Chapter Six Dragon Magic

The Watchtower began its journey to the east and north, far from the mountains where dragons lived, and where those who were not Gatekeepers lived alongside them.

Sintel's euphoria kept her in a daze. She stayed by her pallet, never let the crystal leave her person, even to bathe or sleep. It was part of the bonding process. Marska kept an eye on her, but otherwise left her alone.

It was two days before Sintel came to breakfast, and everyone could hear her stomach growling.

"I'm sorry, I've been distracted," she said as she sat down beside Marska.

"Don't worry, I expected that. It happened to me, too. Happens to everybody who finds their crystal," said Marska with a smile.

Sintel put her crystal down on the table, so Marska brought hers out and set it beside the other. The crystals were just about the same size, with Marska's just a bit thicker, and the planes of the sides coming to a point at a shallower angle.

"Where are we? I noticed the mountains are behind us now," said Sintel, digging in to her eggs.

"On our way to the eastern shore," was the answer, "But before we get there, we're stopping to let you practice and get a feel for your dragon magic."

Sintel grinned. "Thanks! I'm really feeling like I need to stretch my wings."

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The place they stopped was a miles-wide shallow valley with grass and tall weeds mixed with flat rocks and the occasional boulder, all of limestone. The Watchtower dropped anchor (so to speak) just at the rim, and Marska and Sintel lowered via the diplomat module.

The friends walked along the stony ground, enjoying the cool air until the ship was well behind them. It was a perfect place to practice.

"Let's get started," said Marska, "You can feel your crystal, so now you need to tap into it, so you can use the magic."

"The books were not very forthcoming about how to do that," said Sintel.

"Because each Gifted needs to discover it for themselves," was the answer. "I did it, so I know you can. Focus your attention on the crystal. Feel the power there, and draw it into yourself."

Sintel was closed her eyes and was silent. Then, "Okay, I think I've got it..."

"Race you to that boulder, then," said Marska, and took off running at a speed no non-Gifted could match. She turned and watched the other running toward her at a normal pace. She shook her head. "You didn't have it."

"Yeah, I noticed," answered the girl, blushing a bit.

Marska frowned, and narrowed her eyes at something over Sintel's shoulder. Curious, she turned and looked, but there was nothing that hadn't been there before.

"What is it?" Sintel asked, and without thinking her hand flashed up and caught a small rock before it hit her in the head. She opened her hand and looked at it, astonished. Then she looked at Marska. "I looked around, and SAW it coming! I had time to grab it!"

"Now you're getting the idea," said Marska with a smirk. "You also just proved you're a Gifted."

"Why, you..." said Sintel with her own smirk, and lunged for the older woman, but missed. She turned and chased her around, both laughing.

The horseplay was interrupted by a loud horn being blown from the Watchtower. Both stopped and looked at it.

"That's the alarm!" said Marska, "We'd better get back, now!"

"Stop where you are!"

Suddenly they found themselves surrounded by fifteen or so men and women, dressed in green and gray clothes, and all wearing swords, but none were drawn. All of them were blond.

"Who are you, and what do you want?" asked Marska in an imperious voice.

"We are the Hyena Clan," said a woman, stepping forward, "My name is Tona, and you are of the Gatekeepers. You will help us against the Mantis Clan."

"We cannot," answered Marska, "We have other business. But if..."

"No, no excuses," interrupted Tona, "Your sky ship will defeat our enemies once and for all!"

"The Watchtower is for patrol and diplomacy, and has few weapons," said Marska, forcefully, "We have other ships more suited for such a task, if we agree with you and your goals."

"We have waited long for this opportunity," said Tona, "And we will not waste it. Either your ship helps us, or you will die here."

Sintel looked at her companion, worried. She had stayed silent through the conversation, knowing full well she was too plain-spoken and honest for such a situation. They were both armed with knives, but nothing else.

"You had best rethink that plan. If you know we are Gatekeepers, then you should also know we two are Gifted," said Marska, shifting slightly.

The people surrounding them laughed, to their surprise.

"We are not children," said an older man, stepping forward, "The Gifted are just a story to frighten those who are not of the Gatekeepers. But you have things others do not," he gestured at the ship, where all could see the crew watching the confrontation. The module had been taken up to prevent boarding.

"If you persist in taking this course, you might lose any chance of the Gatekeepers helping you," said Marska, "Best think again."

"You will help us," said Tona, "We have you, and the ship can do nothing."

"You will not be deterred?" asked Marska, resigned to a diplomatic failure.

"We will not," confirmed Tona, "Come with us. You will not be harmed as long as you and your sky ship cooperate." Still, no one drew a sword, proof of the respect they still had.

Marska looked at Sintel. "Ready?"

"I... I don't know what to do..." said the younger woman.

"You're a fighter; you will," said Marska. "No weapons, if we can help it."

"Enough talk! Turn..."

Tona's order was interrupted by a fist in the stomach which doubled her over and she fell to the ground, retching. No one had seen Marska move.

After a moment's pause, where the rest of the clan were startled, they reached for her. She grabbed an arm and threw the offending person into others, bowling them over. But the man who had spoken grabbed her from behind and got a good grip.

Sintel watched for a few moments, then noticed the cheers coming from the Watchtower. She didn't particularly like fighting, but was more than willing to defend herself and others. Deciding to trust her instincts and new dragon crystal, she waded into the fray.

She punched the man holding Marska in the side and he grunted, letting go. With a kick Sintel knocked him out of the crowd where he tumbled to a stop on a rock.

Looking around quickly, it dawned on her that everyone but Marska seemed to be moving slowly. Several of the Hyena Clan were standing back away from the fight, so she ignored them and concentrated on those intent on taking them prisoner.

Tona had recovered and was approaching, fist moving forward. But Sintel had plenty of time to move out of the way and let her pass by. She stuck out a foot and watched her trip and fall down.

Marska was suddenly beside her. "Let's go." They both turned and ran for the ship, leaving the others behind. They heard yelling, but the clan had no chance of catching them.

"Follow my lead," said Marska.

Sintel dropped back slightly, and watched as Marska leapt up some twenty feet and grabbed one of the mooring lines. She shimmied up the rope hand over hand and quickly reached the ship proper. Sintel did the same but not quite as high, and not quite as fast.

Once they were aboard, the Captain ordered the mooring lines brought up, and the Watchtower got under way. Sintel and Marska looked down, where the Hyena Clan stood watching them. Sintel waved, and one of the younger women waved back.

"Now you've gotten a real taste of dragon magic," said Marska, taking a drink of fruit juice, "It will be easier for you now, and will just take practice to be comfortable with it."

"Thank you, Marska," said Sintel, giving her friend a hug.

Later, alone at night, Sintel thought of what had happened today. The power and speed she had tapped into. Maybe... those dreams of glory were not such distant things as she thought. Now that she had her crystal, she understood. Once more the feeling of power, wealth, and fame coming to her overwhelmed her. And she liked it.

Finding Scales was still her priority, but to do so she would have to become so much more than she was. And she had an idea of how to do that.

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Some days later, Marska called Sintel into her office and asked her to sit. On the desk were several papers from T'U'Khon brought by messenger birds.

"I have news," said Marska, holding up a piece of paper that had been flattened, but still tried to roll up. "I reported our experience at the last colony, where you suggested improving their lives would make them more receptive to the goals of the Gatekeepers. It seems to have worked, at least in that case. The priests have heard from them that they are willing to join the cause."

"Good news, then!" grinned the redhead.

"Yes, it is," confirmed the other, "But doing that first will add several years, at least, to carrying out the cause. But that's fine. Nobody expected it to take place overnight."

Sintel hesitated a moment, then said "I've had another idea."

"By all means, tell me!" exclaimed Marska, perking up.

"I've seen a lot of dragon crystal on this trip that isn't bonded," she started, "And it occurs to me that they are waiting for the right person to come along."

"True," agreed the other.

"That might be forever. Or never. So the thing to do is to go out and find them and send them to T'U'Khon," she said.

"It would have to be done quietly, though," said Marska, "No sense in tipping off, or alarming, other leaders."

Sintel paused, then said, "I would like to be the first to seek them. I've traveled a lot through the lands we are near, and know where to find towns and villages."

"Yes, I agree," said Marska, "And I would expect you back in a couple of years. I would say it's worth trying, and you are an excellent agent for the task."

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Sintel took her leave of the Gatekeeper Lodge once the Watchtower was again moored in Zharing. The Master of the house, who had ordered her taken, agreed to be the contact for recruits. He did not, however, apologize.

With a final hug and reluctant goodbye, she left Marska behind and headed off on the mission. Her first stop, though, was the inn where she had not finished staying the night.

Mrs. Bekkan recognized her immediately. "Welcome back! I am glad to see you are well! And now with the Gatekeepers!"

"Yes, I am," nodded the girl.

"I kept your staff and backpack safe for you, except for the food you had, of course," she said, going to a closet and getting the items.

As she put on the backpack, Sintel said, "I'm surprised you kept these things."

"I felt bad for the way you were taken. It was the least I could do."

"What about my belt and pouch?"

"I put them in the backpack," was the answer.

The key was safe. That made Sintel feel better.

At last Sintel found herself outside of the town, her backpack restocked and ready for the trip. She looked back, seeing the Watchtower still moored, and supplies being loaded. She would miss it, and the crew, and most especially Marska and Majarus.

She turned and headed down the unpaved road. She had a mission, and knew just where to start...

The End