A potato with all the fixings meant baked, wild potato with gamy venison chili, sharp cheddar and blue cheese, fresh, wild green onions, home-grown jalapenos, and locally made sour cream. I wiped my nose from the heat of the meal and continued to chow down while Light explained the situation to Mr. Keys.
The old man listened, nodding quietly. He ate his own helping of potato and paused to ask a question, double checking to see if Lightning covered our tracks or our scent.
Mr. Keys said to me when Light finished, “Its frightening, isn’t it?”
I nodded and whispered, “Yeah. I don’t know… if they’ll be okay. What if …” Tears spilled into my vision. “What if…?”
“Don’t worry, Lyric. They won’t be executed,” he reassured me. “I have faith in the system that much to know they won’t be killed out right for their alignment as Riders of Light. Plus, your parents are smart. They’ll know what to do.”
I fiddled with the napkin next to my messy plate and scooped up more food.
“You’ll stay with me until the coast is clear. Then we’ll head for safer headquarters. I’m going to make a few calls tonight, see if I can pull some strings to get your parents exiled and we’ll work things out from there. There’s a sister location to the Great Tower in Switzerland we can find refuge in. Europe has been a little more kindly to us Riders. Though, England, Spain, and Germany haven’t been agreeable…” His mustache, which was practically his upper lip, twitched in thought.
“First things first,” he amended as he patted my arm and stood with his empty plate in his other hand. “You need to sleep.”
“Are you sure its alright?” I asked, glancing at the metal door.
“If anyone unwanted comes through there, we’ll know.” He took my own empty plate and silverware.
I followed him into the kitchen and down the spiraling staircase with Lightning Dancer bringing up the rear. The flooring for the hallway was petrified wood, with walls of brown and deep orange jasper, all polished to a shine. The illumination talismans above blinked on with a fizzle at our arrival.
We passed Mr. Keys’ library/vault where he kept secrets of the centuries and navigated the hostile grounds of current politics. He was Spymaster Jordan Keys, once a CIA agent during the Civil War. I caught glimpses of chalkboards at the back of the shelved room, filled to their frames with information I couldn’t read from so far away. It was likely written in code, too.
Next was Mr. Keys’ room, which was closed and locked, the armory, which was also locked, and finally the pair of guest rooms at the end of the hallway. “Here we are,” Mr. Keys said as he opened the door.
The furniture was deep, polished mahogany while floors and walls were birch wood. The king sized bed in the center of the room looked inviting, with plush quilt waiting to catch my tired body. Lightning mumbled something about going to join Rozen outside while Mr. Keys pulled back the covers and turned on the lamp outfitted with its own Illumination Talisman. He had to touch a glyph on the lamp itself, which activated the talisman.
“There,” he whispered before sliding past me and adding, “I’ll be in my library while you sleep. If you need me, just shout or look for me.”
I nodded, wringing my hands together.
He added, “We’ll leave in the morning after breakfast.”
I nodded again and forced a smile on my face.
He closed the door and I unloaded the backpack on the floor before looking through the dresser drawers facing the bed. I never understood how, but the drawers always had the clothes I needed. I put on pajamas the drawers provided (I assumed they were enchanted to find clothes for me) and threw more clothes inside the pack.
Once satisfied I had enough for the trip, I climbed into bed and snuggled beneath the clean, warm sheets. Though comfortable and cuddly, I tossed and turned.
What of my parents? Were they under interrogation? Would the elves hurt them to find out where I was? Did the police even care about me? What would happen when they found me? I pictured them taking me into the foster system and jumping from foster home to foster home. Then again, I never heard what happened to the children of Riders.
I rolled over and reached into my backpack for photos of my family. I had two: One of our whole family together with Dianda and Lightning. Mom sat on Lightning’s back while Dad leaned against Dianda’s side and I was between them, draped over Lightning’s flanks and laughing. I didn’t really remember taking that picture.
I stared at it for a bit and placed it on the nightstand, next to the lamp, which I turned off with a click of the glyph.
I laid straight on my back and stared at the ceiling, inhaling slowly and exhaling. I focused on being calm, picturing a dock on a lake where I could dangle my feet over. It was in the twilight hours, barely sunrise. A fog hung in the air and almost seemed comforting as it cut me off from the world. I opened my eyes and prayed for Am to watch over the bunker and keep us safe from harm.
It took a while of watching the lake and listening to the lapping of water in my head before I finally slipped into a dreamless sleep.
That morning, I dragged myself upstairs to find Mr. Keys in the middle of cooking eggs, sausage, and bacon. He was already dressed, in khaki pants, white button-up shirt, and a red, lightweight coat over that. He grinned as I walked in and greeted, “Lyrabell, good morning. Ready to make the trip?” I dumped my backpack on the floor next to the island and propped myself up by the elbows. I yawned, “I guess.”
“Did you sleep well?”
“I slept okay,” I replied, vaguely recalling waking up a few times. Mr. Keys nodded and slid the scrambled eggs onto the platter in front of me. He walked around to the sink on the other side of the island to dispose of the pan before taking the platter. He motioned me to follow him into the living room.
The small table was perfect for the two of us and the food he prepared. Lightning Dancer lounged with Rozen in front of the fireplace, the dragon in the form of a mastiff with golden hair and garnet spots down his back.
I loaded my plate idly with pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage, and a few slices of tomato. Mr. Keys did the same and sighed, “It is amazing what you find locally grown.”
“Were the pancakes locally grown, too?” I teased.
Mr. Keys chuckled, “No, silly girl. I made them from scratch.” He looked at his watch and drank his orange juice. “And the orange juice was store bought from a small business.”
“Wow, you don’t like corporate businesses or something, Mr. Keys?” I asked as I munched a piece of bacon.
“I don’t want records of where I’ve been,” he replied with a knowing smirk. Then it dissipated in a morose expression. “Its a paranoia that comes with being spymaster.” He buttered his pancakes and handed me the little bowl to lather my own pancakes, his eyes full of thoughts. We ate in silence.
Once full, we gathered our things and met at the base of the ladder leading out. The dragon and wolf were already outside. Mr. Keys opened the speaker once more and asked, “One more time; are you sure you have everything?”
“Yep,” I answered, hoisting the backpack a little higher on my shoulder. It was so lightweight, it was almost pointless to move it up. Mr. Keys pressed a series of buttons and there was a long buzz before everything turned black, except for the light from the edges of the hatch. I scooted closer to the ladder and there was a loud, metallic, thundering thunk. “There,” Mr. Keys said with a smile. “Its on lock down. I have to enter the code to open it and it will take an hour for it to open again.”
“Oh,” I replied and grinned, “Maybe I should get a bunker like this.” It would have helped, I thought with an inward shudder.
He chuckled and ruffled my hair before turning to ascend the ladder.
We climbed to the surface and I pushed loose locks back into my ponytail. Wind picked up, scooping leaves into the air and disturbing the trees above, like a band of invisible children kicking up leaves and swinging on trees.
Rozen and Lightning Dancer waited in the middle of the clearing. The dragon had his head lifted to the sky, his great and powerful maw yawning open. His razor sharp teeth clamped down on an orange-gold ray of sunlight. Sparks showered from his teeth like dancing fireworks and he swallowed, immediately biting down on more light.
The wolf next to the dragon lapped up the last pieces of a deer that was a mere brown rabbit compared to his massive size.
“Boys,” Keys began and the animals looked at us. “We’re ready to go.” They shook themselves in unison and stood at attention. Mr. Keys motioned Rozen to him and the dragon lowered his massive head to his master without moving from his spot. Mr. Keys pulled out a gold chain with large crystals with black marks on them. He hooked the chain around one of the dragon’s smaller horns and clasped it shut. The crystals clattered against the beast’s jeweled horn as he lifted his head.
“What are those?” I asked as Mr. Keys checked the saddle right behind Rozen’s head, nearly hidden by the beast’s lion-like mane.
“Protection and elemental ward talismans. They’re weak, but they can make a difference on the battlefield,” he replied. I rubbed my head and wondered why I didn’t know that. Surely I’d seen Dianda on them before? I was coming up blank and something told me to stop searching my memory.
As he tugged on the saddle’s curved horn and slipped a hand under the straps. There were two straps that held the saddle in place. The fender was as wide as the seat and formed a half-teardrop shape. Two straps kept the legs attached to the saddle and there was no stirrup and no reins. Mr. Keys grabbed one of Rozen’s horns and hoisted himself into the saddle. The straps opened as if they had minds of their own and bound him in place. The man’s legs barely wrapped around the enormous dragon’s thick neck, the dragon half the size of a football field.
“Up,” he said to me as he held out both hands. The dragon’s fanned horns almost concealed the Dragon Master. I wondered how they fought like that for a moment before taking the old man’s rough hands. I slipped in behind him, sitting between two long spikes instead of in the small saddle.
Lightning Dancer looked up at us and asked, “Going to Switzerland, prince Keys?”
“Yes,” Mr. Keys answered with a nod.
Lightning Dancer’s eyes examined me and then Mr. Keys. He seemed to consider his options before nodding. “Alright.” He said and added, “Perhaps I should go ahead of you and check things out?”
Mr. Keys shook his head. “No, High Tower is safe. Thank you, though, Lightning.”
The wolf gave a small nod and stood to wait next to the dragon. The gold dragon lifted a jeweled claw and seemed to calculate where he cut the air. He sliced the air slowly, the scenery tearing apart, as if it were a backdrop on a projection, and a black hole appeared.
It was a literal tear in space and time. The tear would allow us to fast travel between places. Mr. Keys said over his shoulder, “Hold your breath.” I did so and we shot into the dark hole, Lightning right behind us.
Everything turned black and white as we walked along on an invisible platform, striding forward. We were surrounded by black. I heard no noise, felt nothing, and my vision blurred a little. I did not even feel my heart beating. I pressed my cheek to the tall spine spike and held on tight, though I was not sure if I imagined it or not. There was no way of knowing other than sight.
The dragon’s claw came up once more and he tore another hole to slip into.
The moment the cold air hit me, I gasped for breath and shuddered from head to toe. My ears gave a painful series of pops and I grimaced, pressing my head to the hot spike for soothing warmth. Snow fell in a furious blizzard and Mr. Keys shivered ahead of me, clenching his coat with one hand to keep his body warmth inside.
I looked up at the tall shadow ahead of us, squinting through the snow. It as taller than a skyscraper, disappearing into the stormy clouds above. The dragon trotted forward, the wolf next to us shaking the snow off his coat and bounding after us.
“I didn’t expect a blizzard,” Mr. Keys shouted over the piercing winds as ice and snow stung my exposed skin. “I apologize! I’ll get us in ASAP!”
I could only chatter my teeth in response, but he couldn’t see me over his shoulder. I felt the dragon’s muscles working beneath me as he lowered his head to see through the sheets of snow. We made our way up the slope and to the base of the tower. As we closed the distance, the tower’s size grew wider and wider, dwarfing the already mountainous beast.
The dragon lowered his neck to the door and we dismounted – Mr. Keys dismounted and I fell off with numb limbs into the man’s arms. He hugged me tight as he opened the tall, wide, stone double doors with his levitation magic.
The red and orange flame talismans lit with a hiss from their tall, wrought iron stands along the edge of the round walls while the chandelier of light talismans fizzled on. The fireplace directly across from us roared to life and I was surprised to see it was made of smokey quartz, so the fireplace itself glowed with a hazy light.
“Where is everyone?” I asked. Lightning Dancer shook himself, flinging half-melted snow everywhere before he sniffed the air. His nose went to work on the floor as Rozen squeezed himself into the tower. I sensed the room expanding itself to accommodate his large size, like a person shrugging to hold their breath. My neck tingled with warning and I shuddered from the intense feeling.
Mr. Keys held up a hand to motion me to stay next to the closed stone doors. Lightning Dancer placed himself between me and the rest of the room, body tense and still, ears raised, and hackles raised halfway. The Dragon Master strode to the door next to the fireplace and withdrew a pistol from the chest holster under his coat. He clicked the safety off.
Before he opened the door, the air behind him distorted, a taller man materializing there, and grabbed Mr. Keys from behind. The old Dragon Master grabbed the taller man by the shoulders and bent forward to dump him on the marble floor.
Another materialized, clad in black armor and a black cloak to fight Mr. Keys with a knife. Mr. Keys’ gun was kicked out of his hand, but he brought up a handful of fire to throw at the man. The man leapt to the side and the light around him shimmered as he cast a shield spell, which glistened with every movement like a corona of blue-white light. Mr. Keys cast the same spell around him and summoned his gun to him once more to fire at the armored opponent.
I stood frozen in place, with my hands covering my ears from the loud pops of the pistol. Tears streamed down my face as I focused on the wolf in front of me, waiting for him to signal me to get out of there.
Lightning Dancer’s hackles raised and he gave a deep-throated growl before snapping at the air next to him. He grabbed a mouthful of the shimmering air and tugged. The hooded cloak tore as the invisibility spell dissipated. I saw the flash of a knife as it came down to slice into Light’s eye a split second before a black bag covered my face.
I thrashed and struggled against the strong arms as the bag was secured with a drawstring. My elbow struck something solid, but there was no groan or sound of pain. I kicked something rigid and stomped on what I hoped was a foot, but there were still no noises.
I heard Mr. Keys and Lightning shouting my name a moment before the world swirled and faded away.
Felicity Swan 2016 ©