It had been a week since Dani and the Davidson children had encountered the nightmare of the Great Gray God, the one meant to be a trap for them, woven by the demon imp disguised as a black cat named Onyx.
Although they were higher in the Dark Hills, which was really a range of mountains, it seemed warmer than the frozen wasteland they had crossed before. The clouds had given way to a brilliant blue sky and friendly yellow sun. The rocky ridge they were crossing had bits of snow only here and there, and was otherwise covered by exotic grasses and wild flowers. The trees looked a lot like the pines back home. It had warmed up enough for them to shed their heavy outer coats for lighter jackets.
Little Zooey had taken to riding on Dani’s back when she got tired. It was a long walk for a five-year-old but also for the rest of the children. Mandy knew that their guide was only a year or two older than she was, but Dani seemed so strong, almost tireless compared to the thirteen-year-old. Although she and her younger siblings seemed to be doing better than they had been when the journey began, it was still hard work, probably harder than anything they’d ever done before.
“I wish you could fly like Shay, Dani. It would be really fun riding your back then.”
“I wish I could too. Then we’d arrive at Vovin in a fraction of the time walking takes. Plus you’re not getting any lighter.” She meant the last comment as a joke.
“That’s okay. I can walk some more.”
The teenager put the little girl down and they continued side-by-side.
Game was plentiful in these hills and Dani had started teaching nine-year-old Taylor how to hunt using her archery equipment as well as her spear. He was surprised to find out that you just don’t throw a spear. She used something called an atlati which was a kind of handle you put on the end of the spear’s shaft. It helped you throw the spear farther and faster. She told him that she learned how to use it from some other kids who came into the Exile from Earth but she wouldn’t tell him or any of the others how these kids got there or why they were living in Vovin.
Dani said it would be a long time before he became proficient at the bow and spear to help her hunt for food, but every time they took a break on their journey or in the evening after they made camp, he practiced with both, having to chase more arrows into the wilderness than he liked, though his teacher said he showed promise.
None of the rest of them, not Mandy, Paris, Jake, and especially not Zooey wanted to learn martial skills. Mandy had never been any good at anything that even sounded like a sport while Zooey still couldn’t stand the thought of killing any creature. Back home, the kindergartener had eaten hamburgers and barbecued chicken like the rest of them, not allowing herself to make the association between her meals and their barnyard equivalents. Now that she saw the cycle of life more closely, she started relying more on the nuts, berries, and leaves Dani said they could consume. She was even beginning to recognize which ones were good on her own.
Paris and Jake had always preferred their fantasy worlds, books and video games respectively, and only tolerated objective reality because they had to. Now that they were living in what they would have previously thought of as a fantasy world, the brutality of survival drove them closer to each other. They often spent breaks in the routine together, each telling the other their favorite stories, whether crafted by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and L’Engle or the programmers behind Minecraft, Pokemon, and Angry Birds. It was a strange mix but those worlds bore little resemblance to the mundane lives they led before Gerliliam’s forest or the harsh reality of life in the high mountains.
“Night will come soon, we must find shelter. I think there are caves in the sides of the opposite slope.”
Shelter was always a problem. On a peak or ridge top, they were exposed to the elements and enemies, but in valley’s and gullies, a sudden storm could deluge them. Dani hoped for a compromise this evening. She remembered a series of shallow caves or depressions in the slope they were approaching, but they had to walk down into the shadowed depression at the base first, and the sun was making its relentless trek again toward the western horizon.
As usual, Dani took point but Zooey had adopted a position between her and Mandy with Paris and Jake just behind and, as usual, Taylor bringing up the rear.
He knew this was an important position. If anything attacked from behind, he would be the first to sound the warning. Dani had even given him her knife for defense, which he proudly wore in a scabbard on his right thigh (a possession Mom and Dad would never have dreamed of allowing him as a nine-year-old). The problem was he got bored with nothing to do but stare at the backsides of his brothers and sisters. He wanted action. At first practicing with Dani’s weapons was enough, but now that was getting boring, too. He was entered the shadow at the bottom of a gorge between two hills.
Taylor could see Dani far ahead leading the others up into the gold and crimson rays of a dying daylight. Another night of camping, another night of roast whatever, wilted leaves, and soggy berries. Another night of sleeping on pointy rocks with icy winds blowing down on them from perpetually snow-covered summits. He loved adventure, but like Paris and Jake, he thought this one was getting boring. Even that hassle with Onyx was better than having nothing interesting to do.
His gaze wandered to the right and he saw a large depression blacker than the shadows around him.
“Hey, what’s this?” He called out to the others hoping they’d want to explore with him.
Dani stopped and turned to look at where Taylor’s voice was coming from. The boy would make a good warrior someday but he needed to learn disciple. He was only a child, but so were all of the others who appeared unbidden in Vovin and most of them took to the training far faster than he. Of course, none of them had ever lived such a pampered and privileged life as Taylor and his siblings, but then again, that was the same world she and her own brother had come from before the dragon’s forest too.
“Bring up the rear,” she cried back down the hillside. The others had stopped to catch their breaths and Zooey was clinging to her older sister. It had been a long day for all of them and now they were so close to rest that it was hard to think of continuing, even for a little while longer.
“Taylor, bring up the rear. If you’ve found something, we can investigate in the morning.”
He didn’t answer. Great. That’s all she needed. She couldn’t just leave the others to go looking for one prodigal boy, even if he did remind Dani of herself when she was a child even younger than Zooey.
“Taylor!” Still no answer.
“I’ll go and get him.”
“No, Mandy. I’ll do it. See that depression just a few hundred yards above? Take the rest there and wait. I’ll be back with Taylor in a few minutes.”
She could hear the oldest Davidson girl call out behind her but Dani was already half-trotting, half-jumping back down the hill. “Taylor!”
Near the bottom, she thought she could hear his voice echoing. “In here.”
In where? She didn’t remember a cave or opening of any kind but then again, the hills were confusing and she didn’t come here on foot very often. What was Shay up to that she had to be away so long?
His voice sounded further away than before even though she was standing where she had last seen him. Dani turned but instead of a black depression in the hillside, she saw twin gates swung wide open. What could this possibly be? An abandoned mine? But then why the gates? She walked closer to examine one of them. Thick solid wood, black, she didn’t know the variety. There was a brass handle on one side with matching hinges, probably identical to its twin. Where was Taylor?
As if in answer, “This is cool. Get everybody in here. We can spend the night.”
“Get out of there now. You don’t know what’s inside.”
Nothing. He was being stubborn. “Taylor.”
In any expedition she had led in the past four years, the younger children obeyed her without question, almost making it a contest as to which one could respond to her the fastest. She knew she had earned Taylor’s trust in past days but that obviously didn’t include compliance.
She moved away from the entrance and looked back up the hill. She could see the four others peeking over the edge of the cave where she’d told them to wait. At least they had learned to listen.
Dani cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “I’ll be right back. Stay there.”
She walked back to the entrance, paused to draw a breath, and then cautiously strode inside. She held her spear out defensively, although in close quarters it wouldn’t be very effective. Unfortunately she had given Taylor her only knife.
It was a mine or what was left of it and it was huge. What sort of jewels or minerals were worth such an immense effort? The vaulted ceilings were supported by high stone columns. Some looked natural while others were obviously carved. The air was damp and she could hear the sound of water dripping for various directions. There might be a pond or underground lake nearby.
There were broken and abandoned shovels, pickaxes, and hand carts. The stones around her looked ordinary. Anything of value must have long since been removed. There were caves and tunnels leading in several different directions. No sign of Taylor. He could have gone off into any one of them.
She stopped to listen. The boy wasn’t quiet so he should be easy to track. Strangely she heard nothing except relentless dripping and the squeals of a nest of bats concealed in the deep shadows above. Other small creatures were stirring. Probably rats or other types of rodents.
If there were danger here, she didn’t want to call Taylor’s name, but she couldn’t continue to skulk around. It made her too vulnerable. Damn Gerliliam and Shay both for making her responsible for these “civilized” children.
His voice was too close behind her. How had she not heard him approach?
She turned just in time to see the rapid blow that struck her on the left temple come from the darkness. As she sank unconsciously onto the rock floor, Taylor stepped into the light smirking, still holding the knife handle he had used as a club.
He turned to the sound of his older sister’s voice. All four of his siblings were silhouetted against the final moments of dusk at the entrance way.
“Mandy. Get everyone over here. Something’s wrong with Dani.”
They all held hands and walked over as fast as they could. Then the lights went out and with a mournful creaking, the ebony gates of the base of the Mountain Hall swung on ancient hinges and crashed shut behind them.
Dani woke up with the proverbial splitting headache, then the pain centered on her left temple. She’d been attacked. Why was she still alive? She felt moistness on her cheek. She had probably bled but when she opened her eyes and looked down, there was no red on the stones beneath her. It must have clotted.
She was on her knees, wrists tied together behind her and then bound to her ankles which were similarly restrained. It was a very uncomfortable position.
It was bright. There was light from a large fire coming from somewhere behind her. She couldn’t turn to look but ahead was a long hall. On each side of the hall were arches, a good many of them and at the end a final arch facing her. Above those found at floor level, there was a second tier of arches. All of them were in shadow except for the one at the far end and the last two to the right and left.
“Who dares disturb the Hall of the Mountain Kings?”
It was Mandy sitting on a throne, dressed in some sort of ornate gown. She was holding a scepter in her right hand and there was a crown on her head. The balcony behind her arch was open to the outside. It was night and a frigid wind blew into the hall from behind her friend, yet she didn’t seem to notice the cold.
“Answer me, hill woman or whatever your ilk may be. Why have you disturbed the slumber of the Kings?”
“Mandy. Don’t you recognize me? It’s Dani. What are you doing. Where are…?”
The question froze in her throat as he looked more closely at the other illuminated archways. To the left nearest Mandy sat Taylor and in the next arch over Zooey. To the right she saw Paris and then Jake. They were all garbed in the same ridiculous costumes complete with royal accompaniments. If this was the “Hall of Kings,” she also counted three “Queens.”
“I shall get it out of her, Amanda.”
Taylor stood and stepped off of his dias onto the floor. He approached Dani holding her own spear and in spite of his “royal robes,” he was still wearing her knife in its scabbard on his leg. He got close enough for her to notice a spot of dull crimson on the base of the handle.
He pointed the spear tip at her face. “Amanda asked you a question. Why did you invade the Hall of the Kings?”
“I came looking for you, Taylor. If you hadn’t wandered off…” She felt the spear tip as he pressed it against her throat and heard the menace in his voice.
“The truth, girl!”
If her situation wasn’t so perilous, she would have laughed at a boy almost half her age calling her “girl.”
“I came looking for friends. They wandered into the mine at the base of the hill. I couldn’t find them. Then someone hit me.”
“You were armed.”
“It’s dangerous in the Dark Hills. I only defend myself. I hunt with the spear and bow.”
“You are foolish to travel dangerous lands alone.”
“I told you, I was journeying with friends. They are lost. I’m only trying to find them.”
What had happened to them? Dani was no stranger to magic but what eldritch spell had turned them from frightened children into this?
Then Taylor was distracted by something above, a fluttering. At first she thought it was bats but then she realized some sort of night birds had entered from the arch behind Mandy.
“It’s nothing, Taylor. Continue.” Mandy’s voice sounded harsh and cold. A few hours ago, she was a girl barely in her teens who was scared and struggling with adult responsibilities in a savage wilderness.
The boy turned back pointing the spear toward her but thankfully not pressing it against her flesh again.
“We have found no strangers here except you.”
“I can’t explain it. I only know they came this way.”
“The mining tunnels are hazardous. They may have lost their way or fallen into one of the hidden pits. I fear you may never see them again.”
“I hope that is untrue. Where…where do I find myself?”
“Ignorant wench. Have you not heard of the Hall of the Mountain Kings?”
“But only two of your are boys, um…men.”
“Hah! Not us. We are the head of the royal guardians, we ensure their continued slumber and shield their sanctuary against intruders such as yourself.”
“Where are these Kings?”
“Where are they not?”
Taylor stood back, arms held wide as he slowly described a circle. Dani looked at the upper tier of arches which were subtly becoming brighter from within. Then she saw them standing in their alcoves, encased in rows of sarcophagi painted in what she assumed were the likenesses of their inhabitants.
“The Mountain Kings. Once they ruled the Dark Hills as well as the valleys beyond to the East and West. Their armies were vast and their rule was of iron. They had enslaved the trolls and other cave dwellers to mine the precious metals and jewels within this mighty fortress, but what the legions of the Outer Kingdoms could not do from without, the trolls did from within. Betrayal.
“The battle was fierce and in the end, the trolls were forced to flee, but they had taken ill-gotten treasure and worse, summoned the long sleeping god who once revived, did battle with the Kings himself while the trolls escaped during the confusion.”
As Taylor related his saga, Dani noticed that his eyes lit up with a fire from within. He spoke as if he had witnessed these events for himself. He was possessed, they all were, but he did not speak as if he were one of the Kings.
“The god put a curse on the Kings, that they should never again rule or wield power of any kind, including the power to move as living brings. So here they sleep and here we guard them slumbering ourselves until such time as a fool like yourself enters our mountain. Then we protect.”
Taylor had broken the spell and the guards, whoever and where ever they were, woke up and took them over. But why not her? Was it her association with the dragons, the vows she took, the blessings they bestowed?
Dani heard the night birds fluttering around the hall again. Several had landed in Zooey’s archway on her throne. It looked like she was talking to them. Perhaps the Davidson children weren’t so far away after all.
There was Mandy who, in the absence of their parents, took charge of the others as she was taking charge now. Then Taylor, the adventurer and warrior of the group, now doing what he fancies he does best. Zooey, more interested in animals than people, was communing with avians. And then there’s Paris and Jake to the right, leaning toward each other talking and laughing and ignoring everything real that was happening around them. How could she use that to her advantage?
“Amanda! Are you not responsible for taking care of your brothers and sisters rather than long dead Kings? What would your Mom and Dad say if they could see you now?”
“Shut up!” Taylor held the spear like a staff and jammed the broadside into her forehead. Her vision dimmed and for a moment, she thought she’d pass out again.
“Wait, Taylor. Let her speak.”
He turned back toward his older sister and just as he did, Dani saw a look of defiance. He never wanted to listen to Mandy which was also probably why he didn’t listen to her, but after a moment, he reluctantly gave in and stood aside, holding the spear upright next to him.
“What did you say? What is your name?”
“My name is Dani. I hoped we could become friends. You told me your Mom and Dad made you responsible for your little brothers and sisters when they were away. Why are you protecting some mouldy old Kings when you should be taking care of them?”
Mandy turned left and right. She looked worried and scared.
It was like she was trying to wake up from a dream.
“Amanda, stay strong.” Taylor was reenforcing whatever hold had taken over the quintet, well maybe not all of them. There were birds fluttering all around Zooey now, then she sent them up. She had been smiling all the while she was playing with them, but now she glanced at Dani and frowned.
“I…I’m trying…” For the first time, Paris and Jake stopped talking and looked at Mandy. They stood and walked close enough to each other to hold hands. “Mandy, what are we supposed to do?” Paris kept looking at her older sister and held Jake closer to her.
Taylor sighed with exasperation and walked toward his sister, probably to talk some sense into her. It was a good thing no one was looking at Dani because she jumped as she felt small animals crawling around her ankles and wrist. She saw Zooey looking at her while everyone else’s attention was on Mandy.
“But Mandy.” He’d called her “Mandy” and not “Amanda.” Something was changing.
“No, Taylor. You’ve got to help me. I can’t do this alone. Without Mom and Dad we’ve only got each other. What are we doing here?”
Paris was edging closer to Mandy’s arch with Jake in tow and Dani would feel her bonds loosening, being cut and frayed by tiny teeth and claws. The rats. She shuddered at the thought, but Zooey was every animal’s friend. How was she doing this?
“I’m depending on you to help me get us all back home. You promised you would, remember?”
Taylor was staggering on the floor in front of the others as if waging a magical tug of war in his mind.
Dani pulled her wrists apart hard and whatever threads holding her remained snapped. She was free.
The Hall trembled and shuddered.
“Earthquake!” Paris looked up, they all did. So did Dani and she saw that the arches of the Kings dimmed but the others, the ones at ground level, the ones she thought unoccupied, grew brighter. Inside each was a warrior in armor, a skeletal army in rusted iron helmets and plate mail, with dented and bent swords wearing velvet and satin rags.
They started to move.
Dani stood. “Everyone out of those arches now. We’ve got to get out of here!”
The five Davidson children turned toward her, for they were the Davidson children again, body and soul. The guide and warrior looked behind her for the first time and saw the narrow hall opened up into a slightly larger chamber with a long rectangular table, once ornately decorated, now rotted and barely standing. The gathering place of the once powerful Mountain Kings no doubt. To her right was an enormous fireplace producing a vast amount of flame and heat. Also magic?
“Mandy! Taylor! Start running. I’ll make sure the other children are right behind you.”
“What about you?” Taylor was sprinting past her behind his sister still holding the spear.
“I’ll bring up the rear. Go!”
She turned and waved the others forward, Paris still pulling Jake by the hand. Zooey was ushering the birds out of the now unoccupied archway and into the night.
“Come on, Zooey.” Dani ran forward and picked up the girl.
“I don’t want them to get hurt.”
“Worry about yourself.”
Carrying Zooey, she stopped as she saw several of the undead warriors confronting her with sword and shield. She had no weapons and even if she wasn’t holding onto the five-year-old, she had no defense.
“I’m going to put you down. When I say run, run as fast as you can for the door. Don’t look back.”
“Just do it.” It would be a miracle if she could distract them for more than a few seconds, but there was nothing else to do. She had to try to save the little girl no matter what.
Putting her down, Dani took an attack posture with the vague plan of rushing them which would certainly be a surprise because it was suicidal.
She had thought the rats had gone because she didn’t see them after she broke her bonds, but then what must have been hundreds of them rushed in from all directions out of cracks in the walls and floor, the horde charging the warrior skeletons, running up their legs, diving into their armor. Dani imagined the vermin scurrying all around the inside of rib cages and dead skulls, peering out of vacant eye sockets.
She hoisted the child up again and ran past them toward the door. Looking back momentarily, she saw that whenever reinforcements emerged from the arches, more rats attacked, like a diminutive army of fur and claw. Then the night birds returned providing feathery air support. Perhaps they couldn’t hurt the guardians, but they could confuse and paralyze them, providing cover for escape.
She found the other children at the door and pushed Zooey through.
“I’ve got an idea. Mandy and Taylor, come with me.”
“But the children. We’ve got to…”
“We can’t let them follow us, Mandy. Come on.”
Taylor put the spear down and ran after the others. Dani grabbed one side of the large table. “Get the other end.”
If it had been new and not weathered and rotted with age, they could never have budged it, but now, so much of it had been eaten by insects and deteriorated by moisture that it was light enough to move, though still with difficulty.
“What are we doing?” Mandy was straining to talk under the burden.
“Drag it to the fireplace. If we can get it burning, it might keep them from following.”
Fortunately although the Hall widened here, it didn’t widen by much. The table took up most of the space. Dry wood like this should burn hot and bright. They just had to get out fast after it ignited.
The table crumbled as they got one corner into the flames.
“Now run!” Mandy took off with Taylor on her heels. Dani did her best to get a long burning beam shoved across the widest part of the room, but before she could turn to escape, one of the mummified warriors broke through and knocked her to the ground with his shield. He stood over Dani his sword poised to impale her chest. She’d never be able to get back up in time. At least she’d gotten the children out of here, but after she was dead, who would take care of them?
“Shay.” She whispered her name as the last sound she thought she would ever hear.
Then the warrior’s skull shattered into a thousand pieces as a spear flew hard and fast into its left eye socket. Dani turned to see Taylor holding her atlatl, his stance one of having just completed a throw.
“Great shot, Taylor. Now let’s get out of here.”
He was grinning as he helped her up with his free hand. She started to run after him, then turned back and grabbed the spear’s shaft. There was an explosion from the fireplace. The table was popping and sparking sending large chunks of wood all over. Behind the wall of fire, there were figures moving. The rest of the skeletons were on the other side.
Dani turned back toward her companion and they ran out together. The other four were to their left down the corridor standing at the top of some stone stairs.
“It’s too dark. We’ll be killed trying to go down.” Mandy was standing nearest the steps ready to lead the way but not daring to risk all of their lives.
“Wait. Come on, Taylor.” They ran back to the open doorway of the Hall. The fire was raging out of control and several pieces of burning wood had been thrown clear.
“Grab that one.” Dani took a board that was burning at one end and Taylor picked up the one she’d pointed to. Then they ran back out.
“Hold this.” She handed her makeshift torch to Taylor and then started pushing the large oaken door slowly shut. Several warriors trying to jump through the barrier and were now staggering in the flames.
One was coming closer, skull burned black, armor glowing red and then yellow, threatening to melt. Dani groaned with the strain and with a final effort, slammed the door shut. Just then she felt an impact from the other side as metal and bone struck and then clattered impotently onto the stone floor.
“We found some old torches.” Jake could just barely reach one still sitting on it holder mounted on the wall. Paris got another. They touched the ends to the flaming boards now threatening to burn Taylor’s hands. Then with each of them except Zooey holding a torch and with Dani in the lead, they made their way downward. Mandy and Taylor came last to keep an eye on the others.
Would the door to the great Hall hold or burn, and if it burned, would anything emerge?
Silently, they continued to walk down the curving stone stairway. Around them they saw that most of what was once the castle of the Mountain Kings had collapsed into enormous boulders onto the floor of the hollow interior. The only portions of their keep that remained were the Hall above and the mine below.
Down and down they walked realizing that they hadn’t slept for almost a day now but though exhausted, they couldn’t stop until their escape was complete.
At the foot of the stairs they found their equipment, packs, clothes, coats, provisions.
“No time to change clothes. Put on your packs. Leave nothing behind. We’ll sort everything out later.”
“It’s that way.” Taylor pointed authoritatively into a tunnel.
“I don’t know, Mandy but it seems Taylor does. Let’s go. Taylor, take point. I’ll be in back.”
It was an act of trust more than common sense. If there was a trap or an enemy out there, chances are Taylor would be the first to fall, in spite of his heroics with the spear. But he had to learn sometime, they all did. There was a storm coming and if they weren’t ready in time, all of them would be swept away, child and dragon alike.
The same dripping water, the smell of moisture and of bat poop. Flying rodents squeaked above and teeming rats crawled around them.
“Don’t worry. They’re just making sure everything’s okay.” Zooey was tired but she wasn’t as scared as Dani expected. It seems she’d made some new friends in the hollow under the hill.
“I’ve found the way out.” Taylor waved the others toward him, then by the light of his torch he showed them the exit, the two massive gates by which they had entered.
“It’s okay, Mandy. We can push them open. Everyone, find some place to put your torches so they don’t burn out. We’ll all have to work together to get these doors open.
Even with all six laboring together, the doors moved with agonizing slowness. They all rested a moment and that’s when they heard the footsteps coming from the far end of the tunnel.
“The warriors?” Paris grabbed Jake’s hand again.
“How do you know, Taylor?”
“I just know, Paris. I don’t know how.”
“We’ve got to get out of here. If the Kings are awake, there’s no telling what power they have.”
Following Dani’s lead, they all pushed and pushed. There was nothing holding the gates shut, they were just heavy. Only the curse opened them for Taylor in the first place. Now it wanted to keep them inside.
The sound of footsteps, metal against stone, continued to approach. Dani imagined them descending the rock-hewn stairs, marching closer, intent on breaking the ancient curse and continuing their war with the Great Gray God.
The six children pushed with all their might, terror adding determination to strength. The echoes of thoughts and memories of the royal guard swirled in their minds, dark and fluid, poisonous, infectious, they had nearly been lost to the consciousness of Kings. If Dani hadn’t found a way to get through to Mandy, she might now be dead and the way home for the rest of them forgotten forever.
The hinges of the mighty gates gave a loud and reluctant creaking sound as they continued to part. They didn’t have to open all the way, just far enough to let each of them slip through.
“We’ve got it! Zooey, you first, then Jake, Paris, and Mandy. Taylor and I will follow. Hurry!”
The footfalls of the Kings were now echoing in the tunnel. They were close. Their only chance was to outrun them once outside.
Then Dani turned. The first of the Kings had emerged, pale like death, dark with evil.
“I won’t leave you.”
“I’ll be right behind you.”
He bolted and true to her word, she followed.
“We’ve got to close the gates.”
“No time.” Dani pushed the boy out into the gorge. “Mandy’s taken the others up the slope. The sun’s about to rise. Get going.”
The boy ran up after his siblings, urgency overcoming fatigue. He could hear the older teen follow. Through the barely open gates, the sound of armored boots echoed announcing their approach. The six of them scurried like mice up the side of the mountain. There would be no resting in the caves above.
The light from the East faded abruptly as unexpected storm clouds blew in. A fierce wind turned the morning chill into a frigid blast that cut through their thin robes, none of them having opportunity to resume their cloaks and furs.
Mandy picked Zooey up and continued to struggle upwards. Even through the sound of the coming storm, they could hear the crash of the gates slamming open.
The storm from the East and out of it a figure emerged. Mandy saw it first. “The Gray God.”
They had only seen him once before and then only in a dream, if it was a dream. Now the God was here, he was approaching. Would their fleeing the citadel of the Kings be cut short by the Lord of the Dark Mountains?
Mandy reached the crest and started across a ridge linking to the next plateau, away from the Mountain of the Kings.
Dani caught up with her and took Zooey from the younger teen’s arms. Crossing the high ridge left them totally exposed but they had to get as far away from the King’s mountain as possible. If the God was here it could only mean war and six tiny bits of flesh and blood could not long endure a battle of epic and occult rage.
The wind was from the rear now and getting worse. Dani dared a brief glance across her shoulder as the initial lightning bolt struck the peak behind them. It had begun.
At first they thought it was the wailing wind or perhaps a clap of thunder but then the rapid beating of enormous wings betrayed her presence.
Like the God, the golden dragon was no dream this time. She landed just ahead where the ridge widened at the beginning of the escarpment.
“Hurry, my children. Onto my back. My scales with give your hands and feet purchase. Dani will show you how.”
Dani reached her first and waited. The dragon was lying flat on the stone beneath her, leaving herself utterly vulnerable to attack should the God desire it, but this posture provided the fastest way for the children to climb on. Mandy helped Jake and then Paris on, and then as she mounted their serpentine savior, she was surprised to find the large amber scales to be warm and soft.
Taylor was next, followed by Dani and Zooey, the littlest Davidson pressed between the dragon rider and her adventurous brother.
“Don’t be afraid to grab onto her scales. Put your feet into the spaces between them like stirrups. You won’t hurt her. Is everyone ready?”
“Hang on tightly, my children. I must climb quickly.”
The dragon abruptly extended her limbs, leaping up from the flat stone and then a tremendous down beat of powerful leathery wings thrust them into the clouds. She circled up and up and up. Jake and Paris pressed against the dragon’s neck, their eyes closed tightly, while Mandy held her arms around them both while trying to see through the slate-colored swirls of cloud enveloping them.
They seemed to break free from the storm and as the dragon banked to her left, the children could see the God assailing the now receding mountain with a barrage of lightning and other dynamic forces beyond human understanding. The very atmosphere reverberated with powerful destructive waves and like a colossal monument in granite, the fortress of the Mountain Kings began their fall to ruin, massive boulders raining out of the heavens and down to the feet of the God, as if bowing in homage and defeat. The Hall of the Mountain Kings and the Kings themselves, were no more.
“Shay.” Dani could barely speak. She was shivering violently as were the others. “We’re freezing.” Even the radiant heat from the dragon could not counter the hideous chill of the air at such great heights.
“I know, my child. I am hurrying. Endure for just a few minutes longer, my children and I will see you to safety.” She ceased circling upward and began a long descent to the West. The vengeance of the Gray God against the Mountain Kings was behind them lost in the distance and darkness, but what was ahead for each of them and were the Davidson children truly free of the curse of the Kings?
That was the question especially resounding within Taylor’s thoughts as he continued to see visions of the Kings through the eyes of a long dead warrior. His name had been Azzorh and he had been skilled with the sword and the spear.
I’ve already written a story for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto challenge for this week, but I’ve had some success using her photo prompts as inspirations for the Davidson children adventures and I thought I’d make her photo do double-duty. I’m pretty proud of how this chapter has turned out and I hope you enjoy it as well.
Here’s a partial list of what I’ve written about their adventures with the dragon rider and Shay the golden dragon so far:
I’ll flesh it out as time allows.
Oh, there really is a song called Hall of the Mountain King (YouTube) from the The Nutcracker Suite (YouTube), but when I came up with the title, I was actually thinking of the 1970 pop hit Spill the Wine (YouTube) by Eric Burdon and War. However, an analysis of the lyrics proves they are most definitely not child friendly. I just like the sound of “Hall of the Mountain Kings”. I think it fits.
Let me know what you think of this story and the very uncertain future of the five Davidson kids. Thanks.
The next chapter is Sojourn in Direhaven.