Caitlin pulled her long auburn braid off her shoulder and tugged on it in absent-minded habit. *I'm going to miss this,* she reflected. It was hard to believe that in two weeks she would leave this place, her home, and take up the mantle of her destiny. Draakonad. She frowned. This was a subject she tried not to think about too often - she was almost grateful to Caben and Byron for being immense irritations, if only to distract her from the fact that she, Caitlin tütar Maandus EarthLord, would soon shed the majority of her humanity and become a Dragon warrior.

*How can I leave Father and Caben? Caben's my twin, he has the other half of my soul . . . .* The twins were truly as mirror-images to the other, more so than any other pairs of twins they had ever encountered. While Caitlin was physically strong, talented in the arts of war, somber and dedicated to her lessons, Caben was a clownish lout, often skipping training sessions to contrive his newest prank, and therefore fairly inept at physical battles. Their father loved to watch them spar together, and roared with delight as Caitlin wiped the floor with his male offspring. Caben was, however, a person people often deeply liked and trusted within hours of their first meeting, and he understood on an almost instinctive level the intricacies of overseeing the EarthTower and its accompanying lands, traits which Maandus often praised as beneficial assets for the heir to the EarthLordship to possess, even if he was outmaneuvered by his sister four times out of five on the playing field.

*He makes me laugh. Will I be able to see the humor in life without him there to shove me face first into it?*


"Gah!" Caitlin jumped as someone landed inches from her seat on the balcony. Heart pounding a wild tattoo against her ribs, she grabbed frantically onto one of the support beams, but she had reacted milliseconds too late and slipped abruptly off the smooth boards towards the hard ground waiting for impact several hundred feet below.

Caitlin growled in annoyance as the wind whistled past her ears and made her clothing flap like battlefield flags. *I'm going to kill him,* she thought, fuming. She reached for the innate magic she had inherited with her dragon blood and slowed her descent until her toes touched down onto the cobbled courtyard. Glaring up at her balcony, she shook her fist in impotent anger and stomped her foot, then whirled around at the sound of cheerful laughter. Osric had been leaning on his spear with a bored expression adorning his grizzled face, but began laughing uproariously as he watched Caitlin floating down from her favorite perch.

"Gotcha again, did he?" the EarthGuard howled, inciting the mirth of his compatriots as well. Caitlin threw a rude gesture in their direction, causing another wave of hilarity at to flow over the walls, and pushed past smiling grooms and undercooks until she had re-entered the castle. She stomped up the winding circular stairs, grumbling the entire way, kicked the door open when she reached her room and swung onto the balcony. She glared at her brother, her sharp green eyes filled with the promise of a slow and uncomfortable death.

"Cross-eyed gryphon-spawn! You know I hate it when you do that!"

Caben grinned with his eternal exuberance and waved once more to the cheering Guards far below, then plopped down beside her and threw an arm over her stiff shoulders in casual camaraderie. "You know I know you hate it, and yet you always wonder why I do it."

Caitlin huffed out a breath, feeling her fireflash temper dissipate, and subsided. "Too true. One of the many reasons I'm not sure why you're still alive. On that subject," she asked the open air with deceptive mildness, furrowing her brow and tapping a finger against her chin, "What on Earth did I do with that quarterstaff . . . .?"

Her brother winced, reaching up with his free hand to feel the purple-blue swelling adorning his forehead. "Okay fine, you don't have to get violent. Again. I won't do it anymore." Caitlin didn't have to look at his face to know that his grin returned, swift and incorrigible. "Not today, at any rate. It's more fun when you're not expecting it."

Caitlin grimaced in mock anger and punched him lightly on the arm, then satisfied that he was finished with his trickery for the moment, leaned back onto his shoulder, as content to enjoy his company as she was to be alone moments earlier. They watched together as the sun rose higher on its unchanging path in the sky and listened to the various sounds of their people working in and around the Little Tower. *

A breeze rose from over the EarthDragon Forest to the east, bringing with it a welcome breath of coolness. Caitlin could feel the breath of the zephyr softly drying the last of the sweat beading on her face and neck from her workout, and shifted in itchy discomfort. "Ugh," she grunted, wiggling against the rough stone of the castle wall to relieve the prickling sensations between her shoulder blades. "I need a bath."

Caben let his head drop lazily onto his sister's red-gold hair and sniffed in her scent with a loud, conspicuous snort. "Well, I for one wouldn't dare criticize, as I am paralyzed with mortal fear for my own continued and pain-free existence," he began, and continued over Caitlin's dubious laughter, "But you may be right. You smell like the wyvern stables."

"Ha. That's what happens when you exercise your wyvern, or so I'm told by those who dare criticize me. Of course," Caitlin rolled ironic eyes to meet Caben's, "That's also a sure way in which you can tell who has been exercising his trusty steed, and who has been slacking." She poked him in the belly with a sharp forefinger to emphasize her implication.

"Ouch!" Caben flinched and slapped her finger away. "I'll have you know I rode Crash only . . . well, um . . ." He thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "Three days ago, when Byron arrived! Of course, I've been a bit busy since then, you know, what with that letter and all . . . oh, um . . . ." He shrank into his midnight-blue spidersilk shirt and changed the subject when he felt Caitlin tense. "So how about your new wyvern?" he asked, desperate for a distraction. "How's she working out?" Caitlin almost forgot her anger at the newest twist in the Byron Problem as she listened to her brother's forced cheerfulness. He knew her limits, and even respected them, sometimes.

"Brash? She's coming along very well. I had her out over the eastern Forest today, flying some sprints and double-ovals. She seems to have gotten over the fact that she's your clumsy wyvern's half-sister; I haven't fallen since that once a fortnight ago." Caitlin squirmed away from her brother's poke. "Hey! You have to admit your wyvern is the clumsiest thing in the skies from here to the Aethyr Tower. How many times have you landed in that oak since you started training him?"

Caben sighed in resignation as he thought about his wyvern's shortcomings. It must have been fate that he was the one noble in Draakonamaa with a brain-dead wyvern serving as his mount. "He only needs some time, Cait. Sure he's a little - awkward - at the moment, but he's young and . . . ." He glared at the top of his twin's head as he felt her quiver with suppressed laughter. "Shut up. At least you don't have to worry about falling on the king's head when we get to õrs Draakona. With my luck, Crash will decide to stop flapping his wings just so he can hear the parade music better."

Caitlin smirked a moment longer, then her smile slowly faded as she was reminded of the upcoming journey to the king's city. Caben felt her become quiet and introspective at his words and cursed himself for bringing up the very subject he was eager to avoid. *Excellent job, nitwit. Nothing like taking a dagger and grinding it in right where it hurts.* A tense, uneasy silence reigned for several long minutes, then Caben commented awkwardly, "I guess you won't be needing Brash after this trip, seeing as how you're going to have your own wings and all."

"If this is a ploy to steal my wyvern, think of another one," she replied, attempting to match her brother's effort at lifting the mood from the depths to which it had plummeted. She sighed and closed her eyes, feeling her brother's pain at their upcoming parting meet the pain in her own soul. "I won't be gone forever, Cabe," she said quietly, trying to convince herself as well as her Caben. "I'll still be me. I'll just be . . . different."

Caben's mouth tightened and his arm pulled his sister, his twin, closer to his chest, as though he would refuse to allow her to leave. Their birthday, only one day after the king's own, would mark their fiftieth year, the age at which their society deemed young people to be adults. The age at which Draakonad, identified through some indefinable power, were taken from their families and changed through magic rites into draconic humans. His bitter unhappiness, suppressed for years, eating at him more and more as the time to part grew near, bubbled out as he snapped, "Different. Right. You're going to be changed in more than appearance, Cait, whether you admit that or not. You're not going to be my twin anymore."

She said nothing. He sighed, forcing his unhappiness and raw anger to retreat to its stronghold behind his comical veneer, and smiled once again, though she could not see it. "Just promise me, Cait. Promise that you won't forget us here, even after you go through the change and you're doing üks knows what. Defending the world from rampaging faeries. Playing cards with the leprechauns. You know, hero stuff."

Caitlin nodded her head in assent, grateful to her brother for not making her choose between her dream and him. She wondered what she would choose. She dared not speak, as she knew the tears welling in her eyes would be given free rein if she uttered a sound. He let her be, as he knew the severe, competent exterior she showed the world was as much as a mask as his own jocular manner.

The twins sat together on the bench in silence, each contemplating the paths into the future, holding each other as true twins in their mutual retreat from the world for perhaps the last time.