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Legend speaks of a man with dragon wings. Fifteen hundred years ago the man ventured into our world searching for a companion who would forever be by his side, but none could be found. He left a statue of his likeness in the hopes that one day his companion would come to him and tame his dark soul. That day has finally come, and Christine Bradfern finds herself the chosen one. She drops into in a strange, wondrous, and dangerous new world, but with Tristan at her side and a faith in herself, she will face many challenges and find out where she truly belongs.
Darkness. Cold, merciless darkness. Could anything other than fear arise from that? Could I find more than terror within that blackness?
I was about to find out, and it all started with a broken down bus.
Scratch that. It all started with my crazy friend Lina's idea for us to go on a group tour of the castles of Wales.
I leaned my forehead against the window and sighed. The beautiful countryside passed by us, but the view was marred by a constant curtain of dreary rain. Most of the trip had been as aquatic as this latest adventure as we bumped along the rough road that marked all rural areas in the world as quaint, but painful.
The bus hit another bump in the rough, narrow road that wound through the wilds. My head bumped against the window. "Damn it. . .” I mumbled as I sat up and rubbed the sore spot.
My oblivious friend sat beside me with a map in her lap.
Lina, at twenty-five years of age, was seven years older than me, but sometimes I doubted her birth certificate. She used her finger to trace our route. "That last castle was really neat, but soon we'll get to Laugharne Castle and see some really neat stuff!”
She'd been having an animated talk with herself for the last half hour. I sighed and glanced around at my immediate surroundings. My friend and I sat in the middle of the short bus. The other roughly dozen seats were occupied by couples and singles, and a few pairs like us. Many wore cameras around their necks, others flipped through their phones admiring their recent pictures taken only a few hours ago at the last castle we visited.
"How soon is soon?” I asked her.
She sheepishly smiled at me. "About fifty more miles, but the bus driver says he's taking a shortcut, so maybe it's shorter.” We hit another bump that made my butt leave the seat and drop back down with a hard thump. I grimaced, but slapped a smile on my face as Lina looked to me. "I hope these longs rides aren't boring you.”
I shook my head. "No, not at all. They're giving me time to-um, to think.”
"About what?” she wondered.
"Um, about-” I glanced out the window. "About the rain, and the hills, and-” I squinted into the distance. "And that really ugly cloud coming our way.”
Lina leaned toward me and pressed me against the wall. "Where?”
I squeezed my arm out and pointed at the distant west. "There.” At that moment a flash of lightning struck the sky, illuminating the worried faces among the passengers. One of them was mine.
Our tour guide, a woman of fifty who with starched clothes down to her starched socks, stood from her seat at the front and turned to us. She grasped a clipboard in her long, thin hands and her nose was as sharp as the pencil that hung from a string tied to the board. Her name was Miss Livingstone, and heaven help you if you forgot the ‘Miss' part. "It looks like a storm is coming, folks! If you would please keep to your seats I'm sure we'll be at Laugharne Castle soon.”
"I'm not so sure ‘bout that, Miss Livingstone,” the bus driver, an older gentleman with spectacles, spoke up.
She spun around and her smiling face transformed into the wicked glare of a harpy. "What do you mean by that?”
He nodded at the hood of the bus. A steady stream of steam rose up from the bowels of the engine. "I don't think this coach is going to ‘old out much longer.”
His words proved to be the death-knell as the bus shuddered and rolled to a stop. The driver stood with a torch and rusted old toolbox in his hands. "I'm going to try to fix this, but I think you should be getting these people somewhere else for the night.”
"Don't tell me what I should do!” Miss Livingstone snapped.
He shrugged and stepped down the stairs. "Suit yourself,” he retorted as he disappeared outside.
"What's happening?” one of the older woman called out.
A man stood up and gestured to the window to his right as he looked to our guide. "Where the hell are we?”
Miss Livingstone frowned at the man. "Mr. Proca, please remain seated while the coach driver attempts to fix the engine.”
The driver raised the hood of the bus and great plumes of black smoke rolled out of the engine. I leaned close to the window and watched him stumble to the side of the bus, waving his hand in front of himself as he tried to dispel the smoke from his face. The rain mercilessly pelted his face and he was already soaked to the bone.
"I think I know of a place we can stay,” Lina spoke up as she pointed at her map. "There's a castle not too far from here that might have enough rooms for us.”
Miss Livingstone turned up her nose. "I don't think that will be necessary, Miss St. John. I'm sure the coach driver will fix the engine soon.”
The bus driver stumbled up the stairs, leaving a mess of water in his steps. He drew off his cap and slapped it against the side of his leg to get off the damp. Miss Livingstone sneered at him as he flung water droplets all over the front of the bus.
"No doing, Miss Livingstone,” he admitted as he shook his head. "I can't get ‘er going without a mechanic.”
"But you said you were a mechanic!” she snapped at him.
He stood straight and slapped his damp cap back on. "And one of the best coach mechanics in the area, Miss Livingstone, but this job is going to take two people, and I'm only one.”
Miss Livingstone pursed her prim lips before she turned back to us. "Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of my control, we will have to remain in the coach for the night.”
A great murmur of disapproval arose from the other passengers. The man from before, Mr. Proca, stood again and pointed at Lina. "What about that castle she spoke of? Why can't we stay there?”
"Because that castle isn't on our itinerary, nor would they be expecting such a large group,” Miss Livingstone reminded him.
"We could try, couldn't we?” Lina countered as she looked to our fellow passengers. "What's it going to hurt?”
"Let's give it a try!”
Miss Livingstone was livid as she clutched her clipboard. "Very well,” she growled as her narrowed eyes zeroed in on Lina and me. "We will try.”
"I think she's warming up to us,” I mused as we stepped off the bus. My backpack was snuggled against my back while the other passengers struggled to get their huge wheeled contraptions out of the below-storage bins.
Lina's eyebrows shot up as she continually wiped the raindrops from her folded map. "You think so?”
Lina's face fell. "But I was just trying to help. . .”
I sighed and laid a hand on her shoulder to guide her away from the bus so the object of our discussion wouldn't overhear us. There was a convenient hedge that ran along the left side of the road that provided a thick wall on one side for us to huddle again. "I know that and you know that, but Miss Livingstone is the type of person who considers ‘help' a four-letter word.” Lina still looked a little depressed, so I nodded at the map. "So where is this castle, anyway?”
She perked up and pointed at a small black dot among the many other black dots. "Right here. It's called Castell-that's ‘castle' in Welsh, Chwedlonol.”
"What's the second word mean?” I asked her.
She shook her head. "No idea.”
"It means legend.”
I stiffened. It hadn't been my friend who replied. It had been a voice from my left where the wall of shrubbery stood. Lina's pale face told me she had heard it, as well, and together we creaked our heads around to face the brush.
The face of an old man stuck out from the branches. His eyes were wide and there was a wicked, toothy grin on his face. Lina and I grabbed each other and let out a chorus of screams that showed we were both sopranos. Terrified sopranos.
The face disappeared back into the bushes as our fellow travelers and Miss Livingstone hurried over to us. "What are you two screaming about?” she snapped.
Lina pointed at the bushes. "T-there was an old man there!”
Miss Livingstone squinted for a moment at where she pointed before she shook her head. "I see no one, Miss St. John. Perhaps you were imagining things.”
"I can vouch for her sanity.”