The sun was yet to rise as they moved into the sand. The horses moved slowly and nervously on the new ground. Kiaran adjusted the cloth over her eye, becoming agitated. In the distance she saw a small row of lights flickering as if it were a small town. She squinted her eye, focusing in on it.
“Many, many years ago, the worst prisoners of Rishana’s dungeons were tossed into this desert with very little chances of survival. It was nearly like throwing them into torture, having no water nor survival skills. And yet, somehow, they were able to endure and thrive at that,” Alana explained, the sleepiness still in her voice. “I have yet to meet any of them, however.”
“You think they could be allies?” Kiaran asked.
“Possibly…but they’ve lived on their own and I am sure they’d like to keep it that way,” she replied. Kiaran’s eyes were fixed on her as they silently rode their horses. Her little dragon slept in her lap, on top of the saddle. “What is on your mind, child?”
“Stella…was sent to kill me. My former king sent her,” she said. “Why would he want me dead if he released me into your hands?”
Alana took a deep, considering breath. Exhaling a long sigh, she finally said, “Well, Kiaran, we could not simply leave you there. Something was telling me to rip you from those bars and take you with us. I was reluctant to leave...but Davin was the one who actually pursued it.”
“Why? To help you or for sympathy?” The thought of them being sorry for her was almost rather weakening. She was not a person to sympathize with, she was one to be warned of.
“Both,” she admitted. “Kiaran, you were jailed with no rightful reason and we could see that as clear as day.”
“He wanted me dead,” she breathed, not sure what to feel. “My king thought my life was a waist…so why give me a chance?”
Alana opened her mouth to respond, but had no answer. Finally, she said, “I cannot answer that…” Her voice trailed off until, finally, she added, “I suppose it was a gut feeling.”
It was difficult to travel, the weather growing rather hot. The sands proved it to be an extreme trial to move through. The horses moved slowly and were growing agitated. It was late in the evening, Alana calling them to stop for the night. The cold night was approaching and would hit them instantly. It was a wise idea to set up camp beforehand.
Kiaran sat beside Torin and Stella as they ate their bread. Her eyes kept moving past the soldiers and campfires to the village of lights on the horizon once more. Something pulled her toward them. She looked to her dragon who sat on her legs. His orange eyes peered into her mind as she nearly dropped her hands into her lap. Something washed over her, as if she and the dragon were attached again.
Her insides burned as she listened to what the dragon seemed to be saying. It seemed to be opening its heart to hers, which was a very sacred and rare thing to happen. The name hit her, her heart swelling with the sweet dialect of the dragon’s language. Nurra…Calmness.
She blinked several times, staring at her dragon as a smile slowly crept across her face. Torin watched her, keeping silent. She faced him rather excitedly, saying, “Nurra,” the letters rolled so beautifully from her lips, “It is his name…Calmness…”
He smiled with her, asking, “This is good, I take it? That you’ve communicated?”
She nodded, adjusting the fabric over her eye. “It is,” she laughed, “I know his name.”
“That is rather remarkable,” Stella stated as she stared at the dragon. She smiled at him as he narrowed his candy-like eyes.
“I believe his role is to bring me calmness…which I often lack,” she continued as she touched its head softly. “…I…also believe he wants me to visit that village.”
“Why?” he asked.
“To bring calmness to them as well.” She faced him, “Something is happening around here…It is making him as uneasy as the golden dragon did.”
“Well, we do not need you to lose your other eye,” he jested. “We cannot run in blindly.”
“We won’t,” she grinned as she looked to Nurra. She sat him aside and stood, dusting off her pants. “Davin will like to know.” With that, she walked away to find him.
She found him barking orders at a scared looking soldier, possibly a few years older than them. The man frowned, lowering his gaze. “You understand that if you falter at just the right time it’ll kill you and--in turn--kill us,” Davin lifted his hands to gesture toward the entire camp.
“Yes, sir,” he chirped. “Sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be sorry, just be alert,” he grunted.
Davin shook his head as he turned around to face Kiaran. He paused, breathed in through his nostrils and asked, “How is your eye?”
“Swollen...it itches,” she shrugged. “What happened?” she pointed toward the soldier as he slinked away.
He shook his head. “Being distracted can kill us if he’s on guard,” he grunted. “Come,” he smiled a bit as he walked. She kept to his side as they rounded the camp, their stride slow and relaxed. It was nice to stretch her legs after riding horses all day.
“I’ve learned the dragon’s name,” she smiled.
“Aye,” she nodded. Nurra flew toward them, landing on her shoulder. He stretched across to her second shoulder, facing Davin with a slight snarl. The dragon could feel the way Davin made her feel. It wasn’t a calm emotion, it wasn’t relaxing. Being around Davin made her nervous--it made her self-aware. It made her blood grow hot and her heart race; all of which was not calming, therefore, Nurra did not like him. “His name is Nurra.”
“How did you come across the name?” he asked, genuine curiosity apparent on his face. She liked his curiosity, his want for knowledge. She smiled a little and explained it the best she could.
Afterwards, they spent the rest of their walk talking on other things. He asked about Kiaran’s time with the Zeil, what Fargo was like. Then, there was a question that escaped him. “What was your life like in Kamoni?” He knew basics, but no details. The instant the question left his lips, he regretted it. He could see her crawl back into the safety of her stone case, her expression hardening. “I...I’m sorry,” he fumbled. “I didn’t mean to...I was just curious.”
They continued their walk, though it was late into the night. Many of the soldiers were already asleep. “Well...the man I lived with was not my father...and his wife was not my mother.”
“Did you know either of your birth parents?”
She shook her head. “No. And I don’t care to know. All I remember is Nathanial telling me that as a babe my family rejected me. It was by his...” she trailed off for a moment, swollen with anger and depression, “It was by his generosity and compassion that I lived. They could have thrown me to the dogs.”
Why would a man say that to a child? Davin was appalled by the words he had used against her. She could see the disgust on his face, though he dared not to say anything. “My life in Kamoni is not something I think about.” Her stomach twisted as she remembered Grace. “Grace is the thing that haunts me most.”
“It seems that Nathanial is not worth remembering, anyhow,” he replied lowly.
“You are right,” she grunted. Nurra radiated a feeling of warmth to her and she breathed in slowly. “Besides, that is my past. It is not who I am anymore.”
Davin found himself watching her, the fabric covering half of her beautiful face from view. It was a face that most women in Rishana didn’t have. Most of the women in the cities had rounded faces with wider eyes. However, Kiaran’s eyes were shaped like elegant almonds and her cheekbones were raised, her chin pointed a bit. She had elegant features, smooth and perfect. That, with her steel eyes and dark hair, she looked foreign.
Her gaze lifted to him. He seemed to have a look of sudden fear on him; he was caught gazing at her. Her cheeks flushed slightly and she looked forward, moving again at a quicker pace. “You’ve asked me near a hundred questions tonight,” Kiaran said. “Tell me what you’ve done since we’ve been apart.”
“Nothing worth noting,” he shrugged. “Trained soldiers and readied an army for battle.” He told her a few things, mostly mentioning a book he had read or something he had learned. He was more interested in mental things rather than physical. It struck Kiaran as odd, considering he was a warrior. Most were simple. They fought. Smash things with fists and such. But he was intelligent. Modest. Handsome...Her thoughts trailed. What did handsome have to do with his thought process?
“Kiaran?” he broke her concentration. She blinked and looked to him. “You alright?”
“Yes,” she forced an awkward smile. “We...we should rest.”
He paused, but knew she was right. It was discomforting, however, to depart from her. Nodding, he said, “I agree.”
She moved to her blanket which was near Torin’s, their heads lined with each other, their feet pointing in opposite directions. Torin was still awake, lying on his side and playing with a burnt twig. He watched her as she kissed Nurra’s head, whispering to him. Suddenly, he took flight, disappearing on his way toward the village in the distance.
Kiaran lied on her blanket, locking gazes with Torin. They lied on their chests, watching each other restlessly. She held her chin in the palm of her hand, her elbow digging into her blanket spread over the sand.
“Sleep may be a good idea,” Kiaran whispered.
“Perhaps,” he nodded.
He brushed his hair from his face, the tattoo of an arrow on his cheek illuminated by the fire beside them. The point of the arrowhead touched the base of his jaw, the feather of it beneath his eye. He froze in her gaze, narrowing his eyes slightly. What was going through her mind? She focused on him so closely it made him uneasy.
“I believe Nurra likes you because you calm me down,” she finally told him. Her lips were set in a soft smile, her eye shining. She always seemed much happier after talking to Davin. “You and the dragon have that in common.”
He returned the smile. Reaching carefully to her face, he pulled aside the silk, hoping to see the scars healing, but they still looked morbid. He lowered his brows, saying, “It looks like it is getting worse.”
She shrugged as she pulled away, lying her head on her pillow. “I am sure it will heal well enough,” she replied.
“Can you even see out of it?” he asked.
“It is blurred, but coming back,” she answered. “Good night, Torin.”
“Good night,” he sighed as they lied to sleep.
Not too long after they fell asleep, they were woken by a loud commotion. The sun was still absent, the air frigid. Kiaran and Torin stood up, looking about them. Their army was surrounded by a larger army.
Their clothing was almost primitive, their skin and clothes blackened as if by smeared ash. They held spears and shields and were deathly silent. They stood tall and brave, watching Alana’s people carefully. The leader, an old woman, walked to them, Nurra perched on her shoulder. She wore a band around her head, long strands of braided fabric hanging like wild hair down the back of her head, entangling with her silver locks.
How could they get through the guards? Kiaran glanced between the strangers, seeing that they seemed to blend into the darkness like shadows. They were as stealthy as any assassin--if not as inconceivable as the shadows.
The woman walked straight to Kiaran, knowing that Nurra belonged to her. The dragon chirped as it glided to Kiaran’s shoulder. “This belongs to you?” her accent was strange. Her silver eyes matched Kiaran’s, but with a black tent to them.
Alana stood near them, eyeing the woman conspicuously. Her red hair was in a messy braid down her back, her fists clenched at her sides. “What is this about?” Alana asked. It was unusual to see her without armor. Her body seemed less...indestructible.
The woman glanced to her, but continued to speak to Kiaran, “Why does this woman speak for you? I am facing you, and yet you do not answer me.”
“I suppose she is my superior. Now, what is this about, anyhow?” she replied coolly.
“Nurra found me, and I opened to him,” she said, “Kiaran…We need your help.”
Everyone was silent, almost in shock. The breeze shot through them as they stared. Kiaran raised a brow before finally replying with a slow nod and softly saying, “Alright.”
They followed the people to their village. “We are of the Chastin culture; rare in any other part of the world,” the woman explained. “It is difficult for most to grasp, but I ask for respect and an attempt to take hold of at least the concept.”
The town was beautifully structured, the buildings made from stone. There was a cavern about seventy feet high and at least twice as wide, escaping down into the earth. Houses were built out of the walls of the caverns and the cliff that wrapped partly around the city. People roamed the main street, getting ready for their chores of the day. Their skin was much darker from constant exposure to the sun.
The woman introduced herself as Lorelei, the village’s elder. She led Kiaran and only her closest companions into the caverns: Alana, Davin, Torin, and Stella. “The waters of these caverns are sacred to us, sweetest only to the ones who need or earn it,” she explained.
The soft voices of women singing echoed between the walls like a whisper. Water dripped from the ceiling, rolling down their hair and clothes. Coming to a wide opening, they saw a large lake of silver, the torches reflecting beautifully across the walls and waters. A row of women sat on their knees, facing the water, humming lowly. There was one child, nearly four years old, holding a handful of water and drizzling it over each woman’s head.
“Only the innocent may enter the lake,” Lorelei explained. “We believe it is the closest we come to touching the gods. Through that sacred, cooling water, we come closest to divinity.”
The others waited where they stood as Lorelei took Kiaran to the shore of the lake. She rested a hand on her shoulder as Kiaran sat on her knees. She watched the little girl walk through the knee-high water. Her long, black hair fell down her back, wrinkled with beads of water. Her gray eyes met with Kiaran’s as she came to her.
Lorelei closed her eyes, singing softly, “Help this woman of the Drakeling bring peace and calmness to us.” The little girl drizzled water over her head. The freezing drops dripped down her face and into her wounds, causing some rather intense pain. Lorelei caressed her hand on the back of Kiaran’s head soothingly. “You have been blessed,” she whispered.
After the child blessed the last woman, they each stood and walked from the waters. On their way toward the entrance of the cavern, Kiaran asked, “What is it, exactly, that I am doing?”
“There is a great snake in this desert that is killing most of our people. We need you to stop it,” the woman spoke freely.
“A great snake?” Torin asked. “How great, may I ask?”
“Rather,” she replied, raising a thin brow. “We know you are powerful and tender enough to handle this most wisely.”
Kiaran nodded her head, feeling like there was no way out of it. She was in awe, and she could tell the others were as well. For some fugitives, the Chastin were living rather civically.
Once into the sunlight, Alana followed Lorelei as they conversed about the Great Snake. Davin pulled Kiaran to him, saying, “The last time we’ve helped a city, you nearly lost your head.”
She frowned, replying with a sharp tone, “You do not believe I am aware of that? Davin, please…I can make my own decisions. You couldn’t possibly understand the connection I share with Nurra. I…I must listen to him. Calmness is so desperately needed, and only I can bring it, and I can only bring it through him.”
“But why? Why is that?” he pressed.
“Each dragon has its own necessity for this world, and Nurra is Calmness. The world needs Calmness…it needs Nurra. And Nurra works through me,” she tried to explain.
He closed his eyes, sighing. His hand was still gripped on her elbow, his other hand brushing through his hair. Warmly, but sternly, she took his hand and pulled it from her arm. He looked to her once more before she released his fingers.
“Why can’t you or Torin ever trust in me?” she asked, a smirk tugging at the corners of her lips. “Just allow me this choice.”
“I wouldn’t take your decisions from you,” he replied. “We will help you in any way we can.” He looked over his shoulder at his brother and Stella who talked together, admiring the town. It had been weeks, and yet he could still not grasp the full difference in Torin. “We all are with you, Kiaran.”
She smiled as she replied, “I know.”
Kiaran walked with her companions, a few of their soldiers, and a few of the Chastin warriors. The wind seemed to move back and forth oddly, the sand moving with it. It seemed as if they were standing in the ocean, the current growing stronger the farther they moved from the settlement. The sand shifted about them more harshly, their hair and clothing whipping side to side. Bits of sand irritated Kiaran’s wounds as she held her hand to the fabric, pulling it tight.
The wind, though, remained rather soft while the sand continued to roar about them. The soldiers grew unsettled as the Chastins began to panic. In their shouting and warnings, Kiaran caught one of them saying, “It is the Great One!”
She looked about, seeing nothing but shifting waves and ripples of sand. The sand moved about them, rolling up to their knees, making it nearly impossible to move. Suddenly, just ahead of them a snake rose nearly fifty feet into the sky, the sun masking it in a silhouette. Her heart sank to her toes as she stared in awe and fear.
Its tail was beneath the sand, bursting from the ground behind them, slamming a few of the men away. Nurra gripped her shoulder tightly as it slinked to her other shoulder, stretching between the two. It only wants its land to be its own…It felt as though it was her own thought…but she knew it was Nurra.
The snake moved its head closer to them and everyone panicked. “This isn’t a snake at all,” she nearly breathed. “It’s a dragon.” The sand fell still, sinking back to their ankles. “It wants…to be the holder of this land. You have taken it from this dragon without any thought to acknowledge this beast.” She gently held a hand toward it, her palm facing it. The sun glinted off its brown and black skin having little to no scales.
Suddenly, sand towered up her body and lifted her high enough to be level with its face. The tower of sand that was cast around her legs and up to her waist swayed gently at the altitude. Her heart raced as she watched the beast. She was so high in the air, the thought of looking down was nauseating.
Tenderly, it leaned in, its black eyes meeting with hers. Sympathy. Compassion. Healing. Kita. “Kita,” she whispered. “You are Compassion.” Without realizing it, she pulled the fabric from her face. The dragon opened its mouth and she closed her eyes, a rush of adrenaline washing over her.
Its wet, hot tongue ran over her eyes, the spit burning her wounds. The saliva ran between the crevasses of her three, deep gashes and dripped into her sealed eye. It was so thick and hot, and impossible to fathom the agony. It seemed to nod its head in acceptance as the sand lowered her to ground level. It slinked away, out of sight, burying itself into the earth.
Alana held Kiaran’s arm as she kept her on her feet. Torin placed his hands on each of her shoulders as she nearly doubled over. He raised her up and he kneeled to see her face. Her wounds became red and irritated. “Are you feeling well?” he asked in a hushed panic.
She shook her head and he instantly took her in his arms, carrying her like a child. They moved quickly toward the village. Her entire body felt as though it was empty. She was conscious but more or less in an outer-body experience sort of way. Nurra flew after them quickly.
Once back in the town, Lorelei helped Kiaran stand; keeping one arm on her while Davin took her other side. Torin, Alana, and Stella followed behind them into the cavern. Torin rubbed his sore arms as they traveled between the dark walls.
They got to the lake and she sat on her knees, her eyes still closed. Without waiting on the child, Kiaran dipped her hands in the water, cupping them together. She splashed the water over her face, the cold water and hot spit feeling like fire for a very short second. She whimpered as she splashed again. The other women stared with horror as she touched the water on her own. She continued to vigorously splash herself.
Lorelei gently took her chin in her hand, making her face the old woman. “Child,” she spoke with a very sweet and yet stern voice, “You are freed.”
She narrowed her eyes, puzzled by the statement. Nurra climbed up her chest to see her face. Kiaran tentatively reached her hand to her wounds, feeling only light scars. There was no heat of infections, no swelling…
“Kita,” she breathed, “Your Great Snake healed me.”
“I assumed as much,” she smiled as she helped her up. “You are a sacred woman, my child.”
She blinked a few times, wiping the water from her face. Smiling brightly, she turned to the others. Her sight was full once again, her left eye slightly blurred from tears. They smiled back, their eyes all so full of questions. Her heart swelled slightly, knowing that they would never understand anything of these dragons. She was truly alone in this. Turning to Lorelei, she could relate better, understanding the relationships between people and dragons.
Lorelei rested a hand on her upper arm, lowering her chin slightly, looking her in the eyes. “I believe you will find where you belong soon enough.” Her voice was soft enough that the others could not hear.
The sun was gone once more, the moon and fires providing much light. On the outskirts of the town, Kiaran sat on a small, wooden chest covered by thick, beautiful quilts folded several times. Her bare feet rested atop a beautiful mat made with bright colors and beads. Her toenails were painted black, her fingernails matching. A gold necklace wrapped around her neck in the shape of a snake, its mouth clamped on its tail just at her collarbone. She wore a matching bracelet on each wrists with beads. She wore a silky shirt laced on the sides with purple threads. Her left side was only tied just beneath the arm, her entire side exposed as a man tattooed her skin with ink and a needle.
A tattoo of a snake-like dragon reached up her entire side, its tail reaching down and wrapping across her hip slightly. One wing pointed toward her navel, the other stretching down the side of her back. The man dabbed a cloth at her skin, soaking up the small droplets of blood and excess black ink. Finally, he was finished, the tattoo absolutely stunning.
A train of purple fabric was draped across her hips, hanging in the front past her knees. Gold beads were wrapped around her ankles, charms ringing sweetly. Her hair was draped over her shoulders; a few thin braids with gold throughout them framed her face.
She stood, feeling awkward with the trinkets and revealing, but glorious, clothing. It seemed that everywhere she turned, either entire cities were chasing her down or praising her.
She walked through the crowds, people thanking her—praising her, touching her hair, her clothes, her feet, her tattoos. She held her arms tightly to her chest as she moved through the strangers. Her eyes scanned over the sea of people, looking for anyone or anything familiar.
Apparently, the Great Snake had been causing problems for the Chastin, along with a few dragons that snatched up their animals. What Kiaran had done with the Great Snake had just given them the beginning of peace, so long as they gave Kita what she wanted: Space and the occasional group of animals to munch on.
Finally, she saw Davin standing tall and still, looking about with drifting thoughts. His eyes met with hers and they moved toward each other. He took her hand and pulled her through the people until they disappeared into the city, out of the torches’ lights.
Soon, they were in an alley where they avoided attention. Kiaran leaned against the wall of a building, resting her head on it as she looked to the sky. Finally, she could breathe without someone touching her shirt or jewelry or hair.
Her left eye still had distinct, thick scars, but they were no longer aching or trying to heal. They were much thinner than before and were a pale white against her skin, a bit of pink within them. Davin sat against the wall beside her. He looked to her tattoo, saying, “He did the job well.”
“Aye,” she nodded.
He pointed to the tattoo on her leg, saying, “You’ve killed someone once you’ve become a Zeil.” She frowned a bit and he continued with a soft tone, “It is unappreciated, but done if completely necessary.” He gestured toward her back, continuing, “Your blades marked on your back, revealing everything of your power.”
“Have you seen my back?” she questioned.
“No,” he smiled. “But I assume they are there.”
Interested, she sat beside him, watching him closely. “You’ve been reading,” she spoke softly.
He fell into her gaze, her face, body, hair, skin, her everything was so womanly, so…glorious. Gently, he brushed the hair from her face, skimming a finger across her cheekbone where the ink was dotted just beneath the scars. “And this is a point of femininity…and yet it is a sign of power…Not only do the women have their jobs as mothers and wives, but also they must labor like men, earning food and respect. They fight twice as much through the day.”
Her heart raced too fast. She nearly grew sick to her stomach as her brows creased slightly. She turned her head away slightly, hoping everything would subside.
Davin’s stomach churned and his hands fell into his lap. He could see in her heart he was touching her in the wrong way. His jaws clenched for a moment as he opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Before, he was rarely interested in flirting with women or touching them in the manor he just did Kiaran. He thought most women weren't worth the attention they begged for.
At that moment, breaking through the inelegance and discomfort, Nurra glided to Kiaran, landing on her raised knee. He trilled sweetly as he watched her with his fiery orange eyes. She touched his nose rather playfully and he seemed to smile as he folded his wings.
Snickering, she looked to Davin, saying, “I believe Nurra is beginning to accept you. He usually…” she sighed, unsure of how to explain. “I could always feel his discomfort while you were around.” He narrowed his eyes as she continued, “Nurra’s job is to protect me, to keep me peaceful.” She had never had peace before. It was interesting.
He looked to Nurra who watched Kiaran lovingly. There was a very powerful connection between them. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he replied, “I can see that...But he needs to calm you while I’m around?”
She flushed, though he couldn’t see it through the darkness. Inhaling deeply, she decided against replying. The wind pulled at her shirt as she held the open side of it close. “I cannot wait to get out of here,” she laughed uneasily.
He snickered with her, saying, “Neither can I.”
Lorelei and Alana rounded the corner. “There you are,” Alana exclaimed.
“Let us rejoice,” Lorelei said.
“Aye, let us rejoice,” Alana laughed loudly. “It is remarkable; have you seen the dancers?” Kiaran walked with her back into the crowd, Davin walking several feet behind.
“You are lucky to have her on your side,” Lorelei said.
“I know,” he smiled.
The night seemed to last forever as the women entertained, their bodies painted like snakes. One woman had clothing that appeared to have dragon wings on it. She danced elegantly over to the first three women. One of the three rushed to Kiaran who sat with her companions to the side. Taking her hand, she tugged on her. She was reluctant at first, but everyone urged her to go.
Finally, she went with the woman. The dancer pulled a sword from Kiaran, that was slung at her hip. Kiaran shoved the woman aside, tearing the weapon from her. Everyone froze, staring at her. Her heart sank as her blood grew hot. The music was even at a rest as it grew tense. Sheathing her weapon, she turned to Alana, speaking lowly. “It was a reaction.”
Alana leaped up and moved to her, holding each arm in her hands. Kiaran continued to try to explain, but she cut in, saying, “I know, Dear, it is alright.” She took her away, leaving the others to celebrate as they will. “It was just a part of the show,” she said, “You reacted instinctively. I understand.”
She held a hand over her face, shaking her head, “I am…”
“Embarrassed?” she wrapped an arm around her, saying, “I would be too. But everything will be fine. You, after all, were the one who saved this little city.” She snickered as they returned to their rooms. “They call you the Swayer. You swayed the dragon to calmness...”
“The Swayer,” she scoffed in a bit of amusement.