Dragon Quest – The Traveling Draman is the fourth installment in my series of fantasy novelettes. This FREE serialized story won’t be found anywhere else, and you get to see it first! (In case you missed it, here’s part one.)
Croft and Rueloo journey to a far away land, seeking information about their special bond. Along the way, they meet new dragons, make friends, and arrive to find a nation on the brink of war. Caught up in Pinnacle’s problems, the two become pawns in a dangerous game of conquest. Follow Croft and Rueloo on an exciting DRAGON QUEST!
Dragon Quest by Alexander Elliott
First Edition Copyright © 2019
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written permission of the author. This includes any means whether electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION OR DISTRIBUTION OF THIS COPYRIGHTED WORK IS ILLEGAL AND SUBJECT TO PUNISHMENT BY LAW.
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DRAGON QUEST – PART 2
The Talon Sea, between Whitehaven and Pinnacle
Lightning bolts sliced the leaden sky like jagged knives, even as deafening rumbles of thunder shook the earth beneath. Six frightened humans clung desperately to each other and the small fishing boat which was supposed to be their means of escape from Whitehaven. On an ordinary night they had a good chance of safely reaching Dome, Pinnacle’s largest island, without being spotted. The sudden, violent summer storm overtook them halfway to their destination, and unless the Almighty intervened, they would never reach the island alive.
Fierce, gusting winds rocked the fragile vessel, even as the waves grew higher, threatening to swamp the boat. Two young children huddled together in the center as the others made a vain attempt to bail out the rapidly rising water. The storm’s intensity continued to increase, along with their desperation, until it was obvious they were about to sink. Just as water began pouring in over the edge, the boat’s rocking motion abruptly ceased. The small vessel lurched sideways, spilling its excess water and one of the passengers back into the sea, coming to rest on something solid.
Beyond them, the enormous head of a Sea Serpent rose through the gloom, turning dark eyes towards the tiny boat now resting on its back. Strangled screams of fright were cut off as their missing passenger was suddenly pushed back into the boat, coughing up sea water. Three scaled merfolk watched with interest as he caught his breath and then began pointing towards Whitehaven’s shores. Despite the howling storm around them, they understood the merfolk were asking where they wanted to go.
When the adults all shook their heads “no” and pointed in the opposite direction, the merfolk nodded in agreement and slipped beneath the heaving waves. Moments later, the great water dragon began its undulating journey across the sea towards Dome. Excitement, relief, and prayers of thanksgiving filled the tiny boat as the large island loomed before them out of the darkness. Upon nearing the shore, the sea dragon opened its enormous jaws and barked out a short choppy call.
Minutes later, a welcoming party appeared on the beach – apparently drawn there by the dragon’s signal. Without warning, the great beast submerged, allowing the boat to rest in the water once more. Using its powerful tail, it gently pushed the ailing vessel all the way to the shore where it stuck fast in the sand. Relieved and shaking with the cold, they left the boat and followed their hosts to the nearest shelter. Behind them, the sinuous dragon and its merfolk watched in satisfaction before slipping beneath the storm-tossed waves and out of sight.
Dome, the next morning
With the dawn came clear skies, a gentle breeze, and a host of dragons busy with clean up and repairs. Major storms always made a mess, and no self-respecting dragon would allow their home to remain littered with vegetation, driftwood, or decaying remains of sea creatures. Some of the human houses and buildings would no doubt need repair, and it would take days to restore the small island chain to its former glory. While many of the people were bound to dragons, a sizable human population also existed; one which grew quickly following the death of Whitehaven’s king.
Pinnacle’s method of governance was unique, being co-ruled for generations by a dragon and its bonded human. Under Zelara and Mirabelle’s leadership, the islands were well-known and respected by nearly all of its neighbors, with the notable, and recent, exception of Whitehaven. Since ancient times, the island nation and its nearest coastal neighbor enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship – including open borders, free trade, and the right of immigration. Things began to change shortly after Favian ascended the throne, disrupting life for everyone in the region.
Unhappy with the new king’s harsher rule and disdain for dragons, emigration to Pinnacle increased steadily. It was an arduous journey by sea, usually in small fishing boats and under the cover of darkness. Many died in the attempt or were captured by the royal fleet. The king did not look kindly on such behavior, and rumors abounded of various punishments inflicted on would-be immigrants. While Zelara welcomed all, the islands were becoming crowded and most new arrivals had to be relocated elsewhere.
While some of Pinnacle’s seven islands were small and volcanically active, Dome was large, stable, and boasted the greatest number of people. It also served as the home of their leaders, and thus, the center of government. Zelara and Mirabelle’s nest could be found directly behind the raised open-air platform from which they conducted official business. A broad, grassy terrace surrounded the structure, providing plenty of room for dragon and human alike to seek audience with their rulers. Last night’s dramatic rescue at sea would be one for the storybooks, and the relieved survivors turned out this morning to ask for refuge.
Without fanfare, the dragon and her scale-sister emerged from their nest, joined on the platform by several human advisers. They were an impressive pair, both in appearance and demeanor. Zelara’s orange and yellow scales glimmered in the bright sunlight, while the tall spiked crest on the crown of her head gave a regal bearing. Mirabelle was tall, muscular, and covered by orange and brown-tipped scales. She wore a simple knee-length white tunic and wide gold bracelets on each wrist.
The small group of petitioners before them included a husband and wife with two small children, the fisherman who owned the boat in which they came, and a young man of indeterminate age wearing peasant clothing and a scruffy beard. Zelara leaned down to scent the group, jerking her head up in surprise when she recognized the young man.
This would have to be handled carefully, and she shared her thoughts with Mirabelle before proceeding.
“This one is not what he appears. We shall deal with him last.”
“Do thee know him? Is he a danger?
“He is known to me from long ago. This is most curious, but I see no need for concern. Call the others first.”
Zelara and Mirabelle interviewed the rest of the group, quickly making suitable arrangements to get them resettled elsewhere, far from King Favian’s grasp. Advisers were assigned to help the new immigrants, leaving the nervous young man alone with Pinnacle’s rulers. He stepped forward, and this time Zelara questioned the man herself, using Mirabelle to translate.
“Why are you here? Your pressence is a danger to uss both if it were discovered.”
Surprised by the dragon’s comment, the youth decided to stick with the story he had rehearsed.
“I come seeking to preserve my life, nothing more.”
“Who wishess you harm?”
The man answered honestly.
“Alas, my own brother wants me dead.”
“With good reasson?”
“None that I am aware of.”
Mirabelle gasped as she translated Zelara’s thoughts, revealing the man’s identity at last.
“Your wordss are truth, yet there iss much more to discuss if I am to protect the next in line to Whitehaven’s throne. I know who you are, Prince Merek.”
Caught in his deception, Merek’s jaw dropped under the withering gaze of Pinnacle’s rulers. His plan to pose as a simple peasant until he could decide what to do or who to trust was no longer an option. He dropped to one knee and appealed to the pair who held his life in their hands.
“Forgive me. I discovered Favian’s plot to kill me and fled with haste. I hoped to remain hidden here until a way was found to remove my brother from the throne and rule the kingdom as my father once did. How… how do thee know who I am?”
Zelara snorted smoke with a friendly rumble of laughter.
“I wass a frequent guesst of the palace in dayss gone by and sscented both you and your brother as hatchlingss. Much hass changed ssince, but I ssee you have the heart of your father. Removing Favian from the throne may be… difficult.”
A small smile of hope brightened Merek’s face.
“Perhaps, yet I must try. Will thee allow me to stay?”
“Your pressence musst remain a ssecret. Too many of Whitehaven’s people now resside on the islandss, and you will ssurely be recognized. The king musst not know you are alive and well among uss.”
“What would thee have me do?”
“You will be given a ssecluded place to live and become one of my adviserss. Perhapss together we can thwart your brother’s planss and place you on the throne in your father’s sstead. Meanwhile, there is ssomeone here on Dome you may wissh to ssee.”
En route to Pinnacle, day four
Before landing for the night, Rueloo flew much higher than usual to get a look at their destination. The Pinnacle island chain formed a curving line of mountainous green jewels; a necklace on the blue-gray sea. Dome, the largest land mass, lay in the very center like a decorative brooch, shining in the sun. Two of the smaller islands sported active volcanoes, sending wispy columns of sooty ash into the sky. To Croft, it was exotic and beautiful – so very different from his stark mountain home and the flat lands of Spiredale.
While they could have reached Pinnacle today, Rueloo thought it wise to stop early, enabling them to arrive the next day refreshed and rested. Wheet believed the island nation would be safe and welcoming, yet Rueloo remained cautious. No one from their nest had ever visited Pinnacle, even Wheet, and she did not want to take unnecessary risks while Croft was with her. He relied on her for protection and she would need to be at her best if they ran into trouble.
She drifted lower, scanning the forest canopy for prey and a good place to make camp. Croft stiffened in surprise as he took in the scents wafting up from below. His nose informed him this land was claimed by dragons, even if the scent differed slightly.
“I think there is a nest here, Rueloo. Is it safe to land?”
“There are forest dragons here. If we go beyond their borders, they will not challenge us.”
Rueloo eventually found an open grassy strip of land, wedged between the bank of a swiftly-moving river and swath of thick forest. Best of all, the scents revealed plenty of prey and no other dragons. When she deemed it safe, Rueloo landed, helping Croft gather wood for a fire and clear space for a temporary nest. Since they stopped earlier than usual, it left plenty of time to hunt prey, enjoy their evening routine, and talk about the day while relaxing by the fire.
Catrain and her dragon, Moss, peered through the tree canopy at the odd strangers. As pack scouts, it was their responsibility to check on intruders, though the winged one and her bonded human didn’t seem to be any cause for concern. While they should have reported back to the nest, curiosity kept them concealed and watching – wondering where the two came from and what they were doing here. Catrain had never seen a blue dragon before, and while the two must be bonded, his physical appearance confused her.
“They must have come from far away, Moss. She does not look like those from Pinnacle, and the boy has no scales at all! Is it safe to meet them?”
Moss snaked his long flexible tail around Catrain’s waist and chirruped in amusement. Forest dragons and their bonded loved to investigate new things, and he shared her curiosity of the strangers.
“She knows we are watching and is protecting her bonded, but I do not sense any danger. Let me ask.”
Moss opened her mind wider and spoke directly to Rueloo from their hiding place.
“We wish you no harm. May we join you?”
Rueloo wondered how long it would take for them to ask, and since it was only the two of them, saw no reason to refuse.
“Come. Share the fire with us.”
Croft’s senses were not as powerful as Rueloo’s, and while he saw nothing, he believed they were being watched.
“Rueloo, someone is out there!”
“Fear not, little one. There is a single forest dragon and her bonded watching us from the other side of the river. They must have seen us land and came to investigate. I have invited them to join us. You will not be harmed.”
Even as they spoke, the pair began to move towards a narrow portion of the river where the trees from either side met in the middle. Swinging from branch to branch, they made quick progress until emerging from the woods at the far end of the grassy bank. Rueloo eyed them cautiously as they approached, saying nothing even as Crofts’ fascination trickled through the mind link.
The dragon was the size of a small horse, with muscular legs, a long, thin tail, and a mixture of smooth green and brown scales. Her eyes were large and midnight black, and while she did not have wings, her open mouth revealed razor sharp teeth to match her formidable claws. Beginning with her snout and ending at the tip of her tail was a ridge of short, pointed horns. While not as impressive as Rueloo, the dragon was both intriguing and well-suited for life in the forest.
Alongside stood her blood-bonded; a mature female just as striking as her dragon. While she wore no clothing, most of her body was hidden under actual green and brown scales. Somehow the woman looked more finished, more dragon-like, than the other female Draman he knew. She was sleek and exotically beautiful with large black eyes, no visible hair, and a centered ridge of short horns extending from forehead to lower back.
Silence hung in the air as they looked at each other, broken only by the sound of the river and the wind. At Rueloo’s urging, Croft slowly approached the pair and made the introductions.
“Welcome. I am Croft, and this is my dragon, Rueloo. Who are ye?”
The female’s eyes widened briefly in surprise when she heard his mind-voice, and she glanced sideways at her dragon before responding.
“I am Catrain, and this is Moss. We are pack scouts and came to see if ye were a danger to us. Where have ye come from and why are ye here?”
“We are on our way from Spiredale to Pinnacle, on a mission for our NestMaster. We only mean to stay the night, and will be gone in the morning. Come sit by the fire while we talk.”
Moss made a strange chirruping sound, much like a cricket, and gestured with her head towards the fire. When Catrain hesitated, Croft reached for her hand, noting that the underside of her hand and fingers were scale-covered, rough, and tipped with sharp short claws. They sat down together on the smooth log bench, backs to the fire, and looked one another over thoroughly and without embarrassment. The dragons were, of course, doing the same thing as they scented each other, finally resting on their haunches side by side.
Eager to know more, and unwilling to wait, Catrain started asking Croft questions.
“I have never seen anyone like thee before. Why do thee have no scales?”
Should he have them? Croft did not know what to say and, thankfully, Rueloo answered for him.
“Croft was the first of our bonded, who we call Draman. There is much we do not know and came to Pinnacle with our questions. It is thought Croft and the others will develop scales when they mature. Is this so?”
Moss nodded her head as a human would.
“Yes. Humans must already be grown before they are allowed to bond with us. This is why Catrain has never seen someone like Croft. When his body begins to mature, he will fall into a deep sleep and undergo more changes.”
They spoke for some time about their nests, way of life, and the bonds they shared with humans. As the sun began to set, Rueloo asked Moss about what they could expect to find at Pinnacle and Whitehaven.
“You have much in common with the nest at Pinnacle. Zelara and Mirabelle will be pleased to welcome you and answer questions, but I warn you – do not fly over Whitehaven. The new king is not friendly toward us and they have sharp weapons which they fling into the sky. You must be very careful.
“Catrain and I can delay no longer. We will tell the nest of you and would be pleased if you stay with us on your journey home. Be well, my friends.”
When they stood to leave, Croft hugged Catrain tightly. She stroked the messy curls on his head and kissed him on the cheek before disappearing with Moss into the darkened forest. He missed them already, threatening to cry, and it was with some difficulty Rueloo lulled the homesick Draman to sleep.