I've also managed to upload it with the artwork as well. All artwork was done by Alexis M Centeno. As always, feel free to leave any comments you wish. Enjoy.
Ben woke up feeling like he had the mother of all hangovers. The cool breeze kissed his forehead as he rubbed it in agony. The ground underneath him felt soft and moist, as if it had been raining for a few days. The fresh smell of pure grass graced his nostrils. But Ben didn’t notice these wonderful sensations; he was too busy concentrating on the pain in his head.
When he opened his eyes, the natural light nearly blinded him. ‘Ow! Turn the flippin’ lights off! God! What was I drinking last night?’
He closed his eyes again for a second and lay back on the warm, grassy floor underneath him. It was comfortable and he felt like he could go to back to sleep for a few hours.
Then he realised that something wasn’t right.
Ben picked himself up and took in his surroundings. All he could see was lush woodland and tender grass on the ground beneath him, the sun warming him with calming light.
The last thing that he remembered was being chased in an alley. Then a flash… and that was it. How did he end up here?
He checked himself; he was still wearing his school uniform and still had his backpack, which was a relief. Instinctively he opened it up and looked inside to see if anything had been taken. Everything was still there, the cigarettes he stole, his mobile phone, iPod, schoolbooks and the latest copy of ‘World Soccer’ magazine that he had also taken from the shop for himself. Ben took out his phone and searched through his list of contacts for Clive, calling him to see if they got away. The phone wouldn’t connect. After checking it, Ben realised he had no signal. He tried again and again to call. Nothing.
He slung his bag over his shoulder and held his phone up in the hopes that he could find a signal, figuring that it was the trees that were blocking his attempts to make the call. Ben walked around for minutes trying but to no avail.
‘Argh, stupid thing!’ Ben cursed as he moved around. ‘Why won’t you work? Most powerful phone network my…’
He stopped when he heard a low growl from behind. At first he thought it was his stomach rumbling, but then the growl came again.
Very slowly, he turned round. He gulped when he saw a large dog, roughly the size of a Great Dane. Its crimson red fur was standing on end and its glinting, yellow eyes looked towards Ben with the apparent intention of making him its next meal. Ben always had a fear of dogs since he was attacked by a Jack Russell a few years ago, but a dog this size made him twice as apprehensive.
‘Nice doggie…’ he said in panicked tones, backing away. ‘Nice doggie…’
With every step Ben took back, the huge dog took a step forward, still looking at him with blazing eyes that could light up the darkness of a cave. The dog snarled at Ben, opening its mouth to show rows of razor sharp teeth.
Ben turned and ran through a grove of trees. The dog followed in hot pursuit, matching him every step of the way. Ben tried his utmost to outrun the creature; but his escape plans were foiled when he tripped over a root hidden amongst the dirt, landing chin first
The dog was on top of him moments later, Ben felt as if a huge weight had been placed on his back. It let out a terrible howl and grabbed the back of Ben’s shirt, tearing into it and missing his flesh by a hairsbreadth. It tore off the fabric and spat it away, leaving Ben’s neck exposed. Ben was terrified; of all the ways he thought he would die, he never expected being mauled to death by a rabid dog to be one of them.
Suddenly, the creature stopped. All traces of anger and discomfort appeared to leave it. It turned to its side, then Ben noticed the girl. She was no older than Ben and of the same black skin tone. She wore what appeared to be a grass-green dress, with flowers attached for decoration. She reached out to the dog and instantly it leapt off Ben, relieving the crushing pain on his back. It ran into the girls’ arms, whining like a puppy. The girl stroked it just behind its ears and talked to it in soothing tones as if it was her own pet. She then let the creature run off back into the forest, before walking over to Ben.
‘You all right?’ she asked. Her voice sweet and childlike, lacking any malice.
‘What… what…’ Ben gasped as he tried to get his breath back. ‘What WAS that thing?’
‘A blood wolf,’ the girl told him.
‘A wolf!’ Ben screamed in shock. ‘Since when does Canterbury have any wolves?’
‘What were you doing being chased by a blood wolf?’ the girl asked him. ‘You didn’t act afraid near it, did you? You silly boy!’
‘Yeah, it’s a little hard not to act afraid when it’s slobbering all over your back and all!’ Ben yelled back.
‘Didn’t they teach you anything about the wild? Blood wolves’ sense of smell is so acute that they can detect the subtle changes in emotions. They’re very sensitive to negative emotions so you don’t act afraid around them.’
‘Where did you read that? Wikipedia?’
The girl appeared a little perplexed by Ben’s manner of speech, but remained polite to him. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Er… Ben…’ he replied, dusting himself off as the girl helped him to his feet.
‘Nice to meet you,’ the girl said, smiling. ‘I’m Erowin. What are you doing in this forest all alone?’
‘I was looking for the abominable snowman,’ Ben replied sarcastically. ‘What do you think?’
Erowin seemed mildly offended by what Ben said at first; then she burst into a spontaneous giggle. ‘You’re funny!’
‘Yeah… Er… listen, don’t supposed you could tell me… where am I?’
‘Where are you?’ Erowin asked, sounding a little shocked. ‘You’re in the forest!’
God, this girl’s a whack job! Ben thought to himself. ‘Yeah, I can see that,’ he shouted impatiently. ‘But which forest?’
‘The Forest of Celt, silly,’ she chuckled.
‘Where the hell’s that? Newcastle?’
‘New castle?’ A puzzled look appeared on Erowin’s face. ‘There aren’t any new castles here that I can think of. Unless any have been built recently that I’m not aware of.’
Ben was starting to get impatient with all of this; this girl was obviously on drugs and not worth his time. ‘Right, see ya!’ He turned and walked away in the opposite direction to Erowin, moving as fast as he could.
‘Where are you going?’ Erowin cried, running after him. ‘I’m sorry if I offended you. I didn’t mean to.’
Ben ignored her and took out his phone again and dialled the same number he had been trying for ages, still he got no response. The phone didn’t even ring.
‘Argh! Stupid thing!’ Ben cursed. ‘How do I get a signal in this place?’
‘Signal?’ Erowin asked. ‘For what?’
‘For my phone!’ Ben said, holding up his mobile.
Erowin’s eyes widened, she was acting like she had just been shown the most unusual piece of jewellery in her life. She gasped and took the phone from his hands.
‘Hey! Give that back!’
Erowin looked over the alien device in her fingers, feeling it up and down with her thumbs. It felt smooth against her touch, but a bit heavy for its size. ‘What a curious little device,’ she mused. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s a mobile!’ Ben shouted, trying to snatch it back. ‘More to the point it’s a mobile that cost around a hundred odd quid, so keep your grubby mitts off it!’
Erowin’s fingers accidentally pressed down on one of the buttons, activating the ringtone which, unfortunately for Ben, was set to ‘Crazy Frog.’
‘BUM BAAAAAA BA DA BUMMM BBBAAAA DING DING!’
Erowin dropped the phone and jumped back in fright. ‘What is that ghastly sound?’
‘I dunno how that ringtone got on my phone, ok?’ Ben shouted, embarrassed and trying to shut his phone off. ‘Look, just point me in the direction of the train station and I’ll make my own way back home!’
‘That’s it! I’m outta here!’ Ben turned away from her and continued walking away, trying to be as far away from Erowin as possible.
‘Wait! I can help you find your way home!’ Erowin said, following him. This forest is dangerous and I would hate it if you got hurt.’
‘Thanks, but no thanks!’ Ben sternly replied. ‘I think I’m capable enough to navigate my way through a…’
As he turned a corner he was met with a roar of sound that made him fall back and land on his backside. He was greeted with a sight that made his encounter with the blood wolf seem small by comparison. The roar came from a bear, at least eight feet tall and with two bull-like horns protruding from its head. It roared again when it saw Ben, yet it did not move to attack. For Ben, two shocks in one day were more than he was prepared to take. ‘What the hell is that!’ he screamed out loud.
‘It’s a torobear!’ Erowin cried, rushing to his side. ‘Don’t get too close to it! It seems angered!’
‘You think?’ Ben cried out in both anger and fright. ‘What kind of messed up place is this?’
Erowin could sense a great rage coming from the creature, but she did not think it was directed at them. She knew torobears were generally gentle creatures who did not immediately attack unless provoked. And Ben had not done anything to provoke the creature that she could see; there had to be another reason.
‘Stay here,’ she said to Ben. She walked up to the torobear. It dwarfed Erowin, making her look like a mouse.
‘What you doin’ you crazy bird?’ Ben cried.
Erowin ignored the cries from Ben and moved closer to the bear. She closed her eyes, focusing her thoughts towards it. The bear continued to roar, but Erowin did not flinch.
‘It’s in pain,’ Erowin said, her voice sounding a little distant to Ben.
‘What?’ Ben asked.
Erowin looked down at the creatures’ back legs, which were caught in a huge mantrap. The jaws of the horrific contraption had dug deep into the creature’s bone, tearing into its leg further as it struggled to free itself.
‘You poor thing,’ Erowin gasped. ‘Here, let me help you.’
The beast took a swing at Erowin with huge claws that looked like they could tear a man in half with one blow. Erowin lunged back to avoid the creatures’ mighty swing. ‘It’s all right,’ she said in soothing tones. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
The beasts’ roar changed to painful breathing. Erowin knelt down beside the trap. She felt sickened by this device, a thing that was not only made to trap its prey, but also to cause it as much pain as possible. She tried not to flinch from the smell of blood in her nostrils as she reached for it, but stopped when she felt the cold steel of a blade underneath her chin.
‘’Ello, ’ello, ’ello,’ came a sinister, yet highly common voice from behind. ‘What ’ave we got ’ere then?’
Erowin turned round slowly. A man, dressed in fur that had come from creatures the man had previously slain , was behind her. His lips raised in a mischievous grin. ‘Tryin’ to steal our catch of the day?’
The torobear let out another roar on seeing its captors. Two more men, dressed similarly to their leader grabbed Ben. ‘Hey, let me go, you creeps!’ Ben cried out.
‘Now then, sweetheart, ’ow about you stand up and walk away from the bear so that we can ’ave ourselves a little chat?’ the captain said. Erowin did what she was told while the captain kept his blade to her chin. ‘Search her buddy!’
Another man appeared from the trees and walked over to Ben’s bag. He fumbled around to try and find some way of opening it; the poacher had never seen a bag like this before. Eventually, he found the zip and pulled it open, pouring the contents on the ground.
‘Oi!’ Ben called out. ‘That’s my stuff! Leave it out!’
‘Why are you trapping this torobear?’ Erowin asked. ‘Can’t you see it’s in pain?’
‘We were waitin’ for the stupid creature to bleed to death so we could get to its horns,’ the captain told her. ‘Probably would have passed out if you hadn’t given it that scare!’
Erowin’s face dropped in horror. ‘You’re poachers!’
The man looking through Ben’s bag had come across his iPod and looked at it, totally confused by its alien design.
‘Hey! You put that down!’ Ben cried out. ‘You break that and I’ll… I’ll… I’ll sue you!’
‘But torobears are an endangered species!’ Erowin cried. ‘Taking their horns is illegal!’
‘Nothin’ good here, chief,’ the poacher looking through Ben’s stuff replied. ‘Got some tobacco, but the rest is just junk.’
‘Ok then,’ the captain said in a snide manner. ‘Do ’im!’
‘Sure thing, boss!’ The poacher drew out a huge machete.
‘Er… say now…’ Ben stuttered. ‘Let’s – let’s not be hasty…’
‘You can’t!’ Erowin cried fearfully.
‘Oh, don’t worry, babes!’ the captain exclaimed. ‘We’ll be… humane!’
He took Erowin by the hair and pushed his blade closer to her neck, but Erowin refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing her scared. ‘Just you wait until my sister hears about this! When she finds out about this, she’s going to give you such a beating!’
The captain let out a huge laugh, accidentally hitting Erowin’s face with his saliva. ‘I like you, girl. You make me laugh,’ the captain chuckled, moving his blade away from Erowin’s neck. ‘Because you made me laugh – I’m gonna make sure you die quickly!’
He pulled back his arm and extended his blade outwards to prepare for a swinging strike. Erowin closed her eyes and waited for the blade to hit her.
Suddenly, the handle of his blade became hot, as if it had been dipped in lava. The captain cried aloud and dropped the steaming blade, letting go of Erowin in the process. He checked his scorched hand; an imprint of the handle had been burned into his flesh.
‘You should have heeded my sister’s warning!’ came a voice from above.
Everyone looked up. Erowin was the only one smiling at this point. ‘Daniar!’
Hovering a few feet above their heads, supported by two huge bat-like wings, was a young woman, her light red hair billowing in the wind and the light reflecting off her golden armour, a symbol of fire burning on her breastplate. Her limbs were far more muscular and toned for a woman her age, though she lost none of her feminine appearance. From the air, she looked at the poachers with sarcastic disdain. ‘Now then,’ Daniar said with a voice that brimmed with feminine fury. ‘What do we have here?’
The captain was quick to react, reaching for a second dagger attached to his belt. But Daniar was quicker. She flew down and kicked the captain in the chest so hard that he was sent flying back several paces. She landed on both feet and instantly her wings disappeared into her back. While the captain lay groaning on the ground, Daniar turned to Erowin, shooting her a smile.
‘Getting into trouble again, Erowin?’ she asked.
‘I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Big Sister!’ Erowin cheered.
The remaining poachers forgot about Ben for a moment and moved to their new enemy. Daniar turned to them, not even drawing her sword. ‘If I were you, boys,’ she said, standing with her hands on her hips, ‘I’d probably want to start running about now.’
One of the poachers charged towards her, but Daniar stepped to one side, lifting up her knee to his stomach. The man swung over her foot and landed on the ground, groaning. ‘I meant away from me!’
The other poacher grabbed Daniar from behind. ‘I got you now, darling!’ he said.
‘Oh, really?’ She lifted her boot up into the man’s private regions. He squealed a high pitch moan and relinquished his grip on Daniar. The back of her hand found its place in his face and he went down. ‘Sorry, did I ruin your fun for tonight?’ Daniar chuckled. She heard a click. The final poacher had drawn out his handgun (which looked like a smaller version of a musket) and was holding it towards her. A shot from a gun like this would tear through even the strongest armour, but Daniar was not worried. ‘Really now,’ she sighed. ‘I really don’t think you want to be doing that!’
‘You hurt me chums!’ the poacher shouted. ‘I’m gonna pump you full of lead.’
Daniar took a deep breath and blew gently at the poacher. Her breath ignited as it passed through her mouth and turned into a roaring flame, which stopped short of the gun and melted the end of it. The poacher dropped his gun before it could burn his hand. ‘Now, I’m going to get very cross with you in a minute!’ Daniar told him sternly. ‘If you don’t behave I might have to get nasty!’
One of the other poachers that Daniar had already dispatched tried to sneak up behind her with his knife, but Daniar swung her foot into his face before he could so much as even grab her. She narrowed her eyes at the remaining poacher, challenging him to make his move.
Seeing his comrades taken out so easily, this poacher was now very reluctant to take Daniar on. He turned and ran for his life. Before the poacher had got even a few metres away from Daniar, he was whipped off the ground as a root underneath him wrapped around his leg and lifted him up into the air. He was suspended from a tree branch, screaming and dangling.
‘Nice touch,’ Daniar said to Erowin, smiling.
Daniar paced up and down in front of the poachers, all hanging from the same tree as their comrade. Her glance shifted between the poachers and the torobear that was still groaning in pain. It looked much weaker, probably about to pass out from the massive loss of blood.
‘So, boys,’ she said with biting tones, ‘trying to poach torobear horns are we? Maybe I’m wrong, but last time I checked, that was illegal! I know, because I was the one who made it illegal.’
‘Please, Daniar… Princess Daniar!’ the captain spoke, weak from the blood rushing to his head. ‘It’s… it’s not what it looks like!’
Being the uneducated louts that they were, the poachers hadn’t realised at first that they were going up against the legendary Princess Daniar Dragonkin. Now they realised who she was, they knew they were in a whole heap of trouble. Though she was a benevolent woman, Daniar was known for being strict with those who committed crimes.
‘Really?’ Daniar asked, looking at the torobear again. ‘Well, it looks very suspicious to me. A trapped torobear and four poachers? One might get the wrong impression.’ She continued pacing up and down, not taking her eyes off them for a second.
‘We don’t take too kindly to poachers around here. If you heard half the stuff that happens to them in prison it would give you nightmares! If I were anyone else, I’d just take you to St Geordia myself and let you have it.
‘But, lucky for you I’m a very forgiving person. And I hate to see anyone, even poachers, come to harm. There must be a civilised way to resolve this.’
She thought about it for a few seconds. ‘Tell you what. If I let you boys go you have to promise me you will never harm another animal again. Not for profit, or fun, NEVER! And if I hear that you have, then I will be very angry! And trust me…’
She grabbed the captain’s hair and pulled him towards her, looking him straight in the eye. ‘The one thing you DON’T want to do is make me angry!’
‘We swear!’ the captain cried out, already getting a headache from hanging upside down too long. ‘We swear we will never ‘arm another animal for as long as we live!’
The other poachers nodded in agreement. Daniar remained silent for a couple more seconds. ‘All right, I believe you.’ She turned to her little sister. ‘Erowin?’
Erowin manipulated the trees and let them down. The men dropped and landed with a thud, the wet grass slightly cushioning their fall. But Daniar barely gave them time to recover from hitting the ground.
‘Now, you have ten seconds to get out of my sight!’
To prove her point, she slowly breathed in and held her breath. The poachers were quick to their feet, running as fast as their heels could take them away from Daniar.
‘Ten…’ Daniar expelled the air from her mouth, shooting a fireball at the ground. It exploded harmlessly behind them, so that the poachers continued running and did not look back. When the poachers were out of sight, Daniar, laughing hysterically, turned back to Erowin, who was also giggling in glee.
‘We sure taught them a lesson, didn’t we?’ Erowin giggled.
‘We certainly did, Sister,’ Daniar said, patting her on the shoulder. ‘It’s just fortunate that I was here in time.’
‘Oh my…’ Erowin gasped. ‘The torobear!’
In all the commotion she had nearly forgotten about the poor creature still caught in its trap. They both ran over to it. Daniar knelt down beside the trap.
‘Hmmmm,’ she murmured, taking a good look. ‘It’s held in there pretty tight, but I should be able to remove it. Erowin, tell the creature that this might hurt, but I will free it.’
Erowin sent the calming psychic message to the torobear, warning of what was to come. Daniar took both sides of the great trap, careful not to cut her own hands on the sharp metal. The trap felt a little rusty in her hands and it was lodged deep into the creature’s bone, but Daniar knew this would be easy for her.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled with all her might. Daniar was amazingly strong because of her augmented physiology, but even so she had some trouble removing the trap at first as it was rusted and old. The torobear roared in agony, nearly distracting Daniar from her task. Once she had removed the jaws from the bone, it was easy to get the rest of the trap opened. She removed it and threw it away. On hitting the ground it snapped back to its closed position. Then Daniar destroyed it with her fire breath so that it could never harm another living thing again.
Erowin was quick to rush to the side of the torobear to check the wound. Blood was pouring from the gaping holes in its leg and was already looking infected from the rust of the trap. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, almost tearfully as the torobear howled in pain. ‘I’ll heal you.’
She leaned closer to creatures wound and blew very gently on it. A green mist flowed from her lips and covered the injury. Slowly but surely, the wound closed up as if the torobear’s natural regeneration process was accelerated. In a matter of seconds, the wound had completely healed up and the leg looked good as new.
The torobear turned to Erowin. It rubbed its nose against her face as if to say, ‘Thank you.’ Erowin smiled. When the creature had gathered enough strength to stand on its own feet, it trotted off to the forest to resume its everyday life, certain that nothing further would harm it today.
‘Oh,’ Erowin suddenly remembered. ‘I forgot to introduce you to a new friend of mine. Daniar, this is Ben, I found him in the forest.’
‘A pleasure to meet you, Ben,’ Daniar said, extending her hand to him.
‘You stay back!’ Ben said, backing away.
‘I mean you no harm,’ Daniar said, holding her hands up.
‘You breathed fire at those guys!’ Ben exclaimed. ‘What’s up with that? You eat chillis all day or somethin’’?’
‘It’s part of my power,’ Daniar explained. ‘The gifts that Dronor bestowed on me.’
‘Dronor? Who or what is Dronor? Your mama?’
Erowin and Daniar looked at each other, confused and concerned. There was not a person in the whole of this world that would ever claim they did not know who Dronor was, let alone blaspheme against him.
‘But…’ Erowin exclaimed. ‘…how can you not know Dro-nor…?’
‘All right, that’s it! I’ve had enough of this!’ Ben exploded, finally at the end of his tether. ‘I’ve had enough of wolves that smell your fear, or bears with horns, or… or… or birds that can breathe fire! I just want someone to tell me where I am and how I can get home, or else I am going to be very, very flipped off!’
Daniar could sense a great deal of anger coming from this child. But there was something else that disturbed her. He wore very strange attire that she had never seen before; and she had travelled the world and could often tell a person's origins by their clothes. But she had never seen clothing like Ben’s.
‘Tell me… Ben is it?’ Daniar began. ‘Where is it that you come from?’
‘Finally someone thinks to ask me!’ Ben exclaimed. ‘I come from Canterbury. You know it?’
‘Never heard of it.’ Daniar shook her head.
‘Where have you been living all your life, under a rock?’ Ben shouted again. ‘Hello? Earth to strange ladies!’
‘Why do you say ‘Earth to strange ladies?’’ Erowin asked, confused.
Ben wasn’t sure how much more he could take of this. ‘Because it’s the planet we live on! God! Are you two really blondes?’
Daniar and Erowin stared at him blankly. ‘But, our world is called Draconica, not Earth.’
Ben’s jaw nearly dropped out of his head. ‘What?’ Then, he burst out into hysterical laughter. ‘Oh, I get it! This some new kind of online RPG ain't it? Like World of Warcraft? Very clever! What, am I in some kinda virtual reality booth or somethin’? It’s pretty realistic – I’ll give you that much. Really had me fooled. That’s it, innit?’
Daniar and Erowin still stared at him with blank expressions.
It felt like a whole eternity before anyone said anything. Daniar and Erowin just stared at Ben like he had five heads.
‘It can’t be…’ Daniar gasped.
‘What is it, Daniar?’ Erowin asked.
‘This boy…’ Daniar begun, though she could hardly believe it herself. ‘I think – this boy might be… from another world!’
‘But that’s… impossible…’ Erowin gasped, equally as awe-struck as Daniar.
‘We must talk to our father,’ Daniar said to Erowin. Her wings grew again. ‘Come with us, Ben’.
‘Oh no! I’m not going anywhere with you!’ Ben cried.
‘It’s all right, Ben,’ Erowin tried to assure him. ‘She’s my sister.’
‘But she has wings!’ Ben exclaimed.
‘So?’ Erowin said. ‘I have wings too.’
And in that instant, two huge wings shot out of Erowin’s back. They were similar in shape and size to Daniar’s, but green instead of red. The girls displayed their fine wings like a couple of swans.
This was when it finally got too much for Ben. He fainted.