Lisle trod behind Ell who led the way to Guardian Cavern. Lisle’s stomach felt jumpy. The little of the morning meal she had been able to force down sat uneasily within. Her earlier excitement had drained away and now she had the desperate thought that maybe they could wait a few more days. She wasn’t ready. How could she be all that Ell would need her to be, Voice and Hands? She was just a younger. The other Contracted were older, at least the ones she had met. They knew more. She didn’t know enough. She didn’t know anything. She was just here because she stumbled on Ell’s egg in the woods. She didn’t belong here. Lisle almost turned around and ran back down the hallway. But Ell moved steadily ahead and Lisle, taking a deep, shuddering breath continued to follow her.
Lisle was nervous, maybe more nervous than she had ever been. But still she felt amusement as she looked ahead and saw the misty steam rising from Ell’s back in the cool air of the tunnel, remnants of her recent preparatory bath. The scent of the delicate floral oil Lisle had used to shine and polish Ell’s scales wafted back to her, calming her.
Looking at her Guardian as they moved along, she was surprised to realize that Ell had grown since their arrival here at the mountain. She now moved with an ease that hadn’t been there before. The awkwardness of the young dragon was gone, replaced with the grace of an adult Guardian. Even from the back, Lisle could see her head and neck held high, bobbing gently with each step. Her wings arching up, and powerful hindquarters swaying from side to side. The young Guardian’s legs had lengthened and now held her considerable bulk well up off the tunnel floor, moving with an easy, measured pace. She held her tail just off the floor, the end curving up and around, forming almost a circle at the tip.
Her scales and ridges shone in the light as they passed each of the many torch sconces placed along the walls. The olive green was deeper than it had been, with touches of buttery yellow showing close in to her body as she moved, an echo of the warm yellow on her belly. The crimson edges of each scale on her sides and back, and the ridges on spine and neck, glittered, gem-like. Lisle spared a glance down at her own finery, proud to remember that she too wore Ell’s beautiful colors. At least this she could enjoy today.
Lisle felt a sharp expansion within her chest and inhaled deeply, the better to take in the overwhelming love that suddenly filled her. It tingled up through her legs and arms and cascaded up her spine as her breath carried it though her body. The sensation was so intense that she had to stop walking and just feel.
She saw Ell stop just ahead of her, and curve that long neck back and around so that she could look at her Contracted. Ell’s jaw dropped open slightly in a Guardian approximation of a grin. An expression that might look alarming to any but the Guardian’s Contracted, but Lisle understood. Her own mouth split in an echoing grin.
Ell moved onward then, slowing as she approached the entrance to Guardian Cavern. She stepped through the greystone archway with Lisle following closely behind. Ell stopped and her tail dropped unexpectedly to the floor. Lisle had to make a fast adjustment in her forward pace and do a little hop to avoid stepping squarely on that vulnerable tip. As it was, she had to catch herself with hands outstretched on Ell’s hindquarters. Ell didn’t seem to notice. She stood perfectly still.
Lisle moved to the side so she could peer out and around Ell to see what had halted their forward progress.
Her jaw dropped in awe. Ten enormous Guardians lined the circumference of the cavern in a large circle. Each sat in the same upright pose with deepest green-blue and olive-green heads erect on curved necks. Forearms on the ground before them, claws neatly curled under. Long tails gracefully wrapped about their bodies reaching across in front of them and then around the other side, huge wings lay in folds upon their backs. Each one turned golden eyes to stare at Ell and Lisle.
Ten Contracted stood in formal pose in front of the Guardians. Heads up, shoulders back, arms to the side. Each wearing the colors of their Guardian they stared at Ell and Lisle, eyes calm and faces relaxed.
On the ledge at the far side of the Cavern, Lisle saw Terris, a huge smile spread over his face. He lifted one hand, palm out, wiggling his fingers at her in greeting. His greying hair was plastered to his scalp, and it looked as though he’d attempted to shave most of the scraggly beard that usually resided on his face. Just a short tuft was left dangling from his chin, and a bit on his upper lip. Beside him sat Gareth, straight, serious and handsome. He nodded to her and she saw the corners of his lips curve upward.
Lisle’s eyes trailed above her companions and she was astounded to see what must have been a thousand flyer folk clinging to a wall of the cavern, slowly fanning their wings in the sunlight pouring through the crater far above. The light shone off their iridescent wings reflecting tiny rainbows into the cavern. Together with the sparkling of the light off the crystal embedded in the greystone of the walls, the effect was mesmerizing.
Lisle looked for Moss, hoping to catch a glimpse of her friend, and somehow discovered her amidst the myriad folk. Green hair formed a nimbus about her tiny face and her wings beat a more rapid pulse than any of the others.
Tearing her eyes away, Lisle saw the largest of the Guardians, Gran Bryl, elegantly dip her chin toward a space in the circle of Guardians just next to her. Ell, hesitated a moment more, then picked up her tail and paced across the circle to Gran Bryl. Lisle closed the mouth that she realized had hung open throughout her awestruck survey of the scene before her, and nervously picked her way across the cavern behind her Guardian. Whatever was about to happen, there was no turning back now.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27
Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34
Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41
Chapter 42 Chapter 43 Chapter 44 Chapter 45 Chapter 46 Chapter 47 Chapter 48
Chapter 49 Chapter 50 Chapter 51 Chapter 52 Chapter 53 Chapter 54 Chapter 55
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