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Archives: The Golden Egg

Chapter 7: The Golden Dragon

    Kima followed Rylan towards a camp. There were two others there. One of them had pointy ears, an elf, the other was a human girl with purple hair. She ran over and leaped into Aiden’s arms and smothered his cheeks in little pecks and kisses. She batted her little eyelashes at him and smiled. “Ki-ma,” she pronounced softly. She wanted him to smile for her. She looked over to the woman and smiled.

    Aiden spared a glance for Rylan when the centaur returned and was about to continue his wait for the decoy. However, a small body suddenly assaulted him with kisses and hugs. Shocked, Aiden looked down to see the scruffy, pretty face of a young girl who simply said ‘Kima’.

    “Hey there...” Aiden said and smiled as he began to relax.

    Rylan looked as Kima jumped at Aiden, if he could he would laugh. It was cute, though his concern was why he was called back. He should also explain something about her, so they knew. “She found me while I was scouting ahead, seems she has never met a centaur before. I was the one who gave her the choice, so when will their decoy arrive? I need to be ready, this plan will not go through.” He nodded to everyone afterwards, once he had finish with the business at hand.

    Kima kept her arms around Aiden and pushed her soft, young lips against his in and earnest hello. “Hey there.” she mimicked his voice effortlessly. She then continued to mimic, using her minstrel friend’s voice. “You look so sweet I could just eat you up.” she gave a soft wink. “Perhaps I will later, if given the chance.” She giggled a little and pressed her soft body against his chest. She was just trying to be friendly, talking with words that she barely understood.

    Lyassa was awoken from her trance to see a small person next to them. Of course, she didn’t feel any anger at the girl hugging Aiden. “Oh! I didn’t notice someone else is here with us,” she said with a cheerful expression. She came over and bowed her head, her purple hair moving around. “Greetings, to you, I’m Lyassa,” she said.

    While at first he found Kima’s affection cute, Aiden was starting to feel uncomfortable. The girl was obviously very young; younger than Lyassa. Blushing, the elf gently removed Kima, holding her around the waist. She spoke so strangely, imitating others voices. Did she even understand? “If only you were older,” Aiden said as he set the small teenager down. “We’re about to have a fight, so you need to stay back.”

    Aiden glanced over his shoulder at the centaur. “Naclia sent a message with Sylph. I don’t know how far away they are, but it’s a wagon and six riders.”

    “Greetings, to you, I’m Lyassa.” Kima mimicked, using the priestess’s voice in added affect. “Ki-ma.” She pointed at her own chest. “Kima!” She smiled at Aiden. Elf thought she was too young. Too young for what? I can fight too. I can. Wanna see? Of course her thoughts couldn’t reach him. Only her stunted language skills and ability to mimic. Horseman Rylan seemed edgy, and pretty Lyassa seemed...Kima stopped trying to figure out the others. “ too...?” she said, half understanding what she was saying. Help was a word she learned. Help was the right word, right? She made a confused face at Aiden. “For...kiss?” She named her price. Now to see if the elf would give in.

    Aiden cocked his head to the side when Kima mimicked Lyassa. Now it was obvious what she was doing. He realized that Kima was indeed her name when she pointed herself, and it seemed she did have some understanding with her response to him. Aiden was hesitant to let her fight, but she was armed. If she lived out here alone and so young, she had to be able to fight.

    Aiden smiled to Kima and leaned down to plant a soft kiss on her cheek. “Alright, I’ll let you,” he said as he leaned back. “And my name is Aiden,” he finally introduced himself, pointing to his chest like she had.

    The elf had a name now. Aiden. Aiden the elf, Lyassa the pretty, and Rylan the horseman. Kima smiled at the small kiss and drew herself up. Wagons make sound. Sound travels through the ground. Kima went on all fours and placed her ear on the ground. No sound. She pouted. She really wanted to help. She rose to her feet again and pointed in a direction. She just wanted to know where they were coming from.

    The girl was named Kima, the name was simple and somewhat fitting. Though what intrigued him was how she spoke, mimicry of words that made little sense at times. Like her elven when he had first met her, he thought she would enjoy not being alone.

    “Wagons from that direction, maybe that is who we are looking for. What now Aiden, I was thinking we use the forest to ambush them. Like those bandits ambushed me, that way they cannot run.”

    He felt good about inviting Kima to follow him, she was already proving to be an invaluable companion. Hopefully she would stay with them in their journey, everybody here seemed to accept her being near.

    “They’ll be coming from the south,” Aiden replied. It was obvious, there was no other way to come from except north, and Naclia didn’t go north.

    “I’ll stop them with a barricade of Earth. I can’t risk an entanglement spell with the horses,” Aiden said, then raised his hands toward the road alongside the camp. “Gnome, spirit of the Earth, thrust up your hands and block this path!” the elf chanted, and in response, the ground shook and a wall of soil and rock rose to block the road.

    Kima was intrigued. The ground just rose up when called to do so. She ran and hopped on Aiden’s back, eyes glittering with the want to learn. She put her little hands on his and smiled. Teach me, her eyes begged. Teach me and keep me. Never let me go. But her mouth was mute. She just kept quiet and smiled. That was her way, after all.

    Aiden was worried that his spell might have scared Kima, and when she hopped on his back, he thought that was a sign of fright. But when he looked back and met her eyes, he saw what seemed to be intrigue. He couldn’t read her thoughts, of course, but he had a sense of empathy.

    Aiden smiled back. “We might have to fight soon, be ready Kima,” he warned.

    Moments later, a thundering came from the south. Hooves pounding on earth, the wheels of a wagon spun, creaked and groaned.

    “Here they come,” Aiden said, having heard the sound before the humans.

    The company of riders came into view trailing a cloud of dust behind them. They were shocked to see the wall of dirt ahead of them and reigned in their horses hard. The chests of their steeds were covered in white, foamy sweat from the exertion. Some of the horses coughed as they strained to breath.

    “What the hell is this?” the wagon driver shouted.

    As Aiden observed the condition of the horses, he chilled and looked to Rylan. Kima was on his back, and he was ready to grab Lyassa and run if the scene caused Rylan to lose control.

    Kima jumped off Aiden’s back, grabbing up her wooden sword as she did. Her feet were quick and her wits keen, her small legs taking to the dirt and using the dust as cover. For a moment she was lost in the dust, invisible to those she was ready to attack. Leaping from the dust like a pouncing wildcat, she brought her wooden sword down flat on the skull of the driver. The impact forced the spinal cord to fuse as her sheer force crushed his skull into his shoulders. Teeth bared like an animal she leapt atop the wagon to hide from sight and wait for her next opportunity.

    Lyassa was ready with spells to back up her friends if that was needed. The priestess was no fighter; she had to let her friends do the fighting for her. She watched the girl jump onto the wagon and she was wishing she could help in melee but felt a shiver down her spine when she saw the horses. Lyassa was becoming angry at what they were doing, but she was worried that Rylan would go into a rage and try to kill them. The human priestess really wanted to help the horses and it was shown in her expression. But, with those men in the way, the other problem was Rylan, if he went out of control it would be horrible, and needless bloodshed.

    Rylan saw the wall form ahead and heard the thundering, the others seemed a little worried. He did not want to put his new friends in jeopardy, perhaps this was why they were worried. Nocking an arrow and holding it ready, he aimed. The first of the enemy who made a move was going to be fired upon.

    “Let’s see them try to get by us, please make sure Kima gets out of here should I break. They’re pushing them too hard, don’t they understand limits.” He waited patiently, watching them with a measured look. Now was their move, though already he was getting visibly upset at how hard they were pushing their horses.

    Tiash caught up to the stalled caravan on the road ahead. A wall of soil blocked the road ahead, and Naclia assumed Aiden had summoned it. Thankfully, it didn’t appear as if Rylan had gone berserk, as it was obvious the horses were overworked. However, they could see a small person attack the driver of the wagon then crouch on top.

    {“Who is that?”} Naclia wondered in elvish. The attack on the caravan brought swords drawn from the riders. {“Oh crap!”} Naclia groaned, then hopped off Tiash.

    Kima attacked faster than Aiden could stop her. It wasn’t his intent to start a fight, rather to end one if the men decided to start one. Maybe he didn’t explain it right to her. They needed information from those men, if they had any to give.

    “Kima!” Aiden shouted, reaching out as if he could stop her. The men had drawn their swords and were ready to fight back. Naclia and Eliamn ride up behind them on his horse, and he decided the best way to stop this was to just knock them all out.

    “Pixies of sleep, fill the eyes of the humans with sand, let them sleep and not fight,” Aiden summoned. His spell blanketed the caravan, but he couldn’t put seven people completely to sleep. The riders nearest him began to doze off in the saddles—a couple even fell off their horses—while the others, Kima included, began to feel very drowsy.

    Kima heard Aiden’s voice shortly before a wave of drowsiness attacked her. She tried to shake it out of her head and return to Aiden, but her drowsiness persisted. She bit her lip hard till it drew blood, hoping that it would be enough to make her a little more alert. The pain searing through her lower lip, Kima shook her head and stood up. I can fight! See? From looking around, she wasn’t the only one who was seeming drowsy. There were two elven ladies following behind the wagon, but were they friends of Aiden or not? The wild child grunted and launched herself at one of the drowsy men, her small body tackling him hard out of the saddle. The impact to the ground crushed a few of the man’s ribs. She grunted and dragged herself and the wounded man back to Aiden.

    “Tiash, get me to the centaur,” Eli urged the elven horse, grabbing on its strong neck to steady herself on the saddle now that Naclia had leapt off. She could have joined the fight, but her companions seemed already well on their way to overpowering the caravan.

    However, as Tiash trotted past the fight, one of men unsaddled by Aiden’s sleep spell had been jarred awake enough to see them coming by him. In a lurch, the man sprang to his feet and grabbed twin fistfuls of Eliamn’s tunic before unhorsing her in turn to throw her to the ground.

    The slight elf shamaness’ body smacked against the hard-packed earth, stars coming to her eyes and her breath blasted out of her. Pain barely had the time to assault her senses before the man caught her in the crook of one arm.

    “Stop the fighting or I’ll carve a smile on this one’s neck!” he hollered, a wicked hunting knife suddenly pressed against Eliamn’s neck.

    Rylan saw this and pulled his bow towards the man who was half asleep but still resisting. He looked at him. The man was surrounded, and Eliamn could not do anything. “Flau great spirit of ice, freeze and shatter his blade with your icy chill,” he spoke and watched the blade start to get cold. Soon it got cold enough to break from the air temperature around it. He was making sure the shamaness would not be harmed, even by one shard of the brittle metal. “Thank you Flau, I am grateful for your help.”

    Aiden grabbed a hold of Kima’s shoulders. He wasn’t strong enough to hold the wild girl, but his grip would hopefully get her to stop and listen to him. “Stop, Kima! We need to talk to them!” he reprimanded her.

    Rylan reacted quickly when a half-conscious rider tried to hold Eliamn hostage. His weapon was useless now. With her hands on her hips, Naclia taunted him, “You really think you can stand up to us with all our magic? Let her go, and we can talk.”

    The rider tried shaking the drowsiness away, but it clung to his mind like a leech, making coherent thought difficult. Anger, though, seemed to be a potent weapon against the pixies’ magic and the man growled in frustration.

    “Fine!” he said, shoving the elf shamaness away from him. “I yield.”

    Eliamn staggered forward and crashed to her knees, too hurt and dazed to move further. Her breath was ragged as one of her hands clutched at her side, fearing the pain burning there was indicative of broken ribs.

    Kima looked up at Aiden with sad eyes. She didn’t know what he wanted at first. He just said get ready for a fight. She nodded her head sadly and sat on her haunches at his feet. With her proverbial tail between her legs, she sat without moving nor looking at Aiden’s face. This is all too confusing, her little mind retorted. She sighed and continued to stare at his feet like a curtailed dog.

    Naclia darted forward and helped Eliamn to her feet, and half-carried her into the grass on the side of the road. If Eli was wounded, at least Lyassa was there to heal her. She was the most physically delicate of the three elves, but also the most powerful shaman. Pain was a distraction from proper spell casting.

    The ranger couldn’t help but wonder about the feral human girl, but she definitely had an affinity for Aiden. Firstly, Naclia’s attention went to Eli, then she would worry about the new girl.

    Kima suddenly seemed so hurt, but it shocked Aiden how blasé she could be about taking a life. The girl was certainly different. Had she spent her entire life in the wilds?

    The elf crouched down beside Kima, stroking her short hair softly. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, hoping to make her feel better. If he apologized for confusing her, he wasn’t sure if she would understand. “Wait here, Kima,” he said, the rose and walked toward the man who tried to hold Eli hostage.

    The rider still sat where he had fallen, weak from the spell cast on him. A few others were laying on the ground, sleeping, while yet others had dismounted and were trying to stay conscious.

    “What do you know about the ‘golden egg’?” Aiden asked.

    The rider spat at the elf’s foot. “I don’t know anything about a golden egg.” It was possible that Roess had never told the decoy what their job was, which seemed likely, but this man had to know something.

    Aiden looked over his shoulder at the centaur. “Rylan, will you go look in the wagon to see if they’re carrying anything?”

    Rylan nodded and went towards the wagon. Looking inside of it, his eyes carefully looked over its contents. Inside sat a giant gold colored egg on a silk covered bed of straw, though immediately he could tell the egg was fake. It did not have any life to it, but where was the real egg? “They’re carrying a fake egg in here. Looks like we need to find out where the real one is. Maybe he needs to realize what is at stake here, that may loosen his tongue.” He came back around and looked at the others, Eliamn was obviously in great pain.

    The rider Aiden was interrogating seemed surprised when Rylan said what was in the wagon. “Look, I don’t know anything!” the man protested. “We were just hired in the city to drive the wagon to Dragon Scale.”

    “You didn’t bother to ask what you were carrying?” Aiden asked.

    “The guy paid me a freakin’ Raiden! I wasn’t going to ask where that came from.”

    “What can you tell me? What was your job?”

    “He said to ride out of Dragon Breath as fast as we could, as long as the horses could stand. The driver knew more than me, but I guess you won’t be getting that out of him,” the rider gave a tired smirk to Aiden.

    The elf frowned. Kima killed the wagon driver. He couldn’t find it in him to place the blame on the feral girl though, she didn’t seem to understand the common tongue—and probably not any other language. Aiden sighed. He probably wouldn’t get much out of these men.

* * *

    “My ribs... hurt... when I breathe.” Eli gritted her teeth against the pain. “There is a... grating sensation... Just under the shoulder blade... and the left armpit.” she confided to Naclia. She had rarely ever felt this much pain in her life, but now that Naclia was actually helping her, the shamaness at least managed to keep from panicking. She would recriminate herself about having accomplished nothing to help her companions later. For now, telling Naclia how exactly she was hurting was more important.

    Lyassa saw that one of her friends—though she wasn’t sure of that—was hurt. She quickly came up to Eliamn and lifted up her hand above the woman’s chest and closed her eyes. “Marfa, I ask you to heal this woman,” she whispered quietly, barely above a whisper. Her opened hand gave off a soft white glow as she said her prayer to the goddess. She knew it might take some time to heal Eliamn for she wasn’t as powerful as other priestesses.

    Lyassa was quick to come to Eliamn’s aid, and Naclia held the shamaness as she was healed. Once the priestess was finished, Naclia had to ask about new member in the camp. “Who is she?” the ranger asked softly, looking toward Kima’s back.

    Kima turned her head towards the last speaker. A rather buxom elf. I like her. Kima smiled at Naclia and turned around. She sauntered over on all fours and pushed her face into Naclia’s chest. “khmfa,” Kima mumbled, face pushed deep into her chest. “Kmf-mhf.”

    Eliamn had relaxed under Lyassa’s ministrations, keeping still as bone knitted themselves. The pain lessened from something that had filled her senses and into something of a dull ache, more remembrance of having been hurt than any true discomfort. The shamaness gave grateful nod, but the words to properly convey thanks escaped her—she was still in a bit of a shock. Just as she struggled to regain her composure, Kima came by and monopolized Naclia’s attention, forcing Eli aside. She looked at Kima through bedraggled forelocks before heaving a sigh—she was healed, but she remained weak from spell fatigue. She blinked her violet eyes wearily and then forced her eyes up to Rylan. “Ry-lan.” she forced the syllables out. “Are you-” her voice was hoarse. She swallowed painfully and tried again, “Are you alright?”

    Before Lyassa could reply, the strange girl had buried her face in Naclia’s ample bosom and whatever she was saying was muffled. Naclia blinked her big blue eyes in confusion and had her arms poised to either hug the girl or push her off.

    “Lyassa?” Naclia asked, waiting for an explanation from the priestess.

    Lyassa was finished and she seem to awaken from her prayer. “Sorry!” She said to Naclia while bowing slightly. She smiled and clapped her hands together. “Her name is Kima. She just appeared out of nowhere while the two of you were gone. She seemed nice so we let her come along,” she said.

    Kima removed her small head from Naclia’s breasts. “Ki-ma.” she pronounced, touching her own chest. Touching Naclia’s chest she smiled. “Mama?” She pointed to Lyassa. “Lyassa.” She finally pointed to Aiden and blushed. “...kiss.” Her little mouth struggled with each word, the struggle rather evident on the face she made as she tried to keep in her own voice without falling back on her mimicking skills.

    Rylan looked down to the shamaness, her concern was well placed. Still showing an emotionless expression he replied, now they had to find the real egg. “I am fine, will you be alright Eliamn?” He let Aiden handle the interrogation, such matters were best handled by the others. He did not care to deal with such greedy humans, but not all were like that.

    Eliamn sent a perplexed look at Naclia and Kima both before answering “I will be now. The ribs don’t really hurt anymore.” The shamaness raised one hand to place over Lyassa’s joined ones. “You cannot heal spell fatigue Lyassa, but I am grateful. Thank you.” Eli let go of the human woman and struggled to get back up. It wasn’t as hard as she expected, but she was still blinking at stars as she looked around to ascertain what was going on.

    Meanwhile, Naclia was dealing with the very odd feral girl, Kima. She didn’t quite understand what Kima was saying, but she did her best. “What? Did Aiden kiss Lyassa?” Naclia asked, suddenly glaring daggers at Aiden’s back.

    Aiden felt a chill up his spine and looked back over his shoulder to see Naclia glaring at him. Despite his sharp elven ears, he hadn’t been paying attention to their conversation. He turned to the barrier of earth he had erected and raised his hand toward it. {“Gnome, spirit of the earth, return the ground to what it was. Thank you,”} he spoke in elvish. The barrier suddenly collapsed, leaving a line of loose soil across the road. Hopefully no horses stepped in that and hurt themselves, but there was only so much he could do.

    “Never you mind that,” Eliamn told Naclia and slowly walked past to join Aiden. She stopped halfway, clutching her forehead as she fought against dizziness, but as she did so she continued with “There are more important events that demand our attention.”

    Eli shuffled to the dead wagoner and crouched next to him. At one time, she might have felt squeamish by the blood seeping out of the dead body, but what she intended to do demanded that she steel her heart and look beyond her own frailties. Delicate fingers edged out to linger in the slight shadow the limp man still had. Her fingertips caressed over the blood-slick wooden boards of the wagon, but she paid it no heed as she concentrated to find her connection with the spirit world. Her chosen helper was not one she was used to resorting too, so, preparations before the summon was important.

    {“I, Eliamn, call upon the spirits of darkness—shades hidden where light does not touch,”} her voice gained a fell tone as she exerted her powers to bind the spirit to her command, {“By the covenants forged since ancient times, I call upon thy powers!”}

    {“What is thy wish, elf?”} her shadow sullenly asked.

    The shamaness shivered, feeling unclean, but her resolve did not weaken. {“Retrace the shadow of this dead human to the place where the shadows of many humans dance and weave. Seek out the shadow of one named Roess... you may recognize him from his words spoken to the dead man’s shadow : ‘to ride out of Dragon Breath as fast as possible, as long as the horses could manage’, though the wording may be different. Seek out Roess’ shade, and then return to me with directions.”}

    {“I shall obey.”} Eliamn’s shadow was suddenly sucked within the dead wagoner’s shadow, drawing out a stifled gasp from Eli. The elf maid’s body slumped over, shivering, as her figure grayed : with her shadow absent, light could not touch her anymore, leaving her only with chill and exhaustion.

    This was the second powerful ritual she had performed that day with a spirit she was not well acquainted with and it took its toll. Eli’s breath was labored as she willed her failing body to remain conscious: spirits of darkness were the only chance she had left to find the instigator now that the wagoner was dead. She couldn’t afford to fail—shadows of men dead for too long had no voice to them.

    Aiden was shocked to see Eliamn actually stoop so low as to summon dark spirits. However, they were desperate to find Mycen’s egg. He didn’t know what that Mur-Cavendrel lord wanted to do with the egg, but it wasn’t in the hatchling’s best interest. The ranger grit his teeth.

    Eli was spiritually drained, it was obvious as she slumped over and her skin became pale. Aiden walked to the wagon and scooped up the exhausted shamaness. “Eli, leave the summoning up to the rest of us today,” Aiden said, softly chastising as he carried her back to their camp on the side of the road. “You aren’t the only shaman here.”

* * *

    Kima looked perplexed. This situation was so odd and not at all understandable by her young, undeveloped mind. “Kiss...Kima,” she strained in her own voice. It was easier to mimic than to force her own voice out. “See, what we have here ladies, is what I’d like to call a conundrum. But, with a simple flick of the wrist, a gentle waive over the coins, and poof, a little wisp appears,” she mimicked Minstral’s voice again. She liked hearing his voice, even if it came from her own mouth. “Now, most people would think me some magician, but in all truth, I am but the humblest of Minstrels, a song weaver and traveler. This is my darling assistant, she is trained in a very beautiful dance, and can sing along to some degree. Mind you, passed the songs and dance, this poor child can only mime what has been said before.” She scratched her head and drew her short sword, starting to draw in the dirt with its tip. “Hush now, little one,” she continued to mimic. She sniffled and stared at her drawing. It was nothing glamorous or extravagant, just a crude stick figure of her closest friend.

    Lyassa smiled and heading over by Kima and knelt down. After thinking over what she was trying to say, she giggled. “I think, she wants Aiden to kiss her,” she said to Naclia. Lyassa gave the young girl a pat on the head. “Thats a nice drawing,” she said cheerfully.

    Rylan looked at the drawing and laughed a little, Kima was obviously trying her best to fit in. “Good work Kima, I’m sure he would appreciate the effort.” Hearing Eliamn’s summon did not sit well with him, though he did realize that she was doing it for their benefit. He had never really liked dark spirits, although most people were right to fear Hyuri.

    “Nnnn.” Kima smiled. She liked people displaying interest in her drawings. She continued to draw, this time drawing herself. She watched Aiden out of her teary eyes, wanting him to come over and hold her. Didn’t he see that she was in pain?

    Naclia was shocked by what Kima had said. She had mimicked the voice of a man, obviously, and it seemed to explain a lot about her. Naclia curiously studied Kima as she drew in the dirt and noticed the tears in her eyes as she looked at Aiden. She was very fond of the elf, even though they couldn’t have met less than an hour ago.

    Naclia leaned forward and wrapped an arm around Kima’s shoulders to comfort her. “There, there, what’s the matter?” she cooed.

    Rylan was quite accepting of Kima, though he did not know how to express emotion. That was what made him envy others, he could not let them show for their safety. “I envy all of you. You can show emotion openly. For me it is only a threat. Maybe Kima misses the other person she drew.” He could only guess, though he did miss his family back home. Then again it was for their safety he left, not even he could deny that.

    Kima buried her face into Naclia’s chest and cried. She wanted to tell her what was wrong but she didn’t know the words to express herself. Words were not her strong point, they never were. She hugged into the elf and cried, she half-wished it was Aiden that held her, but she didn’t push away someone sympathetic to her cause. She missed the Minstral, where ever he was, and she was falling for Aiden, although she could not be sure of her feelings either way. She was alone, and somehow she knew that she was the cause of the trouble. She didn’t understand many of the words spoken, but she knew that the wounded elf was more hurt because Kima acted rashly without letting Aiden talk them to sleep first.

* * *

    “But I was the only one who could do it.” Eliamn said weakly, resting her head against Aiden’s shoulder. “Don’t let me faint Aiden... I... really have to be awake to hear the spirit’s answer...”

    “Alright,” Aiden replied to Eliamn, then set her down in the grass, propped up against the rock he’d cast his reconnaissance spell from earlier. He had concerns about Kima on his mind, and the men would probably be waking up any time now. “Wait here, I’ll get Lyassa to watch over you,” Aiden told Eliamn, then stood and walked to the other three women.

    Pausing by Lyassa, he looked down at the priestess as he spoke, “Lyassa, could you make sure Eliamn stays awake?”

    Crouching beside Naclia and Kima, Aiden placed his hand on Kima’s head. “Hey, what’s wrong Kima?” he asked.

    Naclia replied, “I don’t know, she just started crying. I think she’s enamored with you.”

    Aiden slipped into elven so Kima wouldn’t understand. Though she barely seemed to understand common, {“She’s been all over me since she showed up with Rylan. He found her while he was out scouting and she just tagged along. I didn’t even see her before she launched herself into my arms and started kissing me.”}

    The sight of Kima crying made Rylan wonder, how long had it really been since he was exiled? Time had become blurred to him, starting from the day he witnessed the horrible death. To him, seeing this was a reminder of what he had lost, something that made him shake a little. “Excuse me for a few minutes, I need to clear my thoughts.” His emotions of anger from that day were welling up, that had been the last time he cried. He did not want to risk his friends, though he was still in control.

* * *

    Talen had begun his trip back to the camp after dropping the bandits off at the gate and informing the guards about the letter. What had before been an uneventful day had turned into a day that he wouldn’t soon forget. He sighed as he continued on his way back towards the camp.

    After an hour of riding, he had come to the camp, and soon saw the scene. He stopped Seinna and dismounted her, walking up to the others. “I’m back, what all has happened?” he asked.

    When Aiden placed his hand on Kima’s head, the young girl looked up at him through tear soaked eyes. Her tribal markings had run with the salty tears running down her tender cheeks. “fa...ult.” Kima pointed to herself. It’s all my fault, she wanted to say. If I didn’t act rashly, this probably wouldn’t have happened. She pushed her face back into Naclia’s bosom to hide her shameful face and to cry some more. Aiden will probably never forgive me! With that thought she cried harder, hugging her arms around Naclia’s torso and trying to quiet herself from being heard between Naclia’s bosom.

    Naclia held onto the girl, picking up the broken pronunciation of “fault”. She couldn’t bring herself to be angry with the little feral Kima, and judging by Aiden’s expression, he couldn’t either. Naclia’s ears twitched at the sounds of hoof beats approaching. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Talen, but with Kima clinging to her, she couldn’t go greet him. “Go talk to him,” she told Aiden and continued to hold onto Kima as she cried. Stroking Kima’s hair, Naclia said what she could to try and get her to stop crying. “Nobody’s blaming you, Kima. It’s not your fault.”

    Aiden sighed as he stood and walked to meet Talen. He distantly noticed Rylan leaving, saying he had to get a handle on his emotions. Kima had most of Aiden’s attention, though he was concerned about Eliamn as well. Now he worried that Rylan was fighting Hyuri.

    The elf met the knight. There was a lot to explain. “Welcome back,” he greeted Talen. “I don’t know how much Eliamn told you, but the decoy that was supposed to distract Mycen is right here,” Aiden pointed to the wagon, horses, and unconscious riders. His spell probably wouldn’t last much longer. “Rylan was supposed to look for the actual egg-napper, but he couldn’t find anything except the newest member to our company, Kima.” Aiden then pointed to the girl Naclia was holding.

    “Hmm...I see. So thats the decoy,” Talen said, looking deep in thought. He looked behind Aiden, seeing Naclia and the girl that she was holding. “So what is exactly behind this girl?” he asked walking up and kneeling down by the girl.

* * *

    Lyassa was next to Eliamn, making sure the elf didn’t faint or grow worse. She let the woman’s head onto her shoulder to make her comfortable, or at least she hoped it was. “You’ll be fine. I’ll make sure you stay awake,” she said to her as she watched the others. She felt sorry for Kima, she was trying to tell Aiden something but couldn’t. It made Lyassa feel sad. The priestess kept watch over Eliamn to make sure she remained awake like she wanted.

    Eliamn nodded slightly and concentrated on her breathing as she tried to pay attention to what was going on. So cold... she swallowed hard and resisted the pull of her heavy eyelids.

* * *

    “Well, she doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of language,” Aiden replied to Talen. “She mimics a lot, but I don’t think she really understands what she says.”

    Naclia looked to Talen as the knight knelt beside her. “Hey Kima, there’s someone here for you to meet,” Naclia told the girl, hoping that maybe her mood would shift.

    Kima removed her tear stained face from Naclia’s chest and looked at Talen. Her lips were all pouty still since she wasn’t quite done crying. She rubbed her tears and snotty nose off on her sleeve and moved her hair out of her big brown eyes. “...Between Marfa and Kardis there was no real match. Although both slew each other, it was almost inevitable that the mother goddess would return to life,” she mimicked Minstral’s voice again. Just the sound of his voice coming out of her mouth made her bawl louder, shyly pushing her face back into Naclia to hide her embarrassing tears.

    Talen gave her a soft smile as Kima looked at him, trying to show that he was a kind person. Although after what she had said, he tilted his head a bit to the side, showing a confused response to her words. “What do you mean?” he asked her.

    Naclia grimaced as Kima only kept crying. “She’s just mimicking someone again,” Naclia explained to Talen. “Kima...” Naclia stroked the girl’s messy brown hair. “Come on honey, you can’t cry forever. Why don’t you say hi to Talen?”

    Aiden crouched down next to Naclia and Kima again. He didn’t know how to console her, but he couldn’t stand to see her crying. He laid his hand on Kima’s shoulder, the spoke softly to her. “Hey, Kima, I’m not mad at you. Are you mad at me?”

    Talen nodded. “Mimicking someone? I see,” he said and looked to Naclia, she certainly had good parenting skills considering how she was taking care of Kima so well. “What do you mean by mimicking someone? Who was she mimicking?” he asked.

    “I don’t know,” Naclia replied. “Someone she knows maybe. It was so odd, a moment ago, she spoke in that voice and basically explained herself from the point of view of a ‘Minstral’.”

    Talen nodded. “A minstrel? That would be a bard of sorts, but why would she be mentioning something like that?” he said puzzled. He leaned in, placing his hand upon Kima’s head softly and caressing her. “Hey there...if you need to cry then just let it all out,” he said in a reassuring and gentle voice.

    Kima heard all the soothing voices around her, as well as hearing her friend’s moniker spoken multiple times. She finally emerged from Naclia’s bosom and wiped her little face. She looked to everyone and gave a little smile. “Hi han’some,” she said to Talen, mimicking a barmaid she once heard. She leaned her head back and looked at Aiden. “Now you know that I could never be mad at you dear...” she mimicked her father’s caring voice, then without another pause or skip in her voice she changed to mimicking her Minstral friend and turned to Naclia. “Minstral is a moniker that I may use when I choose to not divulge my name, my mimicking friend. You take this for instance, I have three dates all lined up for the same night, two of them know me as Troy, one knows me from another town where I went as Will. Now, all three women talk about me to each other, finding out, oh no, they are all talking about the same man. Now, this means trouble for your Minstral friend. It means that he’s stayed in one place for far too long and it’s time to get the hell out of the city before the vestal virgins’ parents found out I made away with more than a few coppers and a peak up their skirts.” She messed up Naclia’s hair. “That’s what I like about you, kiddo. You’re always so quick with that sweet smile. Were you old enough to conceive I might actually think of knocking you up.” She gave Naclia a little wink.

    Eli couldn’t help but groan as she overheard Kima. “Lyassa. Please remind them of... Aiden’s sleep spell.” she whispered and closed her eyes to rest them—just for a moment.

    Rylan returned and looked to the others. He saw that Kima was better now. Did Naclia and Talen know his secret? They had not been present when he told the others. “Naclia, Talen, I have something to say to you both. The others know this and have accepted the truth, Kima does not know this either so I feel she should know,” He laid down on the grass and waited for them to respond before continuing. Hopefully they would all have the same reaction.

    Lyassa nodded as she looked at the others. “Aiden has cast a sleep spell. It’ll probably be going away soon. So, maybe we should tie those men up before they wake up and start fighting, or what not, again,” she said.

    With a sigh, Eli, with her head pillowed comfortably against Lyassa’s shoulder, finally abandoned herself to slumber.

    Sleep spell? Wear off? Tie up men? Kima giggled and ran off on all fours towards the sleeping men. Undoing their belt buckles she removed their pants and underwear and tossed them into the nearby trees. The little feral girl snatched up their weapons in quick movements and dashed them over to Aiden’s feet. She looked up at him with her great big brown eyes and grinned widely. I did right this time, right? Her mind asked although her mouth refused to relinquish the words aloud.

    Naclia stood when Kima ran off, trying to rub the dye from the girl’s face paint off the front of her dress. “Yes, Rylan, Eli told us you’re possessed by Hyuri,” Naclia replied to the centaur. Eli told her while they were riding after the wagon, though Talen didn’t hear it. “Honestly, I don’t think Kima has a clue what that means.”

    Lyassa watched, with a rather surprised expression, as Kima ran off to the sleeping men and performed the tasks. As the priestess watched the girl, she, herself begun to laugh at these actions, finding them very sweet. She’s trying to win Aiden, she thought with a smile as she was watching the now sleeping Eli. Seeing, that she had fallen asleep, the priestess softly shook her to awaken her from sleeping. “You need to stay awake remember?” she said.

    Kima’s actions left Aiden scratching his head, though the first time he saw her strip the pants off one of the men and toss the clothes into the woods, he had to stifle a laugh. He let her continue though, it was probably best they were disarmed and distracted when they woke up. When she paused, Aiden was grinning in amusement and reached down to ruffle her hair. “I suppose that works!” the elf chuckled.

    Looking back at Naclia, he posed a suggestion. “Perhaps we should take a couple of these horses, one for Eli, and one for yourself. Kima can ride with me on Tiash,” Aiden said. “I don’t think she’d have it any other way.”

    The elf looked to Aiden and nodded in acknowledgment. “That sounds like a plan, though they’re exhausted. I’m sure a nice, slow walk and maybe a little spell from Lyassa might make them feel better. If she’s up to it,” Naclia suggested, looking to the priestess when she referred to her. Naclia walked up to the horses and began checking the nearest ones over.

    Lyassa smiled and nodded. “I’ll be more then happy to aid them,” she said to the elf.

    Suddenly, a great shadow passed overhead. The horses shied, but Naclia grabbed the reins of the two she was examining. The others belonging to the riders scattered, heading for the cover of the forest. Even the team drawing the wagon began to run. The wagon was lifted off three wheels as the horses pulled it over the dead body of the wagon driver, then the fake egg was thrown onto the road, breaking and revealing that it was filled with sand.

    The three horses of the party were frightened too. Seinna, Talen’s warhorse, ducked into the trees. Tiash joined her, though he seemed more ready to protect the mare. The gray stallion whinnied, calling to Landia, and Lyassa’s smaller mare galloped off to hide with Tiash and Seinna.

    Meanwhile, Naclia looked up to see the great golden dragon flying low overhead. The horses she held onto squealed and pulled on the reins in her hands. Naclia braced her footing, then pulled them towards her. Taking the lead, she led the two horses into the woods on the side of the road that Tiash led the others into. The horses trusted her and allowed her to lead, and once they were in the forest, she let them run after Tiash.

    Talen’s eyes went to the ground as he noticed the great shadow passing overhead. “What the blazes...?” he mumbled before looking up and seeing the golden dragon flying over them. “Mycen...” he said in shock as he looked to the others. “We should get out of here!” he yelled.

    Eliamn stirred from Lyassa’s touch, but it was the disturbance left by Mycen’s arrival that actually shook her mind awake. She wasn’t groggy so much as slightly flustered; concentrating was hard and she seemed to think about as slowly as molasses. It didn’t help that she was still sickened by the absence of her shadow.

    Lyassa too heard the dragons roar and nodded in agreement to Talen as she felt a shiver up her spine, hoping the dragon didn’t take her anger out on them. “I agree. We should make haste away from here before she thinks we were behind it,” she said.

    Kima sat on her haunches looking to the sky to see what could be blocking the sun. She removed the hair from in front of her face and stared at the dragon with her deep brown eyes, unflinchingly as she was too innocent to be scared of such a magnificent beast. She puffed in a deep breath, holding it in her lungs for a moment shortly before exploding outwards her mimic of the dragon’s roar back at it. The sudden rush of air suffused with the mimicked sounds hurt her small vocal chords and made her hoarse. She coughed a little afterwards, tears streaming down her cheeks as it was quite painful for the little one to make such a loud sound.

    Rylan saw the horses head to the woods he knew something was up, Mycen was not in a good mood. “We should try and find that egg, so that we can settle this matter without trouble. But we do not know where they are, or do we?” He asked, hoping somebody had the answer. Hearing Kima imitate the noise, he hoped she did not harm her throat. “Where do we go for now, considering the situation?”

    Everyone seemed ready to run, but Aiden didn’t think that they should leave the dragon without the information they could provide. Ancient dragons were very intelligent and could communicate in many languages. However, she was also a mother with a missing child. Who knew how upset she could be?

    “Everyone, get behind me. Mycen has to know what happened here!” Aiden shouted. “Naclia, Rylan, be ready to summon Sylph. I don’t think she’ll attack, but if she does, we need the strongest shield of wind we can summon.”

    Aiden reached out for Kima’s shoulder. “Kima, stand behind me,” he said, softly coercing the girl.

    Naclia agreed with Aiden. Mycen needed to know. The elf turned to Talen and gave him a push to get behind Aiden. “Keep behind us, we should be able to protect you with Sylph,” she told the knight.

    The ranger then took a place to the right of Aiden and opened her mind to the Air elementals.

    Rylan looked to Naclia and swallowed a little. He was not very strong with Sylph, but he would try. Getting into position, he waited. Hopefully Mycen would realize they were trying to help her. “I’m not very strong with Sylph, but I’ll try, Naclia. I hope you’re stronger than me with Sylph.” He waited for the dragon’s approach, and when they would need the shield, he was going to give it his best.

    “I sure am!” Naclia told Rylan. In fact, Sylph was one of her favorite spirits.

    Mycen, the golden dragon, had tracked the wagon from the city gates. After discovering her precious egg missing, she had to tell Jester and Shiris, which was why she landed in Dragon Breath. The egg had existed for decades, since she and Bramd last met before hibernation. It had been kept secret, even from the royalty of Moss. Now the whole nation would know of her offspring, but how did the thief know she had an egg in the first place?

    Mycen saw the decoy wagon, and it appeared to have been ambushed. Human men lay dead or wounded about the caravan, but it was an interesting party of individuals that were next to the road. She could see a few elves, and a centaur. They certainly couldn’t be her enemies. Not the children of Falis.

    Mycen passed over the party, then banked and came about again. She would see what they had to say. Circling back, Mycen picked out a spot to land on the road, behind the wagon. Then, she noticed something to make her massive heart start. A golden egg laying broken on the ground. No, that is not my egg, Mycen assured herself. Dragon eggs were as good as indestructible.

    The dragon descended, controlling her landing by flapping her great, feathered wings forward, creating mighty gusts of wind.

    Aiden threw his arm over his face and planted his feet firmly as the strong wind from Mycen’s wings beat down on him. Please don’t kill us, please don’t kill us, please don’t kill us, the elf repeated over and over in his mind.

    Naclia’s hands were almost raised to summon, but like Aiden, she had to block her face from the dust and debris Mycen’s wings stirred. “Sylph, spirit of the wind, protect us from this debris!” Naclia asked the spirits she was already prepared to call on. The elementals raised a shield that blocked the group from the wind and dust.

    Once she landed, the dragon folded her wings back, then lowered her head near the ground to see eye to eye with the elves. She studied the group with a great golden eye, noticing that one of the female elves erected a shield of air. There was one elf male, a centaur, another elf female, and three humans. One wore the armor of a knight of Moss. A number of men who had been riders were beginning to wake, finding themselves pants-less. Fueled by adrenaline, they stood and begin to run.

    A growl rose from Mycen’s throat and she turned toward the escaping men. Snaking her head forward, she snatched one delicately by his shirt and dropped him in front of the elves.

    “What happened here? Where is my egg!” the dragon demanded, partially of the man she just captured, and partially to the party of elves.

    Though the dragon intimidated him, Aiden swallowed and dropped to one knee in front of the dragon’s head. “Great Mycen, Dragon of Falis, I have word of the fate of your egg!” Aiden said, speaking loudly for her to hear. “This caravan was a decoy to distract you, the real kidnapper is bound for the realm of a Lord Mur-Cavendrel.”

    Kima grunted and crawled over to the dragon. How impressively beautiful! I must hug her. She bared her teeth in a wide grin and ran to give the dragon’s snout a hug. As she neared she got blown over by the dragon’s breath. She giggled and gave a broad grin to the dragon. “KI-MA!” She yelled pointing at her chest. She was just introducing herself as nice as possible.

    Rylan joined Naclia in the barrier, raising his head and calling on Sylph. Once the dust and wind had settled his summon started to flicker. After Mycen had landed Rylan stood still, letting the dragon conduct her business. The running men was an amusing sight, but his attention was focused elsewhere. “Kima, it is not safe to do that right now!” he called out after Kima rushed forward, she was just curious like she had been with him.

    Aiden gasped as Kima ran out to the dragon, and rose to his feet as he stepped forward. “Kima!” he cried out in concern. Don’t hurt her! he prayed to himself, hoping Mycen didn’t hurt the girl.

    “Mycen, please forgive her!” he pleaded with the dragon.

    So, the elves were helping her. Despite being considered the ruler of Moss, she couldn’t recall every noble house, and Mur-Cavendrel was unknown to her. She would have to return to the city to find out who it was.

    Before she could respond, Mycen was surprised by the young human girl. She heard her try to roar earlier, and were she not so upset, she might have found it adorable. She stared down her long snout at the dark head of the human; Kima was her name? Mycen paused, then nudged back at Kima, trying to push her off her nose. She didn’t want to hurt the child, after all.

    Hearing the shouts of Rylan and Aiden, Kima pouted and let go shortly after Mycen nudged her. She rubbed the dragon’s snout and sat down in front of Mycen. “Ki-ma.” she said again pointing to her chest. Mimicking each voice in turn, she introduced her other compatriots. “Fri-end?” she asked, her deep brown eyes staring at the golden dragon with obvious lack of hostility or fear.

    Kima’s antics didn’t sit well with Eliamn, irritation helping her focus. The shamaness tried to get up but the elf’s body failed, sickened from being shadowless, slumped back gracelessly against the rock. A pained cough escaped her. “Don’t forget the egg... is supposed to... Roess is using the backroads...” Falis help me, I can barely speak above a whisper!

    Rylan was relieved when Kima moved back, at least she was out of any potential harm. Seeing Eliamn move, he walked over to her. She could not lay like that on the ground. Helping her up, he moved her to his equine lower half. He tossed a blanket over his back beforehand so she could lie down comfortably. “Don’t move too much, you should rest now. You have shown me kindness, I think I know how friends work now,” he spoke as he looked at her, and partially turned his head to see what he was doing. He had laid her down solely by feel, though he had gotten it right it was a little awkward to move her. Once he was done he returned to the scene, he did what was right in his mind.

    It felt odd to be placed atop a centaur’s back. Eli had always thought for someone to do so would be perceived as demeaning to centaur-folk. Still, she was not one to push away the kind gesture and she lean against his broad back, nestling her chin on his shoulder.

    Lyassa watched the dragon and couldn’t help but to feel very deep fear in her heart. She prayed to Marfa that the dragon didn’t take her anger out on them. She watched Rylan put Eli on his back and smiled. She then focused on the dragon as she watched it, standing behind Aiden and Naclia.

    Mycen lifted her head once Kima let go, then stared at the little human girl with her head cocked to the side. She was an endearing little thing, and Mycen might have humored her more if her egg were safe in it’s nest. She craned her head back toward Aiden. “Tell me all you know, elf,” her voice rumbled evenly. She trusted the elves without hesitation, since it was their ancestors who served Falis just as she did.

    Aiden stepped forward, standing just behind Kima. He put his hands on the girl’s shoulder to make certain she did nothing rash. “A human messenger placed a letter on me in the city. It was from a man named Roess, and addressed to Lord Mur-Cavendrel. He said that he had the golden egg and the mother would be distracted by a decoy, while he would sneak through the backroads to get the egg to the Lord. We sent the message back to the city, and stopped the decoy here. They had a fake egg in their wagon.” Aiden pointed to the broken plaster egg that had spilled sand on the road. “That is all I know.”

    Mycen absorbed the information the elf readily provided. “Thank you, elf,” Mycen thundered her response. “Now, tell me, what do you intend to do?”

    Aiden did a quick look back at his companions before responding to Mycen. “We were going to find the kidnapper and try to return your egg,” Aiden replied. “We did a local search for him, but found nothing.”

    “Continue your search. You will be rewarded with anything that I can offer you,” Mycen replied. “May I know your names?”

    “I am Aiden of the Mirror Forest,” Aiden said formally, then glanced over his shoulders for his companions to introduce themselves.

    Naclia caught Aiden’s glance, though she expected him to introduce them all. “Oh, I’m Naclia, from the Mirror Forest as well,” the ranger said.

    Rylan watched the exchange as Eliamn rested against him, looking to Mycen he looked ahead with his usual blank look. Mycen was an impressive dragon, for meeting her in person it was an honor. “My name is Rylan, an exile from the Glassy Woods. It is good to meet you, this is an unexpected honor. This is Eliamn who is also from the Mirror Forest, I am sure she would address you but she is not well,” he stated coldly but strained, unable to even muster anything of an emotion to give respect into his voice. It was though he was trying to force some emotion, as to not offend the great dragon. Eliamn did not need to strain her voice any more, she needed sleep.

    Lyassa toke a soft step forward and bowed in respect toward the mighty dragon. “I’m Lyassa, a priestess under service of the goddess, Marfa,” she said. After, that she went back to a normal stance and watched them.

    “Kima.” the wild child stated again. She looked at Aiden’s hand on her shoulder and pouted. She wanted to be free to look at the dragon more. She knew that Aiden couldn’t hold her back if he needed to, but she would respect his wishes and not move this time. She sucked in her breath and mimicked Mycen’s voice from earlier. “Where is my egg?” she roared in perfect imitation. Had she something to amplify her voice despite her diminutive form, it may have had the same volume and intensity as the dragon herself.

    Talen approached Mycen and bowed, since everyone else had introduced themselves it was only appropriate that he introduce himself too. “It is an honor to meet you, Mycen. My name is knight Talen Drecloud, Order of the Wyvern,” he said as he bowed before her.

    Mycen looked to each person who identified themselves and recorded their names and faces in her memory. The dragon’s attention then fell to Kima who was trying so hard to get her attention. She imitated Mycen’s booming voice in a miniature form, touching the kind dragon’s heart. Mycen loved humans, despite the failings of some. After all, it was a human who broke the curse on her an who she honored by taking his name and ruling his people.

    “Thank you for your concern. Do all you can to find my egg. My elven friends, please send all news to me through Sylph,” Mycen told the adventurers.

    The dragon turned her head back and plucked a tiny feather from her wing. Though the feather was tiny for her, it was bigger than most large birds. Mycen lowered her head to Kima again and offered the child the feather from her beak-like mouth. Unlike a bird’s feather, it wasn’t soft, but stiff and hard. It could be used as a shield or weapon on its own.

    Kima gratefully took the feather and smiled. She had no words to say for the gift. “Find egg!” she retorted. She touched Mycen’s beak and gave it a soft stroke. “Ooooooooooooh...” she moaned softly. “Kitty?”

    Rylan nodded in reply to Mycen, hopefully this would end without violence. Kima seemed to enjoy the feather, one that could be used as a weapon was formidable indeed. “Your egg will be returned safely, and those who stole it punished accordingly I hope.” He had no sense of human justice, he had not seen what it entailed. Though hearing some of what it did, he wondered what their punishment would be.

    Aiden’s ears twitched in confusion as Kima called Mycen a kitty. “Umm...dragon, dear. She’s a dragon,” Aiden corrected the girl.

    Kima pouted when she was corrected. She rolled her eyes and kissed Mycen on the beak. “Pretty.” she hugged her feather to her chest. Kima ran over to Aiden to show off her new toy. “Kima.” she stated, as if claiming ownership over the feather. Her arm wrapped around Aiden’s waist and she smiled. “Kima.” she said again with a devious smile on her youthful lips.

    Mycen drew her head back after Kima turned away, then began to step backwards on the road, making the ground tremble beneath her. The dragon spread her massive golden wings, then crouched down and launched herself into the air. With a few powerful flaps, she began to climb back into the sky.

    The elf smiled as he looked down at Kima enjoying her feather. As Mycen prepared to take off, Aiden crouched down to shield Kima from the wind with his body. He could feel pebbles and debris pattering on his vest as the wind from the dragon’s wings beat down on them. When it could no longer be felt, Aiden leaned back and smiled at Kima. “You’re very lucky, you know,” he said, looking down at her feather. “She gave you a lovely gift.”

    Eliamn closed her eyes to protect them from the dust Mycen’s departure stirred and then blinked them open to watch the golden feathered dragon retreat amongst the sky and clouds.

    She shifted her head to look at the others, wondering just what they would do next. Mycen would probably be able to scout over the backroads much more easily than they could... but Roess had probably had thought about that and most likely had something up his sleeve. After all, the decoy would have had distracted Mycen for only so long...

    Talen watched Mycen as she flew off, quite surprised to have met the great golden dragon in person, this was truly a moment he wouldn’t forget. “Yes, you are indeed lucky Kima, make sure to take care of that,” he said softly with a smile at her.

    Naclia looked back at Talen, then leaned back against him casually, with her elbow on his shoulder. “I never thought I’d be meeting the Dragon of Falis,” Naclia mused. “Or be helping her for that matter!”

    Eliamn bit back a cry as her shadow returned, causing her numb skin to suddenly become afire with sensation. It was both painful and relieving, as she could feel light and warmth once more—not to mention the constant seepage of her spiritual energy was dammed. However, the information the shade brought back brought little cheer to her. The Keeper shamaness straightened her stance on the centaur’s back, still pale but slowly recovering. “I apologize. The shadow failed to find him.”

    Rylan wondered what to do next, they had to search the roads for him now. But as a group it would be slower, maybe if they broke into search parties. Something he had learned from his training as a ranger, and anybody searching might do. “Maybe we can break off into even groups to cover the back roads, that way we cover more ground,” he replied to everybody before replying to Eliamn, who was still recovering from her summons, “You did your best, I’m sure we all appreciate the effort.”

    Talen jumped a bit as he felt Naclia’s elbow on his shoulder. Looking over to her and noticing she was leaning against him casually. “Quite a unique experience eh?” he asked her with a smile playing upon his lips.

    Kima was too entranced with her present to pay much attention to the others congratulating her on getting the gift. The thirteen year old wild one stared at the feather in amazement and wonder. When she finally did look up, Mycen was gone. The young feral looked to Aiden with big pouty eyes, as if to ask where the dragon went.

    Kima seemed disappointed to realize that Mycen was gone, but Aiden patted her head assuringly. “I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of her,” he said. The elf heard Rylan’s suggestion, but would trying to track Roess be any help? The result of Eliamn’s spell was disheartening. Apparently, the egg thief had taken precautions against being tracked physically and possibly magically. “I don’t know if we can find anything. Maybe we can try, but there’s only so much ground we can cover,” Aiden stated.

    Naclia didn’t change position from where she was draped on Talen. “Well, we have to try,” the ranger said. “We owe that much to Mycen. Let’s send the humans and Eliamn ahead to camp as close to Dragon Scale as they can get and we’ll scour the forests. We can use Sylph to relay messages to each other if we need to.”

    Lyassa nodded in agreement. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said to the others. Though that would mean leaving Aiden, but she could live with it. She was helping Eli, knowing she would need help for the trip.

    Talen nodded in agreement, the plan had sounded good, and since they had Sylph to relay messages between them in case something had happened, there wouldn’t be any problems. “That sounds good to me, we do have to help,” he said, agreeing with Naclia’s words

    Eliamn was about to make a protest over being left behind—she could recover her strength while they searched—but only sighed as she thought better of it. It made sense, really. If it was a search they would undertake, the rest of the group would most likely slow down the rangers, whom would work better off on their own. The pretext of letting them watch over ‘the exhausted shamaness’ insured Naclia and Aiden would be able to do their job well while letting the rest of the group feel they were still being left behind for something worthwhile.

    {“I do not think it will be easy to convince the young human girl to be left behind if Aiden goes.”} Eli pointed out in elven, making sure that the child would not understand; it was impolite, but it was also worth it for sparing the girl’s feelings.

    From the moment Naclia made the suggestion, Aiden knew it would be hard to pry himself from Kima’s clutches. Honestly, that was one of the reasons he objected at first. He wanted to keep Kima in his sight.

    {“I’ll take her with me,”} Aiden said, avoiding looking at Kima or touching her to make her think they were talking about her. {“She seems familiar with the forests, and it will save her undue emotional distress.”}

    {“My my, are you not giving up a bit easily?”} Eli replied with an easy, if tired, smile before she turned her head to the younger human girl.

    “Kima? Kima?” she called, trying to get the wildling’s attention before saying “Naclia and Aiden are going to leave to look for the people whom stole the dragon’s egg. I am hurt and must stay behind to rest—I would really feel safer if someone whom knows the forest as well as you do could stay and protect me.”

    Kima looked over to Eliamn when she was called. This elf didn’t seem to like her much, but Kima listened to her request. Shortly afterward she looked to Aiden as if to ask what she should do. She rubbed her cheeks on his chest and smiled at him. She’d wait for his decision before moving.

    Rylan watched all of this with interest, he had not said anything yet but at least they had some idea of what to do. Finally speaking up, he gave his input, knowing that Kima would make an excellent guide through these woods. “She could be more helpful if she came with us. She knows these woods and many of the trails on it. I may know some, but not all of them by any means. But the choice is up to you, I am just speaking my mind here about the subject.” Rylan returned to watching the others, maybe he should help guard the others in case something happened. He did not want to endanger them, and if this lord who really had the egg provoked him he could lose it. “Do you want me to go with you to track the thief? Maybe one of us should stay behind to help the others. I would be willing to do so, so that Kima can join you two. I might become a liability, should things go wrong and they could wind up escaping.”

    Aiden looked down at Kima, then at Eliamn and Rylan. Was Kima willing to go with them? “Rylan, with your shamanism, you’re more useful as a tracker. Eliamn and Lyassa won’t be unprotected, they’ll have Talen,” Aiden replied to the centaur. The elf then looked down at the feral girl and sighed. He wanted to keep his eye on her, but she did she really need him watching over her? Despite her familiarity with the local forests, she might be too focused on him and a distraction. “Kima, go with Eliamn. I’ll see you later tonight, alright?”

    Aiden told her where she had to go, and although she didn’t want to leave Aiden’s side, she knew that he’d only think of her as a burden. She nodded and went over by Eliamn. These are my forests... she thought. She sighed and looked at Eliamn as to when they should leave. “Ki...” she sighed, not finishing her introductions.

    “I’m going to go get the horses,” Naclia announced and removed herself from Talen’s side. The ranger ran into the woods where their mounts had sought shelter.

    Moments later, she returned leading Seinna, Landia, and the two horses she took from the wagon. Tiash had no bridle, so he only followed along obediently. She gave the fist-full of reins to Talen. “Here,” she said. “Tiash will just follow. I wouldn’t ride the two from the caravan yet, they need to rest. Maybe Lyassa can cast a refreshing spell on them too. They’re for me and Eliamn to ride.” Naclia paused in her instructions and absently bit her lip as she looked up at the knight. After a brief moment, she leaned in to kiss his cheek. “I’ll see you later,” she said, then quickly turned away and darted into the forest.

    Talen listened to Naclia’s instructions, following each word she said before taking the reins. He jumped a bit as he felt the sudden kiss upon his cheek, shades of blush showing across them as he was shocked at her movement, turning and watching her as she dashed off, his hand coming up to touch where she kissed. “Naclia...” he thought to himself, kinda lost in thought now as his mind was filled with thoughts of her.

    Aiden frowned a little as he saw that Kima was sad. Once Naclia brought back the horses and said goodbye to Talen, it seemed they were ready to part ways. Naclia was heading west, back towards the city.

    “Rylan, head north, I’ll take the south,” he said to the centaur, pointing northwards. “Talen, take care of the ladies. We will be able to find our way to you easily, so just go as far as you can until nightfall and make camp. See you guys later,” Aiden explained, then turned and retreated into the forest, following the path he and Eliamn had walked down to talk privately.

    “I understand,” Talen said, simply nodding to show he understood.

    “Good luck Rylan.” Eliamn patted the centaur’s muscled shoulder gently before sliding herself off his back. Though her legs felt weak, she didn’t lose balance upon landing on her feet and managed the few steps it took to get next to Kima.

    The elf shamaness stared at the wild girl for a long moment. “Kima?” she said, completing the broken word the other had previously uttered before gesturing toward herself. “Eli.”

    Lyassa nodded as she heard what the others said. Following Naclia’s suggestion, she went over to the weakened creatures and raised her hand. Her lips, which quietly said a pray to Marfa for her to heal them, smiled as a soft white glow came upon her hands. She felt happy to know she could help them. She watched Eli while her refresh spell was at work.

    Rylan nodded as Aiden indicated for him to go north, he would have to keep an arrow ready. This was going to be a long day, but he was used to such as he would often travel like that. “I’ll send a messenger if I find anything, good luck Aiden. I’ll be back by nightfall Eliamn. It’s good to see you able to stand again. Thank you, be safe,” he replied before she slid off, after that he notched an arrow and started his way north. Things had just gotten interesting, now what would they do if they spotted him first.

    Talen was snapped back to his senses as he noticed the rangers starting to go their separate ways. “Well, let’s get going,” he said to the ladies before taking the lead back onto the road.

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