While I’m editing The Four Stars, here’s how Gavin met Adaliz. Enjoy!
Gavin jumped slightly in surprise when the face of a dark-headed girl appeared upside down in front of him. He jumped again when the head of a large silver canine appeared right next to the girl a moment later.
“No fair, Rayne!” Gavin protested, his arms stiffening at his sides. “You shouldn’t be allowed to use Kadin all the time!”
“Kadin’s a part of me, so he counts,” the girl responded, flashing the boy a wicked grin. “But I didn’t need his help this time. Ever since you started growing taller, it’s been easier to find you, since there aren’t as many places for you to hide. And besides, I already know all your hiding spots.”
“Grrr,” Gavin growled in response. “Well, we’re too old to be playing hide-and-seek anyway! Why are we still even playing this stupid game?!”
With a huff, the boy closed his bright blue eyes before pulling himself out of the nook in the stone overhang that he had been hiding in, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting. It wasn’t fair. Eryn hadn’t grown that much, so he could still hide just fine. Gavin, on the other hand, was finding it increasingly difficult to hide his ever-broadening frame.
“Aw, don’t pout,” Rayne giggled, dropping down from the overhang she had been laying on. Her silver wolf companion, Kadin, followed suit a moment later. “Even if you are a sore loser. If it makes you feel any better, though, I still found Eryn before I found you.”
Gavin frowned at the girl doubtfully as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
“You know Eryn,” Rayne shrugged with a grin. “He couldn’t stay quiet if his life depended on it.”
“You’re one to talk.”
The girl flashed him a mischievous smile before stretching and trotting off toward a massive oak tree out on the far horizon.
“Anyway, now that I’ve found you, all I have left is Razi.”
Gavin sighed as he watched his friend walk off, then grudgingly set off after her. As he walked, the boy glanced around at his surroundings, at the rich green grass playing at his bare feet, at the various trees, bushes, and flowers that dotted the landscape around him, at the high, sheltering walls of the cliffs that surrounded the valley in which he lived, and at the bright azure sky arching above him.
Seven years… It had been seven years since he had first come to live in this quiet little valley, along with his three friends – Razi, Rayne, and Eryn – and their foster mother, Aunt Effie. Not much had changed in those seven years. They were still playing the same games, hiding in the same places, doing the same things. About the only thing that had changed was how tall they all were, and even that was relative. Eryn was still as short as ever.
Another sigh escaped Gavin’s lips. He was already 13. Eryn was just a year behind him, and the girls were already 15. Why was he still playing these silly games? The thought was crossing his mind when the sound of three familiar voices caught his ears.
“Aw, you found me.”
Gavin glanced up ahead of him toward a sturdy lean-to set up off to the side of the giant tree that he and his friends also called home. Rayne was currently leaning over an open barrel, laughing as a thin, lithe girl with messy red hair crawled out. Eryn, a boy with even more unruly brown hair and honey brown eyes leaned against Rayne’s back while complaining about always being the first one to be found out. Gavin chuckled as he shook his head. Well, that was why…
“You knew all along where she was, didn’t you?” Eryn pouted, crossing his arms over his chest as he and Rayne stepped back in order to let Razi pull herself out of the barrel.
“Maybe,” Rayne responded, flashing the boy one of her signature wicked grins. “But even if I did, I’m not telling.”
She put one finger in front of her mouth for good effect.
“Besides, you were the one with your butt hanging out of a tree. What kind of a hiding spot was that, anyway?”
“I didn’t mean to be hanging out of a tree! You wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t gotten stuck.”
“You’d still be there if I hadn’t seen you.”
“Okay, okay, you two,” Razi sighed, placing one hand on Rayne’s shoulder and one on Eryn’s. “It is what it is. Anyway, whose turn is it?”
“Yours,” Gavin, Rayne, and Eryn all responded in unison.
The redhead’s face paled slightly.
“Why me?” the girl pouted. “You guys never play fair when I’m it!”
“We play completely fair,” Rayne grinned back. Now it was Razi’s turn to be at the receiving end of the other girl’s wicked grin. “You’re the one who’s afraid of heights.”
“Playing here is no fun anymore,” Eryn protested suddenly, crossing his arms over his chest. “We already know each other’s hiding spots. We should find somewhere else to play for a change.”
“Like where?” Razi inquired, frowning doubtfully.
“Like a part of the valley we’ve never seen before, of course!”
Instantly Rayne’s eyes brightened at the suggestion.
“Right! Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Why, indeed…” Gavin sighed. “Usually you’re the first one to cause mischief.”
“This isn’t mischief,” Rayne grinned over her shoulder, setting off back the way she and Gavin had come. “It’s just being adventurous.”
“But Rayne, maybe we should ask Aunt Effie first,” Razi protested, shifting nervously.
“Nah, she won’t mind. It’s not like we’re leaving the valley anyway. Come on Razi, or I’ll just have to get lost without you!”
Gavin could hear Razi’s voice echoing down through the valley as he trotted off in search of a good hiding spot. Now, where to go…
Gavin glanced around at his surroundings as he searched. He had been fairly far north before, but never here and certainly never without Aunt Effie telling everyone not to wander off. Here the trees were even thicker than where he had grown up, broad, ancient branches spreading a canopy out over the landscape and hugging the cliff walls on either side of the valley. The land was raw and wild, as though it had remained untouched by mortal hands for centuries. Gavin chuckled to himself at the thought. Well, maybe Rayne and Eryn had been smart after all. This looked like a great place to hide!
A broad grin crept over the boy’s face as he glanced back and forth. A great place indeed. With so many hiding places high above the ground, there were any number of spots where a person could hide from Razi. The girl was, after all, decidedly terrified of heights.
Gavin chuckled to himself when he spotted a high ledge jutting out from the cliff nearby, and quickly he trotted towards it. It was a good thing he had been training with his broadsword for the past year. Otherwise, climbing might have been difficult.
“Fifty!” Razi’s faint voice echoed between the broad tree trunks. “Ready or not, here I come!”
Hastily, Gavin free-climbed up the cliff face and onto the ledge above. Good. Razi shouldn’t be able to…
Instantly the boy froze when he found himself staring into the dark yawning mouth of a very large cave.
That…is a really big hole…
Gavin’s grin broadened at this. Well, now. Even if, by some odd chance, Razi were to gain the courage to come looking for him up here, he still had the whole cave to hide in. He was definitely going to win this time!
Quickly the boy slipped into the shadows of the cave before him, glancing over his shoulder every once in a while to make sure he could still see the light of the exit as he carefully navigated further into the darkness. He was so busy concentrating on not losing the exit that he didn’t even notice the large object lying at his feet.
His toe caught on something solid and bulky, and the next thing Gavin knew, he felt himself go tumbling face-first into the ground.
The boy groaned as he pushed himself up into a sitting position, rubbing the sore spot where his forehead had come in contact with the stone floor.
“What did I just trip…over…?”
A chill ran down Gavin’s spine and his words caught in his throat as the thing he had tripped over – a long, tubular object the width of a small tree – began to slide across the floor, making a hissing, scraping noise as it went. At the same time, a low, grumbling growl echoed off the cave walls as an enormous mass began to move in front of him. And then, out of nowhere, a pair of glowing amber eyes split through the darkness, slitted pupils focusing in on Gavin.
“Who are you?” a low, feminine voice growled.
The voice had a slight rumble to it, but the words were still clear and precise.
A great shadow shifted in the darkness before the boy, growing bigger and bigger as the ground beneath his feet began to tremble. There was a sniffing sound, then another, more audible growl.
“G-G-Gavin, s-son of Cael…ma’am?”
Gavin wasn’t sure what this creature was, but if being polite meant avoiding being eaten or ripped to shreds, it was worth a shot.
“Human. You must be a very brazen hunter to come at me without a weapon.”
The voice was menacing, and the amber eyes narrowed with another growl, tongues of flame licking out between dagger-sharp teeth and dancing across glossy emerald scales. Gavin’s breath caught in his throat at the sight. He had seen this form before, never in real life but often in the books Razi and Rayne read at the Great Oak where Aunt Effie had raised them or in the royal library the few times they had travelled to the capital city. But if this was what he had seen, then… No way! Was this…a dragon?!
It had been a long time since Gavin had wet himself. A really, really long time. Now, though? Now he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to wet himself, pass out, run away, or all of the above. What he did know, though, was that he was fairly certain he had never felt so frightened in his life. Or, at least, not since the day he had lost his parents.
“I’m not a hunter!” Gavin exclaimed, backing away as the dragon moved her head towards him.
Instantly the thing he had tripped over – Gavin now realized it was the creature’s tail – moved up to block his escape, and he could feel rock-hard scales press into his back as the dragon let out a puff of searing, sulfuric air from her nostrils. Gavin could feel himself trembling as though he had been walking naked in a blizzard. The dragon’s head alone was as long as the body of a grown man, and he only became more aware of the deadliness of the monster before him as her head drew closer.
“Please.” He could hear his voice crack as he pressed himself against the tail behind him. “I was just playing hide-and-seek with my friends. I had no idea you were here. You have to believe me!”
A low, warning growl rumbled up from the dragon’s throat as she stared at him.
“Your hands are not the hands of a child,” the dragon growled, amber eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Those are the callouses of a swordsman.”
Gavin was surprised the dragon could see so much in the consuming darkness, and that realization made him even more frightened than he was before, if that were even possible.
“Yes, I’m a swordsman,” the boy gulped.
He could feel cold sweat dribbling down the side of his face.
“I’ve been practicing with the broadsword. But I’m not a hunter. See. I can’t hurt you.” He held out his hands imploringly. “Please…”
The creature sniffed slightly, her glowing eyes portraying a sense of doubt.
“If you are not a hunter, what business would a human child like you have with a sword?”
Gavin blinked back at the dragon in confusion. Why would he? Why wouldn’t he?
“I don’t know,” the boy responded, casting his sharp blue eyes to the dark stone floor on which he sat. “Just because, really. Maybe because my friends do it? Or, maybe to be a hero? I never thought about it before.”
Another rumbling growl.
“You train with a weapon and you do not know why?”
There was suspicion and disbelief in the dragon’s voice.
Quickly Gavin turned back to the creature as she pressed her face forward even more. He held his breath as the dragon came almost nose to nose with him.
No! Please! I don’t want to die! Not like this!
There were so many thoughts whirling through the boy’s mind as he stared what seemed to be death incarnate straight in the face. Just when he thought the dragon was going to eat him, however, a piercing scream echoed through the cave from the outside. Gavin’s blood ran cold at the sound as his head quickly whipped back in the direction of the cave exit.
He would know that scream anywhere.
Suddenly forgetting the dragon still breathing fire down his neck, Gavin made to rush out, but quickly the creature before him wrapped its talons around him, preventing his escape.
“Don’t you dare think to fool me!” the creature growled as she arched her neck, the tongues of fire glowing blue with the ferocity of the heat that poured from the dragon’s mouth. “It doesn’t matter your trickery. You will not escape my wrath, hunter!”
Gavin could feel the blood drain out of his face as he stared wide-eyed at the beast before him. In the light of the growing flames, the boy could see a charred human skeleton lying in a heap against a nearby wall. Bones and partly-crushed skulls, as well as broken bows, shattered shields, and swords and spears broken in half like twigs all lay scattered about the cave floor, and singe marks and sword cuts marred the cave wall. This creature certainly was nothing to trifle with.
Another scream, followed by the frantic shouts of Rayne and Eryn, caught Gavin’s ears, and quickly he turned back to look at the dragon.
“Please!” he exclaimed. “If you have to keep me prisoner or…kill me…or whatever, at least let me make sure my friends are all right!”
The dragon looked doubtful, but the panicked sounds from outside the cave seemed to have caught her attention, and slowly her sturdy tail uncoiled from behind him as her talons tightened around his body.
“Let us see whether your words have truth in them,” the creature growled deeply.
Gavin could feel his head snap forward, a whirlwind of air churning his hair in an artificial gale as the dragon spread her broad, leathery wings and launched herself out of the cave opening with the force of a tornado. The next thing the boy knew, the trees of Great Oak Valley spread out before him like a dark green blanket, his feet dangling helplessly in midair. All the dragon had to do was loosen her talons a fraction of an inch and he would go tumbling to the distant ground below. It was enough to make Gavin’s head spin.
For a moment, the boy thought he was going to pass out from the sheer fright of it all, but the next moment, his eyes spotted a trio of familiar forms below as they moved out into a clearing.
From where he dangled, Gavin could see Razi pinned up against the smooth surface of a cliff wall. She was all but climbing air as she grasped for something, anything, to pull herself up. Behind her charged an enormous bear, the like of which Gavin had never seen, and behind that came Rayne, Kadin, and Eryn.
“Hey! Over here, pig-face!” Eryn shouted at the bear, picking up rocks and hurling them in the general vicinity of the bear as he ran.
Instantly, Rayne darted forward, a thick tree branch in hand.
“Take that!” the girl roared.
Then, with one powerful swing, she brought the branch in contact with the bear’s hind quarters. The creature bellowed in rage as it swung around to face her, and even from this distance Gavin could tell that the girl’s face had paled considerably as she bolted back toward Eryn.
“Get it! Get it!” she shrieked.
A look of horror swept across Eryn’s countenance.
“Don’t bring it over here!”
“But didn’t you just tell it to come over here?!”
“Figure of speech!”
Instantly, Gavin spun his gaze back to the dragon who still held him. For a moment he blinked as the creature’s scales glittered like gems in the daylight. Now there was a magnificent being, if ever he had seen one. But now was not the time to be admiring the very creature that had been about to roast him a moment before.
“Dragon!” Gavin shouted, trying to make sure the creature could hear him above the roar of the wind that whipped against him. “Please, I beg of you! If you will only save my friends, you may do whatever you wish to me.”
“Is that so?” the dragon responded, turning a burning amber eye on the boy clutched in her talons.
Gavin could hear his own voice shaking. He didn’t want to say that. If there had been any other way, any other hope for saving his own skin and his friends at the same time, he would have taken that chance then. But there was no other way. Or, at least, he couldn’t see one. What else was he supposed to do?
For a moment, the dragon watched him. Then, suddenly, she turned her head and let out a deafening roar that seemed to cause even the trees on the ground below to shudder. Then, all at once, Gavin could feel himself pelting to earth, and he couldn’t help but yelp frantically at the sudden surge. Another roar blasted the landscape, and out of the corner of his eye, Gavin could see Razi and the others darting out of the way as a river of flames scorched the spot where the bear stood. Gavin sucked in a quick, surprised breath as the searing heat of the dragon’s flames scorched the back of his neck, and he clenched his teeth as the creature landed jarringly on the ground. There came a series of growls and snappings from behind, then the dragon grunted in satisfaction, and the boy turned to see the dead, scorched bear lying in a pool of red not far away. And for a moment, he dared to sigh in relief.
Razi, Rayne, Eryn, and Kadin all rounded on Gavin and the dragon then, their wary gazes shifting from the dragon to the boy held tightly in her talons and then back again.
“Are you guys all right?” Gavin inquired, craning his neck to see his friends.
“We’re fine, but…” Rayne responded, glaring daggers at the dragon. “I hope this isn’t what it looks like.”
Gavin grimaced at this. Of any of them, Rayne was likely to throw herself into another fight if she even perceived danger or offense.
A rumbling chuckle escaped the dragon’s throat, and then, all of a sudden, her grip on him eased, and a moment later, Gavin felt himself standing free before her. Instinct told him he really should run away now that he had a chance, but shakily Gavin steeled himself as he stared up at the massive creature before him.
“Thank you, dragon,” he said, trying to contain the tremor in his voice. “You saved my friends. I am grateful.”
“Adaliz,” the creature responded suddenly.
The dragon lowered her head so that she was within eye-level of the boy standing before her.
“Adaliz,” she repeated. “My name is Adaliz. You are a strange band, aren’t you?”
“Strange how?” Eryn inquired, sidling up behind Gavin and peeking cautiously around the older boy.
“I honestly have never seen anyone take on a bear with a stick and a handful of pebbles, nor have I even met a man who would offer up his life if only I would rescue his friends. You are all either very brave or very stupid. I have not decided which.”
“Well, they do say there’s a fine line between the two,” Razi said suddenly, stepping forward and bowing to the emerald dragon. “Either way, I am immeasurably grateful for your help. Even if I am…still trying to wrap my head around the idea that I am speaking to a dragon.”
Gavin glanced around at his friends. Even though they were all speaking, he could still see the shock on their faces. He wouldn’t have been surprised if they had told him he looked the same.
Slowly the boy turned back to look at Adaliz. The dragon didn’t look quite so intimidating as she first had. Regal was the better way to describe her now.
“So…Adaliz, was it?” Gavin spoke slowly. “You have done what I asked. Now what will you do with me?”
If dragons could smile, this one certainly did then, and another rumbling chuckle echoed up from deep inside her.
“At first, I truly thought you were a hunter trying to deceive me, but now…? I think I like you. I have never met such interesting creatures before. I’ll let you go.”
Instantly the creature launched herself into the air, hovering just above their heads as her massive wings beat a gale around them.
“From now on, you may call me your ally, Gavin, son of Cael. If ever you need me, you know where to find me. I’ll be watching for you.”
Then with that, the dragon turned, sailing skyward before disappearing over the rising treetops. And in an instant, all was silent.
For several moments, the four young friends stood in stunned silence. Then, slowly, the other three turned to look at Gavin.
“Um…Gavin…?” Razi began, her face scrunching up as though she had a question she didn’t even begin to know how to ask.
Quickly the boy held up his hand as his head began to spin.
“I don’t…even know…” he responded, tottering slightly.
It was as though the stress of the past hour had collapsed on him like an avalanche. And then, without warning, Gavin passed out. Now there was an experience he never wanted to have again.