Myka's Quest: A Dragon Earl Universe Story

6 - Myka's Heart

Myka couldn't stop the smile from spreading across his lips as Bylanth dove towards the ground, sending the boy's stomach into somersaults. Myka clung to the green dragon's harness; the creature's throat rumbling with a muted roar as the dragon shared in his Rider's happiness. Together, they were one. Myka couldn't be happier than he was at that moment with the dragon soaring along beneath him. Even the icy wind stinging Myka's cheeks failed to make the boy's smile fade. One thing clung to the edge of Myka's mind, though. A nightmare about a red dragon.

The nightmare about the red dragon was becoming a nightly occurrence, always leaving Myka drenched in sweat and clinging tightly to Bylanth. The dragon would calm his Rider down with a few words before encouraging the boy to go back to sleep for whatever time was remaining in the night. While it left Myka feeling exhausted afterward, the boy refused to tell anybody about the reoccurring nightmare. Even Nikolai was being kept in the dark. Bylanth was pushing the boy to tell King Asharyn about the nightmare, but Myka was persistent that he could handle it on his own and forbade his friend from saying anything.

'It's not always wise to keep things like this to yourself, when those closest to you may have the answers that you are seeking, Myka,' Bylanth chided the boy as they flew together.

King Asharyn was flying at the head of the formation with his dragon setting the pace for his followers. Steadily, the group continued west, taking frequent breaks to rest their dragons and give the riders a chance to stretch their legs. Nobody chided the boy and dragon about their exertions. Instead, Cadyn was offering helpful tips about the duo's maneuvers - training the Rider and the dragon as they flew onwards to Dragonsholme.

"I know, Bylanth," Myka responded nervously. "Can we trust anybody else, though?"

'I believe that we can trust everyone that is with us, now,' the dragon stated thoughtfully, a low growl vibrating through Myka's body. 'Jamys and his Rider seem to care about our well-being. You could talk to them.'

"True," Myka stated. "If I tell Nikolai though, he'll just tell Queen Orina. Then, I'll be in all kinds of trouble."

'Why would you be in trouble?'

"Because I'm not better yet," the boy said pointedly. "They'll just be mad if they have to stop again. You heard the queen! They've been gone from Dragonsholme for nearly a month now."

'Only a week of that was spent with you, Myka,' Bylanth told his Rider. 'I'm sure that the king and queen are used to being away from home.'

"I hope so," Myka whimpered.

Bylanth purred to help calm the boy, feeling his nervousness and fear through their shared link. The boy scratched the neck ridge in front of him, eliciting another purring sound from the beast supporting him.

'We will get through everything together, Myka,' Bylanth reassured Myka. 'We will train like they want us to train, and we will fly together as much as we want. Nothing can stop us now.'

Myka couldn't help but smile as he felt a wave of love hit him. He patted the neck ridge again before signaling the dragon to climb higher into the sky.

'Jamys says that we need to stay in formation for a little while longer,' Bylanth stated. 'We are in dangerous territory.'

"What is this place?" Myka asked as he studied the tree tops coasting beneath them. He swore he could smell sulfur drifting up through the trees below.

'The Wastelands,' Bylanth said moodily. 'It is bad air.'

"Why can't we fly lower?"

'The harpies may attack us.'

"Harpies aren't real," Myka laughed. "They're just an old wives' tale!"

Bylanth didn't reply to the question, knowing his Rider would soon see the truth. The harpies that presided over the Wastelands were notorious for attacking unsuspecting travelers, and taking what they could from them. Dragons and their Riders were more of a sport for the harpies, knowing that they would never be able to truly best a dragon, but they could still make the dragon have a bad day.

They were nearing a rocky outcropping when a flurry of wings filled the air around the dragons. Bylanth grunted in surprise as Myka stared around him in wonder.

"Oh," Myka mumbled in surprise. "You were right."

'Hang on tightly, Myka!' Bylanth shouted into Myka's mind. The Rider quickly leaned forward and grabbed the riding straps just as Bylanth performed a roll to the left. Myka watched as a harpy slid past them, barely missing Bylanth with its human-shaped hands. The main thing that Myka noticed was that the harpy was grinning with excitement as he tried to trace his fingertips down the dragon's scaly sides.

"It's a game to them, Bylanth!" Myka quickly acknowledged.

'Jefyk, Jamys, and Laryth all say that it's an attack,' Bylanth countered.

"It's not, though!" Myka shouted against the wind. "Trust me! Please?!"

'What do you want me to do?'

"Let him touch you on his next pass," Myka confirmed with a wide grin. "Sidestep just enough so he doesn't collide with you, but let him touch you as you roll. I'm going to grab his hand as I come up, and flip him onto the neck ridge behind me."

'Are you sure?'

"Yes," Myka grinned. "I'm positive! Tell everybody else to stand down and watch from a distance." Then, the boy glanced upwards. "Here he comes."

'Jamys does not like this idea,' Bylanth relayed.

"They don't need to, Bylanth," Myka shrugged. "Get ready!"

'I'm watching him,' the dragon confirmed. 'Now!'

Myka gripped the restraint with one hand while Bylanth rolled in the opposite direction, leaving Myka's right hand free to carry out his plan. He heard Bylanth's rumble as the harpy's fingertips touched his scaly belly, and heard the bell-like laughter of the winged creature. Then, there was a yelp of surprise as Myka grabbed the human-like creature with his free hand.

"Ride with me, friend!" Myka smiled at the harpy as he pulled the creature into the seat behind him.

The harpy looked startled, his green eyes wide in surprise, but he nodded happily. Then, Bylanth surprised Rider and Harpy both as he rose higher into the air, letting the other harpies touch him before tucking his wings into his side and diving towards the ground. The sudden drop made the harpy flare his wings out, but Myka held him tightly in place. The harpy giggled with joy as the ground rose up to meet them, only to shoot back into the air moments later.

'Laryth and King Asharyn have asked that we land in the clearing just north of the swamp,' Bylanth stated.

"Okay," Myka replied sadly. "If we must."

The harpies followed curiously as the group of dragons flew towards the clearing that sat between the mountains and the swamps. Bylanth landed near Laryth, and lowered his body so Myka could climb down with ease. His new friend remained astride Bylanth's neck, patting the scaly-hide absently.

Myka bowed to the king as the man approached him. King Asharyn waved the boy's bow aside, and motioned towards the harpy. "How did you know he was friendly?"

"He was smiling and laughing, your Majesty," the boy replied, suddenly feeling terrified as the king questioned him. "He was playing a game."

"That was a risky move, Rider Myka," the man told him thoughtfully. "But you managed to end what we thought was a raging war. It's always been understood that harpies were evil troublemakers."

"Does he look like a troublemaker to you, your Majesty?" Myka asked, motioning towards the harpy still sitting on Bylanth behind him.

"Only about as much as you do, young Myka," Asharyn replied with a chuckle. The king then smiled at the young harpy and held out his hand in greeting to the humanoid with wings. "We mean you no harm, friend."

The harpy nodded, seeming to understand the man's words, but not wanting to converse with them yet. Then, the creature bowed gracefully to the king before launching into the air, and flying back to its friends.

"That was. . . Entertaining," King Asharyn observed with a raised brow. "Was everything just a misunderstanding?"

"Apparently, my love," Queen Orina suggested as she joined him. She kissed his cheek gently. "We should stay here for the night, and return to Dragonsholme in the morning. It's peaceful out here."

"Especially now," Asharyn added with a nod toward the departing harpies. He chuckled and shook his head before motioning for Rider Mogan to join him.

"Yes, your Majesty?" The brown-haired Rider bowed as he joined the king and queen.

"Let's set up camp for the evening, Mogan," Asharyn commanded in a friendly tone. "My lovely wife is right; this would be a nice place to spend our last night of freedom."

"Of course, your Majesty," Mogan replied and bowed quickly. "I'll see to it at once!"

Asharyn was about to call for Myka, but stopped when he saw the boy going to help Nikolai down from Jefyk's neck. Orina saw where her husband was gazing and whispered in his ear. "A blossoming love, my King."

"I'm glad that they were able to find comfort in each other, Orina," the man stated. Then, he smiled at his wife. "I love you more than life, my Queen."

"I love you more, Ash," Orina replied sweetly.

Then, the king and queen kissed, oblivious to the world around them.

Asharyn sat on his throne, grateful for the familiar feeling of security that the chair gave him when his dragon couldn't be nearby. He had been absent for nearly a month and the work had piled up in his absence. Now, he was spending his morning listening to different petitioners as they filed reports about events happening within the borders of Erewhon. There was only one thing that the king wanted to be doing at that moment, resting in his own apartments as he got to know his new family members.

Myka and Nikolai spent the past three days exploring the castle with Rider Cadyn following their every move, along with a small contingent of three guards always designated to be present with the boys. Cadyn acted like a tour guide while the security team maintained a short distance to give the friends privacy as they explored.

The air in the throne room was warmed by four fire pits that were in the corners of the massive room, filling the air with the sounds of crackling wood as the fire burned along each willow log. Asharyn was satisfied with his decision to reassign Cadyn as Myka's escort, knowing the young Rider would look after the boy until told to do otherwise. Rider Mogan, Cadyn's direct supervisor, was hesitant at first, but quickly warmed to the idea when he was reminded of Myka's potential when provided with the proper training.

"What about Nikolai?" Cadyn had asked, knowing how important Myka and Nikolai were to each other.

"He will be working with Master Healer Mory," Asharyn replied. "Just as promised to Lady Tamera, Rider Cadyn. Each boy will learn that they have responsibilities to the kingdom, as well as each other."

"Of course, your Majesty," Cadyn replied quickly with a bow. "I will make sure that they are reminded of their duties."

"Thank you, Rider Cadyn," Asharyn replied with a nod. "Your loyalty has always been unquestionable. That is why you are in the position that you are."

"Thank you, my King," Cadyn thanked the older man gratefully. "I hope to continue to exceed your expectations."

"I know you will, Cadyn," Asharyn smiled before he changed the subject.

"Your Majesty?"

The king was brought back to the moment by the older man standing at the foot of the dais. "Apologies, Lord Edwin," the king said quickly as he sat up on his throne. "I was caught up in a memory of something that happened recently." Then, he turned his attention to everyone else waiting in an overcrowded room. "I know you have all been waiting patiently, but I would like to end the session for the day. I am obviously not ready to face this part of my duties yet, and would like to begin again on the morrow. Lord Edwin, do you mind waiting until morning to continue this conversation?" The man hesitated nervously. "You are permitted to request my audience now, my Lord," Asharyn reassured the man. "I just don't want to take away the importance of whatever you have to say because I am distracted."

"It is okay, your Majesty," Edwin replied with a relieved sigh. "My report can wait another day."

"Thank you, my Lord," Asharyn thanked the man. "Your patience with your king will not go unrewarded. You will be first in line in the morning. Guards, make sure you get everyone's name that is here, so they do not have to remain standing in the morning. The petitioners can sit and relax while they await their turn."

Then, Asharyn stood and left the room through a side door with his contingent of guards hot on his trail. The man smiled as he made his way through the back corridor that led along a secret route to his apartments where his family would be waiting for him. Crown Prince Oryn was waiting to spend his own time with his father and new brothers, after spending most of the winter with tutors and guards instead of with his friends. The prince's life was different from others, though. He wasn't going to be able to walk amongst the commoners without being noticed. No. The eleven-year-old needed to learn to hold himself aloof from his followers - just enough to keep them wanting to follow him as a leader. The boy would earn their respect, just like his father had.

The snowstorm raged outside the castle, covering the ground in drifts nearly as high as a dragon's shoulders. Myka and Nikolai watched from the ground as Bylanth flew above the feeding pastures, choosing which herd beast he wanted to feast upon that day. It was the dragon's third kill as the boys watched the green beast swoop down from the heavens to dispatch the surprised animal.

"He's hungry today," Myka told Nikolai without taking his eyes off of the kill.

Nikolai smiled at Myka's attention in his dragon's feast. "It's been a few days since he's eaten. Don't let him glutton himself, though," Nikolai warned. "I know Rider Cadyn told you that the last time. It could make Bylanth ill if he gorges."

'He's right, Bylanth,' Myka pushed the thought to his friend who was in the middle of choosing a fourth beast to eat. 'This should be your last one, for today.'

'As you wish, Myka,' Bylanth replied edgily. 'I'm still hungry, though.'

'You don't want to overeat, love,' Myka tried to reassure Bylanth. 'You'll get sick.'

'I know,' Bylanth replied in a whiny tone that made Myka giggle.

"What's wrong?" Nikolai asked.

"Bylanth is grumbling that he's still hungry," Myka grinned.

Both boys watched as the dragon swooped down on his fourth kill, dispatching the creature with a quick shake of his head and snapping its neck. Then, Bylanth flew off to the side of the pasture to enjoy his meal. Myka pulled his fur coat tighter across his shoulders to ward off the chilly breeze that was stirring the snow around.

"Come on, Myka," Nikolai pulled the Rider back towards the safety and warmth of the castle. "Bylanth will listen to you."

'I'll meet you in our quarters, Bylanth,' Myka sent the thought to the green dragon that was finishing off the last of his kill.

'Stay safe,' Bylanth replied.

"I have to meet with the Master Healer," Nikolai informed Myka. "I'm not sure when I'll be done with my assignments, but I'll come visit you as soon as I can."

The guards opened the doors for the boys and saluted Myka as he passed. Myka responded with a nod and a smile as he entered the castle.

"Hopefully, your quarters will be big enough for me to come visit you," Myka told Nikolai.

"Hopefully," Nikolai blushed in agreement. Then, he kissed Myka on the cheek and went to meet with the healer. "Until later, Myka," the boy called over his shoulder.

"Until later, Nikolai," Myka called back as Nikolai walked down one of the corridors and turned out of sight. Then, Myka smiled and headed towards the royal apartments.

"King Asharyn would like to speak with you, Rider Myka," Cadyn announced as he joined the boy.

Myka looked up at the teenager in surprise. "Do you know why?" He asked in a worried tone.

"Nah, don't be worried though," Cadyn assured the boy. "He would have sent his personal guard to find you right away if it was anything serious."

"Oh," Myka replied thoughtfully. "I didn't think of that."

"I didn't think you had by the look of fear on your face, Myka," Cadyn observed with a chuckle. The young man patted the boy's shoulder before steering him towards Asharyn's apartments. "Come on. We shouldn't keep the king waiting too long."

Myka laughed with a smile. "No, we probably shouldn't."

"Why would he mention that name, though?" Asharyn asked thoughtfully as he relaxed on his cushioned divan. "It's been decades since Deshan left Erewhon behind. Do you think he's really coming back?"

"It's possible, my love," Orina replied. "We'll just have to prepare for if he does come back."

"My grandfather was barely able to drive him out of the kingdom last time he decided to attack us," Asharyn groaned. "We need the wisdom of the Ancients."

"We already have it, my King," the green-eyed woman countered. "The dragons remember everything they've ever been told."

"True," Asharyn commented. "But not like we do. It takes an event to trigger that specific memory. The dragons could tell us everything that they think they know about Deshan, but we won't know the entire truth until he's actually here. All we can get now are remnants of memories."

"I'm certain that you will come up with something, my King," Orina encouraged her husband. "You always do."

"This isn't like before, Orina," the king stated. "We have a chance to prepare, and we don't even know what we're preparing for."

A short knock at the door interrupted the king's comments.

"Yes?" Asharyn called out.

"Rider Cadyn and Rider Myka here to see you as requested, your Majesty," one of the king's guards called out.

"Let them enter," Asharyn ordered before the door opened. Cadyn entered with Myka at his side. Both Riders bowed deeply to the king and took a knee in front of him. "Rise, gentlemen. There's no need for that, today. We have more important things to worry about."

"What's going on, your Majesty?" Cadyn asked in worry.

"We'll wait for Mogan," the king countered. "He needs to be present for this."

"How are you settling in, young Myka?" Orina asked as she settled into her sitting chair next to the hearth. The young woman motioned for the two Riders to sit on the divan. "Make yourselves comfortable, gentlemen. Our discussion today could take some time."

"I'm doing alright, my Queen," Myka replied with a slight bow of his head. "Bylanth and Nikolai have been helping."

"That's good, child," the woman smiled. "Are you excited to begin training next week?"

"I'm more nervous than anything, my Lady," Myka blushed.

"What are you nervous about, Myka?"

The boy hesitated, glancing around nervously for his dragon and frowning when he remembered where he was.

'Just relax, Myka,' Bylanth reassured his Rider. 'They love you.'

"I'm nervous about meeting new people, my Queen," the boy finally admitted. "What if they don't like me?"

Cadyn wrapped his arms around the boy.

"Then Jamys will eat them, Myka," Cadyn said in a serious tone that made the boy giggle.

"He wouldn't, really, would he?"

"Jamys will do it if he thinks you're in danger."

"Dragons will do anything to protect their Riders and their friends," the queen told the boy. "Now, what else can I do to make the transition in your life easier?"

Another knock at the door made everyone fall silent as Mogan's name was called out by the guard before he was admitted into the king's apartment.

"Did you run into any trouble?" Asharyn asked before the door was barely closed. "Were there any signs?"

Mogan looked at Myka and Cadyn as he hesitated to answer.

"They need to know, Mogan," Asharyn told him. "The boy is the entire reason we're looking for Deshan in the first place."

"Whispered names in the night?" Mogan asked with a raised brow. "The prophecies are true then?"

"The prophecies are always true, Rider Mogan," Orina confirmed distastefully. "We just never know how to interpret them until the moments in time occur."

"Draconis only knows why we must always play these little guessing games," Asharyn growled in disgust. "I hate it. We're always living on the edge of our seats, waiting for the next sign of the prophecy, only to learn that it meant something completely different than what we originally believed."

"What's happening?" Cadyn asked in confusion as he looked between the three adults. "Why are Myka and myself even here?"

"You missed the tiny detail, Rider Cadyn," Asharyn shook his head in mock disdain while his shoulders shook with laughter. "Do you remember the prophecies, Cadyn?"

"Whispered names in the night. . ." Cadyn's voice trailed off as he looked down at Myka in disbelief. "I never thought I would be alive to see the day. . ."

"But here you are," the king told the young man with a wide grin. "It's unfortunate that it begins with the Forgotten Beast, though. Too much has been forgotten about Deshan, and we may not be able to prepare ourselves for his return."

"The blood-red dragon?" Myka asked in confusion. "The one from my dreams? Is that who you're talking about?"

The room fell silent and Myka began to feel like he had done something completely wrong.

"What do you remember about your dreams, Myka?" Asharyn asked the boy curiously. "All we know of the beast is what legend has to offer. Something is telling me that your dreams are the key to figuring this out."

'I can show them if you like,' Bylanth told his Rider.

"Bylanth says that he can show you," Myka responded.

"Even better," Asharyn confirmed with a grin before his eyes went distant for a second. He stumbled forward and put his hand on the back of a chair to steady himself. "Oh."

"That was - odd," Orina said in a gentle tone. "I've never had a dragon show me before."

"It puts it in a different perspective entirely," Mogan frowned. "We're doomed."

"I can stop him," Myka said, not even realizing he had spoken.

"How, though?" Cadyn asked in disbelief. "You're just a child."

"You're wrong, Cadyn," Orina corrected the young man. "He's a Dragon Rider!"

"It's not that, Lady Orina," Myka said softly.

"What is it, Myka?" Asharyn asked, kneeling in front of Myka slowly. "How do you plan on defeating Deshan when he returns?"

"When he attacks," Myka corrected the man. "He's already awoken from his hibernation, your Majesty. He's very angry."

"What woke him?" Orina asked quietly, afraid to break the strange spell that had come over the boy.

"I did," Myka replied with a tear rolling down his cheek. "It was my cousin's hatred that made him reawaken. It was my wanting to get revenge on them that fueled his anger. He was made to be awoken when Bylanth and I were bonded. That's when the true battle of good and evil takes place. The battle between right and wrong." Then, Myka turned his gaze to Rider Cadyn and spoke in a voice that seemed to echo throughout the ages. "When the Beloved falls, the Choice must be made. Do not let the Vessel of Power act on revenge, dear Guide, for everything will fall to chaos if he does. The Creatures of the Land will perish if the world is split in two. Lead him on his journey, Guide, for that is where you will find your ultimate reward."

"I will do as thou has commanded, Draconis," Cadyn replied with a bow of his head.

Then, Myka's eyes closed and the boy slumped to the side. Cadyn held the boy tightly as he looked on at the king and queen in disbelief.

"Did that really just happen?"

"I think so," Asharyn nodded.

"Is he okay?" Orina asked in worry as she walked over to check on Myka. "That couldn't have been easy for him."

"The dragons would have told us if he was in danger," Cadyn pointed out before his eyes went out of focus for a moment. "Oh, Jamys said that we should let him rest. Draconis leaves a heavy impression on the human soul when she visits."

"He should be with Bylanth when he wakes," Orina pointed out.

"I'll take him to his quarters, immediately," Cadyn acknowledged, resigning himself to his role in the days to follow. He slipped his arms beneath the sleeping form before lifting him against his chest.

"Be careful not to wake him," Orina said softly.

"Of course, my Queen," the Rider nodded.

"Keep a close eye on him, Cadyn," Asharyn added as Cadyn headed towards the door. "He could begin saying anything."

"My duties," Cadyn tried to protest.

"You've been reassigned, Rider Cadyn," Rider Mogan informed him. "I hear the pay is a lot better when you work for the Royal Family. You've just received one of the ultimate promotions."

"Thank you, sir," Cadyn thanked the older Rider before he bowed to the king while skillfully cradling the sleeping child. "My King. . ."

Then, Cadyn left the room.

"Are we ready for what's coming?" Asked Rider Mogan.

"No," Asharyn replied in a humbled tone. "We're not even close."

"I'd say having that boy as your family is a major advantage, my King."

"I think you and my wife have the same ideas," Asharyn responded.

"He's a smart Rider," Orina chirped playfully.

Mogan chuckled and bowed to the queen.

"My Queen," he said with a smile before he turned to Asharyn. "Make smart choices, King Asharyn."

Then, Mogan turned and promptly exited, leaving the king and queen alone together. Ash immediately turned to look at his wife.

"I take it the vote is unanimous, then?"

"I'd say it is, my dear husband. Even the dragons are in agreement."

"Okay," Ash nodded. "I'll tell Myka at dinner. Is Oryn okay with this?"

A dreamy look came over Asharyn's face before he grinned.

"Never mind," he blushed. "That was a stupid question, apparently."

"What do you mean?" Orina asked in confusion.

"Our son asked me if I was stupid, and then proceeded to tell me that I should have done it sooner."

"Oh," Orina grinned. Orina made her way towards the door. "I'll have the chef make something special tonight. I'm sure that he'll understand when I tell him why.

"Good luck, my love," Asharyn told her as he grabbed her wrist and pulled her in close. He pressed his lips lightly against hers before releasing the green-eyed woman to complete her task.

"I'll return shortly, my love."

Then, Asharyn was alone. . .

Aryana stared at the massive cave dug into the side of the mountain. The brush heading towards the opening was burned and charred, smashed down to the ground from decades of being trampled over by something heavy. Claw marks covered the front of the mountain around the cave, and a heavy odor of sulfur lingered in the air. This was the place of the young woman's dreams. This was the place she had visited every night for a decade. The location where most of her nightmares took place. The snow never lingered on the ground here, and there had been no fresh growth in a month. 

The creature was here.

The beast that spoke to her in her dreams.

The monster that wanted her to prove herself to it.

'Why are you back, girl?' The red beast asked as she slipped into the cave. She quickly shed her winter coat and hat as she stepped through the wide entrance, leaving them lying on the ground by the wall. 'Why do you come here every night?'

 'My dreams bring me here,' the girl replied as she walked deeper into the cave. Her entire being was screaming at her to run as she continued forward, knowing the way by heart. 'I have no choice.'

'Your dreams lead you to death,' the deep voice shook her tender frame to her core as it echoed within the vaults of her mind. Then, she stepped around the corner and stopped when she saw the red dragon lying on the ground with its massive head turned in her direction. The great beast almost seemed to smile when he saw her. 'Ahh, there you are, girl. Do you wish to continue our nightly jousting of words?'

"I'm here to ask the same question that I ask every night, dragon," Aryana spoke aloud - her own voice sounding dwarfed compared to the dragon's. "Why have you moved into these lands?"

'To find my Rider, child,' the dragon replied in a bored voice. 'As I've said multiple times.'

"Who is your Rider, dragon?" The girl asked curiously.

'You wouldn't know of him,' the beast scolded the young woman. 'He is from before your time.'

"How old are you?"

'What does that matter?'

"It matters to me," Aryana countered. "I might be able to help you find your Rider if I knew how old the both of you were."

'You can't find somebody that passed into the Void decades ago, girl!' The dragon snapped, letting loose with a growl that shook the walls of the cave. 'That's why I went on my rampage in the first place! The Bond was broken and I wasn't permitted by Draconis to follow.'

"Oh, that's awful," Aryana gasped. "Why? Why couldn't you follow?"

'Draconis said that there would be a greater reward for me if I waited,' the dragon stated. 'Ask what you want to ask, girl. I am growing tired of this game.'

"You act as though you aren't a figment of my mind, dragon," the girl told him.

'Is that what you think, girl?' The red dragon asked curiously. 'Is that truly what you believe?'

"I'm dreaming, nothing more."

The dragon seemed to laugh as it slowly uncurled its long body and moved to stand and stretch. 'You know nothing, little girl. Now, ask what you are meant to know so these stupid games of yours can come to an end!'

Aryana stared at the large creature as its frame filled up the cavern in front of her. Her heart was racing in her chest and she involuntarily took a step backwards. 

"It's a dream," she said timidly. "Nothing but a dream."

'Doesn't it seem a little real to be a dream, girl?'

"What do you mean, dragon?"

'Don't be stupid!' The dragon scoffed. 'Now, ask what you came to ask!'

Aryana had never made it this far before. She didn't understand what the dragon wanted her to ask. She frowned as she studied the intimidating creature. The words formed on her lips and left her mouth without a second thought.

"What's your name, dragon?"

'Finally, the dream-walker serves her purpose,' the dragon growled with delight as it stretched up to its full height. 'My name is Deshan, girl! Reaper of Vengeance!'

Then, Deshan let loose with a mighty roar that shook rocks loose from the ceiling of the cave, and filled the air with more heat than Aryana could handle. She glanced up in time to see a reddish flame beginning to burn deep within Deshan's maw, instantly filling her with fear.

'It's time for this game to be over, girl!'

"I'm not a girl, Deshan!" Aryana shouted angrily.

'You're nothing but a snack,' the great beast countered before it lunged at the young woman, releasing a billowing plume of fire at her. 

Aryana awoke with a start, the smell of soot and sulfur filling the tiny cottage room around her. Her brow was covered in sweat, and she knew that she had been talking in her sleep by the strange looks the other woman in the bed across from her had on her chubby face. 

"Aryana?" The woman asked in concern. "Are you okay?"

"Go to sleep, Becca," Aryana smiled weakly at the heavy-eyed woman. "I'll be fine."

"You said a name this time, Aryana," Becca told the dream-walker as she fought the urge to yawn. Her thick lips smacked together as she struggled to stay awake. The name she spoke seemed to shake Aryana to her core though. "Deshan. Reaper of Vengeance!"

"What did I say, Becca?"

"I'm not certain," Becca told her lazily. "I was dreaming about a nice man from Ambrozil and he kept telling me that I needed to wake up, but I didn't want to. When I did finally wake up, I heard you talking to yourself all dreamy-like."


"Yeah," Becca shrugged. "It didn't sound like you. It sounded like someone else was talking through you, Aryana. You were sort of sitting up, but not completely. Your eyes though. . ." The chubby woman blinked and shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the dreamy haze that was still lingering over her memories. "Never mind, Aryana. I must have been dreaming still. I could swear that your eyes had a dull glow to them while this other voice spoke through you. Why does it smell like smoke in here, though?"

"Smoke?" Aryana asked in confusion until she noticed the singed corner of her sleeping gown. "Maybe the fire needs to be stirred? I'll get the poker."

Aryana slipped out of the bed and moved over to the dying fire, and quickly stoked it back to life with a few measured jabs into the fire's depths. The young woman stared into the flames for a moment as she let herself get lost in her thoughts. She was about to say something to Becca, but when she turned to speak, she found the woman already snoring away. Aryana smiled briefly before returning to her own cot. 

"Deshan, the Reaper of Vengeance," Aryana whispered before something else that the dragon said came to her. "He called me a dream-walker."

With that last thought, Aryana went back to sleep, her first peaceful dream in weeks.

Myka awoke, his heart racing in his chest as he tried to remember the dream he had just escaped. Deshan was there like usual, but there was a woman talking to him. She couldn't be older than twenty and she wasn't afraid of the mighty red dragon. It was like she didn't believe she was even in the same cavern with Deshan. 

"Aryana," Myka whispered the name as he stared up at the ceiling of his quarters. "Who are you?"

The boy did a mental check to find Bylanth still asleep and dreaming about flying over a shrouded valley bathed in the colors of spring. He could hear birds chirping in surprise from below him as he flew over the tops of evergreen trees, their cries of alarm echoing in the air around him. Bylanth was purring as he lived the adventure of his dreams and Myka pulled back softly to keep from waking his friend. 

Myka sat up in bed and swung his feet to the floor, barely noticing how dark it was outside as he padded to the privy to relieve his aching bladder. The castle was quiet, except for the idle chatter of two guards assigned to guard Myka's door. The boy considered talking to them or going out to find Cadyn but decided he didn't need to bother anybody in the middle of the night. Myka climbed back into his bed and stared at the ceiling until he fell back to sleep.

His first dream was one of Bylanth catching him during his fall from the cliff, but just as Bylanth lifted him into the air, the green dragon morphed into Deshan. Myka screamed in terror as the familiar voice in his mind was replaced by the raspy voice of the red dragon.

'You are my Rider!' The dragon roared ferociously.

"No!" Myka screamed defiantly. "I will never be your Rider, Deshan! Bylanth and I will never be separated!"

'We will see, young Myka,' the dragon said coolly before it released the boy from its talons, letting him fall to the earth below.

Myka screamed out in terror as he shot up in bed, his body covered in sweat. The guards rushed into the room with Cadyn right behind them, the trio trying to figure out what was wrong with the panting child. Cadyn held the boy tightly as tears poured from his eyes, Myka's nightmares scaring him senseless.

"What's wrong, Myka?" Cadyn asked softly, trying to get the boy to calm down.

"Deshan!" Myka panted. "He's coming! He's coming for me, Cadyn!"

"What are you talking about, Myka?" Cadyn asked in confusion. "Why would Deshan want you?"

"He wants me to be his Rider!" Myka howled through his tears. "Deshan is coming to make me his Rider!"