The Story continues.
| A festive atmosphere hangs in the King’s dining hall as harpies gracefully spin in front the feeding table. Their colorful wings glide in the air as a tengu whistles a pleasant tune into his flute. Vines snake across the celling as torches dangling from ropes gives the room its orange glow. Drake sits between the King and Jasmine as they enjoy the festivities. Drake’s mouth waters as he stares at the roasted turkey, chicken, quail and duck. He inhales the warm meaty aroma and grabs a leg from a turkey with one hand and duck strips in another. Watching the dancers grace across the floor, Drake bites off a chunk of savory turkey chewing its onion seasoned goodness and devours the slightly sweetened duck.
“Mm, this is good,” Drake says finishing both courses in a matter of seconds. He places the bones on the table, reaches for the goblet, brings it to his nose and inhales the sour grape before throwing it back. His throat cools as the sweet elixir excites his taste buds and forces him to finish in one gulp.
Feeling his strength restored, Drake slams the cup on the table in a satisfying sigh.
“How are you enjoying the feast?” Jasmine asks giggling. Her graceful green eyes glow under the torch lights as she gazes at him. Looking at her makes the young man’s cheeks flush. Embarrassed, he quickly wipes the excess liquid and meat from his lips.
“The f-foods good.” Drake stammers. “I-Is this how your people celebrate?”
“Of course,” She replies with an earnest smile as she watches the dancers sway their hips while circling each other. “I enjoy moments like this. Everyone gathered together to have a splendid time. Laughing and eating. It’s a place where you can forget everything negative just for the moment. Mother and Father told me they fell in love at a banquet like this”
“Where is your mother?” Drake asks, glancing across the room.
“Its customary that the harpy queen arrives last at the banquet to grace everyone with her beauty.” Jasmine says.
“Really,” Drake says raising an eyebrow. “She must be beautiful if you are her daughter”
Jasmine cheeks turn red as she bashfully turns her head away. “Oh Drake, you flatter me with your kind words”
“It’s true.” Drake says. “Compared to the women I’ve come across, it’s nice to see one who actually acts like a real princess.”
“That can’t be true.” Jasmine says turning her head, “I’ve heard Salatia was home to the most beautiful women in Endina.”
“If you want to call violent beautiful, then yes.” Drake shakes his head. “So far, the women I’ve come across kicked me in the face, punched me in the gut, spewed fire on me and nearly tortured me to death.”
“Spewed fire? Heavens no.” Jasmine gasps, covering her mouth with her hands.
“Yeah, that was Debra” Drake says.
“The Alternean princess? You’ve came across her?”
“What you know her?”
“We played together as kids. She was always rough,” Jasmine giggles.
“Yeah that sounds about right.” Drake says, folding his arms.
“You must’ve really got under her skin for her to spew fire on you,” She chuckles.
“To be fair, she held us captive and wanted us to become her slaves for food,” Drake says, scratching the back of his head. “So, I made fun of her backside.”
Jasmine breaks out into incessant laughter.
“Wow, you’re a lot braver than I thought.”
“Say.” Drake says, eyeing Jasmine.
“What is it?” She replies, reading Drake’s sudden mood change.
“You lived around dragons for a while. Were the dragons always like the way they are?”
Jasmine looks ahead and stares into the flickering torchlight hanging from the rope.
“It’s hard to say” She replies, lowering her head. “Our nations were at peace when the Dragon queen ruled but the dragons suffered from one set back after another. And, as if things couldn’t get any worse, their male population died from an unknown disease. When the queen left to protect her children, the king held an investigation into the matter. Radius always suspected us as the culprits but since Raina ruled, things continued in as they were. But that all changed.”
“The queen was killed.” Drake says.
Jasmine silently nods.
“After her death, word came to us that Radius took the throne and declared war against the Avians. We’ve been at war since.”
Drake mulls over her words as he folds his arms at the table.
If she’s referring to the dragon that attacked the village, then the queen still lives. Somehow I get the feeling Darkall is involved in all of this.
Then the music suddenly halts and the dancers turn towards the entrance.
“What’s happening? Drake says looking around the silent room.
“She’s coming.” Jasmine happily whispers holding a finger over her lips.
Drake glances at wooden doors noticing the tengu carving on one side and the harpy design on the other. The door squeaks open and in walks two harpies one green feathered and one blue feathered. Their hair tied up in a bun, they face each other and open their wings welcoming their queen.
Drake couldn’t take his eyes off the woman stepping into the dining room. Her features were similar to Jasmine’s but more mature and with a smile that could capture the heart of any man hot or cold. A jeweled grown glistened under the torch lights gracing her dark green hair as it flows seamlessly to her back.
The King rises and walks towards his wife arms open.
“My heart.” The woman says wrapping her colorful wings around the man’s bulky neck.
“You’re as beautiful as ever” Kassandra.
The woman smiles as her colorful feather sink into her arms and talon legs morph into human legs.
“And how’s my daring husband doing? She teases. Getting into trouble arnt you?”
“What do you mean?” the man asks in a shaky laugh.
The woman plants her fists on her shapely hips and casts an accusatory glance at the Tengu
“What I mean is the fiasco earlier.”
“Fiasco?” The man asks shrugging his shoulders.
“Don’t play silly with me husband.” She says folding her arms. “You attacked an innocent visitor who was captured by the wicked Alterneans. No telling what the poor boy’s been through and you just had to make his visit here much worse.”
“Please forgive me dear.” The tengu says. It was all for the protection of the kingdom.”
“I know, dear.” She replies caressing his bearded cheeks with both of her hands. “I admire your love you have for me and our people but please do take care. We already have the alterneans as our enemies. We don’t need any more.”
The King understandingly bobbed his head and the queen lowers her head and kisses him on the cheek.
“So,” she says with an elated smile. “Where’s our young adventurer?”
Jasmine grabs Drake underneath his elbow, pulls him to his feet and walks him to the tall queen.
Drake’s body stiffened as his face flushed his cheeks seeing the tall and mesmerizing queen.
“H..hello your highness,” He says bowing. “I’m Drake Ryft. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” The woman laughs at his awkward but cute demeanor. “Please forgive my husband’s…harsh treatment earlier. As an apology, allow me to present you with a gift young Drake.”
The woman holds out her hand behind and an nearby harpy walks up to her and bows as she places a scroll into the queen’s hand. The Queen takes the scroll and hands it to Drake. Puzzled, Drake looks at the scroll and scratches his head and looks at the queen hoping she would tell him what it is.
“Go on and open it.” She says.
Drake unravels the scroll and his eyes widen in disbelief as he sees six verses all glowing in their unique elements.
Extend, Explosion, Multiply, Draw, Ensnare, and Flash.
“Wow.” Drake says peering at the scroll.
“A verse scroll to aid you in your travels.” The queen says.
A smile cracks on his face as he closes the scroll and shoves it into his red tunic.
“Thank you,” Drake says with a slight bow. “This will help me greatly.”
“Now that we formally introduce ourselves, what’s the purpose of your travels?”
Drake hesitates for a moment as he gathers his thoughts. I guess its best to tell them. He thinks.
“I’m on a Journey to find Estoria.” Drake says.
The room went quiet as the crackling torches fill the room with its orange hue. All of the Harpies and Tengu stare at him as the King and Queen shot glances towards each other.
Maybe I shouldn’t have told them. Drake thinks.
“Um…is there something wrong?” Drake asks.
“You’re seeking the ancient city?” The Tengu King asks folding his arms. “Forgive our skepticism but it’s a strange thing for a foreigner to seek such a place.”
“Because you don’t think it exists?” Drake asks
“Quite the opposite,” the King says shrugging his bulky shoulders. “We know it exists, but we believe it shouldn’t be found.”
“Why?” Drake asks side-eying the two.
“Ancient stories passed down by our ancestors says that Estoria is a place of sorrow and misfortune. Those who dwell there are said to be vacant beings devoid of emotion or expression. Some even say it’s a prison”
Drake eyes ping pong between the King and Queen as thoughts raced in his head.
I wonder if these stories are true. Though, if it was spectacular everyone thought it should be, she would’ve told me sooner. Why wait so long?
“Are they any archives around for me to read?” Drake asks. “I would like to find out more.”
“Yes we do in fact.” The queen says with an elated smile on her face. “I love it when young minds inquire knowledge. Jasmine will take you there as soon as you are ready”
“I’m sorry but there’s one more thing that I’d like to ask your higness.” Drake asks with a slight bow.
“What is it?”
Drake hesitates for a few moments as he tries to gather his thoughts. Standing in front of a crowd he didn’t want to sound…awkward.
“Are there any…” He folds his arms and pensively graces his thumb and finger on his chin. “Hidden chamber,”
The queen tilts her head slightly, with a confused look on her face but the King keeps a strait face as his eyes shift left and back.
“Hidden chamber?” she asks.
“Its hard to explain but it’s made of metal and it can talk.” Drake says as his eyes focus on the King.
“Metal can talk?” The queen asks.
“Nevermind,” Drake sighs shaking his head. “Sorry I asked”
“Well, why don’t we continue with the festivities then.” The Queen says as she turns to the flute players and claps her hands.
The flute players resume their tunes and the banquet carries on. All of the subjects including Drake had their fill of meat, fruit and drink and conversed with each other. Various people, Tengu and Harpie alike huddle around Drake, asking about his travels and his battle with King Radius. While Drake bashfully embellishes their curiosity with his story. Soon night-fall arrives and everyone retreat to their dwellings within the palace.
Drake asks Jasmine to take him to the archive and she guides him deep into the palace. Walking on a large branch Jasmine points to one of many huts perched on branch intersections. Pink fireflies dance around lit paper shade night lamps as an orchestra of crickets fill the canopy. As they walked, Drake hears soft beating wings and turns his head to notice three figures flying past him. Two tengus carry a hidden figure covered in a black cloak from head to toe. Hearing sobbing coming from underneath, drake could tell that it was a male. Brown feathers pour from below the cloak like autumn leaves as a unnatural odor wafts by.
“Hey,” Drake asks pointing to the group flying deep into the canopy. “Whats going on with-”
“Were approaching the library,” Jasmine interrupts unwilling to answer Drake.
What was that all about? Drake thinks suspiciously eyeing the young princes.
Drake shakes his head away from the question and continues towards an intersection on the branch. Jasmine walk straight ahead and down to see a wooden hut perched upon a branch. Big enough for only two people, Jasmine and Drake enter to see two rows of bookshelves standing opposite of each other with a small table perched between the two. A paper shade lamp hang above as a picture of a four winged harpie spreading its wings over a green landscape sticks to the wall.
“This is it?” Drake asks looking at the two bookshelves.
“Yes,” The princess replies, running her finger along the fabric spines. “Is something wrong?”
“No. But,” He stammers as she scratches the back of his head. “I figured this place would be much larger than I expected.”
“Land dwellers forget easily so they rely on their writings to record their history. We on the other hand orally pass down our history and knowledge as we remember everything that happened in our lives. The only books that we tend to read are fables written by bards all over Endina.”
“What’s that picture about then?” Drake asks nodding his head towards the painting on the wall.
Jasmine turns her head towards the painting and turns back towards the bookshelf, running her finger across the leather spines.
“Here it is.” She says as she pulls out a book and holds it out to Drake.
Drake eyes bounce between her and the book before taking it. On the book cover, it read: Dancer of the Heaven in gold letters.
“The answer to your question silly?” She says in an endearing voice.
Drake opens the book and it reads.
Her wings beat against mountains,
And her song carries against the wind
As she calls for all her children,
To come and play together once again-
To bridge the divide of the mountains
And return them to ranges of beauty
Where gardens rest.
“Hm, so she’s the mother of the harpies and Tengus?” Drake says, closing the book.
“Amazing isn’t it?” Jasmine smiles as she bashfully twirls her finger in her green hair. “Some say that her beauty can’t be surpassed. And tales speak that her feathers can keep a maiden young forever.”
“That is amazing,” Drake says handing the book back to the princess. “So where is she now?”
“I’m not sure,” Jasmine replies shaking her head. “These are tales of old. Since before I was even born. Some say she went on a long journey while others say she’s far away in the stars.”
“Are the tengus and harpies the only ones with a matriarch?” Drake asks.
“Sort of,” Jasmine replies with a shrug. The dragons have the All Dragon, I know because they had to seal him away.”
“That’s the second time I’ve heard of him.” Drake says folding his arms.
“Dragon of the dragons,” Jasmine says. “The most dangerous of their kind. He primarily attacks other dragons but will obliterate you if you dare get in its way.”
“Noted,” Drake says.
“Its getting late,” Drake says staring out in the dark night as the cool winds rustle the canopy above. “You should get home or your father will worry.”
“What about you?” Jasmine asks as Drake pull another book from the shelf.
“I slept for three months,” he says flipping through the pages as his eyes scans pictures of birds dragons drawn inside. “I have some…catching up to do.”
“Well, tomorrow lets…”
A red bolt slams onto the branch bursting into flames and smoke. The shock jolts the small hut and the bookshelves tilt forward on the two dwelling inside. Drake wraps his arms around Jasmine head as books spill onto his covering them. Smoke fills his nose as crackling fire eat the leaves on the branch.
“Ugh, what happened?” Drake asks shaking a book from his aching head. He pushes himself up and elbows the book shelf off his back. Now on his knees he looks down to see Jasmine prone half buried under books.
“What was that?” Jasmine says with a despondent look on her face.
Then several more bolts slam into the forest erupting in flames and the hut tilts nearly on its side. Drake quickly reaches and grab’s jasmine’s hand and pulls her from beneath the rubble and the two stagger as the hut leans.
“C,mon this hut is about to fall.” Drake shouts.
Wood groaning and boards snapping, Drake pulls Jasmine by the hand and escape the collapsing hut out into the chaos outside. Drake turns around to see the burning hut descend into the darkness below. Then a loud screech tear through the night sky sending a cold chill up Drake’s spine.
“Oh no,” Jasmine says looking up at the dark sky. “Wyverns”
Then a barrage of red bolts rain from the sky as wing beating creatures whoosh over Drake and Jasmine’s head. Sparks pop from colliding bolts and swelling flames follow as screaming residents fly away in panic.
Numerous alarm bells ring through out the forest as the barrage continue to wreak havoc on the tree town.
“GET TO THE PALACE!!” A voice shouts throughout the tree town. “There’s safety there!”
“We have to get to the palace,” Jasmine says pulling on Drake’s arm.
Drake looks towards the distance and sees a burning home with a broken branch barring the front door.
“HELP,” a voice of a little boy shouts as he coughs from the smoke.
“We have to help them,” Drake says as he darts across a burning branch. He holds his arms out to balance himself as the sturdy branch curves upward towards the house. He stops near the branch and look up into the night sky. Several faint winged figures sweep above the canopy as their beating wings fanned the flames around him. Drake wraps his arms around the coarse tree limb and used all of his strength to pull. The young man strains, huffing out of his mouth as the broken branch inches away from the door. Arms trembling from the strain, he pulls the branch away allowing it to descend to the depths below. Drake huffs in exhaustion as he leans against the door as the thin air leaves him breathless. He bangs his shoulder against the door bursting into the burning house as the black smoke blind his vision.
The smoke fills his lungs and he drops to his knees and covers his nose. He scans the living room with as a burning board snaps off its foundation and clomps onto the ground. Bellowing flames lick up green curtains but feathered rugs remained untouched. Drake drops onto the floor to get a better view and he sees a little boy lying unconscious with smoke rising from his singed wings. Wasting no time, drake stands and rushes down the hall through the flames and ducts beneath a burning beam. He slides next to the youth scoops him up in his arms and rushes towards the exit. Cradling the youth, he can feel the faint pulse in his arms as he kicks down the burning beam in his way. However, the roof collapse and burning debris clatter into the hallway barring his path. Drake stands aghast as he holds the dying youth in his arms.
“If I don’t find a way out of here..”
“DRAKE THIS WAY” Jasmine’s voice booms through the wreckage.
He turns around and rushes towards her voice as she continues to call out to him. Seeing a wall of fire in his path, he wraps his arms around the boy and charges through as his body absorbs most of the flames. He exits from the back where a black-haired woman grabs the youth from his arms.
“My boy!” she sobs as she cradles the youth in her arms. “Please say something.”
“Hurry.” Jasmine says motioning with her hand towards the palace. “He can receive aid there.”
The woman nods and rushes off on the large branch leading towards the palace.
“We need to go too.” Jasmine says turning towards Drake.
Drake nods his head and walks toward Jasmine but, another bolt slams into the branch and it throws him off.
“NOOO!!” Jasmine shouts as she leaps off the branch after him.
Drake flails about as he plummets down towards the darkness. Heart racing in panic he reaches towards Jasmine as feathers grow from her arm morphing into her harpy form. He hits numerous branches and his body spins uncontrollably. Jasmine spins around the branches, beats her wings further down and clasps his ankle with her talon. She speedily flaps her wings to slow their descent but she bangs her head into a branch and both slam onto the leafy forest floor.
The distant alarm bell still rings in Drake head as the ground tilts about. He takes several sharp breaths as his blurred eyes glimpses numerous glowing green mushrooms on the forest floor. As his eyes regains its focus the aches in his stomach, arms, legs, head and everywhere else becomes more apparent.
“Oh god,” he groans in pain as he pushes himself to his knees. “Feels worse than falling off a cliff.”
He huffs on all fours, staring at the worms slithering through the dead foliage as he waits for the aches in his body to calm. He sits on his hind legs and gazes at the towering trees with large knee length mushrooms growing from the ground and the base of the trees. Varying from orange, blue and iridescent green the glowing fungi gives the forest floor a memorizing hue as Drake inhales the wet, moldy smell. Looking up, the towering trees disappear into the darkness above as an orchestra of chirping crickets and hooting owls dominate the area.
“What is this place?”
A mild moan sounds nearby and he turns to see Jamine lying on the forest floor. He crawls towards her and removes her green hair from her sweaty face to see blood on her temples.
“Oh no,” He says as he places his hand on her forehead and his ear to her chest. He hears her breaths but they were dangerously faint as her forehead felt cold and wet.
Panicked, Drake lifts his head and looks around in search of any survivors.
“Hey! Is anyone out there?” His voice booms through the forest.
“If I don’t do something, she may not make it. But where am I supposed to go?”
Drake takes another look at the princess as her eyelids bob. She moans as her finger and thumb clenches on the fabric of his trousers.
“D…daddy…” she mumbles faintly.
Drake sighs in frustration as he scoops her up in his arms. Planting his feet firm into the ground, he groans in pain as he rises with her in his arms. His legs burn in pain as his sore arms tremble from the weight.
“C,mon Drake,” he says huffing. “You can do this.”
He stomps through the forest inhaling the faint berry perfume form Jasmine’s neck as her limbs dangle from his grasp.
“If I just go in one direction...” he says picking up his pace. “Then It’ll take me to the edge of the island. Hopefully I can find someone.”
However, a misstep twists his ankle and he collapse to a knee.
“I can’t…” he huffs. Sweat pours down his face as aches course through his body. “I need to rest.”
A few moments pass as he holds the unconscious maiden in his arms while he catches his breath. He allows his pounding heart to calm and his aches to mildly abate. A snapping twig alerts him and he turns towards the noise. He sees a small dirty foot retreat behind the tree.
“Hey,” Drake shouts “Wait! She needs help. She’s a princess.”
Drake anxiously waits for a response as his echoing voice vanishes. After a few moments a young girl with long black hair steps from behind a tree. Barefooted, she wore a long tattered tunic.
“Hey, Drake says calmly trying not to scare away the youth, “Are you alone?”
The innocent girl nodded her head but didn’t utter a word.
“Are there others?”
She nods her head again.
“This person is hurt and needs help,” he says as he rising to his feet with jasmine in his arms.
“Can you help me?”
The girls brown eyes bob between Drake and Jasmine in apprehensive silence.
“Please,” he says in a desperate tone. “She risked her life to save mine.”
The girl turns her head and points towards the distance.
“They’re that way?” Drake says in a relieving sigh. “Can you take me?”
The girl nods and she prance ahead with her little feet delicately meshing the leaves.
Drake takes a deep dank breath and follows holding the princess in his arms. They zig-zag through columns of trees step over knee high mushrooms while Drake looks up at a large owl quietly soaring above. The two arrive at a thick wall of vines filled with tiny glowing insects between two very large trees. Getting on hands and knees, the crawls through the small opening and disappears inside. Drake huffs as he re-adjusts his hold on the princess while waiting for a response. After a few moments, the vines split open revealing a village filled with makeshift homes made from mushrooms strapped together by vines. Combined with the glowing bees buzzing above, the light from the mushroom homes illuminate the area as people scurry about collecting bugs and worms from the forest floor. The little girl runs up to a woman with similar features as hers, tugs on her long dingy shirt and points towards Drake. The woman turns around holding a trey of insects and drops it as soon as she sees the princess.
“We were attacked,” Drake says stepping towards the woman. “She needs aid quick,”
The woman grabs the little girl by the arm and bolts inside her makeshift home nearby.
“Hey wait,” he shouts speeding up his trek.
His voice garners the attention of everyone in the village and when they see Jasmine they flee towards their homes carrying their treys of insects inside.
“Where are you going? She needs help,” Drake says
The village now quiet Drake stands alone holding the princess limp body.
“What’s wrong them?” Drake says as his eyes narrow in anger.
“There’s a woman dying in my arms,” his voice booms through the area “She risked her life to save mine and if I’d be possible, I’m sure she’d do the same for you. How can we hide in fear when there are those who desperately need our help?
Drake’s trembling legs gives into exhaustion and he falls on his knees carrying the princess.
“Please,” he pleads as he shakes his head. “I don’t want to see anyone die in my arms again”
“Psst, over here young man” A voice whispers behind him.
Drake turns to see an old man standing in front of a makeshift tent made from large mushrooms waving for him to come near. His long white beard contrasted his bald head as used an oaken cane to stand.
Nodding, Drake uses what strength he had left to stand and walks across the leafy ground where the man steps aside to allow Drake inside. Turning to the side, Drake ducts into the makeshift tent and rests her onto a rack made from cloths and leafy branches. Drake pushes away strands of lush green hair away as the orange glow from the burning candle reflects off her sweat covered face.
A reassuring hand grips Drake shoulder and he turns to see the old man motion with his hand for him to sit on a wooden chair nearby. Drake plops on the squeaky log chair and watches nervously as the man rolls up his sleeves. Setting his cane against the mushroom wall, he kneels and caresses Jasmines forehead.
“Ah, she’s gotten stronger since I last saw her.” the man says in a hoarse voice.
“You know her?” Drake asks.
“Do I know her?” he says in a sarcastic chuckle “Why, I was her caretaker and tutor. I taught her her duties as princess, as well as leadership and etiquette among her fellow Avians. She was the daughter I never had.
He reaches beneath the rack and pulls out a leather water-skin pouch and a white cloth. He pops the cork off the water pouch presses the cloth near the opening and tilts the pouch allowing the water to soak the cloth as droplets spill onto the ground.
“Here,” he says extending the water pouch towards Drake. “You must be thirsty carrying the princess such a long way.”
Drake nods and takes the water-skin pouch and throws his head back to drink the remaining contents. The warm liquid mixed with the mild moldy taste hits his throat and he immediately cough and gags as he wipes his mouth.
“Water here is store wherever we find it. I may not be to your liking.” The old man says.
“No, No, Its okay,” Drake shakes his head and cough. Its fine, I understand its just surprised me is all.”
“I’m well aware,” The man laughs. “The waters of whistle top palace can make any other liquid taste foul.”
“There’s defiantly a difference,” Drake laughs and clears his throat with a firm pound to the chest.
“What is your name young man?”
“ It’s Drake Ryft.”
“I am Genn, Tengu of the Oktu tribe.”
You’re a tengu? Drake says eyes widening in surpise. Good then maybe you can fly her back to her home.”
The old man looks down in quiet disappointment as he uses the wet towel to wipe the blood from the maiden’s temple.
“What?” Drake says taking notice of his sudden mood change. “Was it something I said?”
“I’m afraid that can’t be possible the old man sighs. I can no longer fly”
“Why?” Drake says as his bowing his furrows.
“I don’t have any feathers. None of us here does,” the old man shakes his head.
“What happened?” Drake asks as his eyes ping pong between him and the resting princess.
“In truth, we don’t know, but some say that it’s a disease. It started five years ago and I was the first to experience it. At first, it was subtle; a few feathers here and there. I threw it to a rough day as military training can shed a feather or two. But as time progressed, I would shed more and more feathers with out any more growing back.”
The old man squeezes the towel in grief as a tear roll down his wrinkled cheek stareing ahead as he recalls his painful history.
“To an Avians, our feathers are our pride, our strength and beauty without them we are nothing but refuse for the land dwellers to eat.”
“To hide my shame,” he says as his hoarse voice trembles. “I wore a cloak to hide it but it only progressed the molting. I would remove my coat only to find…,” he swallows the lump in his throat before he continues. “…feathers spilling onto the floor. I couldn’t hide it long. The king noticed and he banished me from the palace, never to return.”
Drake sits aghast with his hands gripping his knees hearing his story.
“I’m sorry I asked.” Drake says. “I wasn’t aware how much it meant to you.”
“Well,” the man says sighing. “When you’ve lived as long as we have, you learn to adapt, improvise and overcome. We’ve found this place to be peaceful and abundant in food.”
He wrings droplets of water back into a bowl and folds it back over the princess’s head and covers her with an old dingy sheet.
“She’s fine,” he says slapping his leg as he rises to his feet. “Just a bump to the head, she should be ready to go soon?”
“How are we going to get back?” Drake asks as he stands and stretches his body. He rotates his neck and rubs the crank in his shoulders as he still felt the sting of his fall from the palace.
“Regarding that,” The man says turning towards Drake and casting a stern look towards Drake. “You must take the princess as far away from here as soon as you are ready.”
“What?” Drake says letting his arms drop to his side. Why I’m sure she’d be greatful for you caring for her.”
“Please understand,” The old man says shaking his head. “We’ve been exiled from the palace and this island. We are not supposed to be here at the moment. Hence the reason everyone ran from you when you arrived.”
“Okay,” Drake says with a nod. “I just need more water and some food for the trip. What does everyone eat here?”
The old man grabs his cane resting against the wall and shuffles past Drake while Drake pinned himself in the small space between the foot of the rack and the mushroom tarp. The man squats and pulls a trey from beneath the table holding the candle. He stands, holds out the tray and Drake’s stomach turn at the sight.
Dead crickets, worms, cicada’s and beetles all with their stiff legs upward. Drake coughs as he covers his mouth trying hard to swallow the puke that nearly eject from this throat.
“Um…This is what you eat?” Drake asks apprehensively pointing at the dead critters.
“They’re good once you’ve gotten used to them,” the old man says moving the trey closer to Drake.
“Especially the locust.”
Drake’s stomach settles but he turns his head in disgust as he sees half eaten insects with their green guts and antenna on the trey.
I know I’ve eaten a fair amount of rotten food but I’m not sure my stomach can take this.
“Drake, don’t be rude,” Fane says in his mind. “He took great risk taking you and Jasmine in. At least you can do is accept his hospitality.”
“Aw come on Fane,” Drake thinks in his mine. “This isn’t like eating moldy bread. I can still see an antenna moving.”
The old man notices the living bug, snatches it from the trey, shoves it into his mouth and chews. Sounds of muffled crunching nearly churns Drakes stomach and he coughs as he tries to contain the vomit in his throat.
“Ok, thanks,” He says in a strained voice as he clasps the trey with his hand but keeping away from his face.
“Umm, hello?” A soft womanly voice speaks from outside the tent.
The elder walks past Drake and pulls open the rag clothed entrance. Drake, out of curiosity, lifts the food trey to his nose and sniffs. The pungent odor causes his face to wince in disgust as he turns his head away.
“Oh, no, no, no” he says shaking his head. “I’m good,”
“Ah, young Drake,” The man says, “Come on out and meet the villagers.
Carrying the trey, Drake ducks beneath the entrance and steps out side to see villagers all wearing dingy clothing of various colors. All had their heads bowed in shame as a woman with long ragged hair stands in front.
“Wh..where sorry for ignoring your call for help.” She says lowering her head. “We were afraid that if she known where we dwelled, she would’ve had us removed. We’re castaways and all we have is each other to rely on but we realized that no one should be casts aside for our own protection. We’re sorry.”
A warm smile creases across Drake’s face.
“Finally,” he thinks. In salatia all I ever saw is people abandon others for the sake of their own life to the point where I thought that that’s who they were. But here, in the middle of nowhere, there are people who care or at least show remorse for their fear.
“Is the princess well,” The woman rises and walks towards Drake. “I have supplies and food if she needs it and for you as well,” she continues as she holds out her cupped hands and opens them revealing a translucent beetle filled with rainbow-like, color shifting liquid. “Here’s a Fama beetle if you’re injured. It stores a rare gel that can heal your injuries…you’ll have to eat it for it to take effect.”
Drake stares at the beetle somewhat hypnotized by its oval shape and its whirling antenna. The bug itself looked less of a crawler and more like candy as the woman holds it closer to him.
“Um, if this can heal wounds,” Drake says staring at the appetizing critter, “then you should give this to the princess.”
Then the old man plants his dry crusted hand on Drakes shoulder. “She’ll be fine I can assure you,” he says. “Right now, I’m more concerned for your wounds as you have to be the one to protect her should the need arise.”
Drake nods his head as his shoulder hips and legs still ached from the fall. He reaches for the colorful beetle and delicately pincers it with his finger. Holding it up to his eye, he wonders how it would taste. He sucks in a deep breath, closes his eyes and plants the insect into his mouth. Drake’s face contorts as the sour liquid spills onto his tongue as he could feel its tiny extensions struggling inside. Grossed out, he quickly gulps down the meal and spits the antennae out on the ground.
“Aww man that’s disgusting,” he says wiping the spittle from his mouth. However, he feels a sudden rush of warm stamina overtake him. The pain in his body slowly vanishes and he could feel his heart eagerly pumping the substance through his veins.
“WHOA,” he shouts as he balls his hand into a tight fist feeling the surge of strength in his grip.
“What’s in this thing? I feel like a wave of stress just left my body.”
Then the old man held his hand up into the air to catch a falling water droplet into his palm.
“One of the many wonders of Whistle bottom forest.” He says staring at the droplet dance in his palm. “Despite not having any ponds or rivers, we still have waters to stay alive, food to keep us fed and a place to call home.”
“While we may not live as good as our brethren in the canopy, this forest somehow finds a way to take care of us.”
The old man raises his palm in the air, tilts it towards his face and allow the droplet roll into his mouth.
A gentle tug on Drake’s trousers interrupts his amazement and he look down to see the little girl that led him there. Rising on her toes, she stretches her fingers toward the trey in Drakes hand.
“Amara, stop, that’s the guest’s food.” The woman says as she pulls the little girl by her shoulders”
“Oh, she’s hungry?” Drake says eager to give his meal away.
He walks towards the little girl and kneels in front of her and holds out the trey. He could see the black-haired girl stare blankly at the young warrior and she looks up towards her mother for approval.
“She’s your daughter?” Drake asks looking up at the woman.
“Yes,” The woman nods. “But she lost her ability to talk when she lost her feathers.”
A sobering feeling overwhelms Drake hearing the girl’s condition. It was similar to what he saw at Belle City. No matter where he went, there was always someone being cast aside, not allowed in or out.
“If it weren’t for you,” Drake says placing the trey on the ground. Someone would’ve died trying to save me.
“Thank you.” He says lowering his head.
A warm smile graced the girls face as she dropped on her knees, happily picks up a cicada and a Beetle from the trey and playfully waves the insects in the air before shoving them into her mouth.
Drake winches in near disgust as the crunching ensues.
Then a terrifying thought struct Drake as he looked around at all the villagers standing around him.
Wait a minute? he thinks to himself. Debra told me that the Dragons were dealing with a disease that wiped out all of their males. The strange famine for the humans, the disease for the dragans, and now this? Does Darkall has anything to do with this? Probably so. I have a feeling his hand is in this somehow. Question is, how do I find out?
Then a fireball arches through the air and collides with an nearby hut and flames licks the mushrooms until they were black. People scream and panic as several more flames arch through the air hitting a tree trunk, another hut and the ground where the explosion hurls screaming villagers into the air.
Drake’s eyes widen as he sees flames rise into the air and rises as the mother grabs her young child and runs away.
“Heavens! Who could be attacking us here of all places?” The old man gasps.
“Run,” Drakes says pointing towards the villagers as he stares at the flames burning the homes.
The old man doesn’t move right away as he was mesmerized by the orange glow as if it was the first time he saw an explosion. Drake quickly clasps the man’s arm, pulls him out of his trance and shoves him in towards hut.
“Hurry up and run,” he shouts. “Take the princess and find someplace safe.”
The old man disappears inside the hut and slowly emerges carrying the sleeping beauty in his arm.
“Good fortune to you young warrior.” The old man says with a slight not before jogging away in his sandals.
Watching him disappear behind a bramble bush, Drake turns and runs towards the commotion. He passes through a wall of flames and runs past a pile of burnt mushrooms to see three figures standing between two giant trees. The one in the center Drake knew it was mahogany. She stands with an haughty intelligence folding her arms while pressing her spectacles up to her face. Her white scaly wings were folded behind her back as her smooth tail wiggles behind her. The other two figures wore hooded black cloaks, hiding their faces from Drake’s view but with their burgundy and green scaly wings sticking out from their back.
“Ah there you are,” Mahogany says as Drake walks towards the two. “I was curious to find out what fire does to mushrooms on my way here so, as you can see,” she continues as she happily opens her arms to showcase the burning homes behind Drake. “I’ve conducted a small experiment.”
How she was able to find me?
“Oh don’t be so flustered,” She says placing a hand on her hip and flicking her silky black hair. “I’ve place a track verse on you while you were unconscious. You didn’t think I’d let you get away that easy now did you.”
“But that means you knew…” Drake says as his eyes widen in horror. “You were the one who sent those wyverns to attack the palace.”
“Led you right where I wanted you.” Mahogany says as her dragon eyes narrow with an ivory fanged smile.
Guilt lowers Drake’s head as he ponders recent events.
People are hurting and losing their homes because of me. I have to do something or this’ll get out of hand.
Then, a whimpering man disrupts Drake’s thinking as he turns his head and sees the man frantically running for his life.
“Hmm,” Mahoganny says hungrily opening her palm towards the man. “Target practice.”
FIREFLING burns into existence above her head and a ball of fire erupts from her clawed palm. Drake’s eyes widen in horror as he breaks into a full sprint to intercept the sphere of trailing fire. Drake slides to a halt guards his face with his forearms in front of the spinning inferno and it slams into him erupting into a plume of flames, smoke and black flickering static.
The smoke and fire fizzles on his forearms before they sink inside.
“Really,” Mahogany sighs as she lowers her arm to her side. “You shouldn’t put yourself in danger for people who’s already going to die. Its illogical”
“Hmph,” Drake scoffs as he lowers his fore arms. “Who says I was in danger? All you’ve managed to do is make me stronger.”
Then, a narrow-eyed sneer cracks across her face as she raises her arm and presses her fingers together.
“Did I?” she says before snapping her fingers.
Drake body buckles from exhaustion and he falls to a knee. His breaths turn heavy as feels the strength sap from his body. Looking up, he can see the verse LEACH in dark purple letters appear over Mahogany’s head.
“You…” Drake groans as his body barley allowed him to speak.
“Back in the chamber you escaped the explosion unharmed.” Mahogany says raising her hand to her face, clenching a fist and releasing it. “I originally thought that if I can control your environment, I can control your powers. I was wrong. You can’t control your environment, now matter how hard you try. There will always be a variable or outlier that will inevitably toss a wrench into your plans. Instead, you use the environment to your advantage. I figured you’d rely heavily on your ability to absorb fire so all I had to do is douse my flames with an appropriate verse and success.”
Then the verse above her head fades and they reappear above the two hooded dragonesses beside her. A cylindrical purple aura surrounds the two as the verses fizzle away like sand and rain on the two hooded women.
“Allow me to introduce you to Catareena and Magdelin,” Mahogany says motioning her hand towards the two beside her. “They may not be as strong as the King, but with a little help from your carelessness I’m sure they will manage just nicely.”
Thoughts race through Drake’s mind as he stares at the three figures standing in front of him.
You need to pay more attention. Griselda’s words ring through his head. You don't know if your enemy is carrying a hidden weapon, special ability, or verse. Battles are unpredictable and unforgiving. One element of a battle that changes can make the strongest and most experienced warriors weak and amateurish.
Drake cursed himself as he collapses onto his palms. Droplets of sweat drips from his nose as he watches it fall onto a dead leaf. Mahogany folds her arms and scoffs at the young warrior as he tries to manage his weakness.
“ Beat him to a pulp if you wish.” Mahogany orders as she folds her arms, “But don’t kill him.”
One woman’s coat starts walking towards the warrior as her coat flap about but the other jets past her in a full sprint. She cartwheels, back-flips several times before launching into the air for a jump kick. Drake uses what strength he had left and rolls away as the woman’s foot slams into the ground flinging dirt and leaves in all direction. Kneeling, she stands as she clasps and rips the hooded coat and rips it away exposing her thin but muscular body covered in burgundy scales. Her hair was done so that part of her face was covered as purple lipstick graced her face.
“Hey,” The other woman protests as she pulls off her coat and tosses it over her head. “We agreed that I should be the one who attacks first.
This green scaled woman was plumper than the other with amber eyes and blonde hair. With some of his strength returned, he slowly stands to his feet to face the women.
“You were to slow,” the slender woman replied slamming her tail onto the ground. “Scarfing down bun rolls and sweet ale every night…” her eyes judgingly glanced down at the woman’s thick hips. “isn’t going to help you move faster.”
“And what exactly do you mean by that, Catareena?” The woman scowls stomping her feet, sending a light tremor through the ground.
“Are you dense, Magdelin?” she says tossing a hand in the air and shaking her head. “I’m saying that your fat”
Drake’s eyes ping pong between the two arguing women as they threw their insults back and forward.
They don’t seem to like each other. Drake thinks. I better do something or this’ll get worse for me.
Drake bends his knees and breaks into a full sprint. Feet tapping the ground, he writes FANE in the air and his hand burst into flames that stretch and solidifies into his red crystalline sword. He clasps the hilt cocks the sword back and performs a horizontal swing trailing with whooshing flames towards Catareena.
However, she raises her forearm and halting the sword in a loud clank firing sparks in all directions.
“What!?” Drakes eyes widen in shock.
The slender woman raises her leg and kicks Drake in the stomach. Drake’s hand and feet nearly meet as he crashes, roll across the ground. Drake clenches his teeth in pain as he held his aching gut while stumbling to his feet.
Looking up, his eyes scan the area as the two vanished from sight. All he could see was Mahogany giddily standing with her arms folded. She raises one arm a stabbed her finger upward. Drake looks above him and immediately leaps away as Magdeline slams onto the ground butt first. The deep rumble echoes through the half-destroyed village as she stands and pats the dust off her scaly plump backside.
“INCENERATE” Drake shouts as his verse appears beside him. The green-scaled dragoness burst into flames with a light brighter than anything else in the area but the burning creature charged towards Drake. As she ran, the flames sink into her body and her eyes erupts into flames. She clasps a hand to a tight fist and throws a straight punch. Drake instinctively leaps to the side aghast at her ability to absorb fire. His back bumps into a tree and the femme fatale turns, throws a punch straight for Drake’s head, misses as Drake ducks and slams into a tree. Flame erupt from her fist so fierce that it bore a hole into the tree and expels from the other side.
Drake lunges forward and wraps his arms around the woman’s waists and pushes forward to tackle her to the ground. However, the woman slides back as her foot claws dug into the dirt and lacerates the ground. The woman amusingly smiles as she watches him struggle to push her back. She raises her arm, elbows Drake hard in the back and he collapses onto the ground.
“Well you’re the can-do kinda guy aren’t ya?” she says looking down at him. “A little on the inexperience side though. Ya gotta act as if you know what you’re doing if you want a shot at me.”
“Who says he wants you?” Catereena says as she saunters up to the two. “I doubt men would go with some one who’s overbearing as you are. You just tried to crush him with your butt,”
“Hmph,” Magdelin spitefully turns her head away. “At least I have one.”
“What was that?” Catereena says as her face contort into an angry scowl.
“I may have gained a few racks in my love handles,” She says as she places her hands on her hips and swings it to the side. “But that’s what men look for in a woman. I’ve had several suitors approach me because of the warmth I provide. They’ll freeze keeping a board like you around.”
“How dare you…”
Drake leaps from the ground spins with sword in hand for a spin slash. But Magdeling wraps her arms around Drakes halting his attack, steps back pulls him around in a circle and launches him towards Catereena who runs leaps and catches his head between her thighs as she tackles him onto the ground.
The thin dragoness’s palms plant firm onto the ground staring at Drake as he struggles to pry the woman’s legs open.
Man, this sucks. Drake thinks to himself, struggling to pull open the female’s scaly thighs from around his head. Fell from a sky-high tall tree after a wyvern attack, and now I’m getting my butt handed to me by petty women arguing over their looks. How are they able to absorb fire?
“Drake,” Fane speaks into his mind. The leach verse not only borrows your strength but it also borrows your abilities as well.
Fane, I really wish you would tell me these things, before I find out the hard way.
“You need to study your verses Drake. Your enemies are becoming aware of your abilities and will be more prepared to face you.”
“Hey,” Catereene says as her amber draconic eyes peers into his, “My partner and I have a little disagreement that needs a… third opinion. You know what I mean?”
“Don’t know,” Drake grunts as he readjusts his hands around the woman’s muscular thighs. “Will it help my chances?”
“No,” The woman says softly. “Consider it your last choice.”
“Well,” Drake says mustering an uncomfortable chuckle. “How, can I put this…You…smell like rotten mushrooms.”
Catereene gasps as her eyes widen in shock. Magdeline burst into belly gripping laughter as she leans over and slaps her knee.
“Rotten mushrooms, hahahaha. That’s rich. Did you hear that Catereene? He says you need to shower more.”
Catereene’s widened eyes narrow to swelling rage as a deep resonating growl from her throat vibrates the leaves. She holds out her hand and a sharp burgundy blade rises from her wrists. She points her glistening blade square at Drake’s eye and hovers it over his nose.
“You dislike my aroma? I’ll fix it by carving out that impudent snout of yours.”
She raises her blade into the air to impale the warrior but a white chain suddenly wraps around her wrist. Catereen angrily whips her head around snarling only to find Mahogany holding the chains that bound her wrist.
“I said alive,” Mahogony shouts, looking directly at Catereen.
“Who do you think you are?” Catreene shouts, swinging her arm in defiance. “You’re not in charge anymore so you can’t order me around.”
Then a flickering black static erupts from mahogany’s hand, spirals long the chain and zaps the bound dragoness in a violent charge. Catereene screams in agony as her back arches backward looking up at the canopy. Black sparks pop and crack around her body as Mahogony glares angrily at the defiant dragoness.
“Who do I think I am?” Mahogany angrily shouts. “I’m the woman that will make your existence a living hell should you ever, EVER challenge me again. You will do as you are told, and I will not hear such as a whelp from you.”
“AHHH,” Catereene screams as her body stiffens from the shock. “Yes, I will obey,”
Mahogany closes her hand severing the chain she held and it dissolves into dust. Catereene doubles over panting and sweating allowing for the pain to subside. However, Drake quickly rolls over, throwing the wounded woman off and he rises to his feet patting the dust of his tunic. Magdelin charges towards Drake as her tail waves about, balls her fist and throws it strait for Drakes face. Drake raises his arms and blocks the oncoming charge but he slides back and falls to a knee in exhaustion. He looks at Mahogany and the leech verse hovering over her hand before a tail sweeps in and whack him in the face. Drake’s head slams into the foliage as pain and exhaustion keeps the warrior grounded. However, Drake notices a bright color in the corner of his eyes he turns his head and his eyes blink several times in disbelief. There, with it’s antenna waving in the air, was another translucent beetle in all of its colorful brightness. The young man, rolls grabs the insect just as Magdeling clasps his ankle and drags him through the dirt. Kicking him in the side, she rolls him his back, clasps his tunic and yanks him back to his feet.
Growling, her amber eyes glow revealing her ivory white fangs but Drake quickly places his hand to his mouth and swallows the bug whole. With one hand, the dragoness lifts Drake into the air as his feet hover above ground. She pulls back and hurls Drake away. Drake’s back slams into a tree and falls face first into the Ground. As his face lie in the dirt, the pain in his body vanishes as his pounding heart beats with renewed vigor. Adrenaline pumps through his veins and his muscles twitch in excitement. He looks up and gazes at the dragoness as he pushes up to his feet.
“Quite durable aren’t ya,” Magdeline says stepping towards the young warrior. “But standing back up after taking hits isn’t going to amount to much. It’s only a matter of time before you give into the pain,”
She balls her scaly fist cocks back and throws a punch straight for Drakes face. However, her fist clapped into his hand halting it in its place. Magdelin’s eyes widen in shock as Drake’s fingers clench her fist. Squeezing with his newfound strength, the dragoness wince as her knuckles crack under pressure. Her eyes apprehensively bounce between her fist and his fierce eyes. Drake steps back pulling the woman off her feet, spins several times as her feet and tail wag in the air and hurls her away. The Alternean bounced, rolled and slid to a halt near Mahogany’s feet. Magdeline quickly sits up while Mahogany stand puzzled at Drake’s ability.
“How did he get his strength back?”
Magdeling stands and breaks into a full sprint as spikes grow from her scaly green tail. She slides twists her hip swinging the spiked tail towards the young man. Drake stills himself, points to the ground and his finger ignite in flames. With it he quickly writes ENSNARE in the air and instantly a glowing square net shoots out from the verse and wraps around the attacking female. The woman falls on her back as the net pins her still locking her onto the ground.
Drake takes off running with is feet beating the ground. He writes FANE in the air and his sword appears in a red flash. Clasping his sword, he darts straight for Mahogany who calmly keeps her arms folded just as Catereene charges from the side and leaps, spins and round-house kicks him in the chest. Drake slides back as he grips his chest expecting pain but the adrenaline keeps it bay.
Man, what is that bug made from? Drake thinks.
Catereene crosses her scaly arms and blades eject from her wrists.
“No more games,” she shouts before charging the young warrior.
Drake brings his sword at the ready and the two collide in a fierce display of skill and maneuvering. Drake side steps a thrust kick and backs away as Catereene extends her arms and rotates her body repeatedly swinging her blades at him. Drake raises his sword and blocks and oncoming blade, steps inside of her guard and places his hand onto her scaly stomach.
“Sorry for what I said earlier,” Drake says before another net shoots from his palm wrapping the woman in the white glowing net and pinning her on the ground. “And to answer your question, both of you look alright to me,”
He swipes leaves and grass from his trousers before walking past the trapped Alternean towards Mahogany.
“Idiots,” The white scaled dragoness sighs shaking her head while tapping her clawed feet. She snaps her fingers and the LEECH verse fades away from over her head.
Drake stops and slowly raises his sword towards the woman as he glares at her. “You have a lot to answer for,”
“Oh, really?” Mahogany laughs. “You think I just attacked the palace for wittle ol you? Please. The
Avians are just as ruthless as we are. You just haven’t seen it yet.”
“I see what’s in front of me.” Drake says lowering his sword to his side. “Whenever someone says that just want to justify their atrocious acts. Stop pointing fingers.”
“It’s a fact,” Mahogany says dismissively waving her hand. “Don’t assume that I’m someone seeking vindication or justification for my actions. I’m very aware of what I’m doing and the damage it does others. And I don’t care what they think or say about it. You should’ve known that from when we first met.”
“Heh,” Drake chuckles thinking about Darkall. “You remind me of someone I know,”
“I think its high time we cut the chit chat,” She says as she holds out her hand beckoning him to come. “Why don’t you be a good boy and come along. I can assure you that your stay will be pleasant if you do.”
“No thanks,” Drake says. “I don’t trust psychopaths,”
Mahogany breaks into incessant, maniacal laughter as she throws her head in the air.
“It’s not like you have a choice anyway.” She continues.
“What makes you say that,” Drake says.
“This, rock will soon plummet into the ocean and all the rats who live here.”
“What?” Drake says narrowing a confusing single eye.
“We’re building a wall at just the right place to cut off the wind currents. Once its complete, every avian landmass will descend straight into the oceans. The Damsharks of Caprina ocean will have a great feast and we will finally end this conflict that held us for so long.”
Then a spear hisses past Drake’s ear and strikes the thuds into the ground near Mahogany’s foot. She steps back as the Tengu King flaps his red wings and lands in front of Drake. He stands shirtless with battle scares over his chest as he folds his wings behind him and yanks his spear from the ground.
“I’ve heard every word,” the King says stomping his spear at his side. “The Alterneans think they cannot be challenged because of their birthright, but rest assured,” His fierce experienced bird eyes glows red as his wings spring open in a great gust of wind scattering leaves away. “We will show you our true might.”
“Without your prescious eagles, I presume?” Mahogany says. “Fine, I know when I’m not welcomed.”
Mahogany uses her index claw and scratches TRANSMIT and MULTIPLY in the air. A white cone envelops her and her two prone accomplices as a thin white beam shoots from the cone tips and collide into a white sphere.
“Do take care of yourself,” Mahogany says to Drake as an eye narrowing smile graces her face as she waves him goodbye. “I look forward to seeing you again.”
Then she vanishes as the white sphere shoots and zig-zags into the canopy.