A TEST OF LOYALTY

            She was there, in all her glory.

            Long, straight hair flowed to her waist was lightly blown by a wind felt by none.  It was of platinum, and she had left it free except for some of her fringes that she had tied to braids.  Her perfectly rounded limbs moved gracefully that it almost seemed that she was dancing as she moved.  Her arcane tunic, thin as it was, shimmered under the light of the full moon.  Its whiteness did nothing to hide her perfect figures.  She was barefooted, but the rocky path she treaded did not even scratch her soles.  Her smooth skin almost reflected the light above her.  Her nails were long and pointy, yet it only added the beauty radiating from her.  And her face…she had the most beautiful face that seemed unworldly to me.  Shining emerald eyes that seemed to drink everything she set her eyes on; small, pointed nose; ears that was of the same pointy length and was proportional to her face; and small, sweet lips that was as red as cherry that was in absolute contrast to her fair skin.  And she walked on that rocky path with her serene pace; her light steps headed to one direction.

            She was walking towards me.

            She seemed intent to reach me that I could not help but to run towards her.  Odd as it sounded, when my palms touched hers the surroundings changed; from a rocky, desolate land, it changed to a field full of flowers.  Fireflies danced around us and the light of the full moon shone only for us.  I embraced her in my arms as she pressed her body tight against mine; her body was light for someone her height that I actually ran across the filed with her in my arms.  I ran and ran until I reached the edge of a high cliff, and beyond that cliff was a vast ocean that glittered by the light of the stars.  I slowly placed her to the thick grasses, yet she held my hand tight and pulled me closer with such force that I finally fell on top of her.  Her lips was so inviting that at that moment I wanted to taste it and not letting it go, and the warmth of her body fueled my inner desires.  When she smiled, I was sure that she had given all of her to me, yet before I could do anything, she stopped my lips with her fingers and spoke:

            "Leave her, and I will be yours forever."

            A light wind that blew briskly deep into my skin woke me up to reality.  Slowly I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw was nothing out of the ordinary – cold, hard rocks.  It was the ceiling of a cavern – a huge one, I might add, and I was lying down on a thick blanket.  I was alone when I woke up, but it was typical because it had always been like this every morning.  The morning sun shining from the entrance of the cavern pierced the darkness, and it blinded my eyes a little before I grew accustomed to it.  My mind came to a slow start and I was almost looking for the woman I embraced in my arms before I realized that it was only a dream.  Clearing my head I took a deep breath, and treading carefully (I was still having a slight dizziness from waking up so abruptly) I stepped outside the cavern.  The same brisk morning breeze blew straight to my face, and although uncomforting at first I had grown accustomed to it after ten years living inside the cavern.  The sun was shining brightly in the east, and the forest beyond the cavern was already buzzing with life.  I could even hear birds chirping in the sky, and even saw some of them flying about in search for food.  Still taking deep breaths to enjoy the start of the day, I began making my way to the river not far from the cavern.

            There were several animals there when I arrived but they ignored me, perhaps grown accustomed to see an Elf taking his daily morning bath in the river.  I took off my clothes – I did not mind to strip naked, for this was an island remote from any civilization and from my observation, I was the only person here.  Furthermore, I had no fear of being attacked for the part of the river where I took a bath was far enough from any predator trails, and even if there was any predator, the cavern was close enough for me to run back there and arm myself with a weapon.  Most of the animals living in the surrounding area were those that were being hunted, not the hunter.

            Several deer were having their fill on the sides of the river when a dark shadow flew over me and loomed over them.  Instinct took over; the deer instantly knew that a predator was near that they quickly jumped off to a run.  The shadow passed over them several times, circling the area before it zoomed down and with the speed beyond the blink of an eye, a deer was already trapped inside huge claws.  The deer struggled, but it was in vain as it was lifted to the air and finally went limp with the tightening of the claws.  The force of the claws probably broke its bones and suffocated the deer.  The shadow then flew straight to a clearing next to the river – to be exact, next to where I took a bath.  It then landed, and placed the deer next to a huge slab of stone not far from where it landed.  I glanced at the dead deer for a while, and then continued on my task of cleaning myself – after all, I had seen this hunting game almost everyday that it became too common to me to be amazed.

            "Your breakfast, Elf," a voice said.  "We are going to start late today, with you taking your time to wake up."

            I glanced to the owner of the voice.  It was the same as the owner of the huge claws and the looming shadow – and I saw a dragon.  A platinum dragon, to be exact.  It was a rare species in Maar, and rare as they were, no other dragon could match its majestic features.  The dragon in front of me had long, stout neck that reached six feet in length, and it was connected to a rather perfectly thick-scaled head.  The dragon's horns were short and blunt, yet it fit perfectly to its features.  It had sharp, emerald eyes that pierced everything it bore its eyes on.  The dragon's jaws were strong that it could snap the bones of other dragons like a twig, and its perfectly lined sharp teeth were something to be feared of.  Its claws and talons were longer and sharper than any other dragons I had met or heard, and the dragon moved it with ease that made me almost feel that it could cut air with its movements.  The dragon's wings, when spread wide, could almost cover the mouth of the cavern where I was staying; its thick skin could stand the worst of weathers.  Thick scales covered the dragon's body entirely, and it glittered under the shining sun that it almost reflected it.  True to its name, its scales were of platinum and were priced materials for smiths for its rarity.  Its tail was long and heavy, and had spikes protruding at the ends of it as one of its arsenals.  From the looks of it, the spikes were sharp enough to swipe down thick trees with one move.

            The dragon must had noticed me staring as it said, "Well?  What are you waiting for?  Finish your bath and eat your breakfast."

            "Sorry," I replied, and gave the dragon a slight grin.  The dragon, however, ignored it.

            I finished my bath, and after that began skinning a part of the deer that the dragon had killed before.  Then I sliced a piece from it for my breakfast and prepared it; the rest was left there for I knew the dragon would savor it later.  Sticking the piece of meat on a stick and leaving it on top of the fire, I waited for it to finish cooking on one side before I turned it over.  I sat not far from the fire next to the dragon; it seemed asleep as it lay still, but from the frequent movements of its ears I knew that it did not.  There was only silence between us for quite some time before I began a conversation.

            "Palestrike," I began.  "I had a dream last night."

            Palestrike lifted one of her eyelids and glanced towards me.  She then shifted her position; from resting her head on her front legs, she rose until she came to her full height.  Majestically she asked, "A dream?"

            "A dream," I repeated, as I turned over the grilled meat.  "I dreamt of an Elf maiden of my age – probably younger, I wasn't sure – and her beauty surpassed anyone I had ever seen in my life.  She had perfect figures that I almost thought that she was a goddess.  And she was coming for me."

            Palestrike shifted her view to the forest beyond.  "I am not impressed; after all, you have been away from your kind for too long that you began conjuring images in your dream."

            "I understand that, Palestrike.  But it wasn't her that made me think the dream was odd; it was what she said before I woke up that made me wonder what it meant."

            "And that is?" Palestrike inquired.

            "She told me that to be with her I have to leave another woman – which is odd, considering that there is none of my kind here except me."

            Palestrike shifted her gaze from me towards the rising sun.  "I do not understand dreams of your kind, as mine had no instance of dreams."

            I rested my eyes on her for a moment longer, and then turned my attention to the grilled meat.  It was already cooked to my liking, so lifting it off from the fire I took a seat and began eating.  Palestrike had changed her position and curled up again as she slowly lay down; her head rested close to me.  She seemed to intensely watch me eat, but since I had little knowledge of Draconian complexions or behavior I decided not to comment anything on it.  As I was finishing the last of the meat, a thought came to mind.

            "Palestrike, what am I going to endure today?"

            "Odd that you ask that, when you know the trials you are going to face," she answered nonchalantly.

            "Just out of curiosity," I answered.  "Ever since you rescued me from that storm, I endured lots of trials to prove me worthy, apart from the normal trials every Dragon Rider should face.  And from what I remember, I had passed the last of them several months ago."

            Hearing that, Palestrike lifted her head again and soon she stood tall as before.  With one quick motion she spread her wings, creating ripples on the river and dousing out the fire she had lighted before.  I would have been blown away too, if not for my holding strongly the boulder where I sat.  The shadow she cast shielded the sun from my eyes as I looked up at her, wondering why she suddenly acted like that.

            "Come," was all she said.

            Knowing better than to question her actions, I slowly stood up and after rearranging my attire, I walked towards her and using the thick scales on her body as a ladder to climb up until I mounted her.  I sat on a flat surface just in front where the bones of her shoulder blades and the ones of her wings met so as to stabilize myself when she took flight, as well as avoiding the strokes of her wings from knocking me down.  Furthermore, that was the only available position I had for if I sat further at the back, I would surely fell to the ground because the constant movement of her body and tail, as well as in danger of being hit by her flapping wings.  There were no reins for me to hold on to for I had not heard of dragons being a common mounted creature in Maar, but the perfectly arranged scales on Palestrike's body was more than enough to act as a saddle.  Thick as it was, her scales were still sensitive for she could feel that I was uncomfortable riding on top of her.  She commented nothing of the matter however; after she felt I made minimal movement, she began to stroke her wings and took flight.

            Never in my ten years living in this desolate land that I had the chance to see the island from above.  Palestrike told me that I was on an island – yet all my knowledge of the land were from her words and the little that I saw beyond the cavern where I lived.  I knew that the day I would rode Palestrike would come when I became an approved Dragon Rider, but I never thought that it would be too soon.  From what Palestrike told me back then, no Dragon Riders were allowed a chance to ride their dragons until they were initiated, so I guessed that she was merely giving me a privilege that no Dragon Riders ever had before their approval.  The wind blew strongly to my ears as Palestrike soared high up in the sky, slowly making her way to encircle the island.  I guessed she was giving me a chance to the world – at least, the land where I was in.  She said nothing to me as she flew except a sometime glance towards me, but I think I was too absorbed by the feeling of being high up in the sky to notice it.  Thank the gods I was not afraid of heights – else I would faint just to see that my feet only touched air as I looked down.

            The island where I lived was not that big of an island.  In fact, I saw larger islands before I came here.  There were no hints of the mainland even when I tried scouring the ends of the sea for it, and it showed that I was totally cut off from civilization and the only other person – if I could call Palestrike that, her being a dragon and all – who lived here with me was Palestrike.  Up high, the high hill that contained the cavern me and Palestrike called 'home' was just a small patch on the blue sea.  Beyond that hill were thick forests, and on one part of the forests was a small clearing not far from a cliff at one side of the island where I trained, almost everyday, to pass each test she gave me.  I could see the sea bustling with life – dolphins and fishes occasionally jumping above waters, and several times I could see the Merfolks accompanying them.

            It turned out that Palestrike brought me to a place not at the island itself, yet at a nearby island not far from the ones I lived on.  It was a smaller island, and consisted mainly of a thick forest on top of a tall and steep hill.  There was a small clearing on top of a hill taller than the rest, and it was there that she steered her direction to.  Dusts and small pebbles flew as she descended, and the group of birds resting on top of the hill scattered away when it sensed a larger being disturbing them.  When she sat still I stepped down, and said nothing as I took a deep breath, enjoying the view around me.  The sun was already high in the sky, and the shadows cast by Palestrike did nothing to shelter me.  Winds blew strong for we were high up on top of a hill, but Palestrike gave me enough protection from it to avoid me from falling into the chasm.  I sat down on the ground; the short grass acted as a soft cushion as my eyesight fell to the flying birds at the sky.

            "Do you remember the reason I saved you from the storm almost ten years ago?" Palestrike inquired after a while.

            "I do," I answered, keeping my gaze to the sea.  "You ask me to be your rider, and I agreed.  At first I only did it because I wanted to be saved from the storm at that time, but I realized then that I had to keep my promise – you brought me to a desolate island to make sure that I did."

            "Even if I did not I know you would never run away from me, for I can see it in your heart that there was an eagerness to be a Dragon Rider – it is your childhood dream, is it not?"

            "You are right about that," I answered, looking now at Palestrike.  I saw her looking far to the sky and spread her wings as if wanting to fly away, but she stayed nonetheless.  "I can't lie to you anyway; from what you told me, you can read other's thoughts and intentions."

            "And I know that you are one of those who never broke an oath," she continued, as if not hearing my comments.  "That is why I chose you to be my rider, among other reasons."

            "Other reasons?" I inquired, looking at her in interest.  She never told me the reason she saved me from the storm that almost killed me ten years ago, and this was the first time she talked about it.

            "Yes, other reasons.  You may not know this, but I have known you long before you met me in the storm – yes, I had known you ever since you were in your cradle, Eldoran."

            "But how?"

            Palestrike ignored my curiosity and continued, "You lived an easy life on your younger years – everything you ever wanted was obtainable to you.  You never had to experience the hardship others had faced in their lives, yet you were unlike your brothers and turned out not to be the man they had expected of you; you turned away your heritage and your future throne to follow your dreams.  Joining your father's army, you fought many battles just for the satisfaction of your own heart.  During times of peace, you indulged yourself in the welfare of the people – not as a prince, yet as those who suffered the same fate, and your time at night was with books in the royal library.  That was why when you were captured during the skirmish at the kingdom's border and was sailed away as a slave, I decided that you have gained enough experience to face your next trial, and summoned a storm to destroy those who tried to enslave you."

            "And so you brought me here after taking my vow to be a Dragon Rider, and trained me in aspects that I needed to become one," I continued her words, amazed by what she knew of me.  Then again, she could read minds so it was not surprising that she could see my past.  However I asked anyway, "How did you know me so much, when I never met you before?"

            "You have met me – several times, in fact; it was you who never realized it," Palestrike answered.  Her emerald eyes met my gaze, but as even if I tried to read what was on her mind at that moment I could not.  Her eyes drank everything, yet it spilled nothing.  It was I who broke the contact, and slowly I lay down to the thick grass beneath me.  The sky was bright because of the sun, but I felt good to be basked in the early afternoon heat.  Thin clouds floated in the sky, and I could see a flock of birds passing by the clouds on a formation.

            "Palestrike, I'm still not clear on some things."

            "I thought we have gone through this before," she answered.  She slowly spread her wings and then folded it back, then glanced at me.

            "I know, but well…it still bugged me.  Remember what you taught me about the Dragon Riders?  I know that they were the strongest and the most skillful of fighters, the most knowledgeable of men, the wisest of thinkers and the most powerful of mages, but from all the trainings and the tests you gave me, I see that I'm only trained in my fighting skills.  You never gave me any training in magic whatsoever, or expose me to any books to let me study.  To top it off, the physical trainings you gave me require not a sword as I had grown used to."

            "Do you not think that a sword is not the only weapon in the world?  And do you not think that knowledge can be obtained through other means?  I have told you before that you will obtain magic when you are initiated to be my rider, whereas you will bear the name 'Dragon Mage' in the ranks of mages."

            "But what about wisdom?" I inquired.

            "I can only give you so much; wisdom can only be gained by those who seek it.  Come," Palestrike said, and spread her wings.  "It is time to return."

~ * ~

            She came again tonight.

            It was almost like a continuation of the previous dream, but somehow I knew it was not.  We were sitting on the cliff beside each other, watching the moon as it slowly crept to the sky.  One of my arms was holding her waist tight as I pulled her closer to me, and she responded by nudging herself closer and leaning her head to my chest.  Her long hair was blown by the soft winds, yet she managed to keep it neatly arranged despite the constant wind.  She spoke no words as I slowly caressed her hair, stopping sometimes at her neck to playfully play with the fringes there.  I could actually smell the perfume emanating from her, and the sweet smell of her hair registered deep into my brain.  With her so close to me the warmth of her body mingled with mine, and her position and height made it hard for me to avert my gaze to her body.  Still though I knew that she was mine and she had given herself to me, I tried not to succumb to my inner desires in fear of breaking the spell around us as it did the last time.  But even so, I managed to sneak a peck to her forehead; although she showed no resistance of any movement I dared not go further because I did not want this dream to end.  It was after I did that that she spoke.

            "Have you decided?" she asked.

            "What do you mean?" I answered with a question of my own.

            "Will you leave her?" she asked again, making her questions clearer.

            It was only the second time I ever heard her voice, yet I realized that she had the voice that dripped with honey, and was so seductive yet so innocent that it almost made me decided to jump onto her at that moment.  Nonetheless, I held my actions and asked her the questions that had left me pondering during my wake for the last few days ever since her last visit.

            "Wait…I don't understand.  Who do you mean by 'her'?  I'm alone here, and you're the only woman I ever met for the last ten years."

            She stared deep into me with her emerald eyes for a while, and then turned her gaze low as she released herself from me.  As she did so the scenery changed; thick black clouds massed in the sky, covering the peaceful sky above.  With the moon hidden under the clouds, the whole area darkened, and the soft winds that blew before suddenly turned wild, blowing the dusts and debris around us.  I stood up and gazed around me; she stood up too, and held my hands tight as she stayed close to me.  The heavy wind threatened to blow away her tunic that was barely hanging on her body and revealing her whole figure, but somehow the tunic stayed.  Even so the outlines of her curves were more emphasized by the wind, but I was too distracted to even notice.  The calm sea raged and threatened to shake the cliff where we were at, and already thunder could be seen in the clouds.  Out far I could see it striking the ground and from the looks of it, it would not be long before it reached us.

            "Time grows short!" she yelled, trying to make herself heard amid the chaos, and lightly tugged my shirt to capture my attention.  When I turned to face her, she took out a long, arcane-shaped dagger from behind her tunic – how she kept it concealed from her all these times was out of my comprehension – and handed it over to me.  "Take this, and kill her."

            "I don't understand!" I replied, also yelling for her to be able to hear me.  "Who do you refer by 'her', and why do you want me to kill her?" I asked, even though I took the dagger.

            "You will know her!" she replied.  She was just about to add something when the ground beneath us shook and split asunder.  I lost my hold on her when both of us accidentally released our hands, and that was when her stepping failed.  She tried to get a hold on something as the ground beneath her gave away, but there was nothing she could get her hands to.  There was not even a scream as she fell along with the rocks to the raging sea below, and I could only do nothing but watch before I felt a looming shadow over me in the chaos.

            I was halfway screaming when I woke up.  The loud sounds around me made me feel that I had not totally woken up from my dream, but realized later that the sound was actually the sound of a storm outside the cave.  I could still hear the faint echo of my voice inside the cavern, and I was sure that I had woken Palestrike up.  My thoughts were answered; a loud growling in the distance, followed by distant thumping that eventually got louder was proof that she had woken up, and was heading towards me.  There was not a hint of tiredness in her eyes when I gazed at her however; but then again, I never saw her when she had just waken up so my thoughts that she had not even slept yet could be wrong.

            A flash of lightning appeared in the sky when she spoke.  "What are you doing screaming in the dead of night?  You could even wake the dead with all that noise."

            Her voice stunned me a while, until I realized that I was no longer dreaming.  "It's…ah, nothing.  I just had a bad dream."

            Palestrike looked at me skeptically, but she made no attempt to probe my mind to see whether I spoke the truth.  I knew of this for when she read my mind I could feel it – kind of like a dull and numbing sensation on a part of my head, and it moved so fast that I could not register what it was.  When she first used it on me I did not realize it, but I had stayed with her long enough to realize it.  But as I said, she made no intention to do it, instead just looked deep into me before she spoke again.

            "Bad dreams are signs of a disturbed mind," she growled slowly and turned away.  "We will speak of this matter in the morning."

            I only watched Palestrike was she slowly moved back to her part of the cavern.  It was deeper into the cave, and although I had never been there, I suspected that it was where the kept her treasures safe from others.  Not that there was anyone else beside me or that I wanted to take it, but I guess it was just a normal habit of a dragon.  I had no use for material wealth anyway, for I knew my initiation as a Dragon Rider meant that I would live my life to serve Palestrike, and she in turn supported me with all that I needed until either one of us died.  Of course it did not mean that I was her slave, but it was just like a marital bond; Dragon Riders were not allowed to be married, although physical pleasure was something to be compromised – well, dragons could not give their rider everything.  That was why I was not surprised when all the Dragon Riders mentioned in the history books I read before were always of the opposite gender – male dragons would chose a female Dragon Rider, and a female dragon chose a male Dragon Rider – although there were some cases where such was not true.

            I shook my head after Palestrike left and taking a deep sigh I left my bed.  The storm outside had no signs of stopping, and the heavy rain bashed through the entrance of the cave.  It was a good thing that the natural formation of rocks had created a canopy on the entrance, so there were at least a few feet of dry ground on the entrance.  The canopy also served to avoid the rain from splashing inside the cave and wetting the floor; although Palestrike never minded it for she resided was deeper into the hill, I was glad for it for I hated to have the place near where I slept damp.  The rain seemed to ease my mind, and I continued standing at the entrance of the cave, watching the rain for a while until tiredness beckoned me back to my bed.

            In my fast dwindling consciousness that pulled me back to the dream world, I never realized the dagger given to me in my dream was sitting close beside me.

~ * ~

            "Are you ready to tell me of your thoughts?" Palestrike asked me that morning when I had just finished my breakfast.

            I looked at her blankly; at first I was wondering what she was talking of when I realized what she meant was the dream that woke me up the previous night.  "Not really…wait, why do you want me to tell it to you?  You could just read my mind to find it out."

            "Some things are better expressed to ease the heart," she replied, and turned her gaze away from me to the clear morning sky.  The storm had stopped sometime after I fallen asleep, Palestrike told me when I woke up that morning, and she had went out.  For what reason I did not ask; it was not in my nature to poach others' personal lives.  Perhaps she was out with her lover – she was only a little over a thousand years old, and she was young for her kind, considering that she could live up to thrice her current age.

            The morning sun shone brightly and its gaze reflected in the morning dew and puddles on the ground.  The whole earth was blessed with the rain; already I could see sprouts of leaves on the tree branches growing, and the nearby river, which had dried a little in the previous summer, gained its strengths again to continue providing the forest with an abundant resource of water.  Birds could be seen soaring in the sky in search for food, and I could feel the presence of animals around me; the forest was bustling with life as usual.  Palestrike was sitting close to me as always when I had my breakfast, and from my sometimes glance towards her as I rested after my meal I knew that she was patiently waiting for my answer.  I shifted my position to better rest my cramping legs, and as I stared at the fire in front of me I gathered my words and spoke.

            "Remember the instance of a dream I told you several days before?  The ones I had last night was a continuation of that dream, yet somehow it wasn't."

            "Explain," Palestrike shortly inquired.

            "Well, how can I say this…well, the setting was the same, as with the scenery.  Even she was dressed in the same manner and wore the same perfume, yet I knew the two dreams didn't appear instantaneously.  This is proven when she asked me whether I have decided to leave this 'woman' she spoke of, and her tone of voice was as if she had left me alone to think of her proposal."

            "Is that the reason you had a disturbed sleep last night?  That you were actually considering what she told you in your first dream?"

            I glanced at her skeptically, and then snickered, "Oh, come on, Palestrike…you don't expect me to believe a dream would come true if I followed what it told me, do you?  I mean, I didn't even know the name of the Elf maiden in my dream, and I never met her before in my whole life."

            Palestrike only replied with a hard glance; it was obvious that she knew more that what I intended to hide from her.  Seeing it, I sighed and turned my gaze low to the ground.  "You know I hide something, didn't you, Palestrike?"

            "Your actions betray you, Eldoran.  You were never this agitated, even when you tried to lie to me about having a sick sister to care of when at one point you could not take the rigorous trainings I gave you, just so that I would send you back to the mainland."

            I sighed; of course, there was no hiding of thoughts from a dragon that could read one.  "You are right; there is something else."  I reached into my tunic and took out a dagger.  Not just any dagger, but the ones given to me in the dream.  I realized it was beside me when I woke up just that morning, and had decided to hide it from Palestrike in order not to let her found out about it.  "As the scenery around us changed from a calm night to a raging chaos, she gave me this dagger," I held it out for Palestrike to examine it, which she did, I noted, with a hard expression.  "And she told me to kill this 'woman'.  She wanted to say more, but the footings below her failed and she fell to the raging sea below."

            "A disturbing dream is natural for your kind, but to bring something back from a disturbing dream is something else," Palestrike commented, still fixing her gaze onto the dagger.  "There is immense magic inside this dagger, a magic that proved threatening to almost any being that faced against it."

            "But she just asked me to kill a lady," I protested.  "There's no one here on the island beside you and myself, and even if the ones I am assigned to kill is on this island there is no way I would kill someone without a reason.  I maybe a brutal soldier in my time, but I'm not a murderer."

            "Do you not understand, Eldoran?" Palestrike inquired; her voice cold.  "Or have you never studied arcane weaponry enough that it dulled your senses to complement the true potential of the dagger?"

            I stared at her.  "What?"

            Ignoring my blank expression, Palestrike continued.  "The dagger was one of the ten weapons created during the second Dragon War, crafted to kill the so-called 'Dragon Lords' at that time – you studied history, correct?  You must know about the war."

            "I'm not sure…but I think I may have read of a story about a group of Dragon Riders who allied themselves with a now ruined kingdom from the west on their quest to conquer the world.  The Dragon Riders were obsessed with power and ruined by wealth, and the dragons they rode already had an evil intention in their hearts.  These Dragon Riders, who were supposed to be neutral arbiters in all conflicts, renamed themselves to Dragon Lords and used their powers to attack neighboring cities just to fill the hunger of the emperor of the kingdom.  Their actions deeply wounded the hearts of everyone that even the neutral Dragon Riders were shunned and attacked as a result, and that was when the remaining Dragon Riders gathered to solve the problem.  The gathering was so large that it was said that it covered the whole Northern Plains.  They agreed to send ten Dragon Riders of their own – ones with pure hearts and modesty, and would not be affected by earthly desires – to help free the conquered cities from the emperor and then facing the Dragon Lords in battle."

            "And this dagger is one of the weapons crafted for that specific battle," Palestrike continued when she saw that I had finished my story.  "Created by Draconian blood, this dagger could nullify any Draconian magic – defensive or offensive – and so was used to kill the dragons the Dragon Lords rode.  With their dragons dead these Dragon Lords were powerless, yet the ten Dragon Riders did not punish them – they left that task to the people."

           "So you are saying that the dagger could easily kill you?" I asked, amazed by the ability of the dagger on my hand.

            "It will not you take this long to understand if you understood my words earlier," Palestrike replied, rather sarcastically.

            I gave her a slight glance, and then turned my attention back to the dagger.  It felt a little heavy in my hand, even with all the trainings I had all these years.  The blade was leaf-shaped and was about a foot in length, and was still sharp even though (if what Palestrike said was true) the dagger was over two thousand years old.  It bore no marking of any kind, yet the design, plain as it was, had a regal feel on it.  I turned to face Palestrike.  She had stood up now, probably on the defensive, when she saw me holding the dagger a little too tight.  Seeing what I had done, I accidentally dropped the dagger and it fell to the ground with a thud.  I wanted to take it, but Palestrike's low growl warned me not to.

            "Oh, come on Palestrike," I ignored her warning and crouched to get hold of the dagger.  "The woman in my dreams asked me to kill another woman, not a –"

            I stopped my words there, realizing the error in my judgment.  As I turned to face Palestrike again I saw that she was staring straight at me; anger could be seen clearly from her deep emerald eyes.  "Have you been so ignorant to notice all these times, Eldoran?"

            "No…you don't mean…"  I was at a loss of words.  All the times being with her, I never thought as Palestrike as a woman, yet now I realized how wrong I had been.  I know now why the woman in my dream gave me a dagger that could penetrate the toughest dragon hides and the thickest of Draconian magic.

            "She meant for you to kill me," Palestrike answered my suspicion without any hint of surprise.  Then again, she knew about it the moment she saw the dagger.

            "But that's ridiculous!" I objected, and stood up.  I walked a few paces towards the river, only to turn around to face Palestrike.  "Why would she think I would kill you?  Besides, it was only a dream; I didn't even know how the dagger was with me when I woke up or why the dagger was exactly the same as the ones in my dream.  Perhaps you're the one who put it beside me when I slept."

            "Are you now accusing me for the existence of the dagger?" Palestrike asked with a threatening snarl.  The anger in her eyes deepened that it almost cast a blazing fire in her eyes.  "Why would I leave something as dangerous as that with you when you are not yet even a Dragon Rider?  Do you think I would leave a weapon that could kill me lying about in the cave?"

            I wanted to yell at her for what she said, but calmed myself when I realized the truth in her words.  "I…I'm sorry, Palestrike.  It's just that my anger took over me.  I mean, with all these dreams, and now the dagger…"

            "I understand your predicaments, but I will not tolerate such actions again," Palestrike softened, though there was still lingering anger in her voice.  "Now let us return; I will keep the dagger in a place no one can have access to it," she continued, and made her way back to the cavern.

~ * ~

            "Why did you give it to her?"

            For a moment there I was speechless to hear that voice.  I turned around, and saw her standing in the field of flowers, bathed in the soft moonlight.  The soft winds blew through her tunic and hair, creating ripples on her thin dress, and the beads on her braids jiggled and waved, creating a sweet music on the silence of night.  Her green eyes were cold and her lips sealed; there was no warmth that she had in the previous nights.  Even the constant smile on her lips was replaced by a frown that was on the verge of exploding into anger.

            "I…you…how did you survive?" I asked, still staring at her with a surprised complexion.

            "You said it yourself; this is only a dream, so such matters are not of concern, correct?  After all, such fall can do no further harm to me."  Her voice was so cold that I could almost feel the chills as she spoke.  I was rooted to the spot, unable to find the words to counter hers.  Seeing that I made no move to walk towards her, she took a step towards me.  Her steps were still light as the time I first met her and she still walked with that graceful move, but her feelings at that time only made me shiver a little at what she might do to me when she reached me.  I had no time to think for before I did so she was already in front of me, and suddenly hugged me tight.  My chest felt warm and damp, and before I realize what was going on I heard her sobbing.  She was crying, softly at first, yet it continued to rise in intensity that I could not think of anything else but to comfort her.

            "There, there…calm down…" I consoled.  She calmed down somewhat after that, but when she looked straight at me I saw that her eyes were still red with tears.

            "It had been too long…" she spoke.

            "What?"

            "Loneliness had been my companion for too long…from the moment I saw you, I knew we are destined to be as one.  I admired you so much, but I can only admire from afar; I can neither touch you, nor could I have the chance to tell my feelings to you.  And I was afraid…afraid of what she might do to me when she knew I made contact with you."

            Her explanation surprised me that I held her on her shoulders and stared at her.  "You mean that you've been here on this island all these times?"

            She stared at me in return; her emerald gaze only reflected sadness inside it.  "Yes," she softly replied.  But perhaps seeing my surprised look she added, "But you will never find me in your wake, even if you searched the whole island for my presence."

            "What do you mean?" I asked; her words only confused me more.

            She sighed; seeing that I could not understand what she was trying to say, she resigned and told me bluntly, "I am already dead, Eldoran."

            I could only stare at her in bewilderment, trying to grasp the meaning of her words.  Slowly I understood why I could only meet her in my dreams, but there were some things that I still could not understand.  For instance, if she had grown a liking for me when she saw me, why did she wait for almost ten years to make contact?  And what could Palestrike do to hurt her even if she knew about it?

            As if reading my mind, she answered my doubts.  "I was afraid to make contact with you before, because I was unsure of your reactions – will you just see me as a dream meant to tease because you are now isolated from civilization, or will you see me otherwise?  Furthermore, I know that she could read minds so I was afraid that she will try to banish me if I was discovered."

            Her explanation only sprung other questions.  "But why now, even when you know Palestrike will know about you anyway; and what can she do to you, seeing that you're already dead?"

            "You know too little of her, even after ten years," she sadly sighed.  "She can cross planes, and so banishing a wondering soul is too simple a task for her.  And I thought I would never be able to make contact, until I gained knowledge of the dagger in her keep."

            "What power does the dagger held?" I asked; her words triggered my curiosity.  "True, it can destruct even the most powerful of Draconian magic, but does it have any other properties?"

            She sighed and broke away from me.  Taking a few steps away and turning her gaze to the plains beyond us, she spoke no words.  Then she lowered herself until she was sitting on the grass, and gesturing me to sit beside her.  I complied, and as I did she leant her body towards mine.  We stayed like that for a while until she spoke.

            "Just as the dagger is created to take away life, it can create one."  She slowly sat straight and stared at me as her emerald eyes met mine.  "Using her flowing blood and the magic in the dagger I can be reborn."  She saw my mouth opened, and as if knowing what I was trying to ask, she said, "Her blood and the dagger will create a body for me to inhibit in."

            Satisfied that all my hesitation toward her had been cleared, we sat there silently watching the fields as the soft winds blew towards us.  I lay on the field and she followed my example, and soon we lay there side by side, watching at the dark sky and the full moon accompanied by millions of small sparks around it.  There were no words between us; she seemed understood of my need to digest the information she gave me.

            "How do you come to know of Palestrike?" I asked after a long period of silence.

            She sat up and gazed at me.  At first I thought she wanted to dodge my question as she looked away, but she surprised me when she explained.  "It was a long time ago, on a small fishing village on the mainland closest to the island," she began.  "The villagers were a close-knit family; most of us descended from the same ancestors that set foot there several generations back, so each of us knew each other well.  The village chieftain, whose bloodline was closer to my father's side was had a son of my age, and we had been engaged when we were still young.  I had just reached the proper age for me to marry – as what you see of me now – and was looking forward to it.  He was my childhood friend, and we had known each other well.  He was kind to me and had always been there for me when I need someone beside me."

            She stopped and looked at the sky.  I did not compel her to continue, for I could detect sadness emanating from her.  Instead I waited; soon she cast her gaze to the ground and sighed.

            "When I was young I had always been the fragile one.  I was always sick, and most of the times I had to stay inside," she continued.  "He always accompanied me during those times, cheering me up when I was stuck to my bed.  As I grew up my condition improved somewhat, so everyone thought my childhood sickness was passing with my age.  Everyone was so happy to see my improving condition, and seeing their cheerful faces hurt me more to tell them the truth.  You see, I had an abnormal growth inside here."  She turned to me and lightly tapped her head.  "It remained dormant when my blood started to flow for the first time, but just when I had forgotten about it after a long time, again it picked up its pace.  The pain intensified during my month that I sometimes fainted and had a fever, but everyone thought that my fragile condition showed during that time.  I had to bear not telling anyone about it – my parents had high hopes for me as I was the only child, and the chieftain's son loved me too much that it pained me to see his heart broken.  So I tried to be strong, tried to show my best to everyone even though I knew the pain slowly ate my sanity and would soon claim my soul."

            She stopped again, and her reddened iris compelled me to move closer to her and encircled my arms around her shoulder to give her comfort.  She accepted my effort, but I could see that she was a bit distant; perhaps remembering the past was too much for her.  I wanted so much to tell her to stop just there, but she did not tell me yet how she came to know Palestrike, so I held my words.  As if listening to my thoughts, she continued after a long pause.

            "It was on this one day, on the eve of my wedding, that I took a walk at the edge of the forest with a friend of mine.  We had just reached a stream that was a bit further from the village when the pain assaulted me.  My mind went blank and I fell unconscious.  I felt that I was floating when I woke up, and realized that I was at the back of a dragon.  She was in flight, and spoke nothing to me as she headed to the island.  My body was still weak that I had no power to move my limbs, and after we reached her cavern she laid me on a smooth stone table.  She had known my pain, she said, and she wanted to ease me out of it.  After she said that she took flight and disappeared.  I was afraid, and it was only intensified when I realized, in horror, that I was unable to move my limbs; not even my fingers could move a twitch.  I never knew how long did she disappeared, but soon fatigue took over me and I fell asleep.

            "When I woke up I saw that it was already dark, and several torches lighted the cavern.  She was there, and so were others – I had no means of identifying them for they were cloaked.  They were whispering in a language foreign to me, and it was only after a while I realized that they were actually chanting a spell.  I was afraid, but I was powerless to stop them.  It went for a while until one of them stepped forward.  I saw in his hand a dagger – the same dagger that I had given to you – and raised it high.  It was then that I found the strength to scream, but I barely shouted anything when the dagger went cleanly to my heart.  My life ebbed slowly away and my body went limp, but it felt odd to me that my consciousness remained.  I was in control of my body again; I sat up and saw no blood on my clothes.  The man who stabbed me had taken the dagger to her and after she took it she went deeper inside the cavern.  Before she did she took a glance to me and I felt compelled to follow her.  No one else seemed to notice me, and as curiosity took over me I looked back to the stone table and saw, in horror, by body lying limply on top of it.

            "She had taken my life essence and added it to her own by savoring the blood on the dagger.  Because of my unnatural death my soul was unable to pass to the world beyond and thus became a prisoner in the mortal realm.  She had told me that, but did nothing to banish me.  Why she did that was unknown to me at first, but soon I knew that there were no others here – those who attended the ritual left with a boat, and there were some kind of barrier around the island that prevented me from escaping.  My captive however made a group of the villagers, including my love, went to the island to try to release me.  I tried to warn them of the danger when they reached the island, but I was in a different plane so my warning was futile.  When they saw my dead body they laid an assault on her.  Against a powerful dragon they had little chance, and all of them were slaughtered mercilessly.  I had a chance to meet my love a moment before he passed the world beyond, but in that fleeting moment he told me how much he loved me and tried to bring me with him.  I told him it was impossible given my unnatural death, so he passed on without me – and so I was left alone."

            She was crying freely now, and clung to me tightly as I tried to console her.  I did not know how long time passed before she calmed herself again, but when she did she looked up to me and softly whispered, "Please…I beg you, release me from this prison."

~ * ~

            I intentionally avoided Palestrike for the last few days.  She noticed my abrupt change of behavior and tried to ask me about it, but I refused to give any hint about it.  Oddly enough, she did not try to probe into my mind to know what was going inside, an in a way, I was glad of it.  My dream stuck inside my mind and was the only thing that captured my attention in my wake.  And it was worsened when I saw the stone table inside the cavern where I used to have my meals.  It was the same as the one described in my dream, I was sure of it.  Just looking at it now disgusted me.  Why Palestrike did have the nerve to do such things?  Taking other people's lives as if it was worth nothing to her…and I had always thought she was one of the good dragons!

            I carefully monitored Palestrike's movements, watching carefully nothing the time she went out from the cavern and the time she returned.  I was unsure whether she noticed my intent; if she did, she made a very good job not to show it.  More than once, during the time she was out I sneaked into her part of the cavern to know the location of the dagger, and I found it during my third visit.  I did not have the chance to take it however because she had returned, and it was only luck that she did not catch me there.  The tense between us was great that I had to hunt my own meal – I never cared for the matter now, since the thought that eating something killed from the claws that had killed others who had tried to avenge the woman in my dreams.  Helping her had becoming an obsession to me, and she had visited me for several times again now that it made my body ached to be touched by her even though it was a dream.  Well it would not be long now though…after my plan was brought to fruition, I would be together with her even in my wake.  Every time she came she pleaded me to help her, and every time she did that she promised all of her to me when she was returned to the mundane world.  I was crazed by her; I know that, yet I still helped her because somehow I felt she did not deserve the fate she was in.

            For almost two weeks I watched Palestrike's pattern, and I saw my chance when she went out one night after I feigned sleeping.  The sky was dark and showed signs of a storm, yet I knew she always went out at the hour to 'socialize' with her fellow dragons and would not be back until late at night.  She rarely went out before, but did it often when I began to avoid her.  When I was sure she was not around, I began executing my plan.  I sneaked into her part of the cavern, and soon I reached the dagger.  I had to resist my desire to take the other treasures – after all, after Palestrike was dead it would be mine anyway.  Palestrike did not seem to bother protecting the dagger with any kind of magic as she thought I would not be mad enough to intrude her part of the cavern and take it.  What she did not know was that I was mad enough to go and take it.

           I was just about to step outside when I realized that she had returned and was looking at me with anger in her eyes.  "What are you doing?" she growled.

            I realized too late that she had seen the dagger in my hands.  But instead of hiding it, I walked toward her, all the time holding it in front of me.  She did not move a bit however; if she was afraid, she made a good show not to reveal it.  Soon I was but a few steps in front of her, and looking directly in her eyes I replied, "I'm taking this dagger, and your life in return of what I will obtain."

            She read my intentions instantly.  "Do not try to be foolish!  Do you not even once think that she could be using you for her own good?  What promise do you have that she will be with you after she gained what she sought?"

            "Enough!" I suddenly yelled.  "She gave me her word, and I'm going to hold to it.  What right do you have to stop me; you who killed the innocent for your own selfish desires, without any slight concern of others' feelings?"

            She silenced, but rose to her full height as she spoke, "If that is your wish, then; but no Draconian dies without a fight."

            "You're at a disadvantage there, Palestrike," I calmly replied and began my assault.

            Her sheer size, coupled with the small closed area of the cave gave me a distinct advantage as I could move with ease to find her weakness.  Palestrike growled and conjured a defensive magical barrier around her as she assaulted me with all her arsenal, but I was faster than her in the closed area.  Soon I saw an opening at her torso, and taking that chance I threw the dagger.  As I did so there was a faint voice inside my head telling me that what I did was wrong and I should have believed her rather than my dream, but it was too late to do anything as the dagger shattered her defense and stuck deep into her chest.  Perhaps it was coincidence, but at that moment a flash of lightning followed by thunder crashed in the storm outside.

            She growled; blood flowed from her wound as she trashed about before crashing to the ground.  I only watched her without emotion as she struggled for breath; her eyes glanced weakly to me asking for help, but I stood unmoving.  Soon her breath became ragged and slowed, and her eyelids closed.  Her muscles tensed for a moment, but then she lay still.

            The storm outside seemed to worsen now.  My breathing, ragged as it was before because of the battle, slowly returned to normal as I waited for my one true love to appear.  I had done the ordeal, and now all I could do was wait.

            So I waited.

            And I waited.

            The small, nagging feeling in my heart seemed to intensify now as panic began to surge into my being.  What if what Palestrike told me was true, that my dreams was just conjured by my own mind as a result of being isolated from my kind for over ten years?  But if that was true, it could not explain the existence of the dagger.  However, what if I had sleepwalked and took it from Palestrike's chamber?  It was possible, considering that I had that problem when I was small.  There were many thoughts inside me that I decided not to think and took action.  Slowly, I moved closer to Palestrike's still body.  Her blood was still flowing, albeit slowly, and I could clearly see the dagger stuck to her chest.  I reached for the dagger and lightly touched it with fear that Palestrike would awoken again, but when I was sure that she would not, I grabbed it and pulled it off her.  Looking at the thickened blood on the blade, I clearly saw my mistake – I should have never trusted my dreams, for dreams was an uncertainty.  I forfeited my future throne because I did not want to chase dreams and rather face the harsh realities of life, yet ten years of isolation had made me forget that reason.

            I knew each dragon had their own special tests for their would-be Dragon Rider, and a platinum dragon, being the most majestic of their kind and had the ability to read minds, her final test would be something that dealt with the mind, and not the body.  Palestrike had told me that I would gain her mind-reading ability once I was a Dragon Rider, and with it the ability to hide my thoughts from other mind-readers.  I knew then what her final test was – it was a test of loyalty.  Loyalty to her, for she knew she could never be able to openly read my thoughts like she did before.  To test me, she had created the dreams yet acted unknowingly on it, and even gave her life to see how far my loyalty was to her.  All these times I was being tested, and I did not even realize it until I held the bloodied dagger in my hands.

            I have failed the test.

            "I'm sorry…" I whispered; my voice almost unheard.  "I failed your test, and I failed your trust when you're the one I should have trusted the most."

            Tears brimmed in my eyes as I slowly turned around, and at the same moment I released the dagger from my hands.  The blade clanged to the floor, but I made no notice of it as I ran outside into the storm.  My hands were stained from her blood, and no amount of water could cleanse it.  I ran into the deep of night as rain fell from the sky, accompanied by flashes of thunder and crashes of lightning.  I ran into the forest, trying to be as far away from my guilt as possible.  My tears mingled with the rain as I ran, uncaring what would happen to me.  For all I knew, I was dead with the death of Palestrike.  There was no way out from this island, and even if I did get away, my purpose of life died with her.  Being a Dragon Rider was the highest achievement I could obtain, and I threw it all away just to fulfill my selfish desires.

            I did not realize how long I had been running until my feet touched sand, and I saw the raging sea in front of me.  Seeing the sea made my heart somewhat calm, and with a slow pace I took a step to the direction of the sea.  It had tried to take my life once ten years ago before Palestrike saved me; perhaps my death in the ocean had been long overdue.  Perhaps it was, I thought and chuckled.

            "Eldoran!"

            My feet had barely touched the water when I heard that voice.  Startled I turned around, and with the flash of lightning I saw someone running toward me.

            Long, straight hair flowed to her waist, and wet as it was, it flowed smoothly on her back as she ran.  It was of platinum, and she had left it free except for some of her fringes that she had tied to braids.  Her perfectly rounded limbs moved gracefully that it almost seemed that she was dancing as she ran.  Her arcane tunic, thin as it was, shimmered under the flash of lightning.  Its whiteness and soaked condition did nothing to hide her perfect figures.  She was barefooted, yet the sands did not slow her down.  Her smooth skin almost shone with an inner light it glistened under the rain.  Her nails were long and pointy, yet it only added the beauty radiating from her.  And her face…she had the same unworldly face I had seen so many times in my sleep.  Shining emerald eyes that seemed to drink everything she set her eyes on; small, pointed nose; ears that was of the same pointy length and was proportional to her face; and small, sweet lips that was as red as cherry that was in absolute contrast to her fair skin.  And she ran with her serene pace; her light steps headed toward me.

            I was unable to move as she hugged me tight as she reached me, and the force she exerted made me fell to the sands.  She fell with me, pressing tight on my body as she lay on top of me.

            "Do not ever leave me…you failed me not."

            Her words only confused me.  "What…what…how did this happen?"

            Hearing that, she looked deep into my eyes and frowned.  "Do you not remember?"

            "No…" I replied, and as I slowly sat up I lightly pushed her away.  "No…you're just a dream, conjured by Palestrike to test me.  You're not real…and I have failed."

            She slowly stood up, towering me as she gave me a faint smile and said, in a voice unlike her own, "How do you define what is real and what is not, Elf?"

            Instantly I knew who she was, and her name which I had always wondered in my wake from the first time I saw her in my dreams.

            "Palestrike?"

            She chuckled, and with the voice I had heard so often in my dreams she spoke, "I see your senses stayed with you even when you tried to abandon everything."

            "Palestrike?  But…but how?"

            "Calm down, Eldoran.  Allow me to explain."  As soon as she said that her body shimmered until she was encased in a faint, white light, and her form changed back to that of a dragon.  It startled me a little to see it, and soon she stood majestically in her dragon form, looking down at me with warmth in her eyes as rain splashed onto her platinum scales.

            "First things first," she began, "you have passed the test."

            "But how is that possible?" I asked her in return; her explanation only made me more confused.

            "You have passed the test," she repeated.  "Even though you fought me and eventually thought you killed me, you have trusted her enough to return her life even if you have to put yours on the line.  True, this is a test of your loyalty to me, but I need to show you that loyalty to me compels you to help those in need, even though it risks the lives of one of us."

            "You know, for one so wise you sure have a warped sense of thought," I remarked.

            Palestrike ignored my remark and continued, "As for my death…do you think an illusion is a heavy ordeal for someone who could intrude and shape dreams at will?"

            I only silenced as I absorbed the reason in her words.

            "The dagger never was real, Eldoran," she said, looking deep into me.  "All the weapons used by the Dragon Riders in the second Dragon War were destroyed after the war was over; I only created an imitation of the dagger to initiate my test."

            I returned her gaze, but said none.  Yet my eyes told her everything; she saw the guilt and confusion in my eyes, and actually a relief to see that she was still alive.  We stayed like that a moment more, then she spread her wings.  Her actions shielded me from the rain, and I was thankful of that.

            "Come," she said, gently lowering her wings when the storms had receded somewhat though the winds still blew strongly, inviting me to ride onto her.  "The night is getting late, and I will not allow you to kill yourself in the cold."

~ * ~

            My Dragon Rider initiation ceremony took place the next day.  Other dragons along with their Dragon Riders, one from each kind, came to our place to approve my initiation.  I had recited the oath I would take, and Palestrike had repeated the same oath – to remain loyal to each other, and would only be a neutral arbiter for everything happening around us, helping only in the most desperate of needs.  There were other points which I may not mention here for it was a secret oath known only to the Dragon Riders and their dragons.  After that Palestrike crafted me a platinum armor with her magic and a lance for my usage.  The armor was designed with agility in mind so I could use my weapon effectively.  She also equipped me with a pedant that I could use to summon my armor and weapon when I needed it.  She then imbued a sigil on my shoulder, and I could now use her magic through it when she channeled it to me.  After that was done the ceremonial flight with the other Dragon Riders took place, and after an hour of riding the dragons left their riders alone with me for them to congratulate me.  We talked and ate, and made me feel at home – which was good, because after this I would mingle in the society again.

            After the last of the Dragon Riders had left, Palestrike and I receded back to our cave.  I would miss the place; it had been my home for ten years – short for an Elf, but not for one who had been alone during that time.  Palestrike surprised me when she took the form of the Elf maiden of my dreams that night and smiled seductively at me as she invited me to her part of the cavern.

            What we did after that was too immodest to tell here, but that night, when the storms we conjured had calmed down, I asked her a question that had been bugging me ever since the previous night.

            "Palestrike, does the woman you are now really existed, or you just conjured one from cloth, knowing what I desired?"

            "Why do you want to know?" she asked lazily as she snuggled closer to me.

            "I just want to know," I replied and stroked her hair.  "Her past was too…well, real and detailed when she told them to me."

            Hearing that, she slowly sat up.  "Do you really want to know?"

            "Well…if you want to tell me."

            "She is – was – real," she sighed.  Seeing the alarm in my face, she said, "but not everything she told you in your dream is true."

            I calmed down to hear her explanation.  After all, I had faced too much to be mad at a simple confession.  When I did, she continued, "What she told you, up to the point she fainted, was true.  I brought here with every intention to save her.  But I was young back then, and though my magic was powerful, I was too ignorant to realize a simple error in spell conjuration could leave her mind maimed or death at most."

            I noted the guilt in her voice as she told me this.  Extending an arm to soothe her, I whispered, "I-I'm sorry…"

            "She died an abnormal death, and I had to travel to another plane to free her soul from being trapped in the mortal realm.  She understood that I was only trying to save her from her illness, and forgave me for my failure.  When I returned I saw the villagers surrounding her body and accused me of murdering her.  I was weakened from my travel, and in my fatigued state I killed everyone who intruded the cave."

            I was now hugging her tight to calm her down as she chocked in tears.  "I never meant to do that…" she whispered.

            "It's okay, it isn't your fault," I soothed her.  "I'm sorry I made you tell this – I promise never to speak of the matter again."

            She calmed down somewhat, and together we lay as she snuggled close to my side.  Just as I was about to fell into sleep Palestrike asked me, "Eldoran, will it bother you if I stay in this form most of the time?"

            I turned to face her.  "What makes you want to do that?"

            "I want to know how your kind lives.  I want to know their suffering, their hardship so I will not make an error in judgment.  I do not want to totally rely on mind-reading; there are those who can shield their thoughts from me as you do now."

            "I don't mind…but are you sure it's okay with you?"

            "No, I do not mind.  Furthermore I being in this form could ease you when you return to civilization, and…" she actually blushed when she continued, "I could be close to you no matter where you go.  You do know that I had a liking for you ever since I known you, do you not?  It would only look more natural if I am in this form."

            I only replied with a kiss on her forehead, which she continued with a full kiss on the lips.  Soon what began as a light whisper of wind climbed up to a storm, and I knew then that my initiation as a Dragon Rider was just a beginning.

-- Copyright 2002-2004 Grey Falcon