Casting The Stones
The queen of Dahlia materialized on the edge of a sparse wood.
She blinked a few times to clear the blue afterimage left by her Ryuka,
and then took in the scene around her. The surrounding trees were
needle-trees. Lune called them coniferous. Beyond them was a
level plain covered by short grass. She peaked around the tree nearest to
her and looked to the west. She could see the rooftops of the town of
Endora rising up over a low hill. The sound of wind chimes floated over
The queen then turned her gaze to the south, where the milky blue
haze of the sea was hovering just over the horizon. And directly between
the queen and that haze was a simple and heavily weathered two-story shack
on the very edge of a white sand beach.
The cottage was right where she had been told it was. The hunters
the queen had hired had been right. Their payment was meseta well
The queen took a small ocarina from her belt and blew an airy
little tune into it. Then she replaced it in its loop on her belt, and
stepped out of the copse of trees, into the bright light of the sun. She
looked up at the clear sky and rolling clouds above. As a girl, she had
believed that the clouds and sun were real. But her husband had shown her
the truth. There was no sun. There were no clouds. All of it, even the
very blueness of the sky, was nothing more than a holographic projection
on the bottom-side of a titanium-enforced dome. The glow of the traveling
sun came from a massive projector light mounted to a track on the glass.
She had been a little disappointed by that, when first she was told, but
the glory of Lune's other revelations had more than made up for it.
There was no one about, but if anyone would have seen the queen
walking by they would have at once realized her station. She wore silver
royal boots with shining blue buckles and a blue royal robe made of the
finest eindon fur, tufted with luxurious white down from a warbler. There
was a silver circlet on her head, and a silken bandanna hung from her
hair. She walked with an air of regality earned not through pride of her
position, but pride in great deeds done. What a far cry from the simple
girl who had once flinched away from the love of the man known as Lune!
No monsters or cyborgs attacked her, or even approached. Once she
thought she saw a trio of spysats peering from behind some shrubs, but
they did not come near. Lune had been right. Those ancient things known
as "hidapipes" really did work.
It was only a few moments before the queen of Dahlia stood before
the seaside cottage. She was at the summit of a small ledge overlooking
the beach; her face was level with the top of the cottage's chimney. The
place had certainly seen better days. The queen frowned. Maybe she could
change things. She hoped she could, if it were not already too late. The
queen snapped her fingers and blue light enveloped her again. When next
she opened her eyes she was standing several meters below her prior
location, directly in front of the cottage's front door. The Grantz
technique was yet another thing her husband the king had taught her.
Standing before the door, the queen grew hesitant for the first
time. Perhaps she had been wrong in coming there. No, she could not
think so. And yet, what if she did not receive the reception she
expected? Could there be some violence? She doubted it, and yet she was
glad that her Moonslicer was still hanging at her side.
The queen took a deep breath and knocked on the door with a gloved
hand. And then she waited. Nearly a minute passed. A silent minute.
There was the distant crowing of some sea birds, and the whisper of the
waves hitting the sand, but little else. She had grown up on an island,
but suddenly hated the smell of the sea. The queen of Dahlia sighed and
began to turn away. And then a voice called out to her from inside.
"Who is there?" it asked. The voice was deep and raspy. It had
always been so, but not to such a degree. It had changed much since the
queen last had heard it.
"It is me..." she said.
"...it is Thea."
Now the sighing came from the other side of the door. "How did
you find me?" the voice asked.
"I knew you would return to this place," Thea said. "Have you
forgotten my lineage?" The thought made her smirk. "I know all about the
habits of the Dragon Knights."
The other said nothing.
"I admit, I have had you followed," Thea went on. "I needed to
find you, and Lune forbade me to come out here by myself, what with the
robots, I mean the cyborgs, still on the loose. But I had to know. I had
to see you. I came to Endora in disguise several months ago and hired a
posse of hunters. I had them track you down, and then follow you here."
She paused. "I am sorry."
A head was shaken on the other side of the door. "So that is who
those men were. I was becoming alarmed."
Thea blinked. "You...you knew about them?"
"Of course. And I knew you were coming ever since you appeared in
the trees north of here, though I didn't know who you were... I
assure you, the senses of the dragon are far and beyond the senses of any
man...or woman, for that matter."
Thea pressed herself against the door. "May I come in?"
The door opened. And the sight that meet Thea's eyes made her
The face before her, once familiar, had been changed. Age had
been cruel to this one. Where once there had been smooth skin, now there
was only a labyrinth of lines and wrinkles. The left eye, she could just
barely see, had sunken deep within the skull. The hermit who lived by the
seashore had a face that would have frightened anyone.
And Thea kissed it.
"Oh, Ryan," she said. "How long I have waited to see you
Ryan bowed his head. "I am honored. You are not the simple girl
I remember. You are a queen. You should not deign so as to come to a
place like this."
Thea smiled and raised Ryan's face so that his eye met with hers.
"That is one of the finer points of being a queen," Thea said. "I can do
more or less as I please."
They embraced. When they had parted, Ryan looked about,
embarrassed, and said, "I wish I could offer you something, Your
Thea shook her head. "No, Ryan. I am Thea."
Ryan shrugged, but smiled. "As you wish. Now, as I was saying,
Thea, I wish I could offer you something, but I have little. All I
can offer you..." He pulled out a chair next to a simple table. "...is
Thea went and sat in the chair. Ryan sat across from her. He
glanced out a nearby window which offered a remarkable view of the sea.
Thea took the opportunity to examine her old friend more closely. He
looked so ill. He looked just as her father had before he died. Perhaps
that was the curse of the Dragon Knight. Or perhaps not.
"It is hard to believe that all of this, our very
world, was made by people no different than ourselves," Ryan said,
nodding in the direction of the sea. "This planet of our origins, this
Palm, must have been a remarkable place."
Thea nodded and looked outside, too. "Yes. I think about it
"Oh, yes. Lune...Lune must tell you much about it. He lived
there after all, did he not?"
Thea nodded again and returned her gaze to Ryan. "Yes, he did.
He lived in a very large city called Pair-o-lee. He says that
thousands upon thousands of people lived there, in that one town. Can you
Ryan shook his head. "No. And I think I'd rather not."
Thea chuckled. "I know how you feel. There weren't half so many
people in Cille, Shusoran, and Endora added together. All those
After a minute passed, Ryan said, "Lune must tell you a lot of
remarkable things. They have many ancient luxuries on the moon, don't
Thea nodded again. "Yes. There is running water there. You turn
a handle and water comes out of a small fount. It is quite remarkable.
And there are lights, like lanterns only brighter, that come on at the
flick of a switch."
"Amazing," Ryan said. "I should have stayed longer, seen more of
these wonderful things."
Thea reached across the table and took Ryan's hands. "Indeed you
should. You have no idea how I missed you."
"At your wedding, you mean," Ryan said.
"Yes," Thea said, nodding and looking out the window again. "But
more than that, I wanted you there when Kara was born. Alair was there,
and Nial, Laya, and Mieu and Wren, of course. And my father, I know my
father was there in spirit, and my mother, and my cousin Maia, and her
father..." Thea blinked and shook her head. "But it wasn't the same with
you already gone. I've missed you these long eighteen years.
"I could not bear to look at him," Ryan said. He stared down at
the table. "I am sorry, Thea, but I could not."
"I know, and I understand. But Ryan, it is as I explained it to
you. Lune was under a wicked spell. Alair believes it was the work of
the Dark Force, the one the minstrels speak of. Lune himself fought it,
you know. And if it was not the Dark Force's work, then it was an ill-
affect caused by the long sleep. Can you imagine a sleep of one thousand
years? I cannot imagine what sort of affect it might have on one's
Ryan did not move or speak.
"Lune was still under that curse when he stole me away from you,"
Thea went on. "He admits as much. He repented as much, and to your very
face! But it cannot be helped that Lune and I fell in love after he was
cured of his affliction."
"And to think, you have me to thank for it."
Thea squeezed Ryan's hands tighter. "Indeed I do. Without your
efforts, Lune would have remained mad, and untold suffering would have
befallen our entire world. That makes you all the more the hero in my
eyes, Ryan, as if rescuing me from that wretched cell in Lensol wasn't
Ryan looked up. Thea searched his eye for a long time. A great
wave crashed outside and Ryan smiled. Thea smiled back.
"Tell me about this daughter of yours," Ryan said. "I have not
heard of her since she was born."
Thea looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "Ah, Kara... Lune says
it is sometimes hard to believe that she is his daughter. He says that he
and Kara are nothing alike, as evidenced by how often they argue. But I
say that they argue only because of how much alike they actually are!"
Ryan laughed. "Then she is well?"
"Oh yes, she is exceedingly well. Lune has taught her to throw a
slicer. He has trained her with his own, in fact. And I have done my
best to teach her the things a mother teaches. I believe I have done an
exceedingly good job." She beamed. "But of course, Alair helped."
"I am sure the lion's share of the credit falls upon you, Thea,"
Thea shrugged but continued to grin. "And I believe you would be
right in so saying."
"Tell me," Ryan said. "Is she very much like your father?"
Thea smiled but looked down at the table. "Yes. It is
remarkable, sometimes, how much Kara reminds me of my father. And how he
would have loved her! You never had a chance to know my father, either.
He was such a master with children."
Ryan nodded and grunted. He drew his hands back and stood up. He
walked over to Thea's chair and helped her up. "Come with me outside,"
he said. Thea nodded and they left, arm in arm.
They walked through the fine sand to the very edge of the water.
Thea's eyes had become adjusted to the dim light within Ryan's cabin, and
she had to shield her eyes from the sun. Ryan kneeled down in the damp
silt and ran his fingers through the sea. He picked up a few small,
smooth-sided stones and skipped them across the water.
"It is so beautiful here," Thea said. "Laya herself could not
have designed a more perfect world."
"How do you know she didn't?" Ryan asked. "Perhaps you should ask
Lune about it, eh?"
Thea nodded. "Maybe I should."
Ryan stood up and stretched. "It is wonderful here. I did not
feel comfortable within the town, but I knew that I could not live in any
place but Draconia. It is fortunate that I was able to build this house.
It was not easy. A carpenter from Lensol helped me."
"Lensol?" Thea asked, shocked.
"Yes," Ryan told her. He nodded and stared out over the water.
"I suppose he didn't recognize me. Or maybe he simply didn't care."
Thea wrapped her arm around Ryan's. "It is so lonely here," she
said. "Can this beauty and quiet alone sustain you? Dahlia is large.
You could live in seclusion there, if you wanted. There is even an
arboretum, near my quarters. It has false nature, like this dome does.
It was the arboretum that sustained me my first few years there. Please,
Ryan. You could be near me. And you could meet Kara. I've so missed
"Years?" Ryan asked. "You would ask me to spend years on
that cold moon, trying simply to get used to it? That cold moon,
with its endless metal and eternal night? I am sorry, Thea, but I cannot.
Not even for you."
Thea nodded. "I understand."
"No," Ryan said, separating from her. "You do not." He took
Thea's shoulders gently but firmly and stared directly into her eyes as he
spoke. "I have said much of the beauty of this place, and how I would
never wish to leave it. But it is not by choice alone that I live on Cape
Thea shook her head. "I do not understand."
"Dragon Knights have long lived here, in secret," Ryan said.
Thea nodded. "Yes, of course. I know that. My father--"
"But your father did not tell you everything, woman. He did not
tell you why it is that the dragons come here, year after year
after year. Did he?"
Thea stared at Ryan, and then shook her head very slowly. "No.
No, he did not. I thought it was because this is where the dragons
originally come from..."
Ryan closed his eye and said, "No, Thea. This is not where the
dragons come from. Not at all. The dragons themselves came from that
other world, that Palm. The first of the dragon knights were
created far, far away from here as well, in a distant part of the ship
unknown to me. Where exactly I do not know, but somewhere in the heart of
Layan territory. In a place that doesn't exist, that hasn't existed for a
thousand years or more. In a place where monsters were made. They made
us to lay waste to worlds, to destroy Orakians wherever we found them. It
was we who destroyed the dome known as Terminus. It was we who were
designed for a task we can never possibly accomplish."
"Ryan, what are you talking about?" Thea asked. "How do you, how
can you know all these things?"
Ryan released one of Thea's shoulders and held his head. "I do
not know. These are things I have known since my birth. The...origins of
the dragons. Their memories are my inheritance." Ryan had to sit down on
a nearby rock. Thea sat beside him and put her arm around his
"They created us to destroy Techna," Ryan said. "As you know, it
is below Techna that the engines of our world-ship are located. If the
Layans could control the engines, so they believed they could control the
ship, and win The War. But alas, the Orakians were well prepared. They
turned the dragon invaders away, turned them to dust, with terrible
weaponry, with guns, and cannons, and needles, and shots. Nearly all of
the dragons were slaughtered. Those who remained were ordered never to go
back to Techna."
Thea put her hand to her mouth. "By the Old Bows..."
"But what those fools failed to realize was that they had made us
too well. For years the dragons who survived tried to live again
as men. They tried to return to their towns and villages. And they tried
to forget the horrible Battle of Techna. But they could not. Every day,
as they cradled their children or slept beside their contented wives, the
clamor of battle called to them. The intrinsic urge to attack and
destroy Techna resounded too deeply within them."
Ryan looked up to the sky. A tear rolled down his cheek. Thea
tried to wipe it away, but Ryan turned his face too quickly.
"Laya knows how many years they were able to resist. The lucky
ones died young. But eventually the day would come when each of them
could resist no longer. They would steal away in the dead of night,
leaving their families, the very fabric of their lives, behind. They
would take the form that felt most native to them, and they would fly for
days on end until they reached this very spot. And they would soar from
Cape Dragon Spine to the skies over Techna...where they were abruptly
destroyed by the castle defenses, still active even now, centuries after
The War ended here. This much I know for fact. I have seen the carnage
many times myself. And I can tell you that this place is named not for
any legend, but for the dragons' bones that litter its shores."
Ryan stood and walked ankle-deep into the water. Thea ran after
"Ryan," she whispered. "What are you going--"
"Now the dragon is calling to me," he said. "Get away,
Thea. Get away, now."
Thea just stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. She
grabbed Ryan's arm, but it was like steel. Her one-eyed savior could not
Thea hesitated for another moment. When Ryan turned to face her
again, the ancient spectacles he had long worn fell away. His empty
socket had sealed itself shut. His other eye had grown and was a solid
yellow color. It was glowing.
"Please. And promise me you will hold your daughter tightly."
Thea began to sob. She released Ryan's arm and ran. She ran as
fast as she could, away from the man and his house and his sea and his
achingly beautiful world. And she kept running. She didn't stop until
she had reached the trees. She didn't want to see what Ryan would become.
It was different than what she had seen before. The eyes of the old
dragon had been kind, tame, tranquil. They had been nothing like the
flaming eye that had plunged its fangs deep into her soul as she stood
like a crane in the water.
But she did hear him. She heard, as she climbed the small hill
behind the cottage, the most horrific war cry. It sounded like the noise
she'd heard a moos make once, when one tried to ambush her and was swiftly
garroted by a bodyguard King Lyle had appointed to her. It was awful. It
was the sound of nightmares. She knew she would never, could
never, forget it.
When she reached the trees, Thea stopped running and looked back
over her shoulder.
Ryan was gone.
High above, an illusory cloud rolled past a fictional sun. Waves
continued to lap against the beach, one after another after another. As
she watched the repetition, Thea thought of Kara -- Kara, in whom Lyle's
blood flowed. And she thought of herself, as well. And it occurred to
her, for the first time, that the dragon lived inside inside the both of
them. As she stared down at the water, Thea couldn't help but wonder if
she, the queen of Dahlia, would find herself in the dragon's bind