Nika sat up screaming like nothing before.
Startled, Dorr scrambled up from where he lay beside her.
She couldn't believe how that monster could kill that poor bear!
Her scream died and she was left sitting up on the grass, red lips parted.
Dew coated the green all around her that early morn. Birds and wyverns soared through the bright blue sky as the sun peeked out from the Angel Chorus Mountains.
A gorgeous song began to fill the air. Nika did not recognize the language but it was though harp, flute, and birdsong had joined the melody.
A beating drum filled the air with a steady four beat rythym that stirred one's soul.
Nika pressed her lips together and listened to the haunting music.
"They say," Dorr murmured, "That the lord of time left that song strung across the mountain tops as a reminder that something greater was coming after him. That he had come to light the way for Him."
Nika didn't ask who 'He' was.
She was still shaken.
"Dorr, I had a terrible nightmare."
Dorr leaned his back against the still slumbering Seera and nodded, stroking his chin.
"I figured as much...seeing how you screamed,"
Nika blushed scarlet. "Sorry."
"If you are apologizing to me, do not fear. Trees do not become cranky....at least, this one doesn't!"
Seera's voice startled them all. Dorr ceased leaning on her and went to stand by Nika who had risen from her bed of grass and earth.
Her long twisting roots unwove themselves and stretched as she yawned, shivering slightly.
"Now," Seera's roots dove back into the moist soil, "Tell us about that dream."
Nika paled at the very thought, the very mention of the horrible dream.
Yet she was compelled and told them every sickening detail....and those not so sickening.
Seera had turned even whiter, if that was possible, and Dorr had a vacant expression on his face.
Stranger still, they both seemed to return to their normal selves fairly quickly.
Dorr sighed and bowed to Seera.
"I bid thee adieu dear Dryad. It has been a pleasure to travel with you."
Seera returned it with a nod of her head - trees do not bend.
Nika ran and embraced her friend round the trunk. Seera laughed a quiet pondering laugh and patted the top of the red-haired girl’s head.
"Run along dear one. You have far to go."
Nika reluctantly disentangled herself from the Dryad and timidly followed Dorr to where their hippogriff was kept in the stables adjacent to the trading post.
Unicorns whinnied greetings as they entered the stables.
As she followed her friend, Nika petted as many noses as she could as they stretched over their stall doors.
She almost collided into Dorr when he stopped abruptly at the giant hawk head of their hippogriff peekeing over the last stall door.
Nika whirled around to see Sleem leaning against a stall door, the unicorn behind him in the stall nudging his back.
"Such generosity," Dorr let the word roll smoothly off his tongue, dripping with sarcasm, "What's the catch?"
Furius grinned, hands spread wide,
"Nay, there's no catch. I only ask that ye visit me more often. It gets mighty lonely; my kind is disliked ya know."
Dorr nodded thoughtfully before turning to the hippogriff.
As he unlatched the door, Nika shrank back in fear.
She had seen horses before, grazing in fields in her hometown country suburb, but this was something else.
Strength rippled through the strong muscles attaching the gorgeous hawk wings to the withers of the beast.
It scrutinized them with one golden eye as they moved cautiously into the stable.
How could Nika not have been afraid of it when it was in the field?
Of course, her mind had been on other things.
It's hawk feathers melted into a sleek chestnut coat at the hindquarters.
The hooves seemed smaller than a normal horse's and Nika wondered for a fleeting moment if they were made for perching.
Furius took an odd looking bridle off the wall and jammed the flat bit into the hippogriff's beak.
It's head jerked skywards at first before finally settling down, tongue examining the bit.
Nika noticed it had no saddle. Her eyes widened as Dorr easily mounted the creature and grabbed hold of the reins - long tassled strips of leather that you gripped with both hands, one hand on each one.
"Bareback?" She asked uncertainly.
Dorr raised one eyebrow and Sleem laughed heartily, wiping a tear from his giant baby blue eye.
"Is there any other kind, missy?"
Nika scowled and grabbed a handful of feathers, clambering onto it's back.
"Are you sure it's safe?" Nika muttered to the back of Dorr's head.
"Aye, he is safe."
Dorr clicked his tongue and the hippogriff reared before half-flying half galloping out.
Nika screamed as he banked inside the stable, talons raking the wood of a stable door.
The giant double doors at the end of the isle banged open.
"Are you ready?" Dorr called over his shoulder.
Nika pushed his quiver of arrows to the side, out of her face and croaked, "Yes."
Dorr snapped the reins with a wordless yell.
The hippogriff shook his head, feathers rippling.
His wings extended and they began to flap slowly.
They shot out of the stables and onto a strip of craggy rock that cut off suddenly at the end - a CLIFF!!!
Nika shrieked and wrapped her arms around Dorr's middle,
"We're gonna die, we're gonna die, oh my g-aaaaaah!" The ground fell away beneath them as their mount took to the sky just a split second before they dropped off the edge.
The world beneath them was not like a patchwork quilt as Nika had expected, but a complex map dotted with quaint villages and crystal clear lakes.
A loud screech drew her attention away from the ground - she had been stricken from fear - and to strange creatures diving and racing through the clouds.
"Wyverns!" Dorr yelled to her over the whipping winds, seeing the direction of her gaze.
One of the little two legged dragons banked close and nibbled at Nika's long hair streaming out behind her.
The wyverns were in many different colors. Some were red, others blue, that one green....
The only exception was not a single beast was black or white.
Their wings churned the clouds as the entire flock pulled ahead of them towards the mountains which were steadily approaching.
Nika's fears of the incredible height slowly melted in the warm tingle of the ever climbing sun.
Dorr dug the tips of his boots into the hippogriff's sides.
Nika screeched as the beast streamlined his wings and they shot forth with unbelievable velocity.
The mountains appeared to lunge at them and the temperature plummeted.
They plunged into a thick fog that hung round the mountain peaks.
The throbbing song that Nika had only heard briefly that morn now pounded her eardrums with the intensity.
Dorr found the whiteness surrounding them uninspiring, so he closed his eyes and listened to the music.
"Dorr, look out! BIG FREAKING ROCK!!!"
Dorr's eyes snapped open and he tugged the reins sharply to the left, rounding the mountain which had loomed in front of them out of the fog.
Nika breathed a sigh of relief.
Dorr began to laugh.
"What's so funny?" She muttered crossly.
"When you are afraid, you are very humerous!"
Nika blushed just as the hippogriff broke through the fog......
To a hidden paradise in the icy mountains.
A green valley between two mountains lay beneath them, surrounded by a monumental stone wall that could not have possibly been crafted by fey or human hands.
Nika was reminded of a school lesson about the Great Wall of China.
Such was the stone bricked wall.
As they began to angle downwards towards that valley, Nika reached out a tentitive hand towards Dorr's dragonfly wings which had laid folded, tips to his waist, against his back.
They felt like slightly moist paper, yet smooth.
Nika traced the veins of whitish blood that ran through them.
The liquid was silvery. The veins spider-webbed intricatly across Dorr's wings.
The effect was the odd shimmer.
Nika wondered fleetingly when she would see other fey.
They had traveled across the wilderness on the journey, avoiding all dwellings.
"Do you like them?"
Nika was startled by Dorr's voice.
He glanced playfully at her over his shoulder, deep green eyes sparkling.
"Yes. Sorry...I didn't ask and-" Nika began, faltering.
"No apology nessecary. In your place, I would have done the same. I once met a mer who wasas fascinated by my legs as I was of his tail. We became good friends." Dorr smiled at the memory.
They skimmed over the stone wall, which, unlike the Great Wall, had no place to walk along it nor turrets.
The valley, Nika saw, was an Eden. Animals of many forms roamed inside the walls.
They glided over a majestic water-fall.
"Then where's your friend now?" She asked, breaking the silence.
Dorr stiffened, back becoming rigid.
"That is tale for another day," He said firmly, his voice strangely cold and flat.
Nika turned her eyes to the land below and saw a cluster of brick buildings surrounded by a thick wall of logs.
Dorr pulled back on the reins and the hippogriff angled downwards steeper, gliding towards the massive stone doors set in the wooden log wall.
A horn sounded as the hippogriff's talons touched the soft sand surrounding the fort.
Nika and Dorr slid off his back only to see a terrifying sight.
Two guards charged at them from either side of the gate, lances aimed straight for them.
The hippogriff reared, claws pawing the air.
Dorr tried to calm it while Nika held up her hands and screamed at the soldiers.
The two men skidded to a halt.
Nika saw they wore grey trousers and no shirts, armor plating their bare skin, though not completely.
The man on the left was muscular with short sandy blonde hair and striking blue eyes.
The one on the right was lean and tall with long black hair and hazel eyes.
"Who art thou? And why are ye travelin' with the enemy?" The guard on the left asked, standing his lance upright by his side.
Nika blinked, taken aback by the use of Old English.
"I'm Nika Roberts, and Dorr is my friend." She stammered lamely.
Dorr yanked down hard on the reins and finally got the hippogiff under control.
He fixed the guards with a steely glare and brought himself to his full height.
"I, sir, am a personal friend to her Ladyship....you wouldn't want to offend her majesty...would you?"
The two guards glanced feverishly at one another.
The one on the right spoke, "I had no idea that....wait, are you the Dragonslayer?" He asked incredulously.
Through gritted teeth, Dorr answered, "Yes..."
The two men babbled apologies and ushered them in.
Dorr followed them, forgetting their mount.
Nika cautiously took hold of the reins and gently tugged.
The hippogriff followed her willingly towards the gate to her relief.
At the gate, each guard braced his hands on a door and pushed with all their might.
An almighty groan resounded through the valley as the heavy stone doors swung inwards.
Dorr squeezed through the small crack between each slab.
Nika timidly followed, the hippogriff close behind her.
She gasped as she beheld the interior of the fortress.
Three rows of shacks were the only housing. There weren't any plants or grass, just sand.
Soldiers, men and women alike sparred with each other as far as the eye can see.
Swords flashed in the sunlight, scimitars sliced across shields, and bolas twirled round limbs.
Nika gaped in awe as two knights on unicorn backs jousted with nothing but their mount's horns.
Dorr pushed her with his shoulder, breaking her out of her stupor.