uChapter One

Tony continued to climb up the steep mountain, exhausted beyond belief and nearly starving to death. It was the fifth day since she'd seen the shining white castle and she still hadn't found it. But no matter what Tony was determined to see it again even if it killed her – which it just might end up doing considering the fact that she felt half dead. She reached up and clutched a rock to pull herself up with all her strength and collapsed on the cliff.

She barely had the energy in her to move a finger. Tony laid there for moments on end, gasping and trying to moisten her parched mouth and lips. Her jeans had been torn at the knee and her shirt was slashed diagonally across the middle. Her hair was completely disheveled and her hands were scratched, scarred, and numb that she couldn't bear to look at them.

On the brink of giving up and deciding to lie there until the day she died, Tony remembered her promise to her mother: the promise that someday she would find the Imarie Palace and bring back home the scale of a Moon dragon. She'd sworn on her blood that she'd find and when promises like that were broken the cost was dear.

Tony scrambled to her knees and nearly collapsed again if not for the rock she held on to. "I promised, I promised," she kept repeating to herself.

The girl finally made it to her knees when she heard the heavy whooshing sound of wings above her head. Shakily looking up she saw an enormous bird flying high against the blue sky and bright yellow sun. She stared at it wistfully, wishing that it were so easy for her to travel. As she watched the bird land none than twenty yards from her, it seemed to grow larger and larger until it looked as tall as an oak tree. Only then did she realize it – it was a dragon! When it landed it caused the ground to vibrate as if an earthquake had started, scattering rocks and debris everywhere. The only thing that saved Tony's eyes was the few tens of yards that separated them.

Tony crawled ever so slowly toward the awesome creature on hands and knees, dashing behind large, barren boulders whenever she thought the beast would turn its head.

The day that she'd seen the beautiful white castle in her sleep, Tony had thought that that had to be the source of her inspiration – the legendary Imarie Palace, home to all different types of dragons who wanted the same peace and prosperity that every other beast in the Mystical Realm wanted. Her mother had told her millions of defined and lifelike stories of brave and strong dragons who'd overcome evil and banishment with a courage and determination that only their kind could have. Of a dragon who had killed his own father to save the life of the one human woman that he loved. An entire saga of a dragon and griffin who had traveled together for months looking for the lost Book of Lore that had been stolen by Malarie, the first dragon in history to take of the dark magic and nearly destroyed the beloved realm. All of the tales of dragons that her mother had every told her had enthralled and mystified her to the point of one determined goal – Tony would one day find the famous Imarie Palace and live there herself…where she belonged.

Of course it had stared out as a third-grader's childish fantasy. That's how all dreams start isn't it? Tony stopped stalking the amazing creature in front of her and sat behind a boulder. She'd never really thought, even at that age, that she'd every really achieve her goal let alone start it. But when her mother became lost to her in sixth grade everything came apart. Tony had seen it happen, but was unable to do anything about it and that still tore her heart apart. She didn't tell anyone what had happened that day and continued to go to school as if nothing were wrong. She even attempted to block the memory from her own mind, trying to fill it with some other false memory to keep the other away from her. The eleven year-old girl didn't really know why she hadn't told anyone, but deep in the back of her mind she knew. The true fact was that if she'd ever told any other living soul what had happened it be like admitting to herself that she truly would never be able to find her mother again. Never be able to sit of her warm lap and listen to those incredible stories she'd told as if she'd been there. But she wouldn't dare do it, she wouldn't because it wasn't true. As long as Tony could feel her mother in her heart she knew she was still there.

Pushing the disturbing thoughts and memories away from her she turned back to the dragon who hadn't moved a single inch, but was staring somewhere ahead of it. Tony moved her starry, dark brown eyes to see around the beast. Her breath was caught in her throat and nearly choked the poor girl. The palace! The Imarie Palace! It was right in front of her! Even from the tens of miles away from it that she was, she could still see the magnificent view. Four large white towers loomed over the solid base of the castle, captivated by bright green vines that wrapped themselves around them. Tony couldn't see much more than that, even though her eyesight had always been at least one hundred on each side.

But Tony didn't concern herself with that, the dragon was what captivated her attention again. The creature had finally moved but it wasn't lying down, nor had it spread its wings to fly. It was changing shape! The girl nearly rolled over on her sides with giddy happiness. It was a viaxi dragon.

Ohhhh, I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! I'm the smartest girl ever, ever, ever, ever. Tony could barely think straight in her happiness spasm. She had to fight herself to stay still long enough to see what the dragon would look like in human form. The only thing that moved was her eyes that stretched open comically.

Not a stone moved on the barren top-land of the mountain as the dragon slowly changed. The white scales that glittered gold in the bright afternoon sunlight shrank and melted into rich, light copper colored skin. Its strong legs, made rock hard by impermeable muscles, shrank and contracted as well as scales melted and stretched into long human legs and large, buff human arms. Ears the size of an elephant's shrank to the small, pointed shape of an elf's. Its tail shrank but didn't disappear, leaving it sticking out far from rear at the size of a long dining room table. The chest pushed itself into the shrinking body, defining the "it" as a definite "he". Finally, the head itself shrank into the thick neck to form a human's defined nose, eyes, and mouth as black thin locks grew from his scalp to end at his mid-back. As a full human he stood, tall and proud against the bright afternoon sun, still staring at the palace miles ahead of him.

Tony was completely entranced by the pure vision of handsome beauty – if there was such a thing – in front of her. In her usual thoughtless, giddy impulsive manner, she immediately started to crawl closer on hands and knees. Her body blocked from sight by the large white stones, she knew the viaxi dragon wouldn't be able to see her. Only a man with x-ray vision would be able to see her slender, 5'5 body behind the boulders. Not only were the boulders on the girl's side but so were the shadows – her light, chocolate colored skin blended in almost perfectly with the shadows cast off by the stones that hid her physical presence.

But, unfortunately for Tony, she forgot the one thing that would give her away – she was downwind.

Bane Stormwing stared at his hand as his claws shrank to a pitiful state. He never did like changing into his weaker half-human form. He felt too vulnerable…too much like a weak, kludge human. He looked himself over as his body adjusted to its new size and weight. Bane still didn't understand why the new law had required that every beast that entered the castle must revert to their human state. For centuries over they'd been able to walk freely in their true form and the ceilings and pillars had never collapsed on them. But that blasted new second advisor that their lord had appointed had to be the most paranoid beast in the realm. At least three times already the advisor had come to Bane warning the young commander that if he continued to stay out at night griffins would attack him and he'd never be heard of again – unless the vile creatures came back to give the palace his head.

The truth was that the Moon Dragon preferred the gentle night air to the noisy brightness of day. Perhaps it was just in his nature, or some genetic disorder passed on to him by his ancestor but it was just the way he was. Bane never told anyone where he went when he disappeared after sunset and no one had ever bothered – or cared – to go after him, it was just the way things were.

So this afternoon he returned to the Imarie Palace as he'd done for nearly ten and a half centuries. He slowly flexed his hands and watched as his seven foot tail whipped back and forth. His tail was the only thing that enabled him to endure the dreadfulness of taking human form. By applying the right force and speed, his four-inch thick tail bone could cut a fully grown human male in half from the waist. Bane's tail was his pride and joy – even though it sometimes seemed to have a mind of its own and in numerous times had gotten him into plenty of trouble during his yearling hood. Breaking down doors and trees didn't exactly earn you a free afternoon in the sun when your instructor was around.

The young dragon looked back to the palace that stood tall and proud against the afternoon sun's blaze. He breathed in deep as he looked up at the bright blue sky heavily dotted with white plump clouds. His mother would have loved this morning.

Suddenly, Bane stopped moving and stood like a majestic marble statue. There was a strange and foreign scent in the air. It nearly smelt of a human, but then there were tints of a dragon's smell. The wind pushed against his back as he turned his head toward the passing gusts and took another deep breath. Whatever the beast was it was female; that was certain. Closing his eyes, Bane let himself go. His body mended with the wind he moved with it at a speed that surpassed the ability of the human eye.

The wind swung him backwards as his eyes searched for the stranger. Nearly passing a crouched form he stopped, again becoming visible to mortal eyes, and stared at the girl's back. The skin on her arms and neck were copper, a shade or two darker than his, and the thick ebony braids that fell and ended at her shoulders were almost graceful. She was crouched on her hands and knees; if she stood up to her full height she would be about a head or two shorter than Bane. But it was the girl's foreign clothing that bewildered him. Her upper body was clothed in a thick black cloth that had some sort of hood connected to the back of the collar. Meanwhile, her lower half was wrapped in a baggy, rough black material as well that ended at her ankles to reveal white hooves that seemed some how laced in the middle. Perhaps she was some sort of new species of his kind that had just come into existence, but as unlikely as that was Bane stuck with the assumption that the nolithi was simply slightly deformed.

Becoming impatient he decided to confront the girl.

"Child," he demanded in his usual deep, musical voice, "what are you doing out here?"

Screaming, the girl spun around most ungracefully and landed with a loud thump on her rear. Pushing herself in the boulder that faced her back, the girl stared at Bane as if she couldn't fully comprehend what he was. As she glanced back behind her at where Bane stood not one minute before he found that his guess had been correct – the nolithi had been watching him. Finally focusing on him, her eyes grew big and starry as she stared at him. Her beautiful, intelligent brown eyes startled him for a moment, but quickly regaining his composure he continued his interrogation.

"I asked you what you are doing here. Did your instructor tell you to be here, or did you just decide that you would break one of the nolithi rules and come out here this late?"

Obviously bewildered, the girl started to blink furiously and stuttered over her words. "I…I was just…I…um,"

"Answer me!" Bane demanded. There would be no disobedience in this palace if he had anything to say about it.

Hesitantly the girl slowly stood to her feet and continued to stare at him silently.

"Where are your quarters, girl? You should go back to the palace and be glad I don't report you to your instructor. She would be immensely upset if she found that her pupil was breaking rules and putting herself in danger, don't you think?"

Finally, the girl spoke clearly. The threat had worked. "I'm…not a…um, nolithi."

Bane nearly laughed out loud at the girl's audacity. "You are not a child? Then what are you?" he inquired, trying his hardest to keep from laughing. "Are you an elder, perhaps even older than I am?"

The girl's eyes were still glued to Bane's face, as if mystified by his presence, and it was starting to seriously irritate him. He narrowed his golden eyes as his full, sensuous mouth became a thin line. "Come now, girl. Where are you supposed to be, and where are your parents? I'm growing tired of these games."

Her eyes at last fell from his face to stare at the dusty ground beneath her feet. "My parents aren't…I don't know where they are. They left a long time ago," she answered in a quiet, timid voice.

"They're probably back at the palace – where you belong! Come, I'll take you to them so you can explain why you're out here after hours."

Suddenly her head snapped back up to his, and her beautiful eyes grew to the size of diamonds. A smile that reached from ear to ear appeared on her face as the girl started to jump up and down like a frog clapping her hands together. Bane nearly jumped back in surprise as she leaped on him and grabbed him at the waist.

"You mean you'll really take me to the palace?! You'll really, really take me in to see other dragons like you? Oh, this is so cool! I knew I could get up here to see it, but I never thought I'd actually go inside! This is so cool!" The girl's voice had gone from weak and timid to loud and filled with jubilee as she hugged Bane so tightly his air supply was nearly cut off.

Finally regaining his senses from the shock of her sudden change in attitude, Bane grabbed her arms and pushed her away from him to hold her at arms length.

"What is the matter with you?!" Bane demanded, his voice reaching a dangerous tone. "Why do you continue to—" he stopped in mid-sentence. "Where is your tail?"

His eyes were captivated at the spot on her rear where her tail was – or where it was supposed to be anyway. The girl's rear was absolutely tailless; there wasn't even a stump in its place. It was then that Bane started to pay closer attention to the features of the creature he was holding at bay. The girl's face was much more fragile looking than what he'd ever seen, and her hair was slightly damaged with a few split-ends, and lacking that normal radiant shine that the dragon females of his kind had. The second mind blowing thing Bane noticed was her ears – they were round. Every viaxi dragon when in their human form had pointed ears, like an elf's but much bigger. The young dragon took a step closer to her and sniffed her scent; the faint smell of a dragon female was gone and the unmistakable smell of a human was all over her.

Bane nearly leapt five steps back in shock. It wasn't possible, it just wasn't. No human could cross the Lamani River without nearly drowning for magic that enchanted the entrance into the Mystical Realm. And even if they did survive the invisible barrier would without a doubt electrify any living thing that touched it. It was a full-proof plan thought up thousands of centuries ago by the first Lord of dragons to repel all humans after the Immortal Wars. It had been the first and only war that had involved all living creatures in both the mystical and human realms. When the Ghost and Shadow dragons had risen up against the living world dragons, griffins, eagles, unicorns, giants, and even spidrens were called together in a temporary alliance to retaliate. When it came to the point where their forces were nearly driven back their leader had finally come to the decision to ask the humans for aid. With their strange tactics of hit and run and astounding technology in weapons the Mystical World won the war quickly.

But afterwards, when the enemy had been properly dealt with, the humans started to demand a reward for their services. Judging that it was partly their right as helpers in the war, the first Lord had given them gold and silver, along with indestructible armor made of dragons' scales. For a few decades they were satisfied, but soon the true greediness and arrogance of their nature emerged and they demanded more treasures and even dared to ask for workers for their fields. After over a decade of their harassment of their people the Lord took his army and drove the humans from the Realm and forever trapped them in what was now the Human Realm, where the humans spread untrue and horrible stories of murderous dragons who sought to steal all the treasures from the land and devoured humans simply for sport. Only a few humans managed to hide from the Lord's forces and fled to a secluded area far from the Lords territory, never daring to ever come near the Imarie palace again. For over ten centuries not a human had barely ever been seen near a dragon again – especially with the enchanted Lamani River blocking the human's path.

But now the human child, this girl…here she was as clear as the afternoon sun in front of him. Surely she couldn't have crossed the River and lived. Perhaps she was from one of the tribes of humans in the West. But then where were her food packs or supplies. Bane looked around the girl's body, but found nothing but rocks and debris surrounding her. If she was from a human tribe how had she survived the journey this far north?

As the girl, still holding the mystified and jubilant look in her eyes, starting to walk towards him, Bane growled a warning deep in his throat. She stopped immediately, but still held the happy smile on her face, though it had shrank somewhat. Bane's tail whished from side to side threateningly as he bared his canines and lengthened his claws, glaring at the girl with cold fierceness.

"How did you come to this place, human?" he growled. "Answer me before I tear your head of your shoulders."

The girl, by some miracle, was unaffected by the dragon's threat and her smile broadened. "Oh please. You wouldn't hurt me – I'm too cute; you wouldn't have the heart," she persisted with a light and content voice. "Besides you couldn't touch me if you wanted to."

Bane took a menacing step toward her. "Who says I cannot?"

She pointed a playful finger at him. "The trusty Book of Lore says so. Right on page 157, paragraph 5, rule number 2,731: 'A dragon may not lay tooth or claw on any human unless that human has done harm to that dragon or the dragon's lifemate.' So, seeing that I haven't done any harm to you or your lifemate, you can't hurt me," she taunted.

Bane was taken aback. How did she…how could she possibly know the dragons' sacred law? He quickly regained his composure and pushed his face into hers.

"Nevertheless what the law is, you will tell me who you are and where you came from, or else I will kill you."

"Ah hah, but you'll be banished from the palace lands if you hurt me in any way or kill me. Hahaha!"

Bane grinned ruefully, "They can't banish me if they don't know I killed you. I can simply dump your carcass over the cliff, and know one would even know you existed."

The girl's happy smirk disappeared as her eyes dropped nervously to the ground. "Oh, you…you have a point there," she whispered.

The dragon nodded in agreement. "Of course I do. Now if you wouldn't mind…your origins."

The girl's bright eyes shot back up to his face as her smile miraculously returned. She stuck out her hand towards the young beast. "Of course I'll tell you where I'm from; how could I resist I cute guy like you? My name's Tony Avaria, and I'm from Nevada, a state in the Human Realm. It's great to meet you!"

Bane glanced at the hand offered to him briefly and then back to the girl's face. For a moment her face looked insulted.

"Well, fine," she huffed as she drew her arm back to her side. "You don't have to shake my hand if you don't want to, but at least stop looking at me like that. I don't have three heads, do I?"

Bane rolled his eyes. "Very well, now how did you get here?"

The human named Tony stared blankly at him. "Well, isn't that obvious?" she asked. "I crossed the Lemani River and climbed the mountain."

There was no lie in the human's scent or eyes; it appeared that she was telling the truth, but part of Bane just couldn't believe it. "No tales, human, how did you get here? You must have somehow gone around the river."

Tony crossed her arms behind her back and lazily kicked grey stones under her feet. "I already told you, silly. And my names not 'human' it's Tony. I wouldn't mind knowing your name too, if you don't mind."

Bane's calmness snapped and he wrapped his thick, black tail around the poor girl's throat as he pushed her into the boulder behind her. Fear suddenly gripped the human's eyes as she clutched at his tail trying to dislodge it from her throat, but to no avail. Her captor walked meaningfully up to her until their faces were none but inches apart.

"I will not ask you again, Tony," he growled. "How did you get here?'

"Whoa, whoa now, my friend, what have we here?"

Both Bane and Tony's heads turned at the sound of a newcomer. A bouncing form as quick as light flickered here and there, only to appear beside Bane. Bane couldn't help but roll his eyes, undecided on whether to greet his friend or claw at him. The young dragon stared at the newcomer, whose bright golden eyes stared back with mockery and humor. His long blond hair waved and shimmered in the sun as he cocked his head to the side, observing Bane.

"Picking on the young ones already are we, my friend? Surely you could be more sympathetic; it is only the beginning of the summer moon you know. The little ones must have some sort of…" Bane watched as a slow realization crept onto his friend's face. The dragon leaned forward and sniffed Bane's face, before backing away with a mocking smirk.

"You smell exactly like a human, Bane. Not one from the West though. Where'd that new scent of yours come from?"

Bane had to roll his eyes yet again at his companion's lack of observer quality. It was a miracle that the beast was in second-command after him. He jerked his head toward the silent girl still entangled in his tail. "Why don't you ask her why I smell?" he suggested.

The fire-headed dragon yanked his head to look at Tony for the first time. His eyes widened they went observed her features and tailless rear. Hesitantly, the dragon leaned forward and sniffed her face, invading the little personal space that the poor girl had. Indignantly, the girl removed her hands from Bane's tail to push the dragon's face away from her.

"Hey, back off!" she exclaimed. "I don't stink or anything so cut it out!"

The young dragon rubbed his abused nose as he smirked at the human. "Well, well. This one has some life in her, don't ya know?" He turned to Bane. "Where did you find this human fledgling, Bane, a couple miles off?"

Bane shook his head. "This one was right here when I found her."

Before Bane could continue, the human child wiggled out of his tail's grip and fell to the floor on her rear, only to bounce up and into his companion's face. Bane silently cursed himself for not paying better attention to his captive as the girl starting to jump around with the energy of a unicorn.

The child jumped around his friend's form, lifting up his arms, preening his golden hair, and swinging around his tail. The poor dragon stood helpless as the human inspected every inch of his body picking, lifting, stretching, and staring. Bane, agitated by her quick movements, grabbed Tony's waist and lifted her off the ground as if she weighed no more than two pounds, and carried her a few steps away from his flabbergasted friend. The girl simply looked behind her to stare into his bright eyes, and smiled. "Oh, it's you. Hi again, um…Bane…I think," turning her attention back to the dragon in front of her, she smiled and held out her hand. "I'm Tony Avari, from Nevada. What's your name?"

The dragon smiled at the girl and briefly smirked at Bane, who shook his head, unable to comprehend what amusement he could possible gain from it all.

His sparkling blond companion gave Tony a deep, graceful bow that would have shamed any prince charming, took her hand in his – which became near-invisible compared to his whale of a hand.

"I am Ramous Degir, my lady," he said smoothly, kissing the back of Tony's hand.

Tony giggled girlishly and drew her hand back to her side while adjusting her position in Bane's arms, who still held her tight and off the ground. Ramous straightened his form and grinned wolfishly.

"What soft hands you have."

Tony giggled even more and looked back to Bane, who stared blankly back at her. "Isn't he nice?" she asked. Not getting a reaction, she twisted and reached behind her to fondle one of his pointy ears between her fingers.

Bane almost leaned into the touch. A dragon's ears, in any form, were extremely sensitive and vulnerable to any form of touch. Smiling shyly Tony squeezed a little harder, bringing out a low purr from her victim.

Ramous watched on silently until he couldn't help himself. "What a cute couple you two beasts make!" he choked out. "If only Echidna could see this, she would leap out of her scales with the joy that you've found your lifemate."

Regaining his composure, Bane growled at Ramous and dropped Tony on her harshly abused rear. Ignoring her yelps of pain, he turned to the young Sun Dragon with deep seriousness on his face.

"Why have you returned to the palace so soon anyway, my friend? Isn't your shift over at mid-moon?"

Ramous shrugged his massive shoulders nonchalantly. "I grew tired of my shift of watch and turned it over to a youngster in training who was eager for work. The poor little was sitting their in a corner after being reprimanded by his trainer, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him."

"You mean you couldn't help finding a scapegoat for your laziness of late?" Bane snorted.

Ramous chuckled. "Yes, well either way I would have found some release for my energy," he nodded toward Tony who was just now beginning to stand. "What of the human girl? What do you plan to do with her, Bane?"

It was Bane's turn to shrug. "I was thinking of choking her and throwing her lifeless body over the cliff for the eagles to feast on."

Tony leapt over between him and Ramous with a panic-stricken face and flailing her arms. "No, no! There's no need to do that! You can just…um…take me to the palace like you said you would and leave me there!" she jerked around to face Ramous. "I'll stay in a corner and be really, really quiet, I promise! You won't even know I'm there!" she added turning back to Bane.

Bane looked to Ramous. "What do you say, friend? It would be easier to simply kill her," he teased, enjoying the way the girl panicked between the two dragons.

The Sun Dragon nodded. "That it would, but I believe it would be best to hand her over to higher authorities. Then she will be their problem; not ours."

Bane agreed to this as well. Just as soon as they handed the girl over to Amadeus Bane's suddenly complicated day would be over. But somewhere in the back of his mind it occurred to him that this had been a pleasant change in daily routine for him. The girl, Tony, had been slightly entertaining – for what annoyance it was worth. Pushing the thoughts away, he nodded and turned to the cowering girl

"Well, it seems that your life has been saved, little one. We'll take you to the palace and let his Lord and Lady deal with you."

Tony's eyes beamed like the sun her smile yet again grew broad. Before he could react, her arms again encircled his waist and attempted to crack his lugs.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she released him and bowed over and over again, overcome with giddiness. "You have no idea what this means to me, your lordship. Your Beautifulness, your Handsomeness, your Cutieness!"

Embarrassed by her words, Bane welcomed Ramous' envy of his newfound attention. "Hey, I am the one who suggested that he spare your life and take you the palace you know!" he yelled indignantly.

Tony almost imediantly turned and gave him her bows. "Your Goldenness, your Tallness, your Smartness, your Sunness, your Redness."

Ramous grinned at his friend. "A dragon can get used to this kind of treatment."

Bane rolled his eyes, trying to hide a smile that threatened to show itself. Bending down he clasped Tony's arm and pulled her up to her feet. "Alright that's enough; it's time for us to go if we want to reach the palace by sundown."

Tony smiled up at him and leaned on his arm to support herself, slightly dizzy from her head falling up and down for over two minutes. "Does this mean that we're all friends now? You, Ramous, and me. We're friends?"

Bane hesitated at her sudden question. The only true friends he had at the time were Ramous and his little sister. He hadn't really bothered to try and get to know anyone else personally since he'd gained his position as captain of the guard. Unconsciously, he looked to Ramous who smiled knowingly and looked down at the human girl with a kind smile.

"Yes, Tony. We're all friends; good friends. But don't expect Bane to tell you so very often," he added with a smirk.

  

It took them almost two full hours to get to the palace from the human girl's relentlessness to try and explore every rock, grain of grass, tree, and animal that they happened to pass or happened to crawl by. Bane had finally resorted to picking her up in his arms and carrying her over his shoulder to Imarie Palace. Still the girl had managed to ask him ceaseless questions about where they were going, who they were going to see, and why they had to decide whether or not to kill her because she was "so lovable". Bane's snapping at her did nothing to stop her antics and Ramous' encouraging answers and smirks didn't exactly help the Moon Dragon's nerves.

When they finally reached the palaces mile-long doors (or the territory barrier gate as it was better known), the child shut her mouth long enough to gaze upward at the massive entrance. The pale white doors loomed overhead and seemed to touch the very tips of the sun with its pointed triangular top. Thin engravings of royal dragons of the past decorated the two doors with dark images of war, death, and betrayal. Tony twisted in Bane's arms and protested to be released. Gracefully obliging, Bane dropped his arm and for the second time Tony collided with the ground and landed with a loud 'thump' on her rear. Paying no heed to her injury she leapt back up to her feet with the energy of a rabbit and sprang over to the gates.

In awe she ran her hands across the door, tracing every curved line and memorizing them to mind. Bane watched her as she explored the palace walls and the question of who this girl was popped back into his mind. She certainly didn't act like the humans of that realm, let alone look or smelt like them. Her scent was a gentle one, almost like jasmine but lighter, and her skin wasn't unseen but definitely rare. Tony's skin was a light, rich color, like the candy humans called chocolate and would have matched his own had not his skin been lighter. She was actually quite nice to look at, once Bane admitted it to himself. He looked over to Ramous to ask him if he thought the girl was trustworthy when he caught his friend smirking at him. Ramous jerked his head over in Tony's direction and mouthed "Are you having fun?" Bane glared at the audacity of his companion and looked back to Tony, who'd happened to be looking at him with shining brown, almond shaped eyes.

She pointed to the face of Sargon, the dragon Lord, and then to the profile of a dragon to the right of him. "Is this the dragon form of this guy?" she inquired.

Bane nodded silently. "Yes, it is. That is Sargon, the lord of this palace and the dragon territory."

"The dragon territory?"

"Yes," he waved his hand across the vast hundred of thousands of miles of green land that circled the palace. "All of the land covered by the sun belongs to the dragon immortals and us alone," he answered in a possessive and proud tone.

Tony stretched her neck to see where he indicated and her eyes fell on a dark and foul looking area far away to the east. She pointed a curious finger there. "What about that land over there? Don't you own that too?"

Ramous was about to answer when Bane cut him off and looked sternly down at the girl. "That land is none of your concern, and as long as you stay here – which hopefully won't be long – you are to keep your distance from there."

Tony was about to make one of her 'sweet and innocent' retorts when a booming voice overhead called down to them demandingly. Bane looked up to see the palace sentry, a young Wind Dragon, hanging his large dragon head, snout, and neck over the towering wall to look down at them with suspicious eyes. Its scaly, grey skin and bright grey eyes startled the human girl into gasping as she gazed up at the young beast. Bane ignored her for the moment and focused on getting them all inside with their tails still intact. Lately, ever since disturbing rumors of an uprising in the east had fallen upon the Lord's spies' ears, the security of the dragons' home had been doubled and more complex to secure overall safety. Any trespasser or suspicious character found on the Lord's lands were put on judgment and, if found guilty, were eligible for execution.

"Who hails on the wall of our Lord Sargon of Imarie Palace?" the sentry demanded.

Bane stepped forward and held out his hands at his side in as sign of peace. "Captain Bane Stormwing of the Palace Guard and Commander Ramous Lutus."

The dragon's eyes lit with recognition at the names, but were again filled with suspiscion as his eyes fell on Tony. "And who is this human who accompanies you?"

Without glancing back Bane answered, "She comes from unknown lands and claims to have come from the Human Realm. We wish to bring her to Amadeus to be judged and approved."

After a moment the sentry nodded and asked, "What say you of the words of dragon lore?"


The sentry smiled and bowed his head to his commanding officer, his tail coming up to swing to the back of his neck. "Fly well and may Tiamat guide your wings."

Bane repeated the gesture of peace with the utmost respect. "Fly well, brother."

With that, the gates of Imarie Palace opened.