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CHAPTER ONE; THE CHOICES BEGIN

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CHAPTER ONE; THE CHOICES BEGIN

"Even now, when I look down from this highest hill of old age, I can see it still. The little cottage with the thatched roof, the tiny leaded windows, the sweet garden that surrounds it and the broken down and splintered fence which surrounds that. I see the hens that run free range about the house and its tumbledown sheds, the birds that nest in the roof, the pigs and the dogs and Aedrinn, the old horse my mother takes to the nearby town for market day every week.




"I see the vibrant colours of the forest about me, the brights of the wet season relieving from the moody grey skies rolling on above, and the feel of the light rain through the thinning canopy, the yellow and red darkening to brown and falling upon the muddy earth. The snow of the cold season, how thick and chill it fell, so white it was near blue, how crisp and clean everything felt then. The dream-like pastels of the hot season, the flowers springing from every patch of grass at the foot of the green leafy trees, climbing every height and giving the fair woods a fresh smell and a pale haziness.

"Everything was hazy then, through my child's eyes. Ethereal and illusory, a fantasy world that covered my eyes from the truths that were about to shatter it. But I do not care to think on those, only to quickly remember the sounds I would hear from the thickets. The clucks and chirrups and snorts from the yard, and beyond them, if I peeled back the layers of volume, the songs of a thousand it seemed larks and linnets winging through the canopy, the barks of the creatures that inhabited the forest floor. And when the black cloak of night enveloped all in silky darkness, I would hear the scuffles of the creatures who only dared to venture out in darkness, the echoes of a flock of bats, the cries of wolves serenading the misty moon at midnight.

"But of all these vaults of enchantment, my most treasured memory is that of a glade somewhere in the woods, where the sun interspersed the deep green shade with pools of gold and yellow-greens. There was an infinite number of shades in that glade, sometimes I would sit for whole afternoons picking them all out, lost in childlike fantasies. In a glade where a midday mist would catch the frown of thoughtfulness upon the face of a young child..."

Myla's slender white fingers made quick work of the daisy chain, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration of the task in hand. She would not break this one! She sat in the centre of the glade, a beam of sunshine falling in on her like a spotlight, as if it were created specifically for her to sit in. She appeared older than her seven years, tall as some of her older sisters, and slender as the rain that began to fall through the leaves above her head. Her skin was dried with the dirt of many a day, but underneath the thick covering of grime she was white as moonlight upon fresh snows. The locks of hair that fell across her face drably hung greasy and limp, but when washed her long hair was thick and straight as a poker, black and glossy as the eye of an eagle, and when it caught the light, Myla's hair would glisten with reds and lilacs and bright blues and even greens. Her mother and sisters would sit her upon their laps and comb it, plaiting and braiding and brushing until the young girl's complaints grew enough for her to be allowed out to play.

The times she was allowed to play were the times Myla lived for. Residing in a remote settlement in the Arronkari Forest, the way Myla knew was the way of the woods - work. She would chop an equal amount of wood and carry an equal number of pails of water as her older siblings, always required to help with the cooking or rearing of the many animals the family kept. Strong and fast and agile she was, in her light peasant garb, never weighed down by heavy overskirts and finery. Her long limbs were slender and wiry from the strength she possessed in them.

But the most unusual of all Myla's features was her face, a face round as a coin and white as unstained wax, all the features large and exaggerated. She spoke through full, plump red lips, and looked upon her surroundings through huge eyes grey as fog, silver as a sword in starlight, speckled with little flecks of gold and copper like gems set in jewellery, bright and glittering and keen as talons, hiding power and will beyond human heart, unbidden, unrisen, unbeknown.

Despite its stresses and toils, Myla loved her life and was contented with its simplicity. She loved her family dearly, her house, her forest. She wanted for nothing, desired no position in the wide world. There was, however, nothing wrong with childish fantasy now and again.

Myla tied the final knot in her daisy chain, and put it about her long neck, satisfied. She stood, and as she did, her eyes transformed her plain white dress, faded black tunic, sack-cloth cloak, grubby ankle socks and scuffed leather shoes to royal garb, a flowing gown and delicate dancing shoes, her hair clean and flowing and strung with pearls, gold at her wrists and throat. For a moment, she was the Imperial Queen of all Fengalonia.

"Myla! Myla! There you are! Myla Loquelle, come out of the rain!"

"Oh, Mu-um," the little girl sighed, "it's only a little drizzle."

Her mother's cries ended her fantasy, the fine clothes dropping from her imagination and wilting like petals. Myla whirled about in time to see her mother, a plump woman of similar colouring and dress to her daughter, running through the trees toward her.

"Come away inside Myla, you'll catch your death of this weather! And there's work to be done with the dinner tonight!"

"Oh Mum, it's not even cold today," objected Myla, "please. Just a little bit longer, please. I've not finished my game!"

Ara Loquelle tried another approach. "They say the fairies come out in this kind of weather, to have their dances here. And you know what happens to any human who sees a fairy!"

Myla sighed again. "Mum, you don't really believe all the old stories do you, Guardians and demons? And even if they were real, you know I could outrun any Hupia!"

The Hupia. Every Fengalonian being's greatest fear, once. They were the Guards of the Seal, the Enforcers of the Divide, heartless, soulless, faceless, and utterly lifeless. What lurked beneath their black hoods, still none dared to say.

But Myla Loquelle was a brave soul, and believed not in the tales of old, Pawanzell and Guthrun and the rest. All she wanted to do was play in the forest, and no ancient religions and stuffiness could stop her.

"Myla! Come back!"

The girl turned and ran full pelt into the denser trees, a ragged brown blur in the tangles. Myla was fast, she could beat her brothers in a sprint race, and her mother simply sighed and went back to the house, thinking her headstrong daughter would return in perhaps an hour. Myla knew every path in the forest like a spider knows its woven web, she wouldn't get herself lost in there.

Myla continued to run, faster and faster, in no particular direction, just to run and set her heart free of the confines of her family. And, looking back on the day, Myla realised there was something pulling her, her fate drawing her in on account of what must come to pass.

But she did not notice that now, dashing over hillocks and logs and banks. How long she ran, Myla could never tell. It seemed to her like a whirling eternity, but it could have been no longer than ten minutes. Eventually she stopped running, breathless, the invigoration that had compelled her to run lost, as was her daisy chain.

The rain was coming down more heavily now, she heard it splatter on the leaves above her, and quickly the glade filled with the earthy smell of damp wood. The occasional drop splashed heavily onto her head. Looking up Myla could see the grey clouds through the canopy, enough to see a storm was brewing.

The Loquelle house was situated in a wide canopy, and was safe when lightning struck. Myla had no desire to be out in the woods during a storm. She thought it best to make her way back, and help with the cooking like a good girl.

She started back along the route she had come, slipping often on the wet leaves. The rain began to hammer on the trees, penetrating the cover on high and drenching Myla to the bone. She pulled her cloak more tightly about her and carried on. After a spell of time Myla came to realise she was lost, though she had not wandered far from her glade. She had no compass with her, but she had learned most of the ways to tell which direction she was travelling in, moss growing on trees and such. She knew her house was north of her current position, and further north was the town of Jaram.

The first rumble of thunder sounded overheard, and Myla started. Quickly, she regained her composure and started in the other direction. Nearer than her house was the Forest Mound, a sacred place in Fengalonia. Here, Rizad-Adana, father of the Guardians and overlord of all Light, had touched the ground of ancient Fengalonia, cracking the great land mass into five continents; Arrondale, Hashwa, Dekuna, Arca and Seraphia.

The Forest Mound was close, Myla could tell, a pale golden light seemed to emanate from the spot. As the little girl came closer, the golden luminescence became brighter, until she stepped into the clearing of the Forest Mound.

Such a place! The bark of the trees was bright silver, and they stretched up to some unfathomable height. Myla wondered if perhaps they had no end, but pale blossoms fell from overhead, and a light floral fragrance was on the air. If she listened hard enough, the sound of harp music played by some heavenly minstrels and bards was audible. The light that shone in the forest came from a tree stump in the centre of the clearing, the exact pinpoint that the Guardian Lord had touched.

Myla walked to this stump and leant against it. She was suddenly wearied, and, in the knowledge that she was safe and secure, she passed into slumber.

"Of all the places I had travelled then, in my nine years of life, there is but one I truly remember. The farm; it was hidden like an ancient elvish ruin in the deep mountain vale, the green and yellow grasses springing from the cold grey stone like water from a fountain, rippling in the fresh breezes, the sun smiling upon the olive and lemon trees in the warm valleys, heating up the rocks and brightening the shadows before the mountain's great foot. The farm buildings were located further up the mountain side upon a high plateau, the farmhouse a warm and comforting site amongst the barren peaks, the barns, the dairies, and the servants' houses, all nestled together to keep away the forbidding rocky lands.

"During the cold season, the colour and life seemed to fade into the bleakness of the mountains, the warmth and comfort dissipating, until the snow began to fall from the ominous clouds overhead and the white flakes would blanket all, and catch the sunrise in the first hours of day, and all was bright as the blazing skies, the windows of the buildings like pouring gold. A sight for those who rose early enough! And as the snow yielded to first young shoots life resumed, all was bright and lively again, and the inhabitants of the farm were busy in the fields and outbuildings, and in the time of the Yearstart the hot haze leant a dream-like feel to the surroundings.



"My earliest memories of the farm, so different to my teenage ones. Everything took longer in those days, time drifted by so slowly, and simple tasks required more effort. I try to neglect thoughts of the terrible loneliness and fear that plagued me in those early days, I do not think of it as often as I should perhaps, only the brighter times which were to follow.

"The farm was never quiet. The ducks and the hens would wake us in the early morning, and forbid us from sleep all through the night. The long days were filled with the shouts of the farmers, the grunts and calls of the livestock and the whistling of the wind through the peaks. Never do I recall silence on the farm; everyone was far too busy and cheerful for that. And when darkness fell like a black drape and a hush lay upon the mountains, I would hear far-off noises of passing trains and gliders winging overhead, and closer, the calls of wolves, mountain goats, and however many strange creatures lived up in those hills, and sometimes, the whistle of a Hupia, a sound that would fill us all with cold terror.

"And of all these memories I treasure now, there is one precious thought that stands above them all. The hard day's work is over, the scent of hay sweet in the summer air, the sun just sinking behind the rocky outcrops. Behind a bale the colour of spun gold thread, a small boy, tired and breathless, would sit with a grubby cloth bundle in his hands, little fingers scrabbling at the leather knot, face eager, expectant, innocent..."

Fran's face glowed as he finally opened his package. The determination disappeared from his features as he sank his teeth into the apple, and was replaced by deep relief. Bailing was the hardest of the hot season jobs on Fringel's Farm, and, as usual, the hard jobs were lumped on Fran. Fringel said that was the way newcomers were dealt with, he would be accepted in time.

Fran looked up at the small pendulum clock that stood on the barn door. Fifteen o' th' clock. He must head back to the farmhouse soon; Master Fringel would wish to make the day's check-up. But for a moment, Fran forgot he was simply a lonely farm boy from Sarhil. He stood slowly and walked past the barn to the edge of the outcrop upon which the barn stood. The midday sun was high, and its golden beams shot through the mountain passes and shone like a spotlight on the small figure standing at its edge.

Fran Reetwyse was tall, tall as some of the teenage lads who worked for Fringel, but skinny, his long limbs lean as those of a newborn calf. His skin was rough as the old ploughmen's and deeply tanned, and it seemed that no matter how hard Loreena the milkmaid, who loved to dote upon the boys, scrubbed at it, it was perpetually covered with a thick coating of dust and mud. His hair fell just past his shoulders and when clean was a light gold that resembled freshly hewn ripe corn, but today it was thick with grease and wisps of hay, and had a dark tawny-blonde hue. The front scattering of shorter strands fell into his eyes, escaping the rough ponytail he brushed it into. Fran had little time for his hair - there was work to be done, and he could escape with an hour of free time if he was lucky.

Farm work was demanding, there always something to do, and despite his leanness Fran was healthy and strong for a boy of his age, and thus there were very few jobs he was exempt from. However, he could occasionally scrape a short time to himself, in which he would wander the hot south valleys and the cool mountain tops, though never straying to far, as he knew the danger that lurked amongst the rocky heights.

Fran at first glimpse seemed a regular nine year old farm boy, despite his height and quietness towards those he did not know. But those who thought to look again saw his face. A face older than his years, chiselled, deep set and serious, seemingly troubled. His thin mouth was set in a permanent scowl, and his eyes were deep behind his brows. Such eyes! Like gems of indigo and night-ebony wrought into a golden shield, burnished until they shone with a flicker quick and bright and eager as an arrow through the sunrise, devilry and darkness dancing in those pools of memory, of toil, of anger, pain and sacrifice. There was a strength and will in those eyes, a supremacy not yet realised and lurking in the shadows of his tortured soul.

Fran turned from the edge and started toward the farmhouse. As he turned his eye glimpsed the Dragonkeep. Long ago, they said, before the dragons were bought by darkness and condemned to hunters, the Goldenscale dragon clan had resided there, upon that tall, bleak formation in the centre of the plateau. The Dragonkeep was surrounded by a thicket of fir forest, but above that, the highest point of the rock was visible, and the location was popular with tourists. Fringel had always insisted he had seen a dragon there on numerous occasions, but no one really believed him. All the dragons of Fengalonia had been eradicated after the Dimensional War, as they were believed to be evil and in allegiance with the Remmoncol. Often Fran would walk to Dragonkeep in his free time, and often he would run to Dragonkeep to escape the beatings.

Beatings from a group of farm lads of perhaps fifteen, tall, strong and stocky. Fran could not remember their names, if he had ever leant them at all. For a reason only they knew, each of the boys had felt a compelling hatred for Fran since he had arrived, cold, starving and weak, and Fringel's door those three years ago. For three years he had lived in terror of their taunts and teasing, their kicks and bruises and blows and broken bones. His left arm had never fully healed and still made him wince while lifting heavy objects.

Dragonkeep was his sanctuary. They never followed him there, always becoming lost in the woods. Fran was quick and nimble, darting through the trees until he came to his hiding place.

He heard their voices now. The very mere mention of that terrible sound would send him frozen still. His heartbeat increased some beats and its pounding seemed to mirror inside his mind. Terror gripped him as he crept, silent, stealthy, never ceasing to watch every movement and shadow, toward Dragonkeep and safety.

It was too late. A shout from across the way revealed they had seen him. In desperation, Fran broke into an ungainly run, limbs sprawling, rushing, tearing, and beseeching the Dragonkeep.

The first foot landed square on the back of his knees and he fell hard upon the dusty earth. The boy attempted to pick himself up and run on, but the others were there now, encircling him in a ring of hot red pain. Fran bit his lip and balled his fists so as not to cry out as their kicks and punches fell, time after time, one after another. Not a whimper. Fran focused on a pebble nearby, a bright-burnished lime green, a smooth round shape. Delicate almost. Pretty. A kick to his face distracted his attention momentarily, but he let the blood pour from his nose again and stretched his hand forth to pick up the perfect green pebble.

The gang must have been gone several minutes before Fran realised no new pain was entering his fragile body, and he relaxed his grip on the pebble and let the tears come. He cried not only because of the agonising pain that hit anew with every movement he made toward Dragonkeep, but because of the sense of being totally alone with no mother to tend his injuries, no father to sit him upon his lap and comfort him, no older brothers to pick a vengeful fight with the bullies, no sisters to gush and simper over him. Not even a friend to offer kind words.

Since he could remember, he had been alone. His parents and family he had not one recollection of. All his years Fran had wandered the Arrondalian continent, from the highest peaks of Notthil to the deepest glades of Arronkari; from the bustling streets of Arrondale Town to the serenity of Arronlia. And then he had come to Sarhil, and to Fringel's, the one place that had accepted him. But never had a person loved him.

Salty hot tears poured down Fran's face, rolled off his chin and fell to the ground, making not a mark on the parched, cracked earth of the forest floor. Dragonkeep was a second closer with every aching movement. Fran's chest tightened as he kept his violent sobs inside, struggling up the steep hill that led to his refuge.

Dragonkeep Rock loomed high above Fran's head. So close. Fran's feet were aching, from effort and the thinning soles. So sore. His eyelids were drooping, his mind seeming to float from his body into sleep. So tired.

Fran approached the rock face he must climb to reach the summit of Dragonkeep. Never, in the years when he recounted this day's events, did he know for sure where he found the strength to haul himself over that final cliff, crawl over to the cave mouth and fall asleep against the dragon's scaly warm belly.

Myla woke to see a glittering iridescence shimmering before her sleep-clouded eyes. Groggily she sat up from her grassy bed and rubbed them open. As her vision returned she made out the shape of a young girl about the height of a birch twig, floating on the sparkling cloud, clad all in misty grey, bright brown hair curling down her back, fluttering on silver-lilac wings. A fairy! What a thing to tell her siblings, to see the looks of envy written on their incredulous faces! Myla could only gape in awe that such a thing should happen to her!

"Hi!" the fairy smiled brightly, waving. "My name is Nuada Rodeshwyn, but first off call me Nu, everybody else does, so it's only fair you do I suppose," she greeted without pausing for breath.

"Erm, alright Nu, I'm Myla," replied the baffled child.

"Yeah, I know, you're Myla Loquelle, seven years old, and you live in a house somewhere over there," Nuada gestured in vague direction of the Loquelle home. As the idea of talking to a fairy settled in Myla's mind, she observed that Nuada was a lot younger than previously believed.

"I'm seventy-two in fairy years," Nuada informed, reading Myla's mind, "that makes us about the same age. I'm a couple of years older than you. Now we need to get to know each other if we'll be spending time on the road together."

"What do you mean? Where am I going?"

Nuada slapped herself on the forehead and stamped her foot in the air, losing her balance and almost falling to the ground. Quickly returning to flight, she cried; "What's the point of training to be a mage if I can't even get the calendar system right? Wrong bloody day! I come all the way here to - oh, I suppose they'll tell you in time. Anyway," she breezed in a businesslike way, regaining her composure, pressing a tiny grey bloom into Myla's open palm, "this is my emblem. Call on me should you ever need help." Then she vanished in a cloud of dazzling smoke-dust.



Myla was confused. Bemused. Mystified even. Seeing a fairy, a fairy who knew all about her, a fairy who spoke in such a manner and the things she spoke of - what could she mean? Where were the two supposed to go? Who was to tell her what?

Myla wandered through the Forest Mound glade as she pondered these things. Undisturbed, as no sound from outside could permeate the clearing, the sweet scent of honey bliss and the gentle music on the air lulled her into a dream-like, drifting existence, alone in nature with her thoughts.

A flash of blinding blue light. An unearthly rumble and hammering from elsewhere in the woods. A quake that knocked the wide golden leaves from the giant boughs. Myla came hurtling back to reality, worry frantic and darting in her mind.

She sped from the Mound and came to a large tree on the path she has followed the previous day. Grabbing the lower branches firmly, she swung herself up and ascended quickly, agile and rapid and light-footed as a climbing stoat. She came to the highest point which could support her, and brushed the tangled branches from before her eyes. She could see for miles about her, and, in the direction in which Nuada Rodeshwyn had pointed earlier, a flickering blue fire was consuming the trees and thickets.

"By the Guardians, my house!"

Numb and panicking, Myla made her way down the tree, descending too hastily and falling in a heap on the ground below. Almost instantly she picked herself up and sprinting through the forest, her will fixed and face intent. She came to a steep downhill slope, and continued to charge toward her home. She kept her balance well, until the very last dip, when gravity overcame her and she tumbled. Myla was slower this time, out of breath and panting heavily. She continued weakly, staggering and struggling, to the wreckage.

All was devastated. The pale blue flames had left nothing unscathed. The fences that kept the creatures of the night from entering the Loquelle yard were splintered and burnt down, the animals that had not been burned to death bewildered and running free range all about the devastation. The wooden cottage with the thatched roof was charred and smoking.

Myla ran to the door, which fell in as she touched it. The smoke inside was black and choking, the stench of overdone meat emulating throughout the smoke-blackened rooms. She headed for the stairs, which gave way under her feet. Scrambling up and clinging to the splintered banister, Myla made her way into the bedrooms, where lay the charred blackened bodies of her parents, her brothers, and her sisters, each holding some form of defence or weapon, the pale fire still licking desperately at their corpses.

Then rose the most hideous sound ever heard by mortal ears; a cry, inhuman, animal almost, of pure anguish, of unadulterated, absolute hatred and mourning.

Everything was spinning and Myla could not breathe. Air. That was what she needed! To be away from this scene of massacre and into the open.

Rushing out of the house, the girl flung herself down upon the grass, and breathed. She breathed hard and long, mind free of thoughts of pain or anger or revenge. Without realising, she began to cry, the tears streaking the dirt on her face to reveal the whiteness underneath, which was quickly flushed as her sobbing grew louder. Nobody heard her, in that instant, Myla was alone. The yard that had once been her haven was a void, no life or love or laughter, only darkness and still death.

And then the strength of Myla's spirit returned. This had happened for a reason. She knew not what force of darkness undying had done such a thing to her, but it had been done for a reason. Something was beginning here. She opened her hand to reveal the little grey flower, crushed from the force that had been pressed upon it, but still containing the power she required of it. She raised her slender arms and held it aloft.

"Nuada Rodeshwyn, come unto my aid!"

A vent of hot air, a deep rumbling snort. Fran's face tickled and his ear popped, which combined to wake the sleeping boy. He scratched his nose and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, then opened them fully, and gave a cry.

"You're all dead!"

"Charming!" the dragon retorted with a flick of his impressively spined tail. "I let you sleep on a sacred spot to all dragons, and you want me dead?"

"But... you're all dead!" Fran repeated.

"So you obviously thought. Brimlon D'Zorvalckh, last of the Goldenscale!" he proclaimed proudly.

"All the dragons in Fengalonia are dead, extinct, killed off after the war," Fran insisted, speaking slowly and insistently.

"Look, I've got better things to do today than listen to a mortal boy repeat the statement over and over again. I'm a solitary soul, I hate people! I don't want to talk to you. If you must, bring me an elf; at least they have something interesting to say."

"Well, I don't think there's any near here, Galenborne's quite a few..." mumbled Fran, in awe of the great beast before him. What a size! Lying down, basking in the early sun that peeked out over the mountaintop, Brimlon D'Zorvalckh was big as the farmhouse, with a wingspan at least that of the length of the barn! The dragon's scales were a dark gold that glittered like mail in the sunrise, in all the colours of the pastel sky that painted the eastern morning sky. His neck, back and tail were ridged with vicious-looking red spines, and the talons of his feet were smooth, glossy and the rich brown of drinking herbs. His eyes were like a snake's; yellow and sly-looking, surveying the surroundings in swift movements.

Brimlon snorted mockingly at the stupidity in Fran's last comment, and at the expression of trepidation written upon his face.

Fran quickly turned back to his usual strong self, the arrogance of the dragon nagging at his patience. "So, what better things do you have to do today than talk to me?"

The dragon faltered then, his heavy brows wrinkling. "Oh, I have to look at the sun, and, erm, observe the movement of the common humans below. And believe me, it takes hours to get that right."

Fran smirked, not daring to poke fun at the great beast outright. It was time to go, he thought. "Sorry if I disturbed you, sir. I should be getting back now."

Brimlon turned his serpentine head toward Fran and grinned. "Sorry if I frightened you, sir. Just a grouchy dragon, bearing old grudges. You seemed to be in trouble last night, so I let you shelter up here. What happened to you, those bruises are terrible!"

"An, erm, accident, on the farm. I work there."

"Ah, one of Fringel's boys eh? I get a lot of them up here, poking their piggy noses in and carving their little names on my walls."

"Did you eat the group that went missing a year ago?" the boy blurted out.

Brimlon roared with belly-aching dragon laughter, a sound as overwhelming on the ears as an approaching army. "Evidently there's a few misconceptions we've got to clear up here. First off, I would never reveal myself as the last dragon - if I did, they'd kill me immediately."

"That's true."

"Secondly, dragons don't eat. We're not made from flesh and bone and blood like you are, we're made from pure fire, from energy. So, we never get hungry, as we don't need to eat. We don't have digestive systems, and we don't-"

"Okay, I understand now. There's a lot more to dragons than I thought!"

"There's a lot more to us, or to me, than anyone thinks. Physically, dragons can't be killed, because we're not a physical presence. But when you all thought we were evil, you humans invented your spirit trappers to put out our life energy, killing us spiritually instead."

"That's horrible!"

"Yes indeed. Are you sorry?"

"Of course!" Fran burst out.

Brimlon laughed again, a noise that set Fran on a nervous edge. "Why are you sorry? You've done nothing to me! The living can't pay for their ancestors' mistakes, boy." Then he began to roar again.

"Oh I've had enough of you! Why are you playing all these mind games on me? All I did was come here to hide! I mean, why am I even still here? I have to get back to the farm, they need me!"

"Do you really want to go back there? To the bullying and the blows? Overworked and overstressed? Is that how you picture the rest of your days on Fengalonia? I look into your mind and I see your loneliness."

"What would you know?"

The dragon rolled over onto all fours and came towards Fran, an angry look in its eyes. "I'm the last dragon. I'm the last of my kind in this entire world, and there'll never be another like me, ever. There will never, in all the centuries to come, be another. You, boy, don't know the meaning of alone!"

In that moment, Fran looked into Brimlon Goldenscale's yellow snake-eyes, and Brimlon looked into Fran's, and the bond between them was formed. This was friendship that lasted beyond all towers and keeps, however high and strong, through all wars and bloody battles, however arduous and desperate. The solitary days of boy and dragon were to end, an ending to all their suffering and an erasing of their hard years.



"I'm Fran. Fran Reetwyse."

"Well Fran, you can call me Brim."

"You knew!" Myla bellowed. "You knew this was going to happen and you never told me, or tried to stop it!"

"Myla, I knew of your fate, but I swear to Eyroni of the Forest I knew nothing of this!" Nuada cried.

The breath seemed to be knocked out of Myla then, for a moment. "What fate?"

Nuada sighed and took a deep breath. "Do you know the legend of Pawanzell? Of the Guardians and the Seraphim?"

Myla nodded, the little row of tear drops collected on her jaw falling to the floor.

"It's not a legend, it's true, history forgotten by the mists of time."

"Talk normally," Myla scowled. "I can't take you seriously when you sound like a bad Frith balladeer."

Under other circumstances Nuada would have laughed, but she continued. "The prophecy of Rizad-Adana says Pawanzell will return and attempt to conquer Light again. The Seraphim would select one chosen soul to defeat Pawanzell, and their choice-"

"You know, I figured it out when you said the word prophecy," Myla snapped.

"You're very sharp for someone your age," Nuada remarked.

Myla had no reply; she simply inclined her head and gazed at the grass. "This is what you meant before, at the Mound. I knew, you know, when I first saw this that something was going to happen, something was going to start. I just couldn't tell what."

She seemed fragile and delicate, frail as a wilting winter rose. Her hard edges had been smoothed, here was a young heart grievously broken. Nuada was but young herself, and not yet full in her power. But the Guardians had assigned her to protect Myla, and protect her she would, in life or in sacrifice.

"But you don't have start it alone," Nuada whispered, flying parallel to Myla's ear. "Do you have any living relatives?"

"Tessa!" Myla exclaimed. "My eldest sister, she's studying magic at Hollyrule."

"Then we'll go to Hollyrule," Nuada smiled, and Myla smiled back. In that instant, the great friendship and love between the two was started, and connection made as the Guardians descended.

First, they came as four spheres of glowing light; red for fire, green for earth, blue for water and gold for air. And slowly, the orbs began to blink and pulsate, expanding in size and swelling until they cracked, and from them hatched four spirits who took the form of human lords, fair and dignified as the tallest tree in the forest. The ageless undying wisdom and profanity of immortals was alive in their presence.

Mardark, Guardian of Fire, was clad in a flickering red robe edged with amber and gold, his dark eyes infernos in the pallor of his great face. Thiomond the Earth Guardian was dressed in garb woven all of leaves and vines and a cape of stone grey was thrown about his huge frame. The Water Guardian Zephaton wore armour wrought of azure ocean blue metal, whirlpools in his eyes and features. And Stolswish Guardian of Air stood before them in a sweeping gown of glittering sun-gold, her hair streaked in rainbow-brights.

"Thou knowest of us, Starchild?" they asked in unison.

Myla could but bow her head, her cloud of shadowy hair concealing the total enchantment written on her white face.

"The wheels of destiny art in motion now, and once again, the darkness of the Remmoncol ist engulfing Light and Life," Mardark prophesised.

"The choice hath taken place!" Thiomond cried. "And it is thou that we hath chosen."

"For thou art the only soul upon this Land of Life today who canst vanquish the Demon Lord Pawanzell, thou art the only pure of heart and spirit in all the Land" Zephaton intoned.

"Fear us not, Starchild!" laughed the fair Stolswish, "We art thy protectors, and in turn the protectors of thy, world, though few remember us now spare in myth."

"I will remember!" Myla promised them, her resolve gathering to her heart. "Pawanzell will not take Fengalonia, and I will have revenge for today's slaughter!"

"War Tiger hast chosen well! Ce amarae nata vamira!" cried the Guardians, who floated upward, through the canopy and into the heavens of another world.

"A beautiful language," Nuada observed as silence settled back into the glade.

"When do we set off?"

"When you're ready, Myla, we can go. Take some provisions and a little bit of money, we can walk to Jaram and catch a train to Hollyrule from there. But first, I've got some business in the Forest; we'd better take care of that first."

"The Forest! With naiads? And fauns? And satyrs?"

"The very same," Nuada laughed. "Let's go back to the house, see if we can find anything that wasn't ruined in the fire. It's going to be a long journey, and we'll need everything we can find."

Night was falling on Dragonkeep. Brim slept, and Fran sat, watching the stars and the Four Moons shining in the blackness. No-one had come for him, as far he could see it was business as usual on the farm. He knew he should feel rejected, but the usual cold grip of knowing he was unwanted never came. He had a friend! A great golden fire-breathing friend! None would dare to attack or hurt him now, not with Brim's help!

Fran felt suddenly sleepy then, and standing up to enter the cave he found himself looking into the pale face of a lady. A face unnaturally white and angular, the lines too harsh, the cheekbones too high and the wise, knowing dark eyes too deep-set in the skull. Still it was a beautiful face, noble, proud and shrewd, with a look of compassion shining in the dark eyes as a smile spread across her dark lips.

She was tall, the dark lady, willowy and slender, graceful in her slight movements. Her face was framed by the lustrous darkness of her shadowy hair, which fell in smooth even waves down her back, and was bound by a slender band of silver. She wore a simple black gown of a silk-like material, which shimmered and danced with a life of its own and was sewn with tiny mirrors, and about her waist she wore a belt of silver like that which held her hair.

"Fran?" Her voice was unexpectedly soft.

He could only nod, transfixed by the great beauty the stood before him.

"I come not to harm you, but to help. I wish to advise with you. Fear not Fran, come walk with me a while."

She held out one white hand and grasped Fran's. Her touch was firm but soft, and warm, not the cold iron-like grip he had been expecting. Fran had imagined a mother's touch to feel like that.

"How old are you Fran?"

"Nine, I think."

"And how long have you been wandering Arrondale alone?"

"Forever I think."

"And do you enjoy being on your own, roaming the country all by yourself? Wouldn't you rather settle down with a nice home and a happy family? Where are your family?"

"I hate my life and I don't have any family to go to," Fran spat. "And all I want is revenge."

"On who?"

"On everyone! They rejected me and deliberately hurt me when I've never done anything to them, no-one's ever helped me or taken me in! All I have in the world is Brim."

"So, what's stopped you from taking revenge?"

"I'm only a little boy. Not a warrior with a sword and a bow. How can I have revenge? What can I do?"

"True that by yourself there's very little you can do to gain your revenge. But with the last Fengalonian dragon, you could all the revenge you want."

A determination kindled in Fran's heart. This was it! He and Brim, two souls alone, punished for crimes they had not committed, rejected, lost, tortured for all time, were to enact revenge upon the planet that had left them to die in the darkness.

"Brim!" he called, and woke the sleeping dragon. Pawanzell stood a time outside the cave and then satisfied that his work was done, he shifted from his guise and returned to Dira Gorna, cutting a window through the air. He really must find a new means of disguise, that corset was beginning to chafe.

Fran had used his skills at stealth and sneaking to slink back to the farm and gather clothes and provisions for the journey he and Brim were to undertake. He took also a knife, for who knew what terrible creatures they were to meet on the road? Fran and Brim looked upon the Dragonkeep one last time, and began the long walk to the valley at the foot of the mountain.

The stage is set. All begins here. Light and Dark have made their choices, the Land of Life is caught yet again in their war, in their forbidden love story retold throughout eternity.











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