(~o.0.o~)

I woke up on a large wooden bed. A mouth-watering smell entered the area, and I could see a woman standing by a stove, stirring something in a big silver pot. I tried to sit up, but my back voted against it, and made it quite clear that I would not be moving for a bit. My head hit the wall with a thud, and the little girl ran over and scrambled onto the bed and sat on my stomach. "The lady's up!" She squealed happily in my face. I blinked a couple of times, and then smiled at the little girl.

"No I'm not." I told her. "You just think I'm awake when really, I'm still sleeping." The girl wasn't fooled, like Peter would be. She laughed and bounced a bit, making me groan.

She cupped my face and looked at me seriously. "Where is the bunny hole?" I laughed inwardly at the absurdity of the question, and then I remembered what happened. I'd poked my head out of a hole, then sprung out to save her. She thought it was a rabbit hole, not my personal passage into the Maze.

I shrugged. "Maybe it fell in with the rest of the ground." I suggested. It seemed like a good enough answer for the curiosity of this toddler. "My name is Al." I told her, since I'm pretty sure Aura-Lee is a bit too long.

She smiled and giggled. "Why is your name Al?" She cocked her head to the right. I shrugged. "My name is Kadria, but everyone calls me Kadie." She slid off my stomach and the bed onto the floor.

I looked up to the woman cooking. "Is Kadie-bug here your daughter?" Kadie scrunched her nose at the nickname, but she didn't say anything.

The woman turned. "Yes, Kadie's mine." She poured a bit of what was in the pot into a porcelain bowl, and brought me a yummy looking stew with a posh silver spoon. "Here you go, miss." She placed it on a little bed-side table. I sat up VERY slowly, so I wouldn't yelp in pain. I'd always been a fast healer, but even then it takes time for the pain to dull.

Once I was in a good position, I grabbed the bowl and sipped the broth. The warm chicken taste was so unreal, like a cruel dream. For months, I'd been living off of charred venison that Thidin caught for me, this stew was a pinch of heaven. Shock surged through my body, and I could feel Thidin searching for me. I closed off my mind, so that he wouldn't be able to find me yet. The bowl clattered to the floor, and Kadie jumped back from the spilt food. As soon as he passed from this area, I realized what happened to the stew. I began to get of bed to clean it when I gasped from the pain in my back.

"What did I do to my back?" I think aloud, loud enough that a man walked in, taking off a cowboy hat and boots to match.

He pulled a chair over next to the bed and barely touched my spine, running his finger down until it reached the tender point, making me growl like Soa. "You'll be fine in a few hours, miss." He said, with a strong southern accent. "How did you get to my baby girl?" He asked with a look of concern. He must've seen that the Maze was under where his daughter fell through.

I quickly thought of a lie. "I was walking aimlessly through the woods when I heard screaming, and I saw Kadie sitting on that ground. I ran to help her when the ground gave in."

Kadie's dad frowned a bit. "You don't look like a girl who should be left alone in the woods." He was seeing through my lie! I had to think fast.

"I'm an orphan!" I blurted out. It wasn't a total lie, I guess. My parents were killed, but I was technically a foster kid. I wasn't really an orphan that is just what I've told people. "I was trying to find a place to stay, when I saw your daughter sitting in time for her mother." Kadie's mother seemed to believe my lie.

I spent the night in silence, trying to decide what to do if Thidin to make another appearance. Maybe I shouldn't be here, I told myself, if I get used for this kind of life, it will only lead to trouble. I rested my head on the pillow, and curled up in a ball under the blankets. If only Sophia and Alice could see me right now. They would be so proud of me.

(~o.0.o~)

I expected to wake up with Aura-Lee lying next to me, that her vanishing was only a nightmare. Unfortunately, to my dismay, she was not. I scratched my claws along the granite wall, wanting nothing more than my Rider back. I looked at myself in the reflected stone, surprised at my reaction. I remembered what the Father of Knowledge told me: It is of a strangeness that thou carest for thy rider as thou dost. What I feel this way about Aura-Lee? I headed off to the dragon of magic, for an early morning session.

Oanad was already awake, just my luck. He was trading in his magics, making sure he was up to date. I cleared my throat to allow him to know that I was there.

He raised his head, and that's when I realized that he wasn't in his dragon form. He looked like a human male, I can feel his energy. "Thidin," he seemed a bit embarrassed, "I'm sorry you had to catch me in this position." He promptly changed his form, transforming into the light green beast. He stared at me and piercing yellow eyes watching me. I bowed my head, out of respect for the master.

"I want to learn how to do that." I breathed, catching Oanad's attention.

He blinked a couple of times, obviously confused. "Thidin, this is impossibly hard magic." He shook his head, trying to talk me out of it. "It will take a lot of time away from relaxation," He got a sneaky look in his serpentine eyes, "even when you should be sleeping, you must train."

I flashed my pearly white teeth. "I'm not afraid, Magician."

Oanad nodded solemnly. "Then we start…now"