Tails of the Mansion
Written by Kerian Halcyon
Story by Arofexdracona
Chapter 1: No Such Things as Ghosts, part 2
Zephyr sat on his bed, looking out at the forest. A new set of covers; red, like the strawberries outside; had been laid out on the bed and the tatters of the old ones were being cut up and remade into quilts and some old dishrags. Zephyr didn't care; he was too busy thinking about what he had heard in the tavern.
"Dinner's ready," Onya said as she poked into Zephyr's door.
"I'm not hungry," Zephyr replied.
Onya slipped into the bedroom. Gripped in her hands was a copy of one of her mom's cookbooks; the big, thick one that was supposedly first edition. Approaching the bed, she put the book down and climbed carefully on it before climbing up as best as she could over the side of the bed. Exhibiting very good prehensibility, she reached down with her tail and grabbed the book on her way up; pulling on her tail like a rope until the heavy thing was in her lap.
"Watchya thinkin' about?" she asked.
Zephyr sighed. He quickly told her about the conversation he heard at the tavern and about how the Ghost Wolf was in his dream.
"Maybe he's trying to be a friend," Onya said, "Maybe he was protecting you from that red eyed monster."
"I doubt it," Zephyr said, "Unless you know of anything in this world that protects people and has sharp teeth, fur, and eyes that glow."
"Your daddy has all three sometimes," Onya said, "And Raven and Kytes both are dragons; and dragons can have fur too."
Zephyr shrugged. He looked forlornly out into the forest beyond. As he did, he kept wondering about the strange Ghost Wolf and how it applied to his dream. He began to wonder about the monster with red eyes, about Blackwood, and about his first adventure into the Black Forest.
He became so lost in thought that he almost missed the strange smoke rings coming out of the forest.
"What's that?" Onya asked.
"Huh?" Zephyr looked up and gazed at where Onya was looking. He suddenly saw the familiar smoke rings, and it struck a chord in his memory. There was only one person in the world that he knew could make smoke rings like that.
"It's Blackwood!" he said excitedly, "Blackwood's back!"
"Of course I'm sure!" Zephyr said as he slipped down from the bed, "Who else do you know that can make smoke rings?"
"I don't know," Onya said, "Didn't you say that he didn't want to attract attention to himself, especially from your dad?"
"Who cares?!" Zephyr asked as he grabbed a yew staff and his favorite jacket from his closet, "I want to see him no matter what! I need to figure out what's going on, why he doesn't want to see my dad, and everything else that's been bugging me for the past four years. Maybe he can explain to me about this nightmare."
"You know there are no such things as ghosts, right?" Onya asked.
Zephyr put the jacket on and buttoned it up. "Doesn't matter," he said, "I've got to find Blackwood, one way or another."
Onya watched as Zephyr leapt to his bed and began to climb stealthfully out the window. "Where are you going?"
"Out the window," Zephyr said, "and into the Black Forest again. You stay put and try to act normal while I'm gone. Say I didn't want to eat anything, and whatever you do; don't tell anyone I'm gone. Understand?"
Zephyr ruffled Onya's hair; what he would usually do to her whenever they were forming a pact about something, like when he first told her about Blackwood. "I'll see you later," he said.
Zephyr sleekly slid down the roof of the mansion. Onya watched as he made his way further down. In a few moments, he was gone.
Zephyr ran through the Black Forest. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Staff in hand, he leapt across fallen logs and hacked his way through the brush; ignoring the prickers and tiny thorns poking into his feet with each step. It did not take long before he made it back to the place where he had been captured by the Drakins, and he immediately went to work searching for Blackwood. He ignored the big Drake skeleton, which was covered in moss and had holes in it where birds and other creatures had poked for the animal's marrow and whatever bits were left to scavenge from it.
"BLACKWOOD!!!" Zephyr shouted, "Where are you?! BLACKWOOD!!"
No answer. Zephyr shouted again and again, hoping for a response. However, the powerful magician didn't show up. Neither did anyone else, thankfully, for if Zephyr could remember correctly there were often Drakins wandering around in this forest.
Finally, a response. Near a thicket and a very dark path leading deeper into the woods, a smoke ring popped up out of nowhere. Zephyr took it as a good sign and quickly followed the trail of smoke; thinking that it would lead him straight to his hero.
Deeper and deeper into the forest he wandered. He noticed that he was beginning to recognize this area. It was the path that was from his dream, where he had encountered the monster in the nightmare. As he began to progress, it got darker and darker, and not just because of the time. The huge pine trees were clumped closer and closer together and steadily covered the realm like a blanket until there was nothing but darkness. Pine needles, cones as ancient as the forest itself, and dead saplings all derived of their precious sunlight, littered the path as Zephyr continued deeper and deeper into the Black Forest.
Zephyr noticed that the smoke had stopped. He was in the clearing he was in before; a wall of branches keeping him from progressing further, and a strange roof of the branches overhead. He could hardly see where he was, though he knew very well where he was and what his surroundings were. Even the bush, where the red eyes had lurked, was sitting right in between two of the
Suddenly, he saw them. A pair of red eyes, each glowing brightly everywhere save for the black slits of pupils between them. Zephyr felt fear grip his heart, and his hair stood up on end again as he gazed into the evil orbs. He held up his staff in an attempt to defend himself, or at least make it look as if he wasn't going to go down without a fight.
"Hello, little bird," the monster said, its huge mouth revealing a gleaming set of sharp, jagged teeth, "I've been waiting for you."
Suddenly, Zephyr's mind went black. The last thing he remembered was falling and hitting the ground.
Everyone was finished with dinner by the time people began to notice that something was up. Zephyr usually was hungry at least halfway through the meal. Neo felt that he could entice Zephyr by putting some of the food near his door, but it still lay untouched by the stairs. Everyone began looking all over the place for him, but couldn't find him anywhere.
"Where is he?" Ikia asked as she looked underneath the couch for the fifth time, "It's not like him to play hide and seek without telling someone."
"Well, he could be anywhere at this point," Nova said as she looked underneath Fex's sleeping form for the fourth time, "I wouldn't even be surprised if he's underneath the mansion by now."
"Nope, he's not," Miko said as she poked out from a loose floorboard, "It's dank and dusty down here, but if there's one thing not in here it's Zephyr. However, I did manage to find a sandwich I lost a few weeks ago. I think I can see why I lost it."
Everyone nearby, including Fex, groaned and moved away from the awful smell as Miko revealed an old sandwich made of fish and crumbled cheese; not the best combination in food. Fex, who was wide awake now, tumbled off the couch in an attempt to get away. Ikia and Nova had to move quickly to get away from his barbed tail, which almost cut into the expensive couch.
"Hey, what's with the wake-up call?" he asked.
"Look around, genius," Nova groaned, "I'm blind and even I can see that we're looking for someone."
Fex cocked an eyebrow. "Who's missing?"
Nobody answered as they continued searching for the young Zephyr. Aros and Neo both were frantically searching everywhere in the mansion grounds. Both of them came back full of branches and leaves from the garden nearby.
"He's not in the Strawberry patch," said Neo as he pulled off random twigs and leaves, "And I just figured out that someone managed to plant a rosebush nearby, though I didn't find out until after I ran into it."
"He's not up in his tree," Aros said, "I even tried looking inside of it. He's not hiding anywhere outside."
Ikia looked real worried. Those words were not what she wanted to hear. Neo tried looking around some more and suddenly noticed that there was one person in particular not doing anything.
"Onya?" Neo asked, "Honey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, daddy," Onya said. For once, her hands weren't on a book. She was simply sitting on a chair and gazing out at a window. Although that would have been just coincidence where she was looking, both Lybra and Ikia knew what lay beyond the window.
"Honey?" Lybra asked as she approached her daughter, "What's wrong? Do you know where Zephyr is?"
"Yes," she said. Onya could never tell a lie; not even to her mother. However, there would be times that she would keep the full truth from her, and only tell her bits and pieces at a time.
"Where is he?" Ikia asked, "Where is Zephyr?"
"I don't know," she said, "Not exactly, anyway."
Neo and Aros both came close to the little girl. Neo put a hand on his three-year-old's shoulder and looked into her blue eyes.
"Onya, where is she?" he asked, "Where is Zephyr?"
Onya looked between the adults with her blue eyes. Aros came close and put his hand on her other shoulder.
"Where is my son?" he asked. It was simple and clear. Not a threat, but a statement backed by force. Everyone recognized Aros's tone of voice and his posture; it was whenever he was determined to do something that usually involved trouble things that he didn't like doing but would do anyway if it meant saving someone he loved.
Onya didn't really know what to do. She didn't want to betray her trust, but if Zephyr was in trouble he needed the adults to find him. All the logic and wisdom inside of her worked their way into making her speak, and when she did speak she said two words that spurred the whole house into action.
Zephyr groaned. He felt like his world was spinning. His head hurt, and his legs ached from his constant running. Slowly getting up, he opened his eyes, but suddenly thought that they were glued shut.
The answer to his confusion was simple. He was in the middle of the deepest and darkest part of the Black Forest. He didn't know how he got there, or why, but he did know this much; he wasn't alone.
Something black and horrid was snaking through the shadows. It was truly like a snake, for it was on its belly and slithered across the ground. The only reason why Zephyr managed to see it was because it was truly blacker than its surroundings. All light seemed to be absorbed by it, leaving only a black shadow that caused the earth to tremble in its wake.
Then, he saw them. The eyes, followed by the evil grin of the mouth, appeared out of nowhere. The shadow seemed to follow them. Indeed, they were a part of the shadow, as if the shadow was truly just a part of another creature as a whole and only looked like a shadow. However, Zephyr could not deny how scared he was at seeing this monster rise up before him like a deadly snake; ready and waiting to strike.
"Wake up, little bird," the mouth said with a big grin, "Mommy bird and daddy bird aren't at home to protect you now."
"Who who are you?" Zephyr asked.
The shadow began to materialize. At first, Zephyr thought that the figure standing before him was a draconian, but at second glance he could tell that it was someone much different. He seemed to feel older; as if he was far older than any man he had ever seen in his entire life. He wore torn jeans and a torn shirt, which was poorly covered over by a shaggy vest. His feet were bare, like a draconian's, and his claws were also black. He had long, black hair, which looked surprisingly familiar, but the one thing that he did have that really caught Zephyr's eye was a long, black tail with spikes and a spade on the end like his mother's.
"I go by many names, kid," the figure said, his smile showing off his knife-like teeth, "but your mom and daddy know me by the name of Bellatrex. You can call me uncle "
Aros was fiddling around in his room. He was mad. Very mad. Zephyr, once again, had managed to disobey a direct rule that had been the one rule that he was supposed to follow above all else; never enter the Black Forest. Now Aros was for certain that this was the second time in four years that Zephyr had disobeyed that rule, but since they had not seen Zephyr yet Aros was sure that he was hurt, or worse.
Whoever would have hurt his child would pay.
Neo knocked on the door and poked his head inside the room. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"What does it look like?" Aros growled, "I'm going to find my kid."
Neo walked in. "Not alone, you're not," he said.
"Yes, I am," Aros said as he rummaged around in a dresser drawer, "I don't expect anyone else to get involved. Zephyr is my responsibility, and he's my kid. I'm going to find him, and I'll kill anyone who hurts him."
"I know what you mean," Neo said, "But Zephyr is like a kid to all of us. Aros, I just want to say I'm sorry for what I said earlier."
Aros stopped and let out an exasperated sigh. "What?"
"What I said last night," he said, "and this morning I was wrong. You are a responsible father, and you are more than capable of raising Zephyr and doing so the way you see fit. I have never judged you on that regard in the past, and I shouldn't judge you now. If Zephyr has run away because of us, then it is just as much my responsibility to help you find him as it is yours to protect your child. Will you forgive me?"
Aros reached into the drawer and took out a sword and a scabbard. The weapon clicked as he fumbled while placing the scabbard on a hook in his belt. Looking up, he saw that Neo was wearing the jumpsuit that he normally wore while Dragon Racing. Hidden away inside his sleeves, the spines of bone twitched in agitation as they began to withdraw from his wrists. Aros could see that there was no backing down for Neo. He was just as determined as Aros was.
Aros sighed and let loose one of his rare smiles. "Sure," he said, "Whatever."
The two of them shook hands. As soon as they were able, they made their way down the path to the Black Forest. Ikia, Lybra, and Onya watched them go. The three of them hoped that they would make it back alive, and with Zephyr in tow. If anything happened to any of the three of them, the mansion would never be the same.
"I don't have an uncle," Zephyr said.
"If its one thing I'm not, it's a liar," the evil man said.
"But how? My mom and dad never had brothers and sisters."
"I suppose, in a sense, you are right," the man said as he circled Zephyr and flicked his spiny tail, "You see, my little brother was born an only child. However, he and I both know that we share the exact same mother. My mother, sad to say, was the Queen of Silk; the Yellow Maiden; the Lady of all Dragons."
Zephyr was given visions of someone very, very beautiful. He saw, standing next to them, a woman wearing a golden dress. She was beautiful, with long hair and golden eyes that flashed like the sun, and a smiling but sad face. Behind her, a very beautiful dragon that looked like it was made of golden silk reared up and roared to the skies. The vision suddenly faded in a flash of light, and the sound of someone, a man, screaming filled his ears.
Zephyr found that he was on his hands and knees. The man chuckled.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" he asked, "Pain usually does. As does death. And I deliver them both equally."
"What did I see?" Zephyr asked.
"One of my powers is the ability to tamper with the mind of lesser races," the man said as he began showing interest in some dirt and dried blood on one of his claws, "It is something I love to do above all else; you see, unlike your precious daddy, who was born half dragon and half human and also retaining some of our mother's powers, my powers come once in a long age. My people; my own father; condemned me from birth, just because of who I was when I was born. I was cast away to live my life in the darkness of the world, but I survived the elements and waited a thousand years; plotting my revenge; until I managed to strike and killed my precious father."
Zephyr heard something bite down hard on something else's neck, and the cry of a wounded animal that was blinded in pain. He felt such pain surge throughout his body, and he groaned.
"If if you can do this to minds," Zephyr said, "then that must mean that "
"Yes," the dragon-man said, "I tampered with your vision. That scryer, Blackwood, was oh so easy to take advantage of. Mess up with someone's vision for a little bit, and it's more than enough to make even the most innocent boy's dreams become a nightmare. I even managed to copy some of Blackwood's smoke rings to fool you and your bratty friend. Easy to do, even when one is a dragon in human form."
Zephyr coughed and tried to get to his feet, but the moment he tried to get out of a kneeling position, he felt a surge of pain wash through him. He looked up at the man as best as he could allow, and managed to look up fearfully into those dark, glowing red eyes.
"Why did you bring me here?" Zephyr asked.
"Well, isn't it obvious, little nephew?" the man chuckled, "I am going to make you my servant. I've always been obsessed with your mother, and your father has been nothing but a thorn in my side ever since mom decided to make him one of her 'chosen few.' Do you have any idea how upsetting that is, for a guy like me? I, a dragon far older than he, a pureblood of my people and entitled to more than just a life of exile, am damned on the spot and cast aside like some unwanted corpse. And then, when all hope seems lost, I find your mother; trapped in a veil that was one step away from death. I could have easily let her die, but I grew obsessed with the little girl. I gave her life; I allowed her to share a part of my heritage, and she became one of your kind; the first draconian who was not born, but created. Shocking, isn't it?"
Zephyr gasped. How? How was that possible? This man couldn't have been the one who changed his mother from a human to a draconian! That would mean that
"That would mean that a piece of my black, twisted heart lies inside of her," the man growled with a smile.
Zephyr gazed up at him in shock.
"What? Do you think that just because the great Bellatrex can alter the mind, it doesn't mean he can't read it either? Come, boy. If you had any sense of a dragon at all, even if it is clouded by human blood, you should be able to get that from the start."
Bellatrex sighed and put his claws together. "Looks like we'll have a lot of work to do," he said, "Once I make you my servant, I can use you against your precious mommy and daddy. Then, when all is over, I can claim your mother as my own, and murder your father in cold blood, just as he should be. It won't take long at all; just simply breaking you and enslaving you to my will."
"You can't," Zephyr said fearfully, "I won't let you."
"I never said you could fight back," Bellatrex chuckled, "If you are your mother's son, then some of my blood lies within you as well. The difficult task would be finding where it is inside of you and then using it against you."
Zephyr was suddenly struck down with blinding pain. Bellatrex chuckled as he held his claws near the boy; blinding shadow energy licking across the young draconian's body.
"If it's one thing I'm not, it's a liar," Bellatrex said, "Now this is really going to hurt."
Zephyr screamed. Blinding hot pain coursed through his entire body. His skeleton felt as if it was going to crack apart, and his skin felt as if it would burn on the outside but freeze on the inside. His blood was boiling and his organs were crackling, and his brain felt as if a thousand white-hot needles were pointing into his body. He knew that if he had to endure any more of it, he would succumb to it.
"Interesting," Bellatrex muttered, "Very interesting."
Zephyr let out a hiss as the pain extended into each and every hair covering his entire body. His claws raked at the earth as he tried to escape, though he was helpless to stop the pain. His eyes were shut tight, but even so it did not protect him against any further agony as the blinding power shot through his optic nerves and into his eyes. Every last piece of him was in dreaded pain, and his mind was slowly losing its grip.
"The Esona," Bellatrex whispered, "Surely it could not have "
Zephyr suddenly felt the pain cease. Something began glowing inside of him. He could not explain why, but he could hear a humming sound coming from deep inside of his body. The temptation to look was great, but by now his eyes were fast shut from the pain.
"Clever girl," Bellatrex whispered.
Zephyr was suddenly kicked aside. He looked up. His vision was a blur, but he could still see Bellatrex as he raised up his right hand and began to form powerful energies inside of it.
"You're useless to me," he said, "But even in death, you still can be useful. When your daddy comes and finds your body here, all torn and mangled, he will snap. It'll only be a matter of time before we see what becomes of that. Goodbye, little bird."
Zephyr heard something; a cross between a growl and some kind of language. Although he could not recognize the words, he could sense that it was like the music that his mother would sing when she was alone in the orchard. However, this one was different; the tone was evil, and the purpose was pain; nothing like what his mother wound sing. Zephyr knew that the next few minutes of his life would be his last, and every last second would be in agony.
However, just before Bellatrex could finish the incantation, a familiar sound broke through the wood. Bellatrex cocked an eyebrow in surprise, but suddenly recoiled and hissed in anger as a powerful light shot through the clearing.
Zephyr could hear it. Although he couldn't see what was going on, he recognized the sound. It was like a cry; the cry of a powerful creature. It was a challenge and a warning in one melodic-like sound, and it was beautiful and frightening to behold.
It was the howl of a wolf.
Bellatrex was suddenly struck backwards as a huge creature as big as a horse attacked from Zephyr's right. The creature was glowing bright green and gold, and had an eerie look surrounding its body. A gigantic set of jaws came down like a vise that sank deep into the dragon's humanoid flesh.
Bellatrex roared. It was like the scream of a drake, but worse. It was an evil sound that crossed with both anger and hatred. Most of all, it was a cry of surprise and shock. Bellatrex was obviously caught off guard by the sudden attack.
Bellatrex leapt away and pulled his arm free of the jaws. A ripping sound soon followed as the dragon-man went down on all fours; his vest torn at the back, revealing a series of long, sharp spines concealed beneath his human skin.
"You will pay for that, you son of a bitch!" Bellatrex roared
A beam of light struck Bellatrex. Soon, he was on the ground as a huge paw that was half the size of an elephant's foot pinned him down. The powerful beast growled as it brought its huge muzzle close to the dragon's face.
Bellatrex struck back with all of his might. Superior strength and agility allowed his blows to hit hard. However, he was shocked when he saw his own claws pass right through the creature's snout and not leave a single scratch.
Bellatrex felt the wind knock out of him as another powerful beam of light struck him in the belly. Steam rose off of his skin as he hissed in pain. With a sudden flash of darkness, the dragon's body disappeared. He moved like a shadow behind the creature before materializing and launching a blast of shadow energy from his hand.
The wolf yelped and jumped to the ready. The powerful beast gazed at the dragon-man with glowing yellow eyes. Bellatrex hissed as his claws extended from his fingers and his teeth bared from his huge mouth.
"Don't you worry, little bird," Bellatrex said with a smile, "I'll come back for you soon. This won't be the last you see of your beloved uncle, little Zephyr."
And just like that, Bellatrex disappeared from the Black Forest; his body transforming into a shadow that melded with the darkness all around.
Zephyr looked up. His eyes were still blurry. The strange wolf-creature snarled at the spot where Bellatrex disappeared before howling up into the sky. Glowing lights began to dance around it as it slowly shrunk down from the size of a horse to the size of a large dog. The wolf turned and then gazed its glowing yellow eyes at Zephyr before approaching the draconian boy.
Zephyr whimpered and backed away. He was afraid of this creature; not as much as he was of Bellatrex, but still enough that he didn't want it to come nearer. He closed his eyes and extended his claws as he backed up against a tree trunk in an attempt to get away.
"Hush, child," a voice said, calm and strong, "The Spirit of this Forest will not harm you."
Zephyr stopped whimpering. He opened his eyes, and saw the wolf's image come into clear focus. The wolf was sitting on its hind legs; its eyes gazing knowingly into his own as it stood to attention.
"Are are you t-t-t-t-the Ghost Wolf?" Zephyr asked.
The wolf bowed his head. "Sometimes, little one."
Zephyr lowered his hands a little bit so that he could get a good look at the creature. "Why did you scare me before?" he asked, "In my dreams?"
"I did not mean to frighten you, child," the wolf said, "However, the dark one was trying to snatch your mind away from you. I had to act quickly, so I stepped in and broke his concentration while you were spirit-walking. When I did, I left behind great fears of this place; hoping that you would not listen to your curious mind and search for the One Who Walks in Shadow."
Blackwood. Zephyr lowered his arms completely now. As he gazed closely at the creature, he noticed that he could actually see through its body. A tree rat scurried right behind the wolf, though Zephyr could see it as plain as day.
"What are you?" Zephyr asked.
The Wolf stood upright and gazed upwards. Some of the tree boughs split in the clearing, revealing a brightly lit sky filled with stars. The constellation of a wolf in mid-chase twinkled in the skyline as the two of them gazed up at the heavens.
"I am of the Tuath-Duatha," the Wolf said, "My people are ancient; far more ancient than even the dragons themselves. We are the spirits of the earth; we walk among the races in the forms of animals. Sometimes we give counsel to those in need. Other times, we are simply watching; waiting; gazing upon the races and testing their judgment. Only a select few of us have ever passed our own judgment upon the races of men, draconian, and dragons, and these few, sadly are long gone in the ways of the past, and have joined the stars. My kind are rare indeed, but are called upon by greater forces when the world is at its greatest need."
The wolf gazed at the young boy. "One of these forces has asked that I watch over you, young Prince of Two Nations. She is a kind soul that has joined the ranks of those passed, and has a seat near the Tuath-Duatha in the realm beyond this one. She is the mother which the Dark One had spoken of, and is the Kindly Mother of all Dragons."
Adalade's figure came into view. The dragon-woman smiled down upon her grandchild. Even though Zephyr knew that she was dead, and that whatever he was seeing was likely his grandmother's spirit, he was still calmed by his mother's beautiful and graceful appearance. The figure of his grandmother turned and gave a slight head bow to the wolf, who in turn bowed low in respect to the Dragon Mother. Adalade gave one last sad smile to Zephyr before disappearing from view completely, leaving Zephyr alone with the wolf.
Zephyr turned his attention to the wolf. "Are you going to be my guardian?" he asked.
The wolf bowed his head. "Sometimes," it spoke, "But there are times when even I cannot be around. However, should you ever need me, there is something that I shall give to you as a gift."
The wolf came up and placed a paw on Zephyr's outstretched hand. His birthmark glowed as a small, wooden item formed atop his palm. He gazed at it in awe as the light faded and revealed a wooden flute that fit perfectly in his hand.
"It is called an Ocarina," the wolf explained, "Though it does not seem like much, the Ocarina is an instrument that bonds with the user. It is, in a sense, a living thing that shall sing as well as the user desires, so long as the player will have a kind and deserving heart. Play my song, Prince of Two Nations, and learn the sound of the Melody of the Wolves."
The wolf took a few steps back and sat down. A low wind began to blow across the forest as the mighty creature lifted its graceful head. In a few short seconds, it opened its mouth and let loose a howl that rose and fell like a song.
Zephyr looked down at the Ocarina. In the dim light, he could see the blue and gold markings, and recognized them as those of his mother and father. Putting his fingers where he judged fit best, he brought it up to his lips and did his best to follow along with the song. To his surprise, he was a natural. The song; with the Ocarina's low and high notes combined with the wolf's steady howl and the wind rustling through the trees; seemed to be like a force of nature that constantly caused Zephyr's heart to be filled with wonder at its music. When it was finally over, he saw that the wolf was beginning to fade away as the wind brushed by.
"Farewell, Prince of Two Nations," the wolf said, "We will meet again."
It let loose a final howl, and then it was gone.
"Zephyr! Zephyr, where are you?!"
Aros and Neo had been searching all night. The two of them picked up Zephyr's trail easily, but the trial had become scarcer once they got past the clearing with the Drake skeleton in it. Further in, the trail suddenly disappeared in places, and the two had to backtrack in order to find where the boy had gone off too.
The two of them put their backs against the trunks of the trees in the dark, dank wood. Neo panted slightly as he drew his bone spines back into his wrists and slipped down until his legs were splayed out on the path.
"Let's rest here," he said, "I don't think we're going to find him tonight."
"Are you crazy?" Aros growled, "If we were to wait now, he'd never survive!"
"We can't find him in the dead of night," Neo said, "We have to wait until some sunlight gets in here."
"Sunlight never comes into the Black Forest," Aros growled, "Why the hell do you think they call it that?!"
"Either way, as much as I want to find Zephyr, we need to think of our own needs first," Neo said, "We would be of little help to him right now if the two of us had to protect him in the state we're currently in."
Aros roared. He grabbed a nearby tree trunk and sunk his claws in. With all of his might, he pulled hard on the huge pine tree, causing the entire thing to come crashing down onto the path with an almighty KABOOM! Leaping on top of the trunk, Aros let out a tremendous roar that shook the pine boughs; scattering birds from their roosts and causing the whole forest to go quiet.
Aros felt himself slowly slip down off of the pine. Neo watched as Aros sat with his legs outstretched on the ground, his face buried in his hands. Neo couldn't tell in the light, but he could have almost sworn that he saw Aros crying.
"I'm the kid's father, dammit," Aros said, "If anything were to ever happen to him, I'd never forgive myself."
Neo approached the draconian and placed his hand on his shoulder. "It's gonna be alright," he said, "We'll find him in the morning. Believe me; nobody's going to let you lose him. He's a strong kid. If he's anything like his knucklehead of a father, then this whole wood should be afraid of him right now."
Aros buried his face deeper into his arms. He didn't care what anyone thought; he needed his kid, badly. He loved Zephyr with all of his heart and soul, and his being gone drove a deep gouge inside of him. If anything ever happened to him
Aros never got to answer his own question, for he had just fallen asleep. He may not have known it, but someone's warm and loving touch had caused him to rest further as he slept on throughout the night. Had he have kept his mind awake a moment longer, he would have detected the scent of his mother in the air
Zephyr clawed his way through the undergrowth. He didn't know why, but he was for certain that it had been a lot easier trying to get to where Bellatrex was hiding, but now he felt like he was trying to go through an impossible jungle. Clawing his way between briars and thorn trees, he felt himself become cut up and bruised like crazy.
Come on, he said to himself. You can do it. Just a few more steps closer to home
He walked on and on; stumbling over roots and vines as he dug his way through the undergrowth. It took the better half of the night, but he was not going to let time drag him down. He would keep going no matter what, until he was in the arms of his parents once again and back home safe in his bed.
Finally, after what felt like miles and miles of trekking, he tripped next to a fallen tree. Landing hard, he rolled underneath it until he landed on something incredibly soft. He couldn't tell what it was, but he didn't care. All he wanted to do now was cuddle up and go to sleep.
As he did, he didn't notice that the soft object was covered in chains.
Aros awoke slowly. A tiny fringe of daybreak managed to break through the darkness of the forest. Aros let loose a quick yawn and stretched, though the heartbreak of losing Zephyr was still deep in his heart. He made as if to get up but he felt something tug on his tail.
All of his hairs stood up on end. He turned around and noticed that his tail had gone under the tree he had torn apart the night before. Quick as he could without hurting himself, he pushed the tree back and tried to pull his tail out from beneath the depression that the tree left behind.
He suddenly noticed that it wasn't the tree that had been holding onto his tail.
Aros stood stock still. No, it couldn't be.
Aros flexibly lifted his tail out from the largest hole in the depression. There, gripping onto his tail for dear life, but fast asleep, was none other than a big ball of copper-brown hair with blue markings beneath his eyes.
"Hello, squirt," Aros said softly, just barely trying to conceal his smile.
Zephyr yawned and opened his eyes. His blue eyes went wide with shock and delight at the face that greeted him.
In one quick movement, Aros brought his son off of his tail and hugged him tightly against his chest. He bent down so that he could be eye level with his son. The two of them embraced each other for the better half of an hour; both just so happy that they found each other again.
Zephyr quickly noticed something was odd. His shoulder seemed to be turning a bit wet.
"Dad?" Zephyr asked, "Are you crying?"
Aros sniffed and quickly wiped his eyes. "Sort of," he said as he looked at his son with his big, bronze eyes.
"But I thought you never cried," Zephyr said, "That's what everyone always says."
Aros chuckled slightly. "They lied."
"But why are you crying?"
"Because the best thing that's ever happened to me had left without even saying goodbye, and now he's back in my arms again."
Aros gave Zephyr another gentle hug. "Don't you ever do that to me again, squirt," Aros said, "Your mother and I were worried sick about you."
Zephyr returned the hug. "I love you, daddy."
"I love you too, Zephyr."
As the two of them embraced, someone else nearby got up and let loose a big yawn before stretching to release the kinks in his back. With a big crackle of backbone, Neo shook off his drowsiness and turned to the two.
"Zephyr!" he shouted in delight.
Zephyr looked over at the Dragon Racer and smiled. "Hey, Uncle Neo," he said.
Aros let go of Zephyr so that he could give him a big hug. Neo swept his 'nephew' up in his arms and hugged him tightly.
"Don't you do that again, mister," Neo said, "Your auntie and I wouldn't know what we would do without you around. Oh, and your parents were worried sick about you."
Zephyr giggled. He was glad that the two of them had been looking for him. He looked at them both and said, "So, does this mean you guys stopped fighting?"
Neo nodded. "Absolutely."
Aros shrugged. "Whatever. Come on, let's go home. Your mother's probably making breakfast right about now."
Zephyr's stomach growled loudly. Neo chuckled as he looked down at the eight year old, but suddenly noticed the thing hanging off of his belt.
"Hey?" he asked, "Is that an Ocarina?"
"Where'd you get it? Those things are supposed to be rare."
"Uh a friend," Zephyr answered.
Neo put his hands on his hips. "You know, the funny thing about Ocarinas is that they were supposed to be made for a specific person. If you don't have the feel for it, you can't even get it to make a sound. I bet any one of us would be lucky to get that thing to screech, let alone play anything."
Zephyr smiled. Putting the Ocarina up to his lips, he played the Melody of the Wolves. Neo and Aros stared at Zephyr with wide eyes as he played the song, but suddenly jumped into battle stances when a very loud wolf's howl echoed throughout the Black Forest.
"I think we should get out of here," Aros said as he flicked his tail back and forth.
"Yeah," Neo agreed, "With the stories I've heard about this place, it's a wonder any of us survived the night."
Zephyr chuckled. "Now, uncle Neo," he said mischievously, "You of all people should know that there are no such things as ghosts."
As the three of them left, Zephyr took a look back into the forest. The Ghost Wolf was sitting atop the fallen tree; watching them go. He gave a low bow before whisking away with the wind, leaving behind a fuzzy afterimage of himself in the wilderness.
Zephyr smiled. If he thought that his first adventure was awesome, this one had been epic beyond belief!
But if there was one thing he had learned, there was no greater thrill in an adventure than going home.
And Onya had been right: There were no such things as ghosts
But Spirits were another matter entirely