CHIP & PAT GAGNE
Copyright © 2014 Chip and Pat Gagne
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the authors imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and highly unlikely.
Copyright © 2014 Chip Gagne
"Abstract blue fiery dragon" by DVARG,
© 2013 Used under license from Shutterstock.com
"Fantasy Meadow With a Fairytale Tower" by Unholy Vault Designs,
© 2013 Used under license from Shutterstock.com
"Flying Dragon with Green Metallic Scales" by Algol,
© 2013 Used under license from Shutterstock.com.
Before the raised rock dais they gathered, and not just the dragon council. None were turned away until the field could hold no more. No one paid any heed to the steady rain that fell from a darkening sky to pool on the ground at their feet. Some circled overhead. Others perched precariously on the rocks. All came to learn what had happened.
Those who had so abruptly returned from the Earth Realm ─ weary, many injured ─ and those who had remained behind on M'atoi, were stunned by the reduction in their number. A mottled green dragon with long silvered horns showing his advanced age, strode forward, ignoring the snorts of indignation as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd. Smoke trickled from his nose and his tail swished violently to and fro causing the dragon nearest him to send a warning puff of flame in his direction.
Where is All'oor? he demanded of the large silver dragon who currently stood before them where All'oor should have been. Surely he was not killed!
As silent voices rose in consternation, the large silver dragon moved wearily to the exact center of the dais, her finely honed muscles rippling beneath her scales. She extended a clawed talon scoring the rock.
The two young dragons nearest her took hasty steps back from the force of that command, bumping those behind them. There were snarls of warning and puffs of smoke as they shifted to find more room. Then all fell quiet.
I am Xan, second to All'oor, and a member of our council since its inception. Our time in the Earth Realm is ended. All'oor ordered our evacuation and sealed the portals. A few elves agreed to remain behind temporarily to collect and return to us what is ours.
She waited, allowing for the explosion of shock, before finally sending a warning stream of fire into the air. Into the hush that fell once more, a wizened gray dragon spoke softly his frills drooping under the weight of his fear.
Her tail whisked. She quickly reigned in her emotions. The mood here was too volatile. She must remain calm if she was going to hold them. And hold them she must.
All'oor was grievously injured. Despite that, he held the portals open so all might return to M'atoi. Only he could close them, and the sealing caused a backlash of magic greater than any in memory. Given his condition...
She let her words trail off, arching her neck toward the sky as grief threatened to overwhelm her. Below her, someone began to keen. She allowed it, lost for the moment in remembering.
Blood had flowed freely from multiple wounds where his blue scales had been ripped away. A broken spear had clung to his left rear leg. One deep set eye socket gaped empty. Yet he had held the portals until only they remained.
Go, he had ordered. The portals are now set so only the elves may return to M'atoi. And he passed to her a round gold medallion set with four gleaming crystals. They will only be able to pass through using one of these. Those who remain know what must be done.
Come, she'd implored.
No. The error was mine. We brought our magic to a world that was unprepared.
As we were for what we found.
Yes, he'd agreed. But the magic must be removed, or it may doom us all to extinction.
All'oor had been the oldest, the largest, and the wisest. Yet even he had not foreseen what the sudden introduction of dragons and their magic would create in a culture unprepared.
All this and more must be said to those gathered here, Xan realized as she turned her attention back to the waiting dragons. There were already those here who wished to kill every living human on M'atoi, and that must not happen. Individually, humans were not evil. Those who had crossed into this realm in the beginning had quickly adapted. They lived in harmony with the elves and dragons. Xan found them fascinating and highly imaginative. They were creative creatures, different from, but not so unlike dragons and elves.
Still, when frightened, every species did what they must to protect themselves. The human realm didn't understand magic or dragons or elves. Humans there had feared them and perceived them as a threat to their way of life. She and All'oor understood this. The mistake was theirs, not the humans of the Earth Realm. Now it was up to her to calm her people before there was yet another bloodbath here on M'atoi. Dragons, like humans, were protective of what they saw as theirs.
Xan had never thought to be the leader of her people. She didn't want this duty. Yet gazing around at those assembled here, she knew that no other was strong enough or trustworthy enough to hold the unity that All'oor had created so long ago.
She eyed those most likely to wish succession and sighed inwardly. As the strongest among them she would do what she must.
I am Xan, she announced over the strident ring of voices. I shall lead us. Who wishes to challenge?
As expected, the young green and brown dragon known as Uneika was the first to stride forward.
Flickering firelight danced along the silvery scales of the massive dragon sprawled beside the fire pit. Ad'iorn watched the formidable tail curl more tightly against the creature's side as if to ward off the chilly bite of the evening air. The rocks outside the dragon's cave nearest the fire pit gleamed a mellow red-orange. Night shrouded the woods where the elf stood gazing upwards in awe, undecided.
Everyone knew better than to approach a dragon's lair uninvited. Especially a dragon one had never met. No matter what B'ietsu had told him of this dragon called Mei'lon, protocol demanded he petition Mei'lon's peron'i to request an invitation before approaching. But that would take time. His assumption might be wrong, but it seemed too important a question to wait on formality.
Either come or go.
Startled, Ad'iorn jumped at the unexpected voice that filled his head. Automatically, he stumbled forward before his brain caught up. The dragon had known he was here!
His heartbeat raced with excitement and a bit of trepidation as he stepped onto the path leading to the fire pit. He had never met a dragon before. They were big, much larger up close than he'd anticipated.
Ad'iorn swallowed unaccustomed nervousness and forced his breathing to steady. There was no reason to be nervous. Dragons were just people with scales. Very large and highly intelligent people with sharp teeth and an ability to breathe fire. He raised his chin another notch and strode forward calling on his usual jaunty confidence. After all, Mei'lon had just invited him to approach, hadn't he?
Several feet from the fire he paused to bow low before the massive dragon. Standing tall once more, it took all Ad'iorn had not to stare. Those silvery scales refracted the fire's light, mesmerizing in their beauty.
You are here for a reason?
"Sir, I am Ad'iorn Wesai au Kysu. I ask that you forgive my intrusion, but I wished to speak with you about a matter that is of considerable interest to me. B'ietsu said you weren't like most dragons. You actually like people."
He felt his cheeks redden and fervently wished he could call back those last words.
He swallowed, determined not to let that hard intelligent stare fluster him. "Yes, sir."
You would be a friend of B'ietsu?
"Yes. That is to say, I met her at the market yesterday and shared food and drink and conversation with her and her friends."
This was not going to plan at all.
"No sir! Dragons did come into the conversation, but you were not the focus of our discussion."
What was your focus?
It was never wise to lie to a dragon, but he decided he could be vague. "Actually, our conversation covered many topics, but what brings me here to see you is a map."
The dragon snorted. Ad'iorn froze.
Join me by the fire.
"Thank you, sir." He hurried forward and bowed once more before folding himself cross-legged to sit on the warmed ground near the fire pit. The air had become chilly with the setting of the sun and he welcomed the warmth of the fire.
Why have you sought me?
Ad'iorn took a moment to organize his thoughts. "I'm a mapper, sir. I enjoy traveling to new places and creating maps of the areas I visit. I sell these to tradesmen and those who have an interest. I also chart plant and animal species. I'm good at what I do and it allows me to meet so many interesting wizards, elves, and humans. But until now, no dragons, sir."
You wished to meet a dragon?
"No! I mean, yes! Of course, I did hope to meet a dragon one day, but that isn't why I intruded on you." He expelled a breath. He needed to stop staring at those gleaming scales and focus on his prepared speech.
The dragon cocked its massive head to regard him. You are nervous.
Once more, honesty seemed the best response. "Ah, your size is extremely intimidating to someone my size." And that just made him sound stupid. He was used to feeling sure of himself, not flustered so he fell back on humor and spread his arms. "I'd really prefer not to become a dragon snack."
The dragon opened his mouth baring an impressive array of teeth, his tongue lolling. A tiny trickle of smoke issued from his nostrils. Ad'iorn blinked in surprise as he realized the dragon was laughing at him.
You are tall for an elf, but thin. And your clothing would be difficult to digest.
Amazed, he gaped at the dragon. "You're teasing me!"
The dragon managed to look smug.
"I don't believe it. I didn't know dragons had a sense of humor. They certainly wouldn't believe this back home."
Where is home?
"Originally, Twelve Lakes, though I haven't been back there in some time now." He shrugged his shoulders. "My family perished in a flood some years ago. Since then I found that I enjoy the nomadic life."
Balnor holds Twelve Lakes, does he not?
"Uh, yes sir. It's his territory, though I've never actually seen him myself. My village isn't very large and it's located on the western edge of Lake Dree. It's a small lake, pretty far removed from his cave. There are lots of closer lakes that offer better fishing and game to the east. To my knowledge he never flew in our direction in all the time I lived there."
If you didn't come here to meet or be eaten by a dragon, why have you come? Surely you do not wish to sell me a map?
Ad'iorn sighed and shifted. "No, sir. I don't imagine dragons have much need of maps. I came to ask you a question, but I don't want it to sound impertinent."
Once again Mei'lon seemed amused, but he waited with dragon patience. Ad'iorn took a deep breath and after a moment continued carefully. "B'ietsu said you might be old enough to remember when the portals were open between M'atoi and the Earth Realm."
The atmosphere changed. Large, hooded eyes fastened on him with a new intensity.
Did she now.
The words were softly pregnant with threat as the dragon rose slowly, majestically to a sitting position. Ad'iorn swallowed hard. Mei'lon eyes glittered fiercely in the fire's light.
He'd offended a dragon. He was going to die.
Words tumbled past his lips in a rush. It took all he had to continue to sit there on the ground when his every instinct was to bolt and run.
"I'm sorry, sir. I meant no insult. We are taught that dragons live a long time by our reckoning, but no one has ever said just how long that is. I was hoping you were old enough to tell me who it was that mapped the Earth Realm when the portals were open."
Why do you ask this?
His head throbbed under the intensity of the question. Ad'iorn fumbled to open his pill'a. "I found this map recently when I stayed in an abandoned elf burrow on the coast of Arliss Bay." He pulled out his pre'liote and carefully opened the warded bag. "The map is unlike anything I've ever seen before, and I wondered who drew it and how it was created and what the writing says and..." His fingers withdrew the crumpled, torn item which stopped the gush of streaming words. With trembling hands, he smoothed the map as best he could and lay it on the soft dirt with care.
"See? This upper part is an incredible map. I've no idea how it was drawn. The material itself is extremely fragile and while there are obvious marks scratched into its surface below the map, the picture lies completely flat as if part of the fabric. That is true of most of the writing. And just look at these colors! Of course they've faded over time, but the dyes are not like any dyes I've ever seen, and as an artist I'm familiar with most. None of these land masses match any place I've explored or seen on any other map. Few of them are islands and these seas are immense! At least, I assume them to be seas. It's amazing! I can't begin to identify a single one of these locations."
He looked up still shaking his head. "As a dragon you would probably know if this is some stylized depiction of a part of M'atoi I'm unfamiliar with, but this is so foreign that I think it is nothing like M'atoi."
Ad'iorn knew he was talking too fast, but he couldn't contain his excitement and he could barely tear his eyes from his prize.
"I asked questions in the village nearby where I found this, but the dwelling had been abandoned so long ago most people knew nothing about its origins. It was far from their settlement and the people my age had no idea who had lived there."
You spoke with the village mal'ubar?
"Eventually, I did. She remembered that a widowed healer had once lived there and sent me to visit an elderly elf who might have known the widow. Unfortunately, that elf's mind was not as it had once been. I'm afraid he rambled off on tangents a lot so I don't know the truth of his words. He told me there was a story about a little girl who'd been discovered by some fishermen on Rats Isle across the bay. As you know, there are no settlements there due to the rat and gackling populations, but supposedly this child was quite young. The fishermen brought the child to the local healer. Despite an exhaustive search, no family ever came forward to claim her. According to this elf, the healer's own children were grown and gone so she kept the child and raised her as her own. Unfortunately, the elf didn't know what had become of the girl and he couldn't remember her name."
He lifted his head from the paper once more. "So that's why I came to see you. I know Arliss Bay isn't in your territory, but no dragon claims that region and I wanted a dragon opinion on whether this had come from the Earth Realm."
Ad'iorn sucked in a breath. Mei'lon had never looked more forbidding.
You will wait here.
"Good. You are ready."
B'ietsu smiled at her father as she entered the dining area. He stood beside her mother who was placing wrapped food in his pill'a. His bird, Dilawa happily chirped a greeting from its perch on his arm.
"Tien, A'mier, Dilawa," she greeted them.
"You should eat before you leave," her mother admonished.
"I ate earlier. I knew tien would want to leave early."
Her mother's eyes sought her father with a worried expression. "Are you sure I shouldn't come as well?"
"There is no need Fil'iowa. Go and run your errands." Taking the pill'a she handed him, he kissed her forehead tenderly, then pulled forth a crystal. "Take my hand," he told B'ietsu.
With a reassuring glance at her mother she did, and the world shifted around her. An instant later they stood before Mei'lon's cave. Surprisingly, the fire pit lay cold and dark. More surprising, before it stood the figure of a young man. He spun to face them and B'ietsu stilled.
She recognized Ad'iorn, the young man she had flirted with only yesterday at the market. That he had found his way here after speaking with her and her friends was disconcerting. Why was he here? And why wasn't Mei'lon here to greet them?
"What are you doing here?" she demanded. "Do you not understand basic protocol? You can't just drop in on a dragon! He'll have you for lunch!"
"B'ietsu," her father chastised mildly. Dilawa cawed his opinion and flew onto a nearby rock where he could watch the stranger and the proceedings with an alert stare.
She sensed apology as well as relief coming from the elf, but he strode over to her with a smile.
"Actually, Mei'lon didn't seem to mind me dropping by. He invited me to sit and talk."
"Who might you be?" her father inserted before she could protest further.
He nodded to her father. "Ad'iorn Wesai au Kysu, sir, finest mapper in the realm. You must be related to B'ietsu. There's a strong resemblance."
"He's my tien, and peron'i for Mei'lon, as I told you yesterday," she grit out.
There was no trace of apology in the smile he gave her father. "I'm pleased to meet you, sir."
Her father did not return the smile. "You say Mei'lon invited you to join him? Where is he?"
She sensed Ad'iorn's unease more clearly then. His smile vanished along with his normally cocky demeanor. "I'm not sure. He told me to wait here and left last night right after I showed him the map. He never came back."
"What map?" her father asked.
Ad'iorn reached for his pill'a. "The one I found in an abandoned house near Arliss Bay. I think it came from the Earth Realm. That's why I came here. I know I should have appealed to you first, but I didn't want to wait. This parchment is old and in bad condition and I thought...well if you want the truth, I thought this might be dragon business and that he might prefer I keep it to myself."
He pulled out a leather pre'liote. She couldn't have said why, but she felt certain he had made the warded bag himself. From inside he withdrew a crumpled, torn bit of parchment that on closer look wasn't parchment at all. The thin, flimsy material was unlike anything she had seen before.
"What is that?" she asked.
"I'm not sure what it's made of, but I think this is a map of the Earth Realm." He handed it to her father who took the document carefully and began to examine it.
Dilawa cawed a warning. Seconds later, Mei'lon swooped in overhead throwing a shadow over the clearing. He landed with far more grace than something his size should be able to do.
B'ietsu and her father bowed a greeting. "Mei'lon."
Ad'iorn hastily followed suit.
It is good you are both here. B'ietsu, you know this elf.
Mei'lon's words weren't really a question, still she nodded. "We met yesterday."
You will vouch for him?
"No!" She shot Ad'iorn a glare. "I can't," she added. "I don't really know him at all. He joined my friends and me in conversation that he initiated. I sensed no harm in him or his questions, Mei'lon. There was pride in his work, a genuine curiosity about life in our village, and," she hesitated, "an interest in dragons, portals and the Earth Realm. He claims to be a mapper and demonstrated his artistic skills. They're quite good," she added grudgingly.
Good enough to have drawn that map he just showed you?
She moved closer to her father, looking without touching the fragile, crumpled material. "I don't know. I've never seen anything like this."
Tell them how you came by this, the dragon ordered.
Ad'iorn faced them, his features as open as the intent she sensed in him to make amends and share information. "I found it in an abandoned house where I spent the night recently. It was inside a broken kes whose magic had long since dimmed. The kes had fallen through a broken floorboard. I only found it because I dropped my j'offee and it rolled on top of the hole. I can understand why it was overlooked when its owner left."
B'ietsu? the dragon demanded.
"He feels bad about the trouble he's causing," she responded, "but mostly he's barely suppressing excitement. He believes what he's saying."
Ad'iorn gaped at her but she didn't explain. She kept her gaze on Mei'lon. The dragon settled down on his haunches. He was deeply troubled but there was no anger directed at her or Ad'iorn.
She was angry enough for both of them. How dare this elf question her for information and then come here without an invitation?
Her father returned the parchment to Ad'iorn who quickly replaced it inside his pre'liote before settling down at her side. The fire pit blazed to life.
"I'm sorry, B'ietsu. I didn't mean to cause you trouble."
Even though she sensed he was sincere, she offered him a single glare and ignored his whispered words, turning her attention back to the dragon.
Elliot, what have you to report?
If her father was surprised by the unexpected change in topic he didn't show it by so much as a blink. With no hesitation, he began.
"The rumblings are true. I believe someone is deliberately stirring up the local elves. It isn't just wizards they are starting to scorn but any human or anyone with human blood. B'ietsu no longer feels welcome in her mother's village."
"Not everyone shows disrespect," she added, "but I am definitely made to feel uncomfortable by many."
Her father nodded. "It has been suggested that even Fil'iowa herself might wish to stay away from her village. There is a great deal of talk that wizards and humans without magic are a lower species. Even more disturbing, a number of elves are repeating a rumor that humans are diluting magic. I would like to believe this is an isolated situation but I fear it's not."
"It's not," Ad'iorn injected with a worried frown. He shifted uncomfortably as their eyes returned to him. "Your pardon, I didn't mean to interrupt."
Speak. You are well traveled. We must know the extent of this disturbance.
Ad'iorn gave a slight nod and continued. "I've heard this sort of talk in some of the elven communities I've passed through. There were one or two villages where there were no humans at all. I thought it odd, and when I asked I was told those who once lived there had moved on. I thought little more of it at the time. However, I will say that I've noticed how half-bloods are drawing scorn and ridicule in many areas that I've traveled through. I'm sorry, B'ietsu."
"You don't need to apologize for the truth," she told him. She wasn't ready to forgive him yet for coming here without permission, but she was grateful for the support she sensed in him. She knew she looked more human than elf. The irony was that her elven powers were much stronger than her wizarding ones.
This is not localized then.
"I would say no, sir," Ad'iorn told Mei'lon. "It's ridiculous, yet I've heard mutterings of this type at recent festivals and in the arcades. While it was more predominate among older elves, recently I heard a number of younger elves boldly stating as fact that our magic is being diluted by the human population."
B'ietsu, when you were last in your mother's village, did you sense a source for these rumors?
"No. And now my a'mier prefers that I no longer accompany her when she goes to work or to visit the village. No one has come right out and said that my tien and I are unwelcome, but I sense that our appearance there make everyone unhappy." And it hurt, more than she was willing to admit. Even her cousin had begun to act as if he was superior. He'd said several hurtful words that shocked and surprised her.
"Why would anyone start a rumor like this?" Ad'iorn asked.
"Because someone wants the elves and humans in conflict," her father stated.
B'ietsu sensed a deeper, unspoken exchange passing between her father and Mei'lon. Mei'lon seldom left her out of conversations, which only made it worse. They were deeply troubled.
We go to Xan before the council meeting begins, Mei'lon finally announced. The two of you will remain here. You will speak of this to no one.
Ad'iorn watched B'ietsu's father hand her a pill'a. Then man, bird and dragon vanished.
"What just happened here?" he asked B'ietsu. "I don't see a connection between my map and a problem between elves and humans."
She stood and glared down at him. "You're a gackling!"
"Hey, I know you're angry and I probably deserve it─"
B'ietsu exploded. "Probably? You come to me for information about Mei'lon and then come here against protocol knowing that my father is his peron'i and you think I probably have a reason to be angry? You're a benjanni eating gackling!"
He scrambled to his feet as she began to pace.
"All you care about is your precious map. Nothing else matters to you. I'm in training to replace my father one day," she continued ranting, "and Mei'lon could turn me away because I was indiscrete talking about him to you. Worse yet, he could turn aside my father because I talked with you"
"He won't. You know he won't. Mei'lon knows the infraction was mine and mine alone. I never meant to cause you a problem, but I won't apologize for my actions. This map I found is important. You didn't see the profound impact it had on Mei'lon. He disappeared right after I told him where I found it and he didn't come back until this morning. I think he went to Arliss Bay last night to check out my story. It's what I would have done."
She continued to glare at him, but she stopped pacing and he could see she was listening. "Why? You don't even know that it came from the Earth Realm."
"Have you ever seen material like that?"
"No," she admitted. "But so what if it did come from the Earth Realm? So did every human on the planet. They brought over a lot of artifacts."
Ad'iorn nodded. "Not like that map. It came from there," he assured her. "But there's no way it came over with your ancestors. That material is too fragile. Even in a working kes it wouldn't have survived all this time. So when did it arrive on M'atoi?"
She shoved back a wisp of hair that had fallen over one eye. Anger still simmered in her gaze, but he watched her consider his words. "If a portal had been opened the dragons would know about it."
"Maybe. But according to Mei'lon, not necessarily. He didn't expand on that." Ad'iorn grimaced wryly. "I don't get the sense that he's big on sharing a lot of information. All I can tell you is that he seemed worried about that map."
"He's a dragon. How would you know?" B'ietsu demanded.
"Mei'lon just took your tien to visit Xan, the most powerful dragon on the planet."
"Yes, but because someone is stirring up the elves, not because of your stupid map!"
Ad'iorn rocked back on his heels. "Are you sure of that?" he asked. "I don't know any dragons. Maybe they're all as abrupt as Mei'lon. Maybe his attitude doesn't mean what I think it does. But what if the two things are connected?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. You're the one who can sense emotions. Why did Mei'lon suddenly change the subject?"
B'ietsu started to respond and stopped. She'd left her senses wide open while talking with Ad'iorn and her head suddenly jerked skyward. "Run!"
She didn't wait to see if he followed, but took off running for the tree line. Ad'iorn was beside her when she reached it and together they darted for cover behind one. A shadow swooped over the clearing. Ad'iorn paused to look back and she grabbed his arm tugging him forcefully behind the bole.
She moved deeper into cover. He followed more slowly. Not until she scooted behind a hedge of tall bushes did she dare peer back the way they had come. A reddish brown dragon was circling the clearing.
"I didn't know dragons visited one another," Ad'iorn whispered at her side.
"They don't!" she whispered back fiercely. Her body was taut with tension and she didn't tear her eyes from the circling dragon.
"What's he doing?"
"I don't know. He's angry." Fear coursed through her. "He knows we're here and he's trying to decide what to do about us."
"What do you mean? Mei'lon told us to wait here for him."
She gazed at him as fear twisted her insides. "That one doesn't care."
"B'ietsu?" His features clouded as he stared at her. "Dragons don't hurt people," he whispered.
"Moments ago I would have agreed with you." She turned her attention back to the clearing where the red dragon began to descend. Abruptly it halted and suddenly lifted into the sky. B'ietsu drew in a ragged breath as it flew speedily away.
"What was that all about?" Ad'iorn demanded.
She shook her head without taking her eyes from the sky until it completely disappeared from view. "I don't know."
"Who was he?"
She turned to face Ad'iorn trembling slightly. "I wish I knew. He knew we were here and that we saw him. He was angry. He knew we would tell Mei'lon."
Ad'iorn stared at her. "He was right. We are going to tell Mei'lon. Aren't we?"
"Yes, of course."
"You think he would have hurt us?"
She drew in a breath and hesitated. "I'm not sure. I told you to run because I sensed approaching danger." Troubled, she held his gaze. "Mei'lon told me there are some dragons that don't like humans and elves. He was one of them. Mostly, they keep to themselves. While they aren't actively hostile, those who came back from the Earth Realm when the portals closed have good reason to dislike humans. You have to remember a number of dragons were killed in the Earth purge."
"And dragons have long memories to go with their long lives."
He shook his head. "You really can read emotions."
"I can." She regarded him steadily as she realized he was holding something back. "What is it you aren't telling me?"
"That's a disconcerting ability you have."
She didn't return his weak smile.
"Okay, there's something I didn't tell Mei'lon. After what just happened, now I'm thinking maybe I should have."
She closed her eyes. "Never lie to a dragon!"
"I didn't lie to him! I just didn't tell him everything. There are a number of possible reasons for what I saw."
She opened her eyes and sighed. "I can't read thoughts, Ad'iorn. Only emotions. What didn't you tell Mei'lon?"
He frowned, but nodded acceptance. "I came across a few empty towns and villages in my wanderings. In one case a human settlement had been scoured to its foundations by dragon fire."
"Plague," she said promptly.
He nodded. "So I thought at the time. I know they often ask dragons to do a purifying burn after a bad plague. And probably that's what happened."
"But?" she prodded when he hesitated.
He frowned. "There were no warning signs posted. I skirted the area anyhow just to be safe. A few days later I came on a smaller settlement not far from there that had also been burned. Again, I was surprised by the lack of warning, but I accepted that the plague must have spread. Only later I came across a small elf village. It wasn't located anywhere near the human towns and this one hadn't been fired, but it was totally abandoned. Dwellings remained intact and there was nothing to indicate a reason. No plague warnings, no postings of any problems, yet there wasn't so much as an animal stirring nearby. The village looked as if it was simply waiting for the elves to return." He shook his head as if remembering. "It was eerie, B'ietsu. I don't have your talent, but there was a sense of wrongness about it. I couldn't bring myself to go inside any of the buildings. Maybe if I could sense emotions like you I'd know what happened to everyone."
She shook her head. "I only sense emotions in the living. A dead village wouldn't have told me any more than it told you," she assured him. "Maybe there was a rat attack."
He shook his head. "Rats would have torn the place apart. You know how they are. There was no sign of a battle. No bodies, no signs of rats or griffons any other predators. There was nothing to say why an entire village abandoned their homes."
"Are you saying you think a dragon scared them away?"
He scowled. "Until a few moments ago that thought would never have occurred to me. But you did say some dragons don't like people and I was charting unclaimed territory. I guess anything is possible. That red dragon flying overhead certainly just scared the two of us."
"You need to tell Mei'lon about this."
He looked toward the clearing and inclined his head. "How about we go tell your tien? He just appeared by the fire pit."
B'ietsu spun to look at her father standing there, his familiar on his arm. Mei'lon wasn't with them. She hurried back up the slope. Ad'iorn followed more slowly. Even he could see that her father appeared deeply troubled. He had a feeling that the talk with Xan hadn't gone well. As soon as she told him about the red dragon's appearance, her father sent his bird skyward to keep watch. Grimly, they sat beside the cold fire pit.
"Xan and Mei'lon are at the dragon council," her father told them. "I wish I had known about these villages and towns before we went to see her."
Ad'iorn swallowed guilty.
"Mei'lon could have investigated them before going to her about your map and the growing unrest between the elves and humans."
Ad'iorn dug through his pill'a and pulled out a sheaf of parchments. "These are maps of the areas where I found the empty towns and villages. You can see where I marked their locations, even though I didn't know what they were called."
Her father took the maps and looked them over. "These will be helpful. When Mei'lon returns we will look into this."
Ad'iorn seemed to hesitate.
"Is there something else you haven't told us?" B'ietsu asked.
"No. But now I'm wondering. Given those abandoned towns, is it possible that elves and humans have actually begun fighting among themselves? What if those scorched towns were only made to look like it had been dragon fire?"
B'ietsu's breath seemed to catch in her throat. "You believe elves destroyed a human town?"
Ad'iorn shook his head. "Not really. I just couldn't help wondering is all."
Her father placed a hand over hers, silently offering comfort as he looked at Ad'iorn meaningfully. "Let's not jump to hasty conclusions. Mei'lon will discover the truth when he goes to visit these sites."
"I'm sure you're right, sir."
"Why did Xan call a council, Tien?" B'ietsu asked.
Her father gaze turned steely. "That would be dragon business, B'ietsu, not for us to know."
"Let's just hope the dragons don't decide to take sides in an issue between elves and humans or we're all doomed." Ad'iorn said grimly. "We'd be like benjanni plants facing a herd of gacklings. Only the dragons would survive."
"Must you raise this issue at each gathering, Mei'lon?" Sintra demanded. "We are here to discuss territorial rights are we not?"
Muttering agreement came from several of the other dragons standing closest to Ton'zi. A dark bronze dragon shook the green tipped frills along its head and glared at Mei'lon. "The answer to your request remains the same, Mei'lon. It will always be the same, if most of us have any say. This council will never condone such an action no matter how often you persist." His eyes flashed nearly as bright as his scales in the sunlight. "The portals were closed for a reason. They will not be reopened."
Mei'lon held the speaker's stare until he finally looked away. Then he swept the other dragons gathered before the dais, meeting one gaze after another while he continued pressing his point. "I persist because this issue is important to all of us and our way of life." His tail flicked in agitation.
"How?" demanded the dappled green dragon standing to the left of Ton'zi. His back leg clawed at the soil beneath his feet. "The Earth Realm is dead to us. Is it not enough that M'atoi is already infested with these fast breeding human vermin? Would you have even more of them scurrying about?"
Ton'zi sneered. Most of the sinewy necks closest to him swung in agreement.
"This is my point, Eftan," Mei'lon told him. "The human population is smart. You forget that those small, vulnerable creatures managed to kill a number of us with tiny weapons and large determination."
"So why would we even consider reopening those portals?" Uneika demanded. "Have you forgotten that in the Earth Realm we were hunted almost to extinction?" She sent a puff of smoke billowing into the sky. All around her rose the mutter of dragon agreement.
"For our scales!" she added. "And any other bits of us that human wizards could acquire. They dared attempt to use our own magic against us! Do you wish to give them another opportunity to finish what they began?"
Mei'lon forced his tail to stillness. "I have forgotten nothing, Uneika. I was there. Unlike many here, I witnessed the purge with my own eyes." He looked meaningfully at the young dappled green and brown dragon.
Ton'zi puffed out his chest. "Humans are weak. They have no magic without us."
"What about the elves?" Rasess demanded. "They have their own magic."
Ton'zi snorted derisively. "Elven magic is weak. We are the dominant species and always will be. All'oor was a fool when he created those portals. We should have found a way to destroy them long ago."
Many of those gathered shifted unhappily. Death had not diminished the memory of All'oor and all he had created. He would always be regarded as one of the strongest and most innovative dragons to ever walk M'atoi. To call him a fool did not sit well even among Ton'zi's allies.
"The portals will not be destroyed," Xan announced firmly.
Ton'zi snorted, unrepentant.
Mei'lon turned away from him and gazed out over the others. "Where is your curiosity? The elves never returned as planned."
"They were probably hunted and killed for their magic as well," Balnor interjected.
Mei'lon took several steps forward. Dragons quickly parted on either side to give him room. "And if they were, do none of you see the danger?"
His voice was low, but fierce enough that even brash Balnor took a step back, his horns glinting in the sun. Ton'zi, however, moved forward. He and Mei'lon were of a size and power second only to Xan. An impending aura of excitement began to build in the clearing. Smoke issued from several nostrils as dragons opened more space around the two of them.
"There will be no challenges." Xan spoke quietly, but with authority. "Mei'lon?"
He lowered his head in deference. "No challenge."
That dragon glowered, holding her gaze. Several nearby hissed in surprise.
"Would you challenge me?" she demanded.
The clearing fell silent. Not even the chirping of a bird broke the frozen stillness.
Slowly, he lowered his head a fraction. "No challenge."
'Yet', hung unsaid in the air.
"The slight is noted, Ton'zi. If you wish a challenge, you have only to say."
His copper scales rippled and his tail cleared a swath around him, showing his agitation. But he lowered his head still further before Xan. "No challenge," he repeated.
"Dragons will remain neutral in human and elf affairs. This council is ended," she announced. "Clear the field."
The lesser dragons winked out quickly. The others were slower to go. Ton'zi offered Mei'lon one last glare and vanished finally leaving Xan and Mei'lon alone in the clearing.
He will not wait much longer, Xan.
She dropped down beside him. Agreed. He wants control of the council.
He does not care about the council. He wants your territory.
She inclined her head. Yes. He never liked that I gave you preference over him. But he has few supporters, Mei'lon.
That does not make him, or them, less dangerous.
No, it does not.
Xan, we must open a portal. If you are right and a youngling wizard opened a portal with a key meant for elves alone, what might adult wizards do? Humans are highly intelligent. Despite their size and lack of scales, they can also be dangerous. You know this!
She sighed. I do.
You and Ton'zi are the smartest and the largest of this council. Should I force this decision when so many are still opposed, Ton'zi will have the opening he seeks. You saw him back down.
And I saw his anger.
She sighed. Yes. Rather than garner new supporters he lost face. He will not forgive either of us for that.
He was too cowardly to call a challenge.
That only makes him more dangerous, not less so. He is quietly soliciting support. You heard Sintra and some of those others who align with Ton'zi today. I am old Mei'lon. It is not me he fears, it is you. He knows that if he challenges me and wins, you will then challenge him.
She nodded. And he fears you. He knows that in a fair challenge you will best him as you have always done.
A fair challenge?
I mentored you both when you were younglings. I know what each of you is capable of. Do not underestimate Ton'zi. He is more dangerous than you believe.
Then why did you not call challenge on him?
Because I feared that if he lost this day, he would plunge us into a dragon war.
The afternoon was waning when Mei'lon appeared, filling the clearing. All three of them jumped to their feet. To Ad'iorn's eyes, the dragon looked unhappy. Ad'iorn darted a glance at B'ietsu who was frowning as she regarded the dragon with her own frown.
As expected, the council rejected my request to reopen a portal, Mei'lon announced without preamble.
Ad'iorn couldn't prevent a small sound of surprise. The dragon wanted to open a portal to the Earth Realm? Even B'ietsu looked astonished. Only her father appeared unsurprised.
"You knew what they would say," Elliot responded. "It's what they always say."
Totally shocked, Ad'iorn could only stare at them. He could understand why the map might spur Mei'lon to make such a request, but they were implying that Mei'lon had asked to open a portal before he ever saw the map. The idea was exhilarating. The stories of the Earth Realm had fascinated Ad'iorn since he was a child.
Mei'lon lay down before the fire pit putting his head on their level. Elliot and B'ietsu took that as an invitation and sat back down as well. Ad'iorn quickly followed.
"It is foolish to ignore a potential threat."
He scrambled to his feet again at the sound of that deep, rich voice. "You can talk!" He cringed as every eye focused on him.
"The speech of men is difficult," Mei'lon replied, "but it is not beyond us." His voice seemed to resonate in the air.
Knowing his cheeks were red with embarrassment, Ad'iorn ducked his head in apology and quickly sat back down. "I'm sorry, sir, I meant no disrespect. I was just surprised. I never knew dragons could use human speech."
"Most do not."
B'ietsu took pity on him and drew their attention. "Did you tell the council about the map Ad'iorn found?" she asked.
"No. Xan called a council to discuss territorial disputes. It is troubling how fiercely we have become divided. Many of the dragons have a strong dislike for humans and their settlements. This sentiment has become more widespread now than before."
Ad'iorn spared another glance at B'ietsu and saw her lips part and then quickly compress. Her father, however, spoke firmly. "Mei'lon, perhaps you had best hear what befell the younglings here during your absence."
The dragon's head swung from Elliot to the two of them. B'ietsu nodded and began to tell him about the red dragon's visit. Ad'iorn didn't need a special ability to see that Mei'lon was angry. Tiny wisps of smoke trickled from his nostrils and the faint odor of brimstone wafted in the air.
This will be dealt with, he promised, no longer speaking out loud.
"There's more, Mei'lon. Ad'iorn, tell him about the towns and villages," B'ietsu urged. Her father nodded agreement and began to reach for his pill'a.
Mei'lon listened in silence while Ad'iorn repeated what he'd seen in his travels. When he finished, the dragon was so still he could have been carved from solid crystal. Only his eyes blazed with life.
Elliot, spread out those maps then you will all return home. He may guest with you?
"Yes, of course," Elliot assured the dragon. "What else would you like me to do?"
This is dragon business.
There was something so flat and final in those words they lifted the hairs along Ad'iorn's arms.
You will speak of what has transpired here with no one. Go.
There wasn't time to draw in a breath. The three of them were abruptly sitting in a clearing facing an elven home built into a hillside. Dilwa squawked in displeasure and flew to a nearby tree. The others quickly scrambled to their feet and Ad'iorn did the same.
B'ietsu's expression was deeply worried as she stared at her father. It was not reassuring to see that Elliot's features matched hers.
"Are we in trouble, sir?" Ad'iorn asked.
"All of M'atoi may be in trouble," he replied grimly. "Come and be welcome in our home. B'ietsu, show Ad'iorn to the guest quarters while I search for your a'mier."
Elliot strode ahead of them toward the main entrance. B'ietsu bypassed that and led Ad'iorn up the right side of the hill to a terrace outside what appeared to be a sleep room.
"Is Mei'lon going to─" His voice failed. Shocked, Ad'iorn struggled to speak and couldn't.
B'ietsu shook her head at him. "We won't be able to speak of anything we discussed at the cave," she told him calmly. "Mei'lon spelled us."
"He spelled us? All of us? Even your tien?"
"All of us," she affirmed. "Dragon business is none of ours."
She held up a hand. "Don't try. It will only give you a terrible headache. And if you persist, the spell will render you unconscious."
He forced his breathing to slow. If they'd been spelled by a dragon he was pretty sure there was nothing they could do about it. "Sounds like you speak with the voice of experience."
To his surprise and delight, she stuck her tongue out at him. He laughed as she'd intended and felt the tightness in his chest ease a little.
"The guest quarters are through here." She ushered him into a large comfortable room of rich greens and creams. "If there is anything you require, ask. I'll freshen up and see if we might raid the kitchen. My a'mier went shopping today so there should be some delicacies to nibble on."
He called to her as she reached the doorway. "B'ietsu, doesn't it bother you?"
She didn't turn and she didn't ask what he meant. There was bitter acceptance in her response. "Oh, yes. It bothers me. I hate dragon business."
By late morning of the following day the stress was getting to all of them. Mei'lon hadn't sent for anyone and they couldn't talk about the only things that filled their minds. Elliot suggested they head to the arcade and work off some of their energy in a game of mar'drill.
"Mei'lon will find you when he wants you. Go."
Relieved at the prospect of an outlet for his building frustrations, Ad'iorn followed B'ietsu into town. At this hour, the arcade was nearly empty. Ad'iorn was pleased to find B'ietsu was an excellent match for his own skills. She was fiercely competitive and they were both sweating when they finally stopped to get something to eat and drink. The arcade was starting to become more crowded now. They had to wait in line for food, then quickly snagged one of the few remaining tables beneath the trees.
"You surprised me with a few of those moves," he told her as they ate.
B'ietsu smiled smugly. "Being part wizard gives me an edge at times when I'm playing against other elves. The magic is different."
"I noticed." They shared a smile. He started to add a comment about why the notions of half bloods diluting magic was so ludicrous, but realized he might not be able to say that either. Instead, he raised his glass to her. "This was a good idea."
"Yes," she agreed. "It was fun."
Her expression froze. Slowly, she lowered her glass.
"We're being watched," she said softly.
He stifled an urge to look around. "Who?"
"I'm not sure, but someone means us harm."
They had expended a great deal of magic playing mar'drill, but Ad'iorn quickly gathered a defensive shield. He knew B'ietsu was doing the same thing.
"Let's go," he suggested.
She nodded and stood quickly, but not quickly enough. A group of three young elves closed in around them. The tallest one wore a dark burgundy vest and seemed to be the leader.
"Look what we have here. A lonely elf getting all cozy with a tiny half blood." For a second, his eyes seemed to flash red.
"Out slumming, elf?"
B'ietsu moved to stand beside Ad'iorn. He could feel how tense her body was with anger. "Go away," she said firmly.
The elf grinned without humor. "Go away?" He looked to his companions who nodded encouragement. "Brave words for such a little bitty half blood. Does your mother know who you're with, little bit? Did she pay him to be your escort, hoping to elevate your status?"
Furious, Ad'iorn started to gather more magic. B'ietsu laid a warning hand on his arm. Without taking her eyes from the elf, she spoke loud enough for those sitting nearby to overhear. "Do nothing, Ad'iorn. He's baiting us to get you to react so he can attack and claim self defense. We need a proctor."
Her voice rose on the last four words. The other two elves shifted uneasily, looking to their leader for direction. Fury rose in that young man's eyes. Fury, and a deep hate that shocked Ad'iorn. Still, he faced the young man boldly.
"You will let us pass," he told the elf firmly and in the same loud tone B'ietsu had used. "If you wish a battle, find someone to play against in mar'drill."
B'ietsu was right, it would not do for him to start the melee, but he would not back down if this elf called a challenge.
Around them, people were on their feet clearing space. The other two elves shifted uneasily. The crowd was made up mostly of wizards who were clearly not on their side.
"Bay," the skinny brown haired elf urged, "let 'em go."
"There's a proctor coming," the heavier one said nervously.
The leader was clearly furious. He spared them a single glance of contempt that had the heavier one backing up a step. Then he turned his glare back to his two intended victims. "This is not over," he said with soft, deadly menace. "We will meet again."
He withdrew a crystal and vanished. His companions looked startled for a moment, then they turned and pushed their way through the crowd. Seconds later the proctor reached them wanting to know what the problem was.
"We don't know," B'ietsu told her. "Ad'iorn and I were finishing lunch when three youths approached us trying to make trouble."
An older woman stepped forward. "She's right. We were sitting right over there. These younglings were bothering no one. In fact, they showed admirable restraint."
By the time they were able to leave the arcade, there was no trace of any of the elves who'd approached them.
"Does that sort of thing happen often around here?" Ad'iorn asked as they started back toward B'ietsu's home.
"That wasn't random, Ad'iorn. We were targeted."
He stopped walking. She turned to face him. "There were other wizards and elves eating together but they headed right for us. The one they called Bay wanted to hurt us. He was angry."
Given her ability, he didn't have to ask if she was sure. "Do you know him?"
"No, although I think I recognized the heavier elf who stood closest to you. I believe he is from my a'mier's village. He's easily led and often in trouble. The other one might have been his cousin, but I'm not sure. They weren't important. The one they called Bay was the problem."
"That's my take as well. But why single us out?"
"I don't know, but I don't think we want to be caught out in the open when no one else is around."
She withdrew a crystal, touched his sleeve and took them back to the clearing outside her home. Her father opened the front door before they reached it.
"I was just going in search of you. Mei'lon wants to see the two of you." He handed B'ietsu a crystal.
"Just the two of us?" she asked.
"Yes. He has an errand for me." Elliot regarded them closely. "Is something wrong?"
"Not now," she replied. "We'll tell you what happened when we get back."
Once again she touched his sleeve holding the crystal her father had given her and they found themselves standing in the clearing before Mei'lon's cave. The dragon was standing there, his massive tail flicking back and forth, the picture of an angry dragon.
B'ietsu gasped. "Yes!"
You sense my intent.
Ad'iorn had no idea what was going on, but B'ietsu's face was aglow with excitement. In that moment, her features appeared entirely human. Her elven heritage showed only in the blue of her eyes, the pale white gold of her hair and the delicate grace of her.
She turned to Ad'iorn. "He's going to open a portal!"
"What?" Ad'iorn gaped at her. Slowly, his gaze traveled to the dragon towering above them. Mei'lon's silver scales glittered in the fading sunlight. "You can't! It's against dragon law!"
And that was certainly a stupid thing to tell a dragon, she thought, but Mei'lon didn't seem perturbed.
Yes. It is. Be seated.
B'ietsu was so excited she could barely contain herself. Ad'iorn, on the other hand, flopped down as if he wasn't entirely sure his legs would continue to support him.
The dragon council refuses to send a delegation to the Earth Realm. They are blind to the danger we face.
"What danger?" Ad'iorn asked.
If a human youngling can come through a portal meant for elves, who is to say what else may come through? Ignorance is a foolish risk to take.
"Someone came through a portal?" she breathed.
"Does this have to do with my map?" Ad'iorn asked.
Yes. Xan has known of this danger for years yet refused to act for fear of what might happen.
She and Ad'iorn shared a look of shock and excitement.
All'oor was right to order us back to M'atoi when he did, Mei'lon continued. Dragons and magic took the Earth Realm by surprise. The sudden influx of our magic corrupted the natural order of things. Humans were frightened and attacked out of fear and ignorance. Many who learned to use magic sought to use us to increase their power over their fellow humans.
We were in their realm such a short time, even as they count time, yet we had a massive impact on their culture. Sealing the portals became necessary to our survival when the greed of the few and the fear of the many became too much.
Those humans who had already crossed into our realm were nearly killed initially, but Xan would not have it. They adapted and many became wizards while others accepted magic and learned to enjoy its benefits.
"Surely after all this time things in the Earth Realm will be different," B'ietsu said.
Perhaps, but dragons have long memories. Few elves ever returned to us. All'oor gave them keys tuned to the portals. Only an elf should be able to use them and yet a human youngling managed to find a way to M'atoi only a few years ago. Humans, like dragons, are territorial and they are clever. What one can do, many can do. We must know what became of the elves who did not return.
"You're going to go to the Earth Realm, then?" B'ietsu asked, her excitement making it hard to sit still.
I can not.
She found it hard to draw a breath as he stared at them intently and she sensed what he hadn't said. "You want us to go?"
"What?" Ad'iorn yelped.
This is not to be considered lightly. There is great risk and not just from the Earth Realm. Others may sense when a portal is opened. This is forbidden. You could die.
"Why us?" Ad'iorn asked softly.
Mei'lon sank down on his haunches and nodded approvingly.
Ad'iorn has no immediate family nor any strong bonds on M'atoi. His mapping skills speak to his ability to see and observe and record. Exploration suits him and he has the necessary survival skills.
Your ability to sense emotions across species and see magic is unique. You have your father's human visage, yet your elf blood is equally strong. You are unafraid and highly adaptable. However, you do have strong ties here. Elliot and your a'mier will object.
Her senses were wide open to the dragon as well as Ad'iorn. She sensed the latter's excitement. It mirrored her own. "You aren't going to tell them," she stated.
Not until you are gone, Mei'lon agreed. No one must know. You will gather information only and return. We must know what became of the elves that remained behind.
Ad'iorn practically quivered with excitement. "As a mapper, every day of my life is an adventure not without risk and danger. This...this would be the greatest adventure of my life. I'm willing to take any risk for this opportunity. To be the first elf in generations to see the Earth Realm..."
"Do you really need to ask, Mei'lon? You know how fascinated I am by the Earth Realm. My tien's family came from there. I've always wanted to see it for myself. I would take any risk to go."
Very well. There is another problem.
"You don't know how to open a portal?" Ad'iorn guessed.
B'ietsu shot him a fierce glare, but Mei'lon seemed unperturbed.
There is one nearby, but it's corresponding location in the Earth Realm is unknown to me.
That surprised her. "You don't know where it goes?"
Dragons are territorial. All'oor created many portals so we would not all arrive in one place.
Ad'iorn nodded. "That makes sense."
"Does it matter where we arrive?"
No. Being familiar with the land around the portal might have been of some benefit to you, but after all this time, it is unlikely to matter.
"How soon do you want us to go?" Ad'iorn asked.
They gazed at one another, shock, surprise, fear, excitement and more emotions than she could categorize raced through her all at the same time.
Leave anything of a personal nature here.
He turned and strode inside his cave. B'ietsu and Ad'iorn gazed at one another in stunned disbelief. "Are we really going to do this?" he asked.
"I am." She pulled off her pill'a and emptied the contents beside the cold ashes of the fire pit. The only thing she put back inside was her pre'liote. Ad'iorn followed her example as Mei'lon returned. At her feet, a crystal necklace appeared.
This is a portal key.
Awed, she lifted the fine gold chain to study the medallion.
Ad'iorn bent to scoop up a wide assortment of gemstone rings and gold jewelry that appeared at his feet.
For barter, Mei'lon told him, should it be necessary.
"How long should we stay?" he asked as she slipped the heavy medallion around her neck and he began to slide rings onto his fingers.
You will judge. If elves yet remain, they should be within proximity of the portals.
"You want to know why they didn't return," Ad'iorn said.
That is the most pressing issue, however all information is of value. When you are ready, we will go.
Her heart was pounding so hard she thought it must be audible to both of them. They were going to do this! She was going to go to the Earth Realm!
B'ietsu looked at Ad'iorn and saw the same enthusiasm mirrored on his face. With no warning, they were suddenly elsewhere. The cavern's darkness was relieved by four glowing crystals set on waist high pillars that formed a square like the image on her medallion. And that piece of jewelry was warm and glowing with a matching light.
"Step into the center," Mei'lon told them.
Grinning, Ad'iorn took her hand. Together they hurried between the pillars. With no warning there was a shift around them and a moment later they stood in a strange dingy room without windows. A narrow staircase straight ahead led down.
"Where are we?"
She shook her head in answer. "I guess we go down and find out."
The doorway at the bottom of the narrow steps was warded. "It feels odd, but I sense elf magic," she told him.
"Maybe the ward is to alert them when someone passes through?"
"Perhaps. There's only one way to find out." She reached out and twisted the metal handle. She felt a small tingle, but otherwise, nothing happened except that the door opened onto a narrow hallway with several other rooms. They all appeared empty and long abandoned. To the left was a second set of stairs also going down.
"It's a building of some sort, but this entire structure seems to be made from dead wood. There's an opening straight ahead."
"Let's see what it has to offer."
She grabbed his arm, holding him back. "No. I think we should leave."
"I'm not sure. It feels wrong."
He hesitated, considering. "Yes. I know what you mean. This structure reminds me of the elf village I found that had been abandoned. There's no furniture, no ornamentation."
"Let's go down and see if there's a way out."
Some sort of faded, badly worn fabric lay beneath their feet, while decorated parchment of some sort covered much of the walls. This was faded and peeling away.
"This place has been abandoned for some time," she told him.
They descended six steps to a small landing where the stairs split in two different directions. Once again B'ietsu stopped, her senses wide open.
"It's a trap! Run!"
A'mier Elven word for mother
Arcade Square full of shops and gaming areas
Arliss Bay Large body of water
Benjanni Weedy green plant that smells terrible and spreads rapidly - primary food source for Gacklings
Dragons Source of all magic - Rulers of M'atoi
Dree One of the twelve lakes that make up Twelve Lakes
Earth Realm Planet Earth
Gackling Large odiferous animal with yellow-gray mottled hides that travel in herds and feed on benjanni plants
J'offee Orb of light used by elves
Kes Magical roll of cloth that when unrolled stiffens to form a portable cabinet and can keep its contents fresh
M'atoi Realm belonging to dragons and elves
Mal'ubar Village elder
Mar'drill competitive game that teaches magical control
Peron'i Speaker for a dragon, typically a wizard
Pill'a bag worn at the waist that is enchanted to hold whatever is needed
Pre'liote Leather and metal warded bag that blocks magic
Rat Isle Name of an isolated island avoided due to huge rat infestation
Tien Elven word for father
Twelve Lakes A collection of Elven villages located in Balnor's territory
Magic's Return Series
Magic's Return: Forbidden Portals (Short Story)
Magic's Return: Elven Courage
Magic's Return: A True Wizard
Coming in 2014
Magic's Return: Dragon's Honor
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