Heather suddenly wheels Leo around, heading down a very narrow trail. You're not entirely sure what to do, but fortunately (or unfortunately) the matter is taken out of your hands as Gemini follows on. You cling to her mane as branches and long grasses hit you in the legs and wonder exactly what possessed you to check out that site on the internet in the first place.
Ahead, Heather shouts something back to you. You start to ask her to repeat it, but the wind snatches your words away before you can even begin to get them out of your mouth. Leo suddenly puts on a burst of speed and soars over a fallen tree that's about three and a half feet high. You wince, lean forward and hold on as tightly as you can as Gemini follows suit. More by luck than judgement, you manage to stay on, only to go straight out the side door as Gemini comes to an abrupt stop.
Heather sits perched on Leo's back, looking at you accusingly.
"You told me you could ride," she says.
"I didn't," you retort. "You told me."
Heather waves a hand, dismissing this little detail, then swings her leg over Leo's withers and slides easily to the ground.
"What are we doing here, anyway?" you ask.
"We're here to see the Trio," Heather says, leaving you none the wiser.
"They're three people," Heather goes on. "One guy, two girls. They arrived yesterday and moved in here."
"Where's 'here'?" you ask, looking around.
"You're in the middle of the Akand Forest," Heather explains. "We never used to stop here before, 'cause nobody lived here, but there was a massive storm a few days ago and several clearings were created. We're in the closest one-Moonlake."
You look around. A series of small waterfalls cascades into a large body of water that seems almost to shimmer. On the edge of the lake is a large wooden hut that looks like a lot of logs piled haphazardly on top of each other because that's basically what it is. The grass in the clearing is up to your knees and there are one or two thistles hidden there, as you find out when you start to sit down.
"Yeah," Heather says with a grin, "I forgot to tell you about that." She raises her voice. "Hey Cyra! You hiding in there?"
There is a movement in the hut and a young woman comes out through the opening, (no mean feat.) She's about five foot seven, with shoulder length blue-black hair and light blue eyes. She's also quite pale, not like a goth but like someone who spends a lot of time sitting watching the night sky. You catch yourself thinking there's something slightly unworldly about her.
Of course, this time last week you'd have said the same thing about dragons.
Heather leans over to you and whispers "They're all three of 'em pale like that; Cyra and her two friends. It's 'cause they spent so long travelling by night."
"Where to?" you ask. Heather shrugs.
"Dunno. Althne asked Kalani-that's like, the leader of the Trio-to tell her story for the Library, but so far Kally isn't talking. All we know for sure is that they did a lot of travelling by night and Cyra here still likes looking at the stars whenever she can, that's why she's paler than the others." Heather looks at Cyra. "Hi Cy."
"Hi yourself, Heather," Cyra answers lightly. "Did you bring this visitor here just to admire the lake, or was there something else?"
"Nah, I'm giving 'em the grand tour and we got to you and the other two. And speaking of which, Arun owes me a swimming lesson." Heather turns. "Do you mind if I go on ahead? I'll leave Gemini behind; all you need to do is hop on and she'll take you to Leo. She knows the way; she's been doing it often enough."
"Not at all. You go ahead."
Heather grins again.
"Thanks! I owe ya. See you later." She mounts Leo and heads off into the forest.
Cyra's face creases up in a smile suddenly.
"I'm guessing you're after a little information," she says.
"Er. Yeah. Kind of." You feel like you suddenly have to explain. "Actually, I just clicked on this link marked Legends of the DragonWorld-"
Cyra fills in smoothly.
"And next thing you know, you're here." She shakes her head. "They should put a warning on that link, except the Dragon Wing gets most of its candidates from newcomers."
"Including you?" you say, glancing around Moonlake somewhat sceptically. Cyra laughs.
"Yes, including me! I was a candidate, like the others back in Dragon Mountain. Unlike them, however, I was on the candidate roster at DragonSeer's Mountain, like the other two." A light appears in her eyes. "I think I was the very first candidate, or as near as makes no odds. The other two weren't far behind me, though. I don't know if that made a difference at all, but I was lucky enough to get a Star Sapphire Gem Dragon. They're the rarest kind there is, except for Opals. Star Sapphires can shape objects out of star matter." Cyra holds out a beautifully carved unicorn for your inspection.
"You were successful?" you say.
"You sound surprised."
"It's just...this doesn't look like a-" you hastily swallow the word 'good' "-like a typical lair," you finish, somewhat lamely. Cyra quirks an eyebrow and you wonder if she picked up on your momentary lapse.
"Well?" she says lightly. "Who says dragons have to live in caves? According to the information, Gem Dragons only grow to about four feet at the largest, so the hut should be large enough. And when she doesn't feel like going in the hut, well then-" Cyra pulls back a branch to reveal a tunnel that's a good six feet in diameter and leads you down it. After descending steeply for a few minutes, you come out in a cave that's about fifty foot long and seventy wide, with a thirty foot high ceiling. A dragon, her hide a beautiful deep blue, lifts her head sleepily to regard you.
"Yep, that's her," Cyra says proudly. "She's a little sleepy at the minute as we spent the whole night stargazing...as usual. This isn't just as an alternative home," Cyra says. "This is in case we get another storm; we can shelter down here. It also makes for a handy tunnel from one of us to the next; it's easy to get lost in this forest without Heather or Gemini to take you," she adds with a smile. "Down there leads to our main meeting room, that tunnel leads to Arun's place and that one to Kalani's."
You thank her for showing you and Cyra leads you back up.
"And now," Cyra says, "you'd better go. It's quite a ways to Kalani." Her eyes gleam. "Maybe when you come back, my dragon will be more awake," she adds.
You nod agreement and manage to scramble onto Gemini's back. Gemini waits until you're seated, then sets off at a sedate canter down the track.
Phew! I'm beat! Give me a break!
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