A young dragon awakens after a long hibernation period only to find that his family's den has decayed beyond recognition. "What happened here?" he asks, but receives no answer.
After an exhaustive search of the den, he finds the entrance partially blocked by vegetation. He bites and claws through to find the sun glaring into his eyes, and stumbles down the side of the mountain to the soft underbrush below. Despite the fall, he is able to get up and walk to a nearby water hole that seems familiar to him, and bathes.
Hidden behind the lush greenery, the hellspawn called Blackthorne the cat watches the bathing figure with great curiosity. It's been a long time since he had his last meal, and his desperately growling stomach tells him that, in the absence of animals, birds, lawyers and guardsmen, he could probably take a small nibble at the splashing stranger. All that stops him is a nagging feeling that by doing so he would somehow make the biggest mistake of his life... so, with a hiss, Blackthorne turns away and his sleek black shape disappears amid the trees.
The bathing form changes from dragon to that of a human nature. After getting out and drying of in the sun, he goes back to the water hole for a drink and is startled by the new appearance there.
"Human, why are you here" he asks, not noticing right away that the mirror image is matching his phrase verbatim. Finally it dawns on him that he is the human.
/But how did that happen?/ he wondered. /Can I do it again?/
Stepping back into the water, the young one tries again to morph. This time a new form emerges, that of a feline, but of a variety that he doesn't know. Searching through his memory, the Kit remembers his name: "Tigre", and that he was part of a family that now seems to have been decimated.
Returning to dragon form was easy for Tigre. He practiced morphing into all his forms at least three times a day. One time each for each form. Every so often, usually when he was in 'human form', Tigre would sense that he had yet another name, and that there was a familiar presence that has been watching him.
"I know that you are there, Great One," he mewed reverently one day, "I am ready to learn the lessons that you have for me."
As he spoke these words, a tall figure floated into the clearing as if from nowhere. It was hard to see whether it was male or female, or whether it was in fact human, for all that could be seen was a dark-blue cape that seemed to shift and change around its bearer like a cloud.
"Don't be afraid, young dragon," the apparition said in a voice that was as old as a grave. "I'm no Great One you seek, but I do wish to help you. You shall achieve nothing by staying in this godforsaken place. Follow the mountain path to the south and go over to Britain. Find the young woman they call Daria and show her this amulet that rightfully belongs to you."
Tigre watches in amazement as a thin hand of the stranger throws something small and silvery towards him, and as he barely manages to catch it, the creature disappears into the forest as discreetly as it came. Meanwhile, lying in Tigre's palm is an amulet in a form of a silver dragon.
Not even looking up at the stranger, Tigre replies, "I shall do as you say," and starts on his journey south.
With the amulet fastened around his neck, Tigre follows the path to Britain in his feline form at first, but soon realizes that it does have its drawbacks...
"AH! A TIGER! RUN!"
"Come here cute little kitty."
"AH HA! Another trophy for my den!" The hunter who uttered this statement barely survived the encounter, as did young Tigre. The dragon chose his 'human form' next and found that it was easier to walk around populated areas this way than the feline way. As he approached the next town he was stopped by the guards, who asked his business in the area.
"I am on my way to Britain. Is this it?" Tigre asked them politely, and awaited their response.
"Yes, it is", answered one of the guards, sizing up Tigre and noting the curious lack of weapons or provision. "Only I would be careful if I were you, for it is not a safe road to travel these days. The damned headless have been more trouble than usual lately."
"Headless?" Tigre asked the obliging guard, nervously and said "I'll make sure I keep an eye out for them then."
Having gained entry into Britain, Tigre began an active search for the mysterious person Blackthorne told him to find... Daria... After searching for about a couple hours he began to get hungry.
/How will I go about getting food when I don't have the coin for it?/ Tigre wondered. To trade the amulet for coin would be a foolish gesture, even if it did help him to buy food. Transforming into a cat may help, but doing so may also get him killed by rowdies or something else. Dracoform was definitely out! Why panic the citizens?
Concerned with how he would get the coin he needed for a meal, Tigre leaned on an imaginary post without falling. A passer-by noticed this and threw him a couple coppers for the act. Not noticing, Tigre continued to stand there, thinking about what to do about a meal, and crossed his legs. Soon a group of people stopped to see what the newcomer was doing and tossed a few coins his way. Tigre looked down at his feet and saw a pile of coins!
Stunned, he didn't even notice his audience, and thanked whoever helped him out. "YOU'RE WELCOME!" The audience replied and went their separate ways. All except one person left...
The young woman standing before Tigre looks him over thoughtfully, then says: "Forgive my curiosity... but how did you come about owning this amulet you're wearing?" What the young dragon can't see is that she's wearing an identical amulet under her bright-blue blouse.
A giant black cat Tigre hasn't seen a second ago gave him a malevolent hiss of recognition and brushed against his legs, then, apparently having lost interest, started to wash his paw instead.
Daria looks at the stranger with a new interest. "I've -never- seen Blackie reacting so friendly to a stranger before... who -are- you?"
"My lady," the stranger said as he bowed to pet the seemingly familiar cat,"I am known as 'Tigre', but I can't help but feel as though I may have another name."
Tigre also began to gather his new found wealth, but sensed that the lady may have wanted more information than just his name...
"I am, or shall I was, the last of my clan... "he continued cautiously, "I was told, by a mysterious source, that another has survived the cataclysm that destroyed the Cavern Weyrs to the north..."
/Maybe I have said too much?/ Tigre thought to himself, then said "I am searching for someone named 'Daria', who is said to live in this town. Are you her?"
"Yes, my name is Daria," said the young woman, "and if you value having both arms attached to your body you won't try to pet Blackthorne again. He may act friendly but I assure you he won't tolerate this kind of thing, not even from me. Anyway, this is not a good place to have a talk, so do you want to go somewhere less draughty? If you trust me, that is."
"I place my life into thy hands, my lady..." Tigre said bowing, "Shall we get under way?" Tigre also heeded the warning about touching the cat, but wondered /Where may have I seen him before?/
As they went on their way, Tigre asked, "The guards at the gate said something about 'Headless'... What are they?" Daria looks at him with surprise. "You must be jesting! Haven't you seen those monsters? Human-shaped, but no head?" But Tigre's face told her that the young man wasn't joking.
A few minutes later, they came to the shabby-looking tavern whose barely visible name Tigre couldn't make out, as the tavern keeper apparently hasn't bothered to replace the faded sign ruined by the rain and the sun. To his surprise, the place was rather clean and well-maintained on the inside, and not very crowded at this time of the day. A tired-looking woman in her fifties gave Daria a brief smile, and gestured towards the small table standing discreetly in the dark far corner of the room. As always, there was a brief moment of hushed conversations as Blackthorne made his way around the tables, but apparently the customers felt themselves quite safe for the room was again full with the usual tavern buzz.
After a short meal, Daria sat back and listened as Tigre told her his short story, finishing with his discovery of the silver amulet. She was silent at first, as though unable to believe what she just heard, then, with a slight hesitation, she reached below her cloak and pulled out an exquisite silver chain with a small amulet on it. It is identical to the one that Tigre's wearing around his neck.
"Well, stranger... or should I say, cousin, if that mysterious voice you heard told you that I'll be able to answer your questions, it was wrong. I'll tell you what I know and what I have always believed: my entire clan was wiped out by the powerful sorceress many years ago when she collapsed our Weyrs with her evil magic. I know not her name or the reasons she brought destruction upon my kin, although my mother had reasons to believe that she may have come from another world. My mother believed she was the only survivor, and now that she's dead, I've always thought I was the only dragon of my clan alive. I've been living quietly among the humans for a very long time now and this amulet is all I have to remember my heritage by. But apparently, I was mistaken, for here you are with your incredible story and your amulet, and I don't know what to make of it all..."
"A mystery that may be solved by going back to where I came from, I guess." Tigre mused, "However, I have the feeling that I have a more familiar name to you than 'Tigre'. Now if I could just figure out what it was..."
"I suppose you're right," says Daria slowly. "I've been ignoring my past for far too long. Now it's time to confront it. A few patients may miss me, but I'm sure that Sharmene can take care of it." Abruptly, she rose up from the table, and after settling a bill, beckoned Tigre to follow her.
"I have a feeling that the quest we're about to take won't wrap up in a few days," she said, as they went back out on the streets. "I'd like to be fully prepared. Plus you look like you could use some sleep."
As they went along the darkened alley, with Blackthorne strolling independently in the front, Tigre asked, "Will he be going with us?"
"Blackie? If he feels like it. I wouldn't think of telling him what to do. I'm not even sure why exactly he chooses to stay with me. Probably because, hellish spawn of evil though he is, he still likes a warm spot by the fireplace just like any other cat."
In fact, it took Daria a couple of days to settle all her matters in the town, after which the two of them set out on the way back to the mountains. Although it was tempting for Daria to use her dragon shape in order to get there quicker, she ultimately discarded that idea with reluctance as she wanted to take no chances. Blackthorne was nowhere to be seen.
Tigre himself was tempted to change into one of his other forms, but didn't know how his newly found cousin would react.
"Cousin, did our family have special abilities?" he asked Daria one evening. "Perhaps. Why do you ask?" she replied. "I have one of them if...." Tigre looked extremely nervous for a moment and said "Watch." After backing away from the fire a little he transformed into his great cat namesake and back.
Daria's mouth formed a perfect "O" as she watched with amazement. "You keep surprising me, cousin! Mother never told me of anything like this, and I've always believed that dragon and human were the only shapes available to our kind. What other forms can you take?"
"Human as you can see, and..." Tigre's form changed yet again into a young silver dragon, "Our family's favorite form, I think." He smiled and waited for Daria's response.
...Which didn't come as the young woman appeared to be listening to something with a worried look on her face. Finally she gives Tigre a wry smile as she says, "Well, cousin, your shapes are going to be of great use to us, for I believe we're being attacked this very moment..."
From the darkness beyond the campfire, they can hear heavy, animal breathing noises as several indistinct shapes circle around the small traveling party, getting closer and closer. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Daria realises that what surrounds them is at least a dozen of headless, perhaps more.
"We do not need this," she says to Tigre, hastily. "I think we should abandon the camp and use our wings to escape under the cover of the night."
Not wanting to disagree with her, Tigre took flight, with his cousin, towards his old den. "Daria, Were those 'Headless'?" he asked her shortly after take off. "They most certainly were, and we got out just in time too..."
Looking back, briefly, at their camp, Tigre saw that it was now over run by the foul monsters that he had only just learned about. "The good thing about camps," he heard his cousin say, "is that they are temporary." "Truly," Tigre replied, as they continued to fly though the night towards his old den.
When cousins landed near the entrance, they heard a strange noise coming from within.
/Could that be a headless in there?/ Tigre wondered to himself, then he asked his cousin: "What should we do now?"
"Well, it looks like there is no other choice but investigate... with great precaution," replied Daria, while straining her ears trying to identify the noise. It was indeed strange and reminded her vaguely of the humming bees. While not particularly sinister, somehow it sent shivers down her spine. Nevertheless, she carefully crept into the darkness, with Tigre behind her, while trying to ignore her dread and the occasional drops of ice-cold water dripping on her head.
What they thought was the humming of bees turned out to be the humming of a spell protected chest on the floor in the back of the cave. Although covered with rubble, and various other debris from the cave-in long ago, it glowed well enough to be seen and hummed loud enough to be heard.
"I don't remember this being here." Tigre told his cousin after clearing away the debris, "Then again, I was knocked out before I knew what was going on," he grinned sheepishly.
/Where _did_ this come from? I wonder,/ Tigre thought to himself and asked "What is a spellbound chest doing here?"
"That's for you to find out, Jacrose," came an unexpected answer, "That is for you, and your newly found cousin to find out!"
Daria watched with surprise as her cousin gasped and whirled around, as if looking for something or somebody.
"What's wrong?" she asked him, slightly taken aback at the sight of his pale face.
"Haven't you heard somebody speak right now?" said Tigre, but Daria's expression told him that whatever he heard was meant for his ears only.
The mysterious voice chuckled slightly in a way that was startlingly human, and went on: "Ah. Just as I thought, the young lady isn't blessed with... shall we say, special powers and cannot hear what you hear. Well then, you shall have to pass on this small piece of advice for you both: look for the sign of the Siberian Dragon on the chest.." The voice in Tigre's head faded away.
As Tigre cleared away the debris the voice talked to him again... "That is enough for now. Have some fun celebrating your cousin's Hatching Day."
After cleaning themselves, and the old Weyr, they ate the cake and told each other what they knew about the events prior to their separation.
"Mom and Da told me of my extended family, and that we may be able to have a reunion after I grew a little." Tigre sighs, "But we never had the chance." He began to cry.
And as Tigre cried his form changed back in to that of a human. "I miss them so much!" he wails and continues to bawl uncontrollably.
Daria tries to comfort her distraught cousin when something attracts her attention. With a slight gasp, she kneels down and carefully traces the side of the chest that was previously covered with debris. Her fingers discover an almost invisible carving whose shape closely resembles the one of the Great Siberian amulet she wears. Eagerly, she tries to fit it into the keyhole, but although it is in fact a perfect match, nothing happens.
"Look," says Tiger, who calmed down a bit in the face of this new mystery, "there's an identical carving on the other side of the chest!" With these words, he fishes his amulet out of his pocket and puts it inside the carving.
"Now -that's- more like it!" announces a voice,
"That voice," Daria gasps, "That voice is familiar."
A ghostly figure forms in front of the twosome, and says, "Surely you remember the one who taught you how to survive among the humans, Daria. And Tigre, Jacrose, my boy..." he/it continued, "my servant helped you out that day. But there will be time for proper conversations when I see you on the other side," says the figure, then disappears.
The chest opens to reveal...
At first you could be fooled into thinking that the chest was empty, but a second later you would realise that you were staring into the black unfathomable abyss framed by the four corners of the chest. The humming noise was growing louder, until it seemed that this was the only sound in the universe that penetrated every cell of Daria's body and pounded in her head like a giant hammer.
"Could this be... a gate to... another... world?" she manages to say to her cousin. "I... think... I... saw some.... dra...wings in the libra..."
Before Daria can finish her sentence, there's a sudden powerful pull coming from inside the chest, which makes her feel as if her body is being stretched like a rubber band by some invisible giant hand, then darkness rushed towards her as she and Tigre are sucked inside the mysterious gate. The moment they disappear inside, the chest lid slams itself back into its place, and the humming noise stops. ...
A couple of hours later, Blackthorne the Cat strolls casually into the cave and sniffs delicately at the chest. A day before, he came back home for his usual nap in front of the fire place, only to find the house locked and his, for the lack of better word, servant missing. This wasn't a sort of treatment he came to expect and demand, but now his feeling of annoyance gave way to curiosity. Blackthorne wasn't sure what other world Daria went to, but he was pretty confident that it was bound to be full of interesting creatures to fight, eat and possibly mate. After thoroughly sharpening his claws on the chest, he went out of the cave and disappeared into the night.
They were standing in a small cave, lit gently by the glowing golden orbs floating slowly just above the head level. The air felt stale and the walls were covered with thick dusty cobwebs, creating an impression that no living creature has visited this place in many, many years.
"Where are we?" Jacrose asked his cousin. "A secret place known only to those of the Great Siberian Clan, my boy," the familiar apparition answered cheerfully. "And you and your Cousin Daria have found it just in time."
Although Daria was still dazed from their trip between the worlds, she still noticed the subtle change in their mysterious guide: it was as if the otherworldly aura the stranger had had somehow lessened, and the robes he/she was wearing became somehow more tangible.
As if reading her mind, the stranger said: "As you've probably noticed, I exist somewhat differently in my own dimension. Something that your kind has found out as well when they were forced to flee their homeland and find refuge in Britannia. I have no doubt that you'll notice many changes within yourselves in the next few days, abilities that you haven't ever dreamed of... but I shall say no more about that. I imagine you have a lot of questions to ask me."
Tigre raised his hand and asked, "Wh-who are you, and what powers are you referring to?"
"Who am I? Let's say I am a native of this world and had the pleasure of knowing your clan for many, many years, long before your ancestors fled to Britannia. This," he waved his hand around, "is your true homeland, the world known as Casthellea, the land of dragons. I was lucky to see it in the days of Golden Age, when thousands of dragons danced in the skies and the land was ruled by the powerful families, your clan among them."
The stranger's voice hardened. "Then humans came, armed with powerful magic and led by the most cruel and devious creature ever spawned by that wretched race, a sorceress called Saihve, whose hatred for your kind could only be matched by her thirst for power. The dragons were eventually annihilated after years of war, and only a precious few managed to flee from Saihve's rage. Still she sent out her minions to raid the other worlds and destroy whatever was left of your race."
The stranger turns to Daria. "I was powerless against her, yet I managed to help your mother flee the mountains and convinced her to find refuge among humans, hard as it was for a dragon to live among the kind who was the cause of all her misery. All I could do for the rest of your family is to have a powerful spell cast on Jacrose that would leave his body unharmed but keep his mind in slumber for several decades."
"As for the powers that await you... well, if you thought you had magical abilities in Britannia, just wait and see."
/More powers yet to come?/ Jacrose thought to himself. /Perhaps more powerful than the ones I just learned I had?/
/Just wait and see, my little tiger cub,/ responded the guide. /Just wait and see.../
"WHOAH!" Jacrose shuddered, "What was that?"
"Telepathy, dear boy. It can be useful in a pinch, but you -do- need to be careful -where- you use it."
Suddenly, the mysterious stranger tensed. "We are being watched," he/she whispered, looking frantically around the cave.
A knock came, seemingly, from all directions. "Anyone at home?" asked a new voice. The guide motioned for all to be silent. Yet another knock. "I say," queried the voice, "is anyone at home?"
Minute later, a short, scrawny man walks into the room. He's got a happy, cheerful face of someone who thinks that nothing bad can ever happen to him. His clothes are dusty and worn, and there is an equally battered lute sticking from behind his back.
"I say, I say, I say, good folks," says the man in a chirpy manner, "would you be so kind as to give some shelter for the night to Erlimo, the greatest minstrel in the world?"
/Now why does that name seem familiar?/ Tigre asked himself, then said, "I have no problem with the arrangement, but you may want to talk to them first."
For some reason or another, Daria wasn't too pleased with her cousin just then. "I'm not sure we need any strangers in here," she mutters under her breath, glaring at Tigre. "I agree," replied their guide. "Many enemies await you in this world, and I wouldn't want to advertise our presence."
"Would anyone like some homemade bread? A good woman from the nearby village gave it to me this morning; it still fresh! Cheese is a bit off, but you can't go wrong with a good slice of bacon."
They turned around in surprise to see Erlimo sitting cross-legged on the floor, carefully spreading out the contents of his backpack on a piece of cloth in front of him. Obviously, it has never occurred to the man that his request for shelter might be refused. Completely unembarrassed, he gave the travellers a bright smile and waved his hand.
"Dinner's on me, folks! It's the least I can do to repay for your kindness. Please! Come and join the feast."
"Damn it... now it's next to impossible to kick him out peacefully," muttered the guide. "We have no choice but bear his presence... and keep our mouths shut. Which should be easy, as he seems to be a man in love with the sound of his own voice."
"He does seem familiar to me though, cousin," Tigre whispered , "But I am not sure where or when I remember him from."
The bard, after eating his fill of the provisions, brought from behind his back what looked like a staff or club. After removing the brass ball from the staff Erlimo places the other end into his mouth and plays a rather familiar tune to the cousins.
The food certainly did look inviting, but...
/Shall I trust what this gentleman says is true an eat? Or should I wait for my cousin and our guide?/ the young dragon thought to himself. Finally he decided to ask them both that important question: "Should we join in his feast, even though he has had his fill? Or shall we divide what rations we already have?"
"Let's not extend our trust beyond necessity," whispered the guide. "Thank you, dear sir, but we shall be fine with our own supplies," he said aloud, hoping that the bard would not take offence at the refusal.
"Suit yourself," said Erlimo cheerfully, then, putting the strange-looking staff aside, he reached for his lute. "If you're not tempted by my food, then I must repay for your kindness by my craft. Let me play you something I haven't played to anyone, for I have only learned this new tune this very day from a fellow bard who stayed in the same inn as I did. A rather strange fellow, but a generous one too, trading songs like that."
Jacrose, probably against his better judgment, goes over to the bard and picks up the staff. "A fipple flute if my memory serves me," he mused as he examined the piece carefully.
/The lad is very perceptive,/ Erlimo thinks to himself. /And he is right, he and his cousin -do- know me from somewhere.../
"Cousin," Tigre began, "didn't my father play a fipple flute?"
Looking over in her direction for the answer, Tigre notices that neither she or the guide are moving, at least from his point of view. /Did time stop?/ he mused to himself, then as he set down the flute, things became as they were before he picked it up before.
"Couldn't say, Tigre", replied Daria, unaware of the strange occurrence. "I never got to meet the rest of our family and Mother never talked about her relatives."
Meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, Erlimo quickly reaches into his pocket and his hand comes out clutching some small shiny object which he swiftly slides inside the fipple flute. Then, with a broad smile, he offers it to Tigre:
"I see you've taken an interest in my flute," he says pleasantly. "Would you like to try it out? It's not as difficult as it looks."
"May I cousin?" Jacrose asks her pleadingly, "The flute does look rather interesting."
"And I am a rather good teacher too," the bard quipped. "My Lady. Good Sir. I assure you that I bear no ill will on the lad. Just a lesson or two on my famous fipple flute, and the young master will be a virtuoso in no time!"
"Er, sure," says Daria. "Go ahead. In fact, I'm quite interested in the flute myself, I've never seen anything like that before."
Some time later, Daria thought that it was with a touch of hastiness that Erlimo handed the flute to Tigre, but such suspicion never occurred to her in the moment. Still, what happened next as Tigre hesitantly brought the flute to his lips would not have come up to her in her wildest nightmare. Without a warning or even a sound, both Erlimo and Tigre disappeared into a thin air as if they had never been in the cave, leaving Daria and the guide sitting open-mouthed amid the remains of the supper.
Jacrose, playing a lost tune, doesn't notice that he isn't with his cousin or the guide anymore.. "Well done, young one, well done," the bard compliments slyly, "Now for a more complex tune..."
"We must find my cousin and that bard!" Daria announces frantically, "His life may be at stake, and it..."
Just before she has a time to complete the sentence, some heavy and bright-coloured object crashes on the ground, nearly squashing the guide's feet, and breaks into million pieces that scatter around the cave's floor. After recovering from the initial shock, the guide kneels down and inspects the fragments.
"I think I know what just happened," he muses aloud. "The flute must have had some sort of teleportation spell hidden inside, so that it allows you to change places with an object that might be hundreds or thousands miles away, and it doesn't even has to have the same shape or mass. By the looks of things, I think that your cousin and the bard have switched places with some very large and expensive vase."
He picks up the biggest piece, covered with colourful patterns so delicate and intricate that it's nearly impossible for an eye to trace them. "Amazing brushwork, really... and I think I know where it came from, too." He smiles wryly. "Our friend the bard is not the only one with the tricks up his sleeve."
Jacrose continues to play the complex melody on the flute, but notices something rather familiar about the place that he's now in, and stops.
"M-m-my F-f-f-father's s-s-store?" the young human asked the bard. /How could this be?/ he broadcast, accidentally, /I've not been here since../ "Oh No!"
Back in the cave, the guide locks his eyes on a small piece of broken vase and concentrates. Harsh, indecipherable words of magic flow from his mouth and curl around him like a white mist, until Daria feels as if she's standing in the middle of a cloud. There's a slight pulling sensation in her body, and then the whiteness starts to fade away.
"If I'm correct, then we should arrive at the exact spot that vase came from," says the guide with a touch of self-congratulation in his voice, "and our friend the bard owes us some explanations. Poor Jacrose must have got quite a shock when..." He stops in the middle of the sentence, and Daria realises that the fading mist must have revealed a place the guide did not expect to see.
It looked as if they stood in the middle of a room with no visible doors or windows. The only source of light is the gentle reddish glow coming from the walls and the ceiling, which are also red in colour. This glow has a strange effect on Daria: she suddenly feels as if it penetrates her entire body, sapping away all of her energy and strength. By the look of the guide, he must be experiencing the same as his knees suddenly buckle and he barely manages not to fall on the floor in a heap.
"It's a trap, Daria," he manages to croak. "The teleportation spell that accursed son of a bitch used must have been a lot more complicated. I have heard of such places. The walls of this room are made from a mineral... that sap away your magic. I can't get us out of here. I have managed to contact Jacrose's mind for a split second, but I'm not sure whether he even heard me or if he has, whether he can help us at all..."
Young Jacrose heard the message, but doesn't really know what to do about the situation. "My Mistress is very interested in you, boy!" the bard said menacingly. "And she's going to reward me handsomely for capturing you! MWA! HA!HA!HA!"
Jacrose picks up the fipple flute, puts it in his mouth, and plays a tune that even surprises the bard! "The 'Tune of Summon Friends'?! How did you learn that?"
The bard frantically tried to silence the young dragon, but failed when a shimmering silver nimbus glowed about Jacrose. In a ring of pots, halfway across the room, a silver portal opens and two figures step out. One rushes over to Jacrose just in time to catch him as he collapses from the difficult spell.
"Excellent job, my boy," says the guide, his voice still hoarse and shaky. "I knew you wouldn't lose your head."
"That may be, mister Gatekeeper, but you and the girl will certainly lose yours," says Erlimo's honey-sweet voice from behind their backs. "Your little dragon's quick wits have only helped my plan."
Daria and the guide realise with horror that Erlimo picked up the fipple flute that had fallen from Jacrose's weakened grip. Meanwhile, the pretend bard continued: "May I draw your attention to fact that you two are quite drained of magic for a considerable amount of time, and your young friend is in no better shape. My mistress' interest lies exclusively with the boy... but her dungeons and her torturers welcome everyone with open arms... and tentacles, hah, hah. Indeed, you shall regret leaving the red room, my frie..."
Erlimo's expression suddenly changes to sheer terror as suddenly, a hissing ball of black fur drops onto his head. Daria looks away as terrible screams fill the room, mixed with Blackthorne's furious growling, until they die away along, it seems, with the unlucky Erlimo. When she dares to open her eyes again, Blackthorne has already disappeared along with the fipple flute, leaving quite a mess behind.
"All I can say is, thank whatever Gods you worship that you didn't have that flute on you when Blackie arrived," she says to Tigre in a near-hysterical voice. "No one can really force him to do anything, but he hates it whenever there's even an attempt to summon him."
She is silenced by the sudden noise from outside the room, and nearly jumps out of her skin when there's a loud knock on the door. "Oh no, please let it not be the guards," she groans.
The loud knocking continued along with a voice calling, "You called for some assistance, Master?"
Daria, still a little shaken, looks at her cousin and wonders, /did he also summon others with that ancient tune?/
"Master?" the voice calls again, this time opening the door. "What happened here? What happened to the Master?"
"He rests at the moment," the Guide explained. "He's had a busy day."
The summoned help wonders what to do. "Mistress, Sir, may we be of service to thee until Master awakens?"
Elsewhere... "So Erlimo has failed me." an ominous voice says. "He got the punishment he deserved then. No matter.." the form turns from the scrying device and glances around the room. "Raz M. A. Taz, your time to flourish has come!" "Yes, my queen!" and he disappears from her sight.
Waiting not for the answer, Tigre's new-found servants come, or rather float, into the room. To Daria, they look like nothing more than two empty cloaks that suddenly took on a life of their own, until the strange entities turn towards the party, revealing two burning dots inside their cowls that look like fiery eyes. To her surprise, the guide visibly relaxes at the sight of the visitors, and points towards Erlimo's remains.
"Get rid of the body, you two. The Master shall not require your services after you've finished."
"As you wish, Sir," the spectral help bowed, and helped his companion with the removal of the bard's remains and shut the door behind them. Something was left behind though when the summoned help left: the fipple flute!
Daria quickly went over to the flute and checked it for anything that may give a clue as to how the teleportation spell that brought her cousin here worked, but only found an empty bag.
In another part of that world... A carnival was going on...
"Raz M. A. Taz, report!" ordered a voice only he could hear.
"No sign of the cousins or their guide, my Queen," he replies the same way. "However, there is a black cat roaming around, as if searching for something. "
"The cat means nothing to you." Raz's Queen replies, "keep doing your job there until the cousins arrive, then inform me when they do."
"This time they won't escape!"
"We shall need a safe place to stay for the night," says the guide to Daria and Jacrose, who still hasn't quite recovered from the draining spell. "This shop shall do just fine... ah, but I know what you're going to say," he chuckles slightly. "Do not worry about Saihve's minions: I doubt that even you, Jacrose, could know about the little trick your father built into this shop. Just watch..."
The guide quietly intones a word of power, and suddenly the stone walls disappear around them, leaving the group standing in a small cosy room with thick carpet on the floor and three comfortable-looking beds.
"Where are we?" gasps Tigre. "Still inside the shop, my boy," replies the guide. "It's just that, to those who know its secret, it's a much bigger place on the inside than it looks on the outside. There are many other rooms in here, but I thought that this one was more appropriate for weary travellers."
"Saihve... is she the sorceress you've mentioned before?" says Daria, who suddenly realises, for all her tiredness, that the guide has left a few mysteries unanswered.
"Yes, a sorceress that now is a Queen of this entire world and has been for some time. Her personal powers are not as strong as they used to be, yet she remains almost invincible as long as she keeps the Dragon Stone. I don't know how much of the dragon lore has survived in your world of Britannia, but you probably know that the stone was the single greatest possession of the Dragons in this world, and a source of immense power that Saihve somehow managed to steal at the very early start of the war that almost destroyed your kind. I doubt that she considers you two a serious threat to her, for she's as arrogant as she is powerful, yet for some unknown reason she seems interested in you, Jacrose. Erlimo is but the first one of her servants she'll throw at us..."
In the early morning, Daria is still asleep when Tigre shakes her from her slumber. "Whatzaaamatter?" she says, drowsy and annoyed. "The guide is gone!" Tigre says, pointing at the empty bed next to them. "I looked everywhere, and I even tried mind-touch, but I can't locate him in any way! This is the only trace of him that I could find," he says, handing Daria a piece of white paper with something scribbled on it.
"This looks like a spell, cousin", she says, frowning. "He obviously left it for us... I wonder what he wanted us to use it for."
"I guess he wants me to try it out on the flute," Jacrose told Daria. "You may want to hold on to me, just in case this spell is supposed to take us somewhere." Daria quickly grabs hold of her cousins shoulders, and says, "play when ready, Tigre."
Her cousin nods, places the flute to his lips and plays the new tune in his lap... The shop surroundings disappear!
/Blue Portal. Silver Portal. What next?/
Amethyst Portal naturally, my dear,/ the Guide answered merrily. Jacrose continued to play the fipple flute, not so much as to cast a spell, but to play a song he remembers from long ago...
As he plays a mist forms in the room and Daria wonders, "what is going on?"
"So it has begun," the guide says cryptically, and they both watch the pageant of spirits reenacting some of their better moments in this room. Four of the ghosts head toward Tigre, who seems to be oblivious to the events around him.
"JACROSE!" his cousin cries out, in an attempt to get to him, but the Guide restrains her... "Do you not recognize those four spirits, my dear?" he asked. "Notice how loving they are toward your cousin."
Two of the ghosts venture closer to Daria herself...
About 3 minutes before..
'So that is our young nephew that you were going to bring to us...' one of the specters said appreciatively. 'He plays that flute rather well, for a rookie. Hee ha ha!'
'You were no better at his age,' said another ghost. 'Besides, he seems to have done more than what you could have in just twenty-four hours!' Then two spooks chased each other towards Daria..
"Daria," the Guide whispered, "these two have traveled a long long way just to see you, and their nephew. Please be courteous and say something to them."
"Ah, don't be hard on the young lady, old friend," says one of the apparitions, in a voice that sounds strangely earthy coming from a ghost. "You're far too fond of playing your little games of mysteries and puzzles, when it would have been easier for everyone involved if you just told them what's coming."
"You know that there are rules, Alveah," says the Guide, slightly irritated. "We had to know whether Jacrose was advanced enough to be ready."
"Ready for what?" asks Daria, who is growing rather impatient.
"Why, your proper training, my dear," says the ghost. "Surely you must know by now that you need some in order to survive in this world?"
The two specters near Tigre just floated in awe an wonder at what they had produced, before the apocalypse...
"It looks like Jacrose turned out to be a fine boy, didn't he, Marion?"
"Yes," came the reply, "Who would have thought that the 'Tigre/Cat Morph Ability' would breed true into him."
Tigre, not stopping, looked up at his parents, nodded lovingly, and began to cry silently. The tune he played barely even wavered during his renewed sadness, but he knew that this spell could not be played forever....
"Sis!" yelled Jacrose's father, "hurry with the message to Daria. Our time here is almost up!"
"Be well, my little tiger cub," Marion, the other spirit, said lovingly, and disappeared...
"Know this," his father began, "your training is far from over. Listen to both your cousin and Altheus, your guide, they will help you to become one of the best Dracomages of all time." As he finished this, Tigre's father began to fade, then followed his wife back to where they belonged.
The remaining two ghosts moved still closer to Daria. "I haven't got much time, so Reaulth and I shall be quick," says the one called Alveah. "Look well after your cousin, dear, and have a patience to put up with the boring old Altheus," she grins at the Guide who frowns slightly. "You're destined for great things, both of you, but remember that until the Dragon Stone remains in the possession of the enemy, none of you shall reach your full potential."
Alveah's words turned into fading whisper just as the old ghost finished the sentence and disappeared, leaving behind the silent and motionless form of the one she referred to as Reaulth. A slight chill went through Daria's body as she somehow sensed that the spirit floating in front of her must have possessed great power in the world of the living.
"A gift... for you..." the words appeared in her mind even as the ghost remained silent, and the next minute, a warm glow enveloped Daria's entire being as she felt a surge of power flowing through her veins and crackling up her spine. "Use it... wisely..."
Daria too had a renewed grief resurfacing. "Be well, and thank you." she said to the departed spirits, and wept silently for a little while. Jacrose, feeling his own grief full force now, drops the fipple flute and sobs like never before...
/This is no way for the last of the Great Siberian Clan to act!/ The cousins heard in their minds, which made them stop crying very quickly. Altheus sighs and continues out loud, "The dark queen still has the stone and if you are going to get it back you'll need to practice your new abilities. You especially, Daria, for your cousin almost has his down pat."
Meanwhile, at the carnival, Raz Matheus A. Taz was taking his deserved break when...
/Any sign of those brats or that meddling old fool Altheus?/
/No sign of any of them, My Queen, but that cat is still prowling the area. What should I do?/
/Leave the cat alone for the moment. It may give its charges away at any time now. Mwa ha ha ha!/
/As you wish, My Queen./
"Well, what abilities -do- I have?" asks Daria. "An ability to get ourselves back into the world of living, for a start," replies the Guide. "Look within yourself. Can't you feel the power within you just waiting to burst through?"
Daria closes her eyes and tries to search for any changes within herself that may have been caused by Reaulth's mysterious gift. Nothing happens at first, and then she is suddenly aware of a slight stinging sensation in her palms. She opens her eyes to find the Guide and Tigre standing on their spots as if frozen, and the world around her full of frightening stillness. She looks down at her hands and gasps as a blue glow suddenly starts to spread from the tips of the fingers down to the wrists.
After a while, Daria can discern that myriads of multi-coloured rays of light are streaming from her fingers and disappear into the thin air, and as she tries to feel each individual thread, images of people and places flood her mind until she is almost ready to scream from the strain of being pulled into millions of directions at once. For a brief moment, her fingers find a fine silver thread that that brings about an image of Tigre, and next to it is a thicker one that she somehow knows to belong to the Guide. Finally, her fingers find a thread that she knows to be connected to the most evil and selfish being in the known universe. Almost sweating from concentration, she closes her eyes and wills herself and her companions to follow the direction of the thread.
"Well done," says the Guide's voice, as Daria opens her eyes and finds herself standing in the middle of the shop they know well by now. Blackthorne the cat, not in the least disturbed by their sudden appearance, yawns and goes back to sleep on the couch in the corner.
"Wow-wee, Daria!" Tigre exclaimed, "how in the world did you do that?"
"I..I don't know for sure, Jacrose," she replied, "but it may be one of my new abilities that our guide, Altheus, was telling us about earlier."
/They are catching on, old friends,/ the Guide broadcast to the departed foursome, and the cousins heard it.
"Your mastery over the Fipple Flute Magiks, so far, have been very impressive, Jacrose," Altheus told him, "however, you must learn more complex spells not only on it, but also the family magics that you and your cousin have yet to discover together."
"Didn't I already gain some of it, Altheus?" Tiara's cousin asked.
"Only a very special part of it. But there is more to come.."
"So, what was it that I did, Altheus?" asks Daria.
"Threads magic on its most basic level," replied the Guide. "An ancient craft that is fairly rare among your kind, it is simply an ability to trace any living being anywhere in the universe. As of now, you're limited to small parts of this world and perhaps Britannia, and it's only humans and magical creatures that you can trace. I am not sure how strong this ability is in you, but Alveah hinted on a huge potential that only has to be unlocked."
"However, this is not a good place for us to stay anymore. The secret room may have given us protection for a while, but unfortunately it was only a short-lived spell that may not be stable. We must move on."
"Oh, why must you be in such a hurry?" purrs somebody's voice seemingly from nowhere. "Aren't you young things just dying to show me what you've learned?"
/Now where have I heard -that- voice before?/ Tigre thought to himself, then he asked in cat, "Was that you just now, Blackthorne? I thought I remembered you."
"Now that was unexpected." Altheus muttered to himself.
"What was?" Daria asked.
"Your Cousin being able to talk in feline." came the bewildered reply. "It shouldn't be."
"Why's that?" "One of his talent's is to transform into a cat, any type of cat. OOPS!"
They watch in amazement as Tigre suddenly shrinks in size, while his shape undergoes a transformation which shouldn't really be seen on a full stomach by anyone. The next minute, a medium-sized black cat plops unto the floor, looking rather confused.
"What just happened?" Tigre asked, but to the others it sounded like he was meowing. "Oh Ho!" the elder cat in the room exclaimed, "so this is what my pet meant!" Blackthorne studied Jacrose's new form and announced: "So far, Altheus and Daria, this one seems 'purrfect' for the task ahead of him. Just don't slip up again," he growled.
Tigre walked toward his cousin and his guide but soon found that he was trapped!
"Hmm, it seems you're quite easy to control in a shape of a common cat," purred Blackthorne's voice in Tigre's mind. "I wouldn't use it ever again if I were you..."
Having lost interest in Tigre as suddenly as he has acquired it, Blackthorne yawned, then walked straight through the nearby wall in search of something more interesting to play with. He found it straight away in a form of a menacing-looking man who was busy casting a complicated paralyzing spell and didn't notice Blackthorne right up until the point when steely claws sank into his back.
The spell went off, but with a slight hitch to it. You see, the paralyzing spell that Raz M. was casting was so complicated that complete concentration was needed to do so...
"YEEEOWCH! WHAT THE FRELL?!"
The only thing that got fully paralyzed in the end was Raz M. himself! Blackthorne was able to get out of the way shortly before the spell took full effect, but he too got caught, at least partially. Tigre, seeing that his 'cat mentor' was in trouble, morphed into a more suitable cat form for a softer landing, on Blackthorn's part.
"Blackthorne!" Daria cried as her cousin brought him over to her, "Altheus, can his paws be saved from this?"
"Only time can tell now, my dear." the old friend of the family replied, "time, practice on your skills, and the safe return of the Dragon Gem."
In actual fact, there was no reason for the cousins to worry, as a second later, a slightly dazed Blackthorne wrestled out of Tigre's grip and bolted out of the room with a malevolent hiss.
Daria sighed in relief. "I knew that no spells could have hurt him, but this looked like a very close one. It must have been an incredibly powerful spell to have affected Blackie, even if it was for a short while."
"Indeed," mused Altheus, as he looked over the unlucky spellcaster, whose face was now a frozen mask of surprise. "This looks like the work of one of the Queen's henchmen. In fact, I think I've seen this spell before..."
He stopped himself as he realised with horror that there was indeed a second act to this capture spell that has been delayed so far. Before he can utter anything, a flash of intense blue light illluminates the room, and the teleportation spell whisks away the cousins, the Guide and their would-be captor out of the room and into unknown direction...
/Welcome to your doom!/ cackled a voice within their heads as the trio arrived at the new destination. /You may have defeated my leutentants but you now have me to deal with. MWA HAHAHA!/
The eyes of the paralyzed mage pleaded for help, but... BZZZAP! KA-BOOM!
"That was harsh, Witch!"
"Why, Altheus," the Queen, said sweetly, "what a thing to say to a former fiancee."
Just as Jacrose was about to try out a new spell the Witch Queen shook her finger, "UH-UH! You have done well with your training, Jacrose, but you are still a little cub," Saihve sniggered, as the trio of travellers found themselves frozen on the spot, unable to lift a finger. "Still, I'm sure you shall prove useful to me..."
"Daria," whispered Altheus' urgent voice in the girl's mind, "I don't think Saihve considers you a serious threat, for her only interest seems to lie with your cousin. You'll have to make a real progress now if we're to get any chance of escape from the blasted Sorceress. You can't use the threads magic to get us out of here, for she has us trapped, but you can put it to a different use..."
Suddenly, out of nowhere, knowledge of what exactly has to be done comes into Daria's head with no warning. She concentrates again on the feeling of having myriads of thin threads passing through her fingers, until she manages to get hold of one that burns with intense red fire in her hands, the one that she knows to be connected to the woman in front of her. With every ounce of her strength, Daria attempts to hammer the thread with the biggest mental blow she can muster. The next minute, excrutiating pain explodes in her entire body, and she would have collapsed to the floor was it not for Saihve's paralysing spell. Through the tears of pain in her eyes, Daria could still see that her attempt did not go unnoticed by the Queen.
"I felt that," Saihve says, looking over Daria as though it was the first time she actually paid attention to the girl. "Your mental blow wouldn't have bowled a kitten over, but after all you didn't have a proper training." She clasps her hands in malicious delight. "I thought of disposing of you, but now I shall keep you alive along with your cousin... and who knows, I might have gotten more than I bargained for!"
/Assistance, please, My Tutor of the Feline Arts,/ Tigre mewed to Blackthorn, hoping that he may arrive.
"A message to your cousin perhaps?" asked Saihve noticing the transmission, "or maybe to your inept guide, Altheus. "
/As if I'd want to tell you which way it was going, murderer!/ Tigre thought back to the Witch Queen.
/It was for a good cause then, young tiger,/ Saihve transmitted to Jacrose, as she hovered over to him, /there were too many Dragons around for your own good./ "And there still are.."
BZZZAP! Jacrose gets hit with a bolt of lightning, like the paralyzed mage, but it only made him drop to the floor. "One down.." Witch Queen Saihve sniggered, "Two more to go!" She then cackles insanely for about five minutes, and sits back on her throne.
In Tigre's Mind...
/Am I dead?/
\Not just yet, my boy, you still have some fight left in you. ^_^\
/Who are you?/
/What can I do now? Am I free?/
/Gotta go, she maybe on to me../
/WAIT!/ Tigre moans silently, and shakes the cobwebs out of his head.
"My, I thought you'd have more fire in you, my little dragons," says Saihve, standing up from her throne once again and looking over the trio. "I've had my share of fun and games with you, but right now I've got other important matters to press on with..."
At her sign, a dozen of dark cowled figures detach themselves from the walls and hover over the fallen cousins and their guide.
"Take them away to the Chamber of Lost Souls," says the Queen. "It will take some time for the Wraiths to be strong enough for the Possession Ritual to begin... in the meantime, keep an eye on them for me."
Through the mist of pain in her eyes, Daria watches as four of the dark figures rush towards her. Unable to move a finger, she feels her body lift above the ground, then float away towards the dark corridor, surrounded at each side by the dark shape. Her cousin and Altheus follow close behind, also flanked by the Queen's servants.
A short time later the trio found themselves just outside of the dreaded Chamber of Lost Souls. Altheus and Daria, still paralyzed from Saihve's spell, had to be posed by the cowled servants of the Witch Queen, and chained to the wall. Jacrose, on the other hand, feigned his paralysis and after the captors left the room morphed out of his chains and helped his friends out from their own.
Saihve watched as the young tiger tried his best to undo the spell she weaved on his companions from her alchemy lab. "So he wants them free, does he?" she mused to herself, "why not? If they are to be a proper challenge they need the practice; my special minions will give it to them! MWA! HA! HA! HA! HA!"
Still drowsy from the spell, Daria looks around the spacious, darkened room they found themselves in, lit only by the three gigantic shimmering pillars standing in the middle of the floor, whose tips disappear into the swirling mist dancing along the chamber's ceiling. She has an uneasy feeling that whatever plans Saihve's got for them in store have something to do with those pillars.
"What do we do now, Altheus?" Jacrose asks.
"I don't know," replies the guide, his voice slightly slurred. "Saihve or one of her stronger minions must be watching our every move now. I haven't noticed any doors or portals on our way into the room; the cowled servants must have an ability to walk through the walls... which incidentally we do not have."
"By the way, Altheus," says Daria, casually, "why did the Queen refer to you as her former fiancee?"
"We were once betrothed before she got her taste for power," their guide sighs. The cousins gasped at the news. "Our parents decided to marry us to each other at an early age."
Saihve, watching from her lab, said aloud, but not to them, "but it didn't turn out that way did it, Altheus? Our parents were crushed, literally!"
"But why was I put in hibernation, Alteus?" the cub wanted to know, "and why was my Cousin allowed to be free in the world?"
Before their Guide could answer Tigre's questions, three guards came in and captured Altheus.
"The Queen wants a word with you," said a semi-metallic voice from one of the guards.
"You stay behind and watch these two carefully," it ordered the third member of its small party. "Stun them if they try any thing."
"Sir!" saluted the remaining guard as the others took the Guide to Saihve.
"The guard's armour, Jacrose. This is your chance..." was the last mental message Tigre received from Altheus as he was led away from the chamber.
"Ah, don't you try any of your spells on my guard, friends," says the remaining guard in Saihve's voice, as his expressionless eyes suddenly flare with blue light, "for they shall be of no help to you." The guard's eyes then turn as lifeless as before and he stands motionless yet menacing before the cousins... not realising that a barely visible speck of dust that Altheus managed to stick onto the back of his armour just before he was led out of the chamber has started to glow...
Tigre suddenly remembered something he heard shortly before his hibernation period:
"...any amount of Earth, even dust, may attract any spell to a supposedly 'spell proof' object, little one...."
Instead of chanting like some do, or playing the fipple flute, Tigre started to sing...
"All that is lost shall be found.
Our feet have again touched solid ground.
Our stay here shall not last.
Her hold on you now has passed..."
The guard started to waver, as if from a deep sleep, but regained rigidness all too quickly...
"Her hold on you... now... has... passed..."
The guard shook the cobwebs from his head and stared at the cousins.
"Please let us go," Tigre asked politely. The guard, silent and scared, looked at the cousins and finally said, "I don't even know how I got here."
Then Daria had an idea. "Stand as you were, tall and straight, and stun my cousin." Tigre looked at his cousin warily, then he got the picture.
Saihve watched from her quarters as young Jacrose got shocked by her guard. "Well done," the Witch Queen applauded. "Thanks, my Queen." the guard replied. "Now keep those two in line whilst I have some fun up here," Saihve said sinuously. "A..a..a..as you command your majesty." the guard hastily bowed, and shocked Tigre again for good measure.
Jacrose, bruised and full of electricity, really wanted to let some of it out on the guard. Daria, noticing this, reached into her awareness of things and pulled her cousin short of catastrophe.
"He was only doing what we wanted him to do, remember, Jacrose?" she asked calmly. With the anger surge gone, he replied, "Yeah. Sorry about that."
"I.. I.. don't mind at all," the guard replied. "But the Queen may know of our deception by now."
Suddenly, Daria shivers as if from some inner shock, and says in a voice that doesn't seem to belong to her: "Jacrose... Saihve will be... occupied with me for some time now... she will not be watching over you. Use this time... get out of the chamber... find a Red Room..." Daria barely suppresses a scream as a jolt of pain explodes in her head and the strange voice is no more.
"Who was that??" gasped Jacrose. "I think it was Altheus..." says Daria slowly. "Saihve... I think she'd doing something terrible to him, cousin. I felt his horror, his desperation, I don't think he expects to survive."
"I know of the room this Altheus of yours described," the guard said warily. "I was taken there myself once, for an unknown purpose."
"Could you guide us to it, please?" pleaded Tigre, looking at the saved man with puppy-dog eyes. "Time is of the essence, Sir," Daria told the guard, " and we don't have too much time to waste if we are to get to the Red Room to see what lies within."
Finally getting the gumption to show the cousins the way, the guard started to move out...
" A word of warning to you both.."
"Yes?" the cousins replied.
"There are traps that can only be avoided if you know how to use the right spells," the guard winked a knowing wink, and started again on the journey to the Red Room.
They went deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of murky corridors and passageways until the guard stopped in front of the inconspicuous-looking door that looks no different to the hundreds of doors they've just passed by.
"This is it," says the guard, "but if I were you I wouldn't touch this door with my bare hands, young sir, for it is sealed with evil enchantments. When I was taken inside the Queen would unlock the door with a spell unknown to me."
"What is this red room anyway and why were you taken there?" asks Daria.
"I know nothing of magic arts, my lady," replied the guard, "yet it was clear to me that it had something to do with the... missions my fellow guards and I were sent on straight after our stay in the room; missions of the... shall we say, investigative nature."
"Ah. Spying," says Daria with a knowing chuckle. "Jacrose, I think I know now why Altheus sent us here. Do you remember how you rescued us from the Red Room the Guide and I were trapped in? These rooms are probably powerful magical devices that can be set to different uses. I think that this one could be used to cloak one from the view of all who would try to use magic to track them, even probably the Queen herself, if only for a while. I just wish we knew how to unlock this silly door..."
"Try using me, you dolts!" came a voice behind Jacrose.
"Who said that?" the threesome asked together, and then a high note sounded briefly. Tigre slowly took the fipple flute from its place on his back, and asked, "You can talk?"
"The original dolt didn't know how to play me correctly so I had no reason to. Now?" two wispy arms form into a shrug. "How do you fit in the scheme of things?" asked Tigre's cousin Daria.
"Easily," came the reply, "I am an artifact from long ago that the queen usurped for her own ends. That would-be-bard she gave me to knew nothing of what I was really capable of in the right hands, until it was too late."
*Merry tune of delight*
The door opens...
They cautiously step into the small room that to Daria looks unnervingly like the trap she and Altheus were lucky to escape, the only difference being a small panel located on the right of the door that suddenly starts to glow ominously just as the last person crossed into the room.
"Umm.... maybe it wasn't such a good idea to come here..." mumbles Daria, whose nerves are frayed to extreme at this point. But before they can change their minds, the door that no one remembered shutting behind them suddenly flares up, then disappears, leaving solid wall behind. The darkness doesn't last a minute before the whole room is lit with sinister red glowing mist that creeps out from nowhere, takes on strangely humanoid shapes, and envelopes the party. Daria feels a tingling sensation passing through her body which, though not unpleasant, is still rather unsettling.
"Is this what's supposed to happen?" she whispers to the guard.
"I do not know, my lady, for I never was awake when the procedure took place," answers the guard, who is visibly shaken, too. After what seems like an eternity, the mist clears away, and through the haze Daria watches as the fiery outline of the door appears on the wall, then melts away to reveal the room as it was before.
"Well, I can't say that I feel any different," says Jacrose, but Daria interrupts him with a puzzled frown on her face.
"No, something -must- have happened to us," she says slowly. "Tigre, it seems that I can't track you with my threads magic, and your thread should be the brightest since you're right here next to me. Nor can I locate... er, what is your name by the way?" she asks the guard, somewhat embarrassed.
"Ramjen, my lady," answers the guard. "And I'm sorry to interrupt, but you'll have to decide on your next action pretty quickly, for I fear our disappearance may have been discovered..."
In the Witch Queen's Lab...
"THEY HAVE ESCAPED!" Saihve exclaimed, knocking over a few vials of non-vital potions. "But how?" she wondered, not looking at the smug expression on Alteus' face.
Jacrose felt a strange sensation from the humanoid forms, and tried something that neither his cousin, or the guard expected... He morphed into his 'Tiger' form, and in the language of cats asked: /What do you want from us?/
The 'night vision' of the 'cat morph' allows Tigre to see what his cousin missed...
/We are trapped here because of the Witch Queen Saihve.../ came the reply, suprisingly in Dragesh. /After our defeat at her hands she need us for something, but that was never known./
/Is he the one?/
/They are both talented, but he wields the flute./
Morphing back into a human, Jacrose translates all that he heard, and can still hear, to his cousin and Ramjen.
The Queen seems to have recovered from shock and is now furiously pacing the floor, until she suddenly stops and smiles. "Of course! There's only one place that would hide them from my sight!" She smiles at the helpless Altheus with contempt. "Foolish man! You thought that this pathetic plan of yours would save them. Surely you must remember that their magical powers will be much weakened by the same force that protects them? In a minute, every pathway around the Red Chamber will be cut off by my soldiers; the room's magic will not save them from steel and fire!"
Altheus manages to look suitably grieved and broken, while on the inside a triumphant thought passes through his mind: "Ah, dear fiancee, but you don't even begin to guess the real reason I sent them over there... I can only hope that the trapped spirits will not let us down..."
/Her will is beginning to increase on us!/ one of the shadows exclaimed in pain. /You...Cat-Dragon..have the power../ they moaned.
/Me?!?/ came Tigre's reply, / how?/
/Use the flute..to end. AAAARGH!/
Just when they reached out and tried to drain the magical energies out of Tigre, they were blocked by the sudden intervention of a wall of threads!
/Be at peace with yourselves, and use your skills,/ said a familiar voice in the cousins' minds... /Free them from their turmoil and they may help you when you face Saihve./
/Momma?/ thought Jacrose, almost tearing up, /Momma is that you?/
/Be well, my little tiger cub, and be sure to take good care of each other./
/We will,/ the cousins replied as one, as the voice faded it said: /Farewell, both of you, and good luck./
/Farewell, momma.../ Jacrose sniffed, and got the fipple flute ready for a spell.
As Tigre weaves the spell, he notices no particular change within the shadows, yet somehow he feels the tension in the room subside. A slight gasp from Daria tells him that she can finally see the spirits as well, although a puzzled look from Ramjen means that they still remain invisible to their new friend.
"We thank you, Cat-Dragon," says one of the spirits, "for freeing us from our accursed prison. We have been trapped in this room for long, long years, waiting for somebody magically gifted as you are to hear our pleas. We are forever in your debt, and will help you whatever way we can."
"Our friend is held by the Queen Saihve," says Daria, "and needs our help. If you could help us in any way to defeat the Witch... do you know of any weaknesses or secrets of hers that we may use?"
"In truth, web weaver, we can not leave this room," one of the spirits announced. "But we may give you what we have drained over the years to you both to help in your quest."
Remjan, the guard, looked at the cousins with a worried eye. /What have I gotten myself into here?/ he thought to himself.
/A task that you were destined for.../
"WHAT?!" he exclaimed, leaping at least a yard into the air. "We said nothing." Jacrose and Daria replied when he landed. "Are you o.k.? That was quite a leap, Ramjen."
"Saihve is a powerful sorceress," continues one of the spirits, paying no attention to Remjan's display of acrobatics, "but it is the Dragon Stone she stole from your kind that makes her all but invincible."
"Yes, our guides in this world have mentioned the Stone, several times," Daria interrupts, "yet so far no one has been able to tell us how we could claim it back... could you possibly help us?"
"Oh, any web weaver such as you are could potentially track down the Stone, for it has a life-thread to it just like a living creature, and it shines the brightest of them all. Yet had you actually attempted it, you would not have been able to withstand the sheer force coming from the Stone, and incurable madness would be the most merciful outcome you could hope for."
The spirits draw closer to the cousins. "We know little of the Stone's location, except that the Witch Queen keeps it here in the Castle. If you trust us well enough, young Dragons, will you let us grant you the powers that will make the walls, physical and otherwise, disappear for you?"
The cousins were about to give their answer when they hear the sound of armor hitting the floor. "Ramjen!"
/M..My destiny?/ Ramjen asked the unknown voice.
/In time you too will learn what you need to know...\ it answered, \perhaps from the one with the flute...\
Then the guard too began to see the spirits. "M-m-m-my g-g-goodness!" he exclaims, as they suddenly appear to him, and he faints from the shock.
Ramjen awoke to see Jacrose and Daria standing over him. "What happened?" he asked them, only to notice that the spirits were forming around them too.
Daria opens her mouth to say something when she suddenly hears noise growing louder outside the Red Room, made of shouts, footsteps and clinking of armour.
"We've been loitering around in this godforsaken room for far too long! It's the Queen's guards coming!" groans Remjan from the floor, who for a second forgot his terror of the spirits in the face of this new danger. "We're doomed!"
Tigre turns around and faces one of the ghosts. "We have no other choice but to trust you," he says firmly.
The spirit's frame shines brighter for a moment as if in delight, and as he and his fellow spirits draw closer Daria lifts Remjan up on his feet and says hurriedly, "I'll explain it later, just PLEASE don't faint anymore, they mean us no harm!" I hope, she adds to herself.
Before she can say anything else a paralysing sensation passes through her as one of the spirits touches her shoulder with what could only be described as some sort of spectral arm, while the other two do the same to her companions. The sensation lasts for a couple of seconds until the arm withdraws and Daria almost chokes on the air that streams back into her lungs again.
"I'd be very quick now, young Dragons," says one of the spirits, "for your enemies will burst into this room any minute now."
"Well, where do you expect us to go then?" asks Remjan angrily.
"Why, I thought we made it clear, young human," says the spirit, slightly taken aback. He waves his "arm" around the room. "Just go through any wall you like."
"Of course!" Jacrose exclaimed excitedly, "We've received the power to phase!"
"Just go already!" the spirit ordered. "We'll try to handle the guards should they enter here!"
"SCOOT!" and with that final word, the three companions were blown through the north wall into the next corridor.
In the Lab of the Witch Queen Sahieve.. "They've escaped again!?!" she ranted, "How can this be possible?"
"My charges are very resourceful, Saihve," Altheus risked saying. "You should know this by now."
Sahieve waltzed closer to her ex-fiancée. "You are lucky that I have other plans for you, fiancée. Otherwise you'd be food for my minions!"
Ramjen was the first to get up from the blast. /Now this is a revolting development./
/You're telling me?/ came a familiar voice
/Who..who are you?/
/The 'Pied Piper',/ came the sarcastic answer, /Jacrose, who else?/
/What are we doing?/ the Cousins' former guard asked.
/Telepathy,/ came the reply. /But we, especially you, should use it only when in dire needs./
"You hear me, Ramjen?" The former guard of the Cousins only nodded.
"How you became involved in this I'll never know, but I do know one thing for sure...We need to check on Daria," Tigre said in a worried tone, "she's not waking up..."
"Hey, I'm alright," protests Daria, then realises that her companions are not looking at her but at the motionless shape lying on the floor that looks very familiar. "Oh..." is all she manages to say, unable to grasp the idea of looking at her own body from the outside.
/We are very sorry/, says one of the spirits to Jacrose. /It looks like the powers we have given you had an unexpected effect on your cousin and left her spirit torn away from her body. She will come back as the powers wear off, but when, we do not know.../
/Just my luck that my cousin is now with the Spirits!/ Tigre thought to himself in a annoyed tone. /She is among you now?/ the younger cousin asked the shades, then he felt a familiar twinge from the magic that only his cousin knows.
/Of course I'm here, silly!/ Daria's voice laughed, /I wouldn't leave you behind that easily, not now, not ever./
As tears began to well up in Jacrose's eyes with joy, a voice from behind him said "Use me to return her, stupid!"
Tigre unhooked the fipple flute from his back and asked, "Can you help me with the casting of the spell, Spirit of the Fipple Flute?"
"What would a musical instrument know about this?" Ramjen asked.
"Plenty, Guard!" came the reply, "now do your duty while I help this youngster out!"
Within a space of a few minutes the 'Spirit of the Fipple Flute' (Who preferred to be called 'Spirit Flute' or 'Mr.Fipple') taught the *Spirit Return* spell to Daria's musical cousin.
/Get ready, Daria,/ Jacrose warned, /cause this is my first attempt at this, and I pray it works!/
An erie melody wafted thru the air. A sound not harkened to one heard ever before by mortal ears. When the spell had ended and the last haunting sounds had floated away an ominous silence pressed on in the darkened gloom of the hallway...
At first it seemed as though the effort had been in vain. It left Jacrose with an uneasy feeling that the melody may have not been quite right. There was a feeling of change, something was not as it was before. It could not be seen, but could be felt - not as the feeling of a breeze or likened to a solid or tangible thing, but a feeling of restlessness, of being watched by unseen eyes. The air felt heavy and it almost seemed as though the little light that was present was dimming; and what? ...in the edges of the darkened hallway just beyond the edge of sight it almost seemed as though a nameless, formless thing was moving in the dark!
The fipple flute had worked, it had called forth the spirit of the fipple flute! ...or had it? Something was not quite right for the usual feeling of lightness and companionship was not present. But something was there! Jacrose knew it! But what would he do? He could not go back, and the means for escape was a path he did not want to approach because of... DANGER! He could feel it! It was welling up inside! There was surely something there! He could not ignore it! Something far worse was before him than that which he had left behind. As his alarm swelled he could hear the sound of his own heavy breathing, he could feel the claminess of his skin as the air aound him grew cold and felt as if it was pressing in around him... He had almost given in to feelings of desparation when he was jolted from his thougts as Ramjen exclaimed, "It worked! See! She is stirring!".
Daria feels a slight pullling sensation which grows stronger every second until it makes her feel as if she's being stretched like a rubberband, then the world in front of her eyes shifts and the next moment she finds herself lying on the floor grinding her teeth against a monstrous headache. She manages to give her worried companions a reassuring smile and croaks, "it's alright, I'm back into my head now... and what a miserable place it is!"
"She got -that- right," a completely different female voice comes out of Daria's mouth, low and husky in comparison, "this headache almost makes me want to go back into that accursed room. Almost."
A stunned silence that follows is only broken when Daria picks up her lower jaw and gasps: "Did I just say that?!"
/No, I did,/ the same voice chuckles inside her head, and from the look on Remjan and Jacrose's faces Daria can tell that the strange entity made itself heard to them, as well. /I am sorry for intrusion, young Dragon, but you have no idea what it was like to have been locked up in that room for centuries with nothing but a few crazed spirits as a company. If I am to be in a prison I prefer a moving and living one./
"Get out of my head, now!" Daria screams, enraged.
/Oh, but I can't,/ says the voice. /We are bound if not forever, then until the death of your physical body; any spirit-banishing spell would banish us both. I do not expect you to forgive me but you do not need to fear me. I can have no power over your body if you do not wish it. I also have a feeling that I may be of help to you in your quest./
/For one thing, it would be a really good idea to get out of this place./
"We are not alone are we?", said Daria. "There is something near. Something dangerous. I can't see it, but yet it is there!" Tigre replied. "I feel it as well.", Ramjen uttered from a distance. "Here! What are you doing knave!, shouted Tigre. "Over here!", cried Ramjen. "I have found us a way out!"
They eagerly pursued Ramjen as he pushed on what looked like solid stone wall. It at first seemed foolhardy, but slowly with some effort and a grinding sound, an opening started to appear where there had once been only a small crack in the wall.
"It was almost completely hidden in the darkness. I was leaning against it and felt it move.", said Ramjen. Soon the opening was large enough to allow for their escape. The group moved quickly, sensing a growing uneasiness at that which all knew was there, but could not see. And in the darkness something stirred.
In Queen Saihve's lab...
The Witch Queen cackles in delight as the trio heads towards one of most deadly minions... the Shadow Dragon! Once a pure Great Siberian, like the Cousins, the now dark and evil dragon was caught up with a thirst for power after seeing first hand what Saihve could do during the Dragon Wars. Given great powers by the Witch Queen, after showing his allegiance to her by destroying ten Weyrs in succession, including both cousins' Weyrs, the one-time Silver Dragon became a Shadow Dragon.
Meanwhile, in the hidden passage...
"I wonder how long this tunnel is?" Daria wondered.
"You will -never- know!" exclaimed a voice in the darkness. *Acid Ball* was cast from the darkness towards Daria!
*Reflect* Jacrose cast around his cousin, and the acid barely touched her.
"Ramjen! No!" The Cousins shouted, but their guard didn't listen. Sword shining, the enemy could suddenly be seen: a Dragon!
Ramjen's sword never hit its intended target. "The fool!" Tigre cried, "Why couldn't he wait?"
"Maybe you want to make war with someone your own size, you scaly bastard!" hisses Daria as a sparkling cloud envelopes her and the girl's shape within grows bigger and bigger. Burned and wounded as he is, Ramjen still can't contain a horrified scream as he's trying to wriggle out of the way, more afraid of the change in his companion than the terror that almost killed him.
All of a sudden, Daria freezes as if hitting an invisible barrier, then turns around and starts to walk back purposefully towards her cousin, her eyes dark and mad. Ramjen gasps as he sees the same murderous darkness fill Tigre's eyes, and the young dragon steps towards Daria and waits with a malicious smile curving his lips.
"I changed my mind. Fighting you by myself is not as much fun as watching you fight each other," Tigre hears the enemy's triumphant chuckle.
/Cousin, flee!/ screams Daria's mind desperately as she struggles against the dark dragon's mindlock.
/He can't, you fool,/ she hears the nameless impostor's voice inside her head. /Saihve's spawn is controlling you both... but his mind-twisting powers only extend to your kind. Trust me this one time, Daria, yield the control of our body to me for a while. This may be our only chance!/
/How do I yield exactly??/ Daria gasps in mounting panic as she sees her cousin prepare to deal the first blow.
/Just - step aside!!/
The Shadow Dragon's laughter is cut off abruptly as he watches Daria stop and turn towards him one more time. So great is his surprise at losing the pawn he thought he had clutched in his claws that his merciless grip on Jacrose's mind slips away for a second, and the darkness contorting his face is no more.
/If you want you and your cousin to live, strike now, Tigre!/
There was one spell that came to mind that may do the job: *Lucent Beam*. A beam of pure white light shoots out of Tigre's outstretched talons and hits the Shadow Dragon full blast!
"YAARRG! Is that the best you can do, Coldmist!"
"What are you talking about?" the younger cousin ask the enemy, "who is Coldmist?"
"You are, stupid!" the Dragon minion of Saihve taunted. "Tell him."
"Tell me what cousin?"
"I have no idea," says Daria, who obviously regained the control again, but before she can say anything else, the dark dragon erupts with laughter, "Cousin, you said? By Gods, if only that fool Altheus could see this! My job will be finished after all despite his puny attempts to save your pathetic kind!" He chuckles again as the cousins realise with horror that they're facing a monster responsible for their family's demise.
/Don't let him paralyse you with fear,/ the spirit's voice echoes in their heads. /Truth be told, he has grown arrogant and lazy, and he underestimates you. Keep him talking, and look for the holes in the armour./
/I will try,/ Coldmist tells the spirit and whips out Mr. Fipple!
"What do you want this time, kid?" he asks angrily, "I was in the middle of my meditation."
"A talking flute?!" the enemy dragon gasps. "Well now I've seen everything," he chuckles, and attempts to swipe the said flute away from Daria's cousin. But he is stopped by a net of webs!
"Play for all your worth cousin!"
/Cast the spell, Coldmist! Cast it now!/
Coldmist put Mr. Fipple to his lips and played a long-forgotten melody. "No!" Shadow exclaimed. "Not that! Anything but that!"
/Remember where you came from, little one,/ the spirit said to Shadow. /Remember all that you had loved before the tragedy began./
"NO! MOMMA, NO!"
/Don't let up, Coldmist,/ the spirit told him. /He his weakening, and changing./ A grin was in her voice.
In the lab... Saihve was throwing another tantrum.
"I can't see a thing!" she screeched as she destroyed a random set of vile vials. "Shadow, report!" No response came.
"Report, Shadow, now!", Saihve screeched at the top of her lungs, then waltzed over to her former fiancée. "They're at it again, aren't they, Altheus?" she asked with a deceptive calm.
"Now what gave you that idea, dear Saihve?" he grinned, and took a slap in the face.
In the passage... Shadow began to change...
"Help me, my queen!" he called, but there wasn't a reply. Shadow's dark scales were turning silver!
/Keep playing, Coldmist,/ the Spirit commanded, and the young Great Siberian Dragon did his best with the melody.
Ramjen was a little shaken from his charge, and was surprised at what he saw...
/The enemy is a Silver Dragon???/ he broadcast accidentally.
/A former one that is being reformed, Ramjen,/ the Spirit within Daria told him, /be on your guard, for he may break loose from Daria's webs and come charging at either of us.../ Just as she said that, the inevitable happened... Coldmist couldn't play anymore, and Shadow broke free and charged towards him!
"I have played with you enough, you insolent drake!" he roars, but everyone can hear the new frightened, hysterical notes in his voice.
In desperation, Daria concentrates on the sparkling silver thread that connects her with the Shadow Dragon and strikes as hard as she can, even as she realises that her powers are simply not strong enough. When the charging dragon suddenly utters a bone-chilling scream and collapses on the floor, nearly crushing Jacrose in the process, she doesn't realise at first that it was her doing. Then she nearly drops to the floor herself as a wave of utter exhaustion grips her mind and body, and has to hold onto the wall for support.
/How did I... do that?/ she mumbles.
/Let's just say, we were acting in a beautiful unison,/ the Spirit replies, sounding mightily pleased with herself. /And as a dragon web-weaver, you'll always have a closer connection with your kin, and therefore a better chance to affect them. I bet old stupid Saihve forgot all about -that-../
Meanwhile, the Shadow Dragon stirs on the floor with a slight groan. Even more of his dark hue fled from him as Shadow tried to rise.
"Damn you, Saihve!" he cried. "You promised the world to me, and this is what I get?"
"The world? FOOL!" came the reply seemingly from everywhere, "You are the one that begged for power and mercy from me! Now DIE!" the Witch Queen cackled, and myriads of black orbs were cast towards him. Shadow tried to flee, but was paralysed with shock.
The orbs struck webs! Aided by her cousin (piping a lively tune), and the Spirit within her, Daria summoned a massive amount of webs to counter-act the orbs.
Altheus wisely kept his mouth shut, but thought, both to himself and to the cousins, /Well done!/
/I must say I'm very impressed with your students, Altheus old fox,/ the Spirit replied to the cousins' Guide.
As the last one of them dies with a hiss, Daria suddenly withdraws the webs and clutches at her head.
"Wait a minute! Why exactly are we helping him when his mistress could have finished the job for us? Or more correctly, why are -you- helping him?" she tries to give a sort of a mental glare to the Spirit within. "This monster nearly got us killed and he's obviously not feeling sorry about it or the destruction he brought upon our kin." And she clasps the silver thread of the Shadow Dragon, ready to deal another, hopefully final, mental blow.
/Hold it!/ the strength of the Spirit's voice is such that Daria lets the thread go. /I understand why you feel the way you do, but trust me that you would regret your deed. You and your cousin heard your mentor - you've done the right thing. How about, instead, helping your human companion over there before he bleeds to death?"
Nodding, and changing back into human form, Jacrose started playing a soothing melody, time honored among healers and bards alike to help mend wounds of those nearby...
"Oh all right," Daria relented, weaving healing threads around Ramjen's wounds. "But when it come to Saihve, no mercy!"
/Careful what you say, Great Siberian,/ the Spirit warned. /For your words may haunt you in the future./
Deep within Shadow's mind his own battles were continuing...
"Momma, please sing that song again," a young Silver Dragon asks sleepily, and hears a song being hummed, and he falls asleep...
..."No!" a juvenile Silver Dragon yells as his Weyr gets destroyed by a mysterious army...
..."We caught this spy near your southern border, My Queen," a guard announced as he brought in a young adult Silver Dragon into the throne room.
"Well, spy," Queen Saihve chuckled, "do you have anything to say for yourself before I pass the sentence?"
Bowing, the Dragon says: "I came to join your forces, My Queen, and am willing to prove my worthiness to you."
"What is your name, Dragon?"
"Shardspray, my Queen." he answered, " of the Great Siberian Clan."
"Not anymore," Saihve told him. "Arise, Shadow, and be off! Destroy ten weyrs for me of your clan, and you will be rewarded with power the world has never seen!"
But Shadow was off when 'has never seen' was uttered, and just now does Shardspray understand.
/Music?/ he wonders, /do I hear music?/
Shardspray opens his eyes...
/At last the sleeper has awoken!/ cheers the spirit within Daria.
"Where am I?" the now Silver Dragon asked the companions, "where is the music coming from?"
"The answer to your fist question," Daria answered, with anger in her voice, "is Queen Saihve's castle."
"And about the music, miss?" the dragon asked, quaking in fear of the now transforming young woman.
"My cousin is playing it. Now lay there and be quiet!"
"A little hard on him, weren't you, cousin?" asked Coldmist after he also morphed. "After all, he has only just returned to our side after a long ordeal. It wouldn't be wise to tip him back the other way."
After saying this to his cousin, Coldmist walks over to soothe Shardspray's pains away with another 'Tune of Healing'.
"Please play that song you were playing before, Coldmist..." Shardspray requested. "When I was just a hatchling, my mother hummed it to me."
"Same here, amigo," Coldmist acknowledged, and started to play the lullaby.
Daria grimaces, then turns to Ramjen, who is now fully recovered yet still shaken from the experience.
"Are you alright?"
"My wounds are healed, but my lady..." he shakes his head, "you should have warned me that you and your cousin were Dragons. The sight of you changing nearly took away what his claws and fire didn't," he motions towards Shardspray.
/I don't care what Altheus says, I don't trust him one bit,/ says Daria to the Spirit as she nods to Ramjen and watches the former Shadow Dragon listen to her cousin play the flute, eyes half-closed.
/Well, don't trust him if you're so hell-bent on it,/ replies the Spirit. /But remember that he is the only one who could help us find the Dragon Stone. The knowledge is there in his mind, we must simply find a way to access it./
/If he knows this, then why does he still live? Why doesn't Saihve send another storm of deadly orbs at him?/
/She lost her hold on him when your cousin worked his flute magic. She may have lost the sight of us, too, for she spies at us through the eyes of her minions.../
Shardspray was soothed by the lullaby that Coldmist played, and soon started to sleep once again... and this time his dreams were pleasant.
"What should we do today, Jacrose?" he asked the human form of Coldmist.
"I don't know, Jostanos, shall we ask Cousin Daria?" Jacrose replied.
"Nah!" Shardspray responded, "she'd take the fun out of things, and she still doesn't like me all that much."
"Altheus then?" Jacrose asks, "I hear he plays a mean game of 'Dodge Energy Ball'."
"But you still need at least four players, and that means Cousin Daria."
"She's easy to beat in 'Dodge Energy Ball'..."
Shardspray smiled at what -could be- future events should all go well here.
/We have little time,/ says the Spirit to the cousins. /I wish we could do it when his mind has truly healed, but we have to try and prod his memories now./
"Is it... dangerous, then?" asked Daria, warily.
/Let's say, it's like trying to walk across the bridge that may have a few broken planks.../
In Shardspray's dream, they all fell onto the grassy meadow, gasping and laughing.
"Well, that was fun," Daria manages to say, "I haven't played 'Dodge Energy Ball' since I was a little drake."
"I used to know many great Dragon games," says Altheus wistfully, "now all lost and gone. You would have enjoyed them, Jostanos."
"No one has played them for a very long time," replies Altheus. "They would be stored in the Dragon Stone as a part of the dragon lore, insignificant and light-hearted as it may be. But the Stone has been long lost to us."
"Oh, that's no problem," says Shardspray, his face clearing. "I know where it is."
"-The- Dragon Stone? How would -you- know anything about it? You're pulling my leg, cousin," says Daria with a laugh.
"Well, I guess I'll just have to show you, then," says Shardspray. Behind his back, the meadow, the trees and the sky itself suddenly melt away and shift into the dark castle corridor, where, in the real world, Tigre and Daria are following Shardspray's dream.
"Just follow me!" Jostanos says with a grin.
Sleepwalking, as it were, Shardspray led the companions towards the lair of the Witch Queen. Traps were missed, and minions were bypassed, so Saihve never knew that the Great Siberian Cousins were on their way.
"The next door is a tricky one, Jacrose," Shardspray warned. "Do you think you could..?" He made a motion as if he were playing a flute.
"I have to see if Mr. Fipple is meditating, asleep, or awake first, cousin," Jacrose whispered as he gently took the Fipple Flute from its sheath.
"Is it show time again, kid?" Mr. Fipple asked with a yawn, "I thought we already healed everyone."
Shardspray grinned and said, "Mr. Fipple, I presume."
"Correct, young Dragon. Need my help?"
"The door ahead of us is magically locked and trapped," Shardspray explained, "could you and Cousin Jacrose bring down those barriers for us so we may proceed in regaining the Dragon Orb?"
The Fipple Flute almost played itself when it heard that the strike against Saihve was commencing, "Let's do it, Jacky!"
/Jacky?!?/ Jacrose broadcast to both his cousins and Ramjen, who tried and failed to stifle chuckles.
/Just play the music, Coldmist,/ the Spirit said, unfazed by the mirth. Jacrose started to play the 'Tune of Barriers Fallen', but something was wrong. He morphed into Coldmist and tried again, and again he failed.
/Try the 'Tune of Fallen Barriers',/ the Spirit suggested, /that might work./
Coldmist did as the Spirit suggested, and played the 'Tune of Fallen Barriers'... This time it worked! The door opened and the Witch Queen Saihve was shocked, ticked, and amazed that the Cousins got to her...
/Oh damn,/ mutters the Spirit who is possibly just as shocked, ticked and amazed that the trip took them to the last place she wanted to be. From behind Saihve, Daria sees Altheus look at them with a mixture of pride and despair.
"The Dragon Stone is hidden in a secret chamber that can only be accessed from this hall," continues Shardspray merrily, still caught up in the happy pink cloud of his dream. "I happened to overhear the mantra for opening the doorway when the old witch wasn't looking, tee-hee... Ventri arumae salmiam! Salmiam feyoah!"
"Vile traitors!!!" Saihve's scream of rage pierces the ears of everyone in the hall as, recovered from shock and blinded by anger, she sends an energy blast across the room just as Shardspray starts the incantation. The next events happen so quickly that Daria's mind simply cannot handle the lightning speed.
...when the last word falls from Shardspray's mouth, the cousins see in amazement as a great pillar of blinding white light rises from the floor to the ceiling, patterns of silver and gold dancing across its surface...
...right in the way of the great energy bolt that carries all of Saihve's rage in it...
...when the two collide, the explosion picks the cousins off their feet and hurls them onto the floor, the flute flying out of Jacrose's hands. Nearly blinded with the fury and brilliance of the blast, Daria sees Altheus thrown against the wall and collapse on the floor like a broken doll. But louder than the roar of the explosion is Saihve's scream...
"Fools! Damn you! Curse you! Don't you understand what you've done? Now your precious Dragon Stone is lost forever!"
But somehow, for all her fury the Witch Queen appears smaller, her aura of near-godlike invincibility dimmed, and slow understanding dawns on the Cousins.
/It may be lost to us... but it is obviously lost to -her- too!/ the Spirit says gleefully. /She is still very powerful... but I think it's about time she paid for her arrogance and her crimes, no?/
As one they replied in kind, /YES!/, and combined their magics into a powerful blast of webs, song, sword strikes, and a blast of *Ice Shards* towards the now feeble Witch Queen.
"NO!" Saihve screeched as she was hit many times over by the various spells, but survived...
"You may have won this battle," the Witch Queen told the companions, "but the Dragon Orb cannot be regained, and the war isn't over yet!"
Cackling, Saihve disappears in a puff of smoke before the companions could get her, leaving them to wonder what she meant.
/Hurry!/ the Spirit within Daria exclaimed, /Coldmist, tend to Altheus. We will need his expertise later./
/Right!/ the young Silver Dragon agreed, and started to play his *Tune of Healing* to his guide and mentor.
Shardspray soon woke up out of his dream, look around at his location, yawned, and said:
"My dream was real after all, wasn't it?"
"Yes, except for the bit where you beat me in Dodge," replies Daria drily.
A day later, the small group sits around the campfire in the secret cave that Daria, Jacrose and Altheus first arrived at what seems to everyone like a lifetime ago. Outside, the weather grows more miserable as the sky gets darker, with heavy rain pelting the earth and icy wind howling like a wounded dog.
/How about another roasted apple?/ says the Spirit imploringly. /Please? You living have no idea how great the food tastes like!/
"No thank you," says Daria firmly. "I'm sure you like your food but I sure like having a waist. By the way, I still do not know your name..."
The Spirit chuckles. /I honestly do not remember my mortal life if I ever had one, and in the Red Room there was no need for any names. So call me whatever you like./
"Altheus, is the Dragon Stone really lost?" Jacrose asks, breaking up the merry banter.
"It's... hard to say, my boy," says the Guide slowly. "But even if Saihve's blast did not destroy it, it hurled it beyond our reach. And knowing her as I do, she will not forget this humiliation easily."
"So we failed," murmurs Daria. "We didn't get the Dragon Stone and Saihve has disappeared beyond the magic of my webs."
"Failed? Nonsense," says the Guide. "My dear former fiancee undoubtedly fled to some other world to lick her wounds; now that the Dragon Stone has slipped from her greedy fingers she's lost more than most of her powers - she's lost this world. True, it can never be restored to what it has been in the old age of Dragons, but have we done it good by cleansing it from Saihve's poison? My God yes."
"So what do we do now?"
"I do not believe in my heart that the Dragon Stone is no more. If, somewhere in this multiverse, it still exists, we shall find it. But for now..." The Guide yawns. "I suggest a good night's sleep. We all had a pretty hectic day, wouldn't you say so?"