{Where we last left our heroes: Ebony’s brother, Xalo, helped her escape from Kyho Twon, and she headed to the Forbidden Pass to find Coriarkin (for more of a recap, check out my recap post}

Chapter 12: In the Darkness Bind Them

Ebony sat cross-legged on the stone floor of the cave, her back against the wall, and her body was thanking her for the rest. Grelka was talking about how much fun she’d had blasting the troll to ash, and an old bearded man was waiting, patient and silent, across from Ebony.

“So you have the pendant and my staff?” Ebony asked.

“Well, you left it. I thought I might need it and if I left it too, the wizards would just take it back.” She held out her hand, and a brilliant blue-green stone spun from a slim silver chain in the faint light. “And yes, I have the pendant.”

Ebony took it and turned to Coriarkin. “Do you have the other half of the riddle? Is this what I think it is?”

“I have a series of numbers and instructions from an old friend for what to do with them. I waited a long time for you to come, hiding where men feared to walk as war and the Apocalypse ravaged my world and I was powerless to help. Tell me your half of the riddle, and let us see what we can make of it.”

He took out a piece of paper and a stick of charcoal from a box and waited. Ebony focused, and recited the poem exactly as she had memorized it. Coriarkin wrote it down as she did and then examined it.

“The numbers he gave me were to indicate certain key words, and then each number had another number that represented it to tell which order the keywords ought to be arranged in. Now let me see. Will you mark them down as I recite them?”

Ebony nodded and took the paper and charcoal. “Check me, Grelka.”

After several minutes of hard work, they had decoded the message. It read, in Ebony’s small precise handwriting: The Dragonborn of the fifth day and year has the power to repair the worlds, the only one to restore the dying world. Return the lost and do what no one will.

“If only we had found this out years ago!” Coriarkin rubbed his forehead. “It is little more than useless now. Ohbi Whan told me he took something, because the wizards were planning to use it for evil and he knew that things were only going to get worse. But he feared to keep it or to tell too much to any one person, and perhaps his caution has been our undoing.”

He paused, staring hard at the riddle. “I think you are right. This has to be the Dragon Stone. It fits both the prophecy and this riddle so far as I can tell. It is gone and the world withers. Only the Dragonborn can return it because, whoever they are, they are the only one with the right to touch it. It would probably kill anyone that tried to put it back in the Depths. But we don’t have the time to search for this Dragonborn of the fifth day and year.”

Ebony shifted uncomfortably. “I think Melchior was right.”

Coriarkin frowned, seeming worried. “Melchior knows who the Dragonborn is? Whoever they are, they’re in trouble.”

“I already am,” Ebony said. Coriarkin shot her a look but waited for more.

“Whoa, whoa, hold it, girl!” Grelka interrupted. “You think you’re the Dragonborn? Why? How?”

“It was Melchior’s idea, but it made sense to me,” Ebony stammered. “I’m born in the Year of the Dragon by both our worlds’ calendars. I was born on November 14 in my world, so…”

“Which is the 5th of Rebirth here,” Coriarkin, looking almost excited. “That’s the 5th day of the 5th month of 5555. The fifth among us…” He trailed off.

“Well, and he thought because the stars danced before I came through the Gate and for some nights after – I’m not exactly sure how long they’ve been dancing – that it meant something significant about me. And he thought the part from the prophecy about the power lost meant the Dragon Stone, which I had only just gotten before I got pulled through the Gate… I don’t know, it might all just be coincidence. I’m not really anything special.”

“’The one foretold. The one to come.’ You don’t think this is an accident, you showing up just in time to save the worlds, do you? No. And we’ll have to risk it anyway. This world doesn’t have long.”

“So we’re just sitting around talking?” Grelka asked incredulously.

Ebony looked down at her hands and began slowly unwinding the bandages. “Give me a minute, Grelka. We only have one shot, and I don’t even know where I’m supposed to take this pendant or what I’m supposed to do with it when I get there.”

“There I can help you,” Coriarkin said. “When the Dragon Stone – this pendant – was first crafted and buried, the ancients were wiser in the Arts and the workings of the world and the Essence. They discovered a way to connect it to the Essence itself, and it strengthened it, and the Essence grew and flourished to a potency unheard of or dreamed before. Like fertilizing a tree, in a way. The Dragon Stone had a strength in the Essence on its own, but once it was connected to the world’s Essence, it grew even more powerful and fueled the world. In the old days, the Essence was so strong and alive it almost hummed in the world, and the practiced in the Arts could do wonderful things. As you know, the world dies now that the Dragon Stone is gone. To restore the world, to restore the dying I should perhaps say, you must find the place where the ancients hid it, deep down in the ground, in the Depths.”

Ebony was rubbing her hand, not a little unnerved. Barely discernable circles marked where blisters had been. By all rights, they ought to still be there. By all rights, though, she ought to still be in horrible pain and utterly unable to make the trip she just had. Whatever that healer woman had done for her, even if she was one of the wizards, she couldn’t help but be grateful. And amazed.

“So… where would I find this Depths place? Will I be able to reach it in time? I mean, before everything dies.”

“In the heart of the Middle Kingdom, according to the ancient borders, down to the heart of the Essence, and there is the Dragon Stone – at the heart of it all. Or so they said.”

“Okay, enough,” Grelka interjected. “Let’s cut to the chase: where is this ‘heart of the Essence’ or whatever?”

Coriarkin sighed. “Where it is is less of a question than how to get in. I don’t know how Ohbi Whan got in, and so I’m not sure how you will get in, but we can’t prepare everything. Some things will only become apparent when we get there. Perhaps the way will only open before the Dragonborn. But as far as I have been able to find – and in my research into Gates I ran across it again and again – it is directly below the Gate.”

Ebony thought back to the stone dais on her first arrival.

“Maybe there’s a secret entrance somewhere there. I didn’t get a good look, but if we’re going to have to search…”

“We need to go!” Grelka exclaimed, leaping to her feet. “Come on, Ebony, mess or not we need to go!”

Ebony scrambled to her feet. “Mess?”

Grelka pointed. “Your hair? Your dress? If we had time I’d ask how you got to be like that, but we don’t have it.”

Ebony felt her hair and pulled it forward to examine it. Her once long braid was burned to about her shoulders, and most of what was left was singed and frazzled. Her dress was smoke-smudged and the tassels were scorched to nubs in many places. She shrugged.

“I’ll tell you later… if we live.” She turned to Coriarkin. “Thank you so much. For everything.”

“All-Maker guard you!” he said, raising his hand in farewell. Ebony smiled, waved back, and followed Grelka out into the dim light of early morning.

* * *

Xalo pretended to jerk awake as four wizards marched into his cell. He glanced at them and scanned the room. He froze and looked around frantically.

“What did you do with her?” He asked the wizards angrily.

“Do?” The wizards themselves seemed to be casting about, nervous.

Melchior stepped in, brimming with unreleased anger. He looked like a hornet robbed of a sting. Xalo turned to him, and the other wizards stepped forward quickly, thinking he might fly at their chief.

“Where is she? What have you done with her?” he demanded.

Melchior’s eyes ran over the small cell, clearly empty of anyone else, and he let out a rumble like an enraged tiger.

“She won’t get out. Not out of Kyho Twon. She cannot know the ways.” He turned to the other wizards. “Go, muster everyone, and scour this place from top to bottom. She can’t remain hidden for long.”

* * *

Ebony Xin, the only Dragonborn, rode with the wind and her strange companion to the Gate and the Depths. Down from the slopes of the Forbidden Pass they flew, past the ancient door that was closed to all but the son of kings, and that had been a snare for many a foolish adventurer and the namesake of the pass. Down to the rice fields and the grasslands, dry, dead, and withered now. The earth trembled beneath Xiexie’s hooves. He whinnied but did not slow.

In one hand, Ebony clutched the staff. Her other was closed tightly about the pendant. Her exhaustion had grumblingly retreated to the shadows, waiting only to be looked at directly to spring to the fore again, but Ebony refused to look. She had a task, a destiny, but she had no time. Adrenaline surged through her, fear and determination glued her eyelids open, and her will drove her forward.

Grelka flew low over her head, muttering things to herself that Ebony couldn’t hear. She seemed to be complaining about her empty stomach, but she was sure she wasn’t hearing properly, because surely, even Grelka couldn’t be concerned with something like that at a time like this.

Grelka was grumbling about her hunger. She, like Ebony, had never done anything like this before and wasn’t used to short rations, sleepless nights, or urgent errands. And she was grumbling because grumbling took her mind off the fact that she was about to fly into death with a girl she had only met a few days ago.

“Well,” she muttered to herself, “I swear these things speed up the process of things. Unnerving, I call it, but who cares?” She paused, then continued. “After all, it’s not like you have anything better to do.”

“You should stop saying that,” Ebony called up to her.

“Why? It’s true.”

“No it’s not. Someone as… as good of a friend as you are would never be short of something good to do.”

“Ha!” Grelka yelled in triumph. “But I said better. Honestly, I can’t think of anything better to be doing right now. What, go hide in a cave and wait for the world to eat me? I don’t think so.”

Ebony actually managed to laugh. Grelka’s unquenchable spirit made the idea of returning the pendant seem easy, like a game with friends, and even though she knew it wouldn’t be, it made it somewhat less dark and hopeless.

“Let me know when we get there,” Grelka said. “I’m going to go talk to those hawks, see what news they can tell me or what they’ve seen. Don’t worry if I’m not back for a bit – they’re stubborner than mules and don’t like Remlings.”

She spiraled quickly up into the sky and soon was only a large shadow among the clouds. Xiexie’s hooves spun the earth beneath them, and she didn’t reappear.

Author’s Commentary: Well that was a veeerrrryyy long intermission. There’s nothing like walking away from a story and growing as a writer and then coming back to really show how pompous I used to be. I thought by The Dragon Pendant I’d grown out of that more, but no. My SUPER BIG TWIST has still not come, but hang in there! It is at the beginning of the next chapter and is lowkey the best part of the book lol.

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