet, and thinking to himself, suddenly spoke up. "In Dragovina, we're so high in the sky that we live above the clouds, and we always see the sun, and the warmth it never changes. Master Tenken says that below the clouds, the sun isn't always there, and that water falls from the clouds, and that the warmth from the sun isn't always the same. That's why there's snow outside. He calls these changes weather, and there are short weather cycles, which last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, or even a few weeks. There are also long weather cycles, which the humans call seasons, which last for months."

 

Turuk looked to Orvin for confirmation. Orvin nodded, but wasn't sure where Turuk was going with all this. He, himself, certainly didn't know why night was only three hours. It had always been a lot longer when he grew up here.

 

"Well, and I have to say this again guys, you really need to pay attention at your lessons!" Sallay and Brent looked at each and rolled their eyes. "Master Tenken says that in the north, during the warm season, the sun stays out longer. Nobody knows why. Some think that the sun knows it's supposed to be the warm season and so stays out longer to try to get rid of all the snow. I think there has to be a more scientific explanation, but I don't know what it could be. Anyway, we already know we're up north, so I guess this must mean that we're in the warm season."

 

"Ahh, okay..." Sallay sounded like she wasn't really sure what Turuk had just said. Brent didn't look so sure either. For that matter, Orvin didn't really get it himself, but trusted his brother.

 

"So, does this mean we only get three hours of sleep while we're down here on earth?" Brent looked like he might cry.

 

Turuk looked irritated. "No, Brent, that isn't what it means. We can sleep earlier and wake up later than the sunset and sunrise. That is, if we need to. The three hour night is only for this northern region. If we can get to the port and catch a ship away from here by the end of the day, we can sail south to where the nights are longer. If that doesn't happen, you're just going to have to make do with putting an arm over your eyes when you sleep." He smirked at Brent.

 

Brent grabbed Sallay's hand and started toward the exit hole. "Let's get going then."

 

Upon making their way through the hole, and out into the light of day, the party was greeted by the blinding light of the sheer whiteness that surrounded them. The temple rose up behind them, and massive building covered half-way up in snow. The remainder was gray, elaborate, and lifeless. The land beyond that, as far as their eyes could see, was barren, cold and white, with undulating hills that flowed along the landscape in varying directions. The sky was clear, the sun shone bright, and they had to keep their eyes squinted and their hands in front of their faces to make anything out at all. Turuk immediately led the way westward, and for the rest of the day, the group found themselves plodding a dull trudge through the heavy snows.

 

Orvin considered making conversation, or asking his brother how far it was, but he knew it was pointless. They all did. They had no food, they were all starving, and the only way to change that was to get to Port Snow. So, he, and the rest of them, just put their heads down and stomped along, one foot at a time.

 

Orvin was surprised to find that he wasn't bothered by the cold of the snow. He knew his Dragovinan blood was used to the crisp, cold air of Dragovina, but he had expected the snow to cut through that. It didn't. He actually felt rather comfortable. He began to worry that when they traveled south, they would be bogged down by the heat of it. He knew he had grown up in a warm place with Jon, but that was before his body began to change. Would he be able to stand it now?

 

After what seemed like hours, the group suddenly found themselves walking among buildings. Orvin suspected he didn't notice the buildings before because he was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, but soon realized that wasn't the case. The buildings were practically buried in snow. They hadn't seen them before now because they had looked like part of the landscape.

 

Orvin's heart sank. The buildings were covered in snow, and dormant. Whatever town had been here, it was long gone.

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Chapter 4: Taking Flight

 

Orvin's stomach rumbled loudly. After more than a full day without food, and a hard trek through the snows, he was really feeling the hunger. His limbs were beginning to feel weak. He needed to sit down. He looked to his brother, then Brent and Sallay, they were all looking pretty worried. Turuk looked a bit frantic.

 

"Let's see if we can find the pier. There might be a boat here still." Orvin was trying to take the lead; be optimistic. They nodded agreement, too tired to do anything more.

 

They made their way through the snow covered buildings westward, hoping the docks lay in that direction. It was a little unsettling, Orvin felt, walking through a ghost town, especially one he had expected to be thriving and full of life. Finding it abandoned and dead set his nerves on edge. How long had it been since anyone had lived here? He couldn't guess. How long after Dragovina closed its doors to outsiders had this town continued? Had it been abandoned all at once, or had people clung to the hope that they would survive here, cut off from their main source of livelihood?

 

These questions nagged at Orvin, when Turuk suddenly spoke up. "Well, there's your ship."

 

Excitedly, Orvin looked for what Turuk was talking about. His hopes were dashed as he spotted what Turuk had. In the distance, rising out of the snow, was a tall mast and crows nest. Beyond it, even more snow.

 

Behind him, Orvin could hear Brent complaining. "I should never have helped them leave." He was saying to Sallay. "We could be at home, with full bellies, warm and snuggling. They never caused me anything but grief, you know. Why should I have cared if they got in trouble?"

 

Orvin looked at Turuk, and grimaced. Turuk looked to be getting angry, and about to say something, but Orvin put a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you for coming with me, Turuk. We'll figure this out together." That seemed to calm him down a bit.

 

"If only I had never joined the Dragon's Body!" He sounded like he wanted to curse. "I wish I had never turned into a dragon!"

 

An idea suddenly occurred to Orvin. "Turuk, did you bring your orb along?"

 

"Yeah, it's right here." He replied, looking a little confused as he pulled it out. "Why?"

 

"Well, I know this might be a bit much to ask." He paused. He wasn't sure if this would be a good idea, but he couldn't think of anything else, short of heading back to Dragovina. That wasn't an option. "Could you, maybe, fly us across the sea?"

 

Turuk's eyes grew wide. "Why didn't I think of that?" He grew excited, as the idea grew in him. "I've never flown before, but I'm sure I could do it! I am hungry, and that could be a distraction, but, no! I know I can do it!"

 

Brent and Sallay, who hadn't heard Orvin's proposal, but could see Turuk's excitment, came closer to ask, "What's going on? Did you find a way out of here?"

 

"I'm going to fly us out!" Turuk exclaimed.

 

Brent and Sallay looked at each other worriedly. "Uh, no offense Turuk, but you've never done it before. Isn't that a little dangerous?" That was Brent. Sallay added, "Aren't you starving like the rest of us? I don't want you trying to eat me when you've turned!"

 

Turuk looked frustrated by their lack of confidence. "Well what other choice have we got? I've been studying how to do this for the past two years! I know the ins and outs of it like the back of my hand. Trust me, I can do it!"

 

Brent and Sallay looked at each other again. Brent's stomach made a loud noise. With that, they nodded their agreement. Hunger, it seems, won out.

 

"Okay, you're going to have to give me a few minutes to clear my mind." Turuk moved a little ways away, and then stood motionless.

 

Orvin didn't really have anything to say to Brent, or Sallay, so he just stood quietly. They seemed to feel the same way, since they didn't break the silence. After a few minutes Turuk held out his orb and it began to glow. The first few times this happened, it was a lot like the first. It wasn't until one had become well practiced that the pains of turning went away, and the transformation came quickly. So, like the first time, Turuk's bones began to pop and crack, and he let out grunts and low moans of pain, until finally it became too much and he wailed as the final moments of his transformation hit him. Then, standing before them, Turuk the dragon let out a final roar of agony before lowering his head to the rest of them. He came forward slowly and tipped his body to the side to allow them on. They quickly climbed onto his back and had to hold on tight as he suddenly jerked forward into a rough lope.

 

Orvin had seen this done before, dragon riders were a useful part of the Dragon's Body. Having too many dragons in the air could be dangerous, so many of the Dragon's Body volunteered to be riders. Wielding magics, and ranged weapons from the backs of their dragons, they were an added threat to the enemy, without clogging the skies. Quite often, husbands and wives volunteered to be pairings in this. So, Orvin had seen this done, and he had thought he knew what to expect. He was surprised and terrified by the reality of it.

 

Breaking into incredible speed, Turuk's movements were a continual threat to throwing them all to the ground. Orvin couldn't make anything out clearly, as he was being jolted so hard and so quickly in every direction, he just closed his eyes and held on. In moments, but what seemed like hours, Turuk suddenly leaped into the air and beat his wings heavily. It was a lurching ascent, but they rose slowly higher until they could clearly see Port Snow from above. It quickly faded from view.

 

Where the running takeoff had been terrifying, this was exhilarating! The wind was roaring by, blowing his hair straight back. He kept having to squint and blink out tears, but the view was staggering. The vastness of the ocean hit him like a hammer. He couldn't believe that there was so much water. He had heard of it growing up, and there were small lakes and ponds near his father's home, but they were drops compared to this. He watched as flocks of birds flew by below. It was all breathtaking.

 

Soon, land became visible on the horizon. He wasn't sure if it had been minutes or hours, but he didn't want this flight to be over so quickly. As they approached the coast, he heard Sallay giggling behind him.

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As another flock of birds flew by below, Orvin suddenly found himself plunging toward the earth. Sallay screamed, and Brent roared. What was Turuk doing!? Orvin regained a small sense of what was happening just as they hit the flock he'd seen just seconds ago. Turuk started snatching at the birds, grabbing them with his teeth mid-flight. Frantically trying to catch the birds, Turuk let out a roar as he started tumbling out of the sky. Sallay continued screaming.

 

What is gong on?! Orvin thought frantically. Of course! He's hungry, it must have distracted him a little as he was turning, influencing the intentions of his dragon mind. But he's too new to flight! He couldn't handle those kinds of maneuvers! I need to remind him what he's supposed to do!

 

Holding on for dear life, as they tumbled fast toward the water, Orvin screamed, "Turuk!" He nearly sicked up at one particularly wrenching twist. "Listen to me! It's your brother Orvin! We were heading for the land across the ocean! We were going to meet my father! Turuk! You need to spread your wings wide! Flap them with everything you have! If you don't, we're all going to die!" The water was approaching fast. "TURUK!!!"

 

He must have penetrated, because Turuk spread his wings out, pulling them out of the barrel roll. He screamed a roar at the pain of the wind ripping his wings upward. They were still falling fast, and Turuk began jerking his wings in a flapping motion, but didn't seem to be helping. Orvin must have gotten through to Sallay too, or Brent did, because she had stopped screaming and was now chanting a spell very loudly. A tempest began blowing upward from beneath them, buffeting the sea below. It slowed their fall, and gave Turuk a chance to catch the wind more effectively. Orvin felt Turuk's body lurch upward slightly. So did Sallay, and she directed the tempest to the east, away from them. Turuk kept flight, only yards above the churning sea.

 

They were also not far from shore. Turuk flew the last bit to land and set down onto the sand. Everyone fell off, rather than dismounted. The air here was warm and inviting, but Orvin's limbs shook with fatigue and fright. He had no idea where they were, or whether there were any human towns nearby. He was starving, sore, tired and sick. Despite this his concern went to his brother. He looked around and saw him nearby, huddled and naked in the sand. Orvin lurched to his feet. He'd forgotten about that, and immediately took off his shirt to put around his brother.

 

As he bent to put his shirt over Turuk, his brother snarled and lashed out at him. "Get away from me!"

 

Orvin stumbled backwards, shocked. He fell on his back in the sand and scrambled to get back up. Something hard hit his jaw and he saw pinpricks. He was momentarily disoriented, and when he regained his senses, he found his face back in the sand. Something heavy landed on his back, knocking the wind out of him. A hand held his neck against the dirt and he spluttered to breathe through the sand. Suddenly, the weight was knocked off him, and he flipped onto his back coughing. He could see Brent wrestling with Turuk. Orvin scrambled onto his hands and knees and tried to get his feet under him. He stumbled, but made it. He moved toward the fray. He tried to call out 'Turuk!' but it only came out as a whisper. He tried to swallow saliva to wet his throat. He could see his brother's eyes, and they looked wild. Somehow, that was more frightening than anything else.

 

His throat felt a little better, and he was able to say his brother's name loud enough to be heard by the wrestling men. Turuk looked toward him, and as their eyes met, the wildness seemed to go out of them, and he settled down. Brent pinned him to the ground and shouted in his face, "What's the matter with you?!"

 

"Sorry." It came out as a whisper. Then louder, "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me." He looked terrified. Orvin picked up his shirt, then went and put it on his brother. Brent let go, and backed away as Orvin approached. He went to see how Sallay was.

 

"Here." Orvan said, and put his shirt around Turuk's waist. "I'm sorry, I forgot to take your clothes before we left."

 

Turuk swallowed hard. "Sorry about your lip." It was swelling and he could feel blood trickling down his throat. "I don't know what happened. It's like I went mad for a bit there." He suddenly seemed to register what Orvin had said. "Oh, they would have been shredded anyway. I should have thought to take them off before turning. Sorry about the fight. I couldn't help thinking about how hungry I was... I didn't think it would be a problem. I figured we'd just fly straight to land, and that was it. I didn't think there would be birds." He looked angry at himself. "I'll do better next time."

 

Orvin waved a hand in dismissal. "You did better than any of us could have. We're going to have to thank Sallay, though. If it wasn't for her, I think we'd be dead right now." They looked toward the other two. Brent was rubbing Sallay's shoulders and talking quietly to her. Orvin guessed that he was saying soothing things to calm her down. Best not to disturb them.

 

Orvin turned back to Turuk. "We need to find food, and quick. Sallay looks about as weak as I feel. Brent looks fine, I guess he's tougher than I thought, but he's gotta be feeling it too. And," he gestured toward the horizon, "night's falling. We have to find shelter."

 

Turuk nodded, and got to his feet. "I remembered the map you showed me back home. I tried to get us close to Hollow Bay, though I don't know if I brought us north or south of the place."

 

"Let's start south. If Hollow Bay is to the north, then at least we'll be heading to Seludra. We can hunt along the way. Hopefully there is game nearby. Otherwise... well, let's just hope. Let us also hope my hunting skills haven't become entirely useless these past ten years." Orvin said the last part with a smile. With that, they began south, Brent and Sallay following after them.

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Orvin scouted ahead of the party as it traveled in the waning twilight. He wasn't sure what he was going to hunt with. He had only his sword with him; he hadn't been expecting this kind of journey. Maybe he could make use of Sallay's fireballs. He studied the ground, and surrounding brush as he moved. They had gotten away from the shoreline and entered into some woods a while back. This was better for hunting, though they would probably head back to the water to make camp. He spotted what looked like a rabbit trail, and began following it. Soon he came upon some droppings. Yes, definitely a rabbit trail.

 

A knot of emotions welled up in him. It had been so long since he'd done this. He was more than a little surprised to find that he was picking it back up so easily. He felt the dung and was surprised to find it still a little warm. He move forward as stealthily as he could, making very little noise. He could sense his prey ahead. Suddenly, without any warning, he felt a sharp pain in his calf as something heavy thudded against his leg. He let out a sharp yell as he fell to the ground. He swiped his sword at whatever had hit him, and he struck flesh. He looked back at what he'd hit, and was surprised to see a dead rabbit.

 

"What the..." He didn't even have time to finish asking before another one bolted out of the bushes at his face. He fell back and swung his sword as fast as he could, and clipped the thing in its leg. It screeched, and tried to bite at him, but he swung again to finish it off. He swung around to face the other way, wary of more that might ambush him, but none came. Slowly, he came to realize that the rabbit that had bitten his leg hadn't let go. He reached down to pull its jaws apart to get it off, but stopped short as he saw it more clearly. The rabbit hadn't bit him. It had skewered his leg with a horn!

 

"What the hell?" He gasped, then reached down and yanked the horn free. He let out another low moan, and quickly applied pressure to the wound, as it began gushing blood. He looked at the other rabbit, and sure enough, it too had a horn growing out of its forehead. "I'll have to ask Turuk about these, he may know."

 

He tried to stand up, but found himself very weak. Having gone more than a day and a half without food, and now with his injury, he felt like just laying down and sleeping. He knew that would be a mistake, so he started casting about, looking for a plant his father taught him to eat in emergencies like this. He said it had medicinal properties, and could heal one's injuries quickly. The light was almost gone from the day, and he was having a hard time seeing. He began dragging himself back in the direction of his friends. He continued to search for the plant. There! He wasn't completely sure, given the dimness of the woods, but he went for the plant anyway.

 

He snapped off a leaf. "Just the leaf." He whispered to himself, as if recalling a long ago lesson. He quickly put it in his mouth, chewed it up and swallowed. Beyond tired, unable to keep his eyes open any longer, he fell into darkness.

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Chapter 5: Hollow Bay

 

Orvin sat bolt upright. He'd been having a dream about evil rabbits attacking his brother and father. Just before he woke up, a horn had pierced Turuk's heart. Orvin's own heart was racing, and he felt sweat trickle down his back. Recalling what had happened to him in the woods, he was surprised to find himself sitting in a bed, in what appeared to be a dim hut. There were rays of sunshine streaming through cracks in the walls.

 

"Orvin!" Turuk had been sitting next to him, and startled him. "Oh thank the Goddess! We heard you scream, and found you in the woods, covered in blood. We thought you had died! Then I found those Bunnicorns!" Orvin mouthed the word, trying to understand it. "Oh, that's just a common name for them. Technically, they're called cornu lepus. Anyway, you were still breathing, so we had hope. When you went ahead to scout, Brent had decided to go back to the shore to see if he could see Hollow Bay, and sure enough, there it was! That's where we are now. We're in the local inn."

 

Turuk grabbed Orvin in a tight hug, which he returned gladly. Turuk suddenly looked very serious. "Orvin, this town is nearly dead, too. I guess it must have developed the same way Port Snow did, around the travel to and from Dragovina. I've spoken to some of the people here, there aren't many, and they said their parents decided to hang on to their life here, which is the town didn't completely die away. But those people who decided to stay were very few. From what I've gathered, this town used to be five times as large." Turuk looked troubled. "Do you think Vanin knew the lives he'd destroy when the portal was closed to humanity?" Before Orvin could make any kind of answer, Turuk's face hardened. "No. They deserved it. They're the reason my parents are dead, and your mother."

 

"Turuk..." He began, "not all of them are to blame." Turuk looked away.

 

"Brent and Sallay are out buying provisions. You should get some more rest. I'll get you something to eat." Without looking back at his brother, Turuk left the room.

 

Alone, Orvin was now able to get a better look at the room he was in. It was nothing fancy. He could see the walls were made of wood logs. There were no wall hangings. There were some torch posts by the door, and near the bed, but none were lit. He guessed that Turuk didn't want to disturb his rest. He suddenly wondered how long he had been asleep. He checked his leg. The wound was completely healed, but there was a large scar where it had been. He grimaced at that.

 

There were a couple of drawers on either side of the bed, he opened one and found a hat. It seemed to be made of leather. Enjoying his luck, he put it on. It fit nicely, and he decided to keep it. Probably left by someone who stayed here once. He surmised. His thoughts soon returned to his brother.

 

He was very worried about Turuk. Ever since his Training Day, he'd been exhibiting erratic behavior. The fight on the beach was just the most extreme of it. He couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was, but his brother somehow seemed frantic. There seemed to be an edge to the way he said things, or looked at people. What had happened that day? They still had no idea. Come to think of it, he still hadn't actually told Turuk what he had heard. Turuk had never asked. That was curious. Turuk normally had an insatiable need to know everything. Why hadn't he asked about that? He knew Orvin hadn't collapsed like everyone else. Did he suspect Orvin of something?

 

Orvin shook his head. No, that can't be it. Turuk and I have watched each others' backs since we first met. I trust him implicitly, and he trusts me. Then why? Orvin had no answers. He didn't wait for his brother to get back with food though. He needed to get up and move about. He felt rested enough, he really didn't need more. So, without further ado, he got out of bed and ventured out into Hollow Bay.

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