The New World

B

oom! Sophie bolted upright in her bed. She went to look out her window thinking it was thunder, but the previous thunderstorm had already passed.

Odd, I wonder what it was then, Sophie thought. Confused, she started to return to bed but heard the noise again. Sophie spun around and dashed to her closet from which the sound appeared to be coming. She opened the doors, parted some clothes, and gasped at what lay beyond. A small purple spiral was shimmering on the far wall.

Sophie looked behind her to see if anyone was there, but it appeared that not even her dad had heard the large noise. She carefully reached out to touch the mystical imprint, but her hand continued through the wall.

It must be a portal! Sophie realized. I wonder where it leads. She walked toward her dresser where she placed her wallet the day before. She took some dollar bills along with several quarters and dimes. She also took some foreign coins from her collection in case she was going to a different country.

Upon returning to her closet, Sophie realized that the spiral had grown larger so that she could now go through it without bending over. She took a deep breath and crossed the mystical threshold, wondering what mysteries would greet her on the other side.

Once through, Sophie found herself at the edge of a meadow surrounded by heavily wooded mountains. She turned to see if the portal had gone anywhere, but it had not. Sophie sighed in relief, hoping she would be able to remember exactly where it was when she wanted to go back to Connecticut. Only then did she notice that the sun was only halfway through the sky, drastically different from home where it had long since gone down.

Suddenly, the hairs on the back of Sophie's neck rose, alerting her that she was being watched. She looked up to see a large, black dragon circling above her. His scales shone like onyx, and his wingspan was almost twice as long as his body. The muscles in his arched neck and thick thighs rippled as he descended toward the middle of the meadow. The dragon's spikes gleamed with a glorious ivory color and each had a glint at the tip. His large fangs also glistened, and Sophie realized they were serrated from base to tip. She thought she recognized the magnificent dragon from a book series she had read, but that would be impossible. Then again, she had thought not fifteen minutes ago that portals only existed in fairy tales.

Could I actually be in a book? Surely not… Sophie wondered as she watched the dragon land. She jumped as a kingly rider dismounted. The man looked kind and noble enough, but smelled of blood, torture, and cynical power. His attire reminded her of England's Dark Age: long, purple robes with red and gold accents and a pure gold crown set with jewels upon his head. His hair was long and dark, and the man had a relatively compact body with rippling muscles. Sophie blushed as she realized that her pink pajamas with kittens and balls of fur on them were probably not the most desirable attire for first impressions.

"What is your name, and where have you come from?" the ominous king demanded. Sophie hesitated, wondering how much she should reveal.

A sudden blast of pain in her right temple alerted her that her mind was being probed. Sophie sensed that it was an evil presence and assumed it was the king. Hoping it would work, she focused all her attention on one thing, God, to put a wall around her mind. She immediately felt the presence gone and knew that she was safe.

Obviously annoyed, the king repeated his query. Again, Sophie hesitated, but decided that it could not hurt to tell him something. "My name is Sophie…and I come from a FAR away land where some scholars learn how to mindspeak." She hoped he would not question how they learned since the only way she knew of was reading books with people mindspeaking, but even those were controversial.

At this, the king developed what appeared to be something between a smirk and a genuine smile. "Come with me and you will tell me about yourself and I will tell you how you will help me."

"First of all," Sophie said warily. "I want to know your name."

"King Rancor II, now come with me and my dragon, Sheol," he demanded. If there had been any doubt before, it just became clear; she had entered a book. Rancor was the name of the villain in all three books of a series, which alarmed Sophie even more.

Sophie sensed that she would be forced to go with the man with or without her consent. She considered going back through the portal, but realized that it had already disappeared or moved. Sophie turned back to Rancor and smiled as she adopted a pleasant, but reserved air. She said, "Very well, but I'll warn you that I probably know more about your kingdom than you do." The king seemed unaffected by this obnoxious, arrogant response as he motioned Sophie towards the black dragon and gave her a lift into the hand-made, leather saddle.

A few minutes later, they were soaring through the cloud-dotted skies while Sophie tried not to look down for fear of becoming dizzy and falling off.

"Now, what do you know about my kingdom, and how did you learn it?" the king asked, clearly feigning politeness.

Sophie offered him a shaky smile and told him about three books she had read about this world, the beautiful and primitive landscapes described, and generally where the elves, dragons, riders, dwarves, and other creatures lived across the land. With all his apparent research, though, he failed to mention the true names of any creatures living in Aestavae. Unexpectedly, Rancor did not appear startled by the author's vast knowledge, and Sophie wondered if he had anything to do with the compiling or writing of the books.

"Here we are," Rancor said after several minutes of awkward silence. The castle was the coldest, dampest, and darkest structure Sophie had ever seen. Sheol landed in the courtyard, surrounded by cold, dark walls of stone that cowered high above their heads. Sophie shivered, not just from the cold, but also from mixed anticipation and fear.

Stable boys came and helped them off Sheol, leading the majestic dragon to his room.

"Ahem!" Rancor caught Sophie's attention and led her through a series of hallways, each with a set of doors leading to who knew what kind of horrors. Although, that was not what made her shiver. The tapestries scattered on the walls depicted gory, brutal battle scenes in which man fought against man, dragon against dragon, with Rancor and Sheol depicted as victorious in every one.

Sophie nearly ran into Rancor when he stopped in front of an intricately carved door. "Here you are. Make yourself comfortable; a servant will get you in half an hour," Rancor said. Sophie suspected he was going to have dinner with her, try to seduce her onto his side, and hope that the last unhatched dragon would emerge for her. She carefully surveyed the chilly room around her. There were beautiful tapestries woven with gold, silver, and what resembled bronze and topaz threads depicting meadows and flocks of different birds. A large bed was freshly made and smelled of lavender, reminding her of the detergent her mother used. This brought back memories of home and the lost portal. A lonely tear formed in her eye as she remembered her kind, loving parents and annoying yet funny older sister. These thoughts, however, were quickly replaced by thoughts of her uncertain future.

There was a large tub behind a screen near the fire with piping hot water and rose petals daintily placed in an indiscernible pattern. Sophie quickly slipped out of her pajamas and settled slowly into the hot bath. She immediately felt her sore muscles start to relax after being tortured by the long horse-back ride on Earth and the equally long but more taxing ride on Sheol to Rancor's castle.

In the middle of a large bed, there was a long-sleeved dress that Sophie assumed was for her. The dress was a rich lavender with gold embroidery on it, the bodice of which was tight and the skirt full and reaching to the floor. There were also a new pair of silk slippers of a similar design and a nice pearl net that she attempted to put on, but soon discovered that putting her unruly hair into a bun was nigh impossible.

A few minutes later, Sophie heard a knock on the door and followed a page to the mead hall where the king waited. She breathed deeply, calming herself as she saw the savage feast set before them. There were two places, one on either end of the table, so fortunately no one would be dining with them.

"Ah, I see you found the dress I set out for you," Rancor commented, fishing for a complement. Sophie offered a weak smile and squeaked out a comment about how pretty the dress was.

As Sophie had predicted earlier, King Rancor started his promoting speech that she had already read about in the first book of the series.

Rancor spoke compellingly of his plans to recreate the dragon riders who had formerly been a group of supercilious thieves ruining the country side. They had been arrogant and irresponsible, and would not answer to anyone or anything, for they considered themselves superior to mere mortals. Rancor started describing his new order where many other nations now out of his reach would soon be brought under his control into one, peaceful kingdom ruled by love and happiness. He used what he had learned from her narrative earlier to put forth convincing arguments that would have persuaded anyone who did not know his true intentions. Obviously, Rancor had no clue about the extensive knowledge and abilities Sophie could access since, as a Christian, she had the mind of Christ.

I can't believe I nearly told Rancor everything I knew instead of just part of it, Sophie marveled. I wonder when he's going to lead me to the egg room. Even if he does take me there, though, God will be the only one who could get me out of this mess.

None too soon, the speech was over and the king led Sophie past several more doors and into a room with four guards posted at the entrance. Finally! This would explain the two extra guards, she thought as she saw a single, forest green egg on a pedestal in the middle of the room. There were two other pedestals that were empty on which she presumed Sapira and Astiqua's eggs had sat.

"Touch the stone, and don't move," King Rancor told Sophie coldly with a touch of anticipation. She hesitated, not knowing what to do if the egg hatched for her since the king was sure to make them swear fealty or kill them. She sensed a threat in his voice as he repeated his command, which made her walk slowly toward the egg. Sophie could feel tension begin to mix with excitement and anticipation, drenching the already thick air even before she touched the egg. Ever so slowly, she reached out her hand, inch by inch until she touched it. A shiver of excitement ran down Sophie's spine as the egg began to shake.

Pop! There went a piece of the egg. It stilled for a moment; resuming its shaking, a full row of spines crashed out from the egg. They tore at the shell, renting the egg in two. The room lay still, as if waiting for everyone to realize that the final dragon had just hatched.

The dragon was the same color as its egg had been and its wings were massive compared to its body. That made Sophie realize that it was bigger than the way most books had described a hatchling as being. Its eyes were unnerving, boring into Rancor as they passed around the entire room, taking in the energy of everything.

As its eyes at last fell upon her, Sophie saw that they were the kindest, yet wildest eyes she had ever seen. They were two completely different colors; one eye was a dark-metallic gray and the other ghostly blue. Sophie again reached out to touch the baby dragon, and as she did this her hand was burned! The symbol of the Parno Relaquier, or the Silver hand, was forever burned into her right palm.

Hello, Sophie. Yes, I can talk, being fully trained in the ways of men by the dragon elders. The small, but powerful voice resonated deeply inside Sophie's head. She was shocked; she had thought she would have to train this dragon the impossible task of speech.

Um…Hi! I don't really know what to call you except for Hunter, Isold, or Drecor. Do you like any of those? Sophie answered. She held her breath, waiting for the answer she knew would come.

"Ahem! Now you must choose: become my servant or die," demanded the evil king as a slow, sneering grin broke across his face.