Chapter 7: Summons From Zalphonia
With a look of concern on his face, Drake took a step closer to Alan whose eyes remained glued to the TV screen. Taking notice of the infuriated look on Alan’s face, Titus, Sarah, Jake, Sean, and Crystal glanced in Alan’s direction. As they looked at Alan and then back to the TV, a thought suddenly crossed their minds.
“Alan, do you remember that place? Have you been there before?” Drake asked.
Spontaneously, Alan bolted from the living room and dashed upstairs. Calling Alan’s name, Sean hurried after him with Crystal, Drake, and Jake following behind him. Titus and Sarah watched worriedly as their sons and their friends quickly followed Alan up the stairs.
With a worried sigh, Titus reached for the remote and switched off the TV. He cupped his hands together and rested his forehead against them as he leaned back in the couch and closed his eyes. He sat this way for a few seconds as Sarah watched her troubled husband barely make even the slightest movement.
“What are you thinking about right now, Titus?” Sarah asked in a soft, concerned voice.
“A lot.” Titus answered, still making no movements whatsoever.
“You know what I mean Titus. What specifically is on your mind? Maybe I can help you sort out your thoughts.” Suggested Sarah.
Finally, Titus sat up, removing his cupped hands from his face in the process. His hands slapped his knees and he faced Sarah who took note of the unsettled look on his face.
“Well…” Said Titus with a sigh. “See, there’s just a lot that I’ve been trying to make heads or tails of. We still have no idea who Alan really is and now people have begun to disappear again. But…the latter is what’s confusing me the most.” Titus said contemplatively.
Just at that moment, Drake, Jake, Crystal, and Sean walked down the stairs and returned to the living room. Sarah asked them if Alan was okay to which Crystal explained that Alan had locked himself in Drake’s room and had repeatedly yelled at them to go away.
Drake scoffed, folding his arms in an annoyed fashion. “Yeah, he locked himself in MY room. It’s not like we didn’t give him his OWN room or anything.”
“I understand, Drake, but try to give Alan a break. The poor kid’s been through a lot.” Said Sarah empathetically.
“I know…” Sighed Drake exasperatedly, trying to be more empathetic to Alan’s situation but still feeling annoyed that he had barricaded himself in his room.
Groaning, Drake lowered his head somewhat and rubbed his temples. Crystal patted his back to try and comfort her friend. As she did, she thought about what the news report had told them and the more she pondered over it, the more she came to determine that the report made no sense to her.
“Hang on a sec!” Exclaimed Crystal as she removed her hand from Drake’s back. “Drake, you and your family defeated Saulstrance and his minions, right?”
“Yeah?” Drake answered in a confused tone.
“So, if Saulstrance and his followers were defeated, how are people once again disappearing?” Inquired Crystal.
“Because you only defeated the Followers.” Jake quickly chimed in, his fists clenched as he looked down at the ground with a troubled expression on his face.
Everyone gazed over at Jake who glanced back at each of his family and friends. From the look on his face, they were quick to determine that out of all of them, Jake seemed to be the most affected by the news. They figured that this was because, as Saulstrance’s son and as one of two surviving members of his group, he felt as though he was responsible.
“But that’s what I’m saying: we beat your dad’s followers. In that case, the only thing that should be left is to find the people who were taken.” Crystal retorted, not understanding the meaning behind Jake’s words.
“No, just—Look, you are right Crystal. You guys did defeat me and the other Followers but we weren’t the only group who worked with my dad. See, my dad had two groups that worked under him. The first one is the Followers. They were the group that I belonged to. Our job was to join my dad, help him find places and people to conquer, and then attack. However, should anything have happened to us, that’s where the second group came in.” Jake explained, his expression changing from one of concern to a more serious look.
“The second group?” Sean parroted.
Jake turned to Sean and nodded. “The Apprentices. From what I’ve heard from my dad, the Apprentices had two tasks: the first was to take care of the humans we captured, make sure they were fed and had enough to drink, and, under their supervision, be allowed to walk around outside for short moments at a time. The second task my dad gave them was less a task and more of a failsafe: if anything were to have happened to us, it would then fall on the Apprentices to continue from where we left off.” The half-dragon teen finished explaining.
Titus and the others took a moment to process everything Jake had revealed to them. In that time, it had suddenly occurred to Titus and his family that they had, in fact, heard of the Apprentices before. It was during their last journey when they encountered Rikai. The crazed dragon had introduced himself to the group as one of Saulstrance’s five apprentices and had been chosen by Saulstrance himself to assist him and the Followers in conquering the world.
Continuing to recall everything he had learned from Rikai all those years ago, he remembered Rikai mentioning something that, at the time, didn’t strike Titus as weird but looking back, Titus had realized that it truly didn’t make sense: despite being an Apprentice, Rikai had made a claim that he had never met any of the other Apprentices. This was peculiar to Titus as he rationalized that in order for the Apprentices to have been taking care of the captured humans for as long as they had, they had to have been working together at least since Saulstrance had set his plans into motion. Were this the case, Titus thought to himself, then why had Rikai never met any of the other Apprentices? If there were truly five of them, then why was Rikai the one to be selected to join Saulstrance, Jake, and the others?
Titus asked Jake if he knew why Saulstrance had chosen Rikai to work with them to which Jake denied knowing.
“When it came to Rikai, dad never talked that much about him or why he was working with us instead of the other Apprentices.” Explained Jake.
Sean followed up Titus’s question for Jake with a question of his own: he asked his friend if he had ever met any of the Apprentices before.
Jake shook his head. “No. Other than Rikai, I have no idea who the others are or what they’re like.”
“Then, in that case, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that they may have others among their ranks. If these Apprentices are continuing from where Saulstrance left off, then I think it’s quite likely that there’s more than four of them. And…if this is the case, then that leaves us with four questions: Who are the Apprentices? How many dragons do they have working with them? Who is their leader and where are they keeping the humans they’ve taken?” Said Sarah contemplatively as she leaned forward and cupped her hands together, resting her elbows on her legs.
“Well…” Began Jake. “My dad did mention having a Champion before. If the Champ is working with the Apprentices, then I think –”
Before Jake was able to complete his sentence, a portal suddenly opened up right in the living room, startling everybody and causing Drake, Jake, Sean, and Crystal to jump back a foot. They all watched as from the portal emerged a strange man. This man was bald and wore a black business suit with a blue tie and matching black shoes and pants. A serious look plastered on his face, he scanned the living room while everyone’s gazes remain transfixed onto him. Titus groaned, leaning back on the couch and held his hand over his forehead as he held his head straight up for a few seconds before turning back to face the man.
“You know, in our world, it’s proper etiquette to knock before coming into someone’s home.” Scolded Titus, both sounding and looking irritated.
“Oh, shoot, I’m sorry!” The man quickly apologized, his serious expression changing to one of nervousness as he fidgeted somewhat. “It’s just that…well, I’ve only been to this world so many times and Lady Minasha opened this portal for me, and… and in our world, it’s fine for dragons to…” The man began to drone on.
“Look…” Said Titus, holding his hand up to assure the man everything was fine. “It’s okay. I’m guessing if my mom sent you though, then she or dad must need me for something.” Titus deduced.
At Titus’s reassurance, the man’s face quickly reverted back to its prior serious appearance. The man confirmed Titus’s theory to be true. He explained to the dragon and his family that Titus’s parents…or rather Lady Minasha and Lord Cerquil had a very important matter they needed to discuss with Titus, Drake, and Jake. Immediately Titus and the others were able to determine what that important matter had to have been in regards to.
“I’m sorry to rush you and your sons, sir Doulstraz but your parents made it clear to have you brought to them as soon as possible. We should be going.” Said the man as he prepared to open up a portal.
Sarah snickered, nudging Titus. “Well, well, ‘Sir Doulstraz’, huh? How ‘bout that?”
Titus snickered back, grinning a toothy grin. “Right? It’s enough to make a guy feel like royalty.” He stated.
Deciding not to keep their guest, who had just created another portal waiting any longer, Titus stood up and began to take a step forward but stopped after four steps. He assured the man, or rather the dragon in human form that they would be going but that he first wanted to ask him two things. At this request, the dragon agreed to answer Titus’s questions and proceeded to close the portal.
“Okay, so first, you never did tell us what your name is.” Stated Titus accusingly as he folded his arms.
“Yes, I apologize for that. You see, my name is Clim. I’m the captain of your mother’s guards and I also serve as her aide.” The dragon whose name was given as Clim explained.
Titus found himself skeptical about this. He had visited both of his parents at the Leader’s fortress frequently following his mom’s being given the role of Leader and his dad the role of Champion and not once had he ever remembered encountering a dragon named Clim. When Titus asked Clim about this, the latter assured Titus that they had met on some occasions, or at least in passing and that the reason they probably hadn’t talked as much was due to him either training the guards or taking care of a task given to him by Lady Minasha or Lord Cerquil.
Clim could tell from the look on Titus’s face that he still wasn’t totally convinced. He figured that the best way to get his Leader and Champion’s son to believe him was to show everyone his true form. Taking several steps back, Clim took in a deep breath and focused. His body began to change as his muscles grew and bones rearranged. In just a matter of seconds, Clim had changed back into his true form: a golden scaled dragon with deep green reptilian eyes and a silver underside. It was upon seeing Clim’s true form that something sparked within Titus’s mind and he realized that Clim had been telling the truth. Indeed, the two of them had met on a few occasions but normally Titus, when visiting his parents would see Clim busy training the guards, taking care of a task, or generally just running around like a chicken with its head cut off. In the four years since Minasha and Cerquil became their village’s Leader and Champion, neither Titus nor Clim had ever gotten the chance to truly speak to each other. Titus knew nothing of Clim aside from what he had just been told and all Clim knew of Titus were the stories Minasha and Cerquil had told of him.
“Okay, that actually does explain a lot. Now, for my last question: why are you wearing a business suit, and how are you bald in your human form? I always thought a dragon’s human form would always have hair.” Asked an intrigued Titus as he contemplated how such a thing could be possible.
“Oh, that’s your last question? Well, funny story about that actually. You see, despite my role as captain of the Leader’s guards, I’m still rather young as a dragon. Granted, I’m still much older than you, Doulstraz but I digress. Anyway, until just eleven years ago, I had never even gotten the chance to visit this world. I had spent the majority of my life training to work as a guard and eventually make my way up to captain, or at least that was what my father wanted from me. Because of this, I never received the chance to learn about humans or their customs. So, once I became older and received the rank of captain among the guards, I chose to celebrate by journeying to this world for the first time and it was then that I laid my eyes on my very first human. He was what you call ‘bald’ and wore a black outfit much like mine and carried a large square container around with him.” Clim began to explain.
“That’s called a suitcase.” Commented Sean in a slight deadpan tone.
Clim continued with his story. “I liked the look of this man and wanted my human form to take an appearance similar to his. And that was when I did it. Studying this person and visualizing a human such as himself in my head, I transformed. However, shortly after I learned that humans were more…concerned with concealing themselves than we dragons are. I narrowly escaped but, upon subsequent visits, I found outfits much like those of that man and would always be sure to bring them back with me when I returned.”
“Very well then. In that case, we should be going.” Said Clim as he proceeded to reopen the portal.
Both Titus and Sarah stood up and approached the portal as did Drake, Jake, Sean, and Crystal. Titus hugged Sarah, promising that the three of them would be back soon. Drake and Jake made the same promise to Crystal and Sean. Sarah, Sean, and Crystal wished them luck and told them to hurry back. Titus nodded and proceeded to step through the portal followed by Jake, then Drake, then finally Clim. As soon as Clim had stepped through, the portal closed behind them. At the time, nobody had noticed but from the corner of the steps, Alan had been eavesdropping on their conversation. Slowly, Alan peaked his head out from around the corner and watched Crystal, Sean, and Sarah as Crystal expressed her hope that whatever they were being summoned for, the three of them be okay.
Titus, Drake, Jake, and Clim traveled through the portal. After a short time, the four found themselves standing in a grassy field encircled by plateau. To their left rested a small pond surrounded by several trees in which four young dragons were playing under the watchful eyes of their parents who had been lounging by the pond their offspring played in. Further ahead several dragons conversed amongst one another while, to the right of the four, two slightly older dragons who were around the same age as Drake and Jake play fought close to a wooded area. One dragon lunged at the other who swiftly dodged his attack then proceeding to swing his tail at his friend who had also attempted to dodge only to no avail. As he tried to leap out of the way, his friend’s tail smacked him in the side, knocking him to the ground. Several hundred feet ahead of them were two other dragons around their age who whispered to each other, making glances over in the direction of the two dragons and two half-dragons.
Titus, Drake, and Jake were confused. They thought that they were going straight to the fortress so why were they in Aanki itself? Titus questioned Clim on this, asking him if they were still going to the fortress.
“Oh, we are. But first, I wanted to do something for the villagers of Aanki. I thought it only fair to allow them to be able to see the heroes who defeated the villainous Saulstrance! The heroes of not only Earth but of Zalphonia as well!!!” Clim explained in a grandiose fashion.
Neither Drake, Jake, or Titus could understand why Clim made this seem like such a big deal. It wasn’t as though this had been the first time they had visited the dragon realm since defeating Saulstrance and it wasn’t as though this had been the first time since then that they had visited Aanki.
“Denizens of the village of Aanki! Please gather ‘round and give a warm welcome to the heroes who saved the human and dragon realms! Sirs Doulstraz, Drake, and Jakol!!” Exclaimed Clim in an overly dramatic way.
Paying heed to the captain of their Leader’s guards, the villagers gathered, talking amongst each other and wishing Titus a good day. Some gathered around Titus while completely ignoring Drake and Jake. This act took the two half-dragons, Drake especially, by surprise.
“Gee, thanks. It’s not like I didn’t have a hand in helping my dad stop Saulstrance.” Fumed Drake, folding his arms and glaring at the dragons who had surrounded his dad.
Jake sighed, placing a hand on Drake’s shoulder. “I know dude but…that’s sadly just how things are for us. I think they know but just don’t want to admit it.”
“That still doesn’t make it right.” Drake grumbled. “What did half-dragons even do to make dragons and humans hate them so much?” The discontented half-dragon asked.
“I wish I knew...” Was all Jake said, looking glumly at his brother.
While Clim was happy to witness a hero being given the respect and admiration he deserved, he understood that this couldn’t last all day. Lady Minasha and Lord Cerquil had requested an audience with their son and grandsons and, with how busy they had been as of late, he felt it wasn’t good to keep them waiting any longer than need be. He broke the group that had swarmed Titus away, telling them that, while they would like to stay, they had urgent matters to attend to and that they must return to them. Clim asked the dragons to form a line on each side so that they could be seen off. Complying with the captain’s request, the villagers formed a straight line to the left and the right of the dragons and half-dragons.
“Thank you all. Now then, shall we?” Asked Clim.
Clim, followed by Titus, Drake, and Jake, made their way past the lines but just as they were passing by the last dragon in each line, Jake found himself attacked from the side as one of the young dragons who had been talking with his friend ran up to and then rammed into Jake, sending him skidding several feet and knocking him to the ground. Drake, Titus, and Clim gasped as everyone fell silent at what they had just seen.
Jake laid on his side, his head, right leg, right arm, tail and wings resting in the grass while his left arm and leg were draped over his right. Groaning, he sat up, rubbing his head and leapt to his feet. He scowled at the dragons who had knocked him down. In response, they grinned mockingly, no doubt proud at what they had done.
“Ow! What the hell!” Exclaimed Jake, looking furious as he instinctively clenched his fists.
Jake’s anger towards being attacked caused the dragons to laugh somewhat.
“Look, Doulstraz might be a hero but we will never look at two skin tails like you as heroes.” The dragon who attacked Jake declared.
Some of the dragons who had witnessed this gasped as others began to whisper to each other, taken by surprise at the term that had just been used. Titus and Drake both glanced around, unsure of what was going on but were able to judge by the tones in the dragons’ voices that whatever it could possibly be, it wasn’t anything good.
“Hey now, that is way out of line! Remember, THESE are the grandchildren of our Leader and Champion, so regardless of your feelings towards half-dragons, you will treat them with respect! Now apologize!” Demanded Clim as he stared furiously at the dragon, eyes widened.
The dragon gulped nervously, his cocky smile having faded from his face. Slowly, he proceeded to open his mouth. He turned to Jake who stood in a pose that suggested he was ready to attack if need be. Then he turned back to face Clim.
“Master Clim, sir, I deeply respect you, I truly do. But I will never apologize to a skin tail. They’re freaks that have no race to call their own. They’re not human and they’re not dragon. They have no race to belong to and neither race wants them.” Said the dragon with an intense unyielding hatred in his voice.
“Hey, screw you, asshole!” Drake exclaimed furiously.
At that moment, everyone’s gaze fell on Drake who stood with tightly clenched fists, his teeth showing slightly as his body shook. He stood before the dragon who had been insulting half-dragons with immense anger in his eyes. The dragon stared at Drake, intrigued but feeling no sense of intimidation.
“You’ve got a problem with half-dragons?!” Yelled Drake in an outraged tone.
The dragon scoffed. “Me and just about the rest of our worlds.” He said matter-of-factly.
Drake snarled, his body shaking ever more violently. He closed his eyes, lowering his head, and changed into his half-dragon form. Without any warning, he lunged at the dragon, his eyes widened in fury as his fingernails changed into claws. The dragon took a defensive stance, preparing himself for Drake’s attack but before either was given the chance to strike, Titus, having morphed into his dragon form, leapt in front of Drake. Another dragon had also jumped in front of the dragon who had been taunting Drake and Jake.
“Get outta my way dad!!” Demanded Drake, looking at his dad with a furious look on his face like that of a wild animal.
“Drake, stop it! He’s not worth it! Besides…grandma and grandpa sent for us. We shouldn’t keep them waiting any longer.” Titus commanded as he tried to calm his son down and talk some sense into him.
But Drake wasn’t listening. The half-dragon hyperventilated, remaining desperate to get a swing in at the dragon for saying such horrible things about his race. Groaning, Jake proceeded to stand up, brush the dirt off himself, and approached his brother. Jake placed a hand on Drake’s shoulder. Drake looked behind himself to see Jake standing next to him. Jake frowned, a pleading look in his eyes. It was a look that Drake was able to determine right away meant.
“Drake, just listen to dad and let it go. Please.” Begged Jake in a soft tone.
Drake was about to speak when he suddenly felt Jake grip his shoulder tighter, his arm starting to shake. At that moment, Drake’s anger had begun to subside when he realized that Jake, whose body had been shaking just as Drake’s was, was just as angry about what that dragon had said as he was, perhaps moreso. While Drake still wanted to beat that dragon up for insulting half-dragons, Drake knew that his dad and Jake were right. This was not the time to get into a fight. They were summoned and they had to find out what they had been summoned for.
His head feeling heavy, Drake sighed again. With a glum look on his face, he informed his dad, Jake, and Clim that he was okay and that they should get going. Without taking a look back, he proceeded to walk towards the direction of the Leader’s fortress. The other three prepared to do the same but were stopped when the dragon who had stepped in to protect the heckling dragon called out for Doulstraz. Titus stopped upon hearing his dragon name and turned to face the dragon.
“Word of advice: watch that creature of yours. If it ever tries to lay a hand on my son, it’ll be a half-dragon with half an arm.” Jeered the dragon, still shielding the younger dragon who he revealed to be his son.
It was then that a surge went up Titus’s back. Bearing his teeth and digging his claws into the ground, Titus swung around, digging up some ground as he did and marched up to the dragon, getting up close enough to the dragon that their faces were mere inches away from each other. Titus’s eyes had grown wide from rage upon hearing this dragon insult his son.
“Listen to me and listen good: I don’t care what you say about me. I don’t give a crap if you think I’m a hero or whatever, but I’ll be DAMNED if I let you talk badly about EITHER of my sons! Drake is not a ‘creature’ and he’s not an ‘it’! He’s my son and you’d do best to recognize that!” Titus spat sharply and threateningly.
Taking five steps back, his gaze still focused on the dragon who stared back at Titus, scowling and not breaking eye contact, Titus swung around once more and rejoined Jake, Drake, and Clim. Without another word being uttered by either the four of them or the villagers, the quartet made their leave and continued along their path, with Drake taking one last look back at the dragon and his father. Flashing them an angry look, Drake held out his left hand which had been curled into a fist and extended his clawed middle finger at the two before he and the others disappeared into the woods that lay near the outskirts of Aanki.
Drake trailed ahead of the group, his finned ears flattened and anger still there but having quelled somewhat. His head was clouded with conflicting emotions, namely anger and sadness. It just made no sense to Drake whatsoever. What did half-dragons do to make them so hated by humans and dragons alike? While he couldn’t speak for any past half-dragons, he knew that he had never done anything to intentionally hurt someone and Jake, despite not having always made the best choices, was still a good person. As these thoughts continued to plague Drake’s mind, he hadn’t noticed as his pace started to pick up and his dad called for him to slow down.
“Hey, Drake, slow it down a bit! We’ll get there soon so relax!” Titus called out for his son only to have his words fall on deaf ears.
Titus hurried after Drake to try and get his attention. While he preoccupied himself with Drake, Jake walked alongside Clim. He took in a deep breath and exhaled as the events that had just transpired replayed over and over in his head. Being attacked, having his race and his family insulted, it all angered Jake just as much as it had Drake but there was one part of that that stuck out in Jake’s mind the most. It was a certain term that dragon had used when referring to half-dragons: skin tail. Curious as to its meaning, Jake asked Clim what skin tail meant. From just looking at Clim’s face after having asked, Jake was quick to deduce that whatever it meant, it wasn’t anything good.
“Skin tail is a horrible name used for anyone who’s born with human and dragon blood in them. While there are dragons these days who don’t mind half-dragons, there are still those who hold immense hatred towards them and take no issue with using such a vile name.” Explained Clim, a disgusted and uncomfortable look on his face.
Clim’s statement about there being dragons who didn’t mind half-dragons rang true, Jake thought. After all, Eig’nia, Theian, and Z’haer didn’t mind his status as a hybrid, he had been adopted by a dragon, and Eig’nia especially, had always tried to be there for Jake ever since he was little, basically acting as his surrogate mother. This helped Jake to remind himself that even though there were dragons and humans who had distain for half-dragons, there were also those who did like them and knowing many of those dragons and humans helped to make Jake feel better.
His mind slowly drifted away from what had previously transpired to thoughts of Eig’nia. While it never made Jake happy to see Eig’nia locked up, just getting to see her period and knowing that she was being well taken care of by his adoptive grandparents was enough for him. Just as Drake had when it came to getting to see his grandparents, it always made Jake happy whenever he and his family would visit the dragon realm and he was able to see Eig’nia. He would tell the dragoness about how his life had been going since his adoption and how Titus and Sarah had been taking good care of him. These stories were enough to reassure Eig’nia, and left her with no doubt in her mind that she made the right choice in leaving Jake in their hands.
Clim and Jake had caught up to Titus and Drake, Titus having managed to get Drake to slow down and listen to what he had to say. Drake, whose mood had improved at least slightly, apologized to Jake and Clim for rushing ahead of them and to his dad for not having listened prior.
“It’s okay. I understand how you must be feeling right now.” Said Clim empathetically.
Drake exhaled through his nose and nodded. “Yeah…” Was all he said.
“However…while I can’t say I much approve of your etiquette, I think it was admirable for you to stand up for yourself and your fellow half-dragons. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t have done the same. So, in that regard, well done.” Clim smiled proudly at the teenage half-dragon.
As they continued along their way, Drake examined his hand, clenching it into a fist once more. While he extended each finger out one by one, he wondered aloud if the dragons he had flipped off knew what the gesture meant.
“I’m pretty sure they know. Many dragons from our world do tend to visit the human realm much, much more than their distant ancestors used to and, as a result of this, have even managed to converse with humans without them ever learning the truth to their identities. Nowadays, even their youngest hatchlings have learned to take on human forms. And, since they visit your world so often, they’ve also learned more about human customs…and their gestures. So, in that regard, I think it’s very likely they know what you meant.” Explained Clim.
What Clim had said intrigued Drake, especially the part about dragons interacting with humans without the latter knowing. With this in mind, Drake had to ponder if perhaps he had ever spoken with a dragon in the form of a human yet never knew.
The group continued through the forest until eventually reaching a clearing. Once they had made their way through, they came upon a large fortress with an appearance similar to that of a castle and a moat surrounding it. From the center of the fortress stood a cylindrical structure which acted as a guard post and as the only way in from the top.
The quartet approached the two guards who had been stationed in front of the ground entrance to the castle. Clim informed the guards that he had returned with the Leader and Champion’s family and asked that they be allowed entrance.
“Yes sir, Captain Clim and it is good to see you, sirs Doulstraz, Jake, and Drake.” Said the guard, stepping to the side to allow entryway for their guests.
“It’s good to see you too. I wish we could stay and chat but…well you know.” Said Titus as he and the others continued past the guards.
“We understand sir. You have urgent matters which need to be attended to. We can catch up some other time.” Said the guard understandingly.
Their grandparents’ fortress was the one place in all of the dragon realm where Drake and Jake could truly feel wanted. Back on Earth, the two half-dragon boys were able to make friends with little problem but in Zalphonia, not everyone saw them as heroes, let alone potential friends. While neither Drake nor Jake had ever been physically assaulted by any dragons until recently, they could tell that not all the dragons from Aanki looked at them as favorably as they did their dad. It was for this reason that whenever they came to visit their grandparents, the two boys always wished to go straight to the fortress as opposed to interacting with the villagers of Aanki. Many of the guards who protected the fortress and Minasha and Cerquil always appeared willing and able to get along with Drake and Jake, treating them not as heroes nor as mistakes but as they would any other dragon. The other guards the two half-dragon boys were never able to get to truly know due to them either being too busy or out on assignment when they’d visit.
The group continued through the castle courtyard which was rounded and surrounded on both sides by walls made of rock. Two guards were posted at the far end of the courtyard next to a gate which led to the inside of the fortress. Spotting the group approaching, the guard on the right ordered for the gate to be opened. As Clim, Titus, Drake, and Jake drew near, the guards stepped aside, allowing them passage into the fort.
“Welcome back, Captain Clim.” Greeted the dragon who had given the order.
“And a good day to you, sirs Doulstraz, Drake, and Jakol.” Welcomed his partner.
“Hi there.” Drake greeted back, raising a clawed hand at the guard.
“Good to see you guys.” Smiled Jake.
“Hello.” Said Titus.
Once inside, the dragon who had allowed the four of them in gripped the chains used to pull the doors open from the inside and shut the doors behind them.
“If you’ll kindly follow me, the Leader and her Champion are in the master’s chambers.” Said Clim as he headed left.
Clim led the family to the master’s chambers. Along the way, Titus, Drake, and Jake watched as dragons frantically hurried back and forth, talking amongst one another in regards to issues that, as far as the three of them could tell, could very well be related to what they had been summoned for.
As they entered into the master’s chambers, Titus and the others saw Minasha and Cerquil frantically working, speaking amongst their subordinates and issuing them orders. Once they had finished speaking, the couple sat next to each other and sighed exasperatedly. Both of them understood that becoming Leader and Champion to their village was not going to be an easy task but even they couldn’t prepare themselves for the ensuing crisis. However, they found their stress somewhat alleviated as they saw their son and grandsons standing at the entrance to their chambers. This brought a wide smile to their muzzles as they happily called out their names. Appreciative of their giddiness, Titus, Drake, and Jake couldn’t help but smile back at them as led by Clim, they approached the two overworked dragons.
“It’s good to see you three. Thanks for coming on such short notice.” Minasha said gratefully.
“Yeah. It looks like things have been pretty busy around here.” Noted Titus as he watched dragons hurry in and out of the chambers, two of which flew overhead.
The smiles on Minasha and Cerquil’s faces faded away. They sighed and confirmed Titus’s observation. Indeed, things had been busy around the fortress and while they wanted to take a moment to speak with their family and see how they were doing, they knew that this was not a good time for catching up. In a tired tone of voice, Minasha began to explain why the three of them had been summoned by.
“It’s started again Doulstraz. People in your world have begun to disappear once more.” Minasha began.
“Yeah…We’re aware. Before Clim came, we saw a report on the news about the town you’re talking about, mom.” Explained Titus, looking troubled at the mention of the people who had vanished.
While Minasha and Cerquil both were pleased to hear that their family was aware of recent events, they still appeared perturbed. Titus took note of the disconcerted looks on his parents’ faces and asked them what was wrong.
“Doulstraz…” Minasha sighed. “There have so far been three cities whose populations had disappeared.” The dragoness corrected.
This revelation rattled Titus and his sons, eyes widened as their mouths gaped open slightly.
“Wait a minute! Three?!” Exclaimed Titus.
“Actually, so far reports have confirmed that three places have lost their populations although we expect that there may be more.” Clim explained as he approached Minasha and stood at her side.
“One of these locations is outside where you live…” Minasha began as she opened up a scroll and read off the names of the locations that her guard had provided her with. “Mason, Wisconsin is the first one. The second is closer to where you live: Sidney’s Point in California. The last one is…” The dragoness paused.
“What?” Asked Jake.
Minasha looked down at the scroll once more then back up at her son and grandsons. The same concerned look she had on before had returned. Titus asked his mom for the name of the last town, unsure as to why she had been hesitating so much with unveiling the identity of the third location. Reluctantly, Minasha disclosed the name of the place, knowing full well that what she was about to tell her family was not going to be easy for them to hear.
“The last one is a place we’re more than familiar with: Baker Valley.” Answered Minasha in a solemn tone.
Titus gasped, his mouth dropping open and a horrified look filling his eyes. He couldn’t believe it, he didn’t want to believe it but he knew that neither of his parents would tell him this as a cruel prank or anything of the sort.
“Lee…Jimmy…” Drake said breathlessly to himself.
“Adam…Frank…” Titus muttered to himself as well.
Jake clenched his fist and looked glumly at the rough, rocky floor, feeling an extreme amount of guilt for what had happened to the citizens of those cities. Even if he hadn’t had any hand in attacking them directly, he still felt that, as Saulstrance’s son, that somehow made him responsible in a sense.
“I know how you two are feeling but…please, Doulstraz, Drake, don’t blame yourselves. Doulstraz, understand that even though the humans from Baker Valley look at you as a hero, you’re only one dragon. You can’t always be there to protect them.” Cerquil said, trying his best to help his son understand that what happened wasn’t his fault.
“I get that!” Cried Titus. “But still…”
“Right now, the best thing we can do is travel to these places and see if we can find any survivors. That’s why we summoned you. Doulstraz, Jake, Drake, we want you four to go to these locations and see if you can find anyone who may not have been taken. Get from them a description of the dragons who attacked their towns and an estimate of how many of them there were. Afterward, report back here and relay any information you acquire to us. Once that’s been done, we’ll send some of our guards to go and assist them with anything they may need.” Ordered Minasha.
While the order given to them by their mother and grandmother had been quite clear, there was one aspect of what she had said that confused them: four? They were sure she meant to say three. When Titus brought this up, Minasha assured them that she did indeed mean four and that they would be accompanied by one of her guards: a dragon around the same age as Drake and Jake who had personally asked to be allowed to assist Doulstraz and his sons on their assignment.
“I’ve already briefed him on the task so he’ll be able to help you with anything you may need. Taioe!” Minasha called out.
Upon hearing his name, a dragon slightly smaller than the other dragons in attendance ran from across the room up to his master, a wide, ecstatic smile on his muzzle. This dragon had very light blue scales, dark brown eyes, and dark blue leather in his wings and finned ears as well as his scutes. His tail wagged around happily at the prospect of getting to work alongside his hero.
“I’m Taioe. It’s an honor to meet you.” The young dragon introduced himself.
“Lady Minasha and Lord Cerquil have told me so much about you three, as did Eig’nia but…EEEEEE, hearing about Doulstraz and his sons just wasn’t the same as actually getting to see them up close!” Taioe said giddily.
Taioe’s mention of Eig’nia made Jake remember that Eig’nia was being held in the very same fortress that they were currently in. Following the death of Saulstrance and Eig’nia’s arrest, the dragoness was first held in the summit that was protected and cared for by the Guardians. However, after a year, Minasha was able to convince both the Guardians and her fellow Leaders to allow Eig’nia to be transferred to a cell in her fortress. She felt that doing this would be fair to both Eig’nia and Jake since this would allow the two to see each other whenever Jake and the others were to visit.
While Jake desperately wished to see Eig’nia, he knew that this wasn’t the time. He, Drake, his dad, and Taioe had an urgent task that they needed to take care of.
“Well…” Titus laughed somewhat nervously. “I’m not sure how I feel about having a fanboy but I look forward to working with you, Taioe.” Said the darker blue scaled dragon as he extended a paw out to the younger light blue scaled dragon.
“Likewise. I swear, I won’t let you down.” Said Taioe, smiling confidently as he shook paws with Titus.
With the team set up, Titus informed his parents that he felt that they were ready to go. The four of them hoped that whatever they discovered during their search, it would lead them to finding the ones responsible for these recent disappearances.