{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony finally got her audience with Melchior. He explains that the Apocalypse in upon them, and that it is because something called the “Dragon Stone” is missing and undermining the source of the Essence.}

Chapter 8: The Dragonborn Comes

“Okay, pause this for a second please. What is this ‘Dragon Stone’ thing? I don’t get it. Our worlds used to be the same one and I’m pretty sure we don’t have a Dragon Stone, whatever that is, and our world isn’t dying.”

“The Dragon Stone is a thing of legend, but very real. Long ago, after our worlds had parted, a dragon lord came down from his realm beyond the stars to the Middle Kingdom. He caused uncounted damage, slaying thousands and almost destroying the Middle Kingdom. He was finally vanquished, and in the tale it tells of the All-Maker sending a star down from the heavens to smite the beast in the heart. I do not know how it truly was, but I don’t exactly care. The point is, when the dragon died, his whole body hardened and turned into gemlike stone, and it was strong in potent magic, stronger than anything else. And its heart, where they say the star battled and defeated his evil when it slew him, it was harder and brighter than the rest, with almost a light of its own. That is the Dragon Stone. The stone-shapers made it into some sort of trinket, and buried it deep down in the earth, connecting it to the Essence, the source of all our magic. The rest of the stone dragon was broken into many uncounted pieces, and we use them now to give power to our staves and whatnot.” Melchior blew out his breath, and spoke more slowly. “The Dragon Stone was stolen some years ago, and the Essence, too accustomed to being fed by it, groped at nothing and so had nothing. The world dies without the Essence to feed it. If we could find this trinket, the Dragon Stone, we could take it back to its resting place. The world would be restored, we could open the Gate whenever we chose, and there would be no need to settle in your world.”

Ebony was gripping her own fingers, trying with all her might not to reach up to her neck and touch the pendant. She wanted to believe her hunch was wrong, but the description had been so perfect. And it did seem to have a power of its own. She remembered it being drawn up into the sky, and clinging to it to keep it from flying off. She could hand it over right now. Her world would be safe then. But she had promised to keep it a secret.

“Do you have any more questions for me or can I ask mine?” Melchior asked.

Ebony shook her head. “No, go ahead.”

“Can you really read minds?”

Ebony blinked. How could he have heard about that? And what should she say? “Sometimes. I’m still exploring how far I can take it. How did you hear about that?”

Melchior waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, I have a pair of eyes and ears or two in Karliah’s Covenant troop, and she has some in mine. I know who they are and she probably knows who they are. It’s just an extra way to keep an eye on each other and make sure that no one, for example, wants to betray an agreement. But tell me, who are you? I mean, what year were you born, and is there anything special about you that you know of?”

Ebony looked at him, confused. Why on earth would he care about that? “I was born in the year 2000, at least by the count of my world. I don’t know if it’s the same as yours.”

“It’s not,” Melchior mused. “That would be the year 5555 by our calendars. The Year of the Dragon.”

“Yes. In our world too. I used to go by the nickname Dragon, but it didn’t stick.”

Melchior was giving her a long, contemplative look. He nodded to himself. “Has to be.”

“Has to be what?” Ebony asked, but even as she spoke, the words her father had passed onto her, the message given him by Ohbi Whan that she too had memorized, flashed back. The fifth among us will end it… You are the only Dragonborn.

“The stars danced for you. The fifth among us, and you were born in 5555. Surely that is more than mere coincidence? The one who holds the power lost. That has to be the Dragon Stone. Where is it? You must know where it is. You’re the Dragonborn!”

Ebony’s mouth went dry. She did know, and yet she didn’t. She had no proof, only a hunch and an unsolved riddle. She could hand over the pendant to this man, save this world and get home, if the wizard was telling the truth. But somehow, something in the deep down was screaming at her to keep it secret, to not tell him anything.

But he might be able to get me home if I give it to him.

Are you crazy? Don’t you dare! Don’t even think about it. Coriarkin can get you home probably, and you can talk to him about your pendant like father was supposed to.

But what am I supposed to say?

Remember, you don’t know anything yet…

“I don’t know anything yet,” she told him.

He looked disappointed. “You’re sure?”

“All I have is a piece of a riddle, and I need to talk to Coriarkin before I’ll even know if I know anything. Once I talk to him, I’ll have a better idea of… everything, and we can take it from there. Deal?” Ebony’s pulse was drumming in her ears and her palms were damp against her fingers. All she could think was get away, get away, get away!

Melchior shook his head slowly. “No deal. Look, I don’t think you realize what’s at stake. The fate of a world is on your shoulders.”

“Hey, you don’t know it’s me,” she pointed out. “Not for sure.”

“No, but if you are the Dragonborn, then you are the only one who can put it back and stop the Apocalypse. So the prophecy says. If anyone else tried, they’d bungle it. You must find the Dragon Stone and replace it where it belongs.”

“Just let me talk to Coriarkin first. Why is that so hard?”

Melchior seemed angered at this, but he restrained himself, masking it over. “I’ll make a bargain with you. You go to Ling Chen, the tomb depths for mages, search it thoroughly for the Dragon Stone. If it’s anywhere, it’ll be there. When you return, in success or failure, then you seek Coriarkin. He wouldn’t be able to help you get home anyway if the Dragon Stone isn’t restored, if that’s what you were hoping for. Deal?”

Ebony hesitated. If she was right and the pendant she was wearing was this Dragon Stone thing, then she would be wasting time on a pointless quest. And if she was wrong and she went on this quest for the wizard and found the Dragon Stone, would he let her go talk to Coriarkin then or would he insist she go put it back or whatever first? But how could she refuse without telling him ‘hey, I won’t find it there because I’ve got it around my neck right now’?

“Okay, I’ll do it. But I’ll only spare no more than five days on it, and you have to promise to let me see Coriarkin right after I come back. Fair enough?”

Melchior sighed. “Alright, fair enough.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” she asked, leaping to her feet.

Melchior stood and went to the door. “Sven? Sven Iverson!” Running footsteps pounded down one of the passages and a wizard appeared, quite out of breath. He was a tall man with fair skin and hair like Karliah’s, and she was pretty sure he was of the same people. Melchior jerked his head in her direction. “Provide her with whatever she needs for a five day journey to Ling Chen as is in our means. Now go.” He glanced at Ebony and nodded toward the man called Sven. “Go with him. If you need something, ask him.”

Ebony forced a grateful smile and hurried after him.

When they had gone, Melchior dropped back into the room and slammed his fist against the wall. Breathing hard, he smiled. Now that she was no longer there and the danger of his thoughts being detected was not a concern, he could start planning. She knew or guessed something she was hiding from him. But not for long.

* * *

Ebony followed Sven through the twisting circuitous passages deep down into the bowels of the beast, Kyho Twon. In a huge chamber so large it seemed like an amphitheater, he began rapping out instructions to barely visible brown robed men in the shadows. Almost before she could blink, they had assembled a collection of items for her to choose her traveling supplies from.

Sven pointed, speaking in a throaty, heavily accented voice. “This is light but strong armor, good for those who are not mages. Wizards make their own protection. Warriors and common people do not and must wear metal clothing. If you are of mage blood or would prefer it, we have robes here, short enough even for you.”

Ebony sniffed indignantly, but didn’t fuss. She knew she was short.

“And here are travel rations such as we carry on our missions, all packed in one day’s worth packages. Lord Melchior said you would be gone five days, yes? Then you will need but five packets. Do you want weapon? A protector device?”

“Um…” She considered this. A “protector device” might be useful. If she ever got in a fight with someone with magic, her martial art skills, however limited, wouldn’t help her. “Sure. Do you have anything better than a sword? I don’t know how to use that kind of weapon.”

Sven chuckled. “Oh, no. No, no. We can do a friend of the Great Dominion better than that.” He beckoned another wizard forward, and gestured for him to speak.

“This is a staff of the storms,” the wizard said, and Ebony was startled to hear it was a woman’s voice. Her face was obscured by the hood and she had assumed it was a man because all the other wizards she had met were men. “It will protect you a little. In the old days, it would have smote your enemy with a mighty thunderbolt, turned him to ash perhaps, but in these weaker days as the Essence fails, it has nothing to feed it, no power to fuel it. It may weaken and stagger an enemy, and make his muscles revolt against him, but will almost certainly not kill him. Even so, I will advise you not to use it against any you do not want dead.”

Ebony took the staff and examined it. It was long and strong, standing almost to the height of her shoulder when she rested it on the ground, and she noticed that at one end, a sphere of something like blue-green glass was set and bound to the staff.

“Is this a piece of the dragon?” she asked, remembering what Melchior had said about the dragon’s body being broken up and used in magical artifacts.

“You are quick. It is indeed. And see how it shimmers with the memory of his fire. Carry it well, little daughter.” The woman retreated into the shadows, and Sven tapped her shoulder.

“Miss,” he said, “I beg many pardons, but I do not know how to call you…”

“You can call me Dragon. It’s an old nickname,” she added, seeing his strange look. With Grelka’s bizarre reaction to her name, she decided to keep her real name a secret for now.

“Very well, then, little Dragon, what will you have? Time is not much, and we cannot be spared forever.”

Ebony regarded the collection of things uncertainly. “I think I’ll go with what I have as for as clothes,” she said. “But I do thank you for the staff and the food. Just one more thing: is there any way I could have a wash before I leave?” She had never realized she could feel so nasty after only two days.

“But of course, little Dragon! You should have requested sooner. I will arrange it at once. Will you horse or walk?”

“Horse? You mean ride? I’d like to ride if I can, but if a horse can’t be spared I’ll walk. And I don’t know if I can take it with me into Ling Chen.”

Sven shook his head, amused. “But no, little Dragon, it is no place for a horse. Not truly a place for the alive either, but such things cannot be helped at times. But do not fear – the trained horses of the Great Dominion will not stray, not for a hundred years, but will await where you leave him.”

“Great. Thanks!”

Author’s Commentary: Ling Chen is Chinese for basically “soul morning”. Why? Does everything I choose have to have a reason? Good. Because this one doesn’t. Also, I forgot to note earlier that Ohbi Whan is – not surprisingly – a thinly disguised spoof off of Obi-Wan. I just got a kick out of Obi-Wan Kenobi being a kooky old wizard.

{Read Chapter 9: Hooves And Wings}