Water dripped through the darkness of the cave, landing in Kiaran’s black hair. It hung low, draping down her back loosely with a few thin braids and strands of gold beads.
She was within the Hollow Mountain, in the cavern where Kriettor lived. Two, narrow rivers of lava flowed down the walls beside her, the orange light shining off her skin brilliantly. Her three, thick scars that stretched over her eye were highlighted in the light; the gold rings in her eyebrow and nose glinted slightly.
The heat was welcoming as it relaxed her skin, but the longer she sat there, the more burnt she felt. Her fingers ran along her cheekbone where a line of small tattooed dots made their way to her ear. Brushing a few strands of hair from her face, she smiled a little.
It was mind boggling at what she had gone through in the past few years. Being raised in Kamoni, she had fought in gladiatorial battles, killing many people. She had killed her “keeper” to end his violence and darkness. Her sister, in turn had died...Then, she was found by foreigners: Davin, Torin, and Alana...She smiled at the thought...The first few to show her any signs of goodness.
She had become leader of the Zeal. She had learned what love was and how it felt to lose it. She had gained families and she had killed many. Along with her allies, she had killed the evil king, Murdock, and now, she is on her way to ruling Avestitia. The country so closely bonded with dragons she couldn’t turn a corner without facing one.
Kriettor was stretched out on his belly, his dark scales hardly shining and his ivory horns standing out like teeth. He was a Great Dragon, one of fierce power.
He rested his head on one of his giant talons, one eye watching her as the other closed, relaxingly. Kriettor...the dragon of all dragons...The King Dragon. He was overpowering, yet his thundering snore was something that Kiaran had grown to love.
After Davin took kingship over Rishana, she had disappeared back into the mountains of Avestitia. For about a month she had lived with Kriettor, learning about him, about dragons. She knew he had ties with the weather and he was connected to other creatures and dragons. She knew he was kind and great. However, she had also learned that he wasn't human, so any of his own emotions were purely different from hers.
There was a language which only dragons could speak fluently. It was too difficult for humans. She was learning well, and able to carry some conversations with him.
One of the most spectacular things she had discovered was a wall of fire opals hidden beneath a layer of rock. He had only shown her once and refused to allow her to even touch it. It was like a father and child, scolding her as if she would break them. He protected the wall which took up most of his main chamber-cave.
“What is on your mind, Kiaran?” he asked, his voice trilling and not making any actual words. His thoughts probed her mind, allowing her to hear him without verbal communication. It was much more intimate.
“You are like the king of the dragons, are you not?” Kiaran finally spoke as she neared him. A smirk seemed to stretch across his lips, his teeth shimmering. “Like a god dragon, no?”
“I am the one, my name...Kriettor it means First." The sound of his deep, gravely purr from deep within his chest rumbled across the ground. A dragon’s name was his identity. It showed what his purpose was, what his meaning in life was.
Readjusting her golden tunic, her gaze dropped away from the massive creature. He could see her nervous heart...he could feel it. “I understand that you are...anxious?” he said.
Her mouth smiled slightly. It has been a year since she had seen her companions. And in that time, she was learning more of her position to Avestitia. She was not to live in a cave with the king of dragons. Her rightful place was to lead Avestita. She was the queen’s daughter.
She would forever be a part of Kriettor--and he a part of her. However, it was best suited for everyone that she rule from the castle rather than stow away. “My inauguration is coming,” she replied softly. “Once I am actually a princess, I can’t see you as often.”
It was rare of Kiaran to not escape the castle at least once a week to see Kriettor. She often left the teachings of Cyrin so she could stay in the Hollow Mountain for a few nights before finally talking herself into returning.
Vintar was a beautiful city, but covered in people consistently bowing to her or asking for something or barking rules and new orders at her. She was never one to enjoy the company of many. And those she did, she hadn't seen for too long.
“Yet...this is not what is on your heart,” he pressed.
She placed her hands flat on his nose which was much wider than her. He smiled as he closed his second eye, enjoying her touch. “I miss my friends,” she finally sighed. “I have only known them for a short while, but they had become my family.”
“Do you wish to see them?” he shifted to stand.
She stepped back, her smile blossoming--a rare sight to behold. “Yes,” she nodded.
All she wanted was to see her friends. She wanted to see Torin’s hair which was cut like a horse’s mane. She wanted to see his tattoos and his smile...and most of all his vibrant, green eyes.
The thought of Stella working in her new home was a delight. She was much like Kiaran, hailing from Kamoni and fighting for a living. Now, she belonged to the loving tribe of the Zeil where she could earn an honest living. Kane and Raven and the rest of the tribe weighed heavily on her heart.
And Davin was always on her thoughts. Thinking of their kiss in the desert could still make her flush. He was king of Rishana, ruling, learning to be better than the first and second Murdocks. A fine king, she was sure.
The Great Dragon stood tall, near the height of a third story house. His talons scratched at the black stone beneath them as he flexed his muscles. Black veins climbed out of his talons and spread across the floor like roots, digging into the rock. He lifted his head high, his massive chest expanding as he inhaled deeply. His wings stretched high above him, the tips of them touching the cave ceiling, the veins spreading across the stalactites. Lowering his head to his human, he closed his eyes and breathed in her scent.
“Let us see them,” he said.
She rested both hands on one of his eyelids, resting her forehead across her knuckles. Her mind fused with his as his sights traveled with the wind and through the trees. The blades of grass swayed in the wind as they zipped across Rishana to where the tribe had relocated. The houses were still being built, but there were only a few of them.
Raven stood with some men, giving them orders, Kane at her side. They both appeared powerful, tall, strong. Kane’s hair was shaved off on one side of his head, standing for his imprisonment and torture. He seemed much better since last she had seen him.
Just past a thin line of trees stood Stella as she pointed between two, young boys. She instructed them, showing how to block the attack correctly. She wore her tattoos proudly, her short hair tied back.
Moving on, the wind moved their sights through the trees of the forest. The wind climbed up a tree where Torin sat. His fingers gripped an arrow as it was threaded to the bow that sat across his lap. His fingers flexed as his eyes narrowed. The wind brushed his hair aside, the tattoos on the sides of his head were hard to see as his hair grew longer. He lifted his bow, aiming at a deer...
The wind picked up and she was torn from Torin and carried into the clouds over Rishana. Soon, she could see the castle beneath where the walls were still being reconstructed. The City of Rishana was rebuilding, not only its walls, but its relationships with the surrounding countries--
Kriettor drew his wings back in and opened his eyes, leaning away from her touch just a few inches. Kiaran stared at him, confused for a moment, her hands still held out between them. Why could she not see Davin?
He lied back down, curling his front legs beneath his chest as his tail swayed slightly behind him. “I cannot get inside buildings where the wind is stopped. That is where your king friend is,” he explained.
“Well, thank you, Kriettor,” she smiled. “But I am afraid my stay must come to an end. Ritiann is waiting for me.”
“Yes, I wish you luck,” he nodded.
She smiled weakly as she turned and left. Things were so drastically different for her. Kiaran was learning to be a queen over a massive kingdom that had strong influential ties with other countries. Slowly, she was gaining respect from others and finally earning a place of her own and being able to relax--somewhat.
On the other hand, Torin was held very highly as the head hunter of the Zeil. He was powerful, smart, and never missed a mark with his bow. Meanwhile, Stella was a strong warrior and trainer for the tribe. Davin, though...she had not spoken to him much since his crowning. He had been far too busy fixing the wrong doings of the first two Murdocks that he had nearly lost all communication with his friends and family.
The sun bathed Kiaran as she exited the cave. She shielded her eyes with a hand as she walked into the brightness. Nurra climbed down a tree and met with her happily, climbing up her leg. She touched his nose with her fingers as she sighed. “You are a great friend to me, Nurra.”
He trilled happily, as if agreeing with her. He was a simple, small dragon of silver scales and a tattered wing, the other missing completely. He closed his orange eyes contently and purred.
The cool wind weaved between her and the trees, her hair swaying softly. The sounds of birds singing and the leaves rustling were calming. But as much as she tried to push the thoughts aside, her stomach still knotted up.
She was becoming royalty in less than three weeks. Important people of the surrounding countries were coming to witness such a thing in hope of keeping their bonds strong. The thing that really seemed to bother her most was whether or not Davin would come. She had already heard word from Torin that he wouldn't miss it. However, all she heard from the nobles in Rishana was that someone would be there and they were thrilled to hear of such a crowning.
Kiaran’s eyes lowered, thinking about him. It was easy to imagine Davin being a king. He was naturally strong and had a kind demeanor about him. Kiaran, however, was not used to dealing with society. She was uncivilized and more harsh than necessary. How could she handle being a ruler? It seemed unnatural for her, where it was the opposite for Davin.
She clutched at her stomach. It was going to be a very long three weeks...
Over the next string of days, things seemed rather chaotic. Servants rushed through the castle, cleaning and preparing rooms for the guests. Ritiann worked long and hard with Kiaran to be sure she was ready for the ceremony. She was taught the proper way to eat, to speak, to sit, to stand, and so much more.
Cyrin was in the craze as well, pushing knowledge into Kiaran’s brain. Grindall was king of Brinn. Danalla was princess of Trindal, her father too ill to lead. Trindal was the sister country to Trindal-VinCar where Sterjia ruled--though no one knew much of that land or of Sterjia. All they knew of Trindal-VinCar was that they held a long, deadly war with them and they were filled heavily with magic. Kiaran seemed unwilling to remember such details of the leaders and countries, but she finally proved otherwise.
“You will be fine, your Majesty,” Cyrin lowered his head.
The lighting was dim, dust floating in the yellow lights that tried to flood in through the tall windows. The library was always dark and warm, providing the perfect habitat for sleep. Kiaran leaned on the table, her chin digging into her hand. Her eyes were nearly closed as she stared at Cyrin.
He sat on the corner of the table, his back to her slightly. He folded his arms across his chest as he looked to the massive collections of books ahead of him.
Nurra was curled up in a little ball, sleeping soundly on a book of lores from Trindal. His little stomach rose and fell softly as he breathed heavily. The scars across his tattered wing reminded her of the battle from a year ago.
Alana came to her thoughts and she closed her eyes. Flashes of the fight--Alana being tossed to her knees...her head rolling across the bloodstained ground. It was taunting. Tearing her eyes open, she held her breath for only a second.
“What is it?” he asked.
She shook her head, slumping back into her chair. “I just believe Alana would love to be here,” she said softly. “She would be happy to see me in a dress again.”
A corner of his lips curled as he replied, “It would be a change of scenery, yes?”
“I suppose," she muttered.
“I only wish I could have met her,” he hummed lowly. “I am sorry that she is lost...and I am even more sorry for the manner of her death.” It was the battle between them and the Avestitians that killed her. They had mistaken them as an army of Murdock’s, though they soon found that it wasn’t.
Elsibellem made her way through the maze of bookshelves until she found them. Working first hand for Ritiann was tiresome work, proving so in the way she was panting for air with reddened cheeks. Attempting to compose herself before the future queen, she bowed. “Lady, your mother wishes to see you,” she said.
“I assumed she would sooner or later,” she sighed as she stood.
She followed the young woman through the halls. The windows stood tall and broad, allowing the setting sun to fill the castle with warm colors. Finally, Elsibellem came to a heavy door and pulled it open.
Kiaran walked into Ritiann’s chambers which smelled sweetly of pine needles and burning firewood and a sweet accent of flowers from the pink blossoms in the vase nearby. The pine wood that burned gave a sweet scent, filling the air with warmth and a pleasant smell.
Chairs and couches with pillows and blankets filled the room. Paintings with the most beautiful brush strokes clung to her cream-colored walls. Ritiann was sitting in a chair, facing a large canvas. It was a painting of Nurra, his eyes as orange as fire, his scales shining magnificently. It was focused most on his face, the little, ivory horns framing it. It was extravagant.
Elsibellem closed the door to the sitting room, allowing them to be alone. Kiaran slowly stepped toward her mother. Her long, black hair had silver weaved within it as her age closed in on her quickly. Her deep blue eyes stared long and hard at the painting, lost in her mind. She was powerful, beautiful, and intelligent, and now...frail. Just as Fargo once was.
She couldn’t help but wonder what history might be surrounding Ritiann. She was still somewhat mysterious to Kiaran, and her father was even more of a mystery. It seemed talk of her father was difficult for Ritiann.
“My child, come sit,” she said softly. Rathen was sitting beside Ritiann. He was a majestic dragon, larger than a dog and very thick in the chest. He was covered in muscle that was wrapped with blue skin and scales. “There is much we do not know about one another.”
Kiaran sat in a chair beside her, also admiring the painting. “How long have you know Nurra?” she asked. “I met him in Rishana after we left the Zeil.”
She smiled, her lips delicate. “He was your father’s.” Her heart slowed slightly as she allowed her mother to continue. “Cyrin had told me that you enjoy stories...I will tell you mine if you are willing.”
She nodded...Her voice was unwilling to work for her.
“Your father was the son of King Taro and Queen Mirrana. He was sent off to Brinn...He has never told anyone of his past...I am sure it was something you could relate to. But, as it does every ruler of Avestitia, the trees of home called for him. The rivers that surround Vintar ached for him...and he found his way back home. He was the youngest to ever return, possibly fifteen at the oldest.
“I, on the other hand, lived here my entire life...” she paused, her heart aching as her volume lowered and her speed slowed. The story grew in depth as she pressed on. “I never knew my father, and my mother was a prostitute. She had...needs that were more important to her than my health and would trade me for them.”
Kiaran’s brows lowered as she straightened her back. “After about a year, I had learned to stop fighting them. It only seemed to worsen it. I had a broken spirit and a broken body and I felt my life...was for...was simply for only my mother to have what she desired.
“I can remember...It was cold and dark as I lived in the alleyways of Vintar. It had been about a year; my mother had died of some disease. I believe I was about fifteen years old or so.
“I sat against the wall, the stone road beneath me puddled with rain and dog urine. My hair was plastered to my face as the rain fell and drowned me. I liked that. Storms seemed to...suit me. The sound of boots walking around the corner perked my ears, but I kept my eyes low. It did me no good to see who was about to partake of me or one of the other girls who shared the alley with me."
Ritiann told her story, narrating it as if it were someone else's life.
“The man had stopped. The girls gasped and spoke to one another softly and then darted away. I slowly lifted my sights to find a pair of shiny boots. I followed the legs up his richly dressed body until my eyes landed on his face. He was not much older than I was, his hair dripping of water. He stared at me. Neither of us willing to put in an effort to know each other, to speak to one another. We simply stared.”
She smiled as she adjusted herself, growing uncomfortable with the memories, and likely hot beneath her blankets. Rathen rested his head in his human’s lap and she sat a hand atop his head. “Eventually, a man had broken into the silence to pull him aside to go back home. At that time, I had no idea who he was.
“A week later, I was left tired and bloody after a man used me. He threw his coins at my face and trotted off as if he were disgusted by my actions. I lied in on the stone, covering my face with my arms as I fought away the tears of self-loath. I felt as if I were about to die. I grew more desperate to get out of the alley after that strange, young man saw me. I didn’t want him--or anyone--to see me as filth. But I didn’t know what to do about it.
“But again, that young man came. He sat beside me, in the filth and in the shadow of the buildings. His wealthy-looking clothes were soiled by the puddles, and yet he sat right beside me. I kept my arms wrapped around my face, trying to keep myself from looking. He remained there for several minutes before I finally lowered an arm to see who he was. His orange eyes...they were immensely vibrant...stunning. He gazed at me past my hair that hung in my face, past the dirt covering my body, and past the rain that stained my entire life. He saw me from the inside, saw me for Ritiann, though he didn't know me at all.
“He removed his coat and sat it across my shoulders, saying, ‘I will see to it that you are well taken care of.’ I was taken by his statement. Why? That was all I could ask him...why? I still do not know. But he did. He took me to his castle where his servants cleaned me up and fed me. Estiahn...That was his name...Your father.”
Kiaran stared at her. Ritiann was a prostitute, was in the deepest depression and self-hatred that nearly anyone could be in. If anyone were to understand Kiaran’s life, it might be her. She ripped her gaze away and averted her attention, trying to focus on something else.
Ritiann’s finger pointed to a painting across the way. Reluctantly, Kiaran looked to it. It was a painting of a young man with black hair and orange eyes. He was tall and broad, looking as powerful as the stories told.
“Once Estiahn had everything ready, he married me and we changed many things about Avestitia...to the point where very many people were enraged. One week, Estiahn was in Brinn covering treaties as I stayed behind. I was asleep in my chambers whenever a guard opened my door, allowing a few men in. They attacked me...ripped my clothes from me and raped me.
“...I had a knife hidden in the table beside me. As they were trading turns, I snatched it up and killed them both...I escaped, but I ran straight into the wilderness. I would rather have to deal with the deadening cold, wild animals, and large, wild dragons that I was unfamiliar with than the scowling nobles. Hiding in a small crevice in the bottom of a cliff, I was nearly dead.
“Ahead of me ran a narrow river, plants growing against both sides. On the opposite side of the river something was crouching, staring at me. It was too dark to see what it was as it neared me. Once it made its way across the water, I stared in great fear. It was much larger and thicker than a wolf, and had...wings. The dragon looked me over for what felt like forever. Its magnificent blue scales shimmered across its body as it trilled at me. He touched his nose to my fingers, bonding with me. Rathen...Power...Authority. I was graced by this dragon to posses the very virtue I needed to be a queen.”
There was a silence. It was impossible to respond correctly, or to respond at all. Nurra slinked across the floor, looking over Rathen. He climbed up the blankets that rested across the queen’s legs. He looked at her intently, inspecting her face and chest as she breathed slowly.
She looked to her daughter and smiled. “My child...I am proud to be your mother,” she said softly. "Soon, the world will see you as the princess. I will die happy, knowing that you will take my place."
Kiaran’s heart sank. It was so strange to have a mother...or to have any of this. Slowly, she asked, “Ritiann...” Ritiann lifted a brow, waiting to hear. “Why is it your custom to send babes away at birth?”
“Only the child who is to take the throne,” she sighed. “It is necessary to be sure the child is equipped with reality. You would be softened and fattened and your experience would be naught, for you’d only ever be taught within the walls of Vintar. You cannot know what the world is like without living in it.”
It grew silent and Kiaran sighed. “I will break that custom,” she said. Ritiann watched her, but seemed to expect the comment. Almost appeared happy by it. “I understand what the custom means...but if I ever were to have a child, I’d not do that to her.”
“I understand,” she nodded. There was a long silence and Nurra trilled. “Cyrin told me that you are learning the Draken language?” Ritiann asked in an attempt to change the subject to something lighter.
“I am. Kriettor makes it easy,” she answered. “Being connected to his mind is cheating it seems,” she said in amusement.
“Cyrin is having a difficult time?”
“Aye,” Kiaran snickered. “We have more lessons tomorrow.”
“Well, I suppose I should let you get your rest then?”
“Seems wise,” Kiaran groaned as she stood. “Cyrin likes to study before dawn even thinks to break.”
Ritiann laughed a little. Nurra rushed back after Kiaran as she walked toward the door. “Have a good night,” Kiaran called out.
“You as well, Kiaran.”