Caught by the dragon mai.., p.11
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       Caught By the Dragon, p.11
 

           Mac Flynn
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Xander angled his legs behind him and his head forward. His wings flapped hard and we were pushed forward by the momentum. The ground sped past beneath us. A cool wind whipped my face. I shivered and turned away to face his chest.

  "Cold?" he asked me.

  I gave him the Evil Eye. "What do you think?"

  "That you are not enjoying the ride as much as I would wish," he commented.

  I glanced down at the earth far below us. "You don't exactly come with a seat belt or parachute."

  He blinked at me. "Seat belt?"

  I shook my head. "Never mind. Just don't drop me."

  He chuckled. "I believe I can agree to your request."

  We flew over the thick forests of tall, ancient trees. Our shadows ghosted over the needled tops as the sun set to our right. A cool wind whipped my hair over my face and over my bare arms. The warmth of the dragon lord's body stifled some of my shivering.

  The winding gravel road traveled with us. I looked ahead at its future. The road ended at a small village of thatched-roof houses. Smoke floated from the chimneys and dim light of candles.

  The exception to the stillness lay at the southern-most edge of the clump of houses. There, in a round clearing that stretched into the trees, arose a large, twenty-foot tall upright hoop made of stone and vines. The hoop stood at the extreme end of a stone platform. On the ground in front of the platform was a round stone alter like a bird-feeder, but filled with oil. A fire three feet tall fed off the flammable liquid and pierced the air with its twisting flames.

  The platform was reached by six wide steps. Two figures clothed in cloaks of brown and black stood on the platform on either side of the steps. Three others stood around the tall alter of fire. They were clothed in cloth of gold, green and blue, and white. All of their cloaks had large slits in the backs, but their underclothing and skin were hidden by multiple layers of clothing.

  Around them were a half-dozen others cloaked in gray habits that had no hoods. Those men were all around thirty and their hair was cut short in the bowl look. Those men poured the oil into the hungry fire, swept the ground around the alter, or stood off to one side in a line.

  The cloaked group looked up at us as we landed. Xander and Cayden set us down as the three figures around the fire came over to us. They bowed, and the one in green and blue stepped forward.

  "My Lords, you do us a great honor with your visit," he greeted us.

  Xander smiled and bowed his head in return. "It is too often we forget to pay our respects to you who guard the Portal."

  The person removed his hood and revealed himself as a man of fifty. His gray-stranded hair flowed down his back in a tail. Wrinkles teased the corners of his eyes, and there was a soft smile on his face. "It is, and always will be, an honor to manage the Portal for you, My Lord. How may we serve you this night?"

  Xander gestured to me. "My Maiden wishes to see the Portal in all its mythical glory."

  The man bowed his head. "As you wish it, My Lord, but I cannot perform the ritual on my own."

  Xander smiled. "One must admire your diligence to code, Apuleius." He glanced at Cayden who stood beside us. "Cayden, does my priest have your permission to open the Portal?"

  Cayden nodded. "I will allow my priest to help."

  The man in the golden cloak removed his hood. He was about seventy with more wrinkles than an unsettled pond. His soft blue eyes smiled at Stephanie. "I will gladly do My Lord's bidding, but would also congratulate you on a beautiful Maiden. I have not seen the likes of her in many years." Stephanie blushed and looked at the ground.

  Cayden bowed. "Thank you, Jethro. I, too, am most pleased with her."

  "But to the reason for our visit," Xander reminded them.

  Apuleius nodded. "Yes, My Lord. Your will shall be done."

  Apuleius and Jethro walked up the stone steps to stand ten feet from the tall hoop. Each of them held up an opposite arm, one left and one right, and closed their eyes. Their lips moved, but no sound reached my ears.

  Something moved on the portal, though. The vines that covered the archway drew back and revealed a set of six carved figures. They were standing dragons, and were so intricate I could see their scales. There were two sets of three, one on each side of the arch and they faced the top center. In the center was a small drop of water.

  The drop of water glowed blue, and the dragons glowed the respective colors of the five houses with the addition of a red dragon at the top left. Opposite that one was a green dragon. The brilliance from the carved figures flowed over the arch and into the hole. It spread over the interior like a thin film of rippling water. The film covered the center of the archway to the surface of the platform.

  An explosion of light burst from the center and spread outward to the stone arch. The burst left behind a smooth, reflective surface that revealed my astonished face.

  Xander picked up a small pebble from the swept ground and offered me his arm. "Shall we?"

  In my stupor I took his arm and let him lead me up the stairs. Cayden and Stephanie followed behind us. We stopped where the priest stood. The pair stepped aside and let us stand in front of the water portal.

  Xander swept his eyes over the surface. "Quite impressive, isn't it? It took a century of ancient magic from the ruling houses of the dragons to bring this to fruition. The stone figures were carved by the dragons themselves and infused with their life forces."

  "Did it hurt them?" Stephanie wondered.

  Xander shook his head. "No, but it left them and their lines spiritually weakened."

  I arched an eyebrow. "Than why did they do it?"

  He looked down to study me. "Because they believed the reward was worth the price. The Maidens would offer a rejuvenation of their line, a new promise to their descendants."

  Something on the ground caught my attention. I stooped and picked it up to turn it in my fingers. It was a bit of compressed clay dropped from the tire of the pig-men's truck.

  I held it up so Xander could see it. My lips pursed together as my eyes flickered to him. "So how were those pig-men able to go through?" I questioned him.

  "They are not of our world, nor do they have any connection to it. Not even the slightest bit of our food has passed their lips so they may cross between," he explained.

  I let the dirt clod fall to the ground. It crumbled to dust. I glanced at the portal. "I see."

  Xander frowned. He picked up a rock from the ground and walked up the stairs. The men in cloaks bowed their heads and stepped aside. He threw the rock underhanded at the gray blob. The hard matter hit the gooey center. There was a small flash of light at the point of contact. I saw the rock burst into a thousand tiny, colorful fragments of glass. The fragments fell to the ground in front of the portal.

  Xander half-turned to me and gestured to the remains of the stone. "That is what happens to anything from our world, of which you are now a part."

  My heart sank as that last bit of hope inside me died. Stephanie set her hand on my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

  I gave her a bitter smile and shrugged. "I was just-"

  "Dragons!" someone yelled.

  We turned to one of the gray monks. He pointed at the sky, and we followed his direction. Six large forms flew through the sky. These were the true dragons, those of myth and legend. The entire length of their bodies from nose to long, whipping tail was fifty feet. The wide span of their leathery wings carried a great weight of claws as sharp as knives and scales as hard as steel. Their long heads ended in mouths full of razor-sharp teeth. Four thick, stubby legs were tucked against their scaled bellies. The end of those legs held long claws covered in silver talons forged by man.

  One of the gray monks staggered back and tripped over his own feet. He fell onto his rear and gaped up at the sky with wide, terror-filled eyes. "The Bestia Draconis!"

  Xander hurried over and stood between me and the
shadows. His red eyes flashed and his lips curled back in a snarl.

  Cayden grabbed Stephanie likewise. The young dragon lord looked to his elder. "How can they be this far from the border without our knowing?"

  Xander's eyes never left the shadows in the skies as he shook his head. "I cannot understand it, but we shall make them regret this intrusion."

  His hands on my shoulders lengthened into sharp claws. He pulled me to the side and Cayden did the same with Stephanie so we stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Xander turned to me and grasped my shoulders as he looked me in the eyes.

  "Remain here."

  I frowned. "But what are you going to do?"

  "I will fight them, but you can do nothing against these fiends," he insisted.

  I shook my head. "What can you do-"

  "Promise me you will remain here." I pursed my lips, but nodded. He smiled. "Then wait for me. I will return."

  Xander stepped backward and off the platform. He spread his wings out on either side of him. My mouth dropped open as I watched his skin thicken with scales. A tail burst out from his back and stretched itself onto the ground. His limbs stretched and twisted into four thick legs. He settled onto his four legs as the rest of his body transformed into monstrous shape of a huge green dragon. The handsome face vanished into the lengthened mug of the beast.

  He whipped his head up and snarled at the red forms that flew over the clearing. His wings flapped and took him airborne. Cayden reluctantly separated himself from Stephanie and took Xander's empty place. He, too, transformed into a majestic dragon, but a smaller one with golden scales. He sailed into the sky after Xander.

  Four of the dragons broke off and headed for Xander and Cayden. They collided in a vicious battle of teeth and claws. Cayden dodged a double attack on his wings and flew around the enemy dragons to attack them from behind.

  Xander just rammed through his foes, tearing and snapping at their wings and bodies. One of them let out a terrible screech and fell to the ground. The earth shook as it struck the dirt near the platform. Stephanie cried out and clung to me. I watched in a stupor as the dragon's body shrank to that of a naked man. He lay face-down and blood pooled beneath him from wounds that matched the damage on his previous form.

  The other two dragons swung around the battle and aimed downward at the platform. The five wizards raised their hands and chanted phrases I wouldn't have understood even if I could have heard all the words above the screeches of the dragons. Light respective of their cloaks burst from their hands and flew up at the dragons.

  One was hit, but the other did a barrel roll and dodged the attacks. The unscathed dragon swooped down and grabbed one of the gray-cloaked men. He flailed in its grasp as it flew to the portal and released him.

  Stephanie and I ducked as he flew past. The man collided with the portal and let out a horrible scream before he burst into dust. The injured dragon fell to the ground, but landed on all fours. It swung its tail in a full circle and knocked away all the men in robes, the colorful ones included.

  Its red eyes fell on Stephanie and me. The creature curled its lips back in a snarl as it marched toward us. Its silver talons clinked as it walked onto the stone platform.

  I shoved Stephanie to our right. "Run!"

  She stumbled in that direction as the dragon let out a screech. It opened its wings and threw itself at us. Stephanie fell off the platform, but the dragon cut me off with its long neck and wide body. It lowered its head and hissed at me.

  I held up my hands and backed up toward the portal. "Can't we talk about this?"

  The creature roared and lunged at me. That's when a dark shadow fell from the sky and landed atop it. It was the green dragon. My dragon. Xander clamped his jaws onto his foe's neck. The dragon screamed and flailed, sending its tail and wings thrashing about.

  I stumbled back and my heels tripped on one of the stones. My arms flailed at my sides to stop me, but gravity took hold.

  Xander turned around. His green eyes widened. He leapt off the dragon and toward me. He stretched his neck out as I stretched my hand. Our flesh grazed each other and then fell away. The last I saw was the dragon beneath Xander lifting one of its silver-taloned feet to strike him.

  A moment later I felt a warm pool of liquid wrap around me like a spongy blanket. The world of dragons was blotted out by a world of warped gray liquid. It pressed all around me. I couldn't breathe. My vision began to blur.

  Just as I thought I would pass out the suffocating world around me opened up. I dropped back-first out of the vortex and landed hard on the ground. What little air was left in me was knocked out in a short wheeze. As I lay there trying to suck in air the portal in front of me shrank to nothing.

  I had ample time to study the black sea of twinkling stars that was above me. Electrical wires and poles cut the sky into squares. The far-off sounds of traffic came to my ears. I sat up on my shaky arms and looked around. My eyes widened.

  I was home.

  CHAPTER 12

 
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