Hello to all my still-faithful readers.

I want to know, I very much appreciate still seeing hits to this site, still seeing new followers and feedback. I know I have been extremely lackluster about finishing up this, as grad school has just been a kick in the pants to me.

However, I was re-reading a lot of my older work, and realized just much it needed improvement. so in addition to writing 'new' material, I am going back to edit a lot of the previous chapters. I'm adding a lot more characterization, dialogue, etc. to try and get a little more inside the character's heads. Ryu especially is just so fascinating to write. Just to chapter 1, I added about 2,000 new words, and took out a WHOLE lot of clutter. It was very evident to me in looking back on it how clunky it was, how very 15-year-oldishly written it was. I definitely kept a lot of it, but expanded on many ideas.

I've taken all your comments into consideration. I apologize if some of you don't appreciate the change in characterization - as I explained to someone, it's a bit of creative liberty on my part, but it's pretty flagrant at the same time. I'm trying to balance out your criticisms with my personal choices and still making a solid storyline.

Thanks to all the new followers of the story since i last updated; I promise you I haven't forgotten about it. It will be worked on much more over the Christmas holidays, too.

Without further ado, I bring to you the newly revised prologue of my story. I hope you all enjoy!

Prologue: The Gate Incident

"Mom...mom," I called out weakly. I shook miserably in the cold of my bed, the threadbare sheet wrapped around my small body barely providing any warmth. My father had never been able to find a suitable way to warm the church; it was as cold in the harshest of winters as the warmest of springs. But that night, the cold was soon relegated to the least of my worries. As I continued my futile attempts to sleep, I saw visions in my head. Visions of something I later came to know as evil…

Without warning, there was darkness. All around me, surrounding me, threatening to suffocate me. A deep, brooding, darkness. The kind of darkness you only see (or imagine to see) in the deepest pits of hell. I could see no light, could see nothing at all that, not one single penetrating ray of iridescence that would illuminate a way out of this stifling prison, nothing... I stood, confused, continuing to search desperately for anything that would light a path for me, for I knew I did not want to be down there."Hello?" I called out shrilly. "Can anyone hear me? Where am I? Help!"

And then, something happened, something that would change my life forever, though I would not know for many years. This "thing" was nothing at first, just a slight deviation in the texture of the air in front of me, one I could hardly discern in the dark. And then, it slowly began to materialize. Whatever it was, it looked to be stretching the air sideways, as if coming through some interdimensional portal. And then, suddenly, so suddenly I fell over from surprise, a huge orange eye appeared at the point where the air had begun to separate. I stared agog, unable to believe its presence even in a dream. Its veins stretching in a sickening fashion, the eye stared intently at me, as if searching my soul for something, for some sort of answer to an unasked question. It then began to talk, though, strangely, not where my ears could hear, but my heart.

"So you are Ryu," the eye noted in greeting, almost drily. I had been expecting it to have a deep voice, to complement its menacing appearance, but it was surprisingly normally toned. I wasn't feeling well enough at this point to notice that the thing knew my name, and merely waited for what it would say next. Though I was frightened to my very marrow, the creature still looked quite interesting—after all, it's not every day that a huge eye appears, even in your dreams, and speaks to you and knows you by name.. "The destined child himself. We have been awaiting the time when we could finally communicate with you," it continued (now that I listened a bit more closely, it sounded like a woman's voice, albeit husky). "The portals have opened. Hear me now, Ryu, destined child. You will never be able to defeat our God, for he is all-powerful—even more powerful than Ladon, the greatest of the dragons, those evil creatures. Our God is ready to strike, ready to make his presence known to the world again. He is most displeased with the lack of faith shown in his absence, and the world will tremble at his vengeance. You must fear him, Ryu, and fear him greatly. Your fear, the fear of the destined child, shall give great strength to our God, and when he comes back, his terror against you will be merciless…" And with those final, chilling words, the eye began to close up slowly, keeping an eerie watch on me until the very last bit had disappeared from view and I was plunged back into darkness.

Suddenly, my dream was over, and I was snapped back into the real world. I quickly sat up, my small chest heaving up and down with some of the deepest breaths I had ever taken. The vision scared me, quite badly at that, and I was afraid I might have wet my bed from fear. I hastened to check, and was relieved to see I hadn't. I sat there for a bit, still panting heavily, and thinking that if I moved to get out of bed, something horrible might take me into the darkness and eat me up; or worse, make me talk to that disembodied eye again. What was it that thing had called me… something like the "destined child?" What the heck was that? Whatever that was, I knew I was not one. I was just Ryu Bateson, son of the local priest, Ganer, brother to an annoying sister, in a crummy little town with tencitizens. A nobody, basically. I was barely nine years old, even. I had no idea who the God was that the eye kept referencing, either. Though, it had mentioned my own God: Ladon, the Dragon King. I prayed to him daily, read the scriptures he had penned millenia before. But if Ladon was the real god as I'd been taught, who was that other god? It was a deep question to handle, especially for a nine year old, and I told myself I'd ponder it soon. Maybe even ask my dad. That's what I'd do! He'd know all about it. .But I still felt so sleepy. The talk with my father could wait. I turned on my side, back to my normal sleeping positionI figured it was probably already morning, but that didn't matter. I probably had a full day of some laborious nonsense work anyway.

"Ryu! Young man, I've called you twice already. Unplug those ears of yours. I know you can hear me!" My father's booming voice snapped me back to reality, calling from the downstairs with that ultra-commanding tone that I was all too familiarized with. Just as I had suspected. No doubt he was calling fo me to do yet another menial task I sighedand clambered out of bed, my bare feet recoiling instinctively at first from the icy floor. Once again, I sighed heavily. Everything, it seemed, was cold here in the town of Gate; the floors, the walls, the air, and the people most especially. Just waking up reminded me of that terrible reality, a fact I hated. I detested living there, for there was nothing at all for a pent up nine-year old to do, but since this was the only Church of the Dragon for miles and miles, my father, and thus me and my sister, Yua, was forced to take up residence here. We had moved there with my mother years before, when I was still an only child. Everyplace else my father had looked, I remember, had strictly believers in that stupid St. Eva, and they had turned away my father at every opportunity, though they did do it as nicely as possible. Proper religious folk, they were. Maybe that's the god that eye was referring to? I thought to myself. It was a source of constant irritation to me to be stuck there in that crummy little town, for the townspeople all looked down on me and treated me as if I was some stupid creature without a brain cell in my head. There weren't even any kids there other than me, except for Yua, and she was hardly any fun at all. All she did was run around and go to the back mountain. There hadn't even been any exciting things happen in the many years my family had been there, except for one, and that turned out to be a tragedy, for my mother had died then…

"RYU! Get down here already! What, are you still asleep, son?! I need your help!" There was my dad's voice again, and I had been alive long enough to know if I didn't get down there now, I was going to have a hard time sitting down the next week. Realizing that, I made a mad dash down the stairs, and nearly collided with my father, who was unexpectedly standing right at the bottom of the stairs "Ryu, I need some help," he said, breathing laboriously. . His grey beard was matted with sweat, and his usually tireless figure had been doubled over in exhaustion. I grinned to myself, a small grin that I knew would still get me a smack if my father noticed it. Yua must have had him chasing after her like mad; better him than me! "Your sister's run off again instead of taking her nap, and I need your assistance in rounding her back up. I tried to catch her, but you know that I'm too old to keep chasing her around town. My ancient bones just won't allow me to run very fast anymore, you know? And, after all, you usually know where she's hiding, so will you do this favor for me? Please? I'll let you out of half your chores if you do so."

I nodded my assent, saying yes, I would once more go get Yua back from wherever she had gone. I turned and made my way out of the church and into the town. I figured she was probably in the mountains again, playing with that awesome dragon she was so fond of.

As I stepped out and breathed the fresh fall air, I noted with a glum look the arch that signaled the entrance, and thus the exit, to the village. How I longed to go out there and see what it was like again! My father wouldn't even let me go out supervised with him, and I knew if I went out he'd find out, and I'd get the whipping of my life. Even if I wanted to, though, there was a guard, a stupid, fatman, permanently stationed there by request of my father, and I knew that it was pointless to ask him if I could leave. It was the same, always - "justtoo dangerous for little kids without any knowledge of combat" out there. I knew that phrase well enough; every day for about 2 years I had asked to be let out of the village, and every time I had been sent away with a shove and those words whirling around my head. I groaned and began to head on to the back of the village, where the entrance to the mountains lay. It was covered with some sort of protective force field, no doubt from my father's crafty hand, but Yua and I had both figured out ways around it long before. As I was heading back, I saw the town's few inhabitants all outside, talking with each other or just walking around. I prayed right then and there that my life wouldn't become like these peoples' when I grew up. Here they stood, day after day, year after stinking year, just talking their boring talk to one another. Only one or two of them ever even walked around. The rest stood seemingly rooted in their spots for all of eternity. It was as if they were in walking comas. . Their lives were empty and devoid of anything resembling life except the breaths of air that they drew. They had nothing at all going for them, no families, no jobs, no anything; and though I pitied them somewhat, I still did not want to share the experience with them. I wanted, I needed, I craved adventure and excitement, not the dullness that was offered me if I stayed there in Gate.

There were three paths up to the mountain, but only the center one led to where the dragon was. As far I could tell, the other two paths were useless. The dragon's hands (claws, I suppose) were on both sides, guarding something mysterious, but the center led to the head, which was far more interesting than the hands, and thus I went there first. It'd been a while since I had visited the dragon anyway; Yua seemed to have come to the thought that the dragon was hers, and she'd snap at me when I went there on my own. She just had to be involved in everything; what abother!

After arriving in the clearing, I met the familiar sight of my sister sitting cross-legged. Yua, who, as small as she was, looked even smaller than usual there next to the huge dragon's head, was apparently deep in meditation, her head tilted way back to take in the awesome magnitude of the great animal's head. Suddenly I realized she had no idea of her surroundings. I grinned evilly. I figured I would be a good big brother and give her a good scare in order to pay her back for making me drag myself out of bed and out here in the cold.

I started to sneak over to where she was, but before I got halfway there, there suddenly, to my astonishment popped out from behind a dried brush a monster. A monster! I heard my sister scream out and I had to swallow the urge to do so myself. I hadn't seen one of those since I had moved to the village; my father had taken special care to eradicate every single last one around the area so that Yua and I could play safely. Guess he missed one, I thought ruefully as I desperately looked around for a weapon to combat the creature, a blue, spiny, floating creature I knew to be called Beak. I finally found a sturdy stick just before the monster closed in on me. I gave the thing a good whack across the face, but the blow hardly seemed to faze the creature. However, I could see I had succeeded in making it pissed, and it charged me, cruel mouth open, unleashing a feral scream. I yelled, partially to confuse it and partially from fear,and tried to dodge, but the creature's sharp beak ripped through my shirt and into my flesh before I could get away, and I cried out in pain as it gashed my shoulder. As I went down, it came back, and began circling me, searching for the best angle at which to hit me again.

I slowly stood up, wincing from the pain, and moved to smack it again, futilely, I knew, but suddenly I beheld a number of lightning bolts sizzling down from the sky to connect with the creature. As I watched, my jaw hanging open, the lightning caused a brief illumination of the creature's skeleton, and then it fell out of the air and landed with a sickening thump on the ground, smoke curlicuing above .

I turned to thank my savior, who I knew instinctively would be my father; Ganer was the only magician in Gate capable of producing such a powerful blast, after all. Heck, he was the only magician in Gate, period. The rest of the people probably had no clue what magic even was, let alone any knowledge of spells. He was practically a god amongst them. He hobbled over to where we were, rooted in terror, himself looking as casual as could be, if a little worn out. Though he was still quite a capable wizard, my father undoubtedly was getting old, and he couldn't perform magic as easily as before. I felt a twinge of sadness looking at him, the still-mighty man I knew was being ravaged by time.

But age hadn't dulled his razor-sharp tongue a bit; I knew his lecture was coming and had prepared for it. He came over to me, fury filling his stilted steps. "Ryu, fool of my loins, why?" I flinched at the sound of his voice; even though his tone was expected and understandable, I still was fragile then. "Why in the name of the all the holy dragons did you engage in combat with that Beak? Haven't I taught you anything? Look at you, son. You're a child with no weapon training of any sort, he's a fierce beast. They just don't have any regard for us. And he already got in a good gash on you; we'll take care of it soon." He gave me a concerned look before his next wave of parental admonition came, preceded by an exaggerated waving of his stick at me. "You saw! - anything could have happened there with that creature, and none of it would have been good. Your sister," and here he glared at her, which she shrank from. "Your sister has tested my patience and my nerves on far too many occasions. Yua, you and I are going to have a very long talk later. But Ryu...you're the older one, Ryu. Be brave, but above all, be smart. Facing that creature head on was foolhardy; brave, yes, but imagine if it had done more damage and I wasn't there...I can barely even think of what would have happened to the two of you." He shook his head slowly, but then finally gave me a small smile, barely visible over his beard. "You did the brotherly thing, though, and Yua will always be lucky to have such a guy willing to fight for her cause." Reaching down from his towering height, he ruffled my hair. That was my father for you, quick with a tongue-lashing but even more apt to give love and adoration.

How could we have known, though, that a monster was there? I thought this first, then voiced it aloud, before he began his haranguing of my sister.

Ganer sighed, a deep sigh that reflected the ones I had had earlier. "I can't say, son. It's been troubling me for weeks now. That Beak is the third one I've killed out here in the mountains in the past few days, and there have been others, more dangerous than them. The spell I put up around the town - something must be weakening it. I fear my power is slipping. Something out there, out in the world, is growing in strength, and whatever it is, is not a friend of the Dragon God." A dark look set into his brow. "It's something I will ponder on and consult the elders about. The monsters have been kept out for years; the barrier has always been enough to stop them. I can't run the risk of an invasion on the town..." He stopped and waved his hand, seemingly aware he was either saying too much or just that he was worrying us. "But enough on that. You all are too young for these burdens.

"Now, Yua..." and here I finally exhaled a little, relieved his wrath was off me for the moment and about to be transplanted onto my sister. "What do you think you're doing, Yua?! Scaring your brother and I by running off out here, AGAIN? What is that, the second time this week? You nearly caused your brother's death, young lady! you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You are a very bad little girl! I nearly had a heart attack thanks to you!" She hung her head down low. I could tell she was truly sorry. On the other hand, Ganer wasn't really mad at her. Sure, he was talking like he was furious, but despite his facade, I could tell he was still somewhat happy; his little girl had only come here to talk with the dragon, and not do some foolish thing, like try to climb the mountain. But Yua couldn't discern his hidden joy, so she just stood there, silently absorbing his lecture, cringing at every word

When he paused to take a slight break, she looked up from the spot on the ground she was staring at and wiped her sniffly nose. "But Daddy! I just wanted to see Mom! She's here, and she'll come into my thoughts if I concentrate. I think that Mom's the dragon, or the dragon knows Mom, or something, 'cause Mom will only be in my thoughts if I'm close to the dragon. It might sound dumb, but it's true! I'm not lying!"

My father looked down at her with a bemused look. Ladon, but she melted his heart so quickly. It practically would make me gag sometimes. "Oh yeah, honey? Mom, eh?" He turned to look at the dragon, a mistiness forming in his sunken eyes. "Valerie...how I miss her. I will forever curse the demon that made her tran - I mean, killed her. Dark was that day, for her and for the whole town." He looked down from the dragon's piercing gaze. "I'll never forget how he took your mother away from me, from you all, from us. The unbearable pain he put us through. I just wasn't strong enough to keep his claws off your mother. He was too much for me to handle. It's a damn good thing this dragon here was able to help us, for if it had not come when it did, this whole town would have been destroyed, and you all wouldn't be here right now. It was all the dragon's doing; I did nothing. I had thought I was powerful, thought I was the greatest magician around, but when I used my powers, that demon just laughed at me, spit on me, cursed me. I was…weak. Too weak to help." I felt terrible at that moment for my father, for I still believed him to be the strongest man I had ever known, and yet there he was, talking down to his own self.

Yua was there to voice my emotions, though. She looked up, eyes shining and cheeks wetready to defend her father, whom she thought of as her rock. "No, Daddy, you WERE strong! All the townspeople say so! You and the dragon both helped defeat the demon. You're the best, Daddy! Don't say that you're weak, 'cause you're not! Right, Ryu?"

I nodded, only paying half-attention to the conversation. My main focus was on the dragon's head directly in front of me. I'd seen so many times, but now, it seemed familiar somehow in a way it hadn't before. Yet, if there had been a dragon in my past, I surely would have remembered it. I studied its huge, black eyes intently, for they seemed to be trying to tell me something, but no images or words came into my mind. Maybe it only works for Yua, I thought. I looked away, sensing it was almost time to go.

When I turned, I saw that Ganer had Yua by her hand, and she was still jabbering about the dragon and Mom. I didn't really hear what he said right then, because, for some strange reason, it seemed far away, but my father said something about how he was taking Yua home and that I needed to get back too, for it was dangerous out here, what with the monsters and all. I nodded, my mind still zeroed in on the dragon, and said, yes, I would come soon.

As soon as they left, and all was quiet, a deep feeling of sleepiness came over me. What is this? I just had a nap. A pretty good one at that, too, even with that stupid eyeball showing up. Why am I sleepy again so soon? Is it the pollen? All the running I've been doing? The fight with that stupid Beak? The pain? What is it? Unfortunately, I was not able to figure out the answer to these questions right then, and so I slid down into unconsciousness.

And there, in that void of nothingness, for the second time that day, I saw that terrible eye again, but this time, it was there already, waiting for me. No opening up or anything; once I was pulled into the dream world, I saw it right away, gazing at me, never blinking. I was not as scared as I was the first time, though, for it did not attempt to communicate with me. Rather, it just stared at me, for what seemed to be a long, long time…

"Rrrrrghhhh. Wow! That was a good nap!" I said to no one in particular as I awakened and began to stretch. I felt a heck of a lot better now that I had taken it, even if I had been plagued by visions of that scary eyeball again.. Its sudden appearance again, so soon after the first, weighed on my young mind heavily. I didn't want to worry my father, but I knew if anyone would know about this other god and destined child business, he would. So, refreshed and ready, I began to make my way back to the village, intent on getting back to my room at the church and settling in the night (even if I was feeling peppy, I could always get more sleep). I was excited to get back to my family, too. Ganer's anger had likely completely subsided, so I would be in the clear and be able to talk to him freely!

However, as I arrived back into the town proper, slipping around the forest barrier once again, I sensed something was amiss. I could feel it in the air. Something bad had happened in the few minutes I had been asleep, I just knew it. When I looked at the people, their faces seemed vacant (of course, their faces were always like that, but this time it was different). It seemed even colder than usual, like the town had suddenly gone through a major blizzard and was still thawing out. The people were not frozen or anything like that, though; they were, surprisingly, moving around more than before. I approached the annoying gossipy duo of Sue and Ellen, who were forever parked in front of Ellen's house, to see if they knew what was up.

I heard bits of their chatter as I approached, but it gave me no indication as to if anything had happened. "Hey, misses," I began. "Sorry interrupt, but er, do you know if anything strange has happened here recently? Like, any sudden weather changes or stuff like that?"

They halted their conversation, turned, and stared down at me. "Who on earth are you?" Sue demanded. "Are you another one of those orphans, boy? Another one of those thieves, hmmm? Get away from me, you filthy brat! Or else, I shall have to call the guards. You all are supposed to be inside the church at all times, not wandering around trying to steal from nice citizens such as myself and Ellen. And you know that, too. So, go on. Get out of here! Don't make me sic the guards on you!"

I was genuinely puzzled. What the heck was going on here? Had Ganer told them to play a trick on me or something? Was that my punishment for the Beak battle? "B-b-but, ma'am," I said. "I mean, don't you recognize me? It's me, Ryu Bateson. You know, Ganer's son? The one that's lived here for four years? Sue's face was utterly blank. "Ryu? Ryu Bateson? Nope, that doesn't ring any bells, and neither does Ganer. How about with you, Ellen? Any ideas?" Her brunette companion shook her head, and Sue shrugged. "Who is he, anyways?"

I couldn't believe the turn of the conversation. "Well, Ryu's is, well, uh, me, and Ganer's my father and the preacher at the only church in the town."

Ellen laughed merrily, a high-pitched giggle that for some reason chilled me. "The preacher?! Oh heavens no, no, young man. The preacher of this town has always, and will forever be, Father Hulk." She sighed dreamily. "He is the greatest man I have ever seen."

"Father Hulk?" I was puzzled. A father? In our town? She had to have been mistaken. Still, I had to make sure. "You mean, a priest? A Saint Evan priest?"

"Exactly! Oh, how I do love Saint Eva, don't you?"

"Uhhhh…not exactly. I'm a believer in the Church of the Dragon."

"You are? What? That's interesting. I haven't heard of anyone professing to that doctrine in years."

That was odd. While St. Eva now had the largest denomination in the world, the ancient Church of the Dragon still had a sizable congregation, with a membership numbering in the hundreds... "Oh. Right. Well, thank you for your time, ma'am." I didn't want her to see my complete bafflement.

"You are quite welcome… I suppose She made a sniffing noise. "Now run along back to the church, little boy, and stay there this time." She turned back to her friend, and again I caught a snatch of their conversation. "You know, poor Father Hulk is just too kind to take all these orphans in. If it was me, they'd be living for scraps in that cave nearby..."

Disgusted with her attitude, I turned from them, my thoughts whirring. Before, every time I had ever talked to them, usually when I went out to play or look for Yua, they had always told me some bit of town gossip, what Jake in the house over had done the night before, or that Yua was playing at the back mountain (as if I didn't already know) and not much else. Now, however, they had changed their tune, and quite drastically at that. I was confounded. What in all of Ladon's great earth were they blabbing about? Saint Eva? Father Hulk? My father never allowed any of the followers of St. Eva in his village, for he knew they were all overzealous, and would probably try to raze the town to the ground for being "heathens" and what not. I was getting spooked by everything going on. I decided to make my way to the church to see if what they were saying was a lie or not. It had to be. Probably some great big practical joke they all decided to play on me. Sickos. My father had a weird sense of humor sometimes, but this went beyond what he normally did.

When I arrived at the little building and peered in, it appeared normal, which for all intents and purposes meant cold and dead. Then, my eyes flew to the pulpit, and there they confirmed my fears. Standing there, reading from a large tome, was a man with a bald head, orange robes, tiny glasses, hunched over frame and a smiling expression, a man who looked nothing like my father.I was starting to get even morescared. The priest noticed me standing in the doorway, and, his smile widening, asked me, "Excuse me, then, boy. Are you an orphan?"

I began to have this bad feeling that maybe my family had deserted me while I was sleeping in the back mountain, and so I figured I might as well answer the way he wanted to. Slowly I crept forward. "Yes, sir, actually, I am. You see, I was just in the back mountains a few minutes ago, taking a rest, and when I woke up, my dad and sister are gone. Just disappeared. And now I'm scared for them, sir."

The priest nodded benignly. "You poor child. That indeed sounds perfectly horrifying. Eva help you!" He made as if to go on, but I interrupted."Sir, may I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead, my child."

"Well...w-who are you?" Suddenly, I began to get a little hysterical. This strange bald person was standing in my father's spot, had taken my father's place of power that I had seen him in just hours before, and though I had been feeling fine a second ago, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. "Where's my father? WHERE'S GANER?! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIM?" I felt like crying, but I couldn't. Not here, in my father's house.

The priest looked nonplussed, though I was now shouting in his face. "Unfortunately, my son, I can only answer one of those. My name is Father Octavio Hulk. I have been a preacher for the St. Evan ministry for over 30 years now. I have been here in this quaint little village about six years. I like it here, and I feel I belong; it's got a strong sense of bonding and familial connectivity. The congregation is small, true, but that doesn't matter in a house of God. They're faithful to the weekly service. As long as there are believers, he will continue to grant miracles, for he is gracious.

"As for your father, Ganer, errrr…well, I'm terribly sorry, but I don't have the slightest idea who or where he is. I have an assistant, Ray, but he is away on a mission currently. And I assure you thus that I have had nothing to do with this disappearance you speak of."

I had calmed down a little by then, but I still felt ready to snap at any second. I was incensed he had offered no consolation. Was that the St. Evan way? "Well, he used to preach here. That is, he was the preacher before I went to the back mountain and took a nap there. That was just this afternoon! I don't know what happened, " I faltered off helplessly.

"Hmmm. That's very strange, my son. You sayhe was the preacher, and then you went to the back mountain, took a nap, came back, and now he's gone?

"Yes, sir." I thought it best not to mention the dragon there, or anything about Yua.

"Strange…very strange. I will keep my eyes open for him."

"Thank you, sir." I wiped my sniffly nose on my arm. Why was everyone being this way?

"What is your name?" he inquired sagely.

"Er, Ryu Bateson, sir."

"Ryu…sounds familiar…"

Familiar? I'd always thought my name unique. "Sir? Do you know me?"

His brow furrowed slight. "No, my son, I do not think so.


"It just sounds like a name I have heard before, a name I should know. It's the name of someone famous, I know that. But what he is famous for, I can't remember."

Me, named after a famous person? Why had Ganer never said so? "It's okay, Father Hulk. It's just a name." FATHER HULK?! Was I already bowing to the St. Eva tradition? I cursed at my weak internal self.

"Yes, you're right, my son. Just a thought that came to mind. Anyways, lad, do you need a place to stay for the night? Or possibly longer? You are an orphan, after all; someone needs to take care of you." I hadn't even had a chance to reply before he went on. "Well, you can be assured St. Eva will never turn away orphans such as yourself, even if you are thieves." He said that last part the same way as he did the rest of his speech, but there was something about it that made me angry. He sensed my disapproval, for he quickly added, "Not that I'm saying you are one. It's just that so many of the orphans we take in are little more than such. I'm sorry if I offended you."

I shook my head. "It's all right, sir. It's understandable you thought that."

"Thank you, Ryu. Anyways, there's a spare bed upstairs; feel free to take it. It's a bit hot, though, and you have my apologies for that. .Though I feel I must warn you, you will have a roommate. I don't know his name, but he looks like a dog. Take that as you will." I must have put a confused expression on my face then, for the priest laughed and said "Hahaha. I thought you would be a little perplexed. You'll see what I mean soon. Anyways, go on up, get some sleep. You need it. So, good night, young man, and welcome to the Church of St. Eva in Gate. Please enjoy your stay with us."

I thanked him profusely and went upstairs. If nothing else, Ganer had taught me good manners. The light was already out, but I had good enough night vision to confirm that the priest was telling the truth. My roomie was indeed a dog-boy, a juvenile member of the rare Grass Runner clan. Guess the priest just didn't know of them, I thought with a smile. I had never seen one before, but this guy looked nice enough, in contrast to the descriptions I had heard of them being untamed, wild beasts, little more than monsters. He was brown and white spotted all over, short fur covering every inch of his body, with long floppy ears splayed over the bed. He was small, barely making a dent on the bed's mattress. Poor fellow. Probably had been starving here. Being careful not to disturb him, I crept into my bed (my old bed, I thought) and turned over onto my normal side position in an attempt to get some sleep. I'd had had such an eventful day I doubted I could sleep, but there was no harm in trying.

I surreptitiously brought out my Dragon's Tear as I was reclining. It was a jewel given to me at birth by my parents. When I got older and asked Ganer about it, he only smiled at me mysteriously and informed me I'd know its proper usage as I grew older. I'd used it everywhere, pointing it at trees, rocks, buildings, everything, and when I finally started checking it as I talked to the people of Gate, I noticed how it would change colors based on their moods. The darker it was, the worse mood they were in; it was by this method I learned to avoid the shopkeepers at all costs. But of course, the lighter side means the people were in pleasant moods. The highest I'd seen for the townspeople was bright green, but I felt sure it could go higher. Its neutral state seemed to be a burnt orange hue. It seemed to be at a blue color now, which surprised me.

As I kept playing with the stone, however, it was clear I was not the only restless one. , I heard some indistinguishable muttering, then a soft pattering on the floor; he had heaved himself over the side of the bed. I turned over to peek at him. He looked around quickly with a distasteful look on his face and, apparently not seeing anything worthwhile, began heading for the stairs, muttering agitatedly all the while. I figured he was probably doing something bad (or else why would he want to leave?) and so myself, without thinking, jumped out of bed and blocked his way. I was all prepared to ask him what he was doing when he looked at me and grinned suddenly. "Hi buddy!" he said excitedly. "How are you doing? Are you what I am: a thief pretending to be an orphan? Getting in churches and looting them?" I shook my head. What the hell kind of way is that to greet someone? I thought, somewhat testily. "No?" He looked puzzled. "You really are an orphan? Whoa, well, uh, I'm sorry about that, man." He looked me over sympathetically. I was dressed in my usual rags - my father, despite his acclaim, never made much money, and the shops in Gate only had low quality clothing for sale. "I dig the blue hair, though! Pretty rad. Hey, you want to come with me? This place is a dump; all it had worth stealing was a dinky candle." He flashed it to me, a small, nearly burnt out wick I had used the entire previous year. I nodded approvingly, not wanting to accuse him, and he tucked it back away."Anyways, how about this? You're an orphan, I'm a thief. We can be partners! I got a whole plan: We'll leave and explore the world, become a couple of first-rate adventurers and thieves, explore the seas, travel mountains, let the wind take us where she may. I was gonna do it solo, but you look like a cool kid. Whadya say man?"

I thought about it carefully, weighing my options. If I stayed there, with no family and everyone hating me because they think I'm a troublemaker and a thief, I truly would have no future, but I would be safe, thanks to the church. But what kind of future was that? There was no one but that priest to keep me company. If I left, though, it would be incredibly dangerous, but fun as well. And I'd be able to hopefully find out what happened to Ganer and Yua and the whole stinking town... I made up my mind in a split second after thinking on my family. "Okay, dude, let's hit the road. I got nothing left here anyway. I'm Ryu Bateson, nice to meet you." And I held out my hand to shake the other boy's.

The Grass Runner grinned and took my hand in his own small paw. The Dragon Tear gleamed bright blue as he did. "I'm Bow. Just Bow is all you need to know. It's good to finally meet another kid around here! I'll hope you'll enjoy the ride, Ryu, cause it's gonna be one sweet time!." And with that, some crouching, and a few hushed motions from Bow, we went down the stairs, out the church (I saw Father Hulk dozing, and made a face as we snuck past), and past the arches into the wide world beyond. The guard was finally gone, and there was no one to stop us!

As we stepped out into the world, a great gust of wind came in from the east, swooning down over the mountains surrounding Gate and coming down to flow around our ankles. We giggled together. Oh! Finally! Freedom at last! No more of Gate! No more of being told to do this and that by the stupid townspeople! I was finally free from their cloying presence! I felt a great twinge of regret at my rejoicing when my father and sister were still missing with no clue as to their whereabouts. At that moment, though, my excitement overrode everything - I knew I would be reunited eventually. And escaping Gate was the first ticket to finding them. and then we would all be happy again. But right then, I simply could not dwell on the negative, not when such a great thing had happened. Yes yes yes! Life was definitely looking up!

As we walked out onto the open fields, excitedly sniffing the air, the sweet grass scent wafting up to us, me with a slightly more giddy bounce to my step than my newfound buddy's, Bow turned and looked at me strangely. "Ryu? You all right? You look really happy. Too happy, as a matter of fact. All we've done is get out of the village, man. Was it that bad to you or what?"

I could see Bow was honestly perplexed, so I decided to explain to him my situation as quickly as possible. "Yeah, Bow. You're exactly right. Some strange things have been happening in Gate today, stuff that really scared me; and even before that, I'd been wanting to explore the world. I've been trapped in that town for the last three years now, and it has been hell for me to live through. And now, I've finally been freed from its horrible grasp, and I get to see the world, something I've been waiting a long time to do. So, I am happy, man. Don't mind me, though. I'll try not to let my enthusiasm interfere with our journey in any bad ways."

Bow grinned. "It's cool, Ryu! I dig it. A little enthusiasm never hurt anything. But just try to keep it a little toned down, is all I ask. I just don't want you burning out on things before we get really cooking." I nodded. "Good. Now, are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?!" I gave him a wide grin, and nodded again happily. He grinned back and howled excitedly at the fully-risen moon."Great! So am I. It's been a while since the last time I've hadany kind of outing.. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I did have one." He said this sadly, and I felt immediately bad for him. How long had he been cooped up somewhere like me? I didn't have time to dwell on it long, for he began to sniff the air immediately after. I was a little confused as to why at first, but then I also sensed something with my innate powers. Dang it; I knew something like this would happen. It always did when something awesome happened to me. A rain storm was headed our way, and by the feel of things, it would be a big one. And sure enough, before we could move one step further, I felt the first sprinkle, and it was immediately followed by a downpour. I silently cursed my luck; clearly, the town of Gate itself had some mischief up its sleeve. With no thought at all, both of us, our little legs pumping furiously, began running wildly north.

"There's a cave up here," I yelled to my new friend. "My dad used to tell me he'd go through it sometimes." He nodded, shaking his head as the rain kept splattering him, and we saw it up ahead, making a final mad dash as the thunder clapped. We made it in safely, though thoroughly drenched. I could hear Bow pattering off to the corner and wriggling around wildly, sending drops of water spraying around. "Buddy? Ryu? Where the heck are ya? It's pitch black in this place! Oh..oh wait. Heheh. I know!" I heard the slightest of scratches and saw a tiny burst of flame. "Thank the gods for matches, eh, Ryu?" He touched the fire to the nearly waxed-out candle. The dimmest of shadows were suddenly cast on the wall, but it was better than the utter blackness from before. A darkness just like my dreams, I thought. I only prayed the eyeball would not appear here. Ladon did not answer my prayers fully, though., we had not gotten very far, just the fewest of cautious steps, when Bow grabbed my arm and pointed directly ahead. I had to stifle my yelp with the sleeve of my oversized shirt. In front of us, with a deadly sharp looking end, was the thick, knotted, greyish-purple end of what looked like a very, very long tail. It seemed to sense our presence and moved away, scales dragging noisily along the ground. After it had gone a sufficient way, I gulped loudly, having a very bad feeling about what was attached to that tail. Bow was excited about it, though, the twit. "Hey, man!" he hissed. "Let's follow that thing and see where it leads! How about it? It can be our first task! Our first real adventure in the world!" I nodded slowly, intent on being cautious about this thing even if Bow wasn't, and we went off, him in the lead, me a safe distance behind, stepping carefully on the ground ahead to make sure there were no other parts to the tail still behind.

There appeared to be no end in sight to the yawning blackness of the cave. It just seemed to keep stretching, like some enormous mouth. As we walked, the tail was kept tantalizingly close for a bit, and would then move away. I had a sinking feeling of dread about it; I could just picture whatever it was attached to laughing maniacally every time it did that. We are being so stupid! Does he think we're going to find some warm and happy creature ahead? Stupid Bow! Why don't I just say something? I stopped to ponder this heavily for a moment, then sighed deeply and continued ahead. He is the first new friend I've made in years. Guess I might as well brave it out. Eventually, though, the scritching sound of the tail ceased. I looked over at Bow, who was wide-eyed, and gulped as I had before. This was it. I didn't even want to whisper to him for fear of what was attached to that tail overhearing us, so I just proceeded forward. I learned in just a second that that was a grave mistake. Standing before us was a creature out of my darkest nightmares, a titanic, hulking beast that filled the room nearly to fullness. It was hunched nearly doubly over, but even then, it dwarfed us both. Some sort of red scaly flesh separated two iron-clad torso segments, giving it the look of an impenetrable fortress. Two massive arms ended in murderous, green-tipped claws, both raised and poised to tear into me. The shell surrounding the body did have more than a few dents in it, though; I suspected that many a warrior had tried without success to down the demon—I did not, however, want to envision what horrible fate had happened to them, for I feared that would happen to Bow and I. On its snake-like head, which was curved around in several loops, were three large, ugly, yellow eyes, two on the sides and one above them and in the middle of the face. Directly above them jutted out sharpened fins of flesh from the its head and back, like the ridges growing off a fish, as well as numerous crab-like legs, three on each side. I lost count at six, but felt sure more was hidden in the deep darkness. The python like tail had finally pulled back all the way, and I now saw it was covered with small, razor-sharp ridges. Even beyond all its physical frightening power, it just looked evil. And that eye...the center eye looks like the one from my dream, I thought, able to collect my thoughts only after staring in awe for what seemed an eternity.

I saw Bow drop his jaw open in amazement and horror upon spotting the creature. He had time to yell out "Oh Ladon! It's a demon! Run, Ryu, run!" before the horrible creature, whatever it was, casually flicked its tail and sent my friend sailing through the air. The blow knocked him to the wall , wherehe slid down and lay very still.

"Bow!" I yelled out. I wanted so badly to run to him, but I quelled a tremendous urge to do so. I know if I did, I'd suffer the same fate, and I knew in my heart that Ganer would not show up to protect me as he always had. Not this time, Dad. This time, I have to do it on my own. I won't be stupidly brave, but smart. I was fully prepared to do anything to avenge Bow, insane as I knew it was. I faced the monster directly, a grim look settled on my young face. It seemed to grin at me, evilly at that, and I could feel immense dark energy coursing from that smile. This was not a hint of good emanating from it —it was pure hatred. I could practically feel the Dragon's Tear resonating black."So, Ryu! Are you the destined child?" the creature roared down to me. "You are the one I was talking to earlier? Hahahahahahahahahah!It was far from any kind of pleasant laugh, but one just filled with venom. "You're just a boy. Probably not even a whelp yet, let alone a Kaiser. I was sent from the depths of Infinity itself to handle you? I see my master greatly overestimated your threat! Had he but known, I never would have had to degrade myself and talk with you. You present no danger to us! Not now, and after today, not ever!" The ugly voice was still distinctly feminine, though metallically harsh. Was it possible this great beast was a she? As she was booming out his taunts, I carefully slipped my hand down to my waist and untied the string that held my small weapon, the stick I had picked up from the earlier Beak fight and kept with me. However, she noticed what I was doing, though she was stillhissing out laughter. . "Ah-ha, I see you are unsheathing your sword! Getting ready to fight me, eh… no wait, it's just a stick! Ahahahahahaha! You are quite amusing, boy. I should like to take you back and use you for a jester. What can you possibly hope to do against my God?" She continued to roar with laughter at me, and I stood quaking with fear, mouthing as many prayers as I could remember to Ladon. Her God? Why would she be talking about me wanting to fight her god? I've never thought of anything such like that...

"Now," she said a few seconds later, the laughs immediately ceasing, though still echoing around the cavern, and her tone becoming deadly serious. "Enough with the games, little whelp. My master calls, and I must have something to present for the day's work. So, come, Ryu, show me the vaunted power of the destined child! Show me the power that will make our God tremble! Show me the power that will shake the foundations of the world and make everyone remember the days of the dragons! SHOW ME!"

As the monster finished its speech, it reacted with a speed greater than I could have imagined such a huge creature possessing. It moved quickly forward, knocking me to the ground and causing me to throw my stick away, and then, as I was sitting up, still ready to fight, raised one of its arms and fired a shockwave of enormous energy at me. I felt it hit me, felt my body absorb the impact, felt that I was very close to death. I was conscious just long enough to hear the creature taunt me again, asking me once again in its demonic to show it my power, the power of the destined child (whatever that is, I thought). I heard something more about God, and then, mercifully, collapsed into the welcome oblivion…

10 years pass…