I felt a light brush of lips on mine, waking me up. I opened my eyes and Hiku was looking down at me. His hair created a curtain of black silk behind him. He kissed me on the cheek, before he stretched. His arm wrapped around me, pulling me to his chest. I felt warmth radiate from him and my fingers started to draw little spirals on his smooth chest.
He held me close and I could hear his heart beating. I felt someone shift beside me and felt strong arms wrap around my waist. Erick snored loudly beside me, causing me and Hiku to snicker. I looked back at Erick and tousled his hair with my fingers.
Lumin sat up and stretched. “I think that was the best night sleep I have had in a while.” He looked over at us, “Good morning.” He was entirely too chipper in the mornings.
I poked Erick on the nose, “Time to wake up, little Prince.”
He rolled over, taking me with him. Hiku scrambled out of the bed, before Erick’s sudden movement ripped the blankets from under him. I looked at Hiku and sighed. I poked Erick in the nose again, causing him to flip on top of me. He snored, as he laid on my breasts.
I felt something hard press against my thigh and I resisted the urge to kick. I tried to wiggle out from under him, but he finally woke up. He used his elbows to be able to look me in the eyes. I felt the hard warmth sit against my inner thigh joint.
“You woke me up.”
I bit him on the nose lightly, “You trapped me.”
He smiled, “Yes, I did.” He grabbed my wrists and thoroughly trapped them. “Now, you cannot escape.”
A laugh bubbled from my lips, “Love, where is your manhood?”
He lightly pressed it against my undergarments. “Right here.”
I felt heat rise to my face, “Trust me, I can kick you from this position and while you are crying on the ground, I will no longer be trapped.”
He thought about it, before he leaned his face in close to mine. “Of course, you can just give me a kiss and save us both some pain?”
I turned a deep shade of red, not sure how to answer to that. I leaned up to him and kissed him lightly on the lips. “There. Now let me up.”
He pressed his lips down onto mine, before trying to use his tongue to part my lips. I bit him lightly on the bottom lip, a small warning. He pulled away. “That is a kiss. But I guess we will just have to work on your technique.” He rolled off of me and onto his feet on the floor.
I sat up and noticed Lumin was gone, “Where did Lumin go?”
Hiku answered me as he handed me my normal clothes. “He went to tell Cicero that we were ready to leave.”
I noticed that he did not seem as bothered as before about Erick and I kissing. I looked at my clothes and never felt this excited to wear layers. I put on my leggings, tunic and gloves, before wrapping my feet and putting on my jacket with its hood. I found my facemask and put it on, before pulling up my hood, effectively hiding most of my features.
I stood up and watched Lumin walk back into the Chapel, “Cicero says that he wants to speak with us, before we head out.” I grabbed my talismans and dream catcher, before packing the rest of my stuff in my pack. I walked over to Lumin, “Do you feel uncomfortable around me being nude?” I asked bluntly, not sure how to ask it diplomatically.
He nodded, “A little. I think that as long as you wear a bra with your undergarments, I can handle it. It is just that because we are family, it does make it a little bit awkward.”
I nodded, “I understand that. I will start wearing a bra to bed, then. I just cannot sleep with normal clothes on, because I have a fear that I will strangle myself in my sleep.”
He started to laugh as he pushed me through the door to talk to Cicero. We followed an Elf through the trees to a large dining commons. I found Cicero as he waved us over to where he and Catherine were sitting. I smiled to her, “Thank you for making me look beautiful, at least by human standards, last night.”
She, apparently, was not expecting this, “It was the best I could do in such a short amount of time with a human. But I am glad that these two,” She motioned to the Princes, “were able to appreciate it.”
I grabbed some food from the communal plate. “Cicero, what happened last night with your grandfather?”
He shook his head, “I do not know. I have never seen him act like that before. After we parted, he kept asking me what we were talking about. I did not know what to tell him about it.”
“Odd…” I mumbled to myself. “Well, how do we get to Taneek?”
He pulled a map out from beside him, “This is a world map that my grandfather gave me this morning before he went to meditate. I marked the most direct path to Taneek, and the ocean.”
I looked at the map and the little symbols and pictures confused me. I looked to my eating friends, “Can any of you read a map?”
Erick swallowed loudly, “I can.”
I handed him the map, “Can you lead us to Taneek with this?”
He looked over the map, setting his plate aside. “I have not seen a map like this is a long time.” He looked at Cicero, “This is an old map.”
Hiku asked him, “How can you tell?”
Erick pointed to a place on the map, “This place has not existed since the war.” He rolled up the map, “I can get us to Taneek.” He sounded confident in his abilities.
I ate my food as Lumin chattered with Cicero and Hiku and Erick with each other. I thought about the night before and the Elder. He looked troubled when we told him what he had said to us. I hope that this is a good idea and that we are not being led into a trap…
A gong sounded and all of the Elves stood up and started to leave the dining commons. I looked to Cicero, “What is going on?”
“We all have a set schedule.” He looked at the series of hourglasses on a nearby table. “I think it is also time for you to continue your journey.”
He led us to our horses and mule before leading us out of the village. He brought us to the glade where we had been when we were captured. He smiled as he handed me another pack, “Here is some food for your journey and I hope that we will one day meet again.”
I shook his hand, “I as well. If everything goes well, I will be back to annoy you.”
He pulled me into a hug, “Remember what grandfather said. Follow your heart and you will know what to do when the time comes.” He pulled away, before handing me a small medallion on a black cord. I looked at it, amazed at the detail in the oak carved into the metal. “Grandfather says that though you are human, you will always be welcome in our village.”
I watched his hunters give my companions the same medallion, but in copper instead of the silver I had. “Saona.” I smiled as I told him good bye.
“Saona.” He looked to his hunter and gave a sharp whistle. They all vanished into the trees, as I put the medallion over my head.
The cold metal settled onto my chest, adding a glint of metal to my black clothes. I turned to my companions, “Since Erick can read a map, he will lead.”
Hiku and Lumin looked to each other and I figured that they were wondering the same thing as me… How lost are we going to be?
It has been three weeks since we had left the Elvish village and Erick had kept reassuring us that we were not lost. It had been a hard ride for the last few days and my legs were starting to feel it. We stopped near a river, as Erick looked over the map once again.
He sat down on a tree stump, “The entrance to the Taneek should be here…” He looked up from the map, then back down to it.
Hiku and Lumin were setting up the campsite, while I brought some bread and food to Erick. I looked over his shoulder, “Everything well?”
He grabbed me and sat me on his knee, before placing the map around us. “It should be here. Hold here.” I grabbed one side of the map, while he pointed to a spot on the map. “This is where we are.” I could see a blue squiggly line next to his finger.
“That is this river?” I felt him rest his head on my shoulder.
“You never learned to read a map? How did you find your way to Histrek?” He sounded really confused to me.
“I asked Kitarr to guide my steps. He led my feet to Histrek.”
“Do you not trust the other Gods to help you? I noticed that you follow Kitarr mostly, though he is a lower level God.”
“I trust him because he has been helping me since as long as I can remember. It was through his grace that I was able to escape Estein. Why? Who do you follow?”
“I follow the Goddess of Crafting and Battle, Glacia.”
“The Ice Queen… Who does Hiku follow?”
Hiku overheard us, “Mercelas, God of Magick.”
He grinned, “The same as your uncle, Accharp, the Mother Goddess and the Goddess of Music and Merriment.”
Erick looked at me, “Even your cousin follows a major God… What does Kitarr protect?”
I smiled, “Me. He has protected me. He may a lesser God to most others, but I hold Him high, because though He sleeps, He still protects me. He might not be seen as a major God to anyone else, but He is my God and I hope to one day meet Him after death.”
They were all turning the ideas over in their heads, not sure how to respond to it. I felt a radiant warmth around me, and I knew that I was a part of Kitarr’s dreams. I slid out from Erick’s arm and walked towards the water. “Kitarr, as you have guided me to now, all they ask is how. Where is the next test, so we may continue our quest.” I felt the wind whip around us, fluttering the trees. I turned around and looked to my companions. The wind howled and the bushes moved. I ran up to them, as a small stone Marker was revealed to us. The wind died down, “So mote it be, blessed be.”
Hiku walked over to the Marker, “What does Kitarr represent?”
“Kitarr is the God of Crossroads, Dreams and Stories.” I grinned. “That is how He led me to Histrek, by showing me directions through crossways and by telling me what stories and books to read.”
Lumin patted me on the shoulder, “Are you a cleric?”
I shook my head, “No, just a blessed woman who tries not to ask for too much.”
Hiku walked over to the Marker and pressed his hand to it. “It is warm.”
Erick walked over to his friend, the map still open in his hand. Lumin and I followed, though we stayed far enough away. Erick looked at the map, before looking back to the Marker. “Hiku, light it up.”
Hiku nodded to his friend, before fire erupted from his hand into the stone. We watched the stone become red hot, before I realized what would happen. “Lumin, get Erick down!” I ran towards Hiku and tackled him to the ground as the stone exploded.
I felt hot bits of rocks hit me on the back, as I laid between Hiku and the Marker. I winced as I tried to sit up to see if Lumin got Erick down before it burst. Luckily, Erick and Lumin were far enough away that they were not hit by the blast.
Hiku sat up and saw slices on my clothes, though I knew he could not see the damage. He tried to sit me up, but I winced and whimpered as every move hurt. Erick and Lumin ran over to us, yet Lumin was the first to see the blood. “She is bleeding.”
“I will be fine.” I growled at them, not wanting to be a hassle.
Hiku looked pale and I knew that bit of Magick took a lot of energy out of him. “I can heal it.”
I shook my head, “No, you cannot. You used up enough Magick on that Marker. I may not be a User, but I know that they cannot use too much Magick, or they will start to use their life force. I will be fine; just help me stand up.”
They helped me stand, but I could feel the blood dripping down my back. Lumin lightly touched it and I saw his fingertips covered, telling me how bad it was. I grabbed his hand out of the air and wiped it off on my clothes. I gave him a glare, a warning not to tell the Princes how bad it really was.
He nodded, “Erick, do you see the path behind the where the Marker was?”
Erick looked over his shoulder and nodded, “Yes. Hiku and I will see where it leads.” He helped his friend up and they walked towards the path.
Lumin looked at me, “Get into the river, so I can see how bad it really is. I will wrap it if it looks like it needs it.”
I wanted to argue, but I knew that it was useless. He helped me strip down to my undergarments before wading into the cold river. I used my arms to block sight of my breasts, since some of the damage was on my upper back. He used the flowing water to wash away the blood. I could hear him sucking in air audibly. “This is not good, Sori.” He gently wiped the blood away again and I could hear him whispering a count. He washed the blood off one last time and that told me how fast the blood was running down my back. “Thirty two cuts and you are not going to like this. On some of them, the stone is embedded in your skin. I will have to cut them out, so you can heal properly.”
I shuddered at the thought, “How many?”
“Seven.” He lightly grabbed my shoulder, “You will want to lay down for this.” He led me out of the water and helped me dry my back off, as I took care of my front. He had me lay on my bedroll, as he grabbed one of his knives and a strip of leather. He put the leather in my mouth, “Bite down or else you will need to scream and that will get the Princes running back.”
I bit down on the leather and took a deep breath. I felt the knife cut into my skin and it was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. I started to pray, hoping to keep my mind off of the carving, Kitarr. I know I ask you for everything, but I beg you… Please let me- I bit down hard into the leather. Let me protect the- Lumin was trying to move faster to keep me from feeling too much pain. I bit down on the leather as I felt my tears fall down my cheeks. Protect them from everything I can…
“Three more.” He spoke with a strained voice.
I looked at the pebbles that he set near me. Hiku could have died… That thought fought against Lumin cutting out the fifth stone. I bit through the leather and felt my teeth press against each other. I tried not to move, but the pain on my back was unbearable. I whimpered as he removed the sixth. “Stop.” I whispered, not able to take it anymore.
“There is one left.” He mumbled.
I spat out the piece of leather in my mouth and handed him the other piece. “I bit through the leather.”
“Then grab my hand and squeeze. I have to get this last piece out.” He gave me his hand and I took deep breaths to ready myself. “Three… two…”
The knife bit into my flesh and I almost screamed out. I gripped his hand and hoped I would not break it as he dug that last stone from my back. It felt larger than the others and I knew why he had left this one for last.
I heard a stone hit the ground, as I heard the two princes coming back. “Lumin, we need to bandage it, so they do not see it.” I mumbled, my back numb from pain. I watched little stars dance across my vision as the blood loss was starting to hit me. Lumin yanked me up and wrapped my back and stomach up to stop the bleeding.
He put the shirt over my head and sat me back on the ground. I looked at the last bloodstained rock and grabbed it, as the two princes stepped out of the forest.
Erick grinned, “Your God showed the path to Taneek. We will camp here, before heading up the path tomorrow.”
I shook my head, “We have to start up the path tonight. We need to pack up camp and head up towards the Valley.”
Hiku looked at me and I knew that he was debating on forcing me to rest or to follow my lead. He looked to Lumin, “How bad was she hurt?”
“A few cuts and grazes. She will be sore, but she can rest after we speak to the Dragons.” Lumin lied to the Prince.
The males torn down the campsite in record time, while I just sat there. I had tried to help, but Erick pushed me back down, “You need to rest.” I watched them as they packed the mule, before Hiku walked over and helped me up. I grit my teeth as I felt the cuts bleed with every step. They helped me onto my horse, before stepping onto theirs.
I looked back at them, “I will lead.” I wanted to be sure that if something happened, I would be first hit. We weaved our way through the winding trail, not using the map anymore. Cannot step off the trail or else the forest would vanish our trail. I thought to myself.
We guided out horses further up the mountain, until we found a large cave as dusk. I stopped our group from entering the cave. I could hear growls behind us and a large breathing in front. We were trapped between two very different dangers.
“Did you two go inside the cave?” I asked Hiku and Erick.
“No.” Hiku answered, his eyes narrowing at me.
I very carefully climbed off my horse, hoping the newly clotted wounds would not reopen. I stepped towards the cave and felt cobwebs brush against my skin. I led my horse inside and tied him to a rock. I closed my eyes and listened to the air currents. Heavy breathing…
I heard hoof steps behind me, and I opened my eyes to see the others tying off their horses inside of the cave. I looked passed them to see a pack of wolves looking at the entrance to the cave. One of them leaped and hit the cobwebs, bouncing back to the rest of the pack. Lumin sighed, “At least the horses will be safe.”
I looked to them, “Are we ready?”
“As good as we can to meet a dragon…” Hiku mumbled.
I wove my way through the stalagmites, moving towards the warmth of fires. Shadows flickered as it looked like multiple fires burned, turning the cave into a dance between light and dark. I felt sweat dripping down my back, stinging the clotted blood.
I stopped before turning what I felt was the last corner before the main chamber of the cave. I looked to the others, “I do not know if I can do this…” I felt my self-confidence crash as I started to think about what could go wrong.
Lumin grabbed my hand, “Sori, you are just going to ask a dragon about the Gaeliious. If they attack, we will protect you.”
I looked to them, “Hiku could have died with that Marker.”
Hiku shook his head, “But I did not. We trust you to keep us safe with your knowledge. Now, you need to trust us to keep your safe with our strength.”
I took a deep breath and felt the heat burn my lungs. I coughed loudly, it echoing through the chamber. We all froze as we heard bones cracking and something moving. We stayed close to the final stalagmite as we saw a giant shadow cross the chamber.
Well, the Dragons are awake. I thought to myself. I stepped out from the stalagmite, though my companions tried to stop me. I stood in front of two giant silver and gold Dragons.
They huffed at me, smoke coming from their nostrils. I felt very small against these two giant creatures. I spoke softly, “Kitarr please do not let me die here…” I looked up to the Dragons, “Good morning!” I shouted, not sure what else to say to them.
They both lowered their heads to the ground, making me feel more inferior. I was not even tall enough to reach their nostrils! A growl filled the chamber, “Whooooo dooooo yooooou thiiiiiink yooooou arrrrrre…?”
I bowed to them, “I am Solaria from Nevarra. I ask for your assistance, name your price!”
The two dragons looked at one another, before one of them picked me up off the ground with his clawed hands. I bit my lip as the wound on my back opened. He lifted me to face level of both Dragons. “Yoooou arrrre bleeeeding.” It was not a question.
“I was not until you reopened my wounds.” I mumbled, but apparently the two Dragons heard me.
They looked to one another. “Sheeee haaaas baaaaalls aaand sassssss.” They looked back to me, “Whaaaat arrrre yoooou looooookiiiing fooooor?”
I grabbed the book from my side pack, “I need to ask someone who can read Gaeliious to translate this for me. What is your price?”
“Whaaaat arrrre yoooou wiiiiilliiiing tooooo giiiiive?”
I had not thought about that. “What are you willing to take?” I could see one of the Dragons smile, before I realized my mistake. He opened his mouth and I saw the flames gather at the back of his mouth. “Hiku! Shield!” I felt the shield appear around me, just as the fire shot out of the Dragon’s mouth.
The Dragon exhaled and huffed as he closed his mouth. “Cheeeaterrrrr.”
“You threatened to burn my book, you overgrown swamp reptile!” I covered my mouth, not able to take the words back as they echoed through the chamber.
The two Dragons looked amused. “Oooour priiiice… Yooooour bloooood.”
The Dragons named their price and I hoped that this would work. I took off my shirt and turned around, showing them the blood running freely down my back. “One lick each.”
I felt something sharp slide up my back, cleaning the clotted blood. I looked over my shoulder to see the Dragon lower his claw back to the ground. Rough heat rubbed against my spine as one Dragon licked his share of blood. I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the tiny spines on the Dragon’s tongue. The other Dragon then licked my back, before I was set back on the ground.
I hit the ground on my knees, feeling the blood loss start to affect me. I heard the males rush over to me, as I heard bone crunching and cracking. I tried to turn around, but I was sluggish. Erick and Lumin grabbed my arms, lifting me off the ground. I felt a calming warmth hit my back and felt the skin knit back together.
“Damn you to hell, Sori.” I heard Hiku grumble and I knew that he was using a bit of his life to save mine.
“Did not… think it… would be… so bad…” I tried to keep my eyes open, but sleep pulled at me.
“I did not think she would have willingly given us that…” I heard a different voice behind me. Hiku put the shirt back over my head, as Erick and Lumin turned me to face the two Dragons.
There were no Dragons standing there, but there was a pair of twins with long silver hair and gold scales covered their bodies. “She has fire, Glucose.”
“That she does, Sucrose.”
My brain took a little bit to catch up. “Dragons can shapeshift…?”
“Only if someone willingly give us blood.” The twin on the left, Sucrose, answered.
Glucose stretched, his red eye slits closing, “It has been a long time since we have been in these forms.”
My head swam as I started to become dizzier. Glucose pointed to me, “Your lady does not look well.”
Hiku mumbled, “That is because she is an idiot and refused to let me heal her wounds.”
I stuck my tongue out at Hiku, but did not have the energy to deny or refute that fact. My eyelids grew heavy but something pressed against my lips jolted me back awake. Both of the Dragons held their wrists to my mouth and I swallowed the blood they offered. Fire blazed through me, burning away my fatigue and making me feel more alive.
Lumin spoke up as I was able to stand on my own, “What happened?”
Glucose and Sucrose grinned, giving us a look at some very impressive teeth. “Dragon blood is a natural stimulant. Added to the fact that we added some of our magic to it, she will be back to her fiery self in a few grains of sands time.” Glucose spoke.
“May we see that book?” Sucrose asked me.
I handed him the book as I looked around the chamber. Hundreds of fires illuminated the walls, but the only shadows I saw were from our group and the stalagmites and stalactites. “Where are the other Dragons?” I asked without thinking.
“They are gone.” Glucose’s voice sounded distant.
I looked to him and found tears in his eyes. “Who?” My eyes narrowed and I felt my body heat rise.
He seemed to know what I was asked. “The same one.”
“How?” I growled, my voice gruff as my hatred rose.
We stepped away from Sucrose, allowing him to read the Gaeliious text. “My twin and I were soaring about Taneek when his forces attacked. They were captured and he uses them for his and his generals’ mounts.”
“How many?” I remembered seeing the Dragons ridden by the Akiti but it never occurred to me that they were forced against their wills.
“There are thirteen Dragons left. We are the last of our race. He stole eleven.” Tears fell from Glucose’s eyes and before he could start to wail, I grabbed onto him.
“Then this is the price for the book. I will free your people.” There was no hesitation in my voice, no second thoughts. I felt the Dragon shudder against me as my anger became a cold hatred.
“Fire and Ice.” The Dragon mumbled into my neck. “Our clan leader, before she was taken for his mount, said that we were to wait for Fire and Ice.” He stepped away from me, as he wiped the tears from his eyes. “That is you, is it not?”
I shrugged, “I will not lie to you and say it is.”
He shook his head, “Then I will say it. You are Fire and Ice. Our clan leader knew you were coming. She made my twin and I soar when they were taken, knowing that we would need to meet Fire and Ice.”
“I got it!” Sucrose shouted, as his voice reverberated off of the walls.
We walked back over to him, my comrades looking at the other Dragon and I. “What does it say?” I asked.
He cleared his throat. “Where the Moon meets the Light and the Light embraces the Dark.” My eyes widened. “Where Life cannot reach, but Death does not dwell. The Gods sleep, their dreaming the world. For there is one whose fate is resting upon the world’s shoulders, who will lead the taint or destroy it. Corruption spreads, innocence abates. From the conclusion of the start and the beginning of the endings, the Star lies in wait.” He shut the book. “That was the only readable part, the rest was illegible.”
I stepped away from them all. I knew… I knew where the Star was… How could I have not known…? I felt my heat thump against the front of my chest, as I ignored their whispers. “Kitarr, you were leading me there all along…” I mumbled to myself, my eyes glazing over as I remembered a long fought memory.
Remember this place. The memories welled inside of me. The world will forget, but you… You have to remember this place. A voice, not someone I know filled my mind. I reached into my pack and pulled out the blood stained rock. I looked to Glucose and Sucrose, ignoring the looks my male counterparts were giving me. “You know what this is.”
Glucose shuddered at the ice in my voice, “Yes. That is obsidian.”
I saw the knowledge fill Sucrose’s eyes, “You know the answer.”
I nodded as I put the bloodied stone back into my pack. “Yes, I do.”
Hiku walked over to me, “You know where the Star lies?”
I closed my eyes and sighed, “Yes, but we cannot reach it yet.”
I heard Erick’s voice, “Where is it?”
I shook my head, “I cannot say. It is a secret passed between another and I.” I opened my eyes and looked to them and saw the mixtures of worry and annoyance on their faces.
“Can you at least tell us the name of this place?”
I nodded and took a deep breath. I felt my world narrow down to the males in front of me, “It is the Oblivion Dreams.”