After traveling all day, Kiaran and Ryker came to a stop to set up camp. They were only a few miles away from the carnivorous mouth of the Hollow Mountain.
As Kiaran sat, she stared at the sky past the trees above her. Her knees were pulled to her chest, her hands hugging her toes. Ryker sat beside her, watching the wind blow the branches side to side. It was calm, and it was exactly what they needed.
“Do you miss him?” his voice was distant.
“I do,” she nodded, lowering her eyes slightly.
“...Are you worried?” he questioned at a whisper.
She nodded. Then, after a moment, she said, “Ryker, I’ll speak with Stella and Cyrin when we get back to the city. We’ll form a plan.”
He nodded, rubbing his tired, if not emotional, eyes. “Now, get some sleep. We’ll see the Great Dragon tomorrow,” she said.
He smiled, watching her for a moment. She could feel his gaze even as she moved to gather up her blankets. “Kiaran.” She paused and looked over a shoulder at him. “Um,” he paused, as if just realizing he had even spoken her name. “I want to thank you.”
“For taking care of me,” he shrugged. “I know you didn’t have to bring me along. Or even bring me as far as to meet Kriettor.”
“Oh,” she exhaled. “It’s alright. I find your company rather...comforting.”
He beamed and her heart ached slightly. He was much different from her little sister back in Kamoni. But each time he smiled, she wished that much harder that Grace was still alive. That she’d still be with her, to experience all the things she was never lucky enough to know.
Guilt flooded Kiaran the longer she watched him. Why did Grace have to be the one to die? Of either of them to escape that torment and to learn of a clearer, warmer world, it had to be Kiaran? At least Grace would've had a chance to grow and adjust. Kiaran was thrust into it, barely surviving.
Finally, she forced her gaze away, fighting off the lump in her throat. Taking in a deep breath, she held it a moment, before continuing her tasks.
The next afternoon, they had reached the breathing cave. Warm air rushed in and out of the entrance as if it were a giant mouth. “What is this?” Ryker awed, the wind brushing his hair about.
Kiaran grinned, saying, “He is very powerful.” Her eyes lit up as she took in the scene.
She reached into her pack, pulling out a small torch. Lighting it, they moved through the overly-large entrance. Submerged completely into darkness, they inched forward, the torch providing little light. Finally, in the distance, they could see the soft glow of lava. She could feel Ryker becoming excited as he rushed his walk.
Rounding into Kriettor’s room, they were met with a deep, guttural purr. His massive stature and his dark scales made him look menacing, but she knew he was a loving creature.
Ryker froze in his place, staring with wide eyes. Kriettor stretched his neck toward Kiaran, lowering his head to her. She placed a hand on his massive snout.
A touch of guilt rushed her as she connected with him once more. The argument they previously shared did not end on the best of terms between them.
However, he said, "Ta escile. Do not fret." She could feel a sense of forgiveness and some of his own guilt reach her.
He closed his silver eyes. His veins shot across her hand and up her forearm. Ryker gasped sharply as he stepped toward her, concerned. The dragon had linked his heart with hers, to see what she had previously gone through, and likewise, he showed her what he had done. It was as if they were one being. Her eyes closed as she felt like her mind was meshed with his, speaking freely together without ever opening their mouths.
In their own world, the large Great Dragon and Kiaran, standing before one another in a dimension of darkness.
“You are troubled, Kiaran,” he spoke. Her frown remained as her brows creased. As her heart shattered, it felt as though the giant dragon had pulled her to him for comfort. “Is the King Brother’s absence still weighing heavily?”
“Yes,” she said softly.
“So tell me, ta escile...You fell in love with him, yes?” he sighed.
“I...” within the blackness off their connection, in her outer body experience, she fell to her knees, tears filling her eyes. “I have,” she admitted to herself. In this state she was unable to lie to herself or to Kriettor. The truth was as clear as day for the first time in her life.
“All will be well, Kiaran,” he said, “Have faith.”
“But How?” she questioned. “You refuse to help me. I can’t just march in there and take him back.”
“And why not?” he questioned. “I’m sure that is how you will do it in the end.”
With that, he pulled back from her and she opened her eyes. Her face was dry--tearless. She faced Ryker who watched anxiously. “What just happened?” he asked, “You just...went blank for a few minutes with his root things all over your arm.”
“We were connected for a more...intimate conversation. In that mode, I am absent of my body in a way...so we can talk without worrying about the rest of the world around us,” she explained.
“Anyway,” she turned around to face Kreittor again, “This is my new comrade, Ryker. Family, if you will.”
A deep purr rumbled from within his chest as he brought his head to the boy. Ryker straightened his back, as he leaned away slightly. Kiaran lifted a hand into his view, reminding him to touch the dragon. That was one of the most intimate ways to connect with the creatures.
Nodding slightly, he hesitantly placed his small hand on the dragon’s snout. His scales were hot to the touch, the lava around them keeping him warm.
Kreittor’s silver eyes slid to Kiaran, saying, “I like him.”
“He is a good child,” she agreed. She could feel a swelling of acceptance; Kriettor very much liked Ryker.
He lifted his head, standing tall and walked away. His tail swayed with his stride, his wings folded tightly against his back. Curling up onto the floor, he watched them. “So...tell me of your travels,” he said.
Ryker stared at Kiaran, whispering in very hushed excitement, “He-he’s asking me?”
“Most dragons don’t talk, but you can empathize with them, feeling what they feel. Kriettor and Lirra are the only dragons I am aware of that share human words,” she explained. “And yes. He’s talking to you.”
“That is amazing,” he croaked to himself. He bounced himself before the dragon.
“Aye,” she snickered. “And he wishes to hear of our journey in Trindal.”
After a long conversation and much laughter, Kriettor purred, his happiness radiating to both of them. ”Kiaran,” he began, ”ta escile..."
“Yes?” she asked.
"Take your child home. Be safe.”
“Is everything alright?”
"Perhaps in time..." he answered woefully. ”Go, and be careful on your travels.” After a moment's pause, he spoke only to her again. "Trust in your instincts. You're a natural survivor. You'll get him out."
She stared at him, then nodded once. "Thank you," she wiped her dampening eyes.
Kiaran lounged in the sitting room with Ritiann, smiling with her. She told her how Davin was scared by a small spider, and then about the irony of fighting giant spiders. “I imagine he soiled his pants,” Ritiann laughed.
“I would think so, as well,” she answered, a twinge of depression lingering over her, “But he was the calm one...Whereas I was paralyzed...”
“That would make anyone panic, my child,” she smiled. Kiaran was caught in her mother’s soft smile and sweet eyes. “I am glad you have come back home.” Her eyes lowered to the flower that Kiaran had been gently touching, as if she didn’t realize she was doing it at all. A smile spread across her lips and she said, “A beautiful flower.”
Kiaran flushed slightly as she hid it in her hands. “A gift,” she answered lowly.
“From your king friend?” she asked. “Kiaran, it is...” As her daughters eyes locked with hers, she paused. She couldn’t bare to continue to scold her about a relationship that wouldn’t go forward...Kiaran already knew. This was not the time. With his abduction, she didn't need to hear it.
Kiaran lowered her gaze, saying, “Mother...” Ritiann’s heart leapt. That was the first she had called her that. “I must tell you who Ryker really is.”
“Alright,” she raised a brow slightly in curiosity.
“He is Arrimen’s child,” she said bluntly. Ritiann’s face turned pale, her lips frowning. Leaning back in her chair, she grew silent. Heartbroken. Her hand pressed to her stomach as if she were ill. “I understand why you didn’t keep him...” she began, “But...Why didn’t you take him back after you married Estiahn?”
She remained still for a long moment before answering, “I was unworthy...” Her heart was visibly broken as she lowered her head, “It was too late by then. Why take him from who he was raised by? At that point, she was his mother, not I.” It made sense, although it was rather depressing.
Her eyes shot to Kiaran and she said, “I have a grandchild...”
“Yes,” she smiled slightly.
“Well, that is nice,” she panted with a short smile. “How was my son?”
“He seemed well enough,” she nodded.
“That is good. And he was living in Trindal?” She nodded. “Perhaps, sometime soon...I could see him one last time.”
“...One last time?” she asked, her brows drawing low.
Ritiann smiled weakly, saying, “I am not going to last much longer, child,” she said. “I’d love to see my family together before I die.”
“I will try,” she said softly. If Arrimen was dead like Ryker feared, Ritiann’s heart would surely die.
Ellsibellem walked in, bowing to the two women. “Your Highness Kiaran, you have a letter.” As she stood, she handed it to her.
“Thank you, Ellsi,” Kiaran replied as she took it. The young woman turned and left.
“Who is it from?” Ritiann asked curiously.
Nurra walked around her feet, watching anxiously. Kiaran’s hands grew tense as she held the envelope. “It is written simply from ‘the Zeil’...”
“You seem bothered...”
“I am,” she breathed. “This must not be good.”
Opening the paper, she began to read it:
Although you are gone, we still view you as the true leader of the Zeil, appointed by our dear Fargo. We are to warn you that Walter, against all of our pleading, has taken over the throne. He has met with the queen of Trindal VinCar, and since Torin’s arrival, we’ve discovered this could be very bad.
It is of great importance that you are involved. I am sorry I cannot explain in detail what is going on, but it is best to not put it on paper. Please, do not worry for our welfare, the Tribe is only growing stronger, and we shall take your warning and head to our sister tribe. But the country is soon to be in turmoil. We need you to assist us. We realize you run your own country now, but you are always a part of our family. Please do not forget us.
Kane and Raven
Kiaran’s heart sank and she slowly stood. “Ritiann, I need to go...Something bad is going to happen.”
She sighed, saying, “You must be careful how often you leave your own city. We are in a war, my daughter.”
“It will engulf us all, Ritiann,” she warned sternly, her eyes distant. “Sterjia is to end us all.”
Nurra followed Kiaran out of the room, trilling softly at her. She crushed the paper in her fist as her pace quickened. Rounding the corner, she broke into a sprint down the hall. The large windows beside her were open, allowing the cool, evening air to rush over her.
She was worried, her nerves racked with pain. The Zeil never asked for her help, knowing it could be handled without her. However, Walter was a stern man. Perhaps his desires were getting the best of him.
She leapt down the few steps that led outside. Standing in the moonlight, she froze, closing her eyes. “Kiaran?” Cyrin’s voice cut in. When she didn’t turn to him, he said, “What is wrong?”
“Has Ruthianna returned yet?” she demanded.
She cursed under her breath and said, “The Zeil asked for my help,” she said.
“Are you going?” he frowned.
“Not to them. But I must do something,” she said, as if he should have known.
“Why?” he grunted. “We are at war, Kiaran. You cannot abandon us for some friends you made in Rishana.”
Her face washed over with anger as she retorted, “They were my first family and I was given the role as their leader. I cannot abandon them when they truly need me.” With a snarl, she said, “Listen to me: Walter has taken the throne--which I told you is cursed--All of Rishana is cursed to have bad kings. He met with Sterjia. She is targeting us...I can feel it.”
All the blood rushed from his face as he tensed. She took a step back, saying, “I must go. I need to speak with Kriettor.” Hesitantly, he nodded.
Once in the large stables, Kiaran readied one of the dragons. She placed a new saddle on its back, strapping it together tightly. Nurra ran to her feet and she paused. “Nurra...stay here and watch my mother. Watch Ryker. Aye?” The dragon grew anxious, refusing at first, but as she insisted, he agreed.
Uncertainty made her worry, and the worry made her sick. Walter had spoken with Sterjia--perhaps he really was betraying everyone.
She felt drained of all energy and her focus was faulty. Unnerved and feeling freshly vulnerable, she raced through the lands toward the Hollow Mountain.
Soon, she reached it, left her rider at the entrance, and darted to Kriettor. The mountain rumbled beneath her as if something was bothering him. Reaching the room, she stood before him, her knees aching at the constant movement of the floor.
Kriettor lied down, holding an upturned claw for her to sit in. As she did, she wrapped an arm around the claw that acted as a thumb. “Tell me,” Kiaran began anxiously, speaking in Draken. “What is happening? It's only been a week since I've left here.”
"The northern mountains,” he hummed, also speaking in the ancient language. ”They are being ransacked by Brinn and others that are not of...nature.”
“What do you mean?”
“They are attacking the trees, the land, the mountains, the dragons. It is all being taken siege. I’ve done all I can to keep them away, but they have overtaken an acre.”
“One acre is hardly anything to be worried about,” she sighed. “I will send men to protect the dragons.”
"Please do so, my child, for the dragons are our strongest defense against magic.” It grew silent, Kiaran’s blood curdling and her stomach acids rising. ”What is it, my child?" he asked.
“I am...worried,” her brows creased. “Worried for my people...for you, for...”
"Your Tribe? For the King Brother?” he replied lowly. She cast a long, dark glare, the light from the magma reflecting off his scales and glowing across her skin.
“I worry." She could still feel a bit of pain burning in her wound from the ambush as he was taken away. "Kreittor, what happened? What is going on? Tell me why she wants Davin! Why is Walter working with her?"
Confusion frustrated her to the point of tears. "What happened?” she asked frantically.
"Sterjia's blocked my view of her. But as far as I can tell, she had approached Walter. She wanted a trade: Davin for protection in the oncoming war.”
Fear was soon replaced with anger and hatred. “That son of...Walter? How could he--” She cut short with a growling curse. "Why did she want him? Why take him?"
"I cannot say," he huffed.
She stood, the weight of everything collecting in her gut. “I suppose it is too much to ask for you to bond with me? End this war outright?" she grunted.
He blinked once, an obvious answer.
"Fine," she stood, trying to find her center. Calming her nerves. "I'll figure something out." She had to.
Kiaran, Cyrin, Ritiann, and Ryker all sat together on a veranda overlooking the courtyard. It was quiet, no one willing to put an idea out there. Kiaran was obviously upset and her mind was betraying her as she tried to find a solution. She watched Cyrin as he ran a hand over his knuckles, bouncing his fingers off of them as if counting them.
That’s when it hit her. “What about the man that healed your hands, Cyrin?” Kiaran asked.
“Myrin?” he asked.
“Aye, what if he could help us against these magics? Teach us new ways to ward them off or fight them,” she pressed her ideas.
“He is dead,” he said lowly. All hope faded away as she lowered her eyes. “He had a son in Rishana...” he said lowly.
“Do you know where?”
He thought for a long moment and said, “In a small city near the east. It is called...” He thought longer then continued, “Revin. It is Revin.”
“That is where I shall go.”
“I’ll go with you,” Ryker suggested.
“I don’t believe that is safe,” Ritiann said slowly as she sat on the edge of her seat.
He lowered a brow, saying, “I held off a giant spider.” His voice was flat and his expression was blank.
“Well,” the woman smiled a little, looking to Kiaran. Kiaran sighed heavily, and said, “You’ve made your point, Ryker. You can go.”
“Pack plenty of things,” Ritiann said wearily. “Take care, and do not find yourself in a bind, my dear.”
“I am always in a bind,” Kiaran replied as she stood. Cyrin took her by the hand and pulled her off to the side, the others watching curiously. She lowered a brow at him and pulled her hand away, asking, “What?”
“You must think carefully,” he warned her. “Am I to come with you or stay here to guide the captains and generals?”
She pondered upon that for several minutes. She knew he'd want to come, to help protect her, keep her moving so she'd return as soon as possible. But the responsibility here was unrelenting. “I have plenty of allies in Rishana,” she answered slowly. “Once I find Myrin’s son, I will return here before I do anything else.”
“As you say,” he bowed his head, his eyes still locked with hers. “Might I say something else, your Highness?”
“Of course,” she nodded.
"And Cyrin?" He watched her. Her heart thrummed uneasily, their eyes locked. She had spent more time with him than nearly anyone else. Worry flooded her--what if something were to happen to him as well?
Ignoring the feeling, she changed her mind. Instead, she told him what Kreittor had warned her of. "Please. Send some men to protect the northern borders."
"Yes," he nodded once. "Of course."