River of Time
by Luna Manar

PART 2
A FEATHERED FRIEND

Warren watched helplessly as Trent and Detrius soared out of sight. This was great. Just wonderful. Left in the tumbled down old tower of ruin in the middle of the Ice Country shores with nothing but the old hilt of some sword and an emerald that wouldn't do him any good in a crystal forest.

Well, he thought, I guess I'd better start heading somewhere. Anything is better than this creepy place.

Looking around, he found an ages-old hole in the wall that led directly to the outside.

For the first time in his life, Warren was thankful for the hot weather. Normally, even in the summer, the Ice Country lived up to its name. Recently, though, it had succumbed to the drought and was now at a comfortable (for Warren) temperature. It was not so pleasant, however, for the inhabitants of the island.

Walking out into the crystal forest, what he saw was not crystal at all, but simply a sea of dead trees and bushes.

"Yikes," he whispered under his breath, "If there was really a boogey man, this is where he would live."

Warily, Warren began to make his way through the tangle of dead branches. The forest was most definitely dry, probably dead. Twigs and branches snapped off easily in Warren's fingers. It was difficult, but not impossible, to get through.

After a few minutes and over a hundred snapped twigs, Warren came to a clearing. Suddenly, Warren was aware of an unusual quiet in the air. Not that he had expected anything living in this dead forest, but it was as if the air itself had fallen silent, waiting.

There was a loud rumble, and the ground beneath Warren began to shake beneath his feet. A deafening roar followed. The ground in front of him split, and a huge form burst forth from the earth.

It was like a creature from a horror story. Forty or more vine-like tendrils erupted from the creature's body, which looked like a giant flower encased in thorns. The body opened up, revealing the creature's bulbous head, stinger-like tendrils, and foliage-covered neck. It instantly turned its attention toward the startled and bewildered Warren. He involuntarily backed up, holding the bladeless hilt stupidly in his hand. The creature's long necked head lunged for him. Warren, his senses screaming for him to get out of the way, jumped to the side at the last second as the living boreal's head smashed into the ground. The creature quickly recovered, and lashed two of its long vines out for him, missing and wrapping around two dead tree trunks. The trunks were instantly crushed by the monster's strength.

Frustrated at itself for missing its target twice (three times, really), the boreal monster whispered strange words. The air shimmered for an instant with the creature's attempted spell, but the magic quickly dwindled and died.

Roaring in anger, the monster stretched out its hideous neck toward Warren, who couldn't move out of the way fast enough. He instinctively raised his hands, which still held the hilt, to ward off the blow. Warren was ready for the death blow.

It never came.

Instead, the roaring of the beast became even louder. Warren dared open his eyes. The monster's head was only inches away, roaring and screaming in anger. It was separated from Warren only by the platinum hilt and the emerald. The emerald was emitting a green light, which seemed to be warding the creature off. How, Warren did not know, until the creature rushed him again and was rewarded for its efforts by bashing up against a green emerald shield that suddenly materialized around him, then disappeared again as the boreal monster drew back. The hilt was protecting him.

Warren would have taken some time to contemplate this, but for the frustrated monster mysteriously backed up.

Keeping his hands up in a defensive position, Warren began to back up. The creature suddenly threw itself toward him. Its whole plantoid body flung itself through the air, intent on crushing the hapless Warren. No force field would be able to counter this attack, Warren knew. Too late, he tried to run from the quickly descending monster. He again prepared himself for the blow that would end his life. Again, it never came.

Another roar, this one more a screech, reverberated across the skies. Warren looked up just in time to see the plant monster swept up by a huge white figure and knocked to an awkward position fifty meters away. Another moment, and the boreal beast was engulfed in flames. The creature howled in rage and pain, then collapsed to the dry ground, inert.

The white figure swiftly moved to hover over the bewildered Warren. He gazed up in awe.

It was a dragon. Not the reptilian, evil dragons of fairy tales, but the enormous, quadruple-winged, feathered dragon of ancient and recent legend. And to top it off, a white dragon. This could be only one dragon, and Warren didn't bother asking otherwise. The mammalian dragon peered at him curiously, then, surprisingly, spoke. Its voice boomed in a haughty, raucous manner across the dead forest.

"Well, you've certainly gotten yourself into a mess. I suppose it was on a dare?"

Warren started at the dragon's surprising knowledge of his situation.

"How did you know?" he asked hesitantly.

The white dragon rolled its eyes.

"It's the way they all start. Don't you know that?"

Warren shook his head in confusion.

"Who are you, and what do you mean by that?" he demanded. The dragon answered by flapping his two pairs of wings faster and softly landing himself in the clearing. It lowered its back left wing and beckoned Warren toward him.

"Hop on, and we'll talk. I assume you have somewhere to go?"

Warren couldn't argue with that. He cautiously walked up to the enormous white dragon and climbed up its long feathered wing and onto its back.

The white dragon spread its majestic wings, and, flapping them more or less in tandem, rose skillfully into the air.

Warren had never been moving so fast in his life. The landscape rapidly diminished in size and whizzed with blinding speed below him. He had no idea it was possible for an animal to move this quickly.

"So," the dragon queried, "What's your name?"

"Warren," came the simple answer, "What's yours?"

"Flammie," came the equally simple answer.

"What?" Warren was startled at the surprisingly playful name for such a majestic creature. "Flammie?"

"Flammie, Flimmie, Flim-flam, What-ever!" Flammie's voice became decisively ditzy. "I answer to all of them. I prefer 'Flammie' though. So, what's your name? Warren? Nice. Much better than the last one."

Warren was now thoroughly confused. "Last one? What last one? Last what?"

At this, Flammie turned his head to face Warren.

"So, you don't know?" he said, "You really don't know. Now that's strange. I would have thought he'd have told you by now. Well, that's all very well, anyhow. Now I get to see your face when you find out!"

Warren was getting curiouser and curiouser.

"Find what out?! I don't know what you're talking about. Hey! This isn't the way to Potos! Where are we going?"

The dragon turned its head back to its flight path.

"We're not going to Potos."

Warren was shocked.

"Then where are we going?"

The answer was not one he expected.

"To Gaia's Navel."

"What?!" exclaimed Warren, still not believing what he was hearing. "What for? I live in Potos! Not the Dwarf Village, if that's where you think."

The dragon only flew faster.

"I know."

"Then why are we going there?"

"You'll see."

Warren was not willing to accept this answer. He thought for a moment. He decided to try a different approach.

"How did you find me?" he asked after a long pause.

Finally, a good reaction. The dragon once again turned its attention to him.

"I just happened to be flying by. I saw a green light, thought it was curious, so I followed it. Then I found you." He paused a moment, as if thinking about his next words. "I saw that thing attacking you, decided from the looks of it that you hadn't done much more than walk on the wrong ground to make it mad, saw you weren't doing too well on your own, and made my move to help out."

Warren just took it to realization that the white dragon had just saved his life.

"Uh, yeah. I never thanked you for that," he said.

Flammie's twin-tusked mouth drew up in a proud grin.

"So why don't you?"

Warren drew back. Hadn't he just done that? Oh, well, he thought, It doesn't make much sense to argue with someone who is twenty times your size and is carrying you at an altitude of about five thousand feet.

"Okay, I will. Thanks," he answered, a grin crossing his own face.

The dragon slowed. They were approaching Gaia's Navel.

"Hold, on, Warren my friend. You're gonna love this," Flammie warned.

Before Warren could ask what he was doing, the white dragon shot straight up, turned over, and did a nose dive straight down. Just a few feet from hitting the ground, he leveled out and skimmed the surface of Gaia's River at break-neck speed. He then stopped short just in front of the entrance to Gaia's Navel. There he hovered, the tips of his wings brushing the top of the falls with each beat.

Warren carefully peered over the edge of the white dragon. Until now, he had been completely sure that he was still upside-down. He jumped to see that he was only a few feet from the ground, right-side-up.

"Are are we there yet?" he blubbered, feeling queasy and wanting desperately to get off.

Flammie nodded. "We're there yet. Now, you get in there. You have an appointment with destiny." The dragon landed with a splash at the bottom of the falls and lowered one wing.

Warren was still confused.

"What appointment? Destiny? I'm not going anywhere until I know what's going on!"

The white dragon sighed and rolled his eyes. He wasn't much for telling legends, but he was an expert at giving hints.

"Let's just say that you found more than you bargained for on your little treasure hunt," he said. Another thing he mysteriously knew about Warren. "And if you want to know more about it, you have to go see Trahern."

Warren balked.

"Trahern?" he questioned, "The metalsmith?"

Flammie again rolled his eyes.

"Is there something wrong with your hearing?! Yes, TRAHERN!!!" he bellowed. "If you want to know more about your upcoming adventures."

This only got Warren more confused.

"Adventures! Are you kidding? Take a good look at me. Do I look like an adventuresome kind of person?"

At this Flammie shook his head, turned half-way over so that Warren slipped from his back and tumbled into the water.

As Warren looked after him in irritation, the white dragon produced a small object from what seemed to be thin air and threw it to Warren.

It was a small drum. Hand-sized, it could be rocked back and forth to create a hollow sound.

"If you ever need me, simply use this. I'll be there before you know it!" he called, starting to beat his wings again.

Soon he was off the ground, and rapidly rising into the air. As he turned to leave, he looked over his shoulder, and called out:

"And no, friend Warren, you don't look like the adventuresome type. That's exactly why I know you are."

That said, the white dragon soared out of sight.

Warren stood for a moment, trying to comprehend what he had just seen and heard.

What was the dragon talking about? How did it know so much about him? What was the 'destiny' it had spoken about? What did the old sword hilt have to do with all of this?

After a moment's thought, Warren decided that the best place to get answers was probably at Trahern's, as the white dragon had said.

Warren turned and walked into the cave to his right, which he knew led straight to the Dwarf Village.

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