Race to Astorta's Stone (Part 1)

It was just another lazy summer day in the kingdom of Amcoza. Ava was lying in the warm soft grass of the castle garden daydreaming about what the big wide world was like. Ava wasn't your typical princess. While her sisters were off listening to palace gossip and talking about their arranged marriages to the neighbouring kingdoms Ava was either off riding her favourite horse, secretly having sword fights with anyone who wanted to or in her favourite hiding spot at her garden. She was the type who didn't mind get dirty or doing work. Ava wasn't hung up on her looks like her sisters but she was seen as naturally beautiful by all, without make-up or suffocating dresses. She was strong but had a classic princess figure, her hair was long and wavy and was a deep caramel colour but in the sun became a golden-honey colour. Her skin was lightly tanned and she had eyes that were a deeper blue than the ocean with glints of gold.

"AAAAAVVVVAAAAAA!"

A shrill voice broke the once beautiful silence. Ava jumped up in an instant and rushed out of the garden. Waiting at the palace steps was Margret, Ava's nanny. Though being 16 she didn't really need one. Margret was her nanny when she was young and like a mum to her since Ava's real mum died when she was 7. Now Margret was like a tutor to Ava and her sisters.

"Ava! There you are my dear! Where were you?" she chattered on.

"Sorry. Margret. I must off lost track of time." replied Ava rather sleepily.

Truthfully she had been hiding because sometimes she didn't want to learn about being a perfect princess and how the three Kingdoms were found in the land of Loustica.

"Oh I suppose you were in that garden that the King gave you again. Well come now. Classes started a while ago and your sisters are waiting."

Margret took Ava's hand delicately and led her to the study. The books were all carefully on the shelves and fresh parchment was laid out on three tables with three velvet green books with quills and ink on top. At two of the desks sat Ava's sisters Janet and Suzanna. They were identical twins with almost bleached blonde hair with hints of brown and silver. They both had bright brown eyes with bits of green and they skin was pale. They had been giggling but as soon as Margret entered the room they stopped at once. Ava sat down and opened her book. Margret sat down at her desk.

"Now that we are all here ladies please take out your books of 'The Legend of Loustica' and read pages 1 to 25, then answer all the questions."

Ava opened her book and began to read. It was the story of how 200 years ago the Lord of Shadows, Drakson ruled over the Land in terror and tyranny for 20 years. He killed any who tried to rebel against him. He was feared by all. One day three friends (Darien, Tomas and Theodor) of a village in the land decided that enough was enough and decided to go to the goddess Astorta and beg for her help. They found her in the Twili forest after walking through it and battling it's terrors for days on end. She was said to be the most beautiful sight anyone could see with eyes green as grass and blue hair longer than herself. She said as a reward for all their hard efforts she would help them. She gave them dagger from her own belt and gave it to the three men. That dagger was known to be the dagger of Aquarita. She then told them that not far from where they were, was a stone that she created which was made to seal away evil. She said that the seal over it is opened and the entrance is revealed once every 200 years on a lunar eclipse. To defeat Drakson they must pierce his black heart with the dagger while the lunar eclipse was taking place and his soul would be sucked into the stone and sealed away. Just before they left Astorta warned them that once every 200 years on a lunar eclipse the seal would open again and it was possible for Drakson to escape.

The three left the forest and went back home to their village where they made plans on how to get inside the castle. Two weeks later (the day before the lunar eclipse) they set out for Drakson's castle. For all the day they snuck through the castle and occasionally battled the guards till they reached the top tower where Drakson watched over the land. They burst through the door and a might battle broke out. Drakson knocked them to the ground again but they continued to fight. Some say the battle could be heard miles away. Tomas attempted to draw the dagger of Aquarita but was knocked down. Theodor lunged at Drakson but was stabbed by his sword in the arm and blood gushed out. Theodor hit the ground and yelled out in pain. Drakson laughed with evil pleasure but in that brief moment that he dropped his guard Darien took the dagger from Tomas and thrust it into Drakson's back. Drakson screamed in pain. The scream was so awful that the men had to cover their ears as the sound went on and on till the windows broke around them. Then in horror Drakson's body melted like butter in front of them. All that was left was a ghostly soul and in a "CRACK!" it was gone. The men were heroes and became the first three kings of the kingdoms of Loustica. Peace broke out and all was good. But the three friends remembered that it was possible once every 200 years for Drakson to escape.

Ava closed the book and answered all the questions like her sisters. When they had all finished Margret cleared her throat.

"Art class now girls" she crocked as she coughed.

Ava and the girls got out their paints and brush's then began to paint. While painting Janet and Suzanna whispered to one another then spoke to Ava.

"So Ava, late again" giggled Janet.

"You'll never get a husband if you continue to be late," giggled Suzanna too.

"Oh stop it both of you!" spluttered Ava.

Margret hushed them angrily and the girls continued working. Ava loved her sisters but they were acting like 10 year olds when they were both 19. When the girls finished they showed their works to Margret. The twins had both painted pictures of themselves at they weddings to each of their betroved. Ava had painted a black stallion drinking at a lake in a forest with flowers all over the place.

"Wonderful girls! That concludes today's lessons." exclaimed Margret.

The girls left the study. The twins went to the main hall giggling and Ava went to back to her garden. The garden was like a mini forest with tall trees, a small pond, and wild flowers everywhere. Ava whistled loudly. Out of nowhere a majestic blue phoenix landed next to her.

"Hey Fica", she smiled as she stroked Fica's feathers.

"Oh that's nice" replied Fica in an almost purring manner.

Ava talked to Fica for a while, while still stroking her gently. They then heard trumpets sounding in the distance. Ava sat up and looked at Fica then smiled slightly.

"Sounds like the Dragon knights have arrived" said Fica with excitement.

"Yeah" replied Ava lazily "I wonder what they'll be like. I hear they are even more admired and wanted by princesses than some princes."

"Don't you want to meet them?" enquired Fica

"No thanks, they won't be formally welcomed to the Kingdom till tonight's ball. So I don't need to attend till then. Besides I need to go to the kitchen and watch over the preparations like father asked me to. Speaking of which, I'd better get down there now." and with that Ava left for the kitchen with Fica right on her tail (so to speak).

Down at the kitchen it was all touch and go to get to get all the preparations for the night's celebration. When Ava arrived she was greeted by a short puggy woman in an apron and chef's hat with some red hair poking out here and there.

"Ahh, your highness, you've arrived at last. We'll need you to give your opinion on our produce. The King always said you had the best palette in the kingdom. Here put these on so you won't dirty yourself."

Jill handed Ava a plain dress and apron, and so she tasted soups, icings, cakes, fruit and meats. She'd then say if they needed more salt, sugar or other flavourings. Fica hopped in to see all the crazy hub -bub in the wild jungle of cooks, bowls, pots, spoons and food. Ava snuck her a cake when she could. Ava continued to help and then found herself even helping with decorating most of the main cake with icing in all the colours of the rainbow, and it looked spectacular.

Then just as Ava was about to sit down Jill rushed to her side quite hot and flustered.

"My dear! Time has gone so quickly that we've forgotten it. You'll be late soon and you still need to get ready!"

"OH MY GOSH! Father will kill me if I'm late!" shrieked Ava as she looked at the clock then was flying out the door so fast that she forgot to change back, so she still looked like your average palace cook.

Ava ran and ran with all her might. She looked behind her to see if Fica has following...CRASH! Before Ava knew it she was on the floor and her forehead was throbbing. She looked up to see a boy on the ground too. She couldn't see him very well since it was now dark.

"Ouch!" the boy yelled.

"Oh, I'm so sorry", Ava moaned.

"Why don't you watch where you're going! Jeez." the boy replied.

"How dare you talk to me like that! You should watch your...".

But Ava didn't get to finish. For the boy had already left in a hurry. Ava picked herself up and kept running to her room.

"What nerve! Talking to a princess like that! Don't I look…"

Ava stopped and looked down only to realise that she was still dressed as a palace cook.

"Well I guess that lowers the trouble he's in but if I see him at the ball he'll be in for a surprise."

As soon as she got inside Ava quickly washed herself down and called a servant to dress her. The servant clothed her in a beautiful purple silk dress with golden ribbon trimmings and matching high heels. Half of her hair was tied into a bun and the rest hung down underneath it. And to finish off Ava had small diamond earrings put in, a delicate tiara of silver and white rubies, and lastly a small ruby pendant around her neck.

Ava then made her way to the main hall for the ball. Behind a curtain she met with her sisters who wore leaf green dresses that looked like they could hide a family each under them, and they both had huge tiaras that where covered in many jewels. All of a sudden Ava felt a big strong hand on her shoulder and heard deep voice whisper.

"You all look lovely my dears".

Ava turned around and there he was. Her father, King James himself, dressed in a royal blue robe crested in jewels, a grand sword in his belt and a majestic golden crown rested on his head. King James had silver hair much like his older daughters and the same kind brown eyes. He stood tall and proud no matter what. He spoke again:

"Wonderful for you to be on time for once".

Ava blushed.

"Thanks father" she whispered back.

"How was the food preparation?" he asked.

"Quite delicious" grinned Ava.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed as King James smacked his lips.

Just then the curtain went up and all of crow applauded for all of the royal family as they were announced. Many of the boys ogled Ava and her sisters but Ava took no notice. She knew all of the boys were interested in her for her looks or her bloodline, and not for who she was. Ava had only told Fica this, but she hated the idea of being married off to a stranger. She wanted to marry for love and that was all that mattered. She didn't care where he came from, even if he was a peasant. With that Ava didn't pay attention and instead went over to the feast to try some of the food that she had helped to prepare. As Ava sat down she admired the hall. It was gold all over with a marble floor and angels playing in the clouds were painted on the ceiling. Portraits were hung on the walls too, but what Ava loved the most was the chandlers of crystal which hung from the roof. Ava remembered playing here as a child with her sisters.

Everyone in the hall was wearing either beautiful coloured dresses or fine handsome dress robes. Just then trumpets sounded like they had earlier this morning and everyone stopped and faced the main doors. Ava met with her family at the front of the crowd. The doors opened and 13 hooded figures entered and bowed to the King as the trumpets continued to sound. They then stopped. The King stepped forward and addressed the crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen! I proudly give you our courageous Dragon Knights back from their long battle on enemy lines. They are now our guests here!"

A round of applause went up as the hooded figures revealed their beaming faces and waved to all. One stayed hooded and Ava couldn't help but stare. The King then signalled for silence again.

"And I would also like to welcome the newest member of these heroes. Allow me the present to you all ,l Dalton of the Kingdom Naviba!"

And with that the last hooded figure removed his cloak. Dalton was a very well built teenager of the age 17. His hair was short and spikey and was jet black which sheens of blue. He was darkly tanned and he had eyes that were bright green like a jungle. He wore a deep red uniform like the other knights.

"Welcome Dalton" announced the King.

Ava thought that he looked familiar.

"Thank you, your Majesty" replied Dalton as he bowed.

And then and there Ava realised where she knew him from. Dalton was that rude boy she had bumped into before. She decided then and there she wouldn't be that nice till she got an apology. She knew she didn't look where she was going but neither did he and she apologized, and not to mention he spoke terribly to her. Just then, music started to play and everyone started to dance.

Ava was about to sit down when Margret came up to her and started pushing Ava to Dalton till it seemed they'd crash into each other again. The King came up behind Dalton and pushed him a bit as well.

"Dalton, allow me to introduce my daughter Ava, perhaps you two would like to dance" he suggested.

"But father! He wa..."

King James looked at her with cold eyes and Ava swallowed hard then curtsied to Dalton.

"Yes father" she sighed.

Dalton then took Ava's hand and they started to dance. Ava didn't look at Dalton for a while. Dalton was a surprisingly good dancer and it went quite well. Near the end of the song Dalton cleared his throat.

"Why won't you look at me?" he asked.

"Hppf" Ava mumbled.

"What's so wrong that you seem to be unable to stand my face?" Dalton demanded.

"You really don't remember me? Cause I sure remember you!" interrogated Ava.

"What do you mean?" asked Dalton, a bit more agitated as the song ended and they stopped dancing.

"Allow me to refresh your memory", Ava pulled her hair as it was before and recited "Crash, oh, I'm sorry."

Dalton stood there a little dumbstruck then opened his mouth.

"That cook was you?"

"Yes that's right!"

"Why were you dressed up like that?"

"Does it matter? And even if I was a cook. You had no right to talk to me like that." continued Ava.

"Well you still should have watched where you were going!" Dalton argued.

"Well so should you and at least I apologized and meant it!" and with that Ava stormed off in fury.

For the rest of the Ball Ava sat and talked to Margret and ate some cakes. One time she asked Ava how Dalton was like and she refused to talk about it then excused herself for an early bedtime.

Days went by and Ava continued with her lessons and would go past Dalton a few times without even making eye contact. One day Ava saw Dalton in the courtyard with the other knights practicing their sword skills. Ava decided to teach him a lesson and headed down to the court yards in a plain white dress. The two Senior Knights; Julian, a skinny blonde haired teenager was versing Dalton in a tag in with Merlin a bulky brunet in his 30s. Dalton was doing the best though he was on his own. Later on a few boys from the palace tried to take Dalton on but lost easily. Dalton stepped forward to the crowd of boy and girls who were cheering his name.

"Anyone else who'd like to try and take me on?" he asked.

"I'll give it a go" replied Ava as she stepped through the crowd.

"You? This isn't just a game princess. Are you sure that you can handle breaking a nail or two?" he mocked.

Ava grabbed a sword and held it tight.

"Loser apologizes for last night. Now bring it!" announces Ava.

"Deal" smiles Dalton and he holds his sword up too.

A bell went off and the two dashed at one another. And the fight was on. They swords clashed together and everyone cheered and screamed. A few times it seemed like one of the opponents were about to win but then their competitor managed to turn things around. They were practically even matched. As their swords continued to clang and cling Ava lost her balance and spun around once. When she got her balance there was a sword at her chest.

"Well let's hear it" commanded Dalton sneakily.

"Ooo, that's what you think" mocked Ava.

"What!" he choked.

"Look down" Ava smiled.

Dalton looked down to see that Ava's sword was at his chest as well and he didn't even realise it. It was a draw and the crowd whispered to one another. Ava stuck the sword in the ground.

"Looks like I'll have to wait for you to apologize next time" commented Ava, and she left without another word.

"What nerve she's got!" mumbled Dalton, and then returned to practice.

That night was the King's 35th Jubilee Ball and once again Ava oversaw all the cooking arrangements before going to her room and getting ready herself. This time Ava wore a creamy-gold dress with blue trimmings and a golden tiara to match. Many people in the kingdom came to the ball to celebrate. When Ava arrived she was forced to dance with Dalton again. It was like everyone thought they made a "cute couple". This time the tension between them was so thick you could cut through it with a knife.

When the music ended the two immediately broke apart and went their separate ways. It came to the time when the King had to give a speech. He called for silence and addressed the crowd.

"Welcome everyone to my Ball! I remember when I was a young lad who only could just walk when everyone was already starting to groom me for the throne. And let's not forget that time last year when I..."

The King never got to finish. For at that the floor started to shake beneath everyone's feet. The windows around them started to burst and shatter around the hall. Then for a moment it stopped. Then out of nowhere...CRASH!

Breaking in through the roof came huge black winged creatures with eyes redder than blood, and a roar that would chill one to the bone.

"SHADOW DRAGONS! RUN!" screamed a guard and everyone screamed and scattered all over the hall as the beasts caused havoc.

Goblins and ogres smashed through the walls and started grabbing people. In all the confusion Ava was knocked to the floor and above her a chandler started to fall. By the time her looked up it was nearly on her. But then a strong body grabbed her out of the way just as the chandler smashed into a million pieces. Ava looked up to see it was Dalton holding her. Before a word left either of their mouths a voice called out to them.

"Dalton! Ava! This way!"

They ran to the voice to find Julian and Merlin the senior knights along with the King and Fica. The Knights were fighting off some of the Shadow Dragons with all their might. As Dalton and Ava came to their side Merlin pointed to a hole in the wall and instructed them.

"Dalton, take Ava and the King to the abandoned tailors shop and wait for us there. NOW GO!"

The King was about to protest when Ava took his arm and pulled him half of the way to the local village where a kind farmer hid them in the old tattered building. From there Ava looked at her once beautiful home to see it half demolished and on fire. Screams could still be heard in the distance. Tears started to roll down Ava's cheeks as she secretly struggled with guilt for simply leaving her sisters behind, not knowing if they made it out. The King lied down on the bed and breathed heavily in pain. Ava went to his side and squeezed his hand tightly.

"Oh father! This is horrible, what is the meaning of this?" she cried as she thought of all those who hadn't made it out.

"Ava my dear, I'm afraid there is only one explanation" he choked.

"What father what!" Ava pressed on.

"Only one has true control over those creatures. It's been 200 years and the lunar eclipse is drawing near. I'm afraid Drakson will return and all of his allies sense it".

And in that moment Ava froze in shock. It was everyone's worst nightmare but this she couldn't wake up from.

"Someone's coming" whispered Dalton with his sword half drawn.

A puggy figure started to come toward then limping slightly. Ava rushed out for she knew who it was.

"Jill!" Ava shouted as she ran.

Jill hugged Ava with tears streaming down her cheeks and while still holding her bleeding leg. Ava helped Jill to a chair where she told them that everyone had been taken prisoner. Ava let out a huge sigh and sat down too.

"Well there's only one thing we can do now and that's pray" sniffed Jill.

"There is one more thing we can do" the King breathed.

From his robes James pulled out a rusted dagger hilt with a missing jewel from it, and handed it to Dalton. It was part of the dagger of Aquarita.

"The only thing that can save us all is if Drakson is resealed in Astorta's stone again during the lunar eclipse." coughed the King.

"I will do my best your Majesty. And where are the other pieces?" asked Dalton.

"As everyone knows in the story of our beginning the three first kings decided to break the dagger in three so each kingdom could be protected by its magic. The other two pieces are in the other kingdoms. But you must hurry for the lunar eclipse is in just a month."

And with that the King fell asleep and revealed a deep wound in his side. Ava gasped. Dalton told Jill to take care on the King and was just about to leave when Ava caught his sleeve.

"I'm going with you!" Ava stated.

"What? As if, it's too dangerous!" Dalton argued.

"I'm just as good a fighter as you and besides, you shouldn't have to do this on your own!" she cried.

"But..." Dalton began.

"Dalton. I order you as a princess to take me with you!" she replied.

And Dalton didn't have a choice but to take her on his quest. They gathered all the supplies that they could from the villagers and changed into peasant clothes and started their journey. They took back paths so that they wouldn't be as easily get spotted. They walked through valleys and the country side and over the occasional creek. Throughout the journey they hardly spoke. Ava decided to finally get a conversation going.

"I spy with my little eye, something black" she began.

Dalton decides to play along.

"My hair?" he replied.

"No."

"Rocks?"

"No."

"Okay then what?" he asked.

"Do you give up?" Ava giggled.

"Yes."

"Your pupils." she answered.

"How was I supposed to know that?" he asked

Ava just giggled again and for a while they continue the game.

"So which kingdom are we travelling to again?" asked Ava

"Tanfifa. That's the third time I told you. Jeez!" he muttered.

And all of a sudden all the tension came back between them. They continued to walk for a while and stayed silent till Ava decided she had; had enough.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she blurted out.

"Doing what?" he said back.

"One moment it seems like you are actually possible to be around and the next you act like the whole world revolves around you and your bloated ego. You can't even suck up your pride once and say sorry once!"

"WELL SORR..".

Dalton stopped in mid-sentence looked up and his eyes bulged. Ava stood there dumbstruck.

"What's wrong? You finally ran out of wor.."

Dalton jumped at her and they both hit the ground with a thud.

"HEY!"

But then Ava looked up and saw two shadow dragons just above her head. The hideous creatures growled through their knife-like teeth and started to circle the two. Ava and Dalton drew their swords and gritted their teeth. Then the creatures lunged at the humans and the battle broke out. Dalton and Ava swung their swords while the creatures tried to bite their heads off. The battle went on and on without any victory. Finally Ava's dragon blew fire at her and her leg was burnt. Ava screamed in agony and fell to the ground.

"AVA!" Dalton screamed and raced to her side with his dragon snapping at his heels.

"WATCH OUT!" she screamed back.

When Dalton got to her the Shadow Dragons raised their heads and dove at them in an ear throbbing roar. Then all was silent. Ava and Dalton were gasping for breath and both looked at one another and smiled. They both had swords in their hands and had crossed over to pierce the heart of the other's dragon. The creatures both hit the ground with their eyes rolled into the back of their skulls.

After catching their breath Dalton put some cream on Ava's wound and then bandaged it.

"Thanks" she moaned with pain.

With that the two continued their journey in silence again but the tension between them had lessened. After a while of some more walking the two came to a river that looked very deep.

"How are we supposed to cross this thing?" commented Dalton with a bit of agutation in his voice.

"Look, over there" pointed Ava.

Not far from where they were was a narrow and rough stone pathway cutting through the water.

"Good spotting" complimented Dalton.

Ava just smiled and took Dalton's hand as he lead her behind him. The water was luke warm and felt lovely against Ava's burn as they continued to walk. Dalton dropped Ava's hand half way through as he tested to see which stones where the least slippery. Ava waited patiently in the crisp water.

"Ahh. That feels good." she sighed.

Then out of the water a fat green hand covered in warts came out and grabbed Ava's leg. Ava was about to yell out but before she knew it she was under water. Dalton spun around as he heard a splash. There were bubbles coming out of the water but no Ava.

"AVA!" he shouted and dove in after her.

Under the water Dalton could see five large bulgy figures grabbing a much smaller one. Dalton drew his sword, grabbed Ava's arm, and jabbed at the other creatures' arms till they bled and let go of Ava. She was still somewhat conscious and they started swimming to the surface. They broke to the surface with a splash and swam to the other end. Coughing and gasping for air, they lay on the bank.

"River trolls!" spluttered Dalton "I thought they were still hibernating!"

"They probably woke up early because they sensed Draskson awakening" wheezed Ava.

Just then the River trolls burst from the water and came up to the two lying in the sand. Ava and Dalton jumped up, but before they could draw their weapons two grabbed them from behind and tied them up. The trolls were big bulky green creatures, with beady eyes and warts all over. The biggest one came up and spoke in a grizzly voice.

"Aah, human! Hadn't had tender meat like them in a while! Take them to camp."

And with that Ava and Dalton were swung over two shoulders yelling. The trolls walked along the river till they reached the out skirts of a wild looking forest. There the two were dumped on the ground and the trolls started to make a fire.

"Which one should we eat first?" asked the smallest one.

"The boy looks pretty good." said the biggest one.

A stumpy one stepped forward and looked at Ava.

"No no. Let's eat the girl. Her flesh is a lot tenderer than the boy."

The troll's breath was so fowl it could make vegetables rot in 3 seconds flat. All the trolls crowded around Ava and pinched her skin and agreed.

"DON'T YOU TOUCH HER!" shouted Dalton.

One of the trolls came up to Dalton and slapped him in the face.

"SHUT UP! YOU'LL BE NEXT!" it spat.

The trolls started to throw seasonings on Ava. As they were distracted Dalton leaned in for a dagger in his boot and unsheafed it. The trolls put a colossal cooking pot full of water on the fire and it started to bubble. Dalton cut the ropes and grabbed his sword. Just as one of the trolls picked up Ava and was about to throw Ava in the pot Dalton ran up and stabbed him in the back. The troll roared in pain and fell dead to the ground. Ava fell too and Dalton caught her then quickly cut her bonds and gave her; her sword.

The other trolls roared and ran at them with their arms outstretched and their yellow teeth bared. Ava and Dalton fought the trolls for more than an hour till everyone was cut, bleeding and bruised. In the end Dalton and Ava were able to outsmart the trolls by running in circles till they got too dizzy and were stabbed before they could blink. Only one of the trolls survived and it ran off screaming like a little girl.

Dalton and Ava continued walking till they found an abandoned barnyard where they collapsed on the hay. Ava sighed deeply as she decided to dress her wounds and then she convinced Dalton to allow her do his as well.

"Thanks" he muttered as cream was applied.

"You're welcome. And thanks for watching out for me today." replied Ava.

For a few minutes they got to know one another and started to get along before finally feeling so tired they fell in the hay again.

But before they did Dalton muttered "sorry about that first night we met. Night"

Ava smiled "night" back.

They both knew that tomorrow they'd arrive in Tanfifa and to get through all this they would have to get along.

To be continued in part 2.