Daelyn and Baylor let the gentle breeze flow under their wings to lift them high above the forests of Kilaborn, closing their eyes with the pure pleasure of flying. Using their tails to bank and steer, they followed the direction of the stars as Daelyn took the lead. Baylor watched his only son proudly, admiring his strength and the ease with which his magnificent wings cut through the air. It amazed him that they were once again coming to the rescue of the human child, wondering why they loved this small girl so strongly. She was a head strong, disobedient, mischievous little imp who ruled their hearts to the point of putting their lives in danger for her. Had she cast a spell on them? His heart beat fiercely for this child and the thought of the troll harming her in any way made his blood boil with rage. They could only hope she managed to elude the nasty tempered troll and found safety and shelter somewhere. As the landscape below gave way to rocky hills, Daelyn dipped his wing at his father, tucked them in, and dove straight down into a nosedive. Following, Baylor knew this was the last place his son saw his human sister.
Landing gracefully, the two shadow dragons sniffed the rocky earth for signs of Starlyn.
“Over here, son!” Baylor exclaimed as he sniffed a spot on the ground between two pines, “I can smell her here, along with the stench of the Atranoch. They must have passed by here not more than twelve hours ago.”
They followed her trail until another odor made Daelyn snort and snap his head up in fear.
“The troll, father! He’s following them!” he cried in shock, fearful for her life, “We have to hurry!”
As they continued to sniff and follow the trail, Baylor noticed something amazing. “Son,” he announced, “he’s not following them. He’s traveling WITH them!”
Confused, Daelyn sniffed the ground, confirming his father’s discovery. “What are they doing walking together? The troll must be leading them to his lair by force! It’s the only explanation!”
“Is it?” Baylor said, chuckling, “Think about it, and think of Starlyn. Anyone who has ever come in contact with the child has been mesmerized by her. Why should the troll be any different?”
“By the Gods,” Daelyn breathed, “Of course. She’s always been drawn to those who were outcasts; the ugly and unwanted. It’s just her nature. Oh, Father, I think I’ve ruined her trust in me forever after I killed that male Atranoch! She was protecting him. She begged me to stop, but I didn’t listen!”
“Don’t chastise yourself, Dae,” his father told him, “You thought you were protecting her and with time, she’ll see that.”
Daelyn nodded miserably, not convinced she would.
As the two dragons followed her scent, a skittering sound brought out a snort of surprise from Daelyn. It was so close, he thought, stopping in mid-stride to try and catch the perpetrator in his sight. Baylor snorted and spun around after feeling a sharp tug on his tail but saw nothing, only the sound of something retreating. Daelyn reeled back in pain as a well aimed stone caught the end of his tender muzzle and bounced down onto the rocky ground near his feet. Snarling in a rage, he lunged forward at the unseen offender, ready to administer a sound thrashing. Turning around in confusion, he saw his father dealing with the same invisible adversary; snarling and turning to seek for the offender. Whatever it was, it was lightening fast or maybe even invisible, Daelyn thought.
“Father, what is this?” he asked as another painful rock struck his head, “I can’t see them!″
“I think they’re Forest Changlings,” Baylor answered, “Be careful, they can dangerous if there’s too many of them. Stay close, Dae, don’t let them separate us.”
Whispers, soft as the swaying grass, a chorus of sand-papery chattering no louder than butterfly wings that came from behind, above and in between the shadows. Brushes of soft hands on leathery scales made the dragons whip around to see only movement ducking behind trees as elusive as quicksilver.
“Father they’re everywhere!” Daelyn cried, “What do we do?”
“We play their game,” Baylor said, “They’re mischievous, not harmful, just full of the devil. Ignore them, they’ll tire of their games soon enough.”
Daelyn did just that, ignored the touches and whispers and even when they got angry, pinching and poking, he pretended they were no more annoying than a cloud of mosquitoes. Like his father said they would, they soon grew tired of not getting a response and left the two dragons to go about their business.
As the landscape inclined, soon they could see above the canopy of trees and the snow-capped Arrowhead mountains. The elders spoke of a cavern nearby called the Cave of Echoes. It was impossible to see from the air and most found it by accident. But all who ventured inside told of strange sounds and voices deep within that lured them even deeper until lost, they wandered within until hunger and fear made them give up and were never seen again. He hoped Starlyn didn’t find that particular cave and prayed she was safe.
Starlyn was jolted out of her slumber by an indeterminable sound. The wolves must have heard it as well, she thought, looking at their upright ears. As quietly as she could, she eased out of her position next to Anastas, careful not wake her new friend as she stepped over her. The sound was coming from a small passageway to the right, laughter like the tinkling of a thousand tiny bells seeming to come from deep within the cave. Lifting Gorvanal’s home made torch from the crack in the cave’s wall, Starlyn followed the sound.
Following the passage by the glowing yellow of the torch, she gasped with wonder as it opened up into a small cavern lined with Fluorite. The crystal, transparent until the torch light hit it, gave off a brilliant purple color that dazzled Starlyn’s eyes. Moving to the middle of the cavern, she spun around slowly, delighting in the way the colors shimmered and danced on the walls. The sound seemed louder in here, more defined, but it was coming from another, wider, passageway. Though reluctant to leave the beautiful cavern, Starlyn followed the musical sound deeper into the cave.
Passing stalactites and stalagmites, so old they were almost tip to tip, she continued as the sighs, tinkling laughter and tiny voices led her on. As she walked through the second cavern lit by the light of the torch, she started feeling strange. The second cavern was by no means as beautiful as the first, in fact, it was rather frightening. When the torch light hit the walls, spiders darted back into the cracks. White, transparent creatures, they were large and all she could see after they hid, were their glowing eyes. Shuddering in disgust, she could feel the sadness seeping into her very bones as walked on to the next passage where the sounds of voices grew louder still.
“Where are you?” she called out, “Please show yourselves! I’m frightened!”
Giggles and lowered whispers mocked her. “Show yourselves....I’m frightened!..” they echoed.
She turned in confusion as the torch dimmed. The sounds were all around her and they didn’t sound as magical as when she first heard them. They teased, growled and mocked her, tiny, unseen hands tugging her hair or poking her. Ducking and swatting, Starlyn tried to fend them off until finally she’d had enough.
“Stop it this instant!” she yelled hotly, stamping her tiny foot, “I’ve done nothing to you!”
Everything stopped. The giggles, the growls and the tugging ended as if they never were.
“Instead of being rude and downright mean,” she told them, “How about introducing yourselves and so we can be friends!”
Without warning, Starlyn found herself toppled roughly to the floor of the cavern, crying in pain as her shoulders scraped the rock. She felt little hands binding her feet with some sort of rope and she didn’t even have time to kick out at them when they finished and she was unable to move. She let out one shrill scream when a dirty rag was stuffed in her mouth and the small hands carried her off into the darkness.