{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony agreed to go to the ancient burial place for wizards, Ling Chen, and search Ohbi Whan’s tomb for the Dragon Stone, which she thinks is in reality her father’s pendant. Melchior said that if she did that for him, in success or failure, he would help her find Coriarkin (the expert on Gates she needed to consult to get home), and he also thinks that she is the foretold Dragonborn. With the wizards’ help, she prepared to set out on her journey}

Chapter 9: Hooves And Wings

Ebony left when the sun was pinking the evening sky, foretelling of evening. Sven had offered her a room to spend the night so that she could set out in the morning, but she had politely refused. She didn’t want to waste a day more than was necessary on this crazy weird and, she had the sneaking feeling, dangerous quest. So she waved farewell to the wizard who had let her in to Kyho Twon, mounted the sturdy little pony Xiexie, and breathed a sigh of relief. She had entered the beast and come out alive.

Leathery wings broke the evening stillness. Ebony flinched even though she knew it was Grelka. Something about the sound seemed ominous.

“You’re alive! You came out! I don’t believe it!” The little Remling lighted on the ground next to her and looked up, scrutinizing her carefully.

“Did you want them to kill me?” Ebony asked. “If so, I’m sorry to disappoint.”

Grelka rolled her eyes dramatically. “No, no, you silly human girl, I didn’t want them to kill you. Why on earth would I want that? It’s just that I’ve never heard of anyone going in there uninvited and coming back out.”

“Well, I was invited, and so I guess that answers it. Why were you hanging around to see if I survived?”

“Do I look like I have anything better to do?” Grelka demanded. “I just wanted to make sure you came out alright. Why is that so surprising?”

Ebony opened her mouth and then shut it again. She didn’t want to mention how unusual it was for someone to be so interested in the fate of someone who they had only just met the day before. “Well, thanks for your concern. I’ve got to go, though. I’ve promised Melchior to do a little mission for him before I go off on my own thing.”

“Oh, Melchior the Mighty, Melchior the Two-Faced Liar. You believed him?”

“What do you mean?” Ebony was confused. She didn’t remember hearing any alarm bells in her head when she spoke with the wizard, only nervousness and building fear.

Grelka shook her head. “Smiling through his teeth, talking out of both sides of his mouth, playing the ends against the middle, whatever. He’s a scheming wizard who’d kill you as soon as look at you. Don’t go through with the bargain.”

“I have to. I promised. And – look, it’s really complicated and I need to go, but if you really want to know, maybe you can follow me for part of the way while I explain.”

Grelka gave an exaggerated shrug. “Do I look like I have anything better to do?” she asked, and lifted into the air. She flew low, just above Ebony’s head, so that she had to resist the urge to duck.

As quickly and concisely as she could, Ebony summed up what had happened with her conversation with Melchior and explained why she had to see Coriarkin. But she skipped the part about her maybe being the Dragonborn, and only alluded to the pendant when complete avoidance had been impossible.

“So what is it exactly you have?” Grelka asked when she had finished. She flew in a circle around Ebony’s head. “Contraband materials? Stolen goods? What?”

Ebony hesitated. She couldn’t stop herself from trusting the Remling girl, as much as her brain was shouting at her not to be a fool, something deeper told her that she would need Grelka, and that Grelka would need to know. At least a little.

“Well, not exactly any of those. Maybe a dangerous legend, something that would be disastrous in the wrong hands. That’s part of why I need to talk to Coriarkin too. He can help me figure out what it is and what I need to do. But right now, I just want to get home, really.”

“Okay, secret weapons. I can roll with that.” Grelka sounded almost cheerful. “So we’re going to Ling Chen? What for exactly?”

“We?” Ebony slowed the horse to a walk and looked up at the girl. “You want to come too? Why would you want to?”

Grelka dropped down onto the road in front of her, forcing her to rein Xiexie to a stop. She crossed her arms. “Try being born the youngest in a family with fifteen older brothers and sisters whom everybody admires and says they have amazing talents and see what you think. I’m coming because you need someone to teach you some sense and try to keep you out of trouble with your crazy hat ideas, and I’ll remind you for the thousandth time,” she paused, drew a deep breath, and practically shouted, “Do I look like I have anything better to do?

Ebony cringed in the saddle. “Okay, okay, I don’t have a problem with you. I just didn’t want to drag you along into danger. And you don’t really know me, so I didn’t think you’d really care. That much. Of course you can come. I’d appreciate you guiding me again.” She managed a smile. “And the looking after me.”

Grelka looked somewhat appeased and lifted off again. Ebony realized why she was so defensive. She’s trying to prove herself. She feels chronically inadequate. I can’t imagine, poor girl. This must be an opportunity of a lifetime. Ebony was never the sort to understand the impulsive nature or that anyone could risk so much for someone they hadn’t known for very long, or in fact, to be almost immune to the risk at all.

“So… what are we going there for?” Grelka repeated her earlier question.

“Something that isn’t there.”

“What?” Grelka asked, as if she had misheard.

“Well, at least I don’t expect it to be. He wants me to look and see if I can find there the secret weapon, as you called it, that I’m carrying right now. At least I think so. I won’t know anything until he lets me talk to Coriarkin, and I can’t talk to Coriarkin until I do this favor I promised.”

“Oh. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me? You’ve got me scared you’re going to do another of your brilliant ideas. Like going into Kyho Twon.”

“I promised to keep it a secret,” Ebony said, though she had to force herself not to blurt the whole thing out. For some reason, she just couldn’t silence the urge to share it all with Grelka. “Depending on how long you tag along with me, you might find out anyway.”

Grelka humphed to herself, and it was clear to Ebony that she didn’t like to wait. But she asked no more about it, and they made swift progress in the next hour, Ebony galloping and trotting, Grelka flying.

“There, see that wood near the rice field?” Grelka alighted and pointed ahead. “Beyond that is the Howling Gorge, and in the Howling Gorge is the door to Ling Chen. I still don’t –” she broke off, staring into the sky. “Carnivorous catfish!” she murmured, sounding scared.

Ebony looked up too. At first she thought it was the weather that was alarming the Remling. The sky had settled its back against the earth and the darkness of heavy rains and storm enveloped the fields. Squinting up, though, she saw tiny black dots. Circling.

“Are those crows?” she asked.

Grelka looked at her, fear painting her face. “Crows?” she repeated, almost scornfully. “No. Those are condors. And in case you don’t know,” she added, “they are huge man-eating birds that could carry you off like any hawk with a chicken.”

“Is there time to hide? Have they seen us already?” Ebony tried to swallow the golf ball that had decided to plant itself in her throat.

“Oh, yes, they’ve seen us. They’re only waiting for the whole clan to gather before they strike.”

Ebony lifted her staff and gripped it hard. Grelka shook her head. “We won’t stand a chance with that.” She seemed to be thinking hard. Ebony was too, but her mind kept going in circles. She glanced up at the black dots again. They were dropping from the sky now like bombs, and she gasped, preparing to kick her horse forward.

“Hey, I know. Go, Ebony. Make for the woods. Go through them, not around. The birds can’t follow you in there. Go, go!”

What about you?” Ebony called over her shoulder as she slammed her heels into Xiexie’s flanks.

“I’ve got a plan!” Grelka screamed back, and she took off into the air with a powerful wing thrust and flew straight at the descending condors.

Ebony bounced in the saddle, urging the pony to faster and faster speeds. Grelka could not keep them off forever, even if she wasn’t eaten, and she had to be well under the shelter of the trees when that time came.

How could you have left her? she berated herself. You shouldn’t have let her do it! But Ebony knew she hadn’t had a choice. Grelka had been right, irksome as it was, and Ebony couldn’t risk being eaten, not if she was the Dragonborn and carrying the Dragon Stone around her neck. It wasn’t just her life Grelka was saving, it was the lives of everyone in this world and perhaps many on Earth too.

The wood neared. Branches brushed her face. Xiexie stumbled and stopped. Ebony swung off him and stroked his nose.

“Don’t let them eat you,” she whispered, and took off at a run. A stitch buried into her side, and then on the other. The blood throbbed in her head and her aching legs rebelled. Sweat dripped into her eyes, and she pushed herself forward with the staff, leaning on it like a third leg. Dark tree shadows. The sounds of critters scuttling about unseen. The clouds surrendering for a time to the night and the stars. Stars that glowed between the branches. Stars that broke free from there stations in the sky and swam about, swooping low, weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing in another place. Stars dancing. Ebony staggered and fell to the ground. She had the vague sensation of realizing she was almost free of the woods and could rest, and then her eyes closed, exhaustion defeating her fear and loneliness and stress in one all-powerful command to rest.

 

“Wake up, sleepyhead.” A hard green pine cone bounced off her head.

“Ouch! What was that for?”

Grelka stood over her, looking exhausted but very pleased with herself. “Don’t you want to know how escaped the condors?” she demanded, eyes sparkling mischievously.

“Uh, yeah, but was it worth conking me on the head for?” Ebony asked, sitting up stiffly.

Grelka considered this. “No. That was worth it in its own right.”

Ebony rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay, you win. How did you escape the condors if they really are man-eating birds of prey, and what was the big plan you had?”

“They’re stupid as rabbits. I found that out last time I had to escape from them, soon after I left my cave. I got lucky then and found their weakness. So this time I simply led them on a merry chase, flew into a wolves’ den, and barricaded the entrance with tree branches before they got back out. The wolves got a free dinner, I got rid of some condors, and now they just have to unblock the door and we’ll all be happier.”

Ebony chuckled. “You know, I got lucky when I found you.”

Grelka cleared her throat exaggeratedly. “I seem to remember I found you.”

Ebony shrugged.

“Um, you don’t remember screaming when you saw me? Pretty much me finding you.”

“Okay, okay. You found me. I’ll never look back from the day you found me. Fair enough?” She smiled.

Grelka nodded. “Come on, let’s get going. And can I have some breakfast?”

Author’s Commentary: So yes, a post is coming to explain my silence and lack of The Dragon Pendant posting here on the blog. I am soooo sorry I kept forgetting! :O Anyway, the next chapter is one of my favorites (one of the original scenes when the inspiration for this story popped into my head), so stay tuned. Also, please don’t ask me the deeper meaning on Grelka’s animal-exclamations (e.g. jumping jaguars, carnivorous catfish). It was totally random that they just showed up on the page. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I think I’ve said that kind of a lot about this story; maybe I should see someone?? 😛

{Read: Chapter 10: Betrayal}

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