Chapter Two: A Hallway of Doors and Illusions

Leona Lake was like a colossal mirror, reflecting the heavens and morning sunlight above. The air was crisp and fresh, and the smell of pine and fresh earth was in the air. Near the western side of the lake, a lonely figure sat next a pile of fire wood, cursing and yelling.

"Good fer nothin' kindling! Never starts when I needs it," Uther cried out. He had just caught some good sized fish by the giant lake and was planning to cook them, for he was very hungry and had been traveling for many days now. "Now if I had me self dragon I could start as many fires as I wanted," he said. His eyes wandered until the came upon his traveling pack. His eyes glistened as he opened up a flap and removed a rolled up sheepskin parchment, staring at it with wonder and anticipation, "…if I had my self a dragon."

Uther had been sent out from the town of Furnost; he was their last resort for the salvation of their ravaged homes. Just three months prior, Furnost was under attack by Sea Pirates from the Island of Nia. After over-running their town, they settled their people and forced supplies and homes from the townspeople. Their ways were ruthless and savage but their leader, Gryoger, was smart and cunning and very cruel. Something had to be done. Uther, one of the last town representatives, was appointed by Furnost's secret group of leaders to seek help outside the captured city.

Word spoke of a silver dragon that resided in the forest near Leona Lake and had been spotted on a few occasions floating above the tree tops by woodsmen and fishermen nearby. It was said that some dragons could be persuaded to aid humans in perilous times. They would take a risk to ask for such help but they had no choice. It certainly could not get any worse.

Uther now found himself by the giant lake, trying to find a way to save his town from tyranny.

Just then, he saw a bright silver light glide through the sky not so far away, above the green forest tops that grow next to Leona Lake. A dragon! Had a blessing fallen upon him? He had finally done it. He had found the silver dragon! And it seemed all too easy. Leaving his unlit firewood and cold fresh fish, he picked up his traveling bag and set off towards the direction of the flying silver streak.

"Alright, that quite enough, Grey Stone," Zen Blade requested. They had been flying for nearly fifteen minutes and his crotch and inner thighs were getting really sore from Grey Stone's rough scales.

"My scales are bothering you, are they not," asked Grey Stone as he glided down into a glade in the forest. Zen hopped off the silver grey dragon, glad to shake off the soreness of the flight.

"I didn't think you'd be able to handle my weight," said Zen, while he rubbed his legs.

"You weigh no more than a leaf on squirrels' back," exclaimed the young dragon, as he stretched his wings to their full length and tucked them back in place.

"If you going to insist on taking these flights through the forest with me on your back, I'm going to have to create some sort of saddle for you, or else I might as well say good bye to my private parts," he said, "but for that, were going to need leather…" while looking up at Grey Stone, "lots of leather. Now what kind of animal can we use for a nice leather saddle so we can…" Zen Blade never finished his mental question with Gray Stone, for at that moment he distinctly heard a human's footstep.

"Act like stone and don't move," cried Zen blade.

Gray Stone didn't argue and rolled up his tail around his body, with his wings folded down, so to look like a huge boulder of stone. Although he couldn't hide his shining scales, at least he was in some shade, where the reflections weren't too noticeable.

Zen stood still to hear the footsteps coming from the deep woods. Although he wasn't full blooded Elvish, he still had enough to hear the faintest snap of leaves from yards away. Snapping and crunching was all that could be heard. Whoever this was didn't know how to creep up on anyone.

He slowly bent down and reached for the ankle of his boot; slowly, he pulled out one of the sleeping darts that he had hidden in a special sleeve of his footwear. He slipped the dart in a reed that he kept inside a special pocket in his cloak. Without a sound, he climbed up the nearest tree he could find. Then he waited. His keen eyes kept watch of his surroundings. The crunching of the leaves and twigs became louder.

In a few minutes, a short pudgy man came out into the glade, curiously walking with tip toes on the crunchy forest leaves. He walked right passed Gray Stone without looking twice, looking lost and bewildered at his surroundings. phewpp Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain on his neck and the sunny world went black.

Uther opened up his eyes and saw a hazy fire glowing. It was nighttime now, several owls hooted in the distance as he forced his blurry vision to see his surroundings. Suddenly a hand grabbed him by the hair and slammed the back of his head against the tree he was laying next to.

"Who are you…," said a soft but menacing voice, "…and why are you here. If you answer me as simply as you can, I will leave you be, but if you don't, I will kill you and feed your carcass to the creatures of the night."

"I am Uther of Furnost and I have come to hail the Great Silver Dragon of this forest," cried Uther, heart pounding.

"And what do you require of this Great Silver Dragon you speak of," said the mysterious voice, his hand still holding his sweating skull to the bark of the tree. "My reasons are of mine alone," said Uther. He was sweating profusely now, and was swallowing every word he said.

"Do you care much for you left arm? I am sure that it will make a fine meal for some hungry wolf …or a dragon per say," said the ever so calm voice. Uther was now breathing hard and feeling a little dizzy in the head.

"I .. I…er…don't want that…er.." said the poor frightened man, stuttering and wide-eyed. As soon as the man with the soft voice said that, Uther felt hot, moist air sifting around his left arm, then a deep rumble, too deep of a rumble to come from a bear or any animal he knew. Uther could not bear this suspense any longer.

Uther cried out, "I cannot tell anyone of my business, all but the silver dragon of the forest! My masters will not have just my left arm, but me head as well! Now I am doomed any ways I looks at it!"

All was quiet after his out burst.

"Hello?" Uther said. The grip on his scalp had left him; he was alone in the forest, with only a half lit fire to reveal his now pitch black surroundings.

Just then, a great shining silver-grey dragon appeared to the left of his view and walked behind the fire. It was the most magnificent and beautiful beast that Uther had ever seen. Uther had frozen in place. Here it was! The Great Silver Dragon of the forest! It stood proudly against the fire light, wrapping its grayish tail around itself. But then a cloaked figure walked in the scene from the right of him. He could not see his face very well, for unlike the dragon, he stood in front of the fire, hiding his facial features, hiding all but his glowing silver eyes. And he began to speak; the same voice that interrogated him not too long ago.

"You must understand that you come to this forest seeking answers that you do not comprehend questions to. I am the Silver Dragon," said the man with the shining eyes, " and the Silver Dragon is me."

Uther's eyes opened up like two big saucers. He was a rider!

"Anything that I know, the Silver Dragon knows as well. We share the same mind, him and I. If you have something to say, then say it knowing I will be standing here as well." Uther was speechless. He never suspected the Dragon would have a rider. A rider! He was saved! "I am honored to be standing in the presence of a noble and reverent Rider! I never thought I'd have the chance to…"

Uther was cut off by the man's sudden movement. He crouched down suddenly in front of him and once more grabbed him from the scalp and pushed the back of his head against the rough bark he leaned against. He said with the voice of a snake slithering in your ear, "You listen to me now, I am no Rider. I belong to no one but my dragon. My dragon belongs to no one but me. We do not parade around this land with banners and glory. We do not save innocents and expect only fame and admiration in return. No, we are not one of your riders, for this Great Silver Dragon you speak of is rather fond of finding out how you might taste, and no Rider's Dragon would ever feed on human flesh. As for I, I will stop at nothing to obtain what is rightfully mine after a deed, whether good or ill, is performed for a saint or a demon."

Horror flashed into Uther's eyes. This certainly was no rider. This was a bounty hunter. A hired killer with a powerful and deadly weapon and ally.

All the while, Zen was certain that the man was after him, but luck turned around and found himself with a dumbfounded dragon fanatic. "This human smells of fear and despair," said Grey Stone, "it seems as if some fortune may yet still come of this situation, other than his hide in my belly."

Zen smiled and a thought came to him. If he could enter the mind of his dragon, then perhaps he could enter the mind of a simple human mind. He extended his mind into the mind of the frightened man and felt his presence though thought. He felt the other mans memories and emotions run though his own mind. Zen felt the childhood memories and man's life as an adult, taking in only seconds of memories. Zen was astonished by this new power he had over man kind.

"Can all riders do this," he asked himself. He sifted deeper into the man's psyche to find out why the man was here and what he was thinking. All the while, he also noticed that Uther was squirming and his eyes were shut tight, as if he were in pain. After ten minutes of this, Zen finally pulled out of the man's mind and relayed all his information with Grey Stone. The man dropped onto the floor, barely conscious and fainting.

Grey Stone snorted, "So his human dwelling and its inhabitants are under tyranny of a greater human. Why would he believe that I would aid him in such a task? I value my life as well as yours above this man and his weak tribe, who know nothing of defending themselves." "Perhaps you are right my friend, but if this so called Gryoger is as dangerous as Uther thinks he is, then he must be wanted by someone, including the Empire and Surda. Perhaps such a man may come with a very valuable price on his head," said Zen Blade, stroking his angular stubbled chin.

He spoke again, "Grey Stone, you have grown in mind and body within these last couple of months; you have taught me great wisdom, and I have shown you my ways in this world. I believe the time has come for you to meet the world that you were born into. A world of happiness and torment; A land of riches and poverty," he said.

"I have long waited for this moment, Zen Blade. Let us go into Furnost and meet this Gryoger. I will carry Uther here in my claws, for he deserves no place upon me."

Zen strung his short bow and filled his quiver with arrows. As soon as he reached for the Lotus, his sword, he slowly felt his self-indulgence and greed wither away and instead, a feeling of peace and serenity filled his mind and heart.

"What am I doing," he questioned himself, "and what respect does this innocent man have to be carried in the talons of a dragon?" But Gray Stone had already made up his mind about Uther.

Zen Placed the Sword in its simple dark green leather sheath and strapped it on his side under his cloak. He made sure he had plenty of sleeping darts and strapped his collection of small daggers onto a crudely made saddle he made of his bear skin sleeping mat. He once again mounted the great grey dragon, this time saddled and armed.

With a big rush of wind and debris, Grey Stone pushed off the ground with his mighty hind legs, while his forelegs grasped poor Uther tightly, his life barley conscious of the circumstance. Together they flew out of the forest that trained Grey Stone to become a master of beasts on the land, but his life in the world was just beginning.

The cold wind rushed passed Zen Blade as they soared over Leona Lake, shining bright like a beacon of light to declare their presence to the entire land.

To be continued in Chapter Three: The Might of a Warrior, The Skill of an Assassin