Are we ready for this? Nyra asked.
Ren was leaning against Nyra’s leg, staring out at the wide expanse of the Gray Sea before them. She held a map before her, and she would occasionally glance down at the map and then back up at the sea. She could see now why it was called the Gray Sea. Even though the skies were clear and a crisp, bright blue, the sea was a dark, stormy gray.
We have to be, Ren answered, glancing over at the young dragons. They were sitting in a neat line, oldest to youngest. They were perched on the edge of the cliff Ren and Nyra stood upon, their heads raised curiously as they gazed out at the sea. Ren only worried for a moment that they’d fall. Even if they did, Ren thought, they’re already excellent fliers.
She turned her attention back to the map. She pursed her lips in thought, then said, We should be able to rest every so often. There are small islands here on the map, and they should be enough for us to stop and rest when we need to.
Nyra narrowed her golden eyes. That should be fine, she said. Then she lifted her nose, sniffing the air. Do you smell that?
Ren frowned. She tipped her nose up as well, inhaling deeply. Not only do I smell it, she said, but I can feel it. Distantly, Ren could smell the faint odor of ozone and storm clouds. She could feel the electricity in the air, sending tingles up her arms.
A storm’s coming, Nyra said. And it’s a big one. She stared at the young dragons for a moment, then turned her gaze back to Ren. Should we wait until it passes before we set out?
Ren thought a moment, then shook her head. No, she said. We can’t. Aréndíl had urged her to hurry, to find this ally before it was too late. Though she wanted to protect the hatchlings, keep them safe from the dangers of a sea storm, she knew they couldn’t wait. They didn’t know how long it would last, and they couldn’t risk waiting.
Nyra nodded. Very well, then.
Ren pointed at the map, allowing Nyra to see the small patches of land she gestured to. We’ll make these stops along the way, she said. We’ll rest and eat, and maybe collect some of the rain water and drink it there. If they could preserve their water supply, they may be able to last longer in the desert.
That should work, Nyra said. When do we leave?
Ren folded the map, shoving it into her saddlebags. She climbed up into the saddle, and after she had settled herself she said, Now.
Ren groaned, her head throbbing as she came to her senses. She opened her eyes, squinting against the bright light.
“Ren?” a vaguely familiar voice asked. “Ren? Are you all right?”
“Ronin…?” Ren asked, peeling her eyes open again. She blinked, and once her eyes had focused, she recognized the Ranger that had saved Ren, Kieran, and the dragons in Dragon’s Glen.
Ronin smiled, his green eyes flashing. “I thought that was you,” he said as she struggled into a sitting position.
“Where am I?” She mumbled, blinking as she gazed around at her surroundings. She was lying on a cot, in what appeared to be a cabin on board a ship. She was rocking back and forth as if she were in the middle of a storm.
“You’re onboard the Dragon’s Flight,” Ronin said. “It’s a Rhenosi ship, and we’re heading to Yidda. Where are your dragons? Where’s Kieran?”
Ren gasped, her eyes flashing open. She jerked her head around, but there was no sign of her dragons. Nyra? She called out. Where are you?
I am safe, Nyra answered. And so are the young ones. We are flying above the storm.
Ren sighed in relief, sagging back against the pillows. What happened?
The storm became too much, Nyra said. We came across a waterspout, and it sent us into the sea. By the time I made it back into the air, you were being pulled on board of the ship. I recognized Ronin, so I allowed them to take you.
Ren sighed again. She shut her eyes, her memory of the storm coming to her in a blur. She vaguely remembered her and the dragons flying out over the sea, then the sudden appearance of the storm. They couldn’t see, and suddenly Nyra and Ren were spiraling through the air. She was thrown from the saddle, and when she hit the water, she blacked out.
Ren sensed Ronin still at her bedside. She opened her eyes and rolled her head over to look at him. “My dragons are fine,” she said. “They’re flying above the storm.”
Ronin nodded. “And Kieran?” he asked.
Her heart ripped in two at his name. “Kieran has his own personal business to attend to,” Ren said. “And I have mine.”
Ronin nodded. “Will you tell me?”
She paused a moment. Ronin had a friendly, open face, just as he did back in Azkadia. She smiled and said, “Not all of it, but some.”
Ronin thought a moment, then nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I suppose that’s better than nothing.”
Ren laughed, then hissed as pain cut through her skull. “Basically,” she said, “I’m looking for someone. I met with the spirit of Aréndíl, and she said to go to Yidda. I’m supposed to find someone, somebody who’s supposed to be a strong ally of mine.” A sudden thought occurred to her and she narrowed her eyes, saying, “Why are you here?”
“Ah…” Ronin bit his lip and stared into his lap. He struggled for a moment to speak before he finally managed to get out, “Do you remember the Ranger I mentioned before, back in Winter Keep? Shey?”
Ren nodded. “Yes,” she said. She vaguely remembered Ronin speaking to two other Rangers, Faerdan and Quinn. Shey was a Ranger who had infiltrated the Azkadian Court in order to kill Marjhen’s right-hand man, a necromancer named Nirnasha.
“Well,” Ronin continued, “she succeeded in killing the necromancer, but Marjhen escaped. He used fire magic, and he pushed Shey over a balcony. She fell into the river, and while she tried to make her way back to the castle, she was captured by a Yiddan slaver. Someone from her past.”
Ren froze. She narrowed her eyes, thinking back to the conversation she and Kieran had had with Faerdan and Quinn.
“Wait a moment,” Kieran said. “I’m confused about one detail. How do you plan on getting past Nirnasha? As long as he’s alive, Marjhen is untouchable.”
Quinn’s smile grew. “There are two reasons why we chose Ranger Shey for the mission,” she said. “The first is she’s a female Ranger. She’d be able to infiltrate the royal court and protect herself in the process. All while we place our own followers in the belly of the beast.”
“And the second?” Ren asked, speaking for the first time in several moments.
Quinn began to respond, but Faerdan cut across her, saying, “Ranger Shey has more than an affinity for water. She also has power over the dead.”
Kieran and Ren blinked, casting surprised expressions to one another. Kieran cleared his throat and said, “By ‘power over the dead,’ do you mean that she has learned necromancy? Or…”
“I mean,” Faerdan stressed, folding his arms across his chest, “that she controls the dead. She doesn’t just summon them and bind them to do her will. She has a connection to the dead. If she truly wanted to tap into her powers, she could summon armies of the dead.”
“She’s stronger than Nirnasha,” Quinn added. “Even if she does nothing, his dark magic won’t affect her. That’s why we sent her on this mission.”
Ren gasped softly. “It’s her…” she whispered.
“Huh?” Ronin frowned, tilting his head to the side as he stared at Ren. She felt Nyra’s shocked silence, and then the dragon responded.
Do you truly think this Ranger is the one we’re looking for? Nyra asked.
Who else could it be? Ren replied. Aréndíl said that the person we’re looking for would need our help, and would be a powerful ally against Borryn. From what we know, this Shey character has strong abilities with water and ice, as well as the dead. Besides, Ren couldn’t shake this strange feeling in her gut that they were on the right path.
Nyra sighed. Very well, she said. It looks as if we will be helping Ronin on his search.
Ren smiled. “I’ll help you find her,” Ren said.
Ronin blinked in surprise. “You… you will?” he asked.
Ren nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Besides, I believe that your friend is the same person that I am searching for.”
Ronin whooped, jumping to his feet and pumping his fist into the air. Ren hissed at his loud voice as it cut through her skull. “This is amazing!” he exclaimed. Then he looked at her and said, “Before we do anything else, you need to meet my companions. And, I think there are some things you need to know about Shey.”
Ren frowned. What else could there possibly be? She wondered.
Ren couldn’t stop staring at the giant Wolf. She was easily larger than a horse, with huge paws that were easily two, maybe even three times the size of Ren’s head. Her fur was charcoal gray, and her eyes were a golden amber color.
The storm had eased within the past few hours. After resting some more, Ronin took Ren to the top deck of the ship, where she was to be introduced to his companions. Nyra and the other dragons had gone off to hunt on a nearby island, and they would soon join them.
Men moved about on the deck, cleaning and tending to minor damages from the storm. They’d stop occasionally to stare at the small group, but otherwise, they kept to themselves. Good, Ren thought. She didn’t know if she could handle dealing with stares and whispers.
“Ren,” Ronin started, grabbing her attention as he held a hand out to his companions. “This is Lyssa, Fallon, and Gavin.” He turned to his friends and gestured to Ren. “This is Ren. She’s one of the Fireborn I told you about.”
They stared at her with wide eyes. They all took a few moments to size each other up, to assess possible strengths and weaknesses. Gavin, like Ronin, was dressed in the black Ranger’s clothes. And, judging by the way they stood close to each other, she could only guess that Gavin was Ronin’s beloved companion that he had told her about.
Fallon was very interesting. Ren had learned of the elves of Lostea, the Ferren and the Amaer. The Ferren were smaller than their southern brothers and sisters, and they had the ability to call upon the magic of the wild. Judging by the wild way her fiery hair sat, and the dangerous gleam in her eyes, Ren could only assume that she was Ferren.
“What about her?” Ren asked, gesturing to Lyssa.
Ronin’s gaze fell. Before he could answer, Fallon spoke up. “She’s Shey’s Wolf,” she said. “Shey is a Wolf Rider.”
Ren nodded, deciding it made sense. The Riders were a prominent figure in Interis. Or, they had been. Before Marjhen had wiped out the Interian royal family, as well as the Tersenian monarchy. Ren’s mother and father.
Ren turned to Ronin. “You said there are things I need to know?” she said. “Things about Shey?”
Ronin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Well, there’s no easy way to put this, so I’ll just say it.” He took a deep breath and said, “Shey is apparently Shaelyn Argantha, the Lost Queen of Interis.”
Ren blinked, staring at Ronin for a moment. The two of them took turns telling Ren of the battle at Miren Diréthe, how after Shey had killed Nirnasha, she had returned to the ballroom to kill Marjhen. During a lapse in the battle, Shey had stepped forward and proclaimed her identity to the gathered masses. Then the battle resumed, and she fell.
Ren leaned against a barrel nearby, using it to keep herself upright. She shook her head, chuckling. “Amazing,” she said. Then she looked up at the small group before her and said, “If there was any doubt before, there isn’t anymore. Aréndíl meant for me to find Shey.”
They nodded. Gavin smiled like a wild maniac as he said, “With dragons on our side, there’s no way we can lose!”
Ronin laughed. “Come on,” he said, tugging gently on Gavin’s cloak. “Let’s go spar.”
Gavin’s eyes twinkled mischievously as he followed the smaller Ranger. Ren laughed softly, then turned to leave as well. Before she could, though, Fallon touched a hand to her elbow. “Ren?” she asked. “Can I speak to you?”
Ren stared at the elf for a moment. She nodded, and Fallon said, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the other two, but I have to ask. Who are you? You’re more than just a Fireborn.”
Ren frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked. She had a feeling she knew, though.
Fallon shrugged. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the mast beside her, saying, “I’ve been alive for hundreds of years. I remember when dragons roamed the skies, free and without worry. I’ve met dozens of Fireborn in my lifetime, each with various auras and fire. But yours… your aura is pure gold. It’s almost white it shines so brilliantly! And, based upon your inner fire I can see, I’m assuming your fire is white?”
Ren frowned. Fallon smiled and said, “I’m a Seer. My people sent me to watch over Shey, to protect her until she can join us one day so she can learn to control her wild aspect. I’ve Seen many different outcomes of the future based on Shey’s decisions, but none of them have included you. So, I want to know. Who are you? What is your role in this?”
What do you think? Ren asked Nyra. Should I tell her?
She felt her dragon shrug as she tore into the shoulder of a deer she had hunted. If she’s a Seer, she said, then maybe you should.
Ren nodded. Fallon was still staring at her, so she said, “My name’s Seren Aurelie Romanira. My father and mother were Ian and Aurelie Romanira, King and Queen of Tersen.”
Fallon nodded. “And?” she prompted, a small smile on her face.
Ren sighed. “And,” she continued, “I’m the reincarnated goddess Aren.”
Fallon blinked. “Fascinating,” she said. “It would explain why I did not See you. You’re the Goddess.”
Ren nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Back on Earth, the Searchers are growing closer to finding Borryn’s prison. I’ve spoken with Aréndíl, who was me in a past life.” She frowned at the thought. Then she shook her head and continued. “I’m supposed to let them raise Borryn because nothing I can do will stop it. Aréndíl said that I’d find a powerful ally who could help me against Borryn.”
“And that ally is Shey,” Fallon said. She nodded. “It makes sense,” she said. “After all, she is Borryn’s Champion.”
Ren frowned. She had heard the name before. She didn’t know much about the Champions, only that they held immense power.
“That is the reason why I’m here,” Ren said. She glanced over to the bow of the ship, where Ronin and Gavin had begun to spar. “Don’t tell anyone,” Ren said as she looked back at Fallon. “Please.”
The Ferren smiled. “Trust me,” she said. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
Ren couldn’t help but smile in return. She barely knew these people, and yet, she felt as if she had known them for years. She knew that, with their help, she’d find Shey, and together they would defeat Borryn.