Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chapter 11-4: Can't return home

        Caden left the tavern. He smiled and whistled the whole way home. As he approached the bakery, he was greeted by the warm, sweet smell of baking oats. His trip to the tavern gave him a new look on the town. He wondered why he felt such a strong desire to leave.

        He walked into the warm kitchen. He looked around, Sam was eagerly working to fulfill all of the Kitchen duties. Caden looked around at the kitchen, it seemed empty. He turned to Sam. "Sam?" Caden asked. "Where's my father?"
        Sam set down the dough she was working on. "I don't know how to tell you this," she said. "I've been trying to avoid it." 
        "What aren't you telling me?"
        "When you left, your father was worried."
        "I would have thought he'd be angry."
        "No, I think he knew you were going to go," she said. "The next day, he packed up and went looking for you."
        "He said that if he didn't catch you by the time he reached Tinate, he would send word." Sam checked on the bread in the ovens. Caden helped her rotate the loafs. "I was worried when I didn't hear from him. But then you came home injured, and he was still gone."
        "So what happened to him?"
        "No one knows." Caden ran out the back door. "Caden, wait!" Sam called. She followed him out. 
        Outside, Caden ran into Rilyn sitting by the well. "When I heard about your father, I knew you'd try and do something stupid."
        "I need to leave, Rilyn. You're not going to stop me." Caden walked to the stable.
        Rilyn tripped Caden. He landed with his face in the mud. "You got lucky the last time. I really don't want you to come back to Erdon in a box next time."
        Caden pushed himself up and knelt in front of the well. "What's your plan?"
        "Give me one month. After that, we can set out again." Rilyn looked at Sam standing in the door. "Or you can leave..." Rilyn pointed at Sam. Caden looked back at her. "And maybe never come home."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chapter 11-3: The Market

        Caden left Sir Eric's homestead. He was upset. He was going to head home to the bakery, but didn't want to anymore. So he wandered through the market. He didn't know where he wanted to go. Everyone was trying to go back to business as normal. But the town was still scarred from the Queen's attack. Many buildings hadn't been repaired at all. Hollow ruins, devoid of life. Others still had people working to rebuild. The sound of hammers and saws echoed behind the murmer of merchants selling and people buying.

        Caden saw Haron's stall was open. He remembered how he used to go there every day to see if Keilee was working. But he knew that she wouldn't be there, she was gone. Alone in some far off land and he couldn't do anything to bring her back. He crossed the street to avoid it. He walked over one of the bridges spanning the hallows in the ground. Fish swam underneath.
        "Caden!" Mika called. "Caden over here."
        Caden looked. Mika was waving from Haron's stall. He sighed and turned back. He walked over to her. "Morning, Mika," he said.
        Mika smiled. "Did you meet the Dragon Knights? Did you see my brother? Is he going to rescue Keilee?"
        Caden forced a smile. "Of course I found them. I didn't see Damion, but I talked with his general. I'm sure once he hears of what happened here, he'll be the first to sign up to rescue her."
        "Dad says that we shouldn't expect her to come back. He even made a grave shrine for her on our land."
        "Do you believe she's okay?"
        "I know she is."
        "So do I."
        "Things haven't been the same since that day." Mika dropped her head and looked at the dirt road.
        "What do you mean?"
        "Dad, he's been drinking more then uncle Eric lately," she said. "And he gets really angry a lot." Mika started crying.
        Caden looked at her. He noticed an old bruise under her sleeve. It was green and purple. "Hey, it'll be okay," He said. He lifted her chin. Her eyes were red. "Once Keilee returns, everything will be back to normal."
        Mika hugged Caden. He stood there, and she held him. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.
        "Everything will be okay," he said. "I'll bring Keilee back... I promise."

        Caden left Mika to her work. His mind focused on his promise, and trying to find a way to help poor Mika. He was so tied with his thoughts, he didn't hear someone calling his name. he stopped when he felt a tug on the back of his shirt. He turned around and saw a little boy holding onto him. He smiled, it was one of the children he saved. He looked around, and a couple of the other kids were there too, but stood back.
        "Caden," he said. "I heard you was eaten by the dwagon."
        Caden knelt down. "No, why would you think that?"
        "You was gone so long, and when you came back, you was hurt bad."
        "Well, it wasn't a dragon," Caden said. "And you don't need to worry about me. When I see dragons, I slay them and skin their hides for my clothes."
        "You saw a dwagon!" he said.
        "Yeah--" Caden scratched his head "--and it was fierce. It wasn't as big as the Queen, but still huge. It had fangs as long as my hand." Caden held up his hand in front of the boy, it covered his face. "That's bigger then your head!"
        "Wow!" The other children gathered around Caden. "Wasn't you scared?"
        "No way. I wasn't afraid in front of the Dragon Queen, and this was just a pup. Plus I had that sacred sword from the temple."
        "The green and black one?"
        "Yeah, you remember it. That sword is magical, and I was able to take down that dragon with just one hit."
        "What else have you done?" a little girl asked.
        "Well, I faced a witch down, stood in testimony before the goddess, defeated some bandits..."
        "You're so strong," said the little girl.
        "I'll say." Caden turned around. The barkeep from the tavern was standing behind him. Caden didn't even notice he was sitting in front of it. After it was rebuilt it looked completely different. The place he used to climb to the roof was gone, and it looked bigger. The courtyard wall was rebuilt with an arch over the hallow the Queen left. "Come inside. Why don't you tell us about your travels."
        "I thought I was too young."
        "My boy--" he put a hand on Caden's back, "--if you can travel across the province, track down the Knight's camp, and survive a sword fight, then you're old enough to come inside."
        Caden smiled. He waved to the children as he walked into the tavern for the first time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chapter 11-2: Sir Eric

        Caden finished every delivery except Sir Eric's. He carried the basket, empty sacks and two loaves of oat bread. He felt better, and regretted spending two weeks in bed. Even now he wondered how close the Dragon Knights were to rescuing Keilee.

        Sir Eric's homestead looked the same as it always did. Caden knocked on the door. Sir Eric opened the door. He wore a simple white shirt, brown pants and leather brace over his missing shoulder. Caden stared at the wound.
        "Caden?" Sir Eric said. "So you're not dead after all."
        "No, Sir."
        Sir Eric took his bread from the basket. "So how did your quest go?"
        "I made it to the Dragon Knight training camp, and now I need your help."
        "I can join the Dragon Knights to save Keilee, if I'm not to late already," Caden said. "But first I need to slay five dragons. Can you help me?"
        Sir Eric sighed. He stepped aside and held the door open. "You better come in."
        Caden smiled and stepped into the house. Sir Eric closed the door, and motioned for Caden to sit at a table. He walked into the kitchen. Caden sat in the small room. He had never been inside Sir Eric's home before. He looked at the bearskins on the floor, and the deer antlers on the wall over the fireplace. Caden smiled when he saw through an open door. Sir Eric's Dragon Knight armor was displayed in a small shrine in the next room, exactly how it should be. 
        Caden stood up and walked into the next room. In the center of the far wall, was Sir Eric's armor. Spread out on shelves were weapons, broken bits of war machines, statues, and other trinkets collected from the battle field. Everything Sir Eric ever did, and was ever honored for was on display in this room. A museum to his service for the dragon knights.
        Caden walked around the room. He wondered what part of a dragon would he find. What part is considered a trophy. The heads would be too big to be put on display. Looked for a fang, or a talon, or even a scale. While he looked for the dragon trophies, he stopped on a weapon. A sword, that looked exactly like Rilyn's. Caden picked it off of the shelf and looked at the half sun engravings.
        Caden heard a shatter come from the kitchen. He returned the curved sword to it's place on the shelf and went to the kitchen. He found Sir Eric picking up a broken tea cup. Caden helped him clean up. He took the tray of tea out to the main room and set it down.
        Sir Eric came out with a new tea cup. "Caden, I'm going to make this as clear as I can." He set the tea cup down on the table. Caden served the tea. "Before the Dragon Queen attacked Erdon, I didn't believe dragons existed."
        "What do you mean?" Caden placed a cup in front of Sir Eric. "You've been trained to fight dragons, how could you not believe in them?"
        Eric shook his head. "I was never trained to fight dragons," he said. "I was trained to fight people."
        "You mean trolls and gremlins."
        "No, though they are closer to people then you might think. I was trained to fight people, like you, me or the mayor. We're never taught anything about dragons."
        "So you were part of a special squad? Others specialized in dragons."
        "No. None of us were."
        "But the general, he said his best dragon trackers wou..."
        Sir Eric slammed his fist into the table. His tea cup tipped over. "You're not listening to me. There are no dragon trackers, no dragon slayers." Caden watched the tea run across the rough wood table and drip onto the floor. "We got hundreds of 'dragon sightings' every moon. Yet not a single one ever turned out to be anything more then a rumor. The dragon knights don't investigate most of them anymore. The general probably thought that you made to story up to join even after he turned you down."
        "But he said..."
        "He lied, Caden. He told you what you wanted to hear so you would leave. No one is looking for the Queen, no one is going after Keilee."
        "The Queen, it's attacked other temples. When more reports about her come in, then..."
        "No, they'll go to the closest Dragon Knight camp. And they will be ignored. No one will pass on the story, so no one will ever see any patterns."
        Caden stood up. He grabbed his basket and sacks. "You're lying. You just don't want me to join them." Caden walked to the door.
        "Believe what you will, Caden. But the only people in the world who will believe your story are right here in Erdon."
        Caden left and slammed the door. Sir Eric left the tea on the table. He went into the kitchen and fetched a bottle of shine.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chapter 11-1: A New Day

        When the sun rose the next day, Caden walked into the kitchen. Sam was busy baking. Caden looked around. Sam was baking all by herself. His father wasn't in the kitchen.

        "Hey," Caden said.
        Sam turned around, "Caden, you don't have to be up." She wiped flour off her hands with a towel. "I can take care of all this by myself."
        "I've been home for two weeks, and haven't completed the morning deliveries once." Caden smiled. "My father must be tired of listening to Valron complain by now."
        "Yeah, Valron..." Sam placed several lumps of dough on a large wooden paddle. She loaded them into the stone oven and pumped the bellows. She used the wooden paddle to turn other loaves. She removed other loaves that looked done. She tapped on the crust and listened to the echo. "Okay, Caden. These are the last loaves for the morning baking." She buttered the crust and moved them to a basket. "Do I need to tell you where everything goes?"
        Caden laughed. "No, I think I can remember everything. Need anything from the market?"
        "No, we're good."
        Caden took the basket and two sacks, and walked out the door.
        Caden was surprised at the changes in Erdon since he left. Buildings were still being rebuilt. The hollows had simple bridges built over them. Water from the lake ran down the hollows. It felt like a new town. 
        Caden walked out to Valron's manor first. He used the heavy iron knocker to bang on the door. Valron opened the door. "Caden?" He grasped Caden by the shoulders. "It's good to see you're alright."
        "Has it been an hour?"
        "What?" Valron looked at the rising sun. "No, it hasn't. You're on right on time." He smiled.
        Caden gave Valron his breakfast, and left. As he walked through town to his next delivery, he smiled and whistled.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chapter 10: Confession

        Father Achilleos came in with Caden's lunch. Caden smiled. "Thanks for visiting me."

        "I hear you've been getting several visitors."
        "Yeah, Rilyn came by this morning, and Su visited last night."
        "Rilyn's a good kid, and likes you a lot. Be careful." Father Achilleos scratched his beard. "And Su seems quite beholden to you."
        "What do you mean?"
        "The way she shows up when you need her, then disappears again."
        "What would have happened to her?"
        "When she was on the tower?"
        "Yes," Caden said.
        "The goddess would have judged her, based on her life. If she was truly good, then she would have been set free. If her soul was tainted, then the goddess would have taken her to the world after."
        "So did I do anything standing beside her?"
        "Of course you did. Having another willing to take your punishment says a lot to the goddess. I don't know what her fate would have been, but you just may have saved her life."
        Caden took the bowl of fish broth Father Achilleos brought in. He broke pieces of bread and dropped them into the bowl. He watched them swirl around and soak up the broth.
        "Rilyn thought there was something bothering you. Can you talk to me about it?"
        "Can it be in confession?"
        "Have you ever given a confession?"
        "No." Caden shook his head.
        "Then I think now would be a good time."
        Father Achilleos sat at the foot of Caden's bed. Caden talked about everything since the party. His guilt over the children he couldn't save. How he blamed himself for not stopping Father Coteson sooner, and that it was his fault Keilee was taken. He focused on details that he left out before.
        "How does this Dark Shroud you mention make you feel?"
        "I know the goddess speaks against killing, but every time I see one of them, that's the only thing I can think of."
        "Is this what's truly bothering you?"
        "Was it wrong of me to kill Father Coteson?" Caden looked at Father Achilleos. "It didn't stop the Dragon Queen from returning."
        Father Achilleos took Caden's hand. He held as he looked into Caden's eyes. "Pray to the goddess for guidence." He removed his hand. Caden looked down. He had a black ten pointed star on his palm. The star turned in place. Five points rotated to the left, and the opposite five rotated to the right. "When this mark fades, you'll have your answer."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chapter 10: Rilyn's Visit

        The next morning when Caden woke up, he was feeling better. He didn't feel tired, and his body didn't ache anymore. When Sam came in with breakfast, he had already washed and gotten dressed. She smiled when she saw him up and moving. She set his breakfast down on the dresser and felt his forehead and cheeks.

        "You're fever finally broke," she said.
        "Yeah," Caden said. "I feel great."
        "I'll let people know that you're feeling better. I'm sure you'll have a couple of visitors today." Sam guided Caden back to bed. "But I want you to take it easy for at least one more day."
        Caden ate his food while Sam checked his bandages.

        Caden was feeling restless. He sat in bed and stared out the window. When he got tired of sitting, he stood up and walked circles around his room. He promised Sam that he'd stay in for one more day, but he was finally feeling better, and he was anxious to get out. He wanted to leave again and find some dragons, so he could help save Keilee. 
        He looked out past the buildings, trees, and bluffs. How close were the Dragon Knights to finding the Queen? With the church reporting attacks on temples, they'd know which way she went. Once they find her, how long will it take to kill her? Caden needed to talk to Sir Eric, find out how much time he has to join them.
        It was still before lunch time when Rilyn came to visit. He opened the door and saw Caden standing by the window. He knocked. Caden turned around and saw Rilyn standing in the door frame, holding the door.
        "Hey, Rilyn," Caden said. "Come in, have a seat."
        Rilyn closed the door. "Hi. I came to see how you were feeling."
        "Really good. How long have I been in here?"
        "About two weeks. We got you home, but you had a fever," said Rilyn. "I came by a couple of times, but you were asleep or delusional."
        "I guess that explains the weird dreams."
        "If we see Su again, I need to appologize to her." Rilyn sat down on the foot of Caden's bed. "She saved your life."
        "I know, Sam told me. What happened?"
        "After you fell, I managed to stop the last two before they could attack you further. We tried to stop the bleeding but the cuts were too deep. That's when Su showed up, she just came out of the woods. She knows a lot about healing and was able to bind your wounds. If she wasn't there, you would have bled out."
        "I need to thank her it seems."
        "You'll need to find her. She disappeared again."
        "What do you mean? She was here last night."
        "I haven't seen her since we returned to Erdon."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Chapter 10: First Visitor

        Caden laid in bed. He spent most of his time resting. When he was awake, it was when Sam came in to redress his wounds or help him wash. When he was asleep, he would dream of forging a chain in Tony's smithy. Sam brought him food three times a day. He wasn't always able to eat, but ate what he could.

        While Sam was cleaning his wounds and changing his bandages, she would hum. It was an old nursery rhyme. Caden tried to remember the words to it. But he couldn't. Still, thinking about the nursery rhyme kept him from thinking about Keilee. He was safe in bed, being cared for by family. She was trapped somewhere, cold and alone. He didn't want to think about it.
        His father never came in to check on him. Caden thought it was strange. He wanted to see him again. He wanted to hear his father lecture him about running away from home. But he stayed away. When Sam was there, he could see something in her eyes. She was right there, warm, smiling, and humming. But her violet eyes were distant, sad. Caden could tell that she wanted to tell him something, but didn't.
        Caden lost all sense of time, drifting in and out of sleep. Sometimes he was up and eating in the middle of the day. Other times it was the middle of the night and he just found some cold food set out next to his bed.
        Su walked into the room. Caden was asleep. She closed the door, careful to not make any sound. She kneeled down next to Caden. She held his hand. He stirred and smiled. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "Sam..." Caden mumbled.
        "Who's Sam?" Su said.
        Caden woke up. "What?"
        "You just said Sam in your sleep," she said. "Do you dream of men named Sam."
        Caden rolled over, "What? No, she's my sister," he said. He looked up and saw Su. "Su, hey!" Caden sat up. "When did you get here?"
        "I've been around."
        "Do you believe in fate?"
        Su thought about the question. "No," she said. "I think we make our own choices."
        "Of course we do," Caden said. "But if we didn't stay at the Blue Fox, we wouldn't have heard the mob. And if I didn't decide to help you in judgement, you never could have saved my life."
        Su smiled. A tear rolled down her cheek. "You saved my life, Caden. I saved yours. That's not fate. We're connected by something much greater."
        "Fate is a chain that we create with our choices," Caden said. "There's nothing more binding then that."
        Su grabbed a stool and sat down by Caden's side. She held his hand and felt his head. His forehead was burning. She blew on her finger tips and touched Caden's brow. His skin glowed blue. Caden felt a cool sensation run down his body and he fell asleep. Su stayed by his side and continued to hold his hand.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chapter 10: Home at last

        Caden woke up with the sun shining in his eyes. He felt warm soft hands moving over his stomach, followed by a slight pulling sensation on his side. He blinked and looked around. He was in his own bed, and sam was kneeling by his bed, changing a bandage over the stab on his stomach. He reached up and touched her wrist.

        Sam jumped at the touch. She looked at Caden. Her light blue hair glowed in the sunlight. She smiled at Caden. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were awake."
        Caden groaned. "Am I dead?"
        She shook her head. "No, but you were close."
        "What happened?"
        "The priest brought you home. He said you were attacked by something he called the 'Dread Knights.' You're injuries were serious, but you got lucky."
        "You saved me then?"
        Sam shook her head again. A tear ran down her cheek. "No, it was the woman you were traveling with."
        "Don't you remember? She said you were traveling together a lot, to the Dragon Knight camp and back."
        "What's her name?"
        "Suzidan. Don't you remember her?"
        "Yeah," -Caden groaned and sat up-- "we've just been separated since the Dragon Knight camp."
        "Don't move too much." Sam grabbed Caden and supported him while she adjusted the pillows to support his back. "She's still in town. I'm sure she'll come by to talk when she hears you're feeling better."
        Caden leaned against the head board. "Thanks for taking care of me."
        "Well, I haven't been able to do much. I'm not a healer like my mother." Sam took a cloth from a steaming bowl next to the bed, and started washing Caden.
        Caden just relaxed and felt her gentle hands caressing his arms and chest. After she finished giving Caden a sponge bath she helped him lay back down. Caden thought it was strange, his bed felt so familiar, yet so different. He rarely slept in his own bed, but something about being in it then just felt better then before. He couldn't understand it, but it did feel nice to be home. He could smell the baking bread coming from the kitchen. The subtle aroma of baking oats mixed with the sharp smell of rye. He looked around, Sam was gone. He didn't notice her leaving.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chapter 9: Dreams

        Caden stood in blacksmith Tony's shop. The air was hazy and warped from the heat. The red glow and sparks from the flames surrounded him. Beyond the red light, it was all black and darkness. Sparks floated out of the coals and around the anvil like little insects.

        He remembered the Dread Knight's swords. Caden felt around his stomach and back, under his shirt and the heavy leather apron. They were gone.
        Caden put on the heavy wool glove and grabbed the tongs from the fire. He removed a piece of metal that glowed red. He set it on the anvil and grabbed the largest hammer and started hitting it. Caden never worked in a forge, and didn't know what he was doing. But it felt right to be hitting the metal. Watching the sparks fly to the floor.
        After hitting the metal for a time, he used the tongs, picked it up and looked at it. He made a square bar, about one hand long. He carried the bar over to the cooling trenches. There were two, one filled with water, the other was filled with oil. Caden looked at his reflection in both. He could see through the water, making his reflection look indistinct, uncertain. But the oil was black, and reflected a steady reflection.
         Caden dipped the hot metal into the water. Steam swirled around him. He stepped away and set his square bar down on the anvil. He took the smallest hammer and started hitting it. Before long, the bar had bent into thick chain link. Caden looked at it, small cracks covered the bend.
         The tongs were back in the fire and the hammers were put away. Caden had the link he made, but everything else was just like when he started. So he pulled out the tongs again, and started over. He did everything the same, except when he went to cool the metal. The second time he used the oil. And the finished link didn't have any cracks.
        Caden continued the repetition of making the chain. And it grew longer. Caden kept pounding at the steel and anvil. Blacksmith Tony emerged from the shadows. Caden looked up. "Tony? What am I doing here?" "You're making a chain." "But why? How did I get here?" "You died." "What?" Tony held up the chain Caden forged. "This is the chain you forged with your actions and your choices. This is your fate." "I can't die!" "Every man dies once, then faces the final Judgment before the goddess."
         The chain flew around Caden and bound him to the floor. Caden struggled against their grasp. "Fate is like a chain. It is forged by your choices, and you cannot escape the consequences of those actions."
         Tony faded away, the forge faded away, the anvil and tools faded away. Only Caden remained, bound to the floor by the chain he created. His head hung low, and he kneeled in the center of the red glow from a fire that was no longer there. He was cold.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chapter 9: The Dread Knights

        The first thing Caden saw was the black shrouds. Then from the darkness came three Dragon Knights. He tightened his grip on the stone sword. Caden looked at Rilyn. He was ready. He dropped the cane next to Father Achilleos and held his sword in one hand. Rilyn had a loose grip on the sword, it looked like it was balanced on his index finger. Father Achilleos continued to draw in his small book.

        "Don't hold it too tight," Rilyn said.
        Caden nodded. "Their not Dragon Knights, not anymore."
        "Wouldn't matter if they were."
        "This is what I first fought in the catacombs. They move slow now, but they can have bursts of speed."
        The first Knight rushed forward, Caden raised the sword and blocked the attack to his head. He brought the sword down into the Knight's arm. The bone cracked and the dead flesh ripped. It fell to the ground in a stream of straw and preservative herbs. Caden's sword completed it's swing and the tip dug into the earth.
        The second Knight charged Rilyn. He blocked repeated blows, unable to get in an attack. Caden looked for the third Knight but couldn't see him. The first Knight picked up its sword from the severed limb. Caden pulled his sword out of the ground. He felt a line of fire across his back. He fell forward and leaned on his sword. He turned around and saw the third Knight. It's sword was smeared with blood.
        Caden looked down, another sword was in his side. He looked up and saw the first Knight holding it in its left arm. Caden laughed. There was no pain. He was going to die, and he felt no pain.
        He fell to the ground. Darkness filled his vision from the corners of his eyes. He saw the third Knight standing over him, it's sword raised above it's head, the tip pointing down. He felt warm, and safe. He giggled again. Then everything was black.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Chapter 9: The Road Home

        Caden and Rilyn settled their bill with the Blue Fox. True to her word, Cassy didn’t charge them for all the special food she was giving them. Caden wondered about how quickly the rumors had spread.
        Rilyn went back to the table and fetched Father Achilleos, who was finishing all of cold mugs of cinnamon tea. Caden went out the back to the courtyard where he saddled Starlight. He led the old girl out the courtyard gates.
        On the other side of the gate he saw the strange little rodent watching him. Caden stopped. The rodent stood up on it’s hind legs and twitched its nose. Caden tilted his head to the left. The rodent did the same. Caden smiled. He knelt down and stuck out his hand. The rodent ran up to him and scurried up his arm. Caden laughed as it’s little claws tickled his skin.
        Rilyn walked around to see what was taking Caden. He looked at the rodent. “That thing is going to give you a disease.”
        “You worry too much.” Caden took the rodent off of his shoulder and set it on Starlight’s saddle. “Look at it, it’s healthy.”
        Rilyn shook his head and walked away.
        They walked through the Market of Tinate and gathered supplies for the trip home. Caden took some money from Rilyn and bought ingredients to make a thank you gift for the mayor.
        Father Achilleos was an old man. He walked beside Caden and Rilyn for three hours, insisting that he was fine, but Caden saw him slowing down. They took more breaks to let him rest. Yet he refused the assistance of Starlight. Caden offered after every rest, but Father Achilleos always turned him down.
        Caden looked at Rilyn walking with his cane, and Father Achilleos leaning on the sacred staff of the Sages. He considered riding for a while, but felt guilty. Rilyn was still afraid of Starlight after the bite she gave him, but Caden couldn’t understand Father Achilleos’s reasons.
So they continued to walk, leading Starlight be the reigns. Caden thought about his father. He was going to be angry with Caden for taking the money and horse without asking. She didn’t even save them much time since there was always one person walking. At least the Mayor’s generosity kept him from spending any of his father’s money.
        As much as he regretted lying to his father, but would his father understand him leaving again? Would he agree to letting Caden leave Erdon and hunt down five dragons to prove that he was strong enough to join the quest for the Dragon Queen?
        They stopped to eat lunch next to a small brook. Caden watered the horse while Father Achilleos and Rilyn sat and talked under the shade of an old oak. Caden shivered, he felt a cold chill run up his spine. He looked around, but couldn’t see anything. He looked at the stone sword. He untied the straps holding it to the saddle and pulled it away. He lifted it in both hands then held it in one. It felt light. He walked up the bank to Rilyn.
        Rilyn was laughing at a joke Father Achilleos told him. He looked over at Caden coming back. He lifted an apple to give to Caden, then saw the stone sword. Rilyn dropped the fruit. He stood up and drew one of his swords.
        Father Achilleos looked at them. “What’s wrong?”
        “I don’t know,” Rilyn said, “and I can’t explain it. But if Caden can hold that sword, then something is wrong.”
        Caden stopped next to Rilyn. “See anything?”
        “No, you?”
        “Not yet, but I can feel it.”
        Father Achilleos watched them. He took out a small book, ink, and quill. He recorded what he saw in a simple black line sketch.
        Caden turned and pointed into the woods. A group of shadows got darker, turning almost pitchblack. Rilyn nodded. “Yeah, I see it.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Chapter 8: Father Achilleos

        Caden and Rilyn went to the temple as soon as they finished eating. They left Starlight and most of their gear back at the Blue Fox. They walked along the river. They banks of the river were replaced by stone levees. About every eight fathoms there were stone stairs and a stone landing for boats to tie up to. Many fish merchants docked at the landings and sold the fish straight from the boat.

        Rilyn plugged her nose. "Uhg," she grunted. "I hate the smell of fish."
        "So, do I," Caden said. "And the taste is even worse."
        "Well, at least Cassy gave us good food before I lost my appetite from this smell."
        "Yeah, I guess she heard some rumor about us."
        "You mean a rumor about you," Rilyn said. She poked Caden in the ribs. "I wasn't even mentioned."
        "It's not a big deal." He shrugged. "Everyone is going to forget about it and move on to a new story tomorrow anyway."
        "This coming from a kid who sat on the roof of a Tavern to listen to traveler's tales."
        "How did you..."
        "The mayor told me." She slapped Caden on the back. "He said it was important information to know."
        Caden blushed. "Well, from now on, I'm going to be writing my own stories."
        They walked around a corner and saw numerous people stand on the Temple mall. Father Achilleos and two other priests were speaking with them.
        Rilyn looked at Caden. "Another witch?"
        Caden shook his head and ran up the steps and onto the mall.
        The people in the crowd were shouting to the three priests. "... protect my son!" "My brother disappeared on his way to Scania, can he find him?" Everyone was calling out a request for protection, aid, and a few seeking revenge. 
        Caden pushed his way to the front of the crowd. "Father!" he called. "Father!" He got pushed back and fell down. He moved between the crowds legs till he got right next to Father Achilleos. "Father!"
        Father Achilleos looked at Caden and grabbed him by the arm. "Good, to see you my boy," he said. "Now let's go." Father Achilleos lead Caden through the shouting mob.
        "Shouldn't we go inside the temple?" Caden pointed behind them.
        "Uh..." Father Achilleos looked back at the crowd. "Where are you staying?"
        "The Blue Fox."
        "That will be much better I think." Father Achilleos lead Caden away from the shouting mob and past Rilyn. She followed them.
        Father Achilleos didn't say anything until they were sitting in the Blue Fox's common room. He asked Caden to tell him what happened with Father Coteson. Cassy served them all cinnamon milk tea. While Caden talked, Father Achilleos scratched his short scraggly beard. Their mugs stopped steaming before Caden stopped talking.
        When Caden finished his story, Father Achilleos said, "That is very distressing. Brother Coteson was protecting a very religious site. There might be greater dangers then the dragon queen." 
        "Then you didn't see what she did to my home," Caden said. "And what was going on at the temple?"
        "People have been making requests," said Father Achilleos. "That are beyond the church." He took a drink of cold tea. "As for the dangers I mentioned, I spoke with the council of Brothers, and the Dragon Queen has been seen attacking other Temples."
        "Where has she been seen? We need to get that information to the Knights!"
        Father Achilleos held up his hands. "That will be dealt with in due course," he said. "However, the barrier that protects the temples seems to be fading. The next temple that the Dragon Queen may not survive the assault."
        "Barrier?" asked Caden. "Do you mean the magic that saved our temple?"
        "Yes. There was something very important in Erdon that made that protection possible."
        "The Queen's Heart."
        "No." Father Achilleos shook his head. "There is something far more valuable in Erdon."
        Rilyn looked at Caden. He shrugged. 
        "Brother Michael was supposed to go, but he seemed busy today. I think I shall make the trip to Erdon in his place." Father Achilleos looked at Caden. "If you'll talke me."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter 8: Rumors Over Breakfast

        Caden woke up early. He got dressed. As he pulled his shirt on, he looked at Rilyn's sleeping form. She had the covers pulled tightly around her, like it was a shield against some unforeseen danger. Caden looked at her swords. The sheaths were made from bone, and split along the top so you lifted the swords out rather then drawing them. The blades etched with a jagged pattern, so that when placed side by side, the curve formed a perfect circle with a sun etched around the rim.

        Caden held the swords up and looked at Rilyn. "Where are you from?" he said. He looked at the blanket covering most of her face. "And even sleeping, you still hide your face from me." He shook his head and put the swords away. He walked out of the room. "You're one strange man."
        In the common room, Cassy came over and served him a bowl with a cinnamon bread soaking in steaming milk. Caden noted how the bread lacked a distinctive cinnamon swirl when he cut it open and it absorbed the milk much too quickly.
        He looked up at Cassy. "Cinnamon?" he asked. "Isn't that a bit extravagant for what we pay?"
        "True," she said. "But I want you to come back again."
        "Why?" Caden took a bite of the meal.
        Cassy set down a mug of tea sweetened with steamed cinnamon spiced milk. "I heard a rumor the other day, and I think you had something to do with it."
        "What was that?" Caden took a drink of tea.
        Cassy sat down across from Caden. "Well, some people were saying that the local guard picked up a couple of Bandits. They were wanted for several muggings on the south highway. The guards found them with major injurys, but two were still alive. When they were brought in, they talked about a man with a holy, green and black, sword. Now everyone in town is talking about some holy knight who's purging the wicked."
        Caden choked on his tea.
        "When I saw you bring that stone sword into your room last night," she said. "I figured it had to be you."
        "Well," Caden said. "I wouldn't put too much faith into rumors."
        Cassy looked up, and said, "Where's your friend?"
        "I think maybe he had too much to drink last night," Caden said. "He's still asleep."
        "He's so mysterious, always covered up like that."
        "You're telling me," Caden said. "At night, he even covers up with his blanket." Caden leaned over the taple and whispered, "I think he's secretly hiding some hideous scar."
        Cassy laughed. Caden joined her. They sat and talked till more patrons came in looking for breakfast and Cassy went back to work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chapter 8: The Road Home

        Caden rode Starlight. Rilyn walked on the left side. They crossed the hills and valleys as they returned to Tinate. They travelled an extra half day out of their way to avoid going through Sharsden a second time. The small rodent rode on Caden's shoulders. He fed it small bites of bread.

        "You shouldn't feed that," Rilyn said. "It is a wild animal."
        "It's okay, it's okay," Caden said waving his hand at Rilyn. "It's tame. A merchant probably carried it from the other side of the Yongsan Mountains before it escaped it's cage." Caden petted the furry creature.
        "You're a strange person."
        "How so?"
        "You trust everybody," Rilyn said. "I don't know anyone who would go out of their way to defend someone who is accused to be a witch."
        "Maybe more people should," Caden said. "How many innocent people may have suffered for a false accusation?"
        Rilyn sighed. "I suppose." He walked next to Caden in silence. "You're a good person," whispered Rilyn. "I'd hate to see what you'd become if you actually join the Dragon Knights."
        Caden didn't hear Rilyn, he just continued to look forward and ride back to Tinate.

        When Caden and Rilyn reached Tinate, they traveled straight to the temple. Caden tied up Starlight in the temple mall. The small rodent jumped off of Caden's shoulder. Caden watched it run under a building into a sewer drain.
        "I guess our friend isn't much of a temple patron," said Caden.
        Rilyn sighed and shook his head. They walked over to the temple doors and Caden pulled. The door was locked. Caden furrowed his brow and pulled again.
        "That's odd," Caden said.
        "The temple doors shouldn't be locked."
        "Tinate is a bigger place then Erdon. Maybe it's normal here."
        "No," Caden said. "The book of the 3rd Sage, Chapter 18, verse 26. 'The doors of the sanctuary shall never be sealed, so that none are denied salvation.' It's a cardinal rule of the order."
        "You have the sacred texts memorized?" asked Rilyn.
        "Not all of them."
        "Come on," Rilyn said. He grabbed Caden's shirt. "I'm hungry, and I want something other then stew bread." Rilyn dragged Caden to Starlight. "We'll get a room at the Blue Fox and come back in the morning."
        "That's okay." Caden said. He continued to look back at the Temple. "We're out of Stew Bread anyway."

        Caden and Rilyn sat in the common room of the Blue Fox. Caden stirred and nibbled at the stew. He looked across the table at Rilyn. Rilyn had already eaten two bowls and was attacking his third with a dinner roll smothered in butter.
        "I thought you were sick of Stew and Bread?" Caden asked.
        "No," Rilyn said. He held up his spoon. "I'm sick of Stew Bread. This stuff is much better."
        "It's the same stuff, just the bread is a lower quality."
        "Wrong, this stuff is warm." Rilyn went back to eating.
        Caden picked up his mug. He frowned at the pungent smell of the brown stout, but at least it was better then the shine. He took a swig of the bitter drink, and watched Rilyn finish another mug. He drank like Sir Eric did.
         A man from the other side of the common room stood up and walked over. He was a stout and overweight man. His large stomach strained the stitches on his stained cream shirt. He didn't so much walk, as he waddled over to Caden.
        "You're Caden of Erdon," he said, "aren't you?"
        "Yes," Caden answered. "How did you know?"
        "I come here a lot. I saw you last time you passed through and overheard you talking about the Dragon Knights." He pulled up his drooping pants and stratched his shaggy beard. "So how did that go?"
        "Better then expected," Caden answered. Caden looked across the table at Rilyn and raised an eyebrow.
        Rilyn shrugged and shook his head.
        "That's great," he said. "Next time you're in Tinate, stop by and tell me more about your journeys." The man shook Caden's hand and waddled out the door.
        Caden waved Cassy over to their table. "Who was that?" Caden asked.
        Cassy looked out the window and saw the man leaving the Courtyard gate. "I don't know. I've never seen him before."
        Caden looked at Rilyn.
        Rilyn passed a bush axe to Caden under the table. "Sleep lightly tonight."

        Rilyn stayed in the common room for an hour after Caden left to sleep. She slipped into the room, being careful with the door. She closed it slowly and put the latch down. She walked over to Caden's bed and checked on him. He was sound asleep, the brush axe had fallen on the floor and was stuck in the boards. She smiled. She took off her hat and cloak, freeing her long fiery red hair. She unhooked her swords and set them at the foot of her bed. She took an ivory comb and worked it through her hair. She looked at Caden's sleeping form and smiled. She climbed into the opposite bed and went to sleep.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter 7: The General

        Rilyn sat in grass and watched the clouds drift by. Starlight grazed. Caden recounted the tale of the Dragon Queen to the general. The general listened and nodded. His brow was tight, and he kept a tight frown on his face.
        When Caden finished, the general said, "That's quite the story.゛
        "It's true,"Caden said.
        "I believe you."
        "So you'll rescue Keilee?"
        "I'll send my best dragon trackers out immediately. Without fail, I promise they will find this dragon and kill it by the next new moon."

        "But this isn't any ordinary dragon," Caden said. "It's the Dragon Queen."
        "The great sages have left us everything we need to deal with that old lizard." The general put his hand on Caden's shoulder. "And if your friend is still alive, we'll bring her back to your village."
        "I want to go with." Caden looked up at the general.
        "Oh?" The general looked down into Caden's eyes.
        "Please, reconsider, let me join," Caden said. "I'm stronger then I look, let me go with the dragon trackers so that I may help rescue Keilee."
        The general's brow relaxed, and he smiled. "If it means that much to you."
        Caden smiled.
        "I'm not supposed to do this." The general leaned down and whispered to Caden. "But I will make you a deal."
        Rilyn looked and watched closely as the general whispered into Caden's ear.

        Caden and Rilyn walked back to where they left Su. Rilyn looked at Caden. He hadn't stopped smiling since they departed ways from the general.
        "Are you going to tell me what he said, or is this another secret?"
        "No, I'll tell you," said Caden. "He agreed to let me join the Dragon Knights."
        "Okay, so why are you leaving?"
        "I need to talk with Sir Eric. I can only join them if I prove my strength and bring them the heads of five dragons. I figure Sir Eric should know how to track down some small ones."
        Rilyn shook his head and followed behind Caden. "Then we should double your training so you can defeat them with the stone sword."
        Caden looked back and smiled. He raised his left hand over his shoulder and gave Rilyn a thumbs up. "Sounds like a plan."
        They reached the top of the hill where they left Su. But she was no longer on the outcropping of rock. Caden dropped his knapsack and looked around, but couldn't find her anywhere. 
        Rilyn smiled, glad to be rid of the troublesome girl. "Well, guess she left. Let's hurry back to Tinate."
        "It's late, we should camp here and continue on in the morning," Caden said. "She might come back yet tonight."
        "Fine. I'll build a fire."
        Caden walked over to his knapsack and saw a small furry creature trying to untie the knot. "Hey, get away from there!" Caden ran at it. It jumped away and ran away. It stopped and stood up on it's hind legs. Caden never saw anything like it before. It looked like a rodent, but had a long, slim sinewy body. 
        It looked at Caden like it was begging for food. Caden sighed. He opened his knapsack and took out a loaf of stew bread. He tore off a fourth of it and threw it onto the ground. The rodent thing picked it up and started to eat. 
        "No more," Caden said. "I need to make the rest of this last till we return home."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chapter 7: Dragon Knights

        Rilyn walked behind Caden and Su. She seemed normal. Her hair was the same dark brown most people had in this country. She was about a head shorter then Caden. Rilyn guessed she was around 15 harvests. Which was the oddest thing about her, traveling alone so young.

        Caden wasn't saying much, but she was talking on and on. Nothing unusual either, just meaningless chatter. Rilyn couldn't understand why she hated her so much. Watching her pick wildflowers, making Caden laugh. Rilyn didn't want Su to be a witch. She just wanted a reason to get rid of her. Rilyn watched as Caden and Su talked. How she made him smile, made him laugh. Caden was talking about what happened. Rilyn gribbed her swords, imagining Su without a head.
        "... and that's when the Dragon Queen took Keilee. Now I'm on a quest to save her."
        "Wow," said Su. "When I asked why you needed the Dragon Knights, I didn't expect all that."
        "I figure it's what they're best at, right?"
        "I don't know." Su rubbed the back of her head. "I mean, I didn't even think Dragon's existed."
        "Of course they exist," Caden said. "Didn't you listen to all the stories when you went to temple?"
        "To tell you the truth," Su said. "My family didn't go to temple all that often."
        Caden looked at Su. She looked up at him. He blushed. She laughed.
        "Why?" Rilyn asked. "Too sacred for your family traditions?"
        Caden looked at Rilyn, his brow tight, his mouth frowning, and his eyes looked dark. Was she bewitching him? Clouding his mind?
        Su looked back over her shoulder. "What? I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were in this conversation." She sneered at Rilyn and ran ahead. She ran up the hill, and climbed onto one of the jagged outcroppings of rock. "Hey Caden," she called. "Come here and look at this."
       Caden looked at Rilyn again. Then he ran up the hill to join her. Starlight snorted and trotted behind him. Even the horse hates me, thought Rilyn.
        Caden let go of Starlight's reigns so he could climb up the rock after Su. She pointed out into the distance. "Look," she said. "You can see the Dragon Knight training camp from here." Caden looked out. 
        On top of another hill, about two hours away, Caden could see a green wall. "Still pretty far."
        "Well, I showed you the way."
        Caden looked at Su. "Are you leaving?"
        "I only said I would show you the way," Su said. "I don't want to go there."
        "Okay, well..." Caden looked at Rilyn drudging up the hill. "Thanks for your help."
        Su touched Caden's cheek. "Tell you what," she said. "I'll wait here for you. If you want me to continue traveling with you, come back for me."
        Caden jumped down off of the rock. Rilyn made it up the hill. Caden mounted Starlight. Rilyn looked up at Su sitting on the rock. "She's not coming," Caden said. He reached out to Rilyn. "Come on, if we both ride, we can get there sooner."
        Starlight looked at Rilyn and snorted. "Can you carry us both?" Rilyn asked. Starlight pawed at the ground, snorted, and shook her head. Rilyn looked at Caden. "Was that a yes?"
        "No," Caden said. "That was a, 'I can't talk, I'm just a horse.' Now hurry up."

        Rilyn and Caden road up to the camp wall. As they got closer, they could see the wall was a fathom tall rose bush. It was thick too, Caden looked at it, and couldn't see through. The branches seemed to twine together tighter and tighter farther in. They rode around the camp till they reached the gate. It was a large stone and wood door, with two Dragon Knights standing guard in front. They wore metal breastplates, except the left shoulder pieces were made from wood and leather. Their left ears and eyes were missing, replaced by jagged scars.
        Caden dismounted and approached the Knights. They drew their swords. "Halt," they said. "Come no closer to this holy land."
        "We come to seek the aide of the Dragon Knights," Caden said.
        The guard on the right sheathed his sword. "Fear not," he said. "The Dragon Knights protect all the citizens of this Kingdom. Return home, for you are safe."
        "But I have urgent news," said Caden. "A general was in my town recently. He came here with three recruits from Erdon."
        "It is an honor to serve the Dragon Knights," he said. "I hope you're not here to ask for their return."
        "No, I'm here to ask the general for many more knights to return and protect us from a great evil."
        "Then tell me what you wish to say, and I shall convey the message."
        "No, I will only talk with the general," Caden said. "He must here this from me."
        The two Knights looked at each other. The one on the left whistled. A falcon flew down and landed on the wooden shoulder guard. It sat there for a minute before it took off. "The general will be coming shortly," he said.
        Caden and Rilyn sat and waited. Starlight grazed. Caden kept staring at the horrible scars they had. He wondered how they lost their left ears and eyes. The scars were similar, so it looked like it happened in the same way.
        The gate opened and the general stepped out. He looked at Caden and smiled. "Long way from home," he said. "Aren't you boy."
        Caden stood up. "I want you to know," he said. "I learned my lesson from our last meeting, and everything I say is the truth."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chapter 7: New Path

        Caden and Rilyn walked up a hill. They exited Sharsden on the opposite road that they came in on. Neither talked on the hike up the steep hill. At the top, they stopped next to the lone tree and looked back at the town. A few people stood at the edge of town and stared back up at them.

        "Makes you wonder," Rilyn said. "Doesn't it?"
        "What the Dragon Knights have done to that town to make them react like that."
        "No, it doesn't," Caden said. "It's clear that the man has corrupted the town."
        "What man?"
        "The man with the dark shroud," said Caden. "I don't know what it means, but I know he caused this."
        "Sucks doesn't it?" said a voice from the tree.
        Rilyn and Caden looked up. The young woman from Tinate sat on a branch. She wore brown boots with a short dark green dress. 
        "What does?" Rilyn asked. He dropped his hands under his cloak and grabbed the handle of his curved swords.
        "Getting chased out of town for something you didn't do." She jumped out of the tree and landed in front of Rilyn. She stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm Suzidan."
        "Hey Su," Caden said. "What are you doing out here?"
        Su spun around on her toe. She faced Caden. "Hi Cady. I followed you. Thought maybe you could use my help."
        "And what makes you think you can help us?" asked Rilyn.
        "Well, let's see." She placed a finger on her lips. "Caden saved my life, so I guess I owe him the same." She tapped her mouth. "What else, oh that's right! I know where the Dragon Knight training camp is."
        "Will you show us?" asked Caden.
        "Of course I will." Su kicked the tree. It shook and a bag fell out of the branches. She caught it and slipped the strap over her shoulders. "Shall we go then?" She walked away from the town as leaves from the tree drifted down around her.
        Caden followed. Rilyn grabbed his elbow, stopping him. "This is too convient," he said. "I don't trust her."
        Caden shook his arm free. "Will you relax," Caden said. "She's not a witch. Trust me on this."
        "Not unless you can tell me what happened in that tower."
        Caden dropped his head. "It's complicated." He clicked his tongue and pulled Starlight by the reigns. He walked after Su.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chapter 7: Shattered Dreams

        Caden dreamt that night. In his dream, he was grown up. He was strong, his arms and chest well defined and muscular from the training Rilyn gave him. He was by the river, Keilee was safe and sleeping with her head on his lap. He stroked her hair. He heard a splash. Out in the river, another woman was bathing. Her wet skin glimmered in the orange light of the dying fire while the water sparkled under the full moon. She was the most beautiful woman Caden had ever seen. Her long red hair glistened.

        That morning, they broke camp, ate the last of the wheat bread and preserves, and set off down the highway. As they walked along that morning, Rilyn saw Caden smiling like a fool.
        "What are you smiling about?" He asked.
        "Oh, nothing," Caden said. "I just had a really good dream last night."
        "Well, stay focused on the real world. I don't understand why you like that thing." Rilyn pointed at the Stone Sword. "But until you can lift it all the time, I want you to stick to the short sword."
        "It's not a sword," Caden said. "It's a brush axe."
        "Still, you can actually lift it, so use that till you get stronger."
        "Okay." The mention of getting stronger made Caden think about his dream again.
        "From what Ramone said, we should reach Sharsden around noon," Rilyn said.

        They continued to walk down the highway. The terrain had few trees, but many hills dotted by giant boulders jutting out of them at odd angles. By noon, it was hotter then the day before. Caden was sweating a river. He emptied the water flask he had filled that morning by the river. He looked at Rilyn. Rilyn still wore the same cloak with the high collar covering his face up to his nose. The wide brimmed hat cast a shadow over his eyes.
        "Damn, aren't you hot?" asked Caden.
        "Do you ever take that cloak off?"
        "The cloak is what keeps me cool," said Rilyn. "It's been blessed to protect me from the second sun."
        Caden shielded his eyes and squinted at the single sun in the sky. "What are you talking about?"
        Caden and Rilyn reached the top of a hill. They looked down at a valley nestled between 5 hills. In the valley, there was a town about the same size as Erdon.
        "That must be Sharsden," Rilyn said.
        "I doubt the Dragon Knights are still there," said Caden. "Let's go down and see if anyone knows where their training camp is."
        Caden and Rilyn walked down the hill and into the town. There are very few people in the streets, and all of them were woman or small children. The buildings were old and rundown. Caden noticed many buildings looked boarded up and abandoned. The ceiling of the stables next to the smithy collapsed and hasn't been repaired. The forge inside was cold and covered in dust and cobwebs. Tools were scattered on the floor and rusted.
        "What happened here?" asked Caden.
        "This town looks dead."
        Caden saw an old woman and young boy walk out from a side street. "Excuse me," he said.
        The woman looked up at Caden and Rilyn. She grabbed the boy and ran down the street. Rilyn looked around. He saw several people close their windows. "Caden," he said, "I don't think we're going to get much help from around here."
        "There has to be someone who will help us." Caden pulled on Starlight's reigns and guided her to the center of the town.
        In the center of Sharden, there was a fountain with a statue of three Dragon Knights. The fountain was dry. The foundation cracked. Moss and ivy grew over the statues. One of the statues was broken, missing it's head. One was missing an arm, and the third his sword. Caden brushed off an inscription on the key stone. It read, "We honor the brave Dragon Knights who guide and protect our fair town."
        Caden stood up on fountain's basin wall. "Everyone!" he yelled. "We need your help."
        A few people looked out windows and doors. Rilyn watched them. His hands dropped to under his cloak.
        "We are on an urgent mission," he continued. "Innocent lives are at stake. We need to know where we can find the Dragon Knights."
        Woman and children walked out. Rilyn gripped the handles to both of his swords.
        Caden leans down to Rilyn. "I told you there would be people willing to help us." Caden felt a cold chill run down his spine. He shivered under the hot midsummer sun.
        One elderly woman stepped forward. "If you're looking for the Dragon Knights, we don't want you in our town."
        "They killed our sons and husbands," she said. "Taking them off to fight losing battles, stealing what they want, leaving us with only enough to survive."
        "But the Dragon Knights protect us," Caden cried.
        A young boy picked up a rock and threw it at Caden. He hit Caden in the head. Caden fell into the dry fountain basin. He hit his head against the base of the statues. He looked up, the world spun in front of him. He saw two Rilyns draw four curved swords. He saw a man walk out of a building. He had a dark shroud over his shoulders. He smiled. Caden stood up and grasped the back of his head. More people picked up refuse and threw it at Rilyn and Caden. Rilyn deflected what he could with his swords. 
        Caden looked at the man with the dark shroud. His vision cleared. He stood up and grabbed the stone sword off of Starlight. He held it up in one hand. "By this holy sword of the temple," he shouted. "Stop your attack and we'll leave peacefully!"
        The crowd stopped and stared at him holding the stone sword without any difficulty. With that, Caden nodded to Rilyn, grabbed Starlight by the reigns, and they left. They walked past the man with the dark shroud. He laughed, showing black gums receding from his teeth.
        Caden looked at him. "I'll be back to deal with you."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chapter 6: Departure

        Caden saddled and groomed Starlight while Rilyn settled with the Barkeep. Rilyn walked outside.

        "Are you ready?" Caden asked. "We've wasted two nights here, and we're no closer to finding the Dragon Knights, or getting them to save Keilee."
        "You were the one who spent the night with a witch."
        "She's not a witch," Caden said. "I'm certain of that now."
        "Then why did the towns people attack her?"
        "She was found with the witch."
        "And what would they have been doing together?"
        "I don't know."
        "I'm not from around here," Rilyn said. "But our cultures do agree on one thing. Thou shall not suffer a witch to live."
        "She wasn't a witch."
        "But if she had dealings with one, maybe she's on the journey to become one."
        Caden looked away. He led Starlight out the courtyard gate. Rilyn followed. Cassy came out the front door to the Tavern. She ran up to Caden and handed him a loaf of bread.
        "Come back again," she said. "Ok?"
        Caden nodded.

        Rilyn led Caden to the east gate. Identical to the first, except the vertical sign read, "出口 東Tinate."
        "Father Achilleos said the Dragon Knights went west," Rilyn said. "They have a training camp they bring new recruits to."
        "Don't you find it odd that they didn't know about the draft here."
        "From what I've heard of the Dragon Knights, it doesn't surprise me."
        "You're right," Caden said. "A city this size, they must get enough volunteers that they don't need a draft."
        "Yeah," Rilyn said. He walked past Caden. "That's what I meant."
        They walked in silence for the rest of the morning. By noon, they exited the forest and no longer had the canopy protecting them from the hot mid-day sun. Caden mounted Starlight, and rode her while eating lunch. He gave Rilyn a spicy stew bread, and ate the last sour seaweed. He looked in his knapsack. He had two honey stews left, four spicy stews, and the loaf Cassy gave him. Cassy's bread was a simple soft wheat dinner loaf. Dinner loafs don't last as long as the stew bread. It would only be good for today, they'd need to eat it for dinner. But that meant finding something more for dinner.
        "Can you hunt or fish or anything?" Caden asked.
        "I can hunt," said Rilyn, "But not in the way that you're thinking."
        "I think we should have picked up some more food before we left."
        "That reminds me." Rilyn stopped and turned around. "I promised Father Achilleos that we would return after you finished your errand with the Dragon Knights."
        "I told him what I knew about the Dragon Queen. He said that he wanted to hear the story from you since you were there."
        Caden pulled on Starlights reigns and stopped. He dismounted and put his hand on the ties for the stone sword. Rilyn turned around and looked ahead. A lone traveler walked down the road towards them. He wore simple brown jodhpurs and a white tunic. A black leather satchel hung across his chest from his left shoulder.
        "I don't see any weapons," Rilyn said. "Feeling a bit paranoid."
        "Just cautious."
        "Then use this." Rilyn passed him a brush axe from under his cloak.
        Maybe Rilyn is right, thought Caden. He looked at the man. He didn't have the dark shroud, but neither did the bandits. He didn't have any weapons, but that itself is strange to travel without protection. The highways aren't that safe. Caden stepped away from the stone sword, and put the brush axe into his knapsack. He kept his hand inside the bag on the handle.
        The man stopped ten paces away. He looked at Rilyn and Caden. They looked at him. "Hail and well met, travellers."
        "Good day, sir."
        "I'm Ramone, a simple traveling merchant," said Ramone. "May I ask your names?"
        "A merchant?" asked Caden. "Convenient, since I was just thinking about needing to buy food."
        "Not convenient, my boy. Providence." Ramone opened his satchel and took out a red cloth.
        "For a merchant," said Rilyn, "you're traveling without much to sell."
        Ramone took off his satchel and dropped it next to the road. "If you take your hands off of your weapons, I'll show you."
        Caden looked at Rilyn. What do you think? 
        Rilyn looked at Caden. He doesn't look dangerous. 
        Caden took his hand out of his knapsack. He left the brush axe inside. Rilyn moved his hands out from under his cloak.
        "Talking with your eyes," said Ramone. "You must be long time travel companions." Ramone unfolded the cloth. It was thirty hands wide by 45 hands long. He whipped the cloth into the air. It floated down. As it came down, the center was supported by something that wasn't there. The edges dropped down till they touched the road. It looked like the cloth was covering a stack of boxes. Ramone grabbed the cloth and pulled it off. Underneath was several crates. He rolled up the cloth and set it down in the grass.
        "How did you?" Rilyn asked.
        "That wasn't wizardry or witchcraft," Caden said.
        "You're right, but I can't answer your question, because I don't know. It's just a very useful tool I picked up in my travels." Ramone grabbed a pry-bar that was lying on one of the crates. "Hard to get robbed when they can't find your wares."

        That night, Caden and Rilyn camped just off of the highway. The highway crossed a river. They got water and Caden built a fire on a large flat rock protruding out into the water. They sat around the fire and roasted fish. Ramone even gave them a good deal on preserves for the bread.
        "Rilyn, you've travelled more then I," Caden said. "Have you ever seen a magic that could create something from nothing?"
        "No, but perhaps I haven't traveled as much as you think I have." Rilyn stuffed the last of the bread into his mouth, and stood up. "Finish eating. You still need more practice with your swords."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chapter 6: The Price of Redemption

        Rilyn sat up all night with Father Achilleos. They talked till the sun rose and Caden descended from the tower with the young woman behind him. Rilyn watched as they walked into the temple. Caden's face looked like it was carved from wax. He stood there, staring forward, not blinking. The woman kissed him on the cheek.

        "Thanks," she said. She walked out of the temple.
        "Well, looks like that worked out for the best," Father Achilleos said. He stood up, and took Rilyn by the hand. "Remember what I said. And come back to see me after you've finished your errand with the Dragon Knights. May the sages guide you on your journey."
        Rilyn walked over next to Caden. "What happened up there?"
       "I don't want to talk about it." Caden walked to the door. "Let's depart."
       Father Achilleos watched them leave. "That boy." Father Coteson walked to his study, and pulled an ancient book from the shelf.

I know this is by far the shortest post to date. Yet, I'm focusing on writing the important points of the chapter sections. And this was the focus of the section. Come back tomorrow for the start of Chapter 7.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chapter 6: Witch

        The crowd of people hauled two woman bound to seven foot stakes. One was an old woman, in her seventies. The other was a young brunette, barely over 17 harvest. The old woman was cackling and crying out about the crowd being tortured for a thousands years and black death reigning from above, destroying the town.

        The young woman was shouting, "I'm not a witch."
        Caden heard about witches in temple service, but had never seen one before. He didn't know if he was actually seeing one right now. What he did know was, the old crone had the same shroud of darkness as Father Coteson, the undead Dragon Knights, and the Bandit leader in the forest. Yet the young girl, she didn't have it. She looked normal, like everyone else in the crowd.
        "Rilyn," said Caden. "I think that girl is telling the truth."
        "What? Why?"
        "Doesn't the older woman remind you of the bandit leader who vanished on the highway?"
        "Well, she does have the same eyes, but that's not all that strange on someone her age."
        "No, the black shroud."
        "What shroud?"
        "You don't see that darkness surrounding her?"
        "No," Rilyn said. "And the bandit leader had the same thing?"
        "Same with Father Coteson."
        "And the girl doesn't?"
        "Right," Caden said. "We have to save her."
        "So do you want to tell the angry mob that they got the wrong person?"
        "Follow me." Caden pushed through the crowd and ran down a side street.

        Caden and Rilyn emerged from an alley. They were at the temple mall. Large, flat, white stones paved the ground. The mob was already there, carrying the two women into the temple.
        "Damn." Caden punched the side of the alley. "I was hoping to beat them here."
        Rilyn noticed the cracks left in the stone from Caden's punch. "I'm surprised we got here when we did." Rilyn walked past Caden and onto the mall. "After all, you did try to take a short cut in a city you've never been to."
        "How hard is it to head towards the giant stone tower." Caden pointed at the white marble tower above the temple. It was the tallest building in Tinate.
        "Apparently it is," said Rilyn. "Judging from the number of dead ends you lead us to." He looked back at Caden. "What do you want to do now?"
        "Only thing we can do," Caden said. "We wait for the crowd to leave, then we speak with the Father."

        The sun was setting by the time the crowd completely disbursed. The Father was walking in the garden, tending to the plants. He wore the daily vestments of plain white shirt and pants under his black and silver coat. The holy, ten-pointed star was embroidered in gold on the back of his jacket. Caden and Rilyn walked with him as he moved through the garden.
        "So why don't you think she's evil?" he asked.
        "It's hard to explain, Father Achilleos," Caden said. "But I feel a fire in my gut telling me that this is the right thing to do."
        Father Achilleos stopped next to a flowering tree. He lifted a shriveled, rotting flower in his gloved hand. "This flower isn't evil, it'll soon be dead. Yet if left on the tree, the rot will spread to the other flowers. If left untended, the disease will consume more flowers and leaves, till the tree can no longer function. It won't die from the rot, but it will die from the loss. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Father Achilleos snipped the flower off and handed it Caden.
        "I wonder if that's true."
        "I will save her from the rot."
        "It's not easy, they have already been placed on the top of the Shrift Tower." Father Achilleos pointed to the white marble tower. "The only thing you can do now, is stand witness to her judgment by the goddess."
        Caden looked up at the tower. "Very well." 
        "You might get cut off with the flower you want to save."
        He walked into the temple. "I know."
        "Interesting boy you're traveling with." Father Achilleos turns to Rilyn. "Does he know about you?"
        "He knows nothing." They turn and watch Caden enter the shadows inside the temple.
        "Come, my child," Father Achilleos lead Rilyn into the temple. "I sense that you're in need of some absolution yourself."

        Caden stood on top of the spire. The roof was flat, with no walls on the outside edge. He was next to the chained women. The old hag screamed like she was being burned. The young girl cried. The wind whipped through his hair and clothes. Caden watched the sunset. When the last part of the sun fell below the horizon, the sky flashed green. Caden raised his arms and shielded his eyes. The wind picked up and he felt like he was going to be blown off the edge.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Chapter 5: Tinate

        Caden and Rilyn walked along the highway. The weapons were put away, and Caden massaged his shoulder. Rilyn moved behind Caden. When he got next to Starlight, she nipped at him. Rilyn jumped away. Caden pulled the reigns.
        "I don't think she likes me," Rilyn said.

        "She senses that you're afraid of her," said Caden. "That makes her in charge. With animals, it's all about who's the master."
        "Yeah," said Rilyn. "But people aren't that way."
        "You're not going to start up on the bandits again?"
        "It was a mistake to leave them alive."
        "Enough already," Caden said. "One is never going to be able to walk right again, and if infection sets in, the other is going to lose his sword arm. Even if he avoids infection, wounds like that never heal straight. We won't see them again."
        "You know what they say, a wounded Kryptop is the most dangerous."
        Where does he get these sayings? "Besides, you stole their bush axes," Caden said. "So I guess they're wounded and toothless Kryptops."
        Caden and Rilyn walked through the southern gate of Tinate. The gate had two massive stone pillars, each almost 5 fathom's tall and 15 hands wide. They were 1 and a half fathom's apart. The pillars were connected by two cross beams, one above the other. In the center of the cross beams, a vertical sign displayed, " Tinate." Four guards, two on each side, stood at the gate.
        Caden stopped under the gate. Rilyn continued to walk. The guards looked at him. The traffic moved around him. "Um? Excuse me?" asked Caden.
        "What do you want, kid?"
        "Have the Dragon Knights passed through here?"
        "Who're they?" asked the first Guard.
        "Don't know know that Dragon's don't exist, kid?" said the second guard. "Now get lost."
        Caden looked at them. They started making jokes about dragons. Caden pulled on Starlight's reigns and caught up to Rilyn.
        They searched the city for cheap lodging. They settled on the Blue Fox. Caden tied Starlight up in the central courtyard next to a trough. They walked into the common room. Caden looked at the barkeep. He knodded at them, so they sat at a table near the fire place. 
        Caden leaned next to Rilyn. "I hope it's okay for me to be here."
        "Why wouldn't it?" asked Rilyn.
        "In Erdon, they said I was too young."
        The serving girl walked over to the table. Caden guessed that she was about 20 harvests. Caden stared, she wore only a black skirt, yellow camisole, and red bodice. She set two mugs down. "If you're hungry, we have lamb, roasted with onions, potatoes, and carrots. I can fix you up with some bread and cheese if you prefer that. We have rooms available. If you want separate chambers, it'll cost 30 swans, but only 20 if you share a room." She looked at Caden staring. "If you want company tonight, that costs more."
        Rilyn kicked Caden under the table. Caden looked away from the serving girl's chest and looked at Rilyn. "We'll share a room, thanks," said Rilyn. "And bring us two plates of lamb, and some bread and cheese to share, and make the next round a pitcher of dark stout."
        "Sure thing, sweetie." The serving girl walked off. 
        Caden stared at her leaving. "Maybe we should look for some place cheaper," he said. He turned to Rilyn. "I only have about 12 swans."
        "Relax," Rilyn said. "The mayor knew you wouldn't have any money. He's covering all of this." Rilyn removed the coins from under his cloak. "Just promise not to do anything stupid and lose what money you do have."
        "What's that mean?" Caden took a drink from his mug. The clear liquid felt like fire. Caden coughed.
        "And go easy on the shine."
        The serving girl set down the plates, a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese with a small knife, and a pitcher. She winked at Caden. "My name's Cassy, by the way." She took Rilyn's coin and left. Caden watched her leave again.

        Caden left the table shortly after eating. The shine and stout made his face feel hot, and the rest of his body feel very tired. He remembered that he'd been awake since the night before. He went out into the court yard, and brushed and fed Starlight. He took the saddle, stone sword, and his knapsack into their room. He fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed.

        Caden woke up in the middle of the night. Someone was taking his boots off. He looked up and saw a figure moving in the dim light. He squinted, and in the shadows saw a woman moving around the room. He rolled over and pulled the blanket over his head.

        The next morning, Caden woke up after Rilyn was already up and out of the room. He walked over to the dresser where there was a pitcher and bowl. He poured the cold water into the bowl and washed his face. Then he opened the window and dumped it outside. He put his boots on and walked out of the room into the courtyard.
        Caden found Rilyn eating in the common room. "Have fun last night?" Caden sat down.
        "What do you mean?" Rilyn ate a bowl of pumpkin porridge.
        "I woke up last night. I saw that you brought Cassy back to our room."
        "I think you are confused," Rilyn said. He took a sip from a steaming mug. "It was only us in the room last night."
        "What ever, I know what I saw."
        Cassy walked up and gave Caden a bowl of porridge and a steaming mug. She was dressed more conservatively that morning.
        "The guards said they didn't know who the Dragon Knights were." Caden took a bite of porridge. "What's up with that," he said with his mouth full."
        "Cover your mouth, you barbarian."
        Caden swallowed. "Sorry."
        "After you went to bed last night, I asked around. It seems they're called the King's Knights around here." Rilyn looked around the room and leaned across the table. "And I wouldn't say anything about the Dragon Queen here, either," he said in a soft whisper.
        Rilyn and Caden looked out the front window. A loud commotion of people were walking past. They both heard the crowd shouting, "Witches!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chapter 5: Highway Robbery

        Caden rode Starlight for a while, then dismounted. "Would you like to rest for a while?" asked Caden. 

        "No thanks," Rilyn said. "I'm fine just walking."
        "Come on." Caden handed him the reigns. "Your training routine this morning put us behind schedule. I don't want to stop for another break."
        Rilyn stared at the horse.
        "What are you waiting for?"
        Rilyn grabbed the horse's mane and the saddle. He tried to pull himself up. The horse cried out and bit Rilyn on the arm. "Ow, you stupid beast!" He let go of Starlight and she trotted ahead 20 paces.
        Caden fetched Starlight and walked her back. "What was that?" He looked at Rilyn rubbing his arm. "You would think you've never seen a horse."
        "Actually, I haven't," Rilyn said. "We don't have them where I come from."
        "Where are you from?"
        "Doesn't matter. I can't return."
        Caden stared at Rilyn rubbing his arm. "That's going to bruise, but it's better then if she had kicked you." Caden tied Starlight to a low tree branch. "Come here, I'll teach you some basics so you can play nice with the old girl."

        Rilyn rode on Starlight, but didn't feel comfortable with the commands. So he just sat on her back while Caden led the horse on foot. Caden saw something dark moving in the woods. "You know," he said. "We need to be careful. If someone saw me leading your horse, they might think your royalty."
        "Why? Nobles don't know how to ride either?"
        Caden watched the dark movement. "I'm sure they do," he said. "But Sir Eric says that actual riding is considered below them. So they either ride in Carriages or have some one lead the horse on foot."
        "In that case," said Rilyn. "I think I'll get off for now."
        Caden stopped the horse. "That's a good idea." The dark shape in the forest stopped too. Caden helped Rilyn climb down. The horse snorted and stamped it's foot. "In fact, why don't we resume our training from earlier?"
        "I thought you wanted keep moving?"
        "I did." Caden looked Rilyn in the eyes. "But you can never be too careful."
        Rilyn looked out the corner of his eyes. He nodded and moved his arms under his cloak. Caden untied the stone sword and let it drop. He bent over to pick it up.
        Clink, clink! Rilyn had a curved sword out and deflected two daggers. The landed at Caden's feet. Caden knelt on the ground and rested the stone sword on his shoulder. He never saw a sword like Rilyn's before. It was six hands long and curved to form a half circle. It had a single edge on the inside curve. The outside was etched to resemble a ring of flames.
        Caden watched the black shape move again. Laughter came from the woods, and three men came out. The each held up a black steel brush axe.
        "I'm impressed you saw them," Rilyn said.
        "I didn't." Caden watched the black shape. "I saw him."
        Rilyn looked at where Caden was looking, but didn't see anyone.
        "Looks like we have quite the pair here," said one of the men.
        "They got lucky with the knives," said another. "But what are they planning on doing with a bent sword and stone log."
        "This is a half sun blade," Rilyn said. "Pray the full sun never rises." He raised the blade over his head, and held it to the side. It looked like a sun rising over the horizon.
        Caden looked at Rilyn, he stood up, keeping the stone sword propped on his shoulder. "I'll have you know," he said, "this sword is a Sacred Artifact of the Five Sages."
        The three men rushed forward. Caden flipped his sword over his shoulder and crashed it into the lead man's sword arm. His arm shattered, bone splitting and protruding from the skin. Rilyn sidestepped the second man's attack and hit him in the throat with the inner curve of her blade. She pulled him off his feet and dropped him to the ground. He hit the ground dead. Blood gushed from the deep cut in his neck. Caden turned and spun the sword in a circle. He hit the third man in the knee. The man's knee gave out with a crunch. He fell to the ground, his leg bent in the wrong direction.
        Caden lifted the stone sword in one hand, and pointed it into the woods. "Why don't you come out too."
        The men with shattered bones screamed, vomited, and passed out.
        Rilyn stared at Caden holding the massive sword so easily. He followed the sword's blade to where it pointed into the woods. He saw a man there, young, and extremely strong. But his eyes were sunken. The skin around his eyes were black, and had more wrinkles then anyone Rilyn had ever seen before. He smiled, his gums were black and purple, his tongue was swollen and gray.
        "Impressive," he said. "I'll be looking forward to meeting you again." He backed away into the woods. Caden saw the darkness vanish like smoke.
        "We should go after him," Rilyn said.
        Caden turned his sword and grabbed the blade in his free hand. "I don't think we'll be able to catch him."
        "I guess you weren't lying." Rilyn looked at the sword. "But a Sacred Artifact?"
        "Well." Caden laughed. He let go of the blade and rubbed his head. "I did find it in the crypt of a temple."
        Rilyn giggled. Caden looked at Rilyn, his laugh sounded very girly.
        Caden dropped the stone sword and grabbed his arm. "Ow!"
        "What's wrong?"
        "I don't know," Caden said. "The sword just got too heavy." Caden lifted his arm. "Ow, I think I pulled my shoulder."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chapter 5: Buried in the Sand

        Caden and Rilyn walked for the rest of the night. Caden never rode Starlight. They reached the highway by sunrise. The road to Erdon was marked by an old well next to a log lean-to and trough. Caden drew water from the well and filled the trough. He let Starlight drink while he sat in the lean-to.

        "Planning on taking a break already?"
        "No," Caden said.
        "Just asking," said Rilyn. "Because when I ran away from home, I went more then a couple of hours away."
        "This is the farthest I've ever traveled from my home."
        "So what?" Rilyn dropped the bucket into the well. "Eric told me you wanted to leave that town."
        "Hey! Do you even remember what it was like to leave your home for the first time?"
        "Yeah." Rilyn pulled the rope and hauled the full bucket out. "It was a month ago. And I haven't looked back." He carried the bucket to Caden. "Like you, staying home meant death."
        "I'm not going die if I stay in Erdon."
        "You're not?"
        "No!" Caden yelled.
        "Staying put, delivering bread every morning, getting married and raising a home," said Rilyn. "While every year, the Dragon Knights come, and choose people, but never you? Watching the people you know, leave you behind and live the life you dream of?"
        Caden looked at the bucket in Rilyn's hands.
        "There are ways of dying that don't leave you buried in the sand."
        "I will join the Dragon Knights," Caden said. He looked Rilyn in the eyes.
        "Not like that you won't." Rilyn set the bucket down. "Unless you want to be buried in the sand, get that sword of yours off the horse."
        Caden looked down the road, back to Erdon. Rilyn picked up the bucket and threw the water on Caden. "What?" Caden shook his head.
        "I said, get your sword and..."
        Caden ran at Rilyn. He threw a punch with all of his strength. Rilyn stepped to the side. Caden's punch missed. It passed by Rilyn's ear. Rilyn's elbow hit Caden in the solar plexus while he drew a dirk. He put the tip against Caden's neck.
        "As I said, you'll be buried in the sand." Rilyn put his dagger away. "Your Mayor charged me with making sure that doesn't happen."

        When they started, Caden couldn't lift the stone sword. When they finished, Caden couldn't lift his own arms. He laid on his back in front of the lean-to. He stared at the light filtering through the trees.
        Rilyn looked at his stone sword. "I could break this thing," he said. "Then you'll have a better chance of clubbing someone with it."
        "No. I can use it. I saved the children."
        "From a grumpy, moldy old man," Rilyn said, "in robes. That's hardly proof of your prowess against a trained fighter. This thing is going to get you killed."
        Caden sat up. "Don't doubt me. I was able to lift it in one hand."
        Rilyn looked at Caden's skinny arms. "I doubt that." Rilyn opened Caden's knapsack and took out two loaves. He tossed one to Caden. "Eat, drink, then we need to get moving." Rilyn broke the hard outer crust.
        "Wait." Rilyn looked at Caden. "Switch loaves."
        Rilyn looked at the two loaves. His was darker. He thought it was over cooked and burnt a little. He shrugged and swapped loaves with Caden. He broke the lighter loaf in half and bit into the meaty filling. He cringed and puckered at the taste. It was the most sour thing he ever put into his mouth. And there was a lingering taste of something he never had before. He looked at the bread, it was dotted with green specks.
        Caden laughed. "You're really not from around here," he said. "Don't worry, I don't care for the sour seaweed stew either." He broke open his bread and took a big bite. "Now the sweet honey stew is to die for." Bits of food flew from his mouth as he talked. He picked up his knapsack. "Next time, don't take my food without asking."
        Rilyn smiled. He watched Caden untie the horse and lead it out onto the highway. He looked down at the disgusting bread. He took another bite and forced himself to eat it while following Caden.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chapter 5: The road to Tinate

        A week passed, and the Dragon Queen had not returned. It seemed like the old stories were true. A sacrificed daughter would appease the queen and she would not return for a year and a day. The stories did not say why she wanted the sacrifice.

        Caden was there. He saw the Dragon Queen take Keilee. It didn't kill her, it took her. He knew she was still alive. No one else believed him. Even if it took her alive, it would have eaten her by now. She was dead, the town held a memorial for her, and thanked her for saving the town. 
        Yet no one thanked Harron. 
        The town did not mention the role he played in the sacrifice of his daughter. He saved them, they knew that. But no one approved. Harron returned to his homestead with the remainder of his family. No one went out to check on them. No one would consider talking with him.
        In that week, the people were busy rebuilding their town. Sir Eric eventually recovered, but moped around worse then before. No one ever saw him sober anymore. He just walked around the town with a bottle of shine in his left hand. His right arm and shoulder were gone.
        The stranger, Rilyn, even helped out with the rebuilding. He had recovered and was only using a cane instead of a crutch.
        Caden fought a different battle. He tried to convince his father to let him go after the Dragon Knights. To get them to mobilize and hunt down the Dragon Queen, and save Keilee. His father refused. He told his father that someone had to notify the church of Father Coteson's actions. His father refused.

        Caden crept into the kitchen late at night. He carried a knapsack with a change of clothes. His father had been baking a lot of stew rolls lately. Giving them to the workers around the town. It was a good bread, hard outer crust allowed it to last for days. Inside was a soft bread stuffed with meat, vegetables, gravy, and potatoes. Caden preferred the spicy and sweet flavors, but couldn't tell which were which in the dark. So he opened his knapsack and filled it with loaves from all three trays.
        He moved a bench over to the ovens and climbed up. On top was a small lock box. Caden grabbed the box and brought it down. Inside was a handful of coins. He took about half. Right now, neighbors were helping neighbors. His father received free ingredients as long as he gave free bread to the people working. But it wouldn't last, and Caden wanted to leave him with enough to buy what he would need.
        His father's mare, Starlight, was old, past 10 harvests. Caden walked her out of his father's back yard and through town. He wasn't going to ride her until they were past the hollows left by the dragon's attack. Instead he carefully lead her down each one and back up the other side.
        He passed the temple, and saw the stone sword laying in the garden where he left it. He walked over and picked it up. He could barely lift it. He tried to swing it, but failed. He didn't understand why he couldn't lift it anymore.
        "What are you planning on doing with that?" Rylin stepped out from under a tree. In the moonlight, his hat cast a shadow over his eyes.
        "Protection," Caden said. "Bandits are on the highway, and I've heard people talk about the gremlins attacking at night."
        "And what good will it do you if you can't lift it?"
        "Hey, I can lift it." Caden strapped the sword to Starlight. "I saved the kids using this sword. And I'm going to save it Keilee with it."
        "You're going to get yourself killed."
        "Why are you here, Rilyn?"
        "The mayor said you were going to be leaving tonight," said Rilyn. He picked up a sack, threw it over his shoulder, and tied it in place. "Asked me to go with you."
        "How could he have known that?"
        "I don't know, kid. So where are we going?"
        "The Dragon Knights left town, heading north. So I'm going to check Fort Tinate first."
        "Lead the way."
        Rilyn wasn't stopping him, so Caden didn't care what he did. Rilyn followed Caden as they walked out of town. They exited the northern gate and followed the road till they reached the highway.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter 4: Save Erdon?

        Thadeus Silverthorn took Caden aside. "Caden, you're father doesn't want you to go, but I think you are the best choice."

        "Why?" asked Caden.
        "Do you have to ask? Or are happy that it gets you what you want."
        "I guess so." Caden looked around for Keilee. She had disappeared while he was talking to the mothers. "It just seems like no one else in this town thinks so."
        "I've been around long enough to see things most people miss." Thadeus put his hand on Caden's shoulder. "Now, tell me about how you saved the children."

        Harron held his daughter by the arm. She followed him, but continued to look up at the sky. Harron used the time that Thadeus was distracted by Caden to leave the temple unnoticed. They walked out to the town square. There was a large pole in the center of the town square, and Harron was glad that it still stood. Ropes with broken lanterns hung from the top. 
        Harron tied Keilee to the pole. "Why are you doing this?" she cried.
        "I'm sorry, but the scriptures are clear." He pulled the ropes tighter. "Before the Queen was sealed, we appealed her with female sacrifices. You are going to save the town."
        Rilyn was helping Sir Eric through town. He survived the dragon attack, but his right arm was caught in the blast. It vanished with the rest of the Tavern. Rilyn heard the screams and pulled Sir Eric out the backdoor as the building was destroyed by the dragon's attack.
        Sir Eric was lucky, he was already passed out from drinking too much. Yet Rilyn did not envy him waking up to finding his right arm missing. Rilyn watched Harron tie the girl up. He adjusted Sir Eric and left the square.
        Harron lit two fires, one on each side of Keilee. She just hung her head and cried.

        Rilyn carried Sir Eric into the temple. He placed him with the rest of the injured. Only a handful of people managed to survive being hit by the Dragon Queen's attack. Caden walked over to them.
        "It's good to see that you survived," said Caden. "I'd heard that Sir Eric died."
        "Not dead," said Rilyn. "But he's not lucky either." Rilyn laid a blanket over Sir Eric. "Who was that girl you were with last night?"
        Caden looked at Rilyn. "At the town social?"
        "Her name's Keilee. I didn't think you would have noticed us."
        "Hmm... Well, Keilee is being tied to a post in town square right now."
        "What?" Caden looked around the room. He didn't see Keilee anywhere. Outside the Dragon Queen roared. Caden ran out of the temple.

        Caden reached the town square in time to see the Dragon Queen land. It crushed several buildings that were still standing. It's tail swept through the half destroyed remains of other houses. Keilee screamed. The Dragon Queen reached forward and grabbed her and the pole she was tied to. It snapped the pole.
        Caden ran at the dragon. It spread it's wings and flapped them. The wings sent gusts of wind down that blew Caden down. A few more flaps and it was airborne. The gusts knocked houses over. Caden stood back up and watched the Dragon Queen carry Keilee away.
        Keilee screamed Caden's name. He ran after her and the dragon till they disappeared into sky. He fell to the ground. Tears running down his face.