Escape from Pizre

The clatter of iron against steel was almost droned out by the hisses of dragons and murmurs of the crowd. Weighed down by the heavy chains binding both his ankles and wrists, Syaor staggered to the end of his cage. Gripping the grimy metal bars with both hands he stared fearfully at the grim faces of his fellow townspeople. They were watching at his cage, but their eyes continuously slid away from him. Somewhere out there he knew his wife and daughter were looking at him.

"Janice! Emirsh!" Syaor cried. "No! Don't take me! I'm innocent!"

"Shut up!" a guard yelled.

Syaor ignored him, searching for his family among the sea of faces. How were they to survive without him?

"I'm innocent! I'm innocent!" he screamed over and over, hysteria overcoming him.

The guard who had spoken earlier rode his dragon up to the bars Syaor clung to. His black and purple uniform matching the hide of his dragon.

Black two-legged dragons were a favorite of guards, whose job was often dangerous. An extremely viscous and intimidating dragon, Black dragons made their job much easier.

The guard's dragon parted its lips in a snarl, revealing the rows of razor sharp teeth in full. Two long fangs protruded from its upper jaw, dribbling sticky saliva. Yellow-golden slitted eyes glared haughtily at him, as if laughing at his predicament.

It's display had the desired effect and Syaor stumbled back from the bars.

"B-but I'm innocent." he stuttered.

"I don't care. Not my job." the guard said.

His weathered face had seen many horrid things, and a single scar ran from the center of his hairline and over his left eye. It spoke of intense battles endured with steel-like determination. Every muscle spoke of a no nonsense attitude.

"But my family-"

"Enough! It doesn't matter. Figure that out and carry yourself with what little dignity you have left."

His blue eyes held no interest in the conversation, instead they were dull and listless.

Without any warning as to his intent the guard moved off, spurring his dragon on viscously.

As soon as the coast was clear Syaor returned to his place at the bars. He gripped them so hard his knuckles turned white.

"Janice! Emirsh!" he cried again.

Like a miracle their faces appeared in the crowd, pushing towards the front. Slowly, as the people around them recognized who they were, the crowd parted.

Eyes wide with fear and disbelief they came as close as they dared.

Janice was leading Emirsh by the hand. His wife's beautiful brown eyes were sparkling with pain and unshed tears. Her light brown hair was ruffled, and many strands spilled out of her bun. Her charming freckled face was smudged with dirt and sweat. Dirt also covered her plain brown dress, and it clung to her slim body with the summer's humidity.

Emirsh's brown eyes were full of water, and tears leaked down her cheeks unchecked. Dirt coated her from head to toe, and her blue dress was torn. The lovely golden curls that matched her grandmothers were a tangled mess.

With a creak of hinges the cage suddenly jerked. The dragon pulling it had become restless, and was ready to go. It was only a matter of time now.

"Emirsh listen to me." Syaor said urgently. "I didn't do this! Your father isn't a murderer."

"I know Daddy. I know you didn't kill that man." her innocent eyes shone with the force of her belief.

"That's right. I'd never kill anyone." he said. "Janice, you know I'd never kill a man."

His wife looked into his eyes, searching for the truth in his words. The eyes that had once held so much love were now clouded over with doubt. At length she licked her lips and averted her eyes, holding Emirsh even tighter to her bosom.

He could see which conclusion she had come to. Syaor felt his heart tremble at her response. He had truly lost all that was dear to him. All lost for something he hadn't even done. Who had ruined his life? Who had framed him for a murder he could never commit, even had he wanted to?

Despair shadowed his heart, covering it in a dark blanket. Forlornly he latched onto the only one who believed in him. The only one able to look at him.

"Emirsh."

"Daddy I-"

"That's it! We're moving out!" the driver called.

With a great lurch the cage moved forward, it's wooden and steel frame creaking alarmingly. The sudden movement threw him to the floor near the back of his cage.

Syaor's trembling hand reached as far through the bars as his chains would allow. Just beyond his grasping fingers his daughter stood, from his perspective barely out of reach.

"Emirsh!" he cried, tears now streaming freely down his face.

Emirsh reached out her tiny hand, grasping for his. Janice held her tight, refusing to release her as she screamed at the top of her lungs.

"No!" Syaor yelled, back aching from tense muscles.

Once again Emirsh reached out, straining to reach him. Her beautiful little face was contorted in terror.

"Emirsh!" he cried again, unable to do anything else.

k

"Emirsh!" he yelled, sitting bolt upright.

The bed creaked alarmingly underneath him. Sweat soaked his clothes, causing them to cling to him. What was left of his blanket was bunched at the foot of his bed.

Shakily Syaor wiped sweat off his brow with his greasy hands.

"Hey Sy," a taunting voice called from the darkness. "Not another dream? How are the rest of us supposed to get any sleep?"

"Yeah, with you yelling 'Emirsh' over and over again. Must be quite a looker." another added in a sneering tone.

"At least I've got a family." Syaor called back, relieved his voice didn't tremble.

"In here there is no such thing as family." the first voice responded. "Get over them."

"My family is waiting for me." Syaor growled, convincing himself more than them.

"After twenty years? I highly doubt it." the second one added dismissively.

Syaor wrapped his arms about himself, glad the darkness hid his tears. Against these men he had learned to be strong. They truly were hardened killers.

Hagish and Tojee had both been partners working as hired assassins. When they had been caught they had accepted their fate easily. As far as they were concerned they had lost, but retained their pride on the basis that all their clients' names remained secret.

Now pushing fifty they had been arrested only one year earlier than he, and were situated directly across the hall from him. Prison life suited them, and they constantly held their own with quick wits and powerful muscles. Syaor believed they were related in some way, as both had black hair, brown eyes, and medium builds. Their skin, once tanned dark by the sun was now white from their time away from it.

As always Syaor contemplated his current home as he tried to fall asleep. For some reason this helped to calm his mind.

Life at Pizre was unbearably hard. As the worlds largest prison it housed over a million criminals at any time. Once someone came in they stayed for life as death was the only way out.

Pizre was an island situated off the continent of Talooc, but far enough off that the mainland wasn't visible from here. Though Pizre was easily sighted from Talooc due to the thick cloud layer.

The high concentration of Black dragons here turned the sky around Pizre dark with black clouds.

Formed of solid steel overlaid with concrete, the fortress was impenetrable from all sides. The island was more like a giant steel rock than anything else.

Syaor had been here twenty years but had no idea how many levels or sublevels there were. The fortress was a maze, so much so that those who worked here used maps to navigate the long, identical hallways.

Thankfully Syaor was above ground and along the outer wall where the light of day could reach through small slits in the wall next to the ceiling. There were so many cells farther in that never saw the light of day. Or experienced fresh air for that matter.

Meals came twice a day, carried on a cart pulled by one of Pizres' Blue dragons. These dragons were very docile, yet for some reason got on well with the much more viscous Black dragons Pizre was so famous for.

The food was cold, but Syaor had become used to it. It was good food, once he got used to it. Gruel, watered down soup, and slop was what Pizre served to its prisoners.

Prisoners wore white clothes, and those were normally riddled with holes. Baths were rare, usually only allowed once or twice a year.

There were some prisoners who hadn't bathed in years. They just passively waited to die.

Syaor admitted the thought of death had occupied his mind many times. But each time Emirsh's face kept popping up, little hand held towards him. She was waiting for him, waiting for her Daddy to return to her. He couldn't die, not until he returned to her. She'd be twenty eight now, and probably happily married.

Shaking his head to clear it of those bittersweet thoughts, Syaor searched through the darkness. He found it easier to focus on what he had at the moment instead of dwelling on what he had lost.

Glad the pitch black hid him, Syaor curled into a ball on his bed. Thoughts of escaping Pizre and reuniting with Emirsh gently guiding him to a restless sleep.

k

Claw clicks awoke Syaor, and he groggily sat up in bed. Dim light leaked into his cell, accompanied by the salty sea breeze.

Instead of the food cart and dragon he had expected to see, a Black two-legged dragon sniffed his bars. A female, judging by it's larger size.

What is that dragon doing here? Syaor thought.

Dragons were never allowed to roam the halls alone. They were too dangerous, and female Black dragons were rare. Most of the species were much gentler males.

How had a female Black two-leg gotten out? Females were bloodthirsty beasts. As a result few people bothered trying to tame one. Those who did usually lost a limb in the process.

This dragon must have killed a few people and escaped. Syaor didn't blame her, he desperately wanted to escape from this place as well.

Long claws hung down from her fingers, while thick talons adorned her toes. She had a long dew claw on the inside of each ankle, appearing closer to a dagger than a claw. Her long tail waved behind her for balance as her long neck jerked to and fro. Small nose slits opened and closed as she sniffed the sea breeze blowing through Syaor's room. Her hide was pitch black at this point as her purple markings would only appear when she was upset. She appeared to have stiff, thin, swept back ears on the back of her head, but they were actually oddly shaped horns. Frills jutted from her elbows, hocks, hips, and the end of her tail. Her's were perhaps the largest, most beautiful frills he had ever seen on a Black dragon. They were the most lovely shade of deep purple as well.

Every bone, muscle, and line on this dragon was pure perfection. Her beautiful eyes caught what little light there was. Causing sparkles of gold to flash across her yellow eyes.

Syaor was smitten, feeling his heart pound from renewed hope. This dragon gazed at the sky with such longing that Syaor knew she wanted the same thing he did. They were both imprisoned here, both of them for crimes they hadn't committed.

Despite the rows of teeth poking through her upper lip Syaor moved closer. As quietly as he could he placed his feet on the floor. For once he didn't notice the pain of the cold cement. Slowly, he lowered himself to hands and knees and crept toward the dragon.

Eyes focused on the dragon, he placed one hand in front of the other. Inch by inch he moved closer, a strange sense of calm steeling over him.

Both man and dragon were entranced by that point. One by the sky and air she had never known, the other by the longing he recognized in her eyes.

Syaor was so close now he could reach through the bars and touch her. Yet he resisted, merely watching her from his place on the floor. He could feel heat coming from her, a surprise in this eternally cold place. Her sides moved in and out as she took great breaths of air rapidly into her lungs.

The dragon suddenly twitched, coming out of her trance to look down the hall. Her eyes locked on his along the way. For a moment her eyes held no fear or anger as they looked deep into his.

She jumped and returned to looking down the hall. With a snarl she brought her shields of anger and mistrust up around her. Her purple markings suddenly glared against the backdrop of her black hide. She leapt into a deep shadow and disappeared. All that remained was a purple afterimage of her very distinct markings.

Soon after it faded Syaor heard boots pounding against cement. He remained where he had been on the floor, his hands gripping the bars tightly.

Two guards ran by with control poles in their hands. Their searching eyes disregarded him immediately as they hurried on.

Minutes passed in silence after they had left. Then the more courageous inmates climbed out of their beds.

Hagish was the first to recover and walk to the front of his cell. The daylight hadn't gotten any stronger, but the dark shadow of the dragon had lifted. Allowing the area to brighten considerably.

"Hey Sy, pull out of it man." Hagish whispered.

His throat sounded dry. He swallowed audibly several times and tried again.

"Sy, wake up."

Syaor shook himself with a start and blinked. His eyes had started drying painfully from his unblinking stare at the dragon.

"Sy, you with us?" Hagish asked.

"Huh?" he said, still unsure what was going on.

Tojee moved up beside his partner. "What did that dragon do to you?" he whispered.

"What?"

"You were just staring at it. We thought it was eating your soul or something."

His eyes fully recovered, Syaor stood up and looked around. The inmates he could see were all staring at him with wide eyes.

"Nope." Syaor said. "I'm still here. Just felt weird, that's all."

"I can't believe you got that close to Zrash!" a man farther down the line called.

He had been moved to that cell temporarily while his cell was being repaired. Every time he told the story of how his cell had broken it changed. The most believable version was a chance collision by a dragon. The most outrageous was a talking dragon crashing into it from the outside.

What did fit with his story was his knowledge of dragons. He claimed to have had a cell close to the inner nesting area. A spot that had a fair amount of dragon traffic.

"Zrash?" Syaor asked, interested despite himself.

"Zrash." the man repeated. "The best Queen to hatch in centuries."

"She's a Queen?" Syaor said, startled.

Queens were female dragons used primarily for breeding. They were among the most expensive dragons of their kind. These dragons had all the traits the breed wanted, and had to excel in the main ones.

Since Black two-legged dragons were the most viscous dragons in the world, their Queens had to be the most viscous ones among the breed. Yet Zrash hadn't seemed viscous, at least not when she looked into his eyes.

"By Black Claw, out of Nrash. Zrash is perfection in every way. Deadly beauty in the flesh, or scales, whichever you prefer.

"Just laid her first clutch. Twenty eggs. the highest number in a long time. Had everyone in a tizzy over it too.

"Valuable Queen, but man is she viscous. Only three and already killed a man. 'course, stupid fool got too close to her clutch. Imagine he wanted an egg for himself. Greedy idiot. Dead idiot. And I say good riddance."

"Oh shut it!" another voice even farther down sneered. "We know you're here for trying to steal eggs from the Dragon Flyer's school!"

"Yes. Yes." the first said amiably. "But you see, I had class. I knew the ropes and wasn't caught by any dragon ever. It was simple human error that did me in in the end." his voice had taken on a flourishing note. A stark change from his earlier speech pattern.

"In any event." the man said, his speech changing again. "I must know the name of the man who got so close to Zrash, the Queen of Queens."

Syaor found himself growing to like this man. A simple thief was nowhere as bad as the murderers he was surrounded by.

"I'm Syaor." Syaor spoke louder than usual so his voice would carry to the thief. "And what's yours?"

"I am called Kotono good sir." he answered with a voice that dripped honey.

"That your real name?" Syaor called back, bringing ripples of laughter down the hall in both directions.

"Of course. Why would I hide my real name here of all places? Not like it makes any difference in the grand scheme of things. We're here for life, better get used to it now." once again his voice changed, this time turning harsh.

"Syaor's been here much longer than your lying butt." Hagish growled.

This unexpected defense moved Syaor more than it should, but in this lifeless place loyalty from another man was unheard of. After being alone for twenty years Syaor felt his heart stir with emotions only active in his dreams for that time.

"Oh, but I've graced these halls for thirteen years. Rather impressive history don't you think gentlemen."

Every time Kotono spoke his tone and speech changed. it created a very jarring conversation and Syaor had the hardest time putting a face to the man. Yet this quirky nature was a welcome reprieve from his monotonous life so far.

"That's a crying shame." Tojee said, trying his best to copy the mastery of his voice that Kotono displayed. "Because Sy here's livened up the gloom for twenty years."

Syaor didn't feel that was such a great thing to boast about. But he kept his mouth shut for fear of broadcasting his feelings in his voice.

"I commend ye. Jolly good time I'd wager." Kotono responded, causing a fair amount of chuckles.

Hagish and Tojee were speechless for a moment as they tried to decipher Kotono's words. That accent and method of speech was uncommon in most parts of the world. Where had Kotono been?

"I've been here thirty years!" a new voice called.

Of course that set off a stream of yells and boasts about how long someone had been here. Soon the whole hall was a din of deafening noise.

If there was one thing everyone here knew, it was how long they had been imprisoned. The guards delighted in making sure to inform the prisoners when they had been here another year. Each year they were told how many years of their lives had been wasted in Pizre.

Syaor couldn't help but grin a little. It would be a gloomy day indeed when Kotono returned to the thieves section.

k

Meals that day were late, arriving to the cacophony of complaints flying through the hall. The cart was guarded by two guards who glared about in a dangerous way.

Soon the cart disappeared down the hall and this section was filled with the sounds of eating. No one spoke at meal time, so Syaor was able to relax in a corner.

When he finished he placed his bowl and spoon by the food door and washed his hands. Instead of using running water he used some he had collected in a bucket beneath the tap.

"Sy." Tojee called.

"Huh?" Syaor grunted.

"Seriously, what happened earlier?"

Syaor froze as total silence descended around them. Everyone was waiting for his answer.

He told himself it was because nothing exciting ever happened here. But that did nothing to quell the clenching of his stomach.

For some reason he didn't want to share what had passed between him and the dragon. That look of longing was special, a side of the Black Queen no one expected. He was loathe to reveal her inner feelings to these men.

"I don't really know." Syaor said. "I woke up and next thing I knew I was on the floor. I remember seeing the dragon at the bars, but everything else is a blur."

Murmurs broke out among his fellow inmates as they conferred with each other. Each cell allowed two people, and the guards didn't care if one inmate killed the other. A more common occurrence than Syaor cared to admit.

It was only by sheer luck that Syaor had his own cell.

Kotono had been in the thieves section, and would soon return there. It was the thought of Kotono being in a different area than him that gave Syaor the idea.

"Hey Kotono." he called, feeling the odd name roll off his tongue.

"Yeah?"

"Do you know anything about the structure of Pizre?"

Derisive sneers and snorts followed his question.

"You'll never escape." someone called.

Kotono remained quiet for a long time, perhaps waiting for the other inmates to calm down. When he finally did reply it was with the straightforward voice of a businessman.

"Sure. There's one hundred above ground levels. Fifty below ground. Approximately ten thousand cells per level with one level each dedicated to housing employees, dragons, kitchens, laundry and water heaters, tools and supplies, and goods storage. Now if anyone did their math that leaves us with one million four hundred forty thousand cells. As I hope you know, Pizre boasts one million prisoners at any given time. About two inmates per cell gives us a grand total of two million eight hundred and eighty thousand prisoners."

Kotono paused to let that sink in. When it did, incredulous remarks and nasty insults flew through the air.

Syaor was glad Kotono was in a cell by himself. If he had a roommate at this time he probably would have been killed.

"You lie! Pizre claims only one million prisoners!"

"Stop yanking us around!"

Those were the main phrases used, along with various curses. Altogether the din was incredible, though Syaor had to agree with the other inmates on this one.

He saw no reason for Pizre to lie about the number of prisoners they held. But he didn't think Kotono was lying either.

Were his figures right? And if so, what about all the other rooms and levels? What was really going on at Pizre?

The inmates refused to calm down, and the dinner cart, also late, was greeted by voices hoarse from yelling at each other.

k

That night Syaor was too thoughtful to sleep. His mind was claimed by images of Zrash and the conversation that day. The two chased themselves around and around in his head until far into the night.

Judging by the guards accompanying the food cart at dinner, Zrash still hadn't been caught. With one hundred fifty levels to explore, Syaor had no trouble believing it. She hadn't seemed like a viscous beast to him, her eyes held true intelligence.

Nothing but pitch black enveloped him. No lights or lamps flickered at night, and there was no chance of moonlight getting through the thick cloud layer.

Yet in this complete darkness a purple light glowed. Surprised by this, Syaor sat up in bed. For once it didn't creak with the shifting of his weight.

There, just outside his bars was Zrash. Her markings and frills glowed brightly even though she didn't appear upset, casting an eerie purple light. He hadn't known their frills and markings glowed in the darkness.

In truth the display was rather intimidating. The light from her markings and frills cast a faint glow on her shiny black scales, allowing him to see the bulges of muscle on her streamlined body. Her yellow eyes seemed to shine out of the blackness, disjointed from the rest of her body.

This ghostly phantom didn't make him tremble in fear, instead awe filled his entire being. Those eyes held no anger or fear as they found his. So sure were they that Syaor was certain Zrash could easily see through the dark.

Unafraid, he slipped from his bed and moved toward her. Their eyes were locked, and that lock was never broken as Syaor came to stand before Zrash.

Now that he was standing he realized just how tall Zrash really was. Standing at her true height her head just missed brushing the ceiling. Making her about ten feet tall, which was the height limit for Black dragons.

She bent her head forward and down, pushing her nose at the bars. Instinctively Syaor knew what she wanted and moved his face to hers. The two inhaled and exhaled together, breathing each other's air.

The air from Zrash was slightly musky with a hint of milk about it. Since her breed of dragons never needed milk Syaor was certain she'd found the kitchens.

Satisfied, Zrash backed off and settled herself on the floor outside Syaor's cell. Syaor copied her, sitting cross legged on the cold cement.

He wanted desperately to touch her, to speak to her. But he was certain either of those actions would cause the thin truce between them to shatter. Syaor had no idea why Zrash acted like this around him, but he didn't want to do anything to disrupt her trust.

The night wore on with nothing happening between the two. Syaor had been sitting so long every muscle ached and his lower body was numb with cold.

Zrash, on the other hand, showed no signs of cold as she lay outside his cell. She seemed rather comfortable.

The whole time she had been laying there she had been watching him with those yellow eyes. Eventually she had relaxed enough to lower her head and rest it on her hands. She still watched him though, as if he were a puzzle she had to figure out.

When the faint light of dawn began to creep through the air slits high up in the wall, Zrash stood. It was such a fluid motion, so effortless and quick it was as if the hours of laying motionless on the floor hadn't effected her in any way. Syaor knew he wouldn't be able to do that even if he tried.

With one last glance at him, Zrash vanished down the hall. Once again all that was left was a purple afterimage lingering for a few seconds.

Slowly Syaor lay down, stretching out cramped muscles and stiff joints. He was no longer young, and his body constantly reminded him of that.

After a solid five minutes of stretching, Syaor was finally able to move. He stood up and hobbled back to his bed. There he covered himself with his blanket and fell into the first dreamless sleep in twenty years.

k

The breakfast cart was on time the next day, actually that morning. Syaor awoke to the clatter of his food being slid under the door.

After stretching he put his shoes on and went to his food. He wolfed it down without tasting it.

He was completely finished by the time the cart and guards made the return trip. The guards glanced around nervously. Zrash hadn't been caught but something else had them worried. He couldn't help but wonder what it was.

Likewise, the Blue dragon pulling the cart was nervous. It kept sniffing the air and Syaor worried it would clue in the guards. The last thing he wanted was a watch placed here in case Zrash returned.

"Hey guards, what's your problem?" Hagish jeered. "That loose dragon have your panties in a bunch?"

Leave it to Hagish to aggrivate a situation. Though Syaor hoped it gave him some much needed information.

This time a guard responded to Hagish's taunt. He slammed his control pole against the bars in front of Hagish's face.

The resulting crash caused Syaor, the inmates, cart driver, and dragon to jump. Yet Hagish didn't even flinch and just stood there with his arms crossed over his chest. Tojee came to stand next to him, taking the same defiant stance as his partner.

"You know something you ain't tellen us?" the guard growled maliciously.

"What? About the loose dragon? Sure. I know it's loose." Hagish gloated, daring the guard to come get him.

"Come on. Lets go." the other guard said. "He's just trying to rile us because we don't have our dragons today."

Grudgingly his partner backed away from Hagish with a glare. Syaor knew his chance was almost gone. Soon they would be beyond reach, and Hagish had already proven these guards could be goaded into talking.

"Wait." Syaor said. "I know something."

His quiet words had more effect than the loudest shout. The guards stopped short, eyeing him like starved animals. Across the hall Hagish's eyes glinted.

"Don't tell'em Sy." he said. "These pigs can keep running scared!"

His words drove the guards right into Syaor's trap. Now they believed his claim and moved toward his cell.

Syaor kept back a safe distance away from the bars. He wanted them to come to him and not be able to jab at him with their control poles.

"Tell us." the first commanded, motioning for the cart driver to remain silent.

"First I want some information from you." Syaor said.

Having thick steel bars between them and no Black dragons around did much for Syaor's confidence.

The second guard snorted. "Yeah right. Like what? How much longer your sentence is?"

Both guards laughed and clapped their hands together lightly, believing the joke well and good. Even the cart driver smiled, though much more timidly than the guards.

"No, actually." Syaor said mildly. "I want to know why you are so nervous. Besides the fact that a Queen is on the loose."

"Know your dragons huh?" the second guard said.

Syaor said nothing, as it was Kotono's knowledge and not his. Nonetheless his words had the desired effect, the guards now took him seriously.

They peered at him as they came right up to his bars. One had black hair and snakelike eyes. The second had a beaklike nose and blue eyes.

"I suggest you stop playing smart and tell us what you know." Snake-eyes said.

"Tell me what I want to know first. I'm in no danger from a loose dragon." Syaor said with more courage than he felt.

"We're wasting time. Stop messing with him and lets just get the info." Sharp-nose said, even though it was mostly him who had been messing with Syaor.

"You first." Syaor insisted.

"A very important Dragon Flyer will be arriving here soon. We must have the situation under control before then or we'll loose face." Snake-eyes explained after shooting a glare at Sharp-nose.

"That's it?"

"That's it." Snake-eyes replied.

"Then it's my turn. The dragon ran through here yesterday. It was really weird seeing a dragon wondering the halls without a handler."

"That's all?" Sharp-nose growled.

"Yep."

"Useless!"

The two guards stalked off along with the much delayed food cart. All three men had many choice words for Syaor as they left.

Now Syaor knew what was going on. Dragon Flyers only visited the prison about once a year. Dragon back was the only way to, or from, Pizre and no winged dragons were kept on the island. If Syaor was to escape he'd need Zrash's help, and then he'd need to steal a Dragon Flyer's dragon. A crime that would surely land him right back in Pizre if he was caught.

Time was running out. He'd have to tame Zrash soon if he was to escape. Now all he needed was an idea on how to accomplish that.

k

That night Zrash once again showed up in front of his bars. They repeated their sniff-greeting and settled in their spots on the floor.

This time Syaor had to do something to try and communicate with her. Surely it meant something that Zrash returned to him every night?

How? he thought. How can I contact you?

Zrash lifted her head, staring deep into his eyes. It was as if she sensed his thoughts.

Curious, he tried thinking at her again. How can I reach you?

This time Zrash cocked her head as if listening. She focused on him with greater intensity, moving her head as close to him as she could.

Encouraged, Syaor focused all his energy on his thoughts.

Can you hear me?

When Zrash didn't move or give any sign of hearing him Syaor began loosing hope. Dragons couldn't talk like humans. What had he been thinking?

Perhaps sensing that he was giving up, Zrash growled. Her growl was low and smooth, more like a reprimand than a threat. That alone startled him into looking into her eyes. She didn't seem like a brainless beast. In fact she looked more like a teacher trying to get a lesson across to a particularly slow student.

What are you trying to teach me? he thought.

Once again Zrash seemed to hear him. It was as if she were waiting for him to make a breakthrough.

Can't you give me a hint?

Zrash flicked her tail.

How can I communicate with you? Syaor tried again, looking deeply into her eyes.

Those eyes, he could loose himself in them.

To Send, you must relax your mind.

Syaor jumped. His thoughts had formed on their own. But they had definitely had a feminine feel to them. What was going on?

No you aren't getting in touch with your feminine side. The thoughts came again.

Syaor looked sharply back at the dragon, not quite believing what he thought he was thinking. Was this really possible? Or was he just going crazy?

After a few minutes Zrash stood up. She seemed slightly disappointed in him.

Please decide whether you are crazy or not by next nightfall.

With one last look at him Zrash vanished into the darkness like she had each time before.

k

Sleep that night was patchy and restless. No matter how hard he tried, his time with Zrash that night overwhelmed his mind. He still wasn't any closer to figuring it out by the time the breakfast cart dragged him out of bed.

His heart nearly stopped when he saw that the guards weren't with it this time. Zrash had been caught then. That was it. No more nights with the beautiful dragon. He had lost his only chance to escape.

That day he received a letter from his daughter. Letters were rarely allowed here and the opportunity to hear her voice, even through letters on a page, set his heart racing.

Dear Father,

It's been so long. How are you? That's a silly question, I know.

Listen, I've found a few foxes that may have attacked the chickens. The one that ate the rooster hasn't been determined. And I still don't know which one set the dog up. Don't worry, I'll figure it out.

Hoping you are well, love, Emirsh.

Emirsh had grown up, her flowery handwriting fit the image he had of her perfectly.

But, Syaor was confused by her letter, it made no sense. Foxes, dogs and chickens? Such things existed only in fantasy books for children. She must mean this as a code.

Syaor scrutinized the piece of paper closely, scratching his beard as he did so.

In the stories he had read to her as a child, foxes were tricksters. Always outwitting the hero or placing the blame on some other fantasy animal. Normally the farmer's innocent dog.

Wait, could she mean she had suspects for who had framed him? If so then she was getting mixed up in dangerous stuff. Despair arose in his heart. He couldn't bear to lose her to the man responsible for his time behind bars.

Choking down tears of frustration, Syaor returned to decoding the letter. If his memory served, the rooster was the leader of the chicken family. That must mean the man who had been killed. The dog had to be him, and the chickens were thrown in to hide the message in the letter. She still didn't know who had sent him here. Good. So long as she didn't know who the real murderer was, she should be safe.

Why must the world always be against him? He couldn't even write back to her and tell her to stop. That wasn't allowed here at Pizre. Letters could come, but none could go. Much like the prisoners admitted here.

It was hopeless, there was nothing he could do to save his daughter.

Drawing into a tide of misery and helplessness Syaor sat in the unoccupied far corner. And no matter how much Hagish and Tojee tried to contact him he refused to answer their calls.

k

Night fell and Syaor didn't even bother to move. Eyes closed and head hidden in his arms he was aware of nothing.

Are you crazy or not?

I'm a fool. A helpless fool.

You may be crazy, but you are not a fool.

Yes I am. I can't get out, and I can't help my daughter. She'll be killed by the man who sent me here.

Will you sit here and wait for that?

I can't get out. All my chances are gone.

You need chances to try and live?

I can't escape without help. My chances for that help are gone.

So what will you do?

There's nothing I can do.

Sure there is. For starters gather more knowledge on this place. There is a way out, but if you never look for it you'll never find it.

Suddenly Syaor realized what was happening. He lifted his head so fast it banged against the wall behind him.

Cursing and rubbing his head he looked around. Zrash once again stood before his cell

So, you can finally Send. Good job, now we can work together to escape.

Send?

Yes, what you are doing now. It is sending your thoughts to another. The language of dragons.

New hope flared inside Syaor, so bright it burned. Just when he'd thought all was lost, Zrash's beautiful purple light illuminated the darkness once again.

k

The next day life had returned to the normal doom and gloom of Pizre. All the prisoners were back to their old selves, and it was hard not to get depressed in such heavy atmosphere.

Fittingly, it was Kotono who was responsible for breaking the monotony. Though not in a way anyone expected.

Two guards and their Black dragons came down the hall. The guards had their control poles fully extended with the loop of chains exposed. It was obvious they were moving somebody, and there wasn't enough of them to move more than one man. That made it Kotono's moving day.

Despite being deep in thought, Syaor was stirred into action. Pushing himself up from the bed he moved to the front of his cell. From there he craned his neck to watch the guards.

They did indeed stop in front of Kotono's cell. After taking some time to find the correct key they opened his cell door.

Syaor watched as best he could as they brought Kotono out. Both had their chains around his neck and kept him at their pole's length. Cuffs were around his wrists and ankles, hampering his movement greatly.

To Syaor's surprise the guards brought Kotono to his cell. Without a word they opened Syaor's cell door and shoved Kotono inside. Efficiently and quickly, they removed his cuffs and took their control poles off his neck.

Slamming the stiff door behind them they locked the padlock. His door had chains holding it closed, and the clanging they produced as well as the lock clicking into place echoed throughout his cell.

Neither man moved until the guards had dropped off all of Kotono's belongings.

As the guards did that more guards brought two new inmates down the hall. They were yelling curses and insults at whoever they saw. Each one required two guards to control them, despite the presence of the Black dragons who hissed and spat at them.

Having so many Black dragons present in the hall even sent Syaor up against the far wall. Most inmates chose their bed as the optimal hiding place, but Syaor wasn't comfortable with another man in his cell. So he remained standing and able to watch Kotono, who had also chosen to flatten himself against the wall.

With a great deal of force the guards herded the men into Kotono's recently vacated cell. Whips cracked and men screamed. Dragons snarled and bit at bars, and the two newbies finally quieted down enough for the guards to remove their restraints.

The rules were briefly recited and the whole party packed up and left. It took mere seconds after they had departed before the new inmates began arguing with each other. A few minutes after that the rest of the inmates recovered. Though they decided to leave the newbies alone for awhile.

Kotono grabbed his cover and began arranging it on his new bed with a sigh that dismissed the new arrivals as idiots. He worked as if he didn't hear them and focused on his task.

Watching him, Syaor was finally able to put a face to the various voices he had heard. He had to admit, the man was definitely not what he had expected.

Kotono appeared to be in his late twenties, but his face was unmarked. His skin still had some of the sun's tan to it and bluish-green eyes scrutinized Syaor dismissively. His light brown hair was kept short, even in here. Though for some reason the man had chosen to grow out his bangs and slick them over to cover his right eye, completely obscuring it. He was well muscled, which could prove to be a real threat to Syaor.

Aside from the white clothes all inmates wore, Kotono also had a large red earring dangling from a chain and surrounded by gold. A matching, though smaller, ring on the middle finger of his left hand caught Syaor's attention as well.

Syaor was instantly fearful of the man. They were not supplied with regular baths or shaving blades here. How could Kotono appear so…clean? There was definitely something up with him. Especially considering no one else seemed to notice what would be the perfect excuse to threaten or attack him. Even the guards didn't seem to notice what should be obvious.

"Well? Are you done staring?" Kotono asked.

There was a hint of humor in his otherwise toneless voice.

Syaor grunted, not giving any other hint of emotion. His cell for twenty years had just been invaded by an abnormal being. Syaor wasn't even sure he was really a man at this point.

"So, it seems we're cellmates now." Kotono said, eying Syaor oddly. "I must say I had imagined a different appearance for you."

"Same here."

Kotono chuckled, placing his hands on his hips. "I thought I did a good job of changing my voice and speech patterns. I'm impressed you were able to imagine an appearance for me at all."

Syaor kept his mouth closed, unwilling to admit he had had no idea what Kotono may look like. He made no move, instead waiting for what Kotono might do.

Kotono's actions were a relief to Syaor, who didn't relish the thought of having to defend himself against this man. So when Kotono merely sat on his bed Syaor let a small sigh of relief escape him.

With Kotono still watching him he sat on his own bed. For long moments the two of them just stared at each other while the new inmate's argument escalated into a screaming fistfight.

Sighing, Kotono lay back on his bed. "And this mates, is not as informative as I would've hoped. Aren't you going to ask me anything?" he said, changing his voice yet again and putting his hands behind his head.

"What?" Syaor asked, wondering at the man's capacity to ignore things.

"You know, about the structure of Pizre. We were interrupted last time, but it seemed to me as if you seriously planned an escape."

"Escape is impossible."

"That's not what you led me to believe three days ago." Kotono teased, eyes boring into Syaor's.

"You are shaved." Syaor said, dodging the question.

Kotono suddenly head and got up, crossing the space between them in a few quick steps. Before Syaor could react, Kotono sat down beside him. The closeness to the strange man made Syaor's heart race with fear.

"You can see me?" Kotono hissed quietly.

Syaor said nothing, but wondered if maybe Kotono was insane.

"You can't be normal if you see through my light illusion." Kotono continued, peering into Syaor's eyes.

To afraid to avert his gaze, Syaor merely stared beck and resisted the urge to swallow.

"I mean you no harm. I have a friend who hides my identity from these men. My face is actually well known, and would be recognized instantly by the guards. I don't want that to happen."

"Friend?" Syaor finally managed to say.

"Yes, friend. She's actually an elemental dragon of light. We stay together to protect each other."

"So who are you, really?"

"I am under no obligation top answer that. Everyone has secrets they don't want to share."

"Where's the dragon?" "She is hiding under the light illusion. I guess she hides herself better than me."

Syaor quested out with his mind just like Zrash had taught him the previous night. There was another presence there, but it's mind was closed to him. It was enough to verify the man's story, no matter how odd it seemed.

"Now here's how this goes." Kotono said, changing the subject. "The only way in or out of this fortress is the top. There are no other doors to the outside. Only way off the island is by air, and the only dragon capable of making it to Talooc is a Dragon Flyers dragon. The ones used by Pizre are short distance fliers that only travel to the small island off Pizre's western coast. The harbor there is where ships unload their goods and the cargo dragons then transport them to Pizre.

"I know for a fact trying to stow away on a ship is impossible. There's nothing except the cargo dragons and a few staff members at Pizre's harbor, and the ships only arrive there once a month. We would be unable to survive long enough. And no dragons fly from there until all the ships have unloaded and left. So that option, tempting as it may be, is out."

It seemed to Syaor that Kotono had put much more thought into escaping than he had. Even so, where had he gotten all this information? He couldn't have made it up, for Syaor had arrived on Pizre by such a route. All prisoners did. The mystery surrounding Kotono kept growing.

Kotono moved closer, lowering his voice even though he really didn't need to. "I can fly the dragon. I'll bet you don't have any idea how to ride one, let alone fly one."

"So why do you need me then?" Syaor asked suspiciously. "It sounds like you have this whole thing figured out."

Kotono leaned back, a pleased smile on his face.

"I might be able to get us off, but I can't get us out. That will be your job."

"What about your little friend?"

"She is at the limits of her abilities." Kotono answered easily. "You have to get us out of this cell."

"And how am I supposed to accomplish that?"

Kotono's pleased smile turned to one of mystery. His left eye sparkled with humor.

At that moment silence fell through the hall. The argument between the two newbies had ceased. Though it was too quiet, too suddenly, to have come to a peaceful resolution.

There was no sign of distress on Kotono's face. He remained focused on Syaor, though Syaor's stomach was twisting into knots.

"I'm sure you'll think of something." Kotono replied.

k

Syaor slept through breakfast, dreaming pleasant dreams of the time with his family. A time when making money was his main concern.

He was awoken by Kotono in the middle of the day. The man had saved his breakfast for him. No small gesture in this place.

Gratefully Syaor wolfed the stuff down. It was cold and tasted like slightly flavored water. So it couldn't have been very tempting. Still, it was the thought that counted, and Syaor hadn't strangled him during the night.

"So about our conversation yesterday," Kotono said as Syaor finished his meal.

When Syaor looked up Kotono continued.

"We need to get out as soon as possible. I heard the guards talking on their rounds. The Dragon Flyer will be arriving two days from now. We must get out today or tonight."

"Why not tomorrow?" Syaor had to ask.

Kotono looked at him as if he were a particularly slow person. Then swept his right hand up, indicating the wide area above them.

"This is floor number one hundred out of one hundred fifty. Pizre is a rather large maze. The only exit is the roof. We need to find our way through one hundred levels, find one hundred stairs leading up, and find suitable places to hide. All while avoiding being seen or heard. And we must do it in one day."

Syaor stared at him with his mouth tightly closed to hide his despair. It seemed to him they must wait another year. But by then Kotono would be gone to an unknown location and Syaor really did need him. Not only that, he was sure Zrash would be captured by then.

Their only chance was now. But even that seemed hopeless. Syaor couldn't imagine them making it.

His expression betrayed him, for Kotono's hand slapped across Syaor's face so fast he barely saw it move.

"Pull yourself together. This isn't the time to give up. We can't give up. That is what our captors are counting on. No matter what, we can't give up. Lets at least give these guards a run for their money."

Syaor looked at Kotono's mouth as he spoke, unable to look him in the eyes. He clenched his fists and refused to rub the stinging spot on his cheek.

"Now, how do we get out?"

Still not trusting his body, Syaor said nothing. He had no idea how they were to escape the cell, but his thoughts kept returning to Zrash.

Kotono was about to speak again when a chilled hush fell further down the hall. The silence was instantly noted and repeated until the whole hall was deathly quiet. In that silence a new noise became audible.

Loud voices echoed off the walls as the sound traveled down the hall. It sounded like an incredible party from Syaor's perspective, as if the whole staff had gotten drunk and gone running through the halls. With the distortion caused by the echo, Syaor couldn't tell what the voices were screaming about or even if they were happy or mad.

Sudden claw clicks added to the din, and Syaor realized what must be happening. Zrash was being chased by a large amount of people. It was only a matter of time before she was cornered. For her incredible speed could only be activated in the dark, and all the occupied halls were lighted during the day.

"That dragon's still on the loose?" Kotono whispered. "I'll bet she wants out of this place as much as we do."

An idea sprang to life in Syaor's mind. Zrash was the answer, she certainly had the power for what he had in mind.

Zrash, he Sent, please come here.

I come. she Sent back.

Joy raced through him as adrenaline pumped through his veins. It had been so long since he had felt excitement electrify his body. Now that escape seemed possible his mind whirled and body tensed.

Kotono instantly caught the change in him. "You have an idea?"

"Yes. We'll use Zrash to open the door."

Kotono eyed him quizzically, as well he should. What Syaor suggested was sheer madness. At length he shrugged and wiped a stray strand of hair out of his left eye.

"Can't hurt to try." he said.

Syaor only had time to dress himself and roll up his blanket before Zrash skidded to a stop before his cell.

Kotono's left eyebrow rose in surprise and he quickly grabbed his blanket as well. It seemed he had decided to trust him.

Open the door. Syaor Sent.

Zrash cocked her head, glaring at Kotono suspiciously.

Never mind him. If we are to escape we must do so now.

Go to the outside? Zrash Sent as she looked intently into his eyes.

Yes, but only if you hurry!

Do not Send so loud. It hurts me.

Sorry. Can you open the door now?

Throughout this Kotono had been looking from Syaor to Zrash and back again. The light of understanding suddenly bloomed in his eyes but he remained silent.

Zrash surveyed the door, checking it from every angle. All the while sounds of her pursuers grew louder.

Hagish and Tojee approached their bars, staring at the spectacle before them. All the other inmates had retired to their beds and pulled the blanket over their faces at Zrash's arrival.

Finally Zrash made her move. Biting the padlock in her jaws she pulled against it. Every muscle in her body strained, but the chains only groaned.

You can do it. Syaor Sent as tension tightened his nerves to pinpoint sensitivity.

I know. Let me focus. Zrash Sent irritably.

Syaor subsided and kept himself from contacting her again. It was all he could do to remain silent, so he paced back and forth along the bars. Clenching and unclenching his fists he longed for Zrash to break the chains that locked him in this place.

Growling in frustration Zrash lifted her left leg and placed it on the bars. With a mighty heave she pushed against the three-inch-thick bars enough to bend them.

At last the door gave way with a horrible squeal of metal against metal. Under Zrash's power it came free, ripped off its very hinges. The force of Zrash's straining sent her flying across the hall where she and the door hit the adjacent cell with a tremendous crash.

Both Hagish and Tojee leapt back so quickly they tripped over their own feet and fell on their butts.

The guards caught up, drawn by the enormous clatter Zrash had caused. They paused for only a second as they surveyed the scene.

Faster than Syaor could think they ran at Zrash, who was still struggling to get up with the chains locked onto her teeth. She was helpless against them, tangled as she was in the door, and they knew it.

Kotono rushed past Syaor, using his youth to do what Syaor could not. With incredible speed he brought his blanket up and threw it at the guards.

That second-long pause was all Zrash needed to get her feet beneath her. She shakily stood up, though whether she trembled from fear or fury wasn't clear.

She raised her head as high as she could with the heavy door anchoring her down. Let me help you. Syaor Sent.

Zrash whirled on him, eyes fierce as she prepared to defend herself. Seeing that viscous glare turned on him made Syaor's entire body weak. This was the true power of a Black dragon, the power that made even murderers hide under their blanket.

Slowly Zrash recognized him and her eyes softened. At the same time Syaor breathed a sigh of relief and his entire body shook from the experience.

I can't open my mouth. she complained.

I'll get those chains off. Syaor assured her.

Syaor moved to Zrash's head and began working on the chains. They were wrapped around her teeth, and some of her teeth were wedged into the individual links in the chain. It was a slow process, removing all those thick, heavy chains. Eventually though, Syaor managed to free the last link.

Zrash opened her mouth and deposited the chains and door onto the ground with a hissing howl that deafened Syaor's ears. Wincing and covering them, Syaor turned around to face Kotono.

He had forgotten about the guards, but now found all three facedown on the cement floor.

Kotono stood among them, one of the guard's swords sheathed and in his hands. He stood with it as if he had been born with one.

"Don't worry," Kotono said when he saw Syaor's expression, "I never kill my opponents. But I have needed to defend myself from time to time."

That didn't help calm Syaor's misgivings about the man one bit, but he had Zrash on his side. No puny sword could compare to her power.

"What are you standing there for? We need to move!" Kotono hissed.

Do you have a hiding place? Syaor Sent to Zrash.

Yes.

Take us there.

Zrash instantly turned around, heading down the hall in the direction she had first been headed. She took off, leaving Syaor and Kotono to struggle and keep up.

When she noticed they were too far behind she slowed down to a jog. Even then Syaor was hard pressed to keep up. Kotono seemed to be doing fine though, making Syaor long for the youth that Pizre had stolen from him.

k

It was a relatively short run along the hall. They only took a few turns at intersections before coming to Zrash's hiding place. But by then Syaor felt as if he were going to have a heart attack.

Gasping for breath he sank to the floor, grateful for the chance to rest. Even Kotono breathed hard, though he had worked much harder than Syaor.

On the way they had encountered a few guards. Kotono had dealt with them, the force with which he swung his sheathed sword sure to give them concussions.

He had even ran further down that last hall and beat up some more guards before backtracking to them. He'd said it'd help throw the guards off their trail.

At any rate, Syaor was too tired to care what Kotono did. He was too busy trying to get his racing heart under control. When he finally felt it resume a pace close to normal he looked around.

They were in an unused section of Pizre's one hundredth level. No lights or torches were lit, making visibility limited to what Zrash's glow illuminated. Dust covered the floor except where Zrash had made previous tracks, but no grease covered the walls. A sure sign this section had been unused for some time.

Zrash had made herself a nest in one corner out of rags and garbage. Though why she chose to lay in old underwear riddled with holes was beyond Syaor's comprehension.

The ceiling above them was made of cement with a line of panels cutting through the far end. A pile of rubble had been pushed against the wall underneath a section of it. Coincidentally, this section also had a panel missing. Revealing a mass of pipes. Water dripped from quite a few of these to form a large puddle in a depression on the floor.

Zrash wasted no time lapping at it, reducing the puddle to a quarter its original size. Her thirst satisfied she curled up in her nest, quite pleased with herself.

She had barely settled when she noticed Kotono again. Hissing, she leapt from her nest and advanced on him.

Eyes wide, Kotono hurriedly backed away until his back pressed against the wall. Zrash had effectively pinned him, and now she moved even closer.

Lips parted in a silent snarl she stopped within inches of Kotono's face. The poor man was hyperventilating from stress and fear. Yet his pants remained unspoiled, a sign of his courage.

"She wants you to sniff noses with her." Syaor said, recognizing Zrash's posture. Kotono made no move and his eyes remained locked on Zrash's. In response to this Zrash's body became more rigid. If Kotono didn't act soon she'd strike him down. Sending to her right now might push her over the edge. So Syaor had to get Kotono to do a seemingly suicidal thing.

"Kotono, you must move your nose to hers. Breath in as she breaths out. She wants to get your scent."

Eyes wide with terror, Kotono finally obeyed him and slowly moved his face closer to Zrash's nose. They exchanged air, and luckily Zrash didn't attack the poor man for trembling.

Satisfied, Zrash relaxed and stepped back. She didn't fully trust Kotono, but she'd at least tolerate him now.

Once Zrash had returned to her nest, Kotono felt safe enough to move. His legs gave out and he collapsed onto the floor. Syaor felt rather superior as he watched the color slowly return to Kotono's face.

Kotono finally found his voice and looked over at Syaor. Only the opening for the closed door stood between them. Yet they were worlds apart.

It was now apparent Syaor had a skill that gave him more power than Kotono could ever have. The most viscous dragon on Pizre now obeyed him, and that made him feel special.

k

The two men decided to lay low for awhile and wait for the guards to calm down. There was always the risk of being discovered here, but if it came to that Zrash's claws and teeth would be sufficient enough to deal with them.

Kotono had lit a few lanterns he had found hanging on the wall. Giving them some form of light other than Zrash's purple glow.

The room was now dimly lit, enabling the two men to see, but not so bright as to alert their pursuers. Of which there had been surprisingly few. Even Kotono felt more guards should be rushing about and the silence made him nervous.

Nervous people found things to occupy them and Kotono found the pipes. After drinking his fill from the many drips he had explored the opening that led to them.

While he tried to quietly climb the mound of rubble, Syaor took his turn at the water. He preferred to cup the water in his hands to avoid getting wet. The end result was water that tasted like sweat and dirt, but Syaor stayed dry.

"Hey!" Kotono said in a fierce whisper.

Syaor jumped and looked up. His heart began racing as he anticipated guards rushing through the door.

"Not there stupid." Kotono said, changing his voice to harsh sarcasm. "I wanted to show this to you."

Annoyed but relieved, Syaor turned to the younger man. He had climbed to the top of the rubble pile and now had his upper body in the hole in the ceiling. It was an odd sight, with half of Kotono's body seemingly stuck in the ceiling.

"What is it?" Syaor asked irritably.

"There's a tunnel here. I think I could follow it."

"We don't have the time to explore." Syaor growled.

"I'll be back in an hour. Wait for me."

Syaor said nothing as Kotono climbed into the ceiling. He had no choice in the matter, for as Kotono had made clear, he couldn't fly a dragon.

Bitterly he decided to ask if he could do this himself.

Can I Send to any dragon? he Sent to Zrash.

Yes. But most dragons wont be able to respond intelligently.

What about Dragon Flyer dragons?

After a slight pause Zrash responded. You will be able to Send to them like any other, but they will not listen to you. They will be trained to obey only their owner.

Why do you listen to me then?

We both want to get out of here. You were the first to recognize what I wanted, and you alone didn't fear me.

The other dragons fear you?

Zrash looked deeply into his eyes before answering.

It is said some humans are born with the ability to communicate with us. Some say these humans should have been born a dragon but their souls got lost. Likewise, there are dragons that should have been born a human. These Different Ones are secluded and ignored. We possess something the rest of our kind does not. We can see things that do not exist, that we have not experienced, and that haven't yet come to pass and might never will. For this reason the Different Ones are shunned and isolated.

I ran from that life and now I am here. I found you, and we two Different Ones are here. We will escape this oppressive place.

Syaor stared at her. Never before had he thought a dragon could talk in such a way. Zrash had given him a speech of thoughts.

Shaking himself, he moved over to Zrash's nest. Settling his blanket onto it he also lay down. It took only a moment for Zrash to shift and lay her head on his lap.

Syaor remained as still as possible and eyed Zrash's sharp teeth. Any wrong move and he'd have a few nasty gashes on his legs.

In time he relaxed as it became apparent she wasn't going to hurt him. He reached forward to stroke her head, and felt velvety soft skin beneath his fingers.

After years of rough blankets and cement, the sensation of such softness was foreign. It took him a few seconds to put a name to what he now felt beneath his fingertips.

Slowly she closed her eyes and drifted into a light sleep. With her, Syaor also dozed off while absentmindedly stroking her head.

k

Kotono returned as promised and waited in the ceiling for Syaor to wake up. How long he waited, Syaor didn't know.

When Syaor did wake up Zrash was still asleep with her head perched in his lap. All while they had slept she hadn't moved, leaving his legs unscathed.

"Hey." a voice whispered above his head.

Startled, but careful not to disturb Zrash, Syaor looked up to see Kotono's red face. It seemed he had been laying on his stomach for awhile.

"Do you suppose you could wake her up so I can get down?"

Thoroughly enjoying the situation, Syaor took his time waking Zrash. Gently stroking her head while he waited for her to open her eyes.

She responded to his touch and raised her head. Unfocused eyes looked deeply into his, the love there palpable. Understanding bloomed in her eyes as she glanced up at Kotono. Stretching her body fully she stood up and moved off her nest.

As Syaor also stretched and stood up Kotono climbed down from his place in the ceiling. In his hands he carried a large bundle wrapped in cloth.

Zrash was very interested in the bundle he carried in his arms. She crowded close to him, causing him no end of discomfort. Sniffing the sack with great intakes of breath her interest suddenly vanished. No longer concerned with the sack she turned away.

Once she was a comfortable distance away Kotono began breathing again. He gave her an odd look before settling his burden on the floor.

Despite Zrash's indifference Syaor was captivated by the sack. He remained hovering by it as Kotono slowly unwrapped it.

There were two purple and black eggs inside, each one big enough to require both of Syaor's hands to lift. How Kotono had squeezed through that small tunnel while carrying two eggs this size was a mystery to Syaor. It must be a testament to the greater health of youth.

"Where did you get these?" Syaor asked, aggravated by the man's greed.

"The hatching area." Kotono replied. "They're from Zrash's clutch."

"What?"

"The pipes lead off in all directions, but they have labels at every intersection. I followed the ones leading to the hatching area. I couldn't resist taking these two beauties."

"Kotono," Syaor said angrily, "these will slow us down! And they'll lead the guards right to us!"

"Calm down. They're looking for us anyway. This way we'll have a way to make money on the outside. Remember, we must have a way to live once we escape. And my guess is we're taking Zrash with us. This way it's not like we're stealing from them. Instead we're keeping the family together."

Syaor glared at Kotono, not at all happy with the egg thief.

What do you think about this? he asked Zrash.

I do not care. They are no longer my eggs.

What?

They are changed.

How?

Zrash peered at Syaor as if unsure how to answer his question.

Come. I will show you. she finally Sent.

"Zrash wants us to follow her." Syaor said.

Kotono stared at him, then silently rewrapped the eggs and stood up. Using Syaor's blanket he made a sling which he fastened to Syaor's back. His reason was that he needed the freedom to fight any guards they met.

Grumbling under his breath Syaor allowed it. Kotono had a point after all.

When they were ready, Zrash moved to the door. Syaor opened it for her and the party of misfits slipped into the hall.

k

It was a tense few hours of walking through deserted corridors. The whole way Zrash did her best to avoid any guards that were searching the halls.

The most unexpected part was sneaking through Syaor's hall. Not only was his door destroyed, but Hagish and Tojee were both missing.

According to the inmates, they had stolen an unconscious guard's keys and let themselves out. After a heated fight that took many guards' lives they had been captured and hauled away. The inmates were still rather pumped from the excitement, and cheers followed the odd party through the hall despite Zrash.

Luckily Zrash's presence was enough to keep the inmates in other halls under covers. So they were able to proceed in silence for the rest of the trip.

Upon arriving at their destination they had climbed two flights of stairs, one of which led up two levels. Putting them now on level ninety seven. Only ninety six levels left to climb.

"Where are we?" Kotono asked.

"I have no idea." Syaor answered, watching Zrash lead them through the maze with confidence. "She seems to have a mental map."

"Black dragons have excellent memories. They're far better than us when it comes to finding their way around. It makes sense she can retrace her steps."

Syaor got an idea. "She can get us out."

Kotono shook his head. "Not unless she's already been to the roof."

Spirits plummeting, Syaor looked down at the ground. This section was well lighted and clean, meaning it was frequented very often.

This time of night no humans patrol here. Zrash Sent suddenly.

The fact it was nighttime surprised Syaor, though after a moment's reflection it made sense. This deep in Pizre there was no access to the outside, so there was no way to tell time.

Zrash led them to a large metal door. She pushed it open with her head, straining slightly with its weight. Once open enough to admit them she walked inside, leaving the two men to follow on their own.

Inside was a dimly lit room in which tanks of liquid were arranged in rows throughout the room. The light cast was green, created by odd flat tubes on the ceiling that resembled the lights in the halls. Green light also radiated from the tanks, drowning out Zrash's purple glow.

"This is high end technology." Kotono whispered. "This stuff is normally only used by rulers and governments."

"So now you've been in palaces." Syaor said sarcastically.

"It was a matter of pride for me that I managed to steal an egg from the queen of Saerin. I was caught when I targeted an egg belonging to a Dragon Flyer. His dragon caught me." Kotono admitted.

Syaor remembered a different story, but said nothing. This just proved that what Kotono said couldn't be trusted. This thought made Syaor narrow his eyes. What if he was lying about being able to fly a dragon as well?

I have only been here once. Zrash Sent. This place is wrong.

She was trembling and sticking close to Syaor. He had never seen a Black dragon show fear like this, and it worried him. As they moved farther into the room he discovered why Zrash was nervous.

In the central tanks were dead dragons. Some were hatchlings, while others were adults. All of them were Black dragons, both two-legged and four-legged varieties.

Black dragons were basic, with four limbs and claws to match their size and purpose. Two-legged dragons had two legs and two arms, while the four-legged ones had four legs and no arms. Frills adorned their bodies in a swept back pattern. They had two eyes, a nose and a tail. They stood seven to ten feet tall, though the two-legged ones were generally taller.

Yet these dragons had extra limbs, eyes, frills, claws, and tails. Each had a different addition, but all seemed tacked on in grotesque ways. Some had blades in random places, some were mini versions, some had their skeletons on the outside, and some had wings. In all, the tanks held shocking sights that put nightmares to shame.

Syaor and Kotono drew back, revolted by what they saw. Zrash seemed ready to leave, and Syaor agreed with her.

"What is going on here?" Kotono whispered.

Syaor didn't really care, he just wanted out. Kotono had a different agenda though, and began searching among the tanks. Unwilling to be left alone with nothing but dragons, Syaor followed him.

At length Kotono found a desk and after a quick check opened it right up. Inside were many folders with complicated letters and documents.

While Syaor couldn't make any sense of the folders, Kotono dove right into them with no hesitation. The speed with which he filed through them was stunning, and Syaor couldn't help but gape at him.

"Well?" he asked when Kotono had finished.

"This is troubling news." Kotono finally replied, replacing all but one folder. "This facility is experimenting on dragons, and apparently humans. They are creating shock troops for war."

The intelligence and tone of his voice had a note of experience in it. Kotono seemed too distracted to act, and Syaor was sure this was his true voice.

"War?"

"Yes. It seems someone of high power wants to start a war."

"Who is it?"

"That's just the thing. No mention of who is funding the project is made in these files. And we don't have time to do a more thorough investigation. We'll take this folder with us for evidence."

"And why are we doing this?" Syaor asked.

"Because this could be our ticket to freedom. These are valuable pieces of information, and I'm sure Talooc's government would be happy to receive them."

Syaor was skeptical but the idea did have its merits. If the government supported them, perhaps they'd clear them of all charges. Especially if Syaor managed to prove his innocence.

"Also," Kotono said. "I've found a complete map."

"What?"

Kotono opened a large bottom drawer and pulled out a pile of large rectangular papers. The top one was a diagram of the roof with all the stairs and landing areas clearly marked. Where each stairway led was also documented on the paper.

"This is incredible." Syaor whispered.

"Yes," Kotono agreed, pulling a marker out of another drawer. "Now we can plan our route."

"Why was this map here?" Syaor wondered.

"It makes sense to leave full maps in rooms this important. Its just our good luck we found it."

After that they worked into the wee hours of the night. Tracing their route than retracing when it led to a dead end. Sometimes the dead end didn't come until several levels up. Pizre was the ultimate maze, a fact never more clear than at this moment when Syaor saw it mapped out on paper.

Finally though, they were done and had committed their route to Zrash's memory. Their route even included a saddlery where they could swipe a saddle for Zrash. As Kotono put it, Syaor's old heart wouldn't last for two percent of the run they had to make. So the closest saddlery had been integrated into their path.

Now they rested despite the rooms creepy occupants. Just before they drifted off to sleep Kotono dropped a last bit of news.

"By the way, those eggs are the first attempt at altering unborn dragons. I think they're supposed to have wings. Only time will tell if the experiment was successful."

"What? Only those two?"

"No, the whole clutch. I didn't know about the alteration until now. No doubt Zrash sensed the change and that's why she abandoned them."

"So what about your friend?" Syaor asked.

"I don't ask her such things. But she did sense something weird about them." Then Syaor fell asleep cuddled against Zrash's side.

k

It seemed like only an hour or two before Kotono shook him awake. With hurried gestures he indicated to get up quietly.

Syaor didn't need to be told to be quiet. He could hear the voices as well. It seemed the workers had arrived.

Zrash growled quietly. She seemed to sense the need to hide at the moment.

Syaor gathered his pack and waited for Kotono to strap it onto his back. Once it was securely fastened, Kotono grabbed his sword.

They were prepared to go, but Syaor honestly didn't think they could make it to the roof in one day.

Kotono rushed out and knocked the lab workers to the ground with a series of dance-like moves. Throughout it all he kept his sword sheathed as promised.

Without skipping a beat the party ran out of the room. They only ran into a few guards on their first stretch, which both Zrash and Kotono took down. Though Zrash dealt fatal blows to her victims.

By the time they reached the saddlery Syaor was at his limit. Thankfully he had a chance to rest while Kotono hurriedly selected a saddle and pad for Zrash. Amazingly, the dragon tolerated his touch as he saddled her and buckled all the straps.

Syaor climbed into the saddle while Zrash bent down for him. It had a large cantle where Syaor sat. Safety straps ensured he would remain in the saddle, and on the pommel was a handlebar. Stirrups hung stiffly down next to Zrash's sides, in front of her hips.

The sack containing the two eggs and folder was tied to a ring on the left side of the saddle.

As soon as everything was securely fastened they took off again. They took so many turns that Syaor soon lost track. Inmates hid or called out to them as they passed, but were ignored.

Even Kotono was breathing hard when they ran into a breakfast cart. He quickly knocked the driver out and cut the smaller dragon free. Zrash handled the two guards while Kotono tied off the Blue dragon's dangling straps. Then both men gobbled down all the gruel they could handle through their nerves, and Kotono climbed onto the Blue dragon bareback.

He definitely knew how to ride one if he could handle a two-legged dragon bareback while sword fighting with a sheathed sword. And he did it well. Though the Blue dragon was rather noisy at first in it's surprise.

An hour into their journey they came upon a room the map had marked as unoccupied. Upon arriving there however, it became apparent that this room was anything but.

The room was dimly lit and no personnel were there. Yet bodies lined every wall they could see. There were actually rows of bodies all around the room, just as there had been tanks of liquid in the deformed-dragon room.

It seemed the reports on human experiments were true. For like the dragons in the green room, these men had additions tacked onto their bodies. Usually taking the form of blades on the elbows, wrists, ankles, and knees. Some had bulging muscles that had crushed their bones, and others actually had part of their skeletons on the outside of their body.

The sights were horrendous and effected Kotono and Syaor far more than the dragons' mutilations had. Most of the subjects were dead, but some moaned with pain or breathed ragged breaths in sleep.

Syaor urged Zrash onward, and she was only too happy to comply. Kotono didn't wish to remain and search for clues either.

They soon arrived at the door out, but found it locked. At the same time they came upon it a whole hoard of guards showed up. They had known what to expect, for they were armed to the teeth and ready for a fight. None of them had a single dragon with them, and Syaor decided to attribute that to Zrash.

They were in trouble. There was no way they could fight off the guards and force open the door at the same time. Syaor had a sneaking suspicion the guards had planned it that way.

"This isn't good." Kotono said, "I'll take out as many as I can. You see what Zrash can do about that door."

He didn't wait for Syaor's response but charged at the guards, spurring the poor Blue dragon onward. As promised, his sword remained sheathed.

"Sy." a familiar voice suddenly said.

Syaor whirled his head around so fast his neck cracked. He ignored it in favor of staring at the two inmates chained to the wall in a corner.

Hagish and Tojee were hanging by their wrists, completely naked with welts covering them from head to toe. They had been severely beaten, but no additions poked through their skin.

Sensing his emotions, Zrash took Syaor over to them. He had never imagined he'd see them in this state.

"What happened?" Syaor asked.

"Doesn't matter. Hurry up and let us down so we can help."

Syaor wasted no time in searching their chains and soon found the incredibly simple lock that held them. He reached up and pulled the pins out and the cuffs fell open.

Hagish was the first to get his feet beneath him. He took off to an area further down where he grabbed some blades that hadn't been attached yet. Hurrying back to Tojee he tossed it at his partner who had just recovered.

"Why are you doing this?" Syaor asked.

Tojee grinned at him. "We may be assassins, but we stand by our friends. You have a family to return to, but we're done. After being caught no one will hire us even with our skills. So we'll help you get out of here as a last assignment. No charge."

"Friend?" Syaor said, stunned.

"Didn't you know?" Hagish grunted. "We even had our special nickname. Now lets help our Sy get out!"

With that they rushed into the press of guards with their blades whizzing through the air.

Zrash returned to the door and got to work. As soon as he was able, Kotono hurried over with a collection of keys he'd stolen from a guard.

Hurriedly, he tried each key until one worked. The door clicked open and Zrash rushed out, giving Syaor only time for one last look at the friends he never knew he'd had.

Their progress sped up incredibly after that and the two dragons carried them to the roof in eight hours. Along the way they encountered many guards who weren't as fortunate as the others had been. For Zrash wasn't in a very merciful mood and soon her fangs and claws were stained red with blood. She now displayed all the viciousness she was infamous for.

The guards steadily increased as they neared the top. As a result, Zrash's entire front became coated in blood.

With a clatter of swords against cement the last guards went down. The last stairway lay ahead and all they had to do was climb it.

Panting heavily, Zrash staggered up them, making Syaor feel worse than useless. He was the only one not breathing hard. Yet his part was fast approaching.

Outside cold air burned his skin and rain pelted down from above. It truly was a fierce storm, and Syaor welcomed every minute of it. Yet it was the sight that greeted him on the roof that brightened his heart.

Perched on the roof and surrounded by a solid row of guards was a very large dragon. Syaor didn't know breeds, but he knew this was one of the largest breeds.

It walked on two legs, supporting it's body with large wings. A single claw on each wing braced against the ground. The dragon had a long sinewy neck and tail, the end of which had a triangle shaped flap of skin on it. It was a rudder, this dragon had a rudder on it's tail. Two large ears were bent down against it's neck to avoid the pounding rain and it's great head was lowered almost to the ground.

"Good. A Storm-flier. That's perfect for this weather, and strong enough to carry us and Zrash. From the size, this one's a female, good since females are more docile. Great size, that's gotta be a one hundred foot wing span on her." Kotono said loudly to be heard over the howling wind.

Syaor merely nodded. His eyes locked on the majestic form before him even as he thought of Hagish and Tojee. All that time, and he'd been so cold to everyone. So in denial of what had happened to him, that he'd missed the kindness that had been right in front of him. It wasn't until he found a kindred spirit in Zrash that he'd begun seeing those around him differently.

"Right. This is your time. I'll fight the guards as long as I can. You must make the Storm-flier bend to your will. That's the only way it'll carry us out of here."

Syaor nodded grimly, preparing himself for what was to come.

"Lets go." he said.

As one they rushed out from the cover of their door. The reaction from the guards was immediate and violent.

Kotono finally unsheathed his sword, ready to make a final push. Zrash plowed through the ring of guards and attacked the worker holding the Storm-flier's incredibly long reins. He fell to her claws just as the others had.

Syaor grabbed the reins of the dragon whose nostrils were flared at the scent of blood. It's eyes were intensely focused as it reared its head back.

Zrash and the dragon snarled simultaneously. The other dragon's teeth were much larger and it's jaws big enough to swallow Zrash whole. Zrash didn't back down, making up for her smaller size with pure viciousness.

Syaor focused with all his might in the pounding rain. Ignoring the chill of soaked clothes and water dripping into his eyes, he formed his thoughts.

Carry us. he Sent to the Storm-flier.

She growled in response. Not Master.

Carry us. Syaor repeated.

Not Master. The Storm-flier replied stubbornly.

Their eyes locked and an intense mental struggle began. One Syaor must win at all costs, for if he lost his life was forfeit.

k

Kotono gripped his sword, fighting to keep a secure hold on it through the sweat and rain. The dragon beneath him had become much slicker and his legs screamed with the effort of holding onto it.

With sword in one hand and reins in the other he steered his dragon in and out while he slashed away. The poor dragon was a docile creature, and it flinched away from the spray of blood. At least it's distressed calls had ceased.

Suddenly the dragon to used it's special ability on an accidental cue from Kotono. A ball of water erupted from it's mouth. It was so forceful it knocked a rider backward and only the safety straps kept him in tied to the saddle. The force of the blow rendered the man unconscious and his dragon turned on him as it sensed his weakness.

Kotono stared in shock at what the dragon had done. He had thought the dragons on Pizre wouldn't be trained to use their abilities on command. Things had just gotten much easier.

Between the two of them they took down the guards circling them. Able to rest for a moment, Kotono looked around. Through the pounding rain he found Syaor and Zrash.

Zrash was standing as still as she could while fending off the guards circling her. None of the other dragons wanted to get close to her, and that helped a lot. Syaor was staring intently into the Storm-flier's eyes. A battle fiercer than the one in the rain was raging between those two. Nothing could be allowed to interrupt them now.

He had the dragon beneath him launch a ball of water at the guard closest to Syaor. It whizzed past Syaor's face and hit the guard with incredible force. Apparently he had undone his safety straps, for he was thrown clear of his dragon.

Kotono spurred his dragon forward, looking for the best approach. Once again his sword cut the air and sent blood flying like rain.

As rain poured down his back, soaking every piece of clothing he had, Kotono swung his blade through the many forms he knew. Every time it collided with a target Kotono's grip slipped, to the point that he feared losing hold of it.

They were running out of time, surely the Dragon Flyer had been alerted by now. He must be on his way back, and if he appeared before they made it off the roof the Storm-flier would only respond to his commands.

Kotono reached Zrash's side and whirled his Blue around to see a new wave of guards. The alert had certainly been heard, and there were now too many to fight.

Hurry up. Kotono thought, willing the elderly man to succeed.

k

Syaor's mind was stressed to its limit. The Storm-flier was incredibly stubborn. It was all he could do just to hold on at this point.

All he knew was the dragon's eyes with their slitted pupils. The background of yellow through which flashes of gold sparkled. So mesmerizing, those eyes, and so intense. It was the ultimate staring contest.

With a sudden roar the Storm-flier broke contact. Flinging it's head into the rain the creature let out a great below.

Squeezing his stinging eyes shut, Syaor felt water returning to them. Even with the rain dripping into them they had grown dry from his refusal to blink.

When he quickly reopened his eyes he had time only to see giant talons reaching for him. He gave a startled yelp as they closed over both Zrash and him.

Another shout accompanied his and he looked over to see Kotono and his Blue similarly held.

Water rushed past him in a sudden torrent and he looked up for the source. The Storm-flier had chosen that particular moment to relieve itself. Sending what looked like a waterfall rushing past Syaor and Kotono.

Wings already opened and pumping, the dragon rose into the air. It wasn't a smooth launch by any means. Wind and rain pounded them and the dragon's wing strokes were viscously jerky.

Yet it was a fast ascent, albeit one that produced a lot of whiplash. Thankfully the dragon got higher into the air and spread its wings wide. With this the flight smoothed out as the dragon rose higher still.

Another torrent of water rushed past him, causing Syaor to shout in disgust.

"This thing just peed! Why'd it pee again?" he yelled.

Surprisingly, Kotono heard him over the great wing strokes and gusts of wind.

"Storm-fliers absorb water through their skin. They use it like a ballast to fly through even the fiercest storms! They have to expel excess water somehow!"

Great, Syaor thought. could have warned me about that.

"We need to steer this thing!" Syaor called, focusing on the matter at hand. "All it's doing is climbing!"

Kotono glanced at him, Syaor was able to see much clearer now that the dragon's body and wings shielded them from the rain. So he could see the intense glare the other man gave him.

"I was planning to climb on from the ground! Never have I mounted a dragon in flight! This is crazy!"

"This is the reason you were brought along! Now hurry up and get going, or we'll all end up in some strange place or out at sea!"

"Try Sending to it!" Kotono replied.

Syaor tensed with suspicion. The thief knew about his ability, and even what it was called. He was definitely more than he seemed.

Take us to land. he Sent to the dragon, or tried to. It's mind was blocked now that it was in the air.

"It's mind is blocked!" he informed Kotono.

Kotono said no more, but he seemed to accept Syaor's words. He was their only hope now. Syaor really hoped he knew which way was land.

k

Kotono got down to business. He must find the reins and get them to land. No small feat considering the circumstances.

Tying his sword to the Blue's reins and securing them so they wouldn't dangle, Kotono climbed free of the Storm-flier's talons. Gripping the creature's thankfully skinny leg, he began his climb.

His arms and legs were already sore, and soon the muscles burned with pain. At the same time his body shivered from the chill of wind and rain. The higher they got the worse the cold became.

Suddenly long leather straps whipped past his face. What luck that the reins were blowing past him at this moment!

Without thinking he reached out for them…and lost his grip. His grasping fingers snatched the reins at the last second and he quickly clasped them with both hands.

Screaming, he swung away from the dragon, hoping with all his might that his numb fingers withstood the shock. His weight jerked on the bit in the dragon's mouth, forcing the dragon's head down.

Kotono looked up to see it go into a steep dive and drop past him. It was an odd feeling that, where he seemed to hang in midair as the dragon plummeted past him.

Still screaming, and not ashamed to admit it, Kotono was jerked down after the dragon. He was slapped down against the dragon's hide just below the saddle and above the base of it's tail. Putting him more or less where he needed to be.

Gripping the reins and also pulling himself forward by the straps, Kotono cursed the cold that so numbed his body. Crawling along wet, smelly, dragon hide and buffeted by incredibly strong winds wasn't how he had imagined this going.

Finally he felt his fingers grasp the cantle of the saddle. Relieved, but not yet safe, Kotono pulled himself forward and froze.

The sea rushed toward them, huge waves crashing into one another as the wind bent them to its will. Those viscous waters would be the end of them, and the foolish dragon was diving right towards them with no hint of pulling up.

Hastened by this new problem Kotono abandoned caution and practically flung himself into the saddle. Jamming his feet into the stirrups and squeezing as tightly as he could with his knees, Kotono pulled the reins back with all his strength.

The dragon was well trained and had a soft mouth, so he was probably too hard on it. But at that particular moment he really didn't care.

It's neck craned back from his pulling, and the dragon opened it's wings to catch the wind. Not a moment too soon either. It's legs caught in the sea, creating an incredible amount of drag. The old man and both dragons were surely underwater.

Struggling fiercely the Storm-flier slowly managed to free itself from the ocean's clutches. Panic helped it rise into the air once again, and soon Kotono leveled it off. Heading it in a westerly direction, for that was the surest way to land.

Only then did he fasten the safety straps and unclench his cramped legs. He would surely be sore for months, and he doubted he'd be able to walk properly for the better part of that time.

Looking back he felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. They'd done it, the first people ever to escape from Pizre.

k

The flight to land had been a miserable one. Syaor'd been wet, cold, and incredibly tired, yet unable to rest. And the dunking in the sea had not been fun.

Surprisingly, the Blue dragon was still with them. And the two eggs were fine, Zrash had assured him of that. However, the documents had been thoroughly soaked. It had taken a day to carefully separate and dry them. Though a few had torn during the separating. Incredibly the ink hadn't run, so the surviving papers were still legible.

As soon as she had dropped them off the Storm-flier had left. No doubt returning to her Master's side. Syaor hadn't been sorry to see her go, as her constant excretions had gotten on his nerves.

The important thing was that they were free, and now he had a chance to clear his name. And a partner, for Kotono had decided to team up with him. Zrash also remained by his side. The Blue had no opinion, being too stupid to form one. Kotono had named her Blue in a stunning display of inspiration.

While they had escaped from Pizre, Syaor's fight was just beginning. For he must now find his wife and daughter. Emirsh already had some leads as to who had framed him. So freedom would soon be his in its entirety.

Yet at this moment, sitting on the dirt surrounded by a brilliantly green forest, life was good. The rest would come in time and he had valuable friends to face the world with now. They would always be by his side and Zrash would be in his mind. Her presence a testament to what they had overcome, together.

Escape from Pizre