The wind was chilling; however the sun was very warm on their skin. Kiaran and her companions stood outside the walls of the castle, preparing themselves for their journey. Nurra sat on Kiaran’s shoulder nervously as he watched Ritiann. Her hair was in a long, slender braid down her back, matching her daughter’s hair. The short hair on the side of Kiaran’s head was braided tightly against her head. The hair on the other side of her face was in loose braids. The smaller braids were brought together in one large braid, slung over a shoulder.
Ritiann’s dragon sat at her side much like a rather amazing guard dog. It eyed each of them closely, its head lifted high and its chest expanded powerfully. The blue of the dragon’s eyes seemed to bleed into Ritiann’s. So long as she was bonded with the dragon, her eyes were nearly as blue as its. Kiaran had also noticed Cyrin’s eyes were closer to purple since his closeness to Ruthianna. Though, Kiaran’s eyes were nowhere near orange. Her eyes did not match Nurra’s, but they were bonded. Her eyes were as silver as ever, no other colors bleeding into them.
Andrew and Cyrin were with them as well, watching the queen as she stared at her daughter. Kiaran adjusted the heavy sword on her belt, wishing to have her black blades once more. This sword, however, was decorated but also powerful. She wore a red cloak given to her from Ritiann. It had the Krutia emblem on it. The emblem of the royal family. It was a dragon, its wing wrapped around in a semicircle. The dragon’s mouth was open over a golden sunset with silver mountains between them. Dark green grass and dark blue water stretched from the mountains. The embroidery was exquisite, stitched to perfection.
Kiaran’s eyes slowly lifted to Davin whose gaze was elsewhere. That night broke them. They had not spoken but tactically since, and it had been three days. Her heart jumped and she quickly turned her attention to Ritiann.
“On your travels, you must be on foot. No horses or dragons should go with you,” she said. She lifted a hand toward Nurra and he snaked his way up to her shoulder. He perched uneasily, watching Kiaran. “You must be as close to yourself as possible. This dragon will search your very soul, and you do not need any animals getting in the way of that.”
“Kriettor,” Andrew questioned, “how big of a danger is it?”
“Very,” she answered coolly, as if it were a simple and enjoyable answer. “If he weren’t dangerous, why protect him from other men who might abuse his power?” Everyone watched her silently. “Now, off you go.”
Torin stood near Davin and Stella, watching the queen walk to Kiaran. She rested a hand on her shoulder, her eyes as soft as her hair and skin. It was difficult to hear what she was saying through her soft, rose-like lips. He could see the likeness of her in Kiaran. It was as if she were only of Ritiann rather than having any traits of a father. Who was the father, and what would he have been like? He was chilled to the bone, imagining Kiaran’s father. The power and pure strength he could have possessed.
Tossing her braid from her shoulder, Kiaran nodded her head and walked toward him, leaving her mother behind. His eyes met with hers for a moment and he glanced to Ritiann. The Queen lifted her gaze to him and he paused. Ritiann seemed lost…she needed her daughter’s love and acceptance. Looking forward, he walked near Kiaran for the remainder of the day.
With the exception of Stella’s excitement and Andrew’s nonstop lectures on ruling for Davin, it seemed nearly silent. Kiaran had yet to say anything once they left. She kept her eyes on the trees about them on either side of the wide road.
Mountains in the view made her think of Ruthianna’s flight. Her heart fluttered as she took a sharp breath, exhaling harshly. Torin touched her arm and her muscles twitched beneath his fingers. She looked to him as he watched her anxiously.
It was then that she noticed the fading bruises beneath one eye and along his lip. Her brows lowered as she asked, “What happened, Torin?”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“The bruising,” she grunted. He shook his head, unwilling to answer. “Torin,” she hissed beneath her breath. “Did you and your brother fight?” She could recall Davin having a bruise the night they spoke. He looked away in frustration, biting his tongue to keep it silent. “Why?” she breathed.
“You,” he huffed as he pulled away from her view and walked ahead of her.
Her head swarmed with so many emotions and questions. She found it easiest to push it in the back of her mind and lock it away. Nothing was important at the time but reaching Kriettor and taking care of him and getting back to her people at Eava’s Drop.
That night as they set up camp, Cyrin sat with Kiaran as the rest of her companions spoke to one another. Her eyes were burning in the blaze ahead of her, Cyrin also keeping his gaze in the dancing flames. “Is everything going well, Kiaran?” he asked softly.
“No. But it is better than it could be I suppose,” she shrugged. There was a long silence until she spoke again. “I have noticed that many of you who have bonded with a dragon share the same eye color. Yet, Nurra and I still have very different eyes. How is that so?”
He looked at her, his eyes as puzzled as her mind was. “I am not sure,” he admitted. “Your first connection is most important. Was Nurra not your first dragon you have connected with?”
“He was the first dragon I have ever laid eyes on,” she shook her head, “Of course he is my first bond.”
“Well,” he sighed, “Perhaps he is not truly the first?”
“I cannot see how,” she huffed.
The farther they journeyed the stronger the weather became. The winds picked up powerfully, the tips of the evergreen trees circling above them. The further down the road they traveled the fewer animals were around. Not even any birds sang around them.
“It seems as though something is bothering Kriettor,” Cyrin said lowly. “He has been like this for years, though no one could approach to find out why...and if we did, he would likely not answer us.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Andrew questioned.
“He controls everything of this land--the wind, the earth, fire, and some animals. It is unusual that he is carrying on this strongly. The closer we get to his den, the wickeder it will become,” he said.
“That does not sound promising,” Davin muttered.
“Not at all,” Cyrin sighed.
Soon, they stopped for a break to eat and drink and rest their muscles. Kiaran kept herself separated from the others. It proved that being secluded helped ease the hurt on her heart.
She forced the food into her mouth, the bread getting caught on her lips. She could hardly stomach the food. Suddenly, Torin took a seat beside her.
She watched his hands as they rested on his knees folded in front of him. The beaded bracelet around his wrist reminded her of the Zeil. She scaled her eyes up his arm to the arrow tattooed on his cheek. The fur of his vest brushed against his jaw. He returned the gaze and her eyes darted down.
“The reason for our fight was over you,” he began. “Once you left us in the dining hall, he spoke of taking back his love in a way. Which...I am sure you have already talked about that. I was rather angered that he would toy with you as he has.”
“I see,” she said softly. “Had he talked to you often about us?”
“He was open to an extent…but as were you,” he shrugged. “Kiaran, this game between the two of you is dragging me in, and I do not like it.”
“It is no game,” she retorted, “and you needn’t worry any longer.” She watched him closely and her heart softened slightly. “Thank you for caring.”
“Always,” he smiled.
He truly looked Zeil, as if he were with them for years. “Do you believe your heart wishes to return to Lianna?” she asked.
His eyes narrowed momentarily, as if he had forgotten her. Suddenly, he replied, “I had not given it the thought,” he said easily. “I have been too busy focusing on our tasks.”
She nodded slowly. “I miss it there…With the Zeil.”
“As do I,” he agreed. “We will return to them.”
The others about them stood and stretched, ready to go forward. Stella glanced to them, giving them a warm, but small smile. Kiaran and Torin stood, joining the others and they parted from their resting place.
The road was becoming wider as the trees grew closer and thicker on either side of them. The ground beneath their feet began to quake and tremble. Stella became nervous as they moved forward. The hill ahead of them was extremely steep, catching their attention. Everyone paused except Kiaran. She pushed forward, ignoring her shaking feet and her hair that whipped about. Thunder rolled softly in the distance, but the sky was clear and beautiful.
There was a powerful quake, sending them nearly to the ground. Stella fell to her knees, praying in hope as to calm the insanity. Torin grasped Kiaran’s elbow for balance as they swayed with the earth. Cyrin looked to the sky nervously. Andrew pulled Stella upright, attempting to comfort her. Davin watched everyone sternly, flexing his muscles anxiously.
To continue, they were nearly crawling up the hill. The wind pushed at them powerfully. Finally, they breached the horizon. Looking ahead of them, they were in awe.
Ahead of them was a vast opening into the mountain, incredibly long and tall. Hot wind rushed from the entrance as if the mountain itself was breathing.
Everyone was at a stop, looking between each other. Not a word was vocalized, but their eyes spoke for them. Summoning up the courage, Kiaran moved first, leading them into the darkness.
Within the stone walls, it seemed rather calm, but the heat was extreme. Hot air pushed and pulled like a steady current. It grew darker as they walked deeper into the earth. It felt as though they were walking with their eyes closed. It felt oddly to Kiaran when she blinked and saw nothing once her eyes opened back up.
Narrowing her eyes, she noticed a faint red glow against the walls ahead of them. Nearing it, the heat and light extended powerfully ahead of them. Rounding the corner, they laid eyes on a massive room.
Lava was poured out across the floor. Perched upon an island of solid rock ground was the most powerful dragon of all. Kriettor gripped the stone powerfully, root-like veins snaking from his talons onto the floor. He stretched his wings into the air, touching them to the ceiling, the same roots climbing up the rock. Muscles flexed across its broad body, the heavy plated scales on the upper of its body appeared much like armor.
His head was crowned in ivory horns. Turning to the unexpected visitors, the spikes about his face moved forward, lifting the webbing, making him look larger and more intimidating. His head lifted and he pointed his mouth downward as lava excreted into the lake. It vomited magma, the heat burning into the air.
Kiaran’s heart fell beneath the soles of her boots. It was sick, the earth radiating it. The dragon’s massive tail whipped around, thorns lining its spine all the way down to the tip of the tail. The color of this creature was earthy, but extravagant. It was as black as the stone around it, its eyes as silver as ice. It had a wedge-shaped head, strong and sturdy, though its eyes seemed much more intimate.
The dragon leaned forward, stretching its neck across the fiery sea. Two, massive horns of ivory stretched from the top of his head and halfway down his thick neck.
Kiaran took a step forward and Davin grasped her arm. “What are you doing?” he hissed.
Kriettor’s webbed crown lifted as it roared, staring at Davin. The roar cracked like thunder, bits of lava dripping from its extended fangs. Its jaws were broad, strong, terrifying. Davin tightened his grip on her and the dragon raised its head effectively. He let her go and she continued forward.
Her hands ached as she fell into the eyes of this beautiful creature. Lowering its head, it touched his nose to her chest. Its nose was much wider than she was. She rested a hand on its hard nose, looking into its glossy, mirror-like eyes.
“Kriettor,” she breathed, “How are we together?” She could feel it…as if they had bonded once before.
It seemed as though the dragon grinned, a rumbling coming from its chest like a laugh. Everyone behind her gripped at their weapons uneasily. He grew alarmed, raising his head slightly as his massive fangs flashed at them. He had hundreds of sharp teeth lining his black gums. Kiaran rose a hand and said, “It is safe, they are simply intimidated.”
He breathed in her scent as he closed his eyes. She, too, closed her eyes, and a scene played out in front of her.
A tall, cloaked woman sat upon the stone floor, gripping a bundle of blankets tightly. She kept her head bowed before Kriettor, the lava flowing from the walls, but the lake was missing. Kriettor lay on his side, his feet resting under him comfortably like an old cat. Pulling the hood from her head, the woman looked up to Kriettor. She held the bundle ahead of herself, laying he on the stone floor.
Unraveling it, she revealed her baby. The naked infant whimpered slightly, not so easily scared. She glanced about, looking to the dragon as he looked at her closely. She smiled widely and reached for him. The woman gasped quietly as she gripped at her heart. Lowering her body into a bow, she stretched an arm out ahead of her, touching the hot stone. She bowed to Kriettor, her voice relieved and anxious, “Kiaran, Kiaran…”
Kriettor touched his nose to the baby ever so gently. She squealed in excitement and the dragon lifted its head, shaking it slightly as if startled. The woman laughed as she looked between the two, tears in her eyes. “Thank you…Kriettor, thank you.”
Kiaran gasped as she stepped back from the dragon. Her body ached and her teeth hurt. She grimaced as she fell to her knees, holding her hands to her head. Her body was beginning to change, to alter itself from its normal state…to become more dragon-like.
Her fingernails were shoved out of the way, falling to the ground about her as claws took their place. Blood filled her mouth as fangs shoved their way into her canines’ place. She spit the old teeth out as she whimpered.
Davin stepped forward and Kriettor growled at him. He flexed his fists as he watched Kiaran fight off the pain. Her groan escalated into a scream as her hands grew larger and shaped more like talons. Wings shoved through the skin on her back and fell to her sides, moist and limp.
Finally, she fell to the ground, limp, bloody, and crying. Horns ripped from the top of her head, curling like a ram’s horns. They were ribbed and a dark color, looking like ebony. Her hair twisted in the horns a bit, ripping mostly out of its braid.
Davin darted toward her, but Kriettor gently grasped her by the wings in his mouth and lifted her from the ground. He fell to his knees at her blood stains, watching the dragon take off with her. She disappeared behind his massive body onto the island of rocks. She was out of the sight of her comrades, her distractions taken away from her.
Once used to her new body, Kiaran sat with Kriettor, leaning against his soft underbelly. The smell of smoldering rock became comforting and the sound of his thunderous lungs was like music to her. Standing, she rested her hand against the skin of his belly.
Looking to him as he watched her, she spoke softly, “I am the thing you were missing? You were in distress…You bonded with me only for me to be taken away…Why did she bring me here? Why did you bond with me?”
Her emotions were stable, only curiosity tainted her mind and her voice. Without moving his mouth, he communicated with her clearly and easily, his voice very soothing and deep, though only in her head. His words were not vocalized, “You are of purity and love, of which only a babe could offer. Thus, I named you Kiaran. Pure love. You are innocent, and therefore trustworthy.”
“Did you bond like this with Rigain?”
“No,” he breathed. “He was another story all together.”
“Perhaps…I could speak with my companions,” she mentioned.
“Yes…Perhaps,” he agreed. She climbed onto his snout and he moved her over to where they remained waiting for her.
Climbing down, she faced them, her features similar to a dragon. Her eyes were narrow, shining as silver as always…as silver as Kriettor’s. Her eyes were lined in black, as if painted. Her lips still dripped with blood as she wiped it away with her talon-like hands. Small ivory horns stuck out of her collarbones and from under her black hair.
“Kiaran, what happened?” Davin nearly demanded with a tone of fear.
“I suppose I was already bonded with Kriettor,” she admitted. “I am one with him, his heart and soul.”
Torin watched her with uneasy eyes, his jaw closed tightly. She looked at him, ignoring the others. She felt for him…he was her closest friend and he could not say anything to her. However, her emotions did not seem as her own…she felt only empathy…
She looked to Davin, thinking of how her heart had longed for him. The feelings have nearly left her. It seemed as though she were feeling everything--and nothing at once. Only her mind could think on the emotions, but her heart, truly, felt nothing.
She looked over her shoulder at Kriettor, confused. Slowly, she turned back to her friends. “I have sentiments much like Kriettor’s. I do not have my own emotions anymore, for I am no longer simply Kiaran. I am one with Kriettor. I feel as he does…I have empathy…my mind feels what my heart no longer does.”
Davin stared at her, his eyes wide and brows low. His heart filled with iron as he watched her. Blood ran down her chin, shining in the light of the molten rock around them. He had destroyed his chances with her. She was gone forever, and he never was able to fully express his mind…He never was able to open his heart for her--not fully. Now, the impossibilities of her loving him were stabbing him throughout his body.
He swallowed hard as he forced himself to speak first, “Well, Kiaran, what are we to do next?”
Grinning, she replied, “What do you propose, King Holloway?” He clenched his jaw as he felt ridiculed. “I am not mocking you,” she added. “I suppose you shall confront Murdock and take out his army.”
“And what of you?” Torin asked sharply.
Her eyes jolted to him and she replied, “I am to remain here as Kriettor’s protector. Avestitia’s protector.”
Davin looked to the dragon who returned the glare. “Seems as if he is the protector,” he huffed. Everyone stared at him. “He treats you as his offspring. How are you to live your life if he locks you in this mountain?”
“My life is my own, and I choose the best for all of you,” her voice boomed.
“How could you possibly know that it is the best?” Davin roared. “If all you have is logic, you couldn’t know what anyone truly needs! We need more than survival to be alive. You knew that before, didn’t you?”
The others grew nervous as they began arguing. “What are you getting at, Davin?” she asked. “Do I only care for you to be alive? No, I wish for you to all be happy. So what are you saying?”
“How is it good for any of us that you remain here? How long will you be here? Until you die? That is what happened to Rigain,” he barked.
Her eyes grew stern as she thought on his words. “If it is my roll, then so be it. Whatever is to happen…let it be.”
With that, it was silent and her companions were unable to look at her…all but Torin. He was unable to look away. “Take care, Kiaran,” he said softly, “Do not lose your heart, for it is your own.”
She nodded and he turned and followed the others as they left. Admittedly, she felt more empathy for Torin than the others. He was her best friend.
Sighing, she faced Kriettor. What was next?