We finally came to the school, and the welcome we received was much better than the one Sa'am gave us. We stood among the cluster of small houses where the adepts lived, and the students poured out of the large stone building I remembered from my training. I remembered the school as being much larger, and the student's being more numerous. There were only about a hundred students, and perhaps fifteen wearing the robes of adepts, with the banding of the sixth tier on the bottom of their robes.
With so much attention focused on Ehd Wyrd, he finally changed, taking on his human aspect, as everyone watched him in awe. The head of the school came forward to greet us, and I smiled to see H'ree Clear Water was still alive and well. He remembered me, and as I moved to shake his hand, he pulled me into a hug.
"Welcome back, dear girl. It's good to see you have lived through your trials." It was my turn to be shocked. "We had a little advance news of what you were up against. You remember my friend B'lee?" When the crowd parted so I could see him, resting on the tree stump which had been carved into a comfortable seat, I was pleasantly surprised. I remembered the healer from the island who had saved my life, and my legs as well. I went to hug him, and he stayed where he was as tears filled his eyes.
"I'm sorry I can't get up, my legs don't work any more. They found out I helped you, and Kai'us beat me until my legs were destroyed."
"I'm so sorry!" I bent to hug him, as I cried over what had been done to him.
"It was an honor. You were supposed to be crippled, so you couldn't run from the leeches, and they could control you and use you. I am happy I was able to ruin their plans."
"I killed him—Kai'us is dead now. So are the other two, Jheyms and Jain. We could try to heal you..." He waved me off with a shake of his head. "I am an old man now, and soon I will be with my Sa'reh. Besides, I still have my own magic." Without so much as a twitch, he levitated into the air. It was then I saw the six bands on his robe.
He floated after us, as H'ree lead us into the school. The crowd of students broke up as they were ordered back to class. In a spacious open room, I made the introductions. It was then Alyss who was the center of attention.
"You're the daughter of Ny'a?" H'ree stared at her and she nodded. "Wait right here!" He hurried out of the room, and the rest of the six tiered adepts asked us questions I tried not to answer. I wanted to tell the story one time only. When H'ree came back, he held a carved box that looked like it was made of bone. He set the box on a table with reverence, then waved Alyss closer.
"My grandfather met your mother, long before I was born. She had been seen several times throughout our history, as were several creatures crossing over from Fey. He has passed the story down, through my father, to me. He tells me he saw her one last time, after the land shook, and the sea stack fell. A boat full of fishermen were washed inland, and found clinging to trees when the water receded. Many historic things happened at this time, and the most notable was the release of the leech upon the world." He had all eyes on him as he told the story.
"He was a man when he first came to us. He wanted us—again that was before my time—he wanted our predecessors to teach him magic. He already knew leeching, and he was happy to demonstrate his mastery of a handful of spells, including flight. The school was still new, and they could have used a sorcerer of his power. But he gained his strength through draining, and that was forbidden to us. He had not yet progressed to draining the life from people, but he had no conscience, even then. They denied his request for them to teach him.
"It was a tragic time for our school, for this young wizard grew angry, and took his first life, draining the adept who denied him. He then used this stolen power to make his escape, and he flew out over the water, and landed on the sea stack. The gateway was invisible to him, as it is to all of us with human eyes. But he found the guardian.
"She was in essence trapped, with her ties to the gateway. She couldn't leave for long, and if she did, she feared he would find the gateway and escape into Fey, where he could prey upon her people. She fought him with her own magic, but he was strong with his stolen power. In the end it was his size and strength that won out, and he used a rock, hitting her head, until she was limp and almost lifeless. He then drained the magic from her frail body." We all stared, as he wiped a tear from his eye.
"They knew something was wrong when they felt the ground tremble. It was a powerful shaking, that collapsed part of the school, and took the water from the beach. The stack collapsed onto the sand, where once it had been surrounded by water. The wizard who had once been a man, floated toward the school, a monster in a man's skin. It was only the rushing water of the sea that stopped him from killing everyone at the school. As it was, he took the lives of three young students before he fled the rushing tide. My own grandfather cast spells against him, but they were ineffective through his power.
"It was several days later, while they were mourning their losses, that she came to the school. She was barely alive, and my grandfather said she looked like an abused child. They nursed her back to health, but she was still broken... that's just the word my grandfather used—broken. She told them what had happened to her, and there were many nights when she wept inconsolably. She could never go back home, and she had lost her purpose. She was the only one of her kind, except for a few wild ones who had come through and become lost in our world."
"My grandfather spent a lot of time with her while she was here, and he was the one who saw her go into her trances. He was an excellent scribe, and when he first saw her eyes glaze over, and heard her speaking in a strange voice, he wrote down everything she said. He was the one who recorded her prophesies. He was the one who passed them on to first my father, and then to me."
I wondered why he had never told me these things when I was a student. He smiled at me, as if he could read my mind. "I'm sorry Be'lah, I didn't recognize that you were the one the prophesies spoke of. If I had known what your nightmares were about, I would have guessed, but you kept them secret from me, and then you were gone. B'lee figured it out when you met him on the island. After what happened to him, he came back here, and told us all he knew. I don't know how he could have missed that he had Ny'a's daughter right under his nose as well."
"She didn't look like that when I saw her." B'lee defended himself. "She wasn't at Kellan Castle for long, and I barely had a chance to look at her. She didn't look any different from all the other girls they fed to the dragons—and how could you do that, anyway?" His angry words were directed at Ehd Wyrd. "I thought you were eating these girls. If I'd been younger, I would have gone out and fought you myself! I didn't know what was happening to them, and I had to encourage this poor girl to follow her destiny, and face you. Everyone was terrified of you!"
"That was the whole point." Ehd Wyrd never strayed far from my side. "The people were in danger as long as the curse continued. We wanted everyone to fear for their lives, and leave the island. A lot of people took their families and fled, as soon as we made our demands for sacrifices. We were actually very surprised that so many stayed and offered up their daughters."
"Am I to understand there are more of you?" H'ree seemed confused, and I realized we were going to have another delay.
"My brother is with me. He's waiting about two miles from your village, watching over the other dragons."
"Other dragons...?" H'ree looked around in alarm. "Where is Sa'am? He's supposed to be in charge of the scouts." His gaze landed on a guilty looking J'kub. "Care to explain?"
"Uhmm... he's still out in the woods..." J'kub glanced at me, hoping for help.
"I left him tied up there." Alyss boldly took the blame for the missing scout. "He didn't want to allow us to come here. I've already sent a message to the rest of the group, letting them know you would like to meet them. I could let them know that they should bring Sa'am along with them."
I wondered how she'd sent a message, and I assumed it must have been some kind of magic. It was just one of those surprises that let me know she had powerful magic. After needing weeks of training for my own spells, it was hard to believe she didn't need any lessons.
If I was surprised, then B'lee and H'ree were both shocked that she had the ability to overcome their best scout. B'lee tried to look unconcerned, and H'ree just stared at her open, innocent face.
"Yes... please have them bring him along..."
We were all waiting for them, when J'Spurr, M, and Ghar'rett came in. M carried an unconscious scout over his shoulder, and I was glad to note the honey and snakes were gone, but he still wore the lacy undergarments. Alyss giggled, as the big scout slumped into a most un-ladylike position, when M draped him in a chair.
There were more introductions, and the teachers at the school were overwhelmed to be entertaining royalty, as well as dragons. There were stories retold, and we were grateful when someone brought us a refreshing fruit drink. Finally everyone seemed to have a grasp of what had happened with the prophesy, the fairy, and everything that had happened since Jheyms came to the island. It was then H'ree brought our attention back to the box.
"Before Ny'a left them, she made my grandfather promise that he would save this. She knew that someday her own daughter would come to claim it. Grandfather passed it on to his own son, and then it came to me. I confess, I never believed that anyone would come to claim it. I thought it was just a fanciful tale they told us." He opened the box and slid it toward Alyss. "I believe this belongs to you."
Her wings fluttered, and she hovered, as if too timid to look. Then she approached the table, and we all saw her look of wonder when she reached for the box.
It was a necklace she pulled out, so tiny it looked as if it were made for a child—or a fairy. She held it up to the light, and it sparkled. It shimmered and glistened in the dim room, as it gave off its own light. It was a glorious light, shot through with colors I'd never seen before, as if a thousand rainbows were trapped in the glittering gemstones. She didn't waste time admiring it, but slipped it over her head. As we watched, the light grew blindingly bright, then quickly dimmed to a soft glow. She toyed with the gems, a far-away look lighting her face.
J'Spurr moved over beside her, and looked at the necklace. We were all surprised when he touched Alyss, and a force knocked him across the room. He wasn't hurt, but he approached her with caution.
"I'm sorry—I didn't know that could happen!"
"You need to take off the necklace, Alyss." J'Spurr's advice put her on the defensive.
"I can't take it off, it's my birthright! I can see through my mother's memories that it's very important that I keep it on. If I take it off, even once, it means I give up all that I am. I can't take it off. I'm sure there's a simple way to fix it." He reached for the necklace, and again a jolt sent him sailing across the room, even harder.
"Alyss, it looks like it could be dangerous, do you really want to wear something like that?" I reached for the necklace, and when I touched it nothing happened. I could sense there was a lot of magic in the gems, but it didn't hurt me at all. Ehd Wyrd braced himself and touched her, then he touched the necklace. Nothing happened.
Everyone wanted a chance to touch Alyss and her necklace, but no one got the same response as J'Spurr. Thinking that maybe it had run out of charges, he approached her again. We all watched as he reached out with care. She whispered that she loved him, and then he tried to touch her cheek. I cast a shield spell to catch him, as he was repelled so hard he might have crashed through the wall. The necklace clearly did not like J'Spurr.
I looked at him closely, and noted his essence was still the same. He didn't have some kind of evil taint that would make the necklace react. Still we were all perplexed and a lot of the sorcerers had ideas about what might be at work. What I noticed, was the way J'Spurr and Alyss behaved. Both were unsure about the other. Alyss wouldn't take off the necklace, and J'Spurr couldn't touch her. He sulked. Obviously his solution was to take off the necklace, and she was irritated he would ask that of her.
I was afraid of becoming too distracted with the problem of the necklace, and I asked instead about the gateway. Everyone looked to H'ree before they would even acknowledge there actually was a gateway. With the daughter of the gatekeeper before him, he relaxed his guard, and opened up about the gateway.
We learned some strange truths in the few hours we spoke. They shared tales of the creatures that had come out of the gateway, and they shared descriptions of the sea stack that held the gateway. But they also told us that it had defied being found. Over the years, many a young mage would take a boat or fly out to the stack, dreaming of passing through the gateway. But all returned, disappointed. The gateway was hidden, as well as invisible. The fairy, Ny'a had often proved elusive as well.
The gateway and the keeper were both difficult or impossible to find. And what they discovered after the sea stack crashed into the ocean, was that it had never been mapped either. They had of course made the effort, but all their maps and drawings of the sea stack had been magically altered. There was no trace of the stack in any record.
"It's like that law you mentioned, Be'lah, the one about naming." Alyss cast a sidelong glance at a sulking J'Spurr, then continued. "Fairies have a more thorough magic, and so all references to this place have been removed—unnamed in a sense. My mother wanted to make sure no one else could find it, unless they were fairies themselves.
"Do you think you could find it?" As I asked the question, all eyes turned her way.
"I have her memories, and I think I would be able to see it if I got close enough."
"Could you use these?" B'lee had pulled a tube from one of the shelves, and it held numerous paintings. "My best friend, back before the leeches stole my youth, was a talented painter. He loved the sea stacks and he spent hours there, just listing to the waves while painting. He did numerous paintings of the school. It gave him an excuse to paint the young woman he loved."
He spread the paintings out on a table, and the school was depicted from several different angles. The girl was very pretty, but it was the school in the background that held our interest.
"I think we can use these to find the gate." J'Spurr had slipped quietly among us. "This one is obviously the last stack in the row, but this one is painted from further south. He must have been on the one with the gateway. We can use these three paintings to figure out where he was standing when he did this one." He took some measurements, and made some calculations. He then announced that he could find the stack.
"How did you learn to do that?" Alyss looked at him in awe. "That's a kind of magic I don't know." He looked like he still didn't want to talk to her, but he quickly warmed to the explanation.
"I'm good at archery, and our arms-master taught us how to predict our distance from our enemy, by calculating the pull of the bow, with the trajectory of the arrow, and... I know that's not making any sense, but I know how to figure it—I just know."
"My brother has always been good with calculations, and tactical decisions." Ehd Wyrd put his arm around his shoulders with a smile. "If he says he can find it, you can trust him." Alyss looked like she wanted to hug him, but she restrained herself.
"I think you're right; it feels right to me. My mother wants me to find my way home..."
"Home? The island is your home!" J'Spurr again looked upset.
"The island is my home, but my mother was from Fey. To her, that's home. She never made it back, and it was important to her that I go there. She wants us to find the gateway."
"You make it sound like she's still alive." J'Spurr crossed his arms.
"She is... I mean in a way she is. I don't just have her memories, it's as if they're alive in me. It's like she's showing me things and talking to me. It's how I'm able to cast spells even though I've never learned them. She knew, and she's showing me how."
"It sounds dangerous." His eyes fell to her necklace, and he scowled.
"I'm sorry... I feel like I"m going to need these connections. When I thought about taking off the necklace, I had such a feeling of impending disaster. It's like my mother was afraid for me to take it off." She looked at her fairy-dragon-man. "We'll figure something out. Let's just give it a little time, okay?"
J'Spurr didn't look pleased, especially as it got late, and we were offered rooms to sleep until the morning. He was going to have no choice but to sleep apart from Alyss. Ehd Wyrd and I decided we needed to go back and let the dragon's know what was happening.
I spent the night with Alyss, even though I wanted to be with Ehd Wyrd. In the morning we began our search for the fallen sea stack and the gateway. Once the sorcerers learned that we had a group of dragons so close to their village and school, they asked if they could come in closer. It was Rose's decision that they stay back from the village. That didn't dim their curiosity, and they gathered in small groups, and made excursions to see the dragons.
The sea stack was proving to be a lot more difficult to find that we expected. The first day of searching, we were all eagerly swimming through the water, using various magical means to minimize our need for air. In the evening, we were all exhausted, and still we hadn't located the stack. On the second day, we organized into shifts, and searched futilely. In the evening, I stayed up and talked with the leaders of the school. I needed to inform them of their mistaken ideas about magic. I wanted to make sure they knew that magic didn't separate into good or bad.
By the morning of the third day, I hadn't slept. I'd stayed up through the night, turning their whole way of looking at magic on its ear. B'lee eagerly learned spells from what they thought of as evil, but the others were resistant. They didn't have the benefit of R'ness to teach them in her do or die manner.
I still took my turn in searching, even though I was so tired I wanted to sleep instead. I needed only minimal magic to be able to breathe, feeling at home in the water. As I swam the search pattern, I closed my eyes to rest them. I ran right into the gate. With my eyes opened, I couldn't see a thing, in fact it didn't even seem like there was room for a gateway. Even with the sight of the f'nyx, couldn't tell there was anything there. But when I closed my eyes again, I could feel it. Not only that, but I saw the glow right behind my eyelids.
I was surprised that it wasn't damaged, though it was not standing upright as I imagined. It was tipped, and leaning against a massive chunk of rock, likely from the collapsed sea stack. I sent up a signal to let them know I'd found it. I was afraid to leave it, fearing the magic would erase it from my memory. Alyss and Ehd Wyrd joined me, and neither of them could see it, until I motioned for them to close their eyes.
We took turns surfacing and someone stayed with the gate at all times. Even then I felt confused and turned around when I tried to swim back to it. We decided that we needed to see if we could make it visible. Alyss and I both had magic to try. I had communed with the other gateway, and I thought I knew how they behaved. I tried touching various runes, but none of them did a thing for me.
When Alyss touched the gate, it responded to her, and the runes began to glow. We could then see it with our eyes open. One of the gems on her necklace lit up brightly, and only dimmed when she let go of the gate. We could all see the gateway, and the two of us swam to the surface again.
"It wanted me to be the new gatekeeper!" Alyss seemed upset by the whole experience. "It tried to force me to take the job, but the necklace wouldn't let it. I know it will open for me."
That evening we gathered together to make our plans to leave. We had to turn down offers from among the students and teachers to go with us.
"What about all those dragons?" B'lee asked the question I'd been dreading. They were expecting me to lead them home. But I had no idea what we would encounter in Fey. I'd been trying to think of a safe way to leave them behind, like we'd left them encamped away from the school. "You can't really take them with you, and you can't really leave them behind. I've spoken with them, and the one called Ghar'rett has expressed his concerns."
"They're counting on me to get them home. For some reason they think I'm part of one of their own prophesies." B'lee laughed at my statement.
"When I told you to face the dragons, I never thought you would be leading them. I might have an idea to help you, if they'll trust you." The idea he presented was something I'd never have come up with on my own. It was going to take a lot of collaboration, but we all agreed it would be a good solution to our dilemma
We went then to present his idea to the dragons. After explaining it, we had to wait several hours for them to discuss it. It was Aniha'tole who brought their answer; they had agreed to give it a try, though they wanted M and Ghar'rett to be separate from them.
It was late in the day, when we lead the dragons to a high cliff, not far from the ocean. From there they could look out over the water, to where the sea stack used to be. It was a place set back from the beach, and safe from even the highest tides. It was where we decided we would leave the dragons, until our return.
B'lee's idea was simple: Leave the dragons behind, in a form that would make them safe to remain in the human realm. They had agreed, as long as M, Ghar'rett, and the royal family went with us. They agreed because I assured them that I would do everything I could to find a way to lead them home.
One by one, the dragons stepped forward, and J'Spurr's breath lowered their temperature to a level that put them into a hibernation-like sleep. As they slept, we arranged them in a formation, so they resembled the rocks. When they were all sleeping, the adepts from the school joined hands. It was a concentrated spell they cast, to allow the hibernation to last until we returned to awaken them. A safeguard was put in place to allow them to wake up if they were threatened. I cast a spell over them myself, that would suspend their needs and drives. Their inert forms could leech what they needed for their existence, directly from the air, water, and ground around them. We put them into a form of sleep-like suspension. When this was done, Alyss cast two spells over them. The first would make them invulnerable as stone. They wouldn't suffer in the heat or cold, they wouldn't erode, and they wouldn't be chipped away by men or animals. Then she cast a spell that comes naturally to fairies—illusion. She made the dragons appear to be stone. If I didn't know I was looking at almost forty dragons, I would think I was looking at an interesting rock formation. They blended in with the surrounding rocks, and as the sun began to set, the once colorful dragons looked like an outcropping of the cliffs, painted in browns and rust.
We spent another hour, just testing to make sure the spells had worked. We shouted into dragon ears, walked through dragon claws, and clamored over dragon backs. They were oblivious. I then cast a final spell, as an idea came to me.
"What was that spell you just cast?" M was suspicious, and even in human form, I was still intimidated by him.
"We've taken care of their needs for food, water, and shelter. They're sleeping, and won't wake up unless there's a threat. Physically they'll be fine. But I wanted their minds to stay sharp, so we don't come back and wake them up, only to find their minds have withered from disuse. The spell combines elements of the third and fifth laws for memory and communication. As they dream, they'll hear each other in their minds. They'll also hear vibrations from the world around them. They'll be aware of human events. It shouldn't be intrusive, but they'll be able to tune in to hear what's happening throughout the world. This should help keep their minds active."
"If I ever had a doubt that you were the right one to lead us, you've just set them all to rest. You truly do understand dragons. Thank you."
With the dragon issue taken care of, we planned to leave early the next morning. That night, I nestled in Ehd Wyrd's arms, sharing a bed. I was supposed to be with Alyss, but she and J'Spurr stayed up late, trying to figure a way around the spell the necklace cast against him.
"I love you." He kissed me, and his arms tightened around me. All his talk of conventions and propriety were buried under our need to be together. "I hope this quest goes fast. We haven't even left, and already I want to bring you home so I can marry you."
"I want that too." I kissed his lips and ran my fingers through his hair. His crown hung from the bedpost, forgotten. "Alyss knows where to find the gateway to the dragon realm, and it shouldn't be difficult to negotiate some kind of agreement to allow the dragons to pass through."
"I wish I had your optimism." I could see his dark, brooding eyes in the candlelight. "I often worry we'll never get married. I want so badly to make you mine forever, but it feels like there's something pushing against that desire. I can't name it... I just feel it."
I held him tighter. "We will get married. I intend to keep you forever, and nothing will stand in my way. We can get married before we leave if you want to."
"No. If I married you tomorrow, we would have to postpone our trip for at least another lunar cycle. I want to take my bride, and hide away where no one can find us. Besides, my mother would never forgive me if I she couldn't attend our wedding."
"I don't like being apart from you. I want to be close to you, and... I want to... to make love with you." I didn't want him to think I was a loose woman, but he knew how much I wanted to be with him, and know him fully. Sometimes when we were alone, just kissing him made me want so much more.
"I know. I want you just as badly." He kissed my forehead. "At least we can share this much. It's more than my brother has right now."
"What about Rose? I'm pretty sure she's with M at night."
"She is. I've spoken to M about the matter. The way he sees it, she is his mate. He doesn't see a need for any ceremony; there's no one else for him, and she feels the same way about him. It's the reason she offered me in marriage, because she herself was already taken. King Newt'n's wife died years ago, and his first offer was to take Rose as his wife."
"But he's so much older than she is! Why would he think she would accept?" I couldn't imagine marrying a man who was old enough to have a daughter my age.
"He's royalty; that's how it works. Marriage is a convenient way to make an alliance between two countries. I always knew I could be married off to someone I might not know or like. My parents might not do that, but as you saw, Rose would. When we were changed, J'Spurr was already receiving offers from young princesses and royal daughters across the mainland."
"It sounds terrible." I snuggled against him, with my head on his shoulder.
"It could be worse. If we lived on the mainland, I would probably have been married to some royal daughter by now. Some of those marriages happen when they're still children."
"I'm glad you lived on the island."
"Don't forget the curse. J'Spurr was about to begin courting a girl named Lor'ren when we were changed. I'm pretty sure the girl is long dead by now, but he thought she was comely enough at the time. He seems to have the worst luck with women."
"There must be a good reason for the necklace to behave so strangely. I can't think of anything now, but maybe once we cross over to the other side we'll find an answer." We blew out the candle, and I fell asleep in his arms.
We ate our morning meal at the school, and said our goodbyes. We went to the beach, and Alyss and I cast breathing spells on everyone. In all there were seven of us going; me, Ehd Wyrd, J'Spurr, Rose, Alyss, M, and Ghar'rett. We looked like a group of humans as we waded into the surf, but in reality Rose was the only human among us.
We swam to the gateway, and after all the effort to find it, opening the passage was relatively easy. We all gazed at the rippling light of the portal, and then Rose took M's hand as she stepped through, and he followed. Ghar'rett, J'Spurr, Ehd Wyrd, me and Alyss followed after them, holding hands to keep us together. We left the only world I ever knew, and stepped into a place that was clearly different.
A/N: That concludes book one of my Dragons of Twilight Trilogy. I have book two up now; it's a separate book called Fairies in Moonlight. It's told from Alice's POV.
I hope you've enjoyed this journey into my alternate universe. I appreciate those of you who read along, and offered me encouragement. If you're reading this when it's marked complete, I'd still love to hear from you. I'm open to hearing the negatives as well as the positives. I love concrit, so I can improve.