Eternal Darkness: Chapter Three

***Disclaimer*** This is not my story. I have not edited it or changed it in any way. This is the original work of Captius.

As always, please rate and comment.

Last chapter someone asked if I knew what sleep was.... yes... yeah I know what sleep is. Real question is do I miss it? Hell yes! lol no.... but really, I can manage to get 8-10 hours of sleep, write/edit/brainstorm, read, play some VGs, and even do some house cleaning before the day is over lol.

NOTE: for those of you feeling confused by the fact there are two chapter threes, I am sorry. This chapter is the actual chapter three while the other one was actually chapter two. Sorry for any confusion.

Chapter Three:
A Master and the City of Dragons

Richard was woken up early the morning of the trip by Coni and found himself getting dressed and walking out into the cold winter morning without breakfast. Their journey would take them two and a half days by carriage and he really wasn’t looking forward to that. It would be cold, bumpy, and annoying because he had to deal with Lythia's bad attitude with no way to get away from her. They would also be accompanied by some of the staff from the mansion who would prepare their meals and attend to their needs when they stopped for short rests. Queen Reiea would be leaving later that day, after she took care of some pressing matters, and they would meet her there later.

Also along for the trip was a small contingent of soldiers led by a Knight Captain. It was necessary for them to travel with guards because of the war and the Proud family was royalty. Still, it felt weird for Richard who had never been this close to the military before. It was dangerous to travel alone though, even through the southern regions of the kingdom. Richard knew that. He had been wearing his bracer ever since they left and every once in a while he would find himself rubbing his hand against it without thinking.

If anything came up they would be prepared. It also didn't hurt that in his bag was the gun he had bought from Earth. That would probably be enough to scare anything or anyone away.

One thing Richard noticed as they continued eastwards was that the temperature outside the carriage was gradually getting warmer. It wasn't so warm that you could go outside without a cloak on, but it was getting there. When he awoke on the second day of the trip he actually found that he could see shoots of grass sticking up from the snow covered ground and birds were singing in the distance. When he asked Aura if they were still heading east she just smiled and nodded her head, a look in her eyes that said she would be entertained some time down the line.

Coni spent most of the trip in the back of the carriage reading her book and writing notes. Apparently she was looking for ways to increase security at the academy for when school started up and also still keep the atmosphere the same as it had always been. Being the student council president she had a lot of work to do even when school wasn't open, and Richard kind of felt bad for her. The break was meant as a reprieve for the students after their first term exams and Coni didn't seem to be getting any rest at all. It was her last year though; maybe she was just doing her best to leave the school in a better place then when she had first arrived there.

Lythia and Lisbeth passed the time by gossiping about random things and sleeping, but whenever Lythia got bored she became a nightmare to deal with and on more than one occasion Richard seriously contemplated walking with the soldiers. It would be cold and hard but at least he wouldn’t have to put up with her. Thankfully Lisbeth tried to keep her occupied as much as possible and with the help of Aura there wasn't too much whining.

To make better time it was decided that after a long break they would continue on through the night and pass through the Elothian borders while everyone slept in the carriage.
When Richard finally awoke with a cramped neck and sore legs he looked out the window and was absolutely stunned with what he found. There wasn't a single flake of snow on the vibrant green and brown ground and the air smelled of blooming flowers. The breeze was very warm and every plant and tree he saw reminded him of being in some tropical destination. A small and winding road led through thick jungle on either side and Richard could only see through the vines, trees, bushes, and other plants just far enough to notice that the further you went in the darker it got. It was hard to believe that just the previous night they had been travelling through wet snow and shivering winds.

'Wow…' he heard Lisbeth breath from the other side of the carriage. He looked over and found her peering through the window on her side, her eyes wide and filled with amazement. 'This place is so pretty!'

'Welcome to Elothia,' Aura yawned as she had just woken up. Her hair was matted and her eyes heavy with sleep but she still smiled at the two teenagers who were struck with awe. 'We should probably arrive at the capital city in another few hours.'

'Is it always this warm here?' Richard asked as he took off his heavy cloak and tossed it over a sleeping Lythia who didn't so much as stir.

'No, it gets much warmer. You're visiting in the winter so of course it will be a bit cooler.'

'I'm so glad I packed skirts as well as pants,' Lisbeth beamed and tore her eyes away from the window just long enough to do so.

The further the carriage took them the thicker the jungle outside seemed to get, and the sickly sweet smell of moist soil and growing plants permeated the air. Only an hour after waking up, which had been shortly after sunrise, Richard had to take off his jacket because he was starting to sweat. He had never been somewhere that was this hot before and he was having trouble believing he could ever get stand their summers.
Right now the temperature was already higher than what he was used to back in Washington during the summers and it wasn't even midday yet.

Lythia seemed to be having just as much trouble adjusting to the heat as him because she woke up a little while later in a foul mood and screaming at him for covering her in his thick winter cloak. He thought she was bad on cold mornings, but it turned out she was a hundred times worse when she was overheating. For the next three hours she complained about every little thing and Coni had to be restrained before she could shove the younger sister out the door and lock it. Richard wasn't even able to enjoy the view anymore and found himself dealing more with the girl than actually looking out the window. So he was more than surprised when the carriage stopped suddenly and Aura opened the door to get out.

'Are we there?' he asked.

'In a few minutes, yes. I just thought the two of you who have never been here would like to see the Dytholia from a distance. It's pretty amazing.'

Before Richard could even move towards the door Lisbeth rushed past him and jumped out, an excited smile on her face and a loud squeal hissing from her lips. Richard shook his head and chuckled softly before following his friend out into the hot sticky air and looked in the direction Aura was pointing. The city of Dytholia was nestled in a wide valley at the base of a very large volcano that hopefully had been inactive for many years. From their vantage point on a nearby hill they could see the entire town as it sprawled out in almost every direction and large buildings with domed tops dotted the horizon. It wasn't as large as the cities Richard was used to back on Earth but it was massive in its own right.

'It's so pretty…' Lisbeth sighed and Richard agreed. It was hard to tell if the city had been built in and around the jungle or if the jungle had sprung up within it. Either way it looked amazing.

'Welcome to the City of Dragons,' Aura said happily and as if on cue five large dragons with riders flew high over their heads and towards the heart of the city.

After taking a good long look at the Dark Elf capital they got back in the carriage and headed deep into the city. They passed through residential areas, parks, and markets and every face Richard saw had the same tanned skin Daiya had with long ears that pointed upwards. When children saw their carriage passing by they chased them and by the time they reached the more prestigious looking area of the city they had at least a hundred different kids running behind the carriage just trying to keep up. To get from the outskirts of the city to the palace gates took a little over a half hour and Richard was itching to get out and see this place close up. The smells, the sights, and the people looked so interesting that he was sure he was going to love staying there.

A minute before their carriage stopped, this time for good, loud trumpets blared and looking out the windows Richard could see armored men and women standing at attention with long spears held tightly in their hands. Their armor was a dark green and Richard was sure if they had to fight in the jungles that surrounded the city you wouldn't see them coming until they had already run you through. When Richard and the rest stepped out of the carriage onto the front drive of the palace, they saw that flying high above them were a dozen dragons, their riders carrying large lances held straight out. Richard was so amazed by the dragons that he didn't even notice the palace or who had come to greet them until Aura cleared her throat loudly to gain his attention.

In front of the massive and beautiful white, brown and green palace that stood eight stories tall were five people flanked by guards on either side. Richard recognized Daiya's father right away with his topknot and muscled physique. Standing to his immediate right was a tall woman with long brown hair and a gentle smile on her lips. She looked a lot like Daiya and judging by the age gap there seemed to be this woman was most likely her mother. Three younger people stood next to the woman, the first was a girl around Richard's age with short brown hair and dressed in a flowing purple dress that rustled in the breeze. Right next to her was a boy who was probably around thirteen and he had a hard look on his face that said he wasn't pleased to be there. Standing beside him was a young girl that Richard also recognized, but only slightly. She had been at the engagement party and Aura had told him that she was Daiya's younger sister. When she looked at Richard she smiled a wide toothy grin and waved to him.

'Welcome, my friends!' King Dycoz announced loudly and Aura led the rest of them in a slight bow of respect. 'I trust your trip was enjoyable?'

'It could have been better, but we survived,' Aura laughed and Richard couldn’t help but glance at Lythia who still seemed to be in a bad mood. 'I see your family is well. You've grown up a lot since the last time I saw you, Princess Nadia.'

'It's good to see you again, Lady Proud,' the oldest girl smiled politely at Aura. 'Are you sure you won't come back to be my personal professor?'

'No sweetie, I'm afraid I can't. What with the academy, being Queen Reiea's personal advisor, and getting my son back to the his normal way of life I don't have much free time.'

'Ah yes,' King Dycoz said and his voice fell on Richard, 'how are you doing after your harrowing experience?'

'I'm getting better. Thank you, Your Highness.'

'When I first learned that Daiya went off and freed you I'll admit that I was pretty upset. She's always doing dangerous things without my permission though, and I'm glad to hear that she and your aunt Lythia brought you back safe and sound.'

'I am really grateful to both of them. Where is Daiya by the way?'

'Down at the nursery,' the king answered while his wife sighed beside him. 'Some of the new hatchlings are real hell raisers and it's keeping her pretty busy. I'm sure she'll catch up with us later, when she is able.'

'And by that my husband means that he is keeping her busy. He might look like a large gruff man, but don't let that you fool you. He's a big softie when it comes to Daiya,' the beautiful woman to his right laughed and nudged her scowling husband in the ribs. 'How about we move this to the dining room? I'm sure you are all hungry after your long journey.'

As they were led through the massive stone doors of the palace, Kind Dycoz introduced his family to Richard and Lisbeth, since they were the only two who hadn't met them before. Dycoz's wife was named Rina, the second eldest daughter Nadia, the son's name was Pochiro, and the youngest daughter Saphrin. Aura and Coni made small talk with them as they walked through the open halls of the palace towards a dining hall and Richard walked a few feet back of them, feeling extremely out of place. It was one thing to walk in the palace of Alysia when you were friends with the Queen, and something else entirely to be in a foreign palace that a powerful family lived in; a family that would one day be Richard's family as well.

They were seated at a long carved wooden table that was big enough to fit thirty people at it and Dark Elf maids brought out trays of food for everyone. The first course of the meal was a very green and extremely delicious salad that was covered in nuts, fruits, a sort of bitter lettuce like leaf, and drenched in a sweet dressing that was probably made from a fruit extract. It was exactly what he needed though and he was already feeling a little more lively once he had finished it. Which was probably a good thing as the conversation quickly drifted towards him.

'So, Richard, tell me what you think of our kingdom,' Queen Rina asked as a maid picked up her empty tray and left the room with it.

'It's really beautiful. I might have to take a hike through the jungle while I am here.'

'Don't do that,' Princess Saphrin advised politely and smiled at him. 'It's full of big animals that are very dangerous. I don't like it.'

'If anyone can handle himself in the jungle it would be Richard. He stood up to your sister in a duel at her academy and came away as the winner,' King Dycoz said to his little daughter and patted her gently on the head. 'Even if he did refuse to claim the win I still see him as the winner.'

'I highly doubt he fought against Daiya and didn't get knocked out on the first attack,' Princess Nadia drawled and fixed him with a fierce gaze. They might have just met but Richard got the feeling she didn't like him very much. 'Not even Master Hylo can keep up with her anymore, and he's the master of Fire Magic.'

'It's the truth, Nadia,' her father countered and stopped for a moment while the next course was placed in front of him. 'He gave your sister a run for her money and I'm sorry the tournament was postponed. I was really looking forward to seeing his strange magic again.'

'Then why don't we put him to the test?' Nadia growled and stood up from the table. 'How about a duel between he and I? I might not be as strong as Daiya right now but I'm sure I can knock him out no problem.'

'I'd like to see this,' Prince Pochiro said and was actually smiling a little bit. Richard got the feeling that this kid was a lot like Lythia in attitude, which wasn't good. That meant he would have two grumps in his family one day.

'Hmm, it might not be such a bad idea,' the king mused. 'What do you say, Richard?'

Richard looked around the table and saw that everyone was looking at him, their stew all but forgotten. He really didn't want to fight anyone and he was glad he had a good excuse as to why he couldn't. He lifted up his left sleeve and pulled his bracer off, putting it down on the table gently so everyone could see the massive dent on it.

'My focus was badly damaged during the raid on the palace,' he explained. 'Daiya tried to fix it up as best she could but said it probably wouldn't hold out for very long. She was going to get her Master to look at it and see if he could fix it for me.'

'Pass it down here,' the Queen said and Richard handed it to Aura who sat next to him. Aura then passed it down the rest of the way and Queen Rina turned it around in her hands a few times, peering at it through half closed eyes as she quietly spoke to herself.

'How bad is it?' the King asked.

'Master Hylo should be able to fix it,' she answered and Richard felt his heart flutter. 'It's a good thing you mentioned this, Richard. If you had tried to cast a spell with this it probably would have been destroyed. That's if your power is as strong as my husband claims it is.'

'I don't know what I'd do if I had lost it.'

'Finding the perfect focus for your style and magic is a very important decision, and replacing one once it has been destroyed is close to impossible. You're very lucky Daiya patched it up as much as she did. Just wearing it was forcing magic into it and I'm sure if it hadn't been for her work it would have disintegrated just from you wearing it. I'll make sure this gets to Master Hylo right after we finish lunch.'

'Thank you, your Majesty,' he sighed in relief and relaxed a little in his chair. He picked up his utensil and spooned some hot stew into his mouth, savoring the taste of meat and gravy. Stew was one of his comfort foods.

'Since we're speaking about Masters, I received a missive from Queen Reiea early this morning regarding the introduction of Richard to one while he is here.'

'For what purpose?' Aura asked softly, 'Richard's magic hasn't been seen in nearly two thousand years, so there's not going to be a Master walking around, is there?'

'No no, there is no Master of Light Magic. At least not until Richard is seen as one. I understand that you received a sword a few days ago and it is Reiea's wish that you train in its use. She asked if I would be so kind to lend you the instructions of one of our finest swords masters. So I set up a training session for later in the afternoon.'

'I'm glad Queen Reiea sent word ahead,' Aura smiled, 'I had forgotten to check with her if that's what she wanted to do. Thank you.'

'I think it's admirable that a mage wants to learn the art of the sword,' the Queen spoke, 'it's very uncommon. I think it's a crucial skill to have though, especially in the kind of times we find ourselves in now.'

'That's if he doesn't cut his hand off by accident,' Lythia added and Prince Pochiro laughed loudly, garnering a dangerous look from his mother.

The conversation quickly turned to other things and Richard was free to return to his meal without distraction. He was a little excited to learn to use a sword, but also a little nervous as well. Before he had found that he could use magic he had been thrown into a duel against a stronger mage with Lythia. Since no one knew he could use magic at that point he had been allowed to use a sword in the fight, and as a result he began to learn to use one from Alyssa. Having a professor of magic as your sword teacher could only bring you so far though, and he hadn't even really used the weapon in the duel. With a real swordsman he might just be able to use one properly.

Lunch consisted of a total of five courses and by the time it was over Richard felt stuffed to the gills. All the food had been delicious but the company seemed a little lacking. The King and Queen were nice enough to him, as well as their youngest daughter, but the other two children either seemed extremely bored or almost angry at him. He was going to marry their sister, so that probably had something to do with it. Speaking of Daiya, her presence probably would have made lunch much more bearable. By the time they had finished eating and were shown to their private rooms, he still hadn't seen her yet.

Richard was hoping to lie in bed for a while and digest the massive meal he had eaten, but he was informed that his new sword teacher was waiting in the courtyard out back. Everyone else was going to get a small tour of the palace while he was meeting with the instructor, which didn't seem all that fair to him. But this was under the request of both Reiea and Aura so he didn't have much of a choice. He had pretty much given his life to those two women when he had decided to come back and he was already paying for it.

Richard was led to a large cloistered courtyard out behind the main building of the palace and was greeted by an elderly Dark Elf in regal clothes and leaning on a cane. At first Richard thought his instructor hadn't arrived yet but quickly found that this elderly elf was in fact him. He stood a head shorter than Richard and had to be pushing eighty years old, with lots of wrinkles and milky eyes. Richard feared that a stiff breeze would tip this man over and wondered how exactly he was supposed to train him to wield a sword.

'You must be Lord Proud,' the man wheezed and stuck out a weathered hand. Richard took it and nodded in answer. 'I'm Master Riyo, your sword instructor.'

'It's a pleasure meeting you,' Richard said with as big a smile as he could muster under the circumstances.

'Hmm, I'm sure it is for you,' he grumbled and then slowly hobbled around Richard to get a better look at him. 'I've been told that you have little to no experience with a real sword. Is that true?'

'I trained a little with a wooden sword, but not much beyond that. Is that bad?'

'I usually only teach children who are just starting out. I find that the longer a man waits to learn, the less successful they will be. But no matter, the King himself asked me to take care of his daughters fiancé so I don't have much of a choice.'

'Great…' Richard remarked sarcastically as Master Riyo pinched his bicep painfully. The old man did one more circle around him and sighed under his breath before stopping in front of him.

'You look fairly strong, but your balance is all wrong. Stiffen up your trunk and plant your feet at shoulder width. You should never allow your opponent to push you off balance in a battle. If you do, you will die.'

Richard did as he was asked and remembered what Alyssa had taught him about forming a strong stance. It still felt pretty awkward to be standing that way but he wasn't going to say that out loud. 'Is this alright?'

'It will do I suppose,' Master Riyo grumbled and took his weight off his cane. 'I see your brought your sword; good. I find the best way to get someone into my training regimen is to just throw them head first into it. Take your sword and try to hit me with it.'

'Sir?' Richard asked as he gripped the hilt of his light sword on the right side of his head. 'Is that really a good idea?'

'Do as I say, when I say it! Now come at me!'

Richard pulled the black blade from the sheath strapped to his back and held it out in front of him, both hands on the hilt. Master Riyo took a box stance six feet away and held his cane out like a sword, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Richard really didn't want to attack him; he looked so frail and weak he was sure it wouldn't be a fair fight. Then again he was a Master Swordsman so there was also the possibility that Richard would get his ass kicked. With a real sword in the students hand there was a real chance of injury, no matter who ended up winning.

'If you consider yourself a man you will strike!' the old man barked and Richard felt annoyance ripple through his blood. 'Are you going to have the Princess do all your fighting for you? Is that why you and she are engaged?'

Richard swallowed hard and shifted his grip slightly on the sword, feeling the small amount of weight fall into a better feeling spot in his hands. In a flash he ran forward and drove his sword towards the annoying old man, aiming right for his chest with as much speed and strength as he could muster. It wasn't enough though and he found his strike being deflected to the side easily as Master Riyo pivoted away in a blur and drove the length of his cane into Richard's back hard.

'Sword fighting isn't just about strength; the more you try to push on your opponent the easier it becomes to avoid them!'

Richard swung around with his sword flying wildly in an arc, hoping to catch the old geezer off guard. Once more his strike was knocked aside and the cane slammed into his stomach hard enough to make Richard stumble back a few feet. He didn't even have time to get into his stance again as a quick flash of the cane came crashing down on him like lightning, catching him in the side of the head. With his head spinning and a jolt of pain running the length of his jaw, Richard stepped back with his left foot to steady himself and swung out with his sword once more. As the with the other two times, his attack was deflected and the old man stepped into him and shoved the tip of his cane at his throat before stopping a few inches away.

'I've taught toddlers with more grace than you,' Master Riyo griped and moved his cane away from him. 'You have no form, no stance, no balance, no vision, and no knowledge. You seem to think of a sword as a weapon for destruction and death.'

'Isn't it though?' Richard growled through gritted teeth. He was out of breath and starting to sweat profusely from the heat and exertion.

'No, it is not! A sword is an extension of your body the same as magic is! Do you just try to blast your opponent away with as much power as you can in your spells? Actually I wouldn't be surprised if you did! You need to find grace within your strength and speed and see the weapon as something more than a chunk of forged metal.'

'Grace? Maybe I should take up dancing then…' Richard joked but his teacher fixed him with a hard glare and he wiped the smile off of his face. 'How do I do that then?'

'Become water,' the Dark Elf suggested and Richard had to stifle the laugh that was clawing up his throat. 'Water can be the softest thing on earth. It flows unendingly around objects in its way. But water can also be one of the strongest elements as well, powerful enough to cut through solid rock and wash away entire cities. You must become like water, always flowing and adapting. Use your opponents strength against them and then surge forward when an opening is presented. Water is about give and take. Now, let's go again!'

For the next four hours Richard was put through the paces by a man four times his age. They dueled over and over again while Master Riyo gave Richard advice on what he was doing wrong and yelling at him when he didn't listen. When they finally ended for the day Richard hadn't landed a single blow on the old man, which was a little disheartening. While Richard huffed and puffed, covered in so much sweat that it ran into his eyes and caused him some discomfort, Master Riyo wasn't even breathing heavily. Which wasn't surprising when you really thought about it; he had been letting Richard do all the work and simply deflecting blows away with little to no effort.

Maids brought both men some cold water to drink and they sat down on a stone bench in the courtyard they had been training in, the sun setting behind the thick tropical trees in the distance. The air was starting to cool down and Richard sighed in happiness as the cold water he poured into his body quenched his thirst almost instantly. The Dark Elf's must have added something to their water to give it such a soothing effect.

'We will continue your training tomorrow, first thing in the morning,' Master Riyo told him as he sipped on his tall glass of water.

'Why not the same time as today?'

'Because, I have other lessons during the afternoon; with students who know what they are doing. I only did it this late today because the King asked me too, but after that we meet on my terms. So rest well tonight because the real training begins tomorrow.'

Richard grumbled and held out his glass for a maid to refill, feeling the heat start to sink into his body once again. The sword slung on his back was starting to get in his way so he took it off and placed it against the side of the bench before taking a large swig from his glass. Master Riyo glanced at the sword hidden in the scabbard and cleared his throat loudly, pointing to it with a gnarled finger.

'What?' Richard asked.

'That's an interesting sword you have there. Where did you get it from?'

'The Queen of Alysia gave it to me,' he answered but left out the fact that it had once belonged to his ancestor. 'Why?'

'It's very unique. I've never seen a sword made from black metal like that before, and I could tell by the way you held it that it was very light in your hands. You wouldn't happen to know what it's made from, would you?'

'Not really, just that it came from a meteorite or something like that.'

'I see. Dark Star…' the old man whispered under his breath but Richard still heard him. 'Never lose that sword, Milord. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be going.'

The old man got to his feet and pottered off into the gloom of the coming night. Richard sat there for a few more minutes, looking at his sword curiously. He was sure that it was a very rare weapon considering what it was made of, but it surprised him that someone knew what it was just by the vague description he had given. There was probably a long story that went with the sword that he didn't know and that piqued his interest. He would have to ask Master Riyo about it in the morning. All he wanted to do in that moment was take a cool bath and get some dinner. His stomach was growling almost nonstop and he wondered if the others had eaten yet.

It turned out that the others had already eaten and most of them had gone off to bed after a long day that started with travelling by carriage and ended with an extended tour of the palace and grounds. So Richard took his meal in his room that night and relaxed with a long soak in the bath that was attached to it. He asked an attendant where Daiya was and learned that she still hadn't returned from the nursery, which was quite a letdown. He figured she would have been done by now. What exactly was she doing there that took the entire day anyways?

After finishing his bath and meal, Richard decided to change into a pair of pajama pants and a thin grey shirt he had brought from Earth. It was amazing how much more relaxed and comfortable he felt when wearing the kinds of clothes he was used to, and he was glad he had thought to bring them. After the kind of day he had he needed them. Now if only he could get a television there and have it work he would be set. Although, if he did that he was sure Lythia would turn into a brain dead zombie by watching it every day all day. Still, it would beat just sitting there staring into a small fire all night. He should have asked to borrow one of Coni's books so he had something to do.

After an hour of sitting there doing nothing, Richard decided to climb into bed and get some much needed sleep. It was fairly easy to fall asleep and before he knew it he was out like a light, the crackling of the fire helping to push him deep into a peaceful slumber. Sadly he didn't stay that way for long and sometime later, still before midnight, he heard a soft knock on his door and he was forced to climb out of his comfortable four poster bed and answer it. Even as asleep as he was, he was still extremely shocked to find Queen Rina standing there with a gentle smile on her face.

'I'm sorry, did I wake you?' she asked but Richard quickly shook his head.

'No, I… I was just resting my eyes for a bit. Is everything alright?'

'I just wanted to check up on you and make sure you were doing alright. I heard Master Riyo had you training very hard for most of the day.'

'Yeah, that old guy handed me a beat down,' Richard laughed but the Queen tilted her head and it was obvious she had no idea what he was talking about. 'I… I just mean he's really good with a sword.'

'Ah, yes, he is the best in all of the kingdom. That's why my husband brought him to the palace for you. Just don't push yourself too hard; it would be bad for you to get injured while you are here.'

'I'll try not to, Your Majesty. Thank you for taking the time to come and see me.'

The Queen smiled at him and then took a step away from the door, 'My pleasure. I should let you get some rest now though. Sleep well.'

'Mother?' a familiar voice said softly from the dark hall and Queen Rina turned to face it, her dark hair swirling with the movement.

'Oh my, there you are Daiya. I'll… well I'll get out of your hair now.'

With that the Queen walked off with a small chuckle bubbling over her full lips and she disappeared in the blackness, leaving Richard standing there looking at the tall form of the Dark Elf Princess a few feet away from his room. After a few awkward moments she cleared her throat and moved into the light streaming out from his room, a sheepish smile on her beautiful face.

'May I?' she asked and pointed to the door.

'O… of course,' Richard answered and stood back from the entrance, a little stunned that she had just shown up. Daiya walked quickly into his room and shut the door softly behind her, turning to face him with that same smile on her face still. She was wearing a tight leather top that showed off her taut tanned belly and tight leather pants that left almost nothing to the imagination. There were small scratches on her arms that looked to be healing quickly and her hair was frazzled a bit at the ends, like she had been dealing with something hot all day.

'I'm sorry I couldn't be there when you arrived,' she apologized softly. Daiya moved further into the room and ran her hand over the sword that sat by the fireplace, her fingers lightly touching the shiny hilt. 'I'm told that you're training under Master Riyo. Hopefully he didn't hurt you too badly.'

'He tried,' Richard answered dryly but still smiled. 'And don't worry about not seeing us when we arrived; your father said there were some problems at the nursery so I can understand that you were busy.'

'I've never seen such a rowdy group of hatchlings in my life,' she sighed and turned to face him once more. The smile she wore on her face faltered slightly and Richard wondered if something was bothering her. 'Something is getting them all riled up and we can't figure it out. Even some of the adult dragons are acting a little more aggressive than usual. There might be some new predator making its home in the jungle nearby.'

'I'm sure you'll be able to sort it all out. I'm pretty sure there's not a single thing you can't do. You'll be back at the academy in no time.'

'I hope so,' Daiya sighed and looked him straight in the eyes. She moved around the couch between the two of them and stood fairly close to him, her skin shimmering in the golden light coming from the fireplace behind her. Richard was once more struck by just how beautiful this woman was and he couldn't think of a single thing to say. 'If I couldn't return to Alysia, I think I would have to make you move here instead.'

'I'm sure your brother and sister would just love that,' he half laughed.

'I take it that Nadia is giving you problems?' she asked and he nodded. 'Nadia can be a bit frosty, hence why she can use Ice Magic. She'll warm up eventually.'

'Kind of reminds me of you,' he joked and Daiya raised an eyebrow at him. Seeing that his quip didn't sit well, Richard smiled and moved to the couch to sit down. His legs and back were killing him from his training earlier and it didn't look like he would be getting back into bed any time soon.

'I thought I was pretty nice to you,' Daiya said and joined him on the couch, only a few inches separating them.

'To me yeah, but not to other people. You're kind of hard to approach.'

'It didn't always used to be that way,' she explained softly and Richard had to strain his ears to hear her over the sound of the fire devouring the thick log, 'I used to be just like Saphrin; not a care in the world other than what pretty dress I was going to wear. But then I developed the ability to cast Fire Magic at the age of ten, and the next thing I know people are calling me a prodigy. I was being trained before most mages even know how they can cast elemental magic and there wasn't much time for anything else. Because of that people tend to shy away from me; being the next ruler of my kingdom, the Daughter of Fire, and the strongest mage at the Majou Academy makes people tend to fear you.'

'I wish I could tell you that I understand how you feel, but I really don't. It must have been rough though,' Richard told her and gently placed his hand on hers, squeezing it softly.

'But then you came to the academy, and things changed. I found that I could be friends with you and you wouldn't be afraid or intimidated by who I was. Even after your placement exam, when we dueled, you were still nice to me. I found I could be more myself around you than I could with anyone else.'

Richard wasn't sure what he should say to that so he sat there in silence while they both looked into the fire, an odd bird singing just outside the window even though it was night. Richard didn't know how much time had passed but he was sure Daiya was in his room later than she should be. Her father might have been onboard with the engagement but it didn't mean he would be alright with his eldest daughter being in a man's room late into the night. Especially if it was under his own roof.

'I'm sure you had a rough day as well,' he began, 'maybe we should get some rest.'

'Not yet,' was Daiya's simple reply and she looked at him on the couch, her large brown eyes sparkling. 'We never finished the conversation we were having back on your world.'

'What do you mean?' he asked and was quickly answered when Daiya began to lean towards him, her head and lips moving dangerously close to his own. 'Wait… wait… I don't think we should do this in your parents home.'

Daiya pulled back and there was a small pout on her lips, her eyes locked right onto his as if she was looking deep down into his soul. She let out a soft sigh and then settled back into the couch with a small shake of her head. 'What do you think of me?'

'I didn't mean it like that, Daiya.'

'Answer the question. Do you hate me? Do you like me? What?'

'I like you. I think you're a really great person, but that's got nothing to do with my decision on stopping you. I just think that doing that in the palace would be like slapping your father in the face.'

Daiya's glare softened a bit and a small smile split her lips as she tilted her head a little to the side. 'Richard, you do realize we are engaged, don't you? Or do you still not want to be engaged to me?'

'That's not fair,' he breathed. It felt like he was being pushed into a corner here. 'The only reason I got mad before was mostly because you never told me anything, and I wanted to go back home which would mean leaving without so much as saying a word to you. But if you're going to dredge that up, then how about you? Isn't it true that you only went to the academy to find a fiancé? Someone who was as strong as you were? How do you think I felt knowing that?'

Daiya stood up from the couch and turned her back towards Richard before answering, 'You're right, I went to the Majou Academy to find a man who was my equal. It's a royal law, that if the heir to the throne is a woman she must marry a man of equal or greater strength than her. Even if that man would never become the King he must be a strong mate for the ruler. So I'm sorry that you think I am only engaged to you because of that!'

'Daiya…' Richard said softly but she moved away from him and towards the door. She stopped, her hand on the handle and turned her head back to glance at him with a sad look on her face.

'I chose to get to know you first, to see if I could ever have feelings for the only person I had ever met who could fight me head on! And do you know what I found? I found an odd man who spoke strangely, but one who was no less a man because of it. You were not only strong, but kind and brave. What I saw was a man who stood apart from the others; who stood above. If you still think I am only here in your room in the middle of the night because it is my duty as a mage and a princess, then I don't think I want to be around you right now!'

With that she left and slammed the door tightly behind her, leaving Richard even more confused than he had been before. Sure, it was true that he was thinking that she was only with him because she was forced to, but he really shouldn't have said it out loud right to her face. It was like the engagement party all over again and he felt like an ass. He just didn't know what to do about the whole situation and he had thought he wouldn't have to worry about it for another three and a half years. It's not that he disliked Daiya, in fact he was pretty sure his feelings for her were growing. He just didn't know what to do with them.

Breakfast the next morning was a chilly affair as Daiya had enough free time to join the rest of her family and his. They were seated next to one another but only a few words were said, mostly small talk that fit in with the conversation at the rest of the table. Richard really wanted to apologize to her for the previous night but he felt too embarrassed to do it in front of everyone who was there. Even Queen Reiea popped in for a small bite to eat before her and King Dycoz held their meeting. Like Daiya, she seemed not to pay too much attention to Richard and he was really starting to feel out of place. At least he had his sword lessons a bit later to occupy his time and mind.

'Daiya,' Queen Rina spoke up over the table as most people were just finishing their meals and making plans for the day, 'why don't you show Richard the nursery where you've been spending most of your time when he is done with his training?'

'That's not a good idea mother, the hatchlings can still be dangerous if you haven't been trained to deal with them,' Daiya replied and pushed her plate away from her. She stood up and was about to leave when her father cleared his throat loudly and stopped her in her tracks.

'I'm sure Richard can handle himself. Besides, you'll be there with him. Why don't we all make a trip? It will do us some good to take a break from the talks for a little while and I'm sure the rest of you would like to see how the hatchlings are.'

'I'd really love to see them,' Lisbeth answered and her face was twisted in a wide grin.

'Then it's settled. Before lunch we'll head to the Dragons Den and take you all on a tour. Now, Queen Reiea, shall be take our leave?'

'Of course, King Dycoz. Aura, would you accompany me?' Reiea asked. The three of them left and Daiya exited right afterwards, not saying so much as a goodbye to him.

Richard finished up his eggs and then stood up from the table, ready to meet Master Riyo and get his ass kicked another hundred times in training. As he was about to leave he walked past Queen Rina and she stopped him gently with a raise of her hand. 'Master Hylo asked me to deliver this to you,' she said and handed him the golden bracer he had given her yesterday. Richard took it and held it up, running his hand over the smooth surface to find that the dent had been fixed.

'He managed to repair it?' he asked and the Queen smiled up at him.

'Yes. He said it should be as good as new, but warns you not to damage it again. It's apparently very old and might not take another hit like that again.'

'Thank you, Your Majesty!' he said happily and bowed at the waist before her.

'You're quite welcome. Now run along before Master Riyo has you run a hundred laps around the palace grounds.

Richard thanked her once more and then ran from the palace, rushing to meet with his Master who waited for him in the back courtyard. When Richard arrived he found a young child waiting with the ancient man, dressed in light leather armor with a leather headband over his long pointed ears. Richard thought it was strange that the boy was there but he wouldn't question Master Riyo, he had learned the hard way about that the previous day.

'You're late!' the old elf barked and Richard just rolled his eyes as he came forward. 'This is Agli, he will be your sparring partner for today.'

'Umm, isn't he a little young?' Richard asked and sized the small boy up; he didn't even come up to his chest.

'Do not underestimate him,' Riyo warned but Richard didn't listen, 'he is far more skilled than you. Now begin!'

Richard pulled his sword from the scabbard and took a step towards the boy, planning to hit him on the shoulder with the flat of the blade. Before his foot had even touched the ground he was reeling backwards as a sharp silver blade missed his face by inches. Again and again he had to defend against the lightning quick reflexes of the child and he was driven back until he hit a pillar and found he had nowhere else to go. Before he could bring his sword up to block the coming blow he felt a sharp pain on his cheek and he immediately dropped his sword, reaching up to the wound. It was nothing more than a scratch but it was deep enough for a few drops of blood to appear and the pain didn't feel any less real.

'Always keep track of your surroundings!' Master Riyo commanded and Richard nodded his head as he moved away from the pillar he had been trapped by. 'You must use the terrain both to your advantage and keep an eye on where your opponent is trying to push you! Now go again!'

Richard growled and sized up his opponent once more, making sure to take into account his speed and agility. He might be younger than Richard but he was far more advanced and he would need to use his size just to fight evenly against him. No matter how much Richard tried he couldn't keep up though. He managed to block a few attacks here and there, but it didn't stop him from getting struck over and over again. Even if he was taking his Masters advice it didn't seem to be helping and Richard was starting to get very discouraged. By the time the lesson was over he looked like he had gotten into a fight with a kitten and lost.

'You have made no progress!' Master Riyo barked when a maid had come out to give Richard and his sparring partner something cold to drink.

'How can I? It's only been a day?' Richard growled in return and the old man scowled at him.

'Enough with your excuses! You are not worthy to be my student, but above that you are not worthy of carrying that sword! We will train again tonight, when I am done with my real students! Until then I expect you to think over what I told you yesterday and today!'

Master Riyo left immediately after that and Richard walked dejectedly back into the palace, wishing he had been given another teacher. He was seriously beginning to think the old man was off his rocker. How could he expect Richard to just jump into a fight and know what he was doing? He couldn't even wield his magic with the best of them, even if he did have a lot of strength. He wanted to protect those closest to him, but at the rate he was going he would end up needing to be protected himself. Give him a legendary sword and an unknown magic and he was still the weak guy he had always been, needing someone to watch his back.

He made his way to the dining room to get something to eat for lunch but was quickly reminded by one of the maids that a tour of the Dragons Den was being done before it was served. Apparently everyone had already gathered and were waiting for him outside so he quickly left the palace to join up with them. Reiea, Aura, Lisbeth, Coni, Lythia, King Dycoz, Queen Rina, and Princess Saphrin stood in front of the palace doors, talking quietly amongst themselves as Richard approached. They quickly jumped into two carriages and headed towards the base of the volcano that was only a short distance away.

Lisbeth was excited to get to see where the dragons were raised and Richard began to feel that same excitement the closer they got. After seeing how powerful Daiya's personal dragon was in combat he was eager to see what the others were like. Dragons were nothing but folklore and magical creatures back on Earth and Richard was still having a hard time believing they actually existed here; even if he had seen one with his own eyes before. To be able to ride one whenever you wanted was something he could only dream of and he felt really envious of Daiya for having that privilege.

At the root of the volcano Richard found that a cave system had been carved through it, a massive opening that the brick road led directly too. Everyone left the carriages and followed King Dycoz into the dark cave entrance as the loud roars of multiple dragons echoed through the air from nearby. Torches hung on the walls and lit the way through a winding and dizzying maze of tunnels and Richard felt a little cooler now that he was out of the sun and heat. Every few feet or so he could see massive claw marks on the side of the tunnels and the roars of the beasts grew closer and closer until they came to a small junction that branched off in eight different directions. There was a sign posted to the wall with arrows pointing in every direction, but the words were in another language that he wasn't able to read.

King Dycoz found a slender Dark Elf woman walking in the opposite direction as them and he stopped her and quickly asked her something in a different tongue, the words flowing off his tongue like water. They talked for a few moments and then the woman nodded as she pointed down a tunnel and then walked off without another word.

'Daiya is this way,' the King said and began to lead them in the direction they had been pointed. 'This entire volcano is riddle with tunnels and passages; so many that even I sometimes get lost in here.'

'Why do you raise the dragons in a volcano anyways?' Lisbeth asked and picked up the pace to get closer to the towering warrior of a man.

'We find they feel more at home here than anywhere else. Dragons have been on this world far longer than humans, and even longer than Dark Elves. Some believe that they were born of a massive volcano not far off our shores and that's why they tend to flock to them; making their homes in caves in the face of the rock.'

'What do you do that allows you to tame them? Is it some ancient secret? Something humans don't know?'

'Oh, nothing of the sort,' the King laughed and his booming voice echoed off the walls as they turned a corner in the tunnels. 'Dragons are very in tune with nature and they mistrust any species that encroaches on the balance. From our earliest ancestors, we Dark Elves have put nature above our own needs and only take what we will use from it, nothing more. We've also never waged meaningless war against anyone unless our foe threatened to tear down everything we hold dear. I suppose the dragons know this and have come to see us as allies in the protection of the world. They are not simply mindless beasts that we bend to our will to use as weapons of destruction; they are our friends and family. That's why we can work so well together.'

'But isn't it true that the Three Great Heroes could also ride dragons?' Richard found himself asking. He had remembered this from his studies at the academy and it struck him as strange, considering Dark Elves were the only ones the dragons would let mount them.

'Yes, it is said that they were given dragons to ride into battle against the Slave Army by the Dark Elf royal family. As to how they could ride them, well no one has any idea. Maybe it was because they fought to bring balance back to the world or perhaps they were just so powerful that the dragons admired them. It's all just speculation though. Ah! Here we are!'

They turned one last corner and Richard suddenly found himself in the mouth of a massive cave dug right out from the interior of the mountain above them. He had to crane his neck just to see the roof and it reached as far back as a football field in length. Men and women dressed in light leather clothing ran back and forth from nests made of straw and twigs, carrying food or water to their charges. What impressed Richard the most were the amount of hatchlings there were; there had to have been at least two hundred of them. They were less than a foot in length, with gleaming scales in dark browns, yellows, greens, blacks, and reds. Their wings were underdeveloped but their heads were large, with big reptile eyes that blinked sideways and shone with light reflected from the torches.

'SO CUTE!' Lisbeth and Lythia squealed and tried to run into the massive cave. They were both stopped by the Queen who held them tightly by the shoulders, shaking her head quickly.

'It's too dangerous,' she advised and both girls gave her a disbelieving look. 'They may be young but they can still breath fire, and their claws can shred through your clothes in an instant.'

'You have to watch out for their teeth the most though,' Daiya added and emerged from the chaos of the room, a few smudges on her face and the shoulder of her leather top smoking slightly. 'At six weeks old their jaws have enough power to crush a steel helm.'

'But I want to pet one,' Lisbeth pouted and Daiya chuckled at her. The princess' eyes flicked over Richard for a brief second but quickly moved away as she greeted everyone else.

'How are they doing today, Daiya?' her mother asked and nodded towards the screaming baby dragons that were trying to either fly or climb their way out of their nests.

'Most of them are still spooked for some reason. The Nest Master wants to organize a hunting party to scour the surrounding jungle to see if he can find what is getting them all flustered.'

'Alright, I'll talk to him about it right now,' King Dycoz said and took a few steps into the cave before stopping and turning to the group of people behind him. 'Richard, why don't you come with me?'

'Your Majesty?'


'This will be one of your duties one day, so you might as well see what's done up close and personal. Don't worry about the hatchlings; as long as you don't get too close to one they should leave you alone.'

Richard looked towards Aura with wide eyes but only found her nudging him along, a small smile playing at her lips. So he took a deep breath and followed the imposing man into the heart of the cave, dozens of nests with squawking dragons only feet away from him. He did his best to avoid them at all costs but every once in a while he had to jump out of the way to avoid a small plume of flame or chomping jaws. It was like walking through a mine field and he never wanted to do anything like that again.

Sadly, that wasn't even the worst to happen to him.

They were about half way to the other side of the cavern where a tall skinny man stood holding onto a dragon by the mouth when the entire mountain seemed to shake around him. Dust and bits of the ceiling showered down on them and Richard could hear everyone behind him scream. He knew it wasn't good that the volcano had suddenly started rumbling but he didn't think the quake was that big to warrant the amount of screaming that was going on. It hit him a half a second later why they were screaming though. Both the realization and more than twenty dragons rammed into him in a squealing, wriggling, and flapping mass.

Richard's body felt like it weight four times more than it had before and he could feel the pain of long sharp talons digging into his tender flesh as his ears rung with the cries of the hatchlings. His vision was clouded by flapping wings and he couldn't even see what was going on around him as another tremor ran through the cave and the hatchlings dug their claws even harder into his body as they tried to latch onto him. Something was tugging at one of the dragons on his shoulder and he let out a cry of blinding pain.

'Just calm down Richard!' he heard Daiya yell over the incomprehensible screaming in his ears. 'I'll try to get them off of you!'

Another tug on a dragon clamped down on his arm caused him to scream out once more and it abruptly stopped as he felt something warm and wet running down his skin. He instantly knew it was blood and his mind began to scream in protest at him as it rang out warnings. Another tremor ran though the cave and the dragons on him dug their claws in even further, causing him to drop to his knees in pain as he shook in agony. Without even realizing what he was doing he held out his left hand and let his power wash over his body, magic covering him just over the skin and repelling anything trying to hold on. The dragons were tossed off and their wings flapped viciously in the air as they came falling back to the ground in a heap, their eyes bulging in terror and blood dripping from their claws.

Daiya had her arms around him a moment later and he felt himself being pulled quickly from the room, the sounds of terrified dragons growing weaker as it fell into the distance. In the next instant everyone was surrounding him and he felt someone dabbing something soft at his wounds, a sting of pain running through his body like they were pouring salt into it. Daiya's face swam in front of his and there were a few tears in her eyes as she looked at him, a sad frown on her face. A second later she turned back to the towering figure of her father and her whole body language shifted as she pointed a finger right into his face.

'What were you thinking?' she demanded loudly and her father took a step away from his daughter who was shivering with rage. 'You knew the hatchlings were all worked up and you brought him right into the middle of the nursery! He didn't know what to expect or how to handle them when they attacked! You could have gotten him killed!'

'Daiya!' Queen Rina's voice cut through her daughters tirade and the young princess turned to face the woman. 'Do not speak to your father that way! The hatchlings didn't attack Richard; they were frightened and wanted him to protect them!'

'Take a look at him mother! Does it look like they just wanted to be held? Richard's covered in blood!'

'They're only a few weeks old, Daiya. Of course they wouldn't know to be gentle. They didn't bite him nor did they try to breath fire on him. Come to your senses and you will see that I am right!'

Not wanting to see anyone fight, Richard pulled himself to his feet with only a few small winces of pain and gently grabbed Daiya by the wrist. 'I'm alright,' he said and she turned to face him with a skeptical look on her face. 'I think you're mother is right though, they didn't seem like they were attacking. Most of the damage came from when someone was trying to pull them off of me.'

With Richard's words Daiya blanched and he suddenly realized it had been her trying to pry the hatchlings off of him. Her face quickly hardened again and she brushed the few tears clinging at her eyes before turning back to her father. It looked like she was about to start yelling at him again but thankfully someone was yelling out in their strange dialect from the other side of the tunnel as she ran quickly towards them. She came right up to King Dycoz and began to yammer on until the King held up his hand to stop her.

'Daiya, one of the greater dragons has gone crazy and is trying to escape the cavern. I want you to head down there right away and try to stop it. If it gets out into the city who knows what kind of damage it would create!'

'I understand, father,' she said stiffly and turned to run after the woman who was currently sprinting back down the hall.

'Wait!' Richard yelled out before thinking. 'I'll go with you!'

'Stay here where it's safe, Richard,' she said to him and then sprinted off, her tall form quickly shrinking into the distance. Richard didn't listen to her though and before anyone could stop him he took off after her.

Even he thought he had lost his mind, but he had his reasons for rushing head long into danger with her. For the most part he wanted to make up for what he had said to her last night and show her that he was sorry, but he also didn't like being told to stay where it was safe when one of his friends was going off into danger. He wanted to be there by her side in case she needed him. He wanted to protect her as best he could. That was the whole reason he had come back to this world, to protect those he cared for. And this was his chance.

Daiya didn't seem to notice him chasing after her and she continued to run full out through the confusing tunnels as the entire mountain shook around them. Richard did his best to keep up and even pushed though the pain from his wounds, gritting his teeth in determination as he went. He wanted to prove he was strong. He had to prove he was strong. What good would he be if couldn't? How could he call himself Daiya's fiancé if he couldn't even fight by her side when she might need him the most.

As they continued to run, Richard shadowing Daiya, the tremors running through the caverns grew more aggressive and he could begin to make out an extremely loud roar. Less than five minutes later Daiya began to slow as she came to a very large opening covered in debris, holding her right hand out protectively and her focus began to glow as power flowed into it. Richard unsheathed his sword and held it tightly in his right hand as he gathered a small amount of magic into his bracer, the metal heating over his skin as it came to life. It was the first time he had used his focus since coming back to this world and he was surprised how much he missed the feeling of power flowing through his body. It made him feel almost invincible.

What happened next was so quick that it barely registered in Richard's brain. There was a loud roar on the other side of the opening and the whole area lit up bright orange as a massive billow of fire exploded through the tunnel. In a flash he held his hand up in front of him and formed as large of a shield as he could, making sure to get it ahead of Daiya so she would be safe. She had been in the process of casting her own spell and once she saw the flames hit a massive wall of light she dropped her hand a little and turned back to see him standing there, straining against the strength of the attack he was trying to stop.

It felt like someone had smashed a baseball bat into his arm and pain shot through his body as the powerful flames assaulted his light barrier. He couldn't hold out much longer, but thankfully he didn't have to; a few seconds after the attack began the flames disappeared and another massive tremor ran through the cave as the dragon hidden just on the other side of the opening thrashed about in rage.

'Richard! What the hell are you doing here?' Daiya demanded and ran back to him quickly. 'I thought I told you to stay where it was safe! You could get killed coming here!'

'So could you,' was all he said and walked past her and towards the opening.

After a few moments of standing back, Daiya caught up to him and the two of them walked through the large opening in the tunnel to find themselves in a massive cavern. It was twice the size of the nursery, and for good reason. A massive dragon towered over sixteen feet tall, it's dark black scales trembling in rage. It's wing span was close to thirty feet long and Richard was in awe as he saw that the cave was barely wide enough to contain it. It's head was the most massive head he had ever seen in his life and its mouth was filled with large cone shaped teeth that could bite through stone with no problems. The most terrifying thing about this raging beast was its eyes; they were massive and glinted with blood red as anger and fear gripped it.

'Look over there,' Daiya said and pointed towards the far end of the cave where it looked like a cave in had happened, 'It's trying to claw its way out right through the side of the mountain.'

'What do we do?' he asked and suddenly felt a little less confident about his idea to come here. If this dragon wanted to kill them then there would be nothing stopping it.

'We have to get it to calm down, but to do that we'll have to pin it down so it can't thrash anymore.'

Daiya moved a little further into the massive cave and picked up a discarded and partially burnt length of rope. On each end of the ripe were large weights tied to it and Daiya grabbed hold of one in her hand and moved slowly towards the massive beast that was clawing at the wall furiously. It didn't seem to notice them there and Richard really hoped that it remained that way. He didn't know if he could hold off another breath attack again. It was almost as powerful as May's weird red beams had been and it drained him quite a bit.

'Get on the other side of him,' Daiya hissed at him as she slowly snuck closer to her prey. 'I'll toss the rope over its neck for you to catch. The moment it's in your hands I want you pull downwards on it as hard as you can! If we can pin its head we might be able to stop him!'

Richard took a long trembling breath and began to slowly walk towards the opposite side of the dragon from Daiya. He shuffled his feet softly on the ground as to not make it aware of him and gripped his sword tightly in his hand. It might not do any good against something so big, but he felt a little braver holding it in his hand. He also had his bracer ready to go if he needed to protect him or Daiya quickly.

When they were ten feet away from the massive creature it threw its head up in the air and let loose a terrifying and powerful roar that struck Richard to the core, like a cannon had been shot off a few feet from where he was standing. Thankfully it went back to scratching at the wall and they began to move closer. He looked over towards Daiya and saw that she was swinging the rope skillfully in her hand, eyeing the dragon carefully as she got ready to release it. Richard had reached his mark and sheathed his sword before raising his hand as high into the air as he could, hoping that Daiya could see it and know that he was ready.

'Do it quick!' he heard her yell and a split second later a heavy weighted rope was crashing down towards his face. He quickly snatched it out of the air and with all of his strength he pulled it towards the ground, dragging the dragons massive and heavy head with it. It took all he had to keep going and he quickly realized that they didn't have enough strength between the two of them. In one quick flick things turned horribly wrong in the blink of an eye.

Richard was plucked off the ground in the same moment the dragons head smashed into the side of the wall, crushing the rock and pushing through until it crumbled around it and opened into a large hole with sunlight streaming through. With a scream he would rather other people never hear, he landed on the top of the dragons head a second before it pushed its massive body through the hole in the wall and into the sunlight of the outside.

'JUMP OFF!' Daiya yelled but it was already too late.

All Richard could do was grab hold of the massive scales that covered the dragon's body as it leapt into the air and flew off, it's enormous wings beating furiously. Before he knew it they were flying several hundred feet over the city and climbing into the clouds, the dragon letting out a triumphant roar that threatened to shatter Richard's ear drums. This wasn't the first time he had been flying on the back of a dragon, but it was the first time he had done it alone with a massive dragon that would probably kill him anytime soon.

He was at a loss for what to do, so he busied himself with sitting up and getting a better grip than he already had. He laced his fingers under the scales and held on tightly, raising the top half of his body as he squeezed his legs tightly around the dragons neck. When the dragon felt the sudden pressure on its neck it opened its mouth and let loose a torrent of brilliant and dazzling fire that was so hot Richard felt like he was sitting in a sauna, even though he was away from the blast. It let out a terrible roar a moment later and started to beat its wings faster, tilting to the left slightly as if it was threatening to toss him off.

'Come on buddy,' Richard said and he released the grip on his right hand to pat the dragon tentatively on the head, 'I don't want to die and I don’t think you want to kill me. Let's just be cool for a moment and think this through.'

He honestly didn't expect the dragon to listen to him or even understand his words, but it was really the only thing he could do. The beast growled under him menacingly and then broke into a dive, folding it's wings in slightly and shooting through the air like a rocket. The wind savagely assaulted Richard's body and he had to hold on with every ounce of strength he had just so he wouldn't be tossed off. In a matter of seconds they broke through the cloud barrier and Richard screamed in terror as he saw the ground closing in on them, the thick and dense jungle looming.

'Don't do this! We can talk this out!' he yelled and pulled back on the scales he had in his hands at the same time he squeezed his legs around its thick neck as hard as he could.

The dragon let out another loud roar and a second later it flapped its massive wings to stop its forward momentum. A few moments later both he and the dragon smashed through the ceiling of the jungle and crashed to the overgrown ground with a powerful jolt. The dragon folded its wings back onto its body and settled down into the foliage under it, almost like it was lying down. Not willing to let this chance pass him by, Richard jumped down from the massive beasts back and ran a few steps away, pulling out his sword and turning to face it a moment later.

'Is this where you try to eat me?' he asked but the dragon just looked at him like he was crazy. It grunted softly and then shook out its body before resting its head on its front legs. 'Okay…'

Seeing that the dragon was no longer a threat Richard took stock of where he was. He was surrounded on all sides by thick jungle and couldn't make out a single thing that would tell him where he was. The only sounds were that of the animals living peacefully in the jungle. All of this meant one thing: Richard was extremely lost.

'You wouldn't mind taking me back to the city, would you?' he asked the dragon he had come with. It lifted its head at his words and stared him in the eyes, a strange look on its massive snout.

'My, what a beautiful specimen you have there,' a voice called out behind him and in a flash Richard spun around with his sword drawn. The dragon stood up behind him and growled savagely at the sudden intrusion, and for good reason. A nimble blonde girl with dazzling green eyes dressed in leather clothing sat atop the back of a massive red dragon.

'May…' Richard breathed as he recognized the girl. It may have looked exactly like her but he had trouble believing his eyes. She was sitting on a dragon after all.

'I heard a rumor that the mighty Lord Proud had returned, so I thought I would see for myself. Imagine how disappointed I am right now,' she said and the sun glinted off the golden bracer on her right forearm. It was an exact copy of the one he wore on his left arm and he had witnessed the power it commanded first hand. He would never forget how easily he had been beaten by her.

'What the hell is going on here, May?' he demanded and gathered some power into his bracer. The dragon behind him pounded through the undergrowth and was suddenly standing on his right side, it's eyes locked on the massive red dragon May was riding.

'I've come to get you,' she said lightly and a small smile rippled across her pretty face.

'I meant how are you riding a dragon? That shouldn't be possible!' He asked. May regarded him curiously for a moment and then she looked down at the powerful looking creature under her. She giggled softly to herself and patted its scales before picking the leather reins up in her hands once more.

'I wasn't known as the Lady of Dragons for no reason.'

To be continued…


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