Jeffery Saunders closed the book with a sharp snap as the soft sound of a cell door being opened and then closed resounded down the corridor, not loud enough for the guards to take notice, but right across the hall from where Jeff sat reading. "What have you done, Garwen?" he asked no one in particular as he looked up through the safety glass and saw Garwen take a quick glance in both directions before he shot off towards the door.
He tucked the book into his belt and tore the door of the room open, glancing down the halls in both directions. He knew Garwen had gotten free when he saw the dark shadow of a man with horns along the floor heading towards the front doors. He wondered how far Garwen would get before he was caught and wanted to find out.
The young man had never tried to escape before. What was his purpose now?
After a moment of indecision, Jeff followed the young man on silent feet, hoping Garwen didn't see or hear him.
Garwen paused at the doorway, watching the guards carefully and lifted his hands before his face. Green magic energy flowed into his hands, which he turned and threw down the long hall behind him. At the end of the hall a cart of clean sheets caught fire and burned with dark green light. "Fire!" Garwen shouted down the hall. Everywhere patients answered the call with a shrill cry of "Fire!"
Jeff smiled to himself as Garwen flattened himself against the doorway as the guards flung the door open. Overhead, the fire alarm started to buzz as they do when smoke hits their sensors.
Garwen ducked through the door the guards had just gone through, and Jeff followed silently. The boy got to the front walk and looked about, as if searching for something. "Galsoon, where am I going?" he asked out loud.
Jeff stiffened as a roar answered the young man's question. Garwen smiled to himself and turned left, running up the grassy hill, slipping and sliding on the muck where the rain had fallen silently all day. Jeff waited until Garwen got to the crest and followed close behind him.
Just as Jeff was reaching the crest of the steep hill, a hand shot out in front of his face to help him up. He looked up into Garwen's glowing dragon eyes. "Hello, Jeffery," he said in that wise voice of his.
He gulped but took the young man's hand anyway. "How did you know I was here?" he asked, his teeth chattering now that he was soaked with cold rain. Behind them, the alarm to signal someone had escaped screamed and red lights flashed throughout the entire ward.
"I saw you Jeff, in that room across the hall from my room, and I knew when you were finished with the book." He grinned at him, flashing sharpened teeth again. "I knew you would follow. Magic calls to magic."
He turned and looked at the sky as another roar sounded through the air. Then, a large dragon landed before Garwen on his powerful hind legs before falling to all fours in the muck and grime and licking the boy's face in greeting with a forked tongue. Garwen laughed and laughed until tears poured from his eyes.
Is this Jeffery? the dragon asked, looking at Jeff for the first time. Jeff couldn't hear him, but he understood that the dragon was talking about him and again, felt like a five year old rather than a twenty-seven year old.
Jeff felt incredibly small next to the dragon. He had a dangerously spike-covered clubbed tail and large blood-stained teeth. His frame was light and two pitch-black and smooth horns curled from his head like a ram's. Only two spines adorned his body – black with a gray patch of soot marks at the top. "I'm Jeff Saunders," he told the dragon.
Galsoon gave him a dragon-grin. I like him, he said.
Garwen nodded. "I do too, but we must go. The alarms are going off. Tell Ven we're ready."
No need, Galsoon said and his horns glowed with power. I drained the heart stones of enough power to open the portal to get us through a second time. He dropped his head and picked up Garwen, depositing him between the spines. Then he looked at Jeff.
"Are you coming?" Garwen asked. Jeff shook his head. "The portals are going to pick you up someday, Jeffery. It might as well be today when you know that you can disappear for good and not get in trouble for not turning me in."
Jeff thought about this for a moment and remembered his childhood years when he would have given everything to see a dragon, to ride one. He nodded. "Let's go," he said in a determined voice.
Garwen nodded to Galsoon, and the dragon snatched Jeff into the air, dropping him between his wings. Here we go, Galsoon said and the green power ebbed from his horns and into the ground, forming an oblong hole in the air that Galsoon could fly through.
The dragon spread his wings and leaped into the air with a roar. Rain plastered Jeff's hair to his eyes but he held onto the dragon's spine for dear life as the ground disappeared beneath the dragon's feet. Then Galsoon was in the air and circling back towards the portal, which snapped and growled with green power.
Another roar took them soaring through the portal opening with a snap as it closed behind them just as a guard trudged up the hill and looked around as he tried to catch his breath.
The ground was a mess, large foot tracks too large to have been made by any earthen animal littered the ground and there were holes and lines were something sharp had pierced the ground and plowed a trail behind it.
Something else caught the guard's eyes though, something that was almost perfectly normal compared to everything else atop the hill. Not far from where he stood there was a copy of a book lying safe on a pile of grass although it was now getting wet in the rain. He strode toward the book and bent to pick it up. On the cover, the words "Ruby Dragon" stood out in dark green lettering upraised on the material and the words, "Garwen Fleede" decorated the bottom center.
"What is this?" the guard wondered to himself. "What has happened in this world?"
– – – – – – –
Galsoon's portal opened high above the dragon academy in the bright sunlight. "How did you manage this, Galsoon?"
Since you came up with your plan, Ven and I have been working on a way to direct the portals to certain times and places, the dragon told him.
Jeff kept his eyes tightly closed until the ruby dragon had landed and even then, didn't move until Garwen gently pried his fingers from the dragon's spine with a soft laugh. "Jeff, welcome home," he whispered.
Jeff blinked and looked up at him. "You called me Jeff," he said in wonder and allowed someone – a young woman – to help him from the dragon's back.
"I'm Catalina," she said, smiling at him.
"Jeff," he replied and blinked in surprise. Garwen's description of her in his book was almost perfect. She had brown hair pulled back in a long braid, friendly brown eyes, a pair of blue jeans and a brown leather vest over a black, long-sleeved shirt with a black cloak draping down her back.
She smiled and laughed and Garwen joined in. "I think he's in a bit of shock. He's not used to air travel yet."
Suddenly, Catalina frowned. "Garwen, why did you bring him here?"
The young man grinned wickedly. "He has magic!"
Ven grabbed the boy's shoulders and pulled him into a hug. "Welcome back, young Garwen."
"It's good to be back," Garwen replied.
The old man smiled and indicated to the people and dragons behind him. "The academy welcomes your return, Garwen of Earth," he said just as two eighteen year olds jumped onto the boy.
"Garwen! We missed you terribly!" Zora cried.
"Yeah, man! Where have you been? You missed all the fun!"
"Oh?" Garwen asked.
"Yeah, we kept the wheelchair, man!"
Garwen and Jeff laughed as they remembered the significance behind the wheelchair, and Jeff realized how much of himself Garwen had revealed when he'd written his book. Zora and Yole looked at him. "And who's your new friend, Garwen?" Zora asked in a motherly way.
"Jeff," he replied and pushed the man forward. Zora and Yole beamed at him.
Garwen moved from the crowd and went to a solitary green dragon near the edge of the crowd. Org was a year and a half now and without a skyryder.
Jeff didn't hear what Garwen said to the dragon, nor Org's replies, but he heard the loud roar that followed and knew that Org hadn't been told of Gomun's death until now.
Garwen stood before the skyryders and sorrow filled his eyes. "I want to send a boat for Gomun," he said in a quiet voice that wouldn't have been heard had it not been for the complete silence in the crowd. "Quent killed him just after we crossed the portal to Earth."
Murmurs rose from the crowd and Leader Hertin looked at Garwen. "Quent?" he asked. "How do we know you're telling the truth?"
Garwen looked at Leader Hertin with sorrow filling his mournful eyes. "I saw him with my own two eyes Leader Hertin, and the mad coward ran away afterwards so I was blamed. I have spent the past year in jail and the psychiatric ward – the loon house," he explained when he got blank looks.
"Know anyone that can back you up," Leader Hertin asked.
Jeff recognized the suspicion when he saw it. Garwen had described it clearly in his book in his own words. "I can," he said as he stepped forward.
Leader Hertin looked at him. "You can?" he asked. "Who are you?"
"Jeff," he replied and said, "Garwen Fleede was emitted to the psychiatric ward sometime last year after his brother's murder because he believed he traveled to another planet and flew with dragons." He looked around. "If half the people working at the ward saw this, they would go mad."
Leader Hertin nodded. "All right then. Carry on," he said and walked away.
Garwen nodded and grinned at Jeff. "Come on," he said, "Let me show you to your room."
Jeff nodded and followed him.
– – – – – – –
Over the next couple of days, Jeff learned his way around the academy, began taking classes with younger academy members Ven had pointed out but Garwen would begin pointing out, and kept a journal of his adventures. He and Catalina spent a lot of time together whenever they could, much to Garwen's amusement.
Jeff found that was it freaky for the boy to understand what was going on between him and Catalina when he didn't really know himself.
– – – – – – –
Jeff only knew Ven for a week and he liked the old man a lot, so he was highly upset to hear he and Suresh had passed on in their sleep. He immediately thought of Garwen who had thought of Ven as a father figure and went to visit the young man.
Garwen was standing beside the lake next to Galsoon, who sat like a dog. Each had their head bowed and were doing something awfully strange.
Jeff watched the young man silently, wondering what was going on.
Then, Garwen turned to him, and although there was pain in his eyes, he smiled and did not cry as Jeff had expected to see him doing. "Ven was a good man and a great skyryder while Suresh was a good flyer and a great dragon," he said in a low voice.
He smiled sadly. "He's gone home to Virginia," he said and patted Galsoon on the shoulder before walking away.
Ven was put in a boat with his name carved on the same. Garwen himself produced the magic that carved the letters S-A-M-U-A-L on one side of the boat and V-E-N on the other. Many wondered where the word Samual came from, but no one questioned Garwen's handiwork.
There was much grief in the passing of the skyryder, but no tears, Jeff noticed. Everyone realized it had been his time and respected that.
Garwen was the last to place something in Ven's boat, pulling from his pocket a pair of scissors and snipping off a lock of his curly hair. "Ven was my friend, my father, my teacher and I will miss him terribly, but I have learned much from him and he wouldn't want to be grieved but remembered as we recognize him now. May he rest in peace," he said and placed one of Galsoon's scales in the scale box and took one of Suresh's from his pocket.
Zora, Yole, or Garwen had never dusted the old yellow dragon, and the dragon's scales had always had a dull sheen. The night before Garwen had taken the scale he was going to place at the top of the scale box and had polished it with dragon saliva until it gleamed in the light.
Now, as Garwen placed the scale at the top of the pile, a shaft of sunlight lit it up and caused it to sparkle before Garwen's eyes and the boy smiled, turning his eyes to the heavens.
"Rest in peace, my old friends," he whispered and closed the scale box.
– – – – – – –
One day, while Jeff was outside soon after Ven's Celebration of Life, Garwen came over to him carrying a dragon's egg. It was the same size as an ostrich's egg but was tan in color with white speckles splashed across its surface.
"Who's that for?" Jeff asked, curious.
"No one special," Garwen said and sat down beside Jeff, as if taking a breather. "Galsoon flew with Yoalin while I was away and this is one of the eggs from their pairing." He sighed and wiped sweat from his brow. "It's hot today, isn't it?" he asked.
Jeff looked around at the cloudless sky and at the bright orange sun that hung in the sky. "It is if you've been working around a nest," he said finally. He had noticed that the weather on Geniserc wasn't nearly as hot and dry as that of Earth. It was nicer on Geniserc most of the time.
Garwen laughed. "You caught me!" he cried and placed the egg in Jeff's hands as he stood up and waited for Galsoon, who had just walked over, to pick him up. "I'm going for a quick flight to cool me off and to take Suresh's heart stone to the Cavern of Magic. Hold that until I get back, will you?"
Jeff nodded and smiled as the boy and his dragon took off into the air.
Just as the pair was out of sight, the egg started to crack. Jeff nearly panicked as he stared at the thin lines traveling across the egg's surface. "Uh, Garwen!" he shouted.
The egg burst with a shower of flame sparks. Jeff froze as he stared at the hatchling that rested on his lap in its place as it uncurled itself and looked at him with deep violet eyes. Jeff swallowed and smiled thinly as he stared at the ruby dragon with violet eyes and black claws, teeth, and horns. It had a tasseled tail of violet mane and a row of rubbery spines like hair running down its neck and ending at its shoulder blades.
A moment later, Jeff realized Garwen had tricked him as the hatchling spoke to him, and he knew that the newest ruby hatchling was his own. "Hello, Jeff," it growled in a very feminine voice. "My name's Arija."