“No! No! No!” Cordyr stepped in front of Julia, both hands held up to stop the dragon. “She saved my life.”
Celestral stared at her rider before returning her attention to Julia.
“Are you from the Red Witch?”
“Who’s the Red Witch?” Julia stayed glued to Cordyr. His armor was cool to the touch, she was comforted just being near him. She wasn’t surprised that her mind remained empty of information. Her unique ability didn’t seem to apply to people.
“She lies!” The dragon’s head shot to within a foot of Cordyr. Julia stepped back, but he didn’t flinch.
“After eighteen years, Asmerilda has returned.” Celestral’s neck swung around to the side so she could glare at Julia. “Everyone knows of the Red Witch.”
“She doesn’t.” Cordyr moved to put himself between Julia and the dragon again. “She doesn’t know.” He paused, glanced over his shoulder at Julia with a smile, then back at Celestral, and added, “She’s a Dreamer.”
The dragon’s neck whipped up and back so that its head towered over them. It stared down examining Julia, its horizontal eyelids partially closed, shrinking the vertical slits of the dragon’s pupils to a size a little larger than Julia’s fist.
‘A Dreamer?’ The dragon’s thoughts entered Julia’s mind before it spoke to her, “Are you of the Wolves?”
“She’s never heard of them either,” Cordyr answered for her.
I can speak for myself, Julia wanted to say, but still appreciated him defending her.
“Yes. Let her speak for herself,” Celestral told Cordyr.
The dragon can hear my thoughts!
“Yes. Of course,” the irritation in Celestral’s tone made the dragon seem more threatening.
Julia didn’t want to anger the large dragon, but the idea that someone could read her thoughts seemed scarier than the hawks.
“Where did you come from?” Celestral lowered her head, the dragon’s maw close enough that Julia could feel heat and an odor that reminded her of burning wood or charcoal.
“Back in the forest.” Julia pointed behind her without looking. “I was picking berries on my aunt’s farm when the forest appeared. It wasn’t there…” Julia knew she must sound crazy, and the dragon would think she was lying. “Then it was. It just appeared from…nowhere.”
Celestral’s head rose again and nodded from more than fifteen feet above Julia, then confirmed what she had been told, “You are a Dreamer. Only a Dreamer can cross Between.”
“Between?” Cordyr asked.
“Between worlds,” Julia was startled by her own voice as the information ran through her mind. One of the abilities of a Dreamer is to traverse the boundaries between worlds. It frustrated Julia that only this one item would pop into her head, when what she needed was other information about what a Dreamer was or facts that might help her out right now.
“I don’t understand.” Cordyr’s focus bounced from Julia to Celestral, then back again.
Celestral lowered to the ground, her tail wrapped around her body. Settled, the dragon explained, “The Dreamer, Julia, came from one of the other worlds.”
“Other worlds?” Cordyr shook his head slowly.
Julia could sympathize with him, as that was how she had been feeling for the last few hours, enveloped in a peculiar mix of shock and confusion. Wait a minute. She scowled at Celestral. I never told her my name.
The dragon only tilted its head and returned the look.
Oh, that makes sense. She imagined the dragon had plucked it from Cordyr’s mind.
“This is but one of several worlds.” Celestral didn’t elaborate.
Cordyr began to say something, but his voice faded, and he seemed far away, as if he was at the other end of a tunnel. A spider web had fallen over Julia’s eyes, at least it felt that way as her vision became fuzzy, then disappeared altogether.
She was looking down at the top of the trees but could tell it was a different part of the forest. Ten hawks winged into view with their red-armored riders. At the front of their formation was an enormous beast that had the body of a hawk but the head of a bear. Another armored rider rode the bear-hawk. The rider was smaller than the others with similar red armor, but the glint of gold trim flashed in the partial sun. Long red robes flowed behind the rider; its helmet was twice as tall as the other riders’. Gold wing crests sprouted from either side of the helm, and it looked as if flames poured off them.
The image disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
“Julia. Julia. What is it?” Cordyr held her by the arms and looked intently into her eyes as they opened.
“The Red Witch,” she stammered softly, then blurted in a frenzy, “It’s the Red Witch. She’s coming.”
“We delayed too long,” Celestral chastised. Her tail whipped around behind her. “Mount.”
Cordyr held out a hand to Julia, his easy smile drawing her in. “Come with us to the castle. You’ll be safe there.”
A familiar scene of the castle rose from the back of her mind, a celebration of some type and she smiled.
Cordyr’s grin widened, but her smile faded as her feet refused to move. She pictured her elderly aunt. The woman never stopped complaining and seemed intent on making Julia’s life miserable. Yet, no one had made her aunt raise her, that must mean something. What would my disappearance do to her heart?
“Hurry.” Cordyr waved her toward him, his tone uneasy and the smile gone, replaced with a worried expression.
“I can’t.” She couldn’t believe she was saying the words. “I can’t go with you. This isn’t my world.” Tears ran down her cheeks and her body shook.
“Come with me,” his greenish-blue eyes pleaded.
“We must go. The Red Witch approaches.” Celestral put out a front leg and urged Cordyr to step up and on to her back.
“We have to go, Julia.” He took a step toward her, but she held up a hand to stop him.
Through sobs she managed to tell him, “I can’t. I have to go home.” She still had a few months before graduating and her aunt was counting on her around the farm, at least until she finished high school. Julia’s grades would get her into a state college, tuition-free.
Cordyr stared intently at her, his jaw tight. The sorrow in his eyes broke her heart. He ran up the dragon’s leg and jumped into the oversized saddle. “We will lead them away. Go back along the path.” A light smile crossed his lips and he added, “I will look for your return. In the meantime, keep me in your dreams.”
She tried to smile back and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I will.” She didn’t know exactly what she meant; the words just spilled out.
Celestral rose to her paws as Julia backed up toward the trail.
The dragon’s neck straightened, and her head lifted to the sky. Her face turned toward Julia. “All Dreamers are born of this world. No other.”
“That can’t be. I’ve never been here…just in my dreams,” she added.
Celestral flapped her wings once, then a second time, making Julia cover her eyes and step into the path’s opening.
“You were born here. Dreamers’ mothers are Dreamers. One came to the Dragon People and mated with Lord Tolucan. They bore a child who disappeared when the Red Witch first came.” Celestral crouched cat-like, the tendons in her legs knotted as she prepared to spring into the air.
“What happened to them?” My parents! Could it be? Her emotions raged as confusion clouded her thoughts.
“They went to battle the Red Witch.” The dragon looked up again. “They never returned nor did the Red Witch…until now.” Celestral leapt above the tree tops, wings beating as she rose higher.
Julia was buffeted by the whirlwind, and nearly knocked down.