The Rites of Inheritance (Book 1)

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Matt leaned back against a tree trunk and sighed. The land here was sparse, but he’d managed to get a fire going and carve out a nice enough campsite against the edge of a hill. He twisted the signet ring on his finger. After a couple of weeks running back and forth across the Craftling realm, he wasn’t much closer to his goal. Rumors of whispers of information were nowhere near enough to prove Matt’s suspicions of corruption at the Black Palace. Meanwhile more and more people were disappearing into the army’s new recruiting camps and the number of war criminals was at an all-time high. Matt was desperate to contact Piper, but with every passing day it grew more and more dangerous for her.

The sun set quickly on the scrubland. Matt made a meager meal out of bread and jerky. He managed to sit in silence for quite a while before he couldn’t stand it anymore. With one finger he tapped the sigil on his ring and it flared with blue light.

Piper was writing reports at her desk when she felt the flash of the charm at her neck. Her heart skipped a beat. She nearly overturned her chair as she leapt to lock the door of her room. Already short of breath, she pulled the charm out of her shirt. When she tapped it, a halo of blue light surrounded it, reflecting the face of her old friend. “Matt, what are you doing?”

“I said I’d contact you,” he said. “No one noticed did they?”

“No…you actually had pretty good timing. But I don’t think you should be contacting me at all. A lot has changed since you left.”

“I’ll bet.” It was hard to tell in the hazy picture around his ring, but Matt could see how tired Piper looked. Bags under her eyes and the quick movements of someone constantly looking over their shoulder. “What’s been going on?”

Piper shook her head. “Nothing good. They’re trying to keep it quiet, but around the towers you’re being called a traitor. The Emperor sent the Dogs after you. He must know you figured out whatever it is you figured out. And…” she bit her lip “…that prophecy of yours, did it happen to mention any specific, end-of-days kind of things?”

“Like what?”

“Creed says that they rounded up a thousand able-bodied men and women, ages sixteen to twenty-four, from the recruitment camps and took them to the wastelands for experimenting. He doesn’t know what they’re doing, only the Emperor and Asher seem to know that. But even he seems to be afraid, and he’s the Triumvir of Conquest.”

Matt closed his eyes, remembering the look of horror on his grandfather’s face as he died. Sadly, Matt told Piper, “The prophecy says that ‘he will spill the blood of the people to feed the monster’.”

“Monster?” she repeated. “What kind of monster?”

“I’m not sure.” Matt said. “Do you remember the legend about the Ultimate Power?”

“Of course. A power so great that it could defeat any foe, even god himself. But what does that have to do with monsters?”

“More than you know.” Matt looked at his pack. The few achievements he’d made seemed so small now. “Piper,” he met her eyes through the spell, “lie as low as you can. If they ask you about me, deny everything. Defame me, curse me, do whatever you have to. I just need a little bit more time to pull some things together. But I promise, once I find all the information I need, I can stop this prophecy.”

“Are you sure?” She lowered her voice even more. “I could defect. I could come help you.”

“No,” he said firmly. “I need you there. You have to watch them, and let me know what’s going on. Any new weapons, any new programs. Any more people disappearing. You contact me, ok?”

“I don’t like this, Matt,” Piper said. “You’re not safe out there.”

He actually smiled. “I couldn’t be safe anywhere. I’m going to cut off now. I’ll keep recording into the charm for you. Just remember your promise.”

“Always,” Piper said. “You just stay safe, ok?”

“I’ll do my best.” He said. “You too, all right?” Piper nodded. With one last forced smile, Matt cut the communication off.

Things were worse than he’d thought. The prophecy was coming true faster than he could have dreamed. With every drop of blood, the Emperor brought them closer and closer to complete ruin. Matt wondered again if perhaps he should return, try to reason with his father and stop things that way. But he knew it was useless. The greatest weakness of the Dacruum was pride, after all. And that would be the end of them, if Matt somehow failed.

He tapped the sigil on his ring again and it glowed green. “Day 22,” he spoke into the ring like a microphone. “Today, I saw the dragons.”

By the time the sun peaked in the sky, Cassie, Finn, and Kenneth were leaving Vertiis behind. Finn had a new handful of papers and journals to read and Cassie’s brow was furrowed with new worries. Kenneth seemed jittery, like he’d had far too much caffeine. Cassie wondered vaguely if he ever actually slept. As they were lowered to the ground he scanned the forest around them as if he expected more soldiers to leap out from behind the trees. They skirted the patch of new dirt where the crater had been, and followed the path out of the woods.

After walking in silence for a while, Cassie asked. “So, can we take the train to where the next piece of the ring is?”

“No,” Kenneth said. “We have to transport there. But at the outpost there’s a transport stone that will boost our magic; it’ll be safer than trying by ourselves.”

“So our molecules don’t get rearranged?” Finn said. “You’re sure we’re ready for that?”

“Mostly sure,” Kenneth tried to joke. “It should be fine. I told you, we have to go off-world to get the next ring and the only way to get there in our lifetime is to use magic.”

“All you said was that we were going to the Summit,” Cassie reminded him. “Where exactly is that?”

Kenneth thought. “Riimauka from here? That direction doesn’t translate, does it?” Both girls shook their heads. “Ok, well it’s a couple galaxies over, a ways down, and a little bit below us. The real name of the planet is a roar that nobody but dragons can pronounce, so we just call it Dragonworld.”

“Dragons?” Finn said. “Where’s the last piece of the ring, with the faeries?”

“Never call a faerie that to its face if you don’t want your eyes melted,” Kenneth said. Finn shuddered. “I know you heard about most of the Craftlings as legends and myths, but they’re real people. Once upon a time dragons and phoenixes lived on earth and tried to coexist with humans. But after the Sealing…well, things changed. That’s why they turned into no more than stories for your people. But to us they’re the most prominent races. Especially with a quest like this. We’re looking for intellectual artifacts. The only ones that care about stuff like that are humans, phoenixes, and dragons. ”

“Well, dragons are supposed to be extremely wise,” Cassie said.

“They are…something,” Kenneth muttered.

“What was that?” Finn asked.

Kenneth sighed. “Well, dragons aren’t exactly the easiest to deal with. Why do you think they never come to the Consulate? They even sent a proxy to your coronation. They’re incredibly xenophobic. Especially since…” he caught their gazes, “…well, since a long time ago. The Summit is the only thing that passes for a city on that planet. And even that is just Grandmother and her little court.”

“Grandmother?” Cassie repeated.

“The matriarch of all dragons. She’s the Archduchess. Some say that she was born at the very beginning of the universe and can never die. Once you see her, you’ll say the same thing.”

“Well for once, that doesn’t sound too different from our legends,” Finn said. “In China they say that dragons are wise, but vengeful. They have all kinds of stories about dragons that curse people to teach them lessons. And in the west dragons just hole up in volcanoes with giant piles of gold and kill anyone who touches their horde.”

“That is eerily accurate,” Kenneth admitted. “I think because dragons interacted with humans much more than the phoenixes or gryphons ever did. But luckily for us, that horde thing isn’t exactly true. Dragons love collecting things, and they’ll protect them fiercely, but they’ll also let go of them pretty easily if given a good enough reason. They especially love to barter. I’m sure we can get the ring out of them. That’s not what I’m worried about.”

They reached the tiny ghost town of the outpost. Instead of heading for the station, Kenneth turned into one of the smaller buildings nearby. The sign read ‘Transport Office.’ Cassie stopped him before he could go inside. “What are you worried about?”

“It’s nothing,” Kenneth insisted. “Dragons are just hard to deal with. Stubborn, pretentious, and they talk in riddles. Getting the ring might not be hard but getting in and out without wasting days there? That’ll be a trick.”

“Perfect,” Cassie said. “Well I dealt with the unicorns pretty well—“

“Ulcrea,” Kenneth interrupted. “I keep telling you, they’re not called ‘unicorns’”

“Either way,” Cassie went on, “they love their riddles and the long way around, but Anyu was actually pretty helpful. As queen, maybe I can try and get things done more efficiently.”

Kenneth shrugged. “You’re welcome to try.”

They went into the transport office. It was a big empty room with benches against the walls. It looked a little like a bus depot painted all in white. In the very center was a thick, cylindrical pedestal with a gemstone embedded on top. The stone was dull, and covered with a thin layer of dust. There was no one stationed behind the counter, and there didn’t seem to be any other rooms in the building. The only attempt at order was a sign that said, “Please take turns. First come, first gone.”

“Well this is depressing,” Finn said, looking around.

“It gets busier during tourist season,” Kenneth said. He walked up to the pedestal and blew the dust off. “Just wait till you see where we’re going. Come on.” He waved the girls forward. “The spell is engraved into the stone, we just need to provide the power.” He held out his hand and Cassie took it.

Finn hesitated before taking Cassie’s hand. “This isn’t going to be like last time is it?”

“Well, you shouldn’t have as much of a reaction,” Kenneth said. “But I can’t promise anything.”

Finn sighed. “Guess that’ll have to do.” She took Cassie’s hand reluctantly. Kenneth smiled and activated the crystal.

When Cassie opened her eyes, they were standing in a shack in the mountains. The rough-hewn structure was about the size of her living room, but with only three walls. The fourth side was open to the elements, looking out on upper slope of a mountain. The tree line was hundreds of feet beneath them, rocks and scrub dominating the incline this far up. The pedestal with the transport stone was the same as the one back at Vertiis’ station, though it looked older and worn. However here there was a guard. A 30-foot wyvern, curled up in the corner like a snake, dead asleep.

“Well you were right about how much they like visitors,” Cassie said. “How close are we to the Summit anyway?”

“The pass is just up there.” Kenneth stepped out from under the shanty, taking a deep breath of mountain air. “At least the view is nice.”

Cassie followed him, carefully stepping around the wyvern. She hadn’t gotten a close look at the one that had come to the coronation. Wyverns were supposed to be cousins of the dragons, but in reality they looked more like sea serpents. Their bodies were long and agile. This one was covered in dark blue scales, but where his tail started there was a cross-pattern of white scales, like a train. The end of his tail looked like a head of wheat, trailing whiskers but heavy as a mace. The wyvern’s face was similar to a dragon’s, with a thick muzzle and teeth that hung down like fangs. But its eyes popped up like an alligator’s and sharp fins lined its face and the crown of its head. Its four feet were small, with bird-like claws, and hardly looked like they could support the wyvern’s weight. But Cassie had seen one stand at the coronation, his body arching upward to fit into the space. This one had its feet tucked under it like a cat.

“Shouldn’t we wake him up?” Cassie asked.

Kenneth shook his head. “It’s better not to. The less of a to-do we make about coming, the better.”

When she reached the path, Cassie turned to look out at the mountain range. Kenneth was right—the view was beautiful. They stood at the top of one of the smaller points, the peaks around them somehow larger in the distance. From here she could see to the horizon and beyond, hills and fields green and gold in the afternoon light. The mountains themselves were vibrant, even here above the trees. Purple and brown and white with snow. It was like seeing the whole world at a glance, the shining breadth of land that encompassed everything that had ever been or ever would be. The mountains of earth suddenly seemed small and pale beside these giants.

Hefting their packs, they hiked up the mountain. It wasn’t more than forty or fifty yards, but by the time they reached the pass all three of them were out of breath. They stood in the crease between two mountain peaks. Beside the path was a singular monolith of stone, larger than any obelisk Cassie had seen before. A sigil was carved into its center reading: The Summit. Without warning, a russet-colored wyvern slid out from behind the stone to look them over. Cassie wondered exactly how flexible these creatures were, that they could hide so well. No wonder the dragons used them for everything.

“Identification,” the wyvern growled. Since he didn’t move his mouth, Cassie had to guess that they weren’t capable of human speech. Still, his voice sounded in her ears as if he really had spoken. It must be magic of some kind, something a little less invasive than telepathy.

Kenneth pushed Cassie forward with an encouraging nod. With a quick glare over her shoulder, she tried to look as composed as possible. “I am Cassady Brewell. Queen Cassady Brewell. I’m here to speak with the Grandmother.”

The wyvern brought its head close to Cassie, looking her up and down. “You’re the queen?” it said skeptically.

“Oh, right.” Cassie unslung her pack and opened it. After a few awkward moments of digging, she pulled out her crown. The same circlet of white gold that the Ahrra had placed on her head. She put it on now.

The wyvern sniffed it and sneezed, sparks flying out of his nostrils. He cleared his massive throat. “Well then. Right this way, your Majesty.”

They climbed over the pass. Cassie halted just as the path started to lead downward, unsure if it was the lack of air or the view that caught her breath. Beneath them was a valley larger than anything she had ever seen. It seemed to be a natural crater that had been widened to accommodate the size of its inhabitants. And they were huge. The dragons didn’t seem to have any structures. There were ditches filled with food or junk, burrows where dragons covered themselves in loam, and tunnels that led into the mountain itself. But there was an amphitheater in the center that seemed like a gathering place, and dragons were bustling back and forth, bartering with each other, visiting hovels and caves. There was a strange beauty to it, like an anthill on a giant scale.

The smallest dragon Cassie could see was about the size of a two-story house, if you didn’t include its tail, which was easily fifty feet long. It looked like it might be a baby because it was following a dragon about three times its size. All the dragons were long and scaled, their bodies reflecting the light in rainbow patterns that made it hard to determine their color. They had long tails and wings the size of a whole county. Some had horned faces, even horned elbows like lizards. Others were draped in whiskers, thin with delicate claws. A few were fat with long necks and fangs almost as big again as their heads. The only thing they all seemed to have in common was sheer size.

The farther they descended into the valley, the smaller Cassie felt until she seemed no more than a bug walking through a human market. There were wyverns everywhere as well, mostly as guards and servants. Everyone they passed turned to stare at them, but the crown on Cassie’s head deterred comment. A few dragons bowed their heads and grumbled something in their own language. She hoped it was respectful.

When they were halfway across the valley, the wyvern they were following turned, angling downward toward a series of tunnels in the rock. Here there were more piles, everything from clay vases to shells to a broken gargoyle made entirely out of iron. There seemed to be some sort of organization to the piles, but it wasn’t one that could be determined at first glance. They walked through a large archway into a long cavern that led further downward. On the walls a mural had been painted. It seemed to be a history of the dragons, but it was hard to follow. Mostly the pictures were of battles or significant objects.

Two more turns and they entered a cave about the size of the superdome. A nest made of down and straw, mud and stone took up most of the center. But a true dragon horde was piled around it: weapons, jewelry, clothes, pieces of walls decorated with hieroglyphics. The dragons seemed to have collected only things that could claim a place in history. It wasn’t like the hordes in legend, full of anything sparkly. It seemed as if every piece could tell a story of greatness, but now it was just part of the pile. Was this the fate of a hero’s possessions? What things of Casie’s might one day rest here?

The dragon that lay in the nest had to be Grandmother. Under the magelight here in the cavern, her scales only glistened. They were pure white. Her claws, her whiskers, even her eyes were white. There were scars that ran up her legs and down her sides and the tip of her tail was no more than a stump. She was missing one nostril but her ears were up and alert. As they entered, she lowered her head to their level, examining each of them with her pale, dead eyes.

“Hello, my queen,” Grandmother said. Her voice was echoic, as if the magic that sounded it was unsteady. “You honor me with your presence. I wish I could have been there to share in the joy at your coronation, but as you can see, I do not travel so well anymore.” She waved her tail back and forth. “I am greatly pleased that I can meet you now.”

Cassie bowed stiffly. Trying her best to be proper, she relapsed into High Renalian. “Thank you, Grandmother. It is a pleasure to meet you as well. Allow me to introduce the Lord Kenneth L’Athea and my Second, Lady Finnia Morgan.”

Kenneth and Finn stepped up beside Cassie. Finn was looking up in wonder at the dragon, obviously fighting the urge to back away. Kenneth bowed automatically. “Grandmother,” he said.

“I remember you, little one,” Grandmother said. “How fares your mother? It has been a while since I’ve seen her.”

Kenneth actually blushed. “She…she’s well last I heard. Her duties have kept her from travelling lately.”

Grandmother narrowed her eyes at him, but all she said was, “that’s a pity. Please remind her that she is welcome here anytime.”

“Yes, Grandmother,” Kenneth told the ground.

Grandmother turned her attention to Finn, who winced. “Hello Grandmother,” Finn said, trying to curtsy in jeans.

Grandmother chuckled. “I’ve heard much about you, dear. A Malcoh in the Craftling court.”

“I-I’m…” Finn stuttered.

“It’s good,” Grandmother assured her. “The longer you live, the more you come to relish change. A hundred years of the same regime may be stable, but it’s boring. I do not like being bored. And if my men do not lie to me, you and your queen are off to a very interesting start.” Grandmother bared a few more of her teeth in what Cassie hoped was a smile.

“So you know of our quest,” Cassie said.

“Of course.” Grandmother lifted her head a little. “Unlike some, my proxies do not do my business for me. I was in communication during the Consulate, and I voted for you.” Cassie couldn’t help but notice that Kenneth shivered at the mention of Grandmother’s presence at court. “Our brothers the wyverns are invaluable, especially as I grow older.” She nodded to the russet wyvern that had led them there.

He nearly laid himself flat on the ground in a bow. “Thank you, Grandmother.”

“Of course,” she said. “You may return to your post. In fact, if you would all leave us, I would like a private moment with my Queen and her companions.” At least five wyverns that Cassie hadn’t seen slithered out with their russet guide, the sound of shifting piles and the echo of their claws in the cave following them out. When silence descended again, Grandmother lowered her head back to human level. From the bottom of her jaw her head was only two, maybe two and a half, times as tall as Cassie.

“So,” Grandmother said. “I heard that you had left the palace, but I had no idea that you would come to me. Is everything all right?”

“Of course,” Cassie said quickly. “Our quest is going well, actually. We found a clue, a big one, to Mercutio’s research. It will tell us how he performed the Rite, and how to undo it. But…well we need an artifact. The trail led us here.”

Grandmother laughed, a deep rumble in her throat. “There is certainly no shortage of artifacts here. But as far as I know, and I know every object that resides in this valley, I have nothing belonging to Mercutio.”

“What about Elysiaa?” Cassie said. “She had a ring, a gold one split into three pieces.”

“I tracked it here,” Kenneth said. “If it isn’t here, then it was here long enough to leave a strong essence. Can you remember anything like that?”

Grandmother’s tail swung back and forth again. She exhaled deeply through her one nostril, almost blasting them back with hot air. “Oh dear,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Cassie said.

“I do know of such a ring. I kept it right here with me, until a few days ago.”

“What?” Kenneth’s hesitancy suddenly disappeared. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that I gave it away,” Grandmother said, stern enough to cow Kenneth again. “A few days ago, a young boy came to me asking for the ring. He knelt right where you’re standing and told me of a prophecy made by Elysiaa herself. I am firmly on our side in the war against the Dacruum, but innocent lives are innocent lives. When he told me of the atrocities he was trying to stop, I gave him the ring. I had no idea that his quest and yours might be connected.”

“It’s the same man,” Kenneth said, turning to Cassie. “The same guy that tried to get into Vertiis. I told you he was after the rings!”

“Yes,” Cassie said thoughtfully. “But if anything, this proves that he’s on our side. He wants the rings for the same reason that we do—to stop the Ultimate Power. If we can find him, we can convince him to give the ring back. It’ll only work for the heir of Mercutio anyway. Once he knows that, he may even help us.”

“He’s still a Dacruum,” Kenneth said. “What helps his people won’t necessarily help us. He may not want the universe destroyed, but he still wants us destroyed.”

“If I may say something,” Grandmother said, causing Kenneth to flinch, “the boy did not seem to be the destructive type. I would not have given him the ring if I thought that he would be a danger to our people.”

“I-that’s not what I meant, Grandmother,” Kenneth stammered.

“We have to find him to get the ring back either way,” Finn pointed out. “We can reserve judgment on him until then. The most important thing is to find the rings. Can you track him from here using it?”

Kenneth looked around. “Well, the essence is still strong.” He sighed. “Where did you keep the ring, exactly? I can try to find a trail from there.”

Grandmother pointed with her tail. “The second pile on the right, closest to me. It was somewhere near the middle.”

Finn was sure it was only Kenneth’s fear of Grandmother that kept him from muttering unsavory things under his breath. He went to the pile and ran his hand over the air in front of it. Sitting, he closed his eyes, placing one hand against the loose stacks of gold and silver. After a while he started to glow with the same purple light as his shields.

Grandmother shifted in her nest. “Well, this should take some time,” she said. “Sit, sit girls. This will be the perfect chance for us to get to know each other.”

Cassie and Finn exchanged a glance. Finn seemed worried but Cassie shrugged and sat down. “I guess there is something I want to ask you, Grandmother,” she said.


“That boy,” Cassie said hesitantly, “the one who came here. Can you tell us more about him?”

“The boy?” Grandmother repeated. “I’m not sure what else there is. I only spoke with him briefly. But he was earnest, if that’s what you mean. I feel he speaks true, and will be reasonable when you find him.”

Cassie tried not to sound too eager when she asked, “What did he look like?”

Grandmother considered this. “A bit older than you I would say, dark hair and light eyes. He’s darker-skinned, with that ashy tint they get on Alpha Daeori. He seemed strong. It’s hard to tell with humans though. But he was honest, and patient. Why do you ask?”

Cassie looked away. The pit that had started to form in her stomach last night was growing. “It’s…it’s nothing. We’ll have to work with him eventually. I’m just…curious.”

Grandmother rustled as she settled down in her nest. “Now I will ask you something,” she said. Her white eyes were piercing, but her voice was good-humored. “Both of you have not been in this life very long. My sources at court bring me conflicting information about you; makes it hard to know one’s leaders. While you are here, perhaps I can do us both a service and make a more concrete picture of you. Would you allow me to divine your fortunes?”

“No,” Cassie said automatically. “I mean, no thank you. I know too much about my future already.”

“Not your future, your fortune,” Grandmother insisted. “The two are very different. Your fortune begins before you are even born, and continues long after you die. It is who you are, not what lies ahead.”

“If you know the legacy of the royal family, you know my fortune,” Cassie said. “It’s not exactly a mystery. I think the people know me well enough.” After a string of ancestors who had sacrificed their lives in the name of duty, Cassie wasn’t keen on finding out that she would become like them one day. The illusion of free will was slipping away as it was.

Before Grandmother could press further Finn sat forward. “What about me? You could do mine. Although, I’m not magic or anything. Could you still see my fortune?”

“Of course I can,” Grandmother looked Finn up and down with her milky eyes. “You have no reservations?”

Finn glanced at Cassie. Maybe there was a burden that came with destiny, she thought. Finn couldn’t help but remember Elysiaa, bedridden and alone at the end of her life. But prophecy was what had brought them there. If Cassie was right and their destiny really was written in stone, wouldn’t it be better to know? “I’m ready,” Finn said. “It’s my turn to see something.”

Grandmother nodded her giant head. “All right then.” She brought one claw forward. “What hand do you do your work with?”

“Uh…I’m right-handed,” Finn said.

“Your right then,” Grandmother agreed. “Press it to your heart and close your eyes.” Finn followed her instruction. “Breathe deeply, and try to clear your mind. Now, give me your other hand.” Finn reached out and met a cold, white talon. She opened her eyes and looked up at Grandmother. The dragon’s eyes were closed, and a white glow was creeping over her.

“Your heritage is strong,” Grandmother said in a low voice. “The Krusa of Earth, a proud and resilient race. Your mother taught you well, more so than you realize. You will need to draw upon that strong foundation, so never forget where you come from. Part of that, however, means learning a Krusa’s wisdom, and knowing when to walk away. It is both a strength and a weakness the way you charge headfirst into things. Comes from a need you have to be in control, to always succeed. Such impulses are understandable, even admirable, until the day that you reach beyond your grasp. On that day everything within you will tell you to keep going, but you must walk away.” Grandmother paused. Her claw was warming up. Finn wished she could see the images that the dragon could. “The path ahead is unclear, which means you have many choices to make. You will love too much, trust too easily, and fight too fiercely. I would caution you not to, but you will do it anyway.” The dragon took a long breath in and out through her nostril. Her breath smelled like charcoal and cherry wood. “Three things I see. Three things will come to you that will define your role in the future, but you must be wise enough to recognize them. A true weapon, a true power, and a true love. Accept these into your heart, and use them well. Remember, you aren’t bound by the same legacy as the queen, no matter how much you want to protect her. Your path is your own, and you must keep true.” Grandmother opened her eyes.

“Is-is that it?” Finn asked.

“Yes,” Grandmother said. “That is all I can see for now. Fortunes are…tricky. What a person is, was, and will one day become is a fluid notion. This is not a Seeing after all. I cannot know what you will have to face, only who you will be when you do so.”

“I guess so,” Finn said. “I just don’t really understand it all. When you say—“

With a sudden crash the pile of gold collapsed on top of Kenneth and he disappeared with a squawk-like cry. The girls surged to their feet. “Ken, are you all right?” Cassie called.

“Mostly,” Kenneth said, shedding rings and chains as he stood up. “That wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but at least I did it.”

“You figured out where he is?” Cassie said.

Kenneth walked over, shaking gold pieces out of his pants. “No, but I figured out where he’s going to be. Wherever he is, the essence is masked, I can’t pinpoint it. He’s probably hiding from more hunters. But I can see that the next piece of the ring is on Earth, and we know that’s where he’s headed. If we go now, we might be able to catch him.”

“Now?” Finn said. “But I…” she looked at Grandmother.

“Go dear,” Grandmother said. “There’s nothing more I can tell you. Don’t take this to mean that you are weak. Take strength from it. The rest, you will understand in time.” She pulled her claw back, lifting her head with another teeth-baring smile. “My people are lucky that you have come to be our Second.” The dragon dipped her head in a clear bow.

“Thank you,” Finn said, bowing in return.

“Goodbye Grandmother,” Cassie said. “Thank you so much for your help.”

“Goodbye my queen,” she responded. “My lord, my lady. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“Thank you Grandmother,” Kenneth gave an especially deep bow. “Sorry for rushing off like this.” To the girls he said, “Come on, let’s finish this.”

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