Summary: Edward and his dragon, Volterra, believe that Volterra's mate is lost, gone either in death or time. Bella, a servant at Ruthin Castle, discovers and makes a connection with Kathea, a long dead dragon, who asks her for help with her daughter, ShayTan.

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Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story.

The remainder is my original work.

No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.


Dragon Stones

As I tossed the last flake of hay into the stall for Ares, I heard the boys talking about the earthquake again. We had been awakened very early this morning by the shaking and the sound of things falling from shelves. The false dawn had barely lightened the windows when the shaking began.

Several of the girls in the dormitory had started to scream. That hadn't seemed like the best use of energy to me. None of us were hurt, just startled. Esme had come in to make sure that we were safe. Since there was no returning to sleep for any of us, she encouraged us to get the day started and urged us all into the hall to break our fast.

The boys and their leader, Samuel, came from their wing of the hall and joined us. The morning team set food out on the wide tables so that we could serve ourselves. That was one of the perks to living here at the castle. There was always enough to eat, even if we all had to work hard to ensure the well being of everyone here. That wasn't really a change from the lives that we had all come from anyway. We all had had to work to survive from an early age.

I had lived here for five years, since I was eleven. My mother had succumbed to a virus when I was eight and then my father had died when he was injured in a work accident later on. Esme had come and taken me to the castle as I didn't have any other relatives. She told me that there would always be a place for me here.

Getting up so early had made the day seem longer than usual. Esme released us for a couple of hours after lunch, either to rest or to play, depending upon the person. I had taken the time to sketch in the apple orchard; the fruit hanging so heavy and red on the limbs had begged to be drawn. I also ate one.

The boys in the stable with me this evening had gone to the Dragon Caverns. The cave system was vast and each of us had taken time to explore them. A couple of the caverns near the front had open spaces, rather like wide windows, where we could sit and be out of the weather. The boys had wanted to see if the quake had shaken any of the gems free that were rumored to be there.

Kyle, the oldest of the group, was going on about how disappointed he was that they had only found a new passageway deep inside one of the smaller caverns. Apparently the quake had knocked one of the walls down and they had been able to climb through to another tunnel. But it had stopped in a dead end. The boys, and some of the girls, were always hoping to find treasure in the caves, not that any treasure had ever been found…but the rumors still abounded.

After a quick glance at me, they continued talking amongst themselves. I was the invisible girl to pretty much everyone. I didn't speak much, did my chores and I was rather plain. The only thing of any distinction about me was my long mahogany braid that reached to my waist. That and the fact that I could do magic.

Everyone tended to forget I was around and they were free in their speech near me. Over the five years that I had spent here I had heard things that amused me, appalled me, made me sad and infuriated me.

When I had overheard Travis bragging to some youngsters that he had stolen Mercy's pendent, the one that she had received from her mother before she died, I had taken the information to Esme. She had called him into her private rooms. Before long he had come from the room, his face flushed with shame as he ran into the boys' dorm. He quickly reappeared and hurried back to where she waited by her door. He had slipped something into her hands and then left the hall, his head bowed low. I had seen him cleaning the pig pens out for the next week, with no complaint. I guess that he had decided to take his punishment rather than endure banishment.

Living and working at the castle was so much better than the alternative. All of us were orphans and if we didn't live here, at Ruthin Castle, the Red Fort, we would be out on the streets of Village Denbighshire, or Chester or even Liverpool, fighting tooth and nail just to survive.

Mercy had cried when Esme had given her the pendent back. No one else knew what had transpired and even though the gossip was fierce, no one ever found out that it was me that had told. I think that Esme appreciated the fact that I didn't hold it over Travis' head or tell anyone else.

The day after the quake I was on the morning crew. I quickly got my jobs done and was given a couple of hours of freedom before it was time for afternoon chores.

One of my favorite morning chores was to gather the nightlights back into their day lamps. The globes sat in sconces around the central hall and the corridors along the main floor. They kept the rooms and halls well lit during the night, but had to be gathered into a dark place to be rejuvenated during the day. It was part of the old magic. No one knew why it worked, it just did. I loved feeling the globes under my fingertips as I gathered them. The feeling was soft and warm and right for some reason. Not all of the other children enjoyed it. A few actually felt a sharp zap when they touched them. They learned to trade jobs with me on their days. Kyle, especially, got a charge when he tried to remove them. So he would trade whatever my job was when it was his turn. Esme could have made him do it anyway, but she knew how much I liked it.

This morning I slipped two of the globes into in my pocket. They'd get their rest and I'd be able to make use of them later on. I'd return them when I came home.

After checking to make sure that my knife was in its sheath on my leg, I placed my drawing pad, pencils and an apple into a cloth bag slung over my shoulder and left the hall. The boys' chatter the night before had piqued my interest in the Dragon Caverns. I'd like to see what had fallen during the quake. I hoped my favorite seat, the one near the opening like a wide window, hadn't been harmed. It was a nice place to sit, draw and watch the woods. The Caverns were near the top of a hill. There were tumbled rocks around the crest, probably caused by the quakes that we got regularly.

There were no others about when I got to the cave entrance. I liked the solitude and was glad no one was near. I took the globes out of my pocket and held them together in the palm of one hand. They were bright after their short rest in the dark. The blue light that they emitted easily lit up the corridor as I made my way to the new fall. Some of the corridors were really wide and high. Maybe that's why they called the place the Dragon Caverns, the spaces were big enough for dragons to walk through. Not that I knew how big dragons were. None had been seen in something like 100 years. Legends said that they had all been destroyed, or run off or something. A lot of people didn't believe in them either. I'd never thought about it one way or another. Although it could be kind of fun to think that there might be dragons. Maybe I'd draw one today.

I found the new opening in the rear of the complex. I could see the pile of rocks the boys had had moved and the opening was now large enough for a grown man to enter. From the tracks on the floor, I could see that many had been in there already. Laughing quietly, I wondered how many had come in search of treasure, only to be disappointed. I wasn't here for gems; I was here just to see.

After crawling over the pile of debris, I lifted my globes high. The corridor floor was nearly smooth beyond the rocks. A thick layer of dust covered the entire area. I could see the footprints clearly of the many children that had already wandered this direction. There were some adult tracks as well.

When I reached the end there was another fall of rocks. The boys had been right, it was a blind alley. As I ran my hand over the solid rock wall, I wondered why the path was even here. It seemed planned, but then this dead end.

I looked back the way I had come. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something beside me, where the rock wall was. It appeared to be an open archway. Startled I turned to face the wall directly again. I touched it and it was solid, but what had I seen? I glanced away and was again surprised to see the opening beside me, just at the corner of my eye. I was confused, to say the least. Keeping my hand on the wall, I faced it. Solid…turning, I looked away and felt my hand slip through and into the opening that I could just barely make out. The globes in my hand, along with their light, disappeared, leaving me in near darkness. I yanked my hand back and the globes reappeared.

Magic…

Without taking my eyes off the opening that I had first come through, I stepped sideways through what appeared to be solid rock. There was no sensation of any kind. I was just suddenly in a very large cavern. I looked back to where I had stepped through the rocks. I could clearly see an archway leading back the way I had come. Amazing…

Holding the globes up, their light grew to an astonishing level. The small globes pulsed with power, brighter than I had ever seen them glow. Their light filled the wide cavern, assisted by light coming through chinks in the roof at the far end of the chamber. Looking up I could see that the ceiling was high above my head. It was smooth and unblemished just above, but broken and askew farther back.

Glancing down I could see that the pathway that I was on continued down for about fifteen feet and ended at a sandy arena. A low rock wall surrounded the open area. I gasped at what rested in the center of the space. Denial filled my mind as I stood for several moments trying to make sense of what I was actually seeing.

Suddenly a shaft of sunlight entered on an angle from one of the cracks in the tumbled mass at the end of the room. The light shone down and was reflected off of the topaz gem that sat in the middle of the forehead before me…the forehead of a dragon.

I stumbled back until I hit the rock wall behind me, bracing myself for the attack that I expected momentarily. My bag of supplies fell at my feet. I didn't take my attention off the specter before me long enough to pick it up.

My breath came in pants as my heart thundered in my chest. Nothing happened as I waited…Nothing at all. That's when I realized that the only sounds I heard were my breathing and the beating of my own heart. Taking another deep breath to calm myself, I looked closer at the dragon.

She was dead and had been dead probably longer than I could even imagine. She looked like the mummified remains of those two rats that one of the boys had found last year. Esme had explained to us how that happened. The rats had died and the conditions were right to just dry them out, but not to rot them.

She…how did I know the dragon before me was a she? I had no idea, but I did know it. Taking my courage in hand, I stepped away from the wall again and moved forward…cautiously. Holding the globes up, I walked down the slight incline and stepped carefully onto the sand. The light was still piercing the gem in her forehead; her head was tucked against her side. Splintered golden light sparkled throughout the chamber.

The gem was bigger than my fist, nestled in the very center of her wide forehead. Although her body was desiccated, I could tell that she had been a deep, rich red. There were highlights, muted now, of gold on the tips of her scales. She was resting on her belly, with her head tucked beside her. The cause of her death was clear. A lance was placed, with careful precision, between the bottom two scale plates of her neck.

Who would kill a dragon? Our myths and legends had said that dragon kind were to be revered. That they were our protectors and it was our prerogative to care for them. The last one was seen about a hundred years ago. Passing troubadours sang songs of them. We were all taught that if we were to ever come across one, we should honor and serve it. Not that anyone really expected to see one.

It appeared that there actually had been dragons, at least that there used to be dragons. I had the proof before me.

The gem still sparkled in the shaft of sunlight. It called to me, but not in a covetous way. I felt the need to touch it and stepped closer, cupping my hand over the round stone.

Visions filled my head. Colors, feelings, scents washed over me, causing me to drop to my knees before the huge head where my hand rested, firmly fused to the gem. I tried to pull my hand away, but I was caught, filled with thoughts that were not my own.

I've been waiting so long…

She's powerful…

She has to understand…

She has to care for her…

She has to find him…

The visions flowed through my mind like a river, filling me with confusion. The kaleidoscope of thoughts and memories finally slowed down and I was able to make a bit of sense of them. This was Kathea. I held onto her name and felt a kinship with her begin to grow. Her feelings were becoming my own as tears began to flow down my cheeks.

Once I began accepting her thoughts they slowed down even more, allowing me to see them clearly. The freshest vision was of her last day.

She had been happy, content. She was in the hatching arena, ready to expel the egg that she had been nurturing in her body for over a year.

Another dragon and rider were with her in the sand filled area. Her eyes were focused on the rider's face. His hair was bronze, his eyes a deep forest green. His dragon was the same green, with golden tips to his scales. The rider was Edward and his dragon was Volterra. Tense excitement radiated off of them both.

Ah, the egg that Kathea/I was about to lay was carrying the mate of the young dragon beside her/us. They already keenly felt the mind of the young one inside of her/us.

A small woman entered into her/my line of sight. I knew this was her/my rider, Alida. She had dark auburn hair and deep blue eyes that sparkled with joy in this moment. She was dressed in dark blue leather, with a short sword strapped to her hip. Edward stepped close and rested his arm across her shoulders, bending his head to press a light kiss upon her cheek.

She/I could feel joy at having these two with us. She/I was a little anxious that Drethsyn and Xander weren't here yet. She/I felt their approach but they were still some distance away. She/I could tell that it was almost time for the egg to make its appearance. She/I could feel some sadness to be letting the egg go out of her/my control. She/I had really enjoyed the carrying and molding of it for these last several months. But it was time and she/I knew it.

At our first urge to expel the egg, an explosion rent the air. We made to rise, but our body was in the first throes of labor and we couldn't. Both Alida and Edward drew their swords and faced the archway beside us. Volterra rose to his haunches, his wings outspread and a shriek coming from his jaws. Another explosion caused the ceiling at the far end of the chamber to crack open and chunks of rock began to fall. We could all feel the magic that was being expended against the mountain. Shimmers of power were flowing over and through the opening that had been created by the first two explosions.

Volterra closed the distance and tried to protect our laboring form with his widespread wings. We could hear Alida and Edward arguing…she was trying to send him away, through the hole in the ceiling. She felt that if he could stop those casting the magic, we would be safe. The ceiling directly over our writhing form was solid right now, but who knew how long that would last. With a final, tortured look at us, Edward vaulted to Volterra's bent knee and up onto his back, coming to a stop at the juncture of neck and shoulder. He grabbed the straps with one hand, still holding his sword in the other. A yell to rival Volterra's roar escaped his throat.

With a mighty heave, the green dragon leaped from the ground, sweeping his wings and arrowing out of the gaping hole. Another blast of magic caused that hole to disappear in a massive slide of rock.

Alida stepped close to our face, cupping our massive jaw with her small hand. She looked into our eyes and I heard her in our mind professing her love and devotion to us, and to the egg that was still trying to make its way from our body.

A steely look came over Alida's face when we heard the sound of battle in the corridor before us. Turning to face the arch, she took a fighting stance, holding her sword and a short knife in her hands. Through a haze of pain we saw a small army of men crash through the archway and down the short ramp. They quickly surrounded us. I wanted to rise and help my Alida; she who was my heart, my soul, my lifelong companion. A phalanx of men swept us apart before she could get more than a couple of strikes into the oncoming horde. Her aim was true and two of them fell before they could subdue her. I could feel my body trying desperately to slow the expulsion of the egg. Surely she would be safer in my body than out of it.

Focusing the magic through the gem on my forehead, I finally stopped the progress. I tried to rise to help Alida where she was held by three men. Before I could do so, another wave of magic, dark and malignant, washed over me. I had felt this before…had fought it years ago. The dark flavor was the same.

Sudden silence filled the air as HE walked into the chamber, a long, twisted staff of dark wood held stiffly before him. His gaze swept over me and then to Alida.

"You!" she spat, struggling against those holding her. "Cadeyrn, I thought that you learned your lesson the last time we met."

"Ah, Alida…so nice to see you again, and your pet, too." The sound of his voice carried throughout the room, causing a shudder to ripple down my spine from the memory of our last meeting. This was Cadeyrn, the dark mage of Nemos.

Twenty years previously we had captured him during a battle. He had wanted to rise to ultimate power. Our King, Brenin Llywd, had sent him to a prison on the other side of the sea. Apparently he had escaped.

"The time has come to rid the earth of you and these lizards. Xander and Drethsyn are being handled even as we speak."

Suddenly I knew the truth of his words. I felt Drethsyn, my mate, scream as a volley of arrows, strong with dark magic, filled the air around him as he circled the crest of the hill. I heard his scream of anguish, not at the pain from the wound at his neck, but at the thought of leaving me behind. I felt the threads of his love reaching out to me…I grasped them tightly, holding them close to my heart.

The pain that filled my soul was immense and I fought to keep inside my own mind. I could feel Xander also as he fell from the sky astride my love, an arrow through his heart. The sudden ache that filled Alida when she realized that they were both dying cut me to the core of my soul. Our combined pain was almost more than I could bear and I felt myself fading…but I fought back. I had to stay for Alida, and for the little one resting in my womb.

A harsh command barked over the mage's shoulder brought a man forward from the crowd, a black lance held tightly in his hands. The twisted staff was exchanged for the lance and the mage walked towards us. The dark magic that he wielded held me in place. With a flick of his fingers, my head was tilted up and I heard him chanting, "Between the first and second plate…a wooden stake to place…to put death into the heart of the beast..."

My bellow of rage was cut short when I felt the tip of the lance enter between the plates at the base of my throat, a swift thrust and the lance was buried deeply in my chest and near my heart. Alida's scream filled my ears and my mind. As the dark magic released me, I reached towards her with my muzzle.

The three men freed her at a sign from the mage and she rushed towards me, arms outstretched, anguish upon her face. I saw the mage step forward again and strike her with the sharp edge of the staff. It crashed down and across her neck, cutting deeply. Her blood splattered across my face, dimming the glow from the gem that rested there. A swift kick from him pushed Alida close to my side, her heart pumping the blood rapidly from her wound. With the last of my strength I placed my muzzle close to her small frame, knowing by the loneliness of my thoughts that there was nothing I could do to protect her any longer. I felt my own heart begin to pump out the last of my blood. If I could have survived, so would she, but the lance was buried too deeply for healing to take place.

He had known exactly where to place that accursed splinter of wood.

My muzzle dropped to cover Alida's body as grief, raw and stark, filled my soul. She was gone, as were Drethsyn and Xander.

With one last call to the magic that resided in and around me, I sought to protect the baby resting in her egg. I sought to protect her for me and Alida…for Xander… for my beloved Drethsyn…and for Edward and Volterra.

The magic came at my call and my thoughts were thus: we would wait…time would wait. She would come…in time.

A deep breath forced its way into my lungs as I sat back on my heels. I don't know how long I had been frozen in place, but the shaft of light was no longer shining across the gem. I still couldn't remove my hand from the stone.

The blue globes continued to light the chamber from the sandy floor where I had dropped them. They were brighter, the light steadier than I had ever seen it. Magic was thick here and they were responding to its presence.

I drew another breath in, held it and then let it out slowly, taking some time to assess what I had seen, what I had felt.

These were the remains of Kathea, a dragon…an actual dragon. One of those that lived and fought in the legends I had been taught.

Now that I looked closer, I could see what was left of Alida, still encased in blue leather, tucked close to Kathea's side. The muzzle of the dragon was laying over her in a protective manner.

Tears continued to stream down my face at the memories that I had just experienced. Their deaths, along with their mates, were fresh in my mind, like it had just happened moments ago.

Kathea's last day and death had felt like it was actually happening to me; I had felt and seen it from her perspective. Feeling her joy at the prospect of laying her egg and then the pain of losing her loved ones was overwhelming to me. I leaned forward and rested my forehead on my hand where it was still fused to the gem. It was all I could do to catch my breath.

The connection between the gem and my hand wasn't painful; I was just stuck to it. Another deep breath left me. As my thoughts settled to some small degree, I felt a flutter in my mind. With a gasp I recognized that the flutters were tendrils of Kathea's thoughts as she began to explore my own memories.

An overview of my life passed through my mind, and then stabs of deeper inquiry regarding certain portions of it: The loss of my parents several years before; my time spent at the castle; the way I handled the globes of light and the magic that I had been taught.

She also took a close look at the classes on history and magic that Esme insisted we all be taught. Those of us who seemed to have a talent for magic were given extra lessons. I had excelled at those, and enjoyed them very much. Not that we were taught much, there didn't seem to be a lot that was known about it. But what we got to do was fun and I seemed to have a knack for it. That was one of the reasons that I got to collect the globes so often.

Esme was our teacher and she taught me to start a fire with only dry tinder. The spark just appeared where I wanted it to be. Clean water would appear in jugs at my request. She said I had a talent for elemental magic. I wasn't the most talented person at the castle, but I was certainly one of the top ten. I was also one of the two girls who could do magic, besides Esme.

After a few more minutes of having my life thoroughly examined by the shade of Kathea, I heard her whisper in my mind, "Bella? Can you hear me? Do you understand me?"

"Yes, I can hear you, Kathea. Although I really have no idea what is happening."

The relief in the dragon's mental tone was clear. "I have been waiting for you for so long. I hoped that the magic would hold on until you could be here."

"Where are you? What are you?" I asked. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the fact that I was speaking with a long deceased dragon.

"The shadow of my spirit resides in the crystal under your hand." Another brief glimpse of her last moments, where she strove to protect her baby ran through my mind. I gasped as I realized that she had used the last of her life force to place the baby in a sort of bubble…a bubble in time.

"Yes, exactly…I pulled the love of the six of us together to weave a spell around ShayTan, a spell to keep her safe in time. The mage was afraid of the light surrounding me when he killed us…" More sorrow poured over me as we shared the memory of those last few minutes. "He thought that we were all gone…and my baby with us. But love is a strong magic and I've held her safe all this time. I can't even count how many years have passed since that day. If I could have seen the stars, maybe I could have. I hoped that someday a woman with magic would come, and then my baby could be born. I've sensed your presence recently; you felt close to me, and yet not close enough."

"An earthquake opened a new passageway yesterday and I came to see what could be seen…" I found it interesting that I would have come here now, that I could find the opening in the archway and I told her so.

"Cadeyrn would have thrown great waves of magic over this area to seal it. Your affinity for magic must have allowed you a way in." She paused a moment, "Do you have any idea how long it's been since…since I died?"

I thought back to the stories that I had heard over the years regarding the last sighting of a dragon. "I think it's been about a hundred years, give or take ten…or maybe even twenty." That was my best guess anyway. I could ask Esme and she could ask others, but then she would want to know why I wanted to know. And right now I didn't think that I wanted to share this discovery with anyone. Who would believe me anyway?

"One hundred years…I knew time had passed, but not how much." A soft sigh blew through my mind and then I felt her resolve stiffen. "Now that we are here, together, some decisions need to be made."

"What kind of decisions?" I asked. "And can I get my hand back?"

"The first decision you need to make is whether you will help me. Whether you will help ShayTan…" Kathea's words made me gasp yet again.

"Help her? How can I do that? Isn't she locked in time somewhere…in her egg?"

"Yes, she is. If you choose not to help her, to not help us, then I can release you from the stone, you'll walk back through the arch and forget everything that you've seen and heard here today. Maybe, in time, another will pass this way that would be willing to help…" She paused to let that sink into my mind. "But if you choose to help us, you'll find a bond stronger than anything you ever imagined." She had been through my mind, so she knew what my imaginings looked like already.

"I believe that you are the one that I've been waiting for. I believe you are the bond-mate of my daughter. But you can only truly become that through freewill. I cannot force you to make this decision."

My mind was a blank for a couple beats of my heart. Then Kathea's memories poured through me: the moment when she became aware of Drethsyn and all that he was to her; the time of her hatching when she bonded with Alida; meeting Xander and feeling the love he shared with Alida…

All of those feelings were amazing…and overwhelming. I had never thought to find something even half as fulfilling as what she had felt, and continued to feel. And to be told that I could have it all…well, it was certainly something that I would have to consider.

The turning point came when Kathea opened a pathway into ShayTan's mind.

The young dragon was waiting at the border between sleeping and waking. Her mind was lively as she dreamed perfect dreams. The last several months spent in her mother's womb she had been totally self-aware. Hers was a curious mind: she could hardly wait to be out, to fly, to run, to just be. I could feel her longing for Volterra as she sat out in time. The love she felt for the dragon and his rider was firm, but the image of Edward was vague. Most of her focus was on Volterra. She was content in her dream state, not aware of time passing.

Kathea closed that pathway in my mind and I felt a distinct loss. My decision was made. I would do anything in my power to make that connection permanent.

I felt satisfaction flow from Kathea's mind into my own as she felt my decision.

"What do I have to do?" I asked.

"First...you have a knife, correct?"

I pulled it from the sheath on my leg and held it in my free hand. "Yes, what do I need it for?"

"We are going to release the magic that is holding things out of time right now. Take the knife and pry the stone free from where it rests." I started to do as she asked. Just as the knife tip slipped beneath the gem, the air shuddered around me. A gust of wind came out of nowhere, flowing over and about my person. It picked up to a gale force and I closed my eyes to shield them from the flying sand. As it abated I opened them again and was shocked as I realized that the remains of Kathea and Alida were gone. The sand was still stained with their blood and sitting where they had been laying was an egg somewhat bigger than my torso.

A dragon egg…

It was a good thing that I was already resting on my knees because I would have fallen for sure. Not believing my eyes, I reached out to touch the shell. That's when I realized that the topaz gem, that had been the size of my fist, was still grasped in my hand. It was now the size of a small plum and was mounted in a gold setting. But it was no less brilliant than when it had been larger.

"Breathe, Bella, everything is fine." Kathea's tone was soothing in my mind. Apparently she could hear and feel my anxiety. I was just glad that she was still with me. "Go ahead and touch the egg with the gem…"

Tentatively I reached my hand out and pressed the stone to the shell. Sparks flew into the air and my hand, with the stone in it, was once again fused to a surface, the surface of the egg.

Minutes passed as the shell of the egg began to glow and for a brief moment I could actually see the baby dragon inside it.

"You can move your hand now, Bella." Kathea's tone was full of love and satisfaction. "She'll break shell in eight days…"

As I removed my hand and the gem from the shell I couldn't take my eyes from the spectacle before me. The egg, which had been rather drab and gray when I had first seen it, was now pulsing with light. Colors were chasing themselves across the surface: Blue, purple, teal, green, gold and silver.

Patterns formed and reformed. It was mesmerizing.

Kathea's voice in my mind called me back. "We need a plan for the next eight days…" I could see her reviewing my routine at the castle, trying to decide what would be the best course of action. "You'll be able to communicate with each other in about four days…"

"What…?" I was already feeling a draw to the mind that was inside. To know that I would actually be able to talk with her soon filled me with amazement. Still keeping my eyes on the egg, I asked, "Can you hear her now?"

"Yes, she is not aware that time has passed. All she knows is that she'll be out in a few days. The gem transferred my memories, and those of my ancestors, to her when you touched the shell. Her mind is now occupied with those memories. You may be able to get some impressions from her now, but soon you will be able to communicate with her, just like we are." A sad sigh fluttered through me from her again. "She's going to be wondering where Volterra is soon…"

Loss and grief once again filled us both, rocking me back on my heels. "They were already communicating while she was still forming. That's why we knew that they were bond-mates."

Keeping my eyes on the patterns forming on the egg, I realized that I had so many questions to ask. I didn't know where to start. "Did he…did Volterra die too?" A long moment passed while Kathea appeared to be seeking an answer.

"I really don't know…and until ShayTan seeks for him, I won't."

"Could he still be alive? It's been years! How long do dragons live?"

Kathea's laugh filled my mind. It was a lovely sound. "Actually a dragon, and his or her bond-mate, can live forever. Just as I placed ShayTan out of time, dragons live just slightly out of time too. We can be harmed, but we heal quickly. Only a lance, spear or arrow to that one place can actually kill us. And only one that has been treated with dark magic will be able to do it. Our healing properties are also shared with our bond-mate."

There was so much for me to take in, I felt a little dizzy. Reaching out I touched the egg again. I could feel ShayTan at the edges of my mind. Just soft impressions as she sifted through the vast amount of knowledge that she had just been given. She was totally preoccupied, but I could feel how thrilled she was to have so many interesting things to ponder.

"So, what should I do now? Do I take the egg back to the castle? Do I stay here? I am going to have to eat at some point. And if I stay here, they will come looking for me." Questions tumbled from me.

"Bella, breathe!" Kathea's soft voice soothed me. "I don't think that you could carry her anywhere and surely not as far as the castle." Another pause as Kathea continued to think.

"First, please look where Alida was lying. There should be a chain there." I moved to the space she indicated and sifted my fingers through the soft sand. The wind that had removed their mortal remains had shifted the sand. I felt something cool and lifted up a long golden chain. "That was Xander's bond gift to Alida." Kathea's tone was soft and sad. She gave herself a mental shake. "Now place the gem on the chain. As long as you wear the stone about your person, we'll be able to keep our connection."

When I was done, I placed the chain around my neck and nestled the gem securely under my jerkin. Kathea then continued. "I'll be able to monitor ShayTan even from the castle. She should be safe here. And we'll come back daily anyway. I think that would fit with your routine, yes?"

I agreed that I would be able to get away for several hours every day. But I felt some distress at the thought of leaving ShayTan here, alone. "It's good that you feel that way, but she's going to be busy for days with the new information that she's been given. If I feel her seeking Volterra we can return immediately."

Once more I ran my hands gently over the captivating patterns on the egg. The shell was warm and firm beneath my fingers. Again I felt ShayTan's mind skipping playfully through the memories. She really was enthralled with what she was seeing. I picked up the two light globes and walked away from her egg. It was harder than I imagined it could be.

Slowly I made my way up the ramp to where I had dropped my bag, looking back over my shoulder over and over again. I picked it up and slung the strap over my shoulder.

Stopping at the arch I turned fully and looked back at the egg where it rested near the middle of the sandy arena. Kathea was urging me to turn and step outside of the chamber, continually telling me that it would be okay, that ShayTan would be safe. I finally had to just close my eyes and step out into the corridor. I immediately turned back, only to come face to face with the solid rock wall. My hands roamed over the surface and I felt anxious.

"It's okay, Bella, just turn to the side and you'll be able to see the archway…" Remembering how I had made it in the first time, I did as she suggested. My relief was great when I realized that I could see back into the chamber.

"She's fine…let's go," Kathea's voice urging me on was the only way I managed to make myself leave the caverns. It just seemed wrong to leave her here, alone. As I stepped out into the open air I took several deep breaths in.

When my pulse settled, I asked, "Kathea, should I tell someone about all of this? Even though no one I've ever heard of has actually seen a dragon, we have all been taught that we should protect and serve them. Should I get more people involved in this?" A very large part of me wanted to keep this whole episode to myself, to hug the mystery of it all close and to savor it. But was that the right thing to do? I only hoped that Kathea would have some good advice for me.

"Bella, right now I think you should keep this a secret. Let me meet those that you live with and see what impressions I get from them. I don't think that we can actually do it alone, but for right now it should be fine. That will give us a couple of days to see what we should do." I know that part of her decision was because she knew that that's what I wanted to hear. But I also figured that if there was danger, she would have advised me in ShayTan's best interests.

So, for now, I would just hug the whole thing to myself and wait to see what would happen next. I hurried to the gate of the castle and after dropping off my sack in my room, hurried through my dinner and my evening chores.

At one point I answered a question that Kathea posed me out loud. The odd look that I received from Mercy as she stood next to me washing dishes made me rethink my responses. I had been speaking to Kathea with my voice the entire time at the cavern, but that wasn't necessary. She actually laughed a little when she perceived Mercy's surprise. I took the silent route after that, figuring I could speak out loud when I was alone.

I thought that I would never be able to fall asleep, but the excitement and the stress that I had lived through today had taken its toll on me. I quickly fell into a deep slumber.

My dreams were vivid…dreams of flying. I was the dragon as we soared through the sky. There was joy to be found as my wing tips overlapped with a bronze dragon. There was joy to be found in the companionship of the young woman who sat astride me. There was joy to be found as I thought of my daughter bonding with a green dragon.

Esme's voice called me from my dreams, my hand quickly going to the gem around my neck. It was still there. "Of course it's still there, Bella. I'm still here too." Kathea's voice filled my mind.

"How is ShayTan? Can you hear her? Should I go to her now?" I was already on my feet, pulling my clothes on and starting out of the door.

A soft chuckle filled my thoughts. "She's fine. She is immersing herself in the memories of my great grandmother, Kaida. You need to eat and go about your normal routine. We should be able to return to her after your lunch I think."

She was right. If I wasn't going to be telling anyone about this, I needed to continue with my regular routine. As I gathered the light globes, Kathea told me how they worked. She also asked me about the magic that I had learned and told me that she could help me to learn more.

While I continued with my chores I asked questions as they came to me. "If dragons and their mates can live forever, why isn't the world full of dragons? How come no one has seen any in a hundred years?"

Kathea told me that there were very few dragons hatched, that only one egg was laid every thirty or fifty years. She had been so thrilled when she and Drethsyn had conceived. Sadness once again colored her mental voice. "Volterra was the last dragon to break shell in my time. Edward was twenty when they bonded. He hatched thirty years before ShayTan came into being. Volterra was so thrilled to be her bond."

"What did dragons do? What was your job?" I asked.

"Dragons helped keep the peace. Dragons and their riders can control magic. Twenty years before my death, we battled against Cadeyrn. He had wanted to be the ultimate ruler. We lost seven of the 48 dragons living at that time. The King had him imprisoned at a place across the sea. He should have killed him, but Cadeyrn was our King's brother. He just couldn't kill him. Once he was banished to prison there was a time of peace.

"Dragons and riders chose to explore. It's a very big world and there is so much to see. Everyone thought that peace would prevail and that we all weren't needed at Court at once. It was decided that mated pairs could return to serve the King every ten years. That would give us freedom, yet keep faith with the people that we protected.

"Drethsyn and I, Volterra and a couple more were here when it was time for me to lay my egg. Drethsyn and I would have stayed and served our ten years, along with ShayTan and Volterra as she grew to maturity."

I could see and feel her impressions of that time. They were excited to be able to go where they wanted to, and not just where they were needed.

"So, there could be forty or so dragons out there somewhere?" I asked.

"Yes, there could be. I don't know what happened to keep them away from here. Except the magic that Cadeyrn placed over this area might have had something to do with their disappearance." She had given me a lot to think about.

At her request, I tried to speak with as many people as I could here in the castle while I went about my chores. Kathea had a very high opinion of Esme. She also agreed with me that Kyle was not a very nice guy. She had hope that Travis was now on the correct path. She asked if I could meet the Duke so I went to the kitchen and volunteered to take his lunch into the library where he was working.

As I placed his meal on the side table, the Duke rose from the desk where he had been working. He came over and thanked me for the meal.

Kathea urged me to make a bit of conversation with him. The Duke was very easy to talk to, as I had found on previous meetings with him. He asked me about his favorite horse, Ares, as he knew that I worked in the stable every other day. As our chat wound down, James, his sheriff, came in to share the meal with him. Kathea recoiled from him and urged me to leave as soon as possible.

"What?" I asked as I made my way back to the great hall and my own lunch. "What's the matter?" Kathea was silent, thinking, as I gathered my meal.

"Your Duke is a very good man with some use of magic and Esme is full of magic. But James is a very bad man. I could feel the darkness surrounding him, although it was hidden behind a façade of charm." I could feel her aversion to him distinctly.

"You are free soon, correct?" She asked.

"I need to help clear the lunch, and then I can go." I had been fighting the urge to run to the cavern all morning, even though Kathea kept reassuring me that ShayTan was perfectly fine.

As soon as lunch was cleared I left the hall and began trotting over the fields and up to the entry to the caverns. I heard voices coming from one of the caverns and I waited until the small chamber leading to the hatching arena was empty. Quickly I made it over the debris and rushed to the solid appearing wall. I turned to look away. My breath left me in a gasp when I could see the egg resting through the archway. Once I slipped sideways through the arch I turned and raced to the egg, dropping to my knees before it and placing my hands firmly on top.

The relief I felt at being this close to her filled me with relief. Again, I didn't actually hear her thoughts, just impressions, but it was enough for now.

I repeated this routine over the next three days.

+O+O+O+

Everything changed on the fourth day. That morning as I entered the chamber and approached the egg I felt a touch in my mind. It was the same sort of thing that I felt with Kathea, but this was something deeper.

My mind was suddenly filled with ShayTan. She was aware of me. First she had a start of surprise…and then joy filled us both as our minds connected. I was on my knees with my arms wrapped around her shell, tears spilling from my eyes. Within seconds she began flitting through my memories, marveling at who I was, and who I just became.

I am now the bond-mate of ShayTan, the dragon. Our minds and hearts linked completely in that moment and I had never felt so whole in my life.

I could feel the joy Kathea felt at our bonding. She had told me that she would try and protect ShayTan from the knowledge of what had happened to her, at least for as long as possible. Our bonding would keep her occupied for a day or so. She would keep a close watch.

Kathea had also decided last night that I should tell the Duke and Esme, but no one else, once the bonding occurred. And now the bond had been accomplished. I spent the next couple of hours reveling in the love and companionship of ShayTan. Her mind was so young, so fresh; thankfully it was still relatively easy to keep things from her. That wouldn't last for long as she became even more aware.

Now that we were linked, Kathea told me that I'd be able to feel our connection no matter how far away from each other we happened to be. She told me that I should head back to the castle now so that I could speak with the Duke and Esme.

I had thought that it was hard leaving ShayTan when I could barely hear her. That was child's play compared to walking away from her now.

Kathea was still keeping that barrier between some portions of my thoughts and we had a small fight over my leaving.

She finally told me that once the others knew about the situation, that I would surely be allowed to return and to stay with ShayTan until she hatched. That was the argument that made it possible for me to finally leave.

I rushed back to the castle, immediately seeking out Esme and finding her seated in her private rooms. Now that I knew what to look for, to some extent, I could see that Kathea was correct. Esme was wrapped in magic. It surrounded her like a soft mist.

"Esme, I have a matter of some urgency that I need to speak to both you and the Duke about," I said as I skidded to a stop in front of her chair. Apparently the look on my face convinced her and she rose gracefully to her feet, signaling me to follow. I was on her heels as she made her way into the main hall. She asked the guard on duty the whereabouts of the Duke. He said that he was in the library.

Her soft knock was answered with a quiet, "Come in."

A wide smile lit the Duke's face when we entered. He stepped forward and took Esme's hand in his. "What can I do for you, Esme?" He gave me a kind smile when he spotted me behind her.

"Bella has something that she needs to share with us." The Duke led her to a chair before his desk and indicated that we should both sit. He took his own seat behind the desk and nodded for me to start.

Taking a deep breath I pulled the gem on its chain from beneath my shirt. As the light caught it, golden reflections skittered about the room.

They both gasped and leaned towards me. Esme reached out a hand to touch it, but then yanked it back.

"A Dragon Stone!" The Duke exclaimed. "How did you come by that?"

They listened quietly as I told them about my last couple of days. Belief and amazement was etched on both their faces. When I got to the part about bonding with ShayTan, they both gasped again.

"Kathea says that you both can be trusted…but not James, your sheriff." That caused the Duke to sit up even straighter, a look of awareness on his face, as he nodded in agreement.

He questioned Kathea, through me, about what had transpired all those years ago. He considered the answers that she gave him. Then with a glance first at Esme then back to me, he asked, "Can we go and see her now?"

I leaped to my feet, more than eager to get back to my bond-mate. We had been in contact this entire time, but it wasn't a very complex thing, just gentle touches to assure each other that there still was a connection. I was in awe over the fact that she was here in my mind at all. She was still busy sifting through the memories that Kathea had given her.

As we stepped from the castle gate, a guard stepped forward intending to accompany us. The Duke waved him back and said that he didn't want to be disturbed. Only eyes followed as we made our way across the field and up the hill to the caverns. I had brought light globes with me and we each carried one into the dark passageway.

When we neared the hatching arena I told them how I had gotten through the archway the first time. Kathea told me that she was sure that they both possessed enough magic to enter it themselves. Under my direction they positioned themselves and I could see by the look on their faces that they could see into the arch. I stepped through and they followed on my heels. Without pausing I rushed down to the egg and dropped to my knees once again. I pressed my hands to the shell, feeling relief at being physically near her again.

Kathea informed me that she felt that ShayTan was close to asking about Volterra.

I acknowledged her comment as I glanced back towards the arch. Esme and the Duke were still standing there. Awe was evident on both their faces as they watched the colors swirl across the surface of the egg. As much as I had wanted to keep this a secret, I was thrilled that I now had someone to share this miracle with. I eagerly motioned them forward and they slowly approached me where I knelt beside the egg.

"It's true…" Esme sank to the sand beside me and reached out to touch the egg with one fingertip. "May I?" she asked, her eyes intent upon the patterns depicted there.

"Certainly…" At her gentle touch, I could feel ShayTan become aware of Esme beside me. She got excited and asked me to touch her on the shoulder. When my hand settled there, Esme jumped at the contact. And then her eyes widened. She didn't have a true bond, as I did, with ShayTan, but she could feel impressions from her.

"Oh my…"

The Duke was on the other side of me in an instant, a request on his face too. I nodded as I placed my other hand on his shoulder. Now we four were all connected. Once again ShayTan practically hummed in excitement. Her thirst for knowledge, as she searched through their public minds, made her almost giddy. Without a true bond she couldn't delve really deeply, but they were new and she was thrilled.

Kathea quietly asked me to back away from them. I took their hands and placed them together so that they were connected with each other and the egg. I stood and backed away a few feet. I'm not sure that they even noticed that I had left. My connection with ShayTan showed me that she was flitting from one mind to the other, gleaning information about their lives from them. They were generous in their thoughts and she felt happy immersing herself in their memories. I smiled when I realized just how close the two of them were. The Duke had recently decided to make her his Duchess; he was just waiting for the right moment to ask her.

Kathea's mental tone was indulgent as she monitored what was being passed between the three. It was endearing to me that Shay kept touching my mind every couple of moments, like she was making sure that I was still here. I'm pretty sure that my face had a pretty wide grin on it as I gazed at her egg and the two people kneeling next to it.

I heard Kathea softly say again that ShayTan was starting to wonder about Volterra, that she felt she was going to be seeking him soon. I had noticed that too. She didn't have a good grasp of time, so she didn't really know how much of it had elapsed since she had been brought out of time.

We didn't know if Volterra was still alive and Kathea and I both ached to think that he may not be, that Cadeyrn may have killed him too. The thought that loss may come to my bond-mate and to Kathea's daughter filled us both with trepidation. I would hate for her to have to hurt like that.

Even as we dwelt on those thoughts privately, I suddenly felt ShayTan's focus sharpen. I sucked in a breath as I waited for her to form the question.

"Volterra? Where ARE you?" Suddenly her thoughts were here, there and everywhere. Then an arrow of thought went seeking like it had been shot from a bow. Kathea and I rode the dart of thought as it rushed out of the chamber, seeking…searching…in an ever widening pattern.

ShayTan's tension levels grew the longer she searched and I found myself panting in an echo of her mental exertion.

When she had begun her frantic search, Esme and the Duke were disconnected from her. They turned and seeing my state came to my side. Esme helped me down onto the sand and then she held my hand tightly. They both asked what was wrong, but I couldn't spare a moment to speak to them. I just shook my head. They waited quietly beside me, Esme rubbing my back.

The arrow of thought that we followed suddenly dove towards a specific destination. A startled male voice was heard and then JOY crashed through my mind like a tidal wave.

ShayTan! Where? How?

I heard the voice of Volterra in my mind for the first time. Kathea had no way of blocking his memories of the last time she had seen him and we both felt the realization of what had happened to them dawn on ShayTan. She was appalled and then she was howling in pain.

Kathea and I tried to soothe her, telling her that we were here with her.

"But he KILLED you!" Her voice was so loud in my head and I clasped my hands over my ears, even knowing that it wasn't going to help, as the sound was inside my head.

"Yes…but I'm here with you now and I'll be here for some time to come. Bella is here with you…" Kathea once again tried to calm her. The egg on the sand before me rocked violently for a moment, startling the Duke and Esme. They had no idea what was going on.

ShayTan's pain was causing Volterra to seek to protect her. At first he had been joyful, but now he was also confused. First by the fact that she WAS and then by the fact that he didn't know WHERE she was. Now as he heard her pain, his stress levels begin to grow out of control.

Behind his voice I could hear Edward's. It was muted; totally overshadowed by the excited voices of the dragons. She and Volterra were speaking so quickly I almost couldn't keep up. ShayTan told him that she was in the hatching arena and he faded from us briefly. Fierce determination was in his voice when he returned.

"We're flying now…we'll be there in time for your hatching."

+O+O+O+

I was glad that I had shielded my thoughts from Volterra for this meeting. My suspicions were confirmed. Shosharra's offspring was a female and they wanted me to urge Volterra to bond with her, no matter that I told them that he still considered himself bound to ShayTan. The Council thought that what he felt was a death echo, not an actual bond with her. I could feel that thread, soft as it was, and I told them so. He would not break it and I supported him in his decision.

"So, Edward, they want Volterra to try and bond with Shosharra's daughter, don't they?" Jasper asked as he walked beside me as I made my way back to my chamber.

"They just don't get it. But he is still bonded to her. If he wasn't and bonded with the young one...Can you imagine having to spend the next four years with Tanyara waiting for her bond-mate's daughter to mature?"

Jasper laughed quietly. "Tanyara's still trying to make you her lover, isn't she?"

We had just reached my chamber and I started to nod when Volterra's roar rang out and my head was filled with his joyful shout:

ShayTan! Where? How?

I rushed to where he stood at the edge of our platform. His mind was a jumble of thoughts and visions; ShayTan was alive…at the hatching arena where I had last seen Kathea.

I agreed wholeheartedly that we should go now….to be there when she hatched.

ShayTan's realization that Kathea was dead suddenly hit both of us. The pain of it knocked me to my knees. Jasper was grasping my shoulder and asking what was wrong.

Her pain eased somewhat as I heard Kathea and another calming her. Ah, it was her bond-mate, Bella. I had no idea what was happening at the old hatching arena, but Volterra and I knew that we had to get there now.

Rising to my feet, I filled Jasper in on what had just happened. I filled a pack with supplies and grabbed my flight gear. He said that he'd inform the Council. He also asked that I keep him informed through Cathair and I said I would.

Volterra was trembling with anticipation as he crouched to let me mount. He stepped off the ledge and spread his wings…we were on our way.

+O+O+O+

The connection between Volterra and ShayTan was intermittent; they kept making sure that the other was there. Kathea said that once they got close to us, they'd have a constant link if they chose. Either party could close the connection, but not the bond. She said that with practice ShayTan and I would be able to block portions of our minds away from each other, but that we would always feel the connection. ShayTan didn't know that Kathea and I had already been barring her from our thoughts.

After telling the Duke and Esme what had just happened, they completely agreed that I should remain here with ShayTan. They discussed with me who could be trusted with this information. Kathea gave them a list of those she thought would suit us. Not surprisingly, four of the young men who were learning magic where chosen. They were all a couple of years older than me at about twenty. From what I had seen of them, I felt they would be good choices. Also chosen was Alice, the young woman who shared magic lessons with me.

After Esme touched the egg one more time, she took one of the globes and left, promising to return shortly with both the other people and some supplies.

They had come up with a story to cover our disappearance for the near future. Esme would tell everyone that she was sending us all to the Duke's hunting lodge in the western part of his holdings to prepare it for a visit from him. I had actually done that once before.

After Esme's departure, the Duke spoke, "I should go back to the castle too, but I just can't bring myself to leave just yet."

"Sir?" I asked.

He laughed as he turned to look at me. "Bella, you don't have to call me sir, or by my title any longer. You may call me Carlisle."

I felt confused as he continued, "Yes, you are now a Dragon Rider. Your title is even higher than mine! The only ones over you are the King and the Mages of the court." My confused look was now replaced with shock.

"What do you mean, Sir?" I had no idea what he meant, but Kathea was chuckling inside my head and ShayTan was agreeing with them both.

I was astonished. "Dragon Rider…Is that my title now?" I had never thought to rise above servant, and now they were telling me that I was just below the King.

He nodded as both Kathea and ShayTan hastened to assure me that that was indeed my title now. ShayTan, sounding smug, said, "I will grow swiftly and then we will fly…together. Therefore you are a Dragon Rider, MY Dragon Rider."

An echo came from Volterra, "We will fly together…"

Each time Volterra made the connection with ShayTan, I could hear Edward's thoughts in the background of my mind. I had to concentrate to hear them, but they were getting steadily clearer as they got closer. He must have been flying incredibly fast. I had the impression that they were in a mountain range far to our north. Shay agreed that Volterra said that they were indeed in the mountains. We didn't know much else about what they had been doing these past hundred years or so. That amazed me. Edward was about 150 years old!

Carlisle was watching my face. "You are speaking with her now, aren't you?"

At my nod, he continued, "You get this very concentrated look on your face when you do so."

I blushed a bit then turned and placed my hand back on the egg before me. It was hard to believe that this relatively small egg contained a mind as wide and bright as ShayTan's. Glancing back up to him, I asked, "Would you tell me what you know about dragons?

Carlisle agreed and we settled in to wait for the others. He kept his eyes and a hand on the egg as he began to tell me the duties of those who served dragons.

"You, as ShayTan's bond-mate are her rider…a Dragon Rider. Those that Esme brings will be promoted to the title of Tender. They will be your support group." He then paused and patted the shell under his hand. "That is, if ShayTan approves of them. Her very existence, as a dragon, elevates her above all others, even the King."

Again, Shay was feeling very smug, as only a youngster can be. Kathea and I both chuckled at her tone. Even Carlisle laughed as his lesser involvement in her thoughts could hear that.

"Our duty to dragons is to support them in any way that we can. If you need shelter, we'll build it. You need food, we'll supply it. Kathea will be able to direct us in your needs."

A dark chuckle came from him then. "As much as I would hate to be away from you right now, I want to take this message to the King. I want to see his face when I tell him that dragons do, in fact, exist!"

Kathea asked me to share with Carlisle. "Kathea says that as much as you would enjoy that, she thinks it would be better for all involved if we wait until ShayTan can make her own way to the king, with Volterra at her side. She looked through the memories of my history lessons. History can repeat itself and we want ShayTan to be as safe as she can be. She says that a baby dragon is strong, but she can be harmed. And until she grows big enough to protect herself, we need to take care of her."

As I passed her words on to Carlisle, I felt my protective side grow. Nothing could be allowed to harm my bond-mate. Carlisle immediately agreed with Kathea, "You are right, nothing is as important as ShayTan's safety."

I could hear Volterra and Edward both agree. Knowing that there were so many coming forward to protect her soothed me somewhat. The fact that two of the protectors were a grown dragon and his mate, helped calm me even more.

We would take this one step at a time. Things would work out. How could they not? A dragon would be hatching in a couple days time…a dragon who was my other half, a dragon who would make me whole and would be my lifelong companion.

+O+O+O+

Esme stepped back through the arch, explaining that she had left the others in one of the outer caverns.

Carlisle and I left the chamber and went out to meet the confused group that Esme had brought with her. Arthur, Garreth, Daniel, Tylen and Alice were waiting. Packs of supplies lay at their feet. They stood when they spotted the Duke with us.

He greeted them all by name. I could hear Kathea weighing them in my mind. At a nod from me Carlisle began to tell them what their new duties as Tenders would be. They were all somewhat confused, but then he mentioned the word dragon and their attention sharpened dramatically. He went into an explanation that there was a dragon egg in the cavern behind him and that they would be tending to her, and to me, the Dragon Rider. At that point all of their attention focused on me and I stood taller. I met each one, eye to eye and Kathea approved what we saw. Amazement, awe…and respect.

I was impressed that the others accepted ShayTan's existence so quickly. But these five had been trained in magic, they believed in it, worked with it. Maybe a jump to believe in dragons wasn't that big of a leap.

Esme had them gather up the supplies and they followed us into the cavern. Leaving Carlisle and Esme to teach them how to get through the archway, I stepped through into the chamber.

I felt a tug at my heart. It wasn't just me, Kathea and ShayTan anymore. This would be my last moment alone with my bond-mate for the foreseeable future. She heard my moment of sadness and hurried to reassure me that she was with me. Her love immediately soothed me. No matter who was around us, she would always be with me.

As I ran my hands over her shell I realized that there were breaks in the patterns. Concern colored my thoughts before Kathea explained. "The shell is forming small fissures where the breaks will occur to release her when she hatches."

ShayTan struggled to stretch out in her cramped quarters. The egg rocked again, just as her new Tenders entered the chamber.

They stopped in a group as her egg rocked. Most of them had their mouths hanging open. But not Alice, she immediately rushed down to the path to stand next to us. "Oh, Bella…" She reached out to touch the egg after looking to me for permission. I nodded my head and she knelt and ran her hands over the top and sides. Knowing that ShayTan wanted me to do so, I placed my hand on her shoulder.

"OH!" An exclamation left her lips and she was immediately drawn into the mind of ShayTan. Alice's smile was wide as she closed her eyes and felt the mind of the young dragon flitting through her own.

The rest of the group came and stood around us. I motioned them closer. They dropped to their knees and touched her egg, and I made connections between them. ShayTan was in heaven, so many memories to explore.

I stepped away, hearing the satisfaction once more in Kathea's mind. "These will do well with us. She likes them all." I turned to see Carlisle and Esme standing at the arch as they watched the group surrounding ShayTan's egg.

I went to them, "ShayTan likes them all."

We quickly went over the plans for the next four days. We'd start to clear the rocks that filled the far end of the chamber. Apparently there had been an exit there before the walls and ceiling fell in. Esme and Carlisle went to speak to the others as I stood and watched.

When Volterra and Edward arrived, they would need that opening to make their way in. ShayTan would hatch after their arrival.

That thought filled me with such joy. "What color is she going to be?" I asked Kathea, knowing that she had been red, Drethsyn was bronze and Volterra was green. "What colors are there?"

"I really don't know what color she'll be. I've known bronze, green, blue, black, gold, red and one brown." Her mind rested on her mate, the bronze Drethsyn, and we grieved silently for several moments. She continued softly, "Bond-mates tend to have something in common. Alida's hair nearly matched my hide. Xander's hair was also a match for Drethsyn. Volterra's hide is exactly the shade of Edward's eyes. Your hair is a deep brown with red highlights and your eyes are brown with gold highlights. More than likely she will match one of those." We were both excited to see what she would look like.

A thought occurred to me and I asked, "Kathea, was there someone waiting to bond with ShayTan when Cadeyrn attacked?"

"There were several young women who had magic in them that would have been brought here to see if ShayTan felt them. But to answer your question, no, there wasn't a specific person chosen for her." I was glad to know that I hadn't taken someone's place, and grateful that I was the one here for ShayTan.

After Esme gave everyone their chore list, she and Carlisle left, saying that they would be back first thing in the morning.

Two of the men went to gather wood for a fire while the others set up camp with the supplies they brought. We put the camp and fire at the far end of the chamber where the smoke would be able to escape from the cracks there.

Alice and I prepared a meal while the men looked over the rock fall, planning where to start clearing. They finally decided that three of them would work from the outside and the rest of us from inside.

While we ate, they asked me questions about how I had come across the egg. Then they asked about Kathea and what had happened to her.

I finally called a halt to the evening, exerting my power as the Dragon Rider. That made me chuckle to myself as they quickly responded to my suggestion. Alice informed the men that she and I would be sleeping next to ShayTan's egg and they could sleep close to the fire. There was some grumbling, but I backed her up. It was great to be able to stay near ShayTan and not have to leave her. Her egg gave off a nice amount of heat and it was quite comfortable near her. I smiled as I realized that I never had to leave her again. We settled down to sleep. The next couple of days would be busy.

+O+O+O+

Even with Kathea's help, it had taken us all a while to find the outside entry to the chamber. The landscape had changed quite a bit in one hundred years. But once we found it, clearing had proceeded quickly. Carlisle helped too. When one of the men looked at him somewhat askance he had replied, "It's my duty to provide for ShayTan, too. And this is a service that I can provide."

At the end of the third day I fell into a heap next to ShayTan's egg. The striations were wide and the shell thin in between the colored swirls. Kathea assured me that she would hatch tomorrow, probably in the afternoon.

ShayTan was so excited. The egg would rock violently at times as she sought her escape. I spent a great deal of time telling her that she had to wait for the right time. That she needed to wait until Volterra was actually here.

Volterra's voice was clear to me, when I was connnected to ShayTan, now that they were close. He had been flying nearly nonstop since ShayTan had made contact with him. They had only stopped for him to feed and to let Edward stretch his legs. Kathea explained that Edward had slept while they flew. He had connected his flight straps to Volterra's harness, not that Volterra would ever let him fall.

They would be here shortly. I went to get cleaned up in anticipation of their arrival. At the end of our first day of clearing the entry, Kathea had directed us to another passageway; one that we had all thought was another dead end. After we cleared the debris it opened into a bathing chamber. Water bubbled up from an underground hot spring. We all made use of the hot springs at the end of each day's hard work.

Esme arrived just as Alice and I finished bathing. With a smile she handed me a new set of clothes.

"Dragon Rider, please accept this small token of our esteem." My face flushed at her words, even as I eagerly took the clothes and held them up. My servant clothes were a pair of pants, with wide legs and a fitted shirt with detachable sleeves. Esme made sure that every one of us at the castle had two sets of work clothes and a set of clothes for festival days. They were all in shades of brown. But these clothes were deep blue…the color of midnight. The fabric was smooth under my fingers. Carlisle had trim in this color on most of his clothes, but I had never seen him, or anyone else, in an entire outfit of blue.

The style of these new clothes was the same as my others, but the color would tell everyone my status. Kathea approved whole heartedly and played a memory of Alida in her first set of rider clothes through my mind. ShayTan told me that she could hardly wait to see me in my new finery.

I threw my arms around Esme's neck in thanks. "Thank you so much," I murmured. "For everything…"

"You are very welcome. Now get dressed so that we can get everything ready for the hatching."

I slipped into the outfit, marveling at its softness and fit. Alice helped me brush and braid my hair and then we made our way back to the hatching arena. The bleat of the small herd of goats that we had penned at the far end of the arena greeted us. Kathea had suggested that we have several on hand for ShayTan's first meals. She would hatch and be starving to begin with. She'd probably eat two immediately.

I went to the egg and knelt beside it. ShayTan was pushing and stretching, trying to force the egg into releasing her. Her frustration level was nearing its peak. I tried to soothe her, telling her it would be soon. I could hear Volterra crooning too. There was some amusement in his tone. He said that they would be arriving soon.

Carlisle arrived and greeted us. He was dressed in his finest for this occasion. I thanked him for my new clothes too.

Esme said that everything was ready. She inspected the Tenders, telling them how proud she was of their efforts over these past couple of days. She sent three of them to keep watch.

I remained beside ShayTan's egg. She was struggling more and more. Just as she said, "He's here!" I heard Garreth shout, "They're here!"

Keeping my hand on her rapidly rocking shell, I stood and turned to face the entryway. A shadow filled the space and then a green dragon made his way inside as he settled his wings against his back. He was so big! I hadn't realized from Kathea's memories how massive a dragon could be. I wondered if ShayTan would get that big. Kathea murmured that she probably wouldn't get quite that big.

A man was striding beside Volterra. He was focused on the egg beside me which gave me time to look at him. He was tall and lean; his hair was a deep bronze. When they got near he lifted his eyes and looked into mine. They both paused and he bowed to me as Volterra warbled a greeting.

"I am Edward, Rider of Volterra. Greetings from the High Council of Dragons Hold in the Northern Expanses." He came forward, not taking his eyes off of mine. The formality of his greeting took me somewhat aback.

Keeping my hand on ShayTan's quaking shell, I reached out with my free hand and said, "I'm Bella, Bond-Mate of ShayTan. Welcome to Dragon Caverns of Ruthin Castle." He took my hand in his and I felt a flicker of something run along my skin from where we touched.

Releasing my hand I introduced Carlisle and Esme and then the Tenders. Edward bowed to the first and nodded to the others. Volterra's undivided attention was on the egg under my hand as he waited about fifteen feet from us.

ShayTan had calmed a little now that she knew that Volterra was physically close to her.

A constant croon was coming from him, calming her even more. Their minds were so involved, listening to them was almost too much to bear. I got glimpses of the agony that he had endured, thinking she was lost, but I also saw that he had never given up hope that she survived. He had felt in his soul that she was still out there, somewhere. They had a connection that surpassed time.

For her part, ShayTan was praising his faith in her…and proclaiming her love for him.

I looked at Edward; he was watching the egg and his bond with a soft look upon his face. He glanced up and caught my eye. Stepping close to us, he reached out and touched her shell.

"It won't be long now. I've learned a few things about you through Volterra. This must be very confusing to you. I was raised with dragons and it was still overwhelming when Volterra bonded with me." He looked down at me again, and I found myself sinking into the depths of his eyes.

"It is mystifying, but it's also the most amazing thing I've ever experienced. I couldn't imagine such a thing and now I can hardly wait for her to be out and with my physically as she has been with me mentally." I shook my head at the feelings that were running through me.

Edward's smile was soft as he nodded along with my words. He had been living with this miracle for so many years, but I could tell that he was still in awe over it.

Before we could speak more, ShayTan's voice was loud in my head. "I want out now!" I could feel how much force she was putting into her words. Volterra's croon stepped up to a crescendo. Everyone except Edward and I stepped back to the wall surrounding the area. He pulled me back a couple of feet.

"Let's give her just a little room…" My eyes were glued to the rocking egg and I found myself encouraging her in my thoughts as well as my voice.

A crack appeared in the shell and I praised her strength. "Come on ShayTan, you can do it. Just a couple more pushes and you will be out." Her efforts redoubled and suddenly a shard fell from her shell. Volterra's trill of joy caused a reaction inside the shell and another piece fell.

I had seen chicken eggs hatch. It's a long process and the chicks came out ugly and awkward. That was not the case with ShayTan. Another push from her and shards of shell fell away, leaving her standing before us in all of her delicate brown beauty. She was upright on strong back legs, her front ones tucked up to her chest. She drew in a deep breath, expanding her chest, which in turn caused her to start to tip back. In reaction she spread her wings to balance herself.

"Oh ShayTan, you are so beautiful!" I moved slowly towards her, taking in her features. She was a deep, rich brown, with gold and red on the tips of her scales. Kathea had been right; ShayTan had taken my basic coloring with highlights from my hair and eyes.

A topaz gem, the size of my fist, was centered between her big golden eyes. Standing, her head reached just below my chin. We stared into each others' eyes, and I cupped her jaw with my hand. Our thoughts were echoing each other, both of us exclaiming over the elation of being together. Leaning forward I rested my forehead against her gem. Kathea was joyful in the background of both our minds.

A soft croon broke through our greetings. Volterra was coming closer to us. I stepped to ShayTan's side and looked up into his massive face. His head was the same size as Shay's body. The sound he was making and the thoughts she was sharing with him kept me from fearing him.

ShayTan gave an imperious bark and raised her muzzle to him. Volterra came closer and carefully reached out and touched her. Satisfaction, love and joy were paramount in her mind…and his also. The touch solidified their status as mates. Without even making a connection between ShayTan and her Tenders, they could feel the emotion coming from them both and they raised a yell of jubilation. I could see Carlisle and Esme cheering also.

The moment was so powerful, so intense, that I felt tears begin to stream down my face. Suddenly an arm came around my shoulders. Edward smiled down at me.

"I never tire of seeing mates find each other," he whispered. "I wish I had seen the moment that you and ShayTan bonded. Volterra showed me, but that's nothing like being there in person."

I smiled as I looked up at him. "You've seen this many times before? How many dragons are there? Kathea had no way of knowing." He gave my shoulder a squeeze before releasing me. "First let's get this girl fed and then we can discuss it with the Duke."

ShayTan agreed that food was a good idea. Edward supervised the Tenders in bringing two of the goats into the arena. I knew that she was going to eat them and was worried that I'd feel a bit odd seeing her do so. I laughed to myself when all I felt was satisfaction that she was feeding so well.

"Of course this makes you happy, because it makes me happy. I will eat and grow…and then we will fly!"

My laughter rang out and Edward's joined in. As I met his laughing green eyes, I could hardly wait to see what my future held. My future with my Dragon and all that entailed. There was no limit to where we could fly, together.


A/N...I loved writing this...and can see many more chapters to come, now that the contest is over! Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on DRAGON STONES!

Kathie