“Those who seek adventure often
fail to see the deadly perils
that follows after it”
The Bird-Child Socrates
Anika awoke the next morning refreshed. She glanced around her palace bedroom. It was a large spacious room with an elegant queen-sized bed. Bright red curtains draped the expansive windows. It had a large cherry wood chest of drawers with an ornate mirror across from her bed. The morning sun spilled in to the room and painted her face in a soft light.
Anika tossed her elafi skinned blanket as she stood up and slipped out of her red silk nightgown. She dressed in a new rohit-elafi, leather armor and found her leather moccasins. She admired in the mirror how perfect the skin from her prey fit. Anika pulled on her new red trimmed traveling cloak. She pulled the hood down letting her beautiful light curls flow over her shoulders. The cloak was airy and well made; it covered her delicate frame with a delightful
Queen Esmir had agreed to let the young dragon go on her first journey. She could leave the kingdom. Her sisters would stay behind to watch Prince Reu while she was away. It was going be a short trek to Mika’s cave to gather herbs and spices for potion making. It was just outside the border of Lenagard.
Either way Anika was excited at the prospect of leaving the village. The last time she left the village she was younger than Atron. She straightened herself up and combed her long curly hair with a cherry blossom comb, then tossed it into an up-do that hid her red streaks. She pulled the hood back over her hair. Satisfied with this look, she turned, grabbed her bow and slung her quiver of arrows on to her back. She found her travel pack filled with food and supplies she had packed the night before. Once she was sure she had everything, she ran out of her room and toward the throne-room.
When she entered the throne-room, she saw an elven man in leather travel armor. It was the brown armor of Lenagard. Her heart skipped a beat and her eyes widened with shock and joy. She recognized him despite it having been so long since she had seen him. Anika longed to run up and hug him, but she stopped herself.
It was her guardian, Tarnink, and he carried his trademark moss green jacket on his left arm. He held a brown leather helmet in his right arm and talked in a hushed voice with the queen. He turned toward Anika with a faint trace of a smile. She gave a nervous grin back feeling as if she was in trouble.
“Well, hello my dear Anika,” Tarnink beamed, “My, how quickly you have grown; I have not seen you in quite some time. You need company for your journey, I wish to join you. I hope this suits you?”
“Tarnink, pleased to see you, sir. May I ask why I need an escort? It would be better to stay here and protect the kingdom. I can see to myself, I am just going out on a short journey to Sorg’s Cavern. I already know the way there and back,” Anika stated.
“Oh dear, I wish it were that simple. There has been a change of plans.” Tarnink replied.
The unease in Anika’s stomach was vindicated. This did not sound good, she looked to the queen. Queen Esmir eased to her feet, her long brown hair flowing away from her face as she lifted her head. Her cheeks were prominent making her stand out even amongst the elves and her eyes were a turquoise blue. She glided down the throne’s staircase. Each step made her seem to float instead of walk. Her arched eyes searched Anika’s own before she spoke.
“Tarnink has come with splendid news from the council. We have been waiting for this day, the day we would send you to the Dragon Master, Wong, leader of the Dragon Council. The day you would be summoned to fulfill your duties and become a dragon of the council. They have called upon you to form an army against a great enemy. I grant your request to leave Mila, the safety of Lenagard and Mika Tsuki’s protected lands.” Queen Esmir announced.
“A great enemy? Is it Arajuan? Me raise an army? You are kidding right?” Anika balked.
She tried hard to hold her emotions, but this was more than what she expected.
“I do not jest. It is ridiculous to joke about serious matters. Our world is at war with an enemy greater than Arajuan. His name is little known but whose evil causes our hiding. He is the Emperor Gori, and master of Arajuan. This is our true enemy. You might be the last hope for us, for the dragons. It is believed Gori fears you.” the queen answered. “You are to seek Master Wong, he will instruct you further on these matters.”
“Wait! What makes you think I can do anything? I am just a teenage girl! You can’t be serious,” She panicked, “There must be someone else, someone of wiser age than me.”
“No one else, just you. This is your destiny BlackHeart, besides age is no mark of wisdom. Tarnink, see that she stays safe. Anika, try to relax I have faith in your ability,” Queen Esmir crooned.
“Relax, relax,” Anika exhaled, “I will try, but how can one relax at a time like this.”
Tarnink gave an amused grin as he rested a hand on Anika’s shoulder.
“Do not worry your Majesty, I shall take good care of her. We shall move swiftly to reach Master Wong.”
Queen Esmir chuckled, “I am sure you will”
She stepped back to her throne as Tarnink placed his helmet on and straightened his armor. He placed his green jacket in his travel pack.
“Come, follow me little lady,” He said.
Tarnink led her out of the throne room. Anika crept after, out of the palace, past Tsuke and Tuk, and into the woods which surrounded Mila. They had walked deep into the woods past all that had been familiar to Anika. It had been a quiet journey, and she relaxed just enough to observe Tarnink’s gear. His well-worn armor was a soft brown leather with a hard chest plate. He had hard leather kneepads and elbow pads. His helmet was typical of Lenagard foot soldiers. It was brown and round with a leather chinstrap. He had a sheath made of leather strapped around his waist. Here she spotted his sword. Tarnink was one of the few elves skilled in swordsmanship.
The damage to the leather made Anika wonder if he had seen battle. He wasn’t wearing his ambassador armor. She sighed to break the tension she had built back up inside.
“Tarnink, can I ask you something, sir?”
“Don’t see why not, what do you need to know?”
“You’ve been away for almost 20 years sir, I am 160 now you know. Where were you?” she sulked.
“I am sorry that I didn’t bring you a 16th birthday present little one. I was doing underground work for the dragons and the resistance.” He replied.
“Did you do any fighting sir?”
“No, I was mostly a courier, still very dangerous. We were using runes, but it turns out Arajuan can read runes. He seems able to crack every code we send messages in.”
“So, this Arajuan, is he really as powerful as the rumors say? I heard of the horrors. Atron’s home was destroyed by him. I know that much and five months ago a mortal was brought into the palace with horrible curse marks. He said Arajuan did it to him.”
“Oh, Arajuan is powerful, but Wong is clever and has been devising a plan to deal with the empire.” Tarnink smiled.
“What’s Wong like?”
“He is an older man with silver feathers, he is a magnificent dragon. Wong is, shall we say, unusual.”
“And the council, sir?”
“You won’t be going before the entire council. In the old days, the council would convene in a great stadium that could fit several dragons. Such a gathering is too dangerous now. The last council meeting was just before the original council Dragon Master, Hu Lang, vanished. Still the council,” Tarnink paused for a moment, “Is, in my opinion, like any other political organization.”
“Oh, I see, and tell me about Gori. Why have I never heard of him before?”
“Well, that is because Gori uses Arajuan and his army of vile beasts to do his dirty work. He has created a vast empire and has cast darkness over all the people. His goal is the elimination of dragons and anyone who assists them,” Tarnink explained.
She thought hard about this. The death of dragons and all beings that would assist them, this was a hard concept for Anika to grasp. Dragons kept the dinosaur population in check by eating them. At least that was what she learned in school. What would possess someone to kill dragons? She knew she had to ask Tarnink, so she turned to him.
“Sir, why does Gori wish to kill off dragons?” Anika whispered.
“Gori believes that dragons are evil. Supposedly, a god came down to him and demanded he sacrifices every dragon in Aldaria. By slaying every dragon, he would absorb their power and become an immortal god.” Tarnink replied.
Killing dragons to become a god, what does this mean? The explanation confused her, killing dragons could not make someone a god. If what Tarnink said was true, Gori was insane.
Anika noticed how dark the skies were getting. Come to think of it Lenagard had clear skies, the skies only darkened whenever she left. Why was this land so bleak? Were they in Aldaria, and how far did she have to go?
More bothersome was the expectations now hoisted upon the child. The queen stated that Anika was their last hope; she had to raise the resistance. Could she defeat an emperor? This man maintained an army, and she had seen the victims of Arajuan. Why was everyone depending on her? A strange ashy fog interrupted her thoughts. She sniffed, the air was laden with sulfur. In the past this rotted scent comforted her but now she became concerned.
“Tarnink, why does the air outside our country carry such a foul smell?” She asked.
“Sulfur and death,” He replied, “All of Aldaria is covered in the awful scent. We are no longer in Lenagard; this is the Aldarian Empire. If the area becomes fogged with the stench that is when we worry.”
They walked further until they reached a large clearing by a fast running creek. It was a good size and had berry bushes nearby. This was a perfect place to set up camp. Tarnink unloaded various items from his pack and Anika watched with anticipation. As he lay out their elafi-skin tents, they both noticed that the ashy fog was much thicker, and the sulfur, unbearable. Anika froze, another scent like a faded memory hit her. It was malodorous rotting with fresh blood, not this man’s own either. Fear gripped her, the sound of her heart was in her ears.
“Tarnink,” she whispered, “I do not think we should camp here. That scent, it is frightful.”
Pulling her closer to himself, he whispered, “It is too late to run. That is Arajuan and his army. Ready your bow.”
He pushed Anika behind him and grabbed his sword from his sheath. They stood ready to attack the moment he showed himself.
The ashy mist soon surrounded them, and the stench was so strong they struggled to breathe. Anika shook as she raised her bow placing an arrow along the string and pointed it toward the unsettling, familiar presence. She looked for Tarnink in the ash. Backed into what she assumed was a tree, she felt suffocated. There they stood back to back waiting as a mysterious shadowy figure emerged.