Naiad | Teen Ink


September 23, 2021
By Ivyyyy, Beijing, Other
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Ivyyyy, Beijing, Other
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Favorite Quote:
I MUST NOT FEAR. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me, and when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Author's note:

I simply love dragons and magic! Hope you will enjoy this piece!

The streets of Saenysse are deserted. Under the dim, yellow lights that shred darkness, she walks quickly, not caring to let her footsteps ring around in the damp night air.

The tower is not difficult to spot.

They say this white tower was built where the first dragon had landed in Naiad, and it has been shielded by the purest dragon magic all this time. Five hundred years after its construction, the tower received its first compliment: the king of Naiad hung the horn of the great dragon Ganymedes on its golden spire; for more than six centuries, the horn has immersed itself in the warm sunlight that gives Naiad shine. At noon, for the one moment that Naiadians call “The Ganymedeous Moment,” the horn mirrors the magnificent sunlight from its smooth surface to the water in the sacred fountain placed at the center of the city, even when the sun is covered by thick clouds.

Naiadians say that the white tower, the dragon horn, and the sacred fountain, are the three greatest treasures of Naiad, awarding this land peace and soundness, away from the intricacy and complication of myths, magic, and ancient legendary creatures that still prowl the world of the Seven Kingdoms, especially from their neighbors that inhabit the island on their west who are certainly more reckless and wilder. But now, whatever they dislike, are here on the very land.

The horn just lies there, unveiling its own color—not sunlight gold, but the silvery white of moonlight—wonder how Ganymedes feels about his horn being kept here, in a human kingdom. It’s difficult to determine whether the horn gathers color from the moon or the moon it, but for the Naiad inhabitants, it has become the fabulous token of the White City Saenysse and the entire Naiad kingdom.

Time to go back. She stares at the horn for one last time: one day, she will retrieve it from the tower. She smiles to herself: she cannot wait for the day to come as she knows deep inside that it will. The anticipation, well, grows every day.

Far, far away, a shadow glides pass the city silently, and instantly, both disappear into the ink-blue sky. Once again, the land of Naiad is left in peace.

When the first ray of sunlight pierces this world, she finds herself far beyond the tranquil sea. Waves, or “Aenia”, bounce up and down gently, dancing with the weak, golden light that fishermen call “hope”. Underneath her, the flame-red dragon stretches its wings casually, squinting its golden eyes towards their destination: a small piece of green land inlaid into the ocean. The wild island that is home.

Now when she stares at it, it is currently floating on her favorite region of the ocean which is lighter and shallower than areas. Yet, she knows that a few hours later, the island will leave this region and go to some new areas, like all islands in the Seven Kingdoms do.

“It will move to the west, farther away from Naiad,” Akann answers for her inside his head. “It will take us more time if we don’t hurry right now, and Amarie may be angry.” The dragons always connect to the Zu Elf Spirits deeper than anything else in the world.

She pats the dragon’s flaming red scales gently, “We will be there soon. Don’t worry.”

The dragon Akann grunts softly, “Sure, closing off our connection for a moment.” And he flies lower to the gleaming sea surface, leaving a trail of white foams behind. It’s too early for any ship to sail between the two islands, so they can enjoy the rare serenity before they return to the bustling world.

The Amalthea island welcomes the tired travelers back with its conventional ocean-blue-decorated buildings, civilians dressed in flamboyant clothes, and crowded markets as they reach the harbor Capital—Harboron, the most colorful city in the Seven Kingdoms. And its reputation is well-deserved: you can find no blue purer than the buildings, and no two pieces of cloth dyed in the same color.

“Amaltheans would be born artists and magicians,” others say, “if they are not born adventurers.” True. You can only find dragons and magic on Amalthea, the exclusive island on the west edge of the Seven Kingdoms that exists mostly in legends.

Unlike inhabitants of other islands who have only heard of the most respected animals in ancestral poetries and legends, Amalthean civilians have already got used to dragons flying pass their heads that no one even bothers to cheer for a passing dragon; instead, they just slid their right forefinger horizontally across their right cheek to show veneration. Nevertheless, when Akann is low enough for them to see her face, some kneel and shout out her name, “Princess Ashley! Princess Ashley!”

She replies by waving and smiling.

Maybe it’s because that this was the first large island dragons discovered when they flew from the Western Islands the first, or maybe this island had the wild scent dragons favored comparing to other islands; anyway, the dragons wouldn’t go any further into the Seven Kingdoms, so their dragon magic has stayed here with them.

Beyond the city and a few towns and some villages remain flourishing forests and highlands on those ancient mountains that expand endlessly, and of course, the Academy of Amalthea.

For so many years, the territory of magic has been kept remote and reclusive from not only outsiders, but also the local Amalthean residents until recently.

To protect its secrecy, the Academy was positioned in a valley among the mountains, peacefully hidden from the outside world. The borderless forests, mountains, and highlands also provide shelters for the dragons. The archaic marble front-gates remains open while they fly pass, and Ashley can see the delicate engravings of dragons and humans on it—the story of the foundation of the magical gates. The gates may seem insignificant and merely decorative, but it is guarded by three barriers of strong magic surrounding the borders of the Academy, casted by the three strongest enchantresses ever appeared in human history, stopping ordinary people from entering the most sacred shelter for magic and dragons on the entire island. Only the head of the Academy has the ability to lift the barriers transiently for important occasions.

Inside the gate, forests, highlands, mountains, rivers, and lakes unwind and spread out. Everything beyond seems to be the same with outside, except one.

Flying past the forest between the marble gate and the buildings, Akann is joined by other spectacular dragons in the air whose riders are giving instructions. They must be coming back from daily patrols, training sessions, or missions. Buildings start to appear gradually, starting with small wooden huts for training or storage, moving on to dormitories, and then larger buildings with bright-color flags for courses, gatherings, and activities.

In the center of the entire Academy, surrounded by the tallest buildings, is the largest square in the Academy. Hundreds of trainees, mentors, and dragons pass the square every day. Ever since she entered the Academy, Ashley has been told by the mentors that the square was the first thing dragons built in the Academy, and beneath its surface is the ground that absorbs dragon magic; she has also heard that buried beneath, is the corpse of one of the oldest and largest dragons whose name is only chanted through the poems of Helamor.

The first session must be over as the square is full of people. Ashley and Akann have barely reached the square when someone calls her from the ground, “Hey Ashley, Amarie wants to see you!”

Ashley groans. The dragon chuckles and lands on the square with a thump. Ashley strokes the dragon’s sleek forehead quickly, and lets it go. It leaps into the air again like a scarlet arrow.

The girl who just passed the urgent message is waiting for her. Ashley stares at her and sighs, “Seriously Vivia, what’s so important with Amarie?”

Her friend Vivia grins at her, “Prince Phineas has arrived for a visit.”

“What, now?” Ashley gasps. Vivia giggles meaningfully, “You are nervous to meet the person you are going to marry?”

“Where are they?” Ashley rolls her eyes at Vivia who has been mocking her with the engagement since the moment they became friends.

“The Drakus Hall,” Vivia laughs and brushes her brown hair with her fingers carefully, “At least I am going to get ready to meet the prince, unlike you.”

Since Amarie, the head of the Academy, is summoning them, they both walk quickly towards the hall. Fortunately, it is not far away from the square.

The Drakus Hall, named after the word “Dragon” in the language of the dragons, is the largest and most formal hall in the Academy. When they arrive, people with white uniforms are standing in front of the hall. On their right arms, all bear the horn emblem that represents Naiad.

“So those are the royal retinues from Saenysse, huh,” Ashley murmurs as both walk pass them. “White City, white uniforms.” Looking at themselves, they are wearing uniforms too, although theirs bear the token of a golden dragon that symbolizes Amalthea—the kingdom of dragons. Opposite to the united white color of the Naiadian uniform, the Academy uniform certainly accommodates to the Amalthean’s love of colors. The riders’ uniform takes on the specific color of her dragon, so Ashley’s uniform is the flaming red color of Akann.

A Naiadian retinue opens the gate for them, and cool air gushes out. Their mentor Amarie, female leader and mentor of the Academy, is sitting with a young man. As the girls enter, both stand up immediately. Amarie is of medium height, but as she ages every year, she becomes more and more like a senior with more wrinkles and speckles, only her eyes are as sharp as usual.

The prince is tall and lean under his silver cloak. Ashley finds his eyes lock on her.

“Ashley, Vivia, may I introduce you Prince Phineas of Naiad,” Amarie addresses the three of them in order. “Sire, this is Ashley, Princess of Amalthea, and this is Vivia, the first and only Naiadian rider.”

All three of them bow to each other. Ashley has never met Phineas before, but she is not surprised to see his light green eyes and dark hair—the common Naiadian feature. Nevertheless, it is difficult for outsiders to distinguish civilians from the two islands as they both have yellow skin and dark hair. The only apparent difference is that Amaltheans have dark eyes, and the Naiadians have light-colored eyes. Obviously, there are other differences such as the more angled face from the Amalthea island.

The prince must be feeling awkward, so he clears his throat, “So, this is your daily attire?” His tone is a little censorious.

“Yes,” she glares at him. “It is more convenient as we spend so much time on dragon backs.” The prince nods, “Indeed, back in our capital, Saenysse, there are no woman wearing trousers or having short hair. Oh, and you are from Naiad?” he turns to ask Vivia who nods quickly in return.

“Yes, Sire, my family does commercials between the two islands,” Vivia answers in a small, nervous voice.

Growing up in this Academy, Ashley never feels strange about herself since she has been seeing women wearing trousers and having short hair for most of her life. Phineas pointing that out with a critical tone enrages her, so she moves her gaze to the intricate decoration of the walls to avoid more contact, and an even more awkward silence appears.

Amarie smiles, “Ashley, Vivia, I was just giving the prince a brief introduction of our Academy, so why don’t you stay here and listen?”

The girls nod, and move to stand behind their leader.

“Sire, you may not be familiar with our Academy as it has only been open to outside recently. We only recruit young females every year for training, and after they have finished training, they will become real riders to guard our island and train the dragons.”

The prince nods seriously, “So, do riders serve for a whole life?”

“No. Most riders live like normal people; so a lot of them choose to retire in their late twenties or in their thirties. However, a small part of them still stays at the Academy to do some teaching or administration jobs.”

“While they are training,” the prince seems to be thinking about his wording carefully, “do all of the girls train together?”

“Oh no, Sire. New trainees train on their own, and then if they pass our tests and observations, they will become junior trainees, which they will remain so during most of their training years. After that they will be senior trainees for another few years before they become real riders, if they pass our tests obviously. We only recruit about ten girls every year, so there won’t be any resource conflicts.”

The prince continues to ask a few more questions, and Amarie answers them patiently while the girls stand behind her quietly. When they are finally finished, Amarie addresses the girls.

“Now, Ash, Viv, now I will a little bit about the real purpose of the prince’s visit to Amalthea. He is here to bring a message from King Matt and Queen Rosatta which must be brought by the royal in person, according to the Naiad laws. However, we don’t have enough time to discuss this right now as the prince’s ship has to leave Harboron before dusk ends to avoid the giant waves tonight. I will personally find you later, so please get prepared tonight. You can leave now, and I shall call you if necessary.”

They bow to the prince again and step out quickly.

The Naiad procession is still waiting outside, standing in the exact form Ashley and Vivia saw half an hour ago. Amarie is right. The sun is dropping. They can only get to Harboron on time with the fastest carriages so that their ship can avoid the billows that will surge around the cliffs of Amalthea by midnight.

“Are all princes so arrogant?” Vivia complains as soon as they are out of earshot of the Naiadians. “Just look at him criticizing our clothes and hair! I don’t see this common among Amalthean boys?”

Ashley laughs, “Well in comparison, my brothers are fine, to be honest.”

“Of course, they are princes,” Vivia says.

Ashley usually forgets about her other identity—the royal princess of Amalthea, which must have surprised the prince Phineas because she just behaved like an ordinary girl. Half a year after her birth, her parents, King Nikus and Queen Luyina of Amalthea, sent her to the Academy for she already had two brothers to take care of the kingdom, and now she only goes back to the palace occasionally to meet foreign envoys. To her, the Academy is, somehow, less like other places in the Seven Kingdoms, and the reason is simple: women don’t need to be, well, women. Since she was small, she starts to hang out with young dragons, wear shirts and trousers, keep short hair, and she never feels any urge to change all of those in her life. When she walks on the street with unique attire and short hair and the dragon emblem of the mysterious Academy, she can feel the gazes of people: most of them with curiosity and respect, but some include hostility and rejection. Of course she doesn’t mind, but some do, like her friend Vivia. That’s why she and the other three quarters of the girls here still keep long hair, still wear conventional dresses while they can, still keep their zeal and vitality within themselves. Most Amaltheans can adapt to the neo living style, for, well, Amaltheans are born adventurers. People from other islands are worse. Naiadians, for example. Vivia came to the Academy when she was seven, and before that, she had lived in the capital of Amalthea—Harboron—where giant markets, ceremonies, crowds are common, and even before she was born, her parents, who are still trying to raise her in the traditional Naiadian style, moved to Amalthea from Naiad. So, sometimes Ashley would say to her loudly, “Don’t be like a Naiad girl! Be a real rider, Vivs!”

But Vivia just sighs, “I can’t, Ash. I’m not brave enough to, you know, have hair that barely reaches my shoulders, or stroke around with daily tops and trousers. My parents would kill me if I’m more than normal.”

Ashley sighs, too.

She has lived like this for nearly sixteen years. However, the arrival of the prince to whom she is engaged suddenly drags her back to her royal identity, which she has chosen to ignore for most of her life, especially after she was promoted from junior trainee to senior trainee. Those white uniforms, his elegant manners, the entire kingdom he represents……All of them are ponderous——well, never mind.

“Let’s just have something to drink,” she strokes her hair. “I’m too tired to be angry.”


Amarie comes to visit them when they are playing card games in their dormitory that evening, joined by senior trainees from other rooms.

“Girls, I believe you have all heard about the prince,” she smiles at them. “He has left for Saenysse now, but he brought a message that I want all of you to know.”

All stop and stare at her eagerly.

“The king and queen have invited you to the Naiad palace,” Amarie takes out a letter. “I have chosen Vivia, Annes, Mavis, Gea, and Ashley, of course, to come with me. We will leave one week later, so be prepared.”

They exchange a look among them.

“So, what do you think of the prince’s visit this afternoon?” Amarie asks Ashley and Vivia.

Ashley rolls her eyes.

“Don’t give me that look, Ash,” Amarie holds out her thumb and forefinger in a perpendicular angle, a gesture to get rid of negative spirits. “The Naiad prince’s visit represents a lot more political significance under the invitation.

“Amalthea has always been an exclusive island, and it remains so around the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. The prince coming here symbolizes diplomatic communications between the two kingdoms, as your parents wish our kingdom to be more open. As our senior riders, you guys should all understand this; we did move you seniors together to let you talk more than card games.” When they

 And good night.” She leaves quickly, giving them space for discussion which breaks out as soon as she closes the door.

They all look at Ashley, “So, how did it feel like when you met the prince?”

Ashley sighs, “Extremely annoying. Just ask Vivia.” And Vivia starts to tell the others about how arrogant and condescending the prince is. Occasionally, her listeners let out small gasps and furious sighs.

“Yet, you are still engaged?” Someone asks, and Ashley thinks it must be Annes.

Ashley closes her eyes helplessly, “Yeah, it’s for the peace between the two kingdoms. I think. Oh, I envy you guys so much, not needing to bear burdens like this.”

“But they say the prince has a handsome face!” someone, probably Mavis, argues. “I would love to marry him if I were you! With his face, gentleness, wealth, and power……I guess you must be the only one who is not interested in him……” She trails off. Ashley rolls her eyes. “To be fair, Michael, Elliot, and your former boyfriends are way better than him.”

Thinking about old memories with boys, the girls start to laugh.

When the night is surging deep into the room, the other girls return to their own rooms to sleep.

“Well, I hope you can get engaged to another handsome prince in the future, Ash,” Vivia yawns and blows out the candle.

Ashley falls asleep listening to the clash of waves against stone cliffs, glad that they have shelter.

They have to get up early next morning to clean the yards due to the storm. There are fallen leaves and branches everywhere, and a lot of equipment placed in the yards are scattered around the yard. Sea water flows around the lower places, and gradually, the water is guided into their lakes.

After cleaning, Ashley and Vivia return to their dormitory to pack their things for training. They are taking the daily combat, literature, and flying classes, so they put the poetry book they are reading inside their bags. Then, they head to the dining hall for breakfast.

All riders, faculties, and trainees are heading to the hall at this time. Ashley and Vivia join their friends who are waiting in line. There are not much to pick from the selection every morning as all the food is specifically designed for them to keep them fit and healthy.

“Do you think they will teach us magic now that we are seniors?” Vivia asks hopefully.

“I don’t know,” Ashley sighs. “I heard Amarie said most riders don’t get to practice magic. Only a few that are like the best riders can touch magic books.”

“I wish we can stop taking combat trainings anymore,” Vivia takes a sip of orange juice. “My dragon ruins it every time.”

“Oh, I think our combat trainings these days are only focused on us. We will practice weapons and combat techniques, so no dragons,” Ashley says. They have been training with their dragons for the last few months, so everyone is exhausted.

“Flying with dragons is pretty nice, though,” Ashley continues. “I like some morning flying with Akann.”

“Course, Akann is so sweet and gentle. He won’t breathe fire or turn suddenly or anything like that,” Vivia groans.

After breakfast, they head to the training court for flying lessons. Obviously, as seniors, they don’t need lessons anymore; nevertheless, this is the only field allowed for ordinary take-offs.

Since dragons are involved, this court is wide and large with all the trees cleaned out. Ashley still remembers how much time she spent on this field trying to manage all sorts of moves on Akann while flying.

Their flying mentor, Kamona, is already waiting for them with her great bronze-scale dragon. When all five seniors are gathered around, Kamona clears her throat, “Alright, girls. First, congratulations on passing the senior test, which means you have officially finished all your flying lessons.” Everyone cheers.

“From today, you will join the riders to patrol the Academy.”

Vivia raises her hand, “Miss, does it mean we can stop circling around these areas?”

“Yes, Vivia. Instead, you can fly around most, sometimes entire, parts of the Academy. If you are fortunate enough, you also get to fly outside of the Academy to other parts of the island.”

They all nod.

“Anyway girls, summon your dragons, and let’s start our first day of patrolling,” Kamona announces.

Through the Rider’s Bond, Ashley calls Akann.

And he answers quickly, “I’ll be there in a minute.” Before he leaves the Bond, Ashley can feel the swoosh of wind against her cheeks.

Kamona stands with her dragon when they are waiting for their own dragons. She has only retired for two years, but she has become one of the trusted faculties of Amarie. When Ashley was only a new trainee, she had heard of the rumors that Kamona was one of the fiercest riders in the Academy with her fierce sword work and her ferocious bronze dragon.

Akann arrives as one of the first ones. He flaps his wings excitedly when he lands like the proud dragon he is again.

“I heard we are going to patrol today!” he says enthusiastically.

“Yep,” Ashley says. Akann just loves flying so much. In fact, it was Akann who first suggested them to sneak out and fly on the sea at night.

“So, you flew here pretty fast,” Ashley says.

“Yeah, I was hunting nearby,” Akann grunts in her head.

“Hunting? You don’t need hunting!”

“No, I don’t, but it is fun,” he chuckles. “Besides, when I’m in the woods, I don’t have to feel the sun tickle my scales.”

“Hey, you are supposed to get your energy from the sun,” Ashley says. “You shouldn’t hide from it.”

Akann smiles, “Come on, I can get enough from all this brilliant sunlight.”

While they are talking, the other dragons have landed.

Kamona leans against her dragon’s body and starts to speak, “Okay, girls, before we fly, I want to emphasize something about dragons again. Start from now, you will be the one to work with your own dragon, so you need to learn their special characters which may cause all kinds of different problems during flying based on my previous experiences. Now, as riders, we usually distinguish dragons by their size or color; since the colors can vary based on personal judgements, we will majorly discuss about their size. Look around at your dragons, girls: most dragons can be cataloged into large, medium, and small; you can already see it quite clearly.”

Only when a lot of dragons are standing together can Ashley observe how different they are. There are small and delicate ones like Vivia’s green dragon and Annes’ dwarfish tawny dragon; there are medium-size dragons like Rayim, Mavis’ blue dragon; then there are also large ones such as Akann, Kamona’s grey dragon, etc.

“Large dragons can provide a stable flight from strong wind or rain, but small ones are more agile in turning,” Kamona continues. “Obviously, large dragons tend to be stronger in a fight for they possess more energy in their body and larger carriers of magic are more magic-focused, but the smaller dragons are capable of flying to the rear, so be careful when selecting a fight strategy.”

She gestures, and her dragon shows the girls his tail. There is a white scar on the surface, clearly the mark of a deep gash.

“Mirg’s tail was injured by a really tiny dragon during a fight who went behind us before we could react,” Kamona strokes the scar. “That was a tough fight.”

“Now, about their colors, there are countless types of scales as every dragon is unique, but we can sort most dragons into a specific color if we don’t mind the minor differences, for example, red, blue, green, tawny, auburn, grey, and yellow.

“Dragons with close colors tend to have close features, and you can use that as references. In general, dragons in bright and warm colors are usually more energetic and open while dragons in cold and dark colors are slightly calm and quiet. Of course these qualities can be acquired through training, but I’m just talking about the born-to-have stuff.”

Ashley knows what Kamona is saying is exactly correct because Akann is an accurate example. The red dragon is currently flexing the muscles on his wings to have something to do beside standing.

“And we can be more specific,” Kamona says. “Look at Akann, guys.” Everyone turns to stare at the red dragon, and he becomes stationary immediately, looking around awkwardly.

“Akann is both a typical large and red dragon. He has good nature and strong magic like the rest of the large dragons; he is also enthusiastic, active, and optimistic like the red dragons. You can also see that he has a perfect balance of head and body, and long wings to keep him steadily airborne.”

Ashley nods. She has never noticed these tiny advantages of Akann, and how these outstanding features made him so strong and fit among all dragons.

“Now, green and blue dragons are slender because they don’t need that much muscles to breathe fire like fire dragons do,” Kamona continues. “By the way, you can all see that he knows he is a rare species as he is proud and cares about dignity very much, maybe a bit too much.” They all start to laugh. Akann flaps his wing uneasily.

Then, Kamona moves on to talk about the other dragons, which makes Akann relax. “Oh, she’s so annoying,” he mopes inside their connection.

“Yeah, I know, I know,” Ashley smiles.

“She talks about me in front of my face like I can’t understand her,” he says. “I mean, she does know I have feelings, right?”

“Of course.”

Akann squints his golden eyes.

“Okay guys, enough of the talking,” Kamona says. “Mount your dragons, and let’s start our first petrol!”

Akann bends over so that Ashley can climb up his back easily. Ashley climbs to the softest part of his back quickly, a little bit ahead of his wings, and he leaps into the thick morning air without waiting for the others.

When other dragons are taking off, Akann has already flown high beyond the forest. On all sides of them, thick forests spread out, some expanding to invisible borders on the east, others stopping west at the magnificent mountains and highlands that occupies the central line of the island, colonizing most of the island’s center, and pushing forests and shores to edges. The sun is still under the ocean, so the morning is clear and cool. They wait until the rest of the trainees catch up.

“That was pretty fast of you,” Kamona says, after she helped the last take off. “Been practicing a lot, huh?”

Ashley winks, “Well, we’ve been practicing around here for a while.”

Kamona nods with a smile. She pats her dragon gently, and all of them start to move south. They are ordered by Kamona to remain quiet, so Ashley cannot talk to Vivia. Instead, they are instructed to look below carefully into the shades casted by the forest where people with magic may be trespassing into the Academy.

“It normally won’t happen as we have our barrier, but just in case,” Kamona says.

According to her, they patrol the south or north of the Academy’s forest region every day as the mountains and highlands are too improbable.

“Can we at least go near the ocean?” Ashley asks her.

“No, the ocean is perfectly guarded by your parents’ soldiers,” Kamona answers at the front.

They encounter some other dragons and their riders on the way who greet them with a wave of hand. Everything is the same underneath them, only shades of green flying past.

Just when Ashley is wondering if anything change is going happen, they all see it: glowing blue light rippling like waves on a plane sheet of space in the air. The light shimmers like giant waves brushing the beach, one after another.

“That’s the barrier!” Kamona shouts. “The blue light is magic, or else you cannot see the barrier.”

“Are we under attack?” Vivia asks, a sense of anxiety in her voice.

“No, it must be Amarie reinforcing the barrier,” Kamona answers. “Let’s better turn back from here. I don’t want you guys to get close to magic right now.”

While they are wheeling around in a large arc, Ashley can still see the ripples of magic moving quickly away from a spot. The magic glints with a dark glow.

The rest of the way back continues just like their way to the border, boring and eventless. The sun is fully up in the sky when they land at the clearing again. Kamona finishes the patrol with a few comments, and she dismisses them for the next class.

They run quickly, across the center square, pass woods and fields, and dive into another forest. This forest is the oldest forest in the Academy. As they enter, they can hear a smooth, rumbling sound among the trees—a peaceful and old creek that runs through the entire forest region of the Academy—and then, there are also the small, white flowers scattered among bushes and around tree roots.

A small clearing breaks up the continuity of trees and creek, and their literature mentor is sitting on a rock with a book. She smiles as they arrive, “Please, sit.” She gestures to other rocks around her.

Enya is a very gentle woman. It is hard to tell her age, but Ashley guesses she is even older than Amarie. Her soft brown hair is mingled with white, and her dark eyes have the wise glow of an elder.

“Today, we will learn about the Zu Elf Spirits,” she opens the book in her hand. “You probably have been hearing about it for your entire life.”

They all nod.

“But are they?” she smiles again.

“Amarie told us the elves created our world,” Ashley speaks. “They created the ocean, and then the islands.”

“You are very right, Ash,” Enya says. “A long time ago, so long that any trace of memory has disappeared, only Zu Elves lived in this world.”

She flips the pages, and all of them see the image of a void world with only tall elves.

“They were not satisfied, so they created the ocean. Our ocean.”

The page shows vast blue.

“They lived on the ocean for quite a well, but then they became bored with the erraticity, so they built our islands with all the magical elements they possess—seven large ones, and countless smaller ones.”

Ashley stares at the small pieces of brown on the page that symbolizes their islands. Somehow, after she blinks, she starts to see small dots on the islands. Animals!

Enya smiles.

“Indeed, just as you see, the Zu Elves also created animals on the land to keep themselves company. Therefore, they lived on these lands for so long that no time after that could surpass it. They settled down, started their free and merry lives in the forests, on the fields, or in the mountains. To memorize everything, they composed poems, the first literature works in the history of the world. They are our only source of knowing about the past.”

Her fingers flip through the pages and rest at one. Then, she starts to read.

“Are that the stars?

Or the oceans from far?

Now I see you,

I want to meet you,

And hold you in my arms.

The sky is the charm.”

When Enya finishes, silence lingers in the air. Every one is seeing a different scene in their mind, but all of them are beyond this world.

Enya continues, “Their literature is not complicated; in fact, they are easy to understand. We think it is because the poems used to be songs. However, as their territories expand, conflicts arose between tribes. The most famous war happened between the two largest tribes, Anfa and Maniq. Their magics were so strong that huge waves shook the world and nearly destroyed everything. That war was called ‘the War of Gods’.”

Ashley remembers the name from a poem Akann used to chant through their connection.

So she speaks slowly,

“The waves touch the sky,

And we fly up so high.

The flames roam the lands,

And there remains no man.

The mountains fall into valleys;

The valleys rise into mountains.

We are abandoned,

By no one but ourselves.”

Enya nods, “Very well. It finally ends when the leader of the Anfa tribe, Tyari, trapped and destroyed the leader of the Maniq tribe, Rek. However, even if there would be no more fighting, there wasn’t much left.”

The picture depicts a barren ground.

Enya starts yet another poem,

“The golden warrior Tyari

points his shiny swords at the setting sun,

then at the ocean.

The rain of grief falls onto his grand body,

And onto the fallen hero buried.”

The poem ends abruptly, so she continues to speak.

“To compensate, the Zu Elves did the last yet greatest undertaking: all of them gathered together and used their magic to rebuild the world. It took centuries, even for such powerful magic, and when the world was finally serene and restored to its previous beauty, the Zu Elves’ energy was drained. They became the spirits.”

“So, they are the Zu Elf Spirits we speak of today?” Ashley asks.

“Yes. They never left us. They are all around us now, deep inside this world” Enya waves a hand around her. “It is rumored that they don’t come out frequently, only when significant things are happening, and their help or decision is needed.”

“What about their magic?”

“Since they are now spirits, the magic cannot stay on them as it always needs a carrier. So, with their last breath and the very last magic they had left, the Elves conjured the magic and chanted their ancient songs together. Slowly, creatures emerged from the sky, creatures with long wings to carry themselves anywhere, thick scales to protect themselves, and sharp claws to fight. The dragons!”

Her eyes are so bright, and her voice becomes enthusiastic.

“Dragons! They are the descendants of the Zu Elves, the very possessor of magic, the source of magic. They are magic! That’s why magic is so closely linked with dragons; they are inseparable.”

And then, she chants out another sentence:

“They were born from magic, born from flames. They will protect the world.”

The rest of the week passes peacefully with the usual training and flying. Although the girls don’t show it, but all of them, including Ashley, are anticipating the trip. Just think about it: an entire vacation in a foreign kingdom!

 The night before departure, Amarie visits the girls again.

“Please sit down,” she gestures. “I just need to give some last-minute instructions. All of you are beyond sixteen, so I hope you can behave like true adults in the Naiad palace. Also, we’ll travel by dragons as usual, so I hope you and your dragons can be well-prepared for the long journey. Across-sea flying is forbidden except for missions, and don’t look at me like that, Ash, I know flying to other islands secretly behind my back has become a daily business for you.”

Ashley chuckles embarrassedly.

“Anyway, it’s not very difficult, and your dragons will know how to use the currents during the flight. Most of you have never been in a palace, so please remember to behave with the courtesy we taught you in class. The king, queen, and prince will welcome us tomorrow at the square where we shall arrive, and from there, servants will lead us to our rooms, so don’t worry about not knowing the route. We’ll leave at dawn to avoid unnecessary attentions, so go to bed now, and don’t forget to pack everything necessary.” Without waiting for a response, she takes away the candle on the table.

“She is always so harsh and quick,” Vivia says.

Ashley examines her bag for one last time under the glow of the moon. “Have to change to the other person now,” she tells herself. “Not this Ashley, but the princess of Amalthea, the daughter of the king and queen, the representative of your kingdom and people.”

Despite of the “peaceful visit” that Amarie emphasizes, she packs both her sword and dagger in her bag, hoping her royal family’s gifts can act as blessings.

Sleep comes and leaves quickly.

Ashley awakes before dawn comes. Their dormitories sit on an edge of the forest in the Academy, and Ashley’s room is on the side facing the ocean. When she gazes out of the window, she stares into the clear sky and ocean. Right now, the night is still inky blue and dazzled with stars. Among them, she sees familiar constellations: Aeneas, Katan, Lessolas……Those are names of ancient dragons that have gone to the western islands along with Ganymedes.

The ocean sings quietly. They say the it has its own languages, too, but it must have been forgotten by humans. As a consequence, the magical but indistinguishable ballads can only be sung by the old poet, passing unknown memories to indifferent listeners till the end of time.

Ashley remembers the Zu Elf Spirits. Are they with the ocean now? What does they look like? She tries to comfort herself by thinking Enya’s words: “They are all around us now.”

Not wanting to waste time, she starts to dress, not knowing what her red uniform and golden dragon emblem will present to the Naiadians who have not seen anything magical or untraditional for centuries.

Other girls wake up twenty minutes later, and all of them gather on the square when the sky turns violet. In quiet flaps of wings, the dragons land next to their riders. Ashley strokes Akann, and he brings her up into the damp air.

The dragons fly in a V-shape formation naturally. Amarie’s great grey dragon is the leader, followed by Akann and four other dragons. There are no clouds on the way to Naiad, forcing Ashley to cover her face with the hat and hood on her uniform to block out the scorching sun.

They remain silent for most of the journey, but then Vivia’s green dragon flies near Akann, so they can talk during the flight.

“How’s Maedy?” Ashley asks through the loud noises. Vivia’s dragon, Maedy, was injured during the last mission, and her injured wing seems to be rather fatigue today. Vivia shrugs, “She’s fine, I guess. At least strong enough to finish this journey and stay healthy.”

Ashley nods, “I guess, since they just need to glide on the currents. There’s no need to flap their wings.”

“Are you nervous?” Vivia asks loudly. “About meeting the royals?”

“Not really,” Ashley shrugs. “I’ve met royal members from other kingdoms before, and they were not as intimidating as I imagined. Well, what I’m really afraid of is embarrassing my kingdom in front of such a traditional and developed kingdom, especially my looks; I don’t care how people judge me otherwise.”

“There’s no need to worry about your looks!” Vivia shrugs. “Or are you just nervous that your look is too pretty for them?”

“Hey, please don’t!”

Vivia laughs and points at an island far beyond, “That’s Naiad? Are all the buildings in the capital really white?” Ashley smiles, “Yes, all of them are covered in white in Saenysse, echoing the horn of Ganymedes, although they also use other colors for decoration.”

“Wow, there are so many plains and cities!” Vivia exclaims. Indeed, as the most developed and civilized kingdom, there are less mountains and forests comparing to Amalthea and certainly much more cities and towns.

As they draw nearer, the white buildings become visible. Vivia observes them carefully, “They look fantastic with the ocean as background. Oh, I’d love some blue and white!” Even though she was born in Naiad, she has never been here after her family’s departure.

Ashley ponders hard, “And less villages, too. Do you remember Amarie telling us the Naiadians prefer city over rural village?” Vivia laughs, “No wonder we are the island of dragons and magic.” Both look back at the disappeared land which is Amalthea; a few dragons must be flying above its green forests and highlands right now.

The air is smooth, less fluctuant than the night Ashley flew back, so landing is easy. What is not easy is how to react to the citizens. In front of the procession, Amarie shouts at all of them, “Remember, the civilians in Saenysse have not seen a dragon for hundreds of years, so just head for the square in the middle of the court deliberately. Don’t stop for anything!” Taking a fast current, her dragon glides down toward the gathering of white architectures. Akann and the other dragons follow, swirling lower and lower towards the White City.

When they are near the island, people on ships start to cry out loudly, pointing at the figures and waving flags. In a few minutes, they are flying over the city. Vivia gasps as she sees all the people dressed in white clothing among white houses; bright colors scatter around scarcely. She points at the market which is the most vital place in Saenysse. There, colorful artifacts and tapestries are being sold, along with food and other things needed for a living. As the shadows streak pass, people all look up and clap and shout at the splendid scene of six magnificent dragons in six different colors.

People gather around the fountain and the tower, waiting to see if they will land there. Instead, they just fly pass the remarkable antiques and head towards the shiny square in the middle of a group of royal buildings in white and gold. In the archaic corridors surrounding the square, officials and attendants await. All hold their breaths as the dragons land with a thundering sound.

Ashley jumps down from Akann’s back immediately. Lowering the hat, she turns unwillingly to look at the king, queen, and, certainly, the prince. The king and queen are wearing white robes with golden patterns, and Phineas is wearing the same silver cloak he wore when he visited the Academy. The Naiadian royals wear crowns—golden ones by kings and silver ones by queens—Queen Rosatta also wears bracelets on her wrists and arms. Among them, a thin, silver chain stands out. It has been passed down along the Naiadian queens and princesses for more than ten centuries since the Legend Era of King Favghan and Queen Philiane.

Amarie bows first, and the girls follow.

The Naiadians bow at them subsequently. “Welcome, riders of Amalthea,” the king holds out his arms. “Naiad welcomes you with our most sincere greeting.”

Then, Phineas bends his right arm in front of his chest, bows, and bends his knees—the etiquette of a prince—and says without a tone, “Ladies of the Amalthea Academy, I, representing my people, welcome you with my true heart.”

Ashley can’t help to roll her eyes in her mind.

They have agreed that Amarie will speak for all of them, so she comes up with her usual grace, “Thank you, your Highness, thank you, your Majesty. May I introduce you my riders: Vivia, Annes, Mavis, Gea, and the princess of Amalthea, Ashley.” They each bow as their name is addressed, but Ashley can feel the intense interests of the king and queen as Amarie mentions her name with a strong emphasis.

“Welcome, ladies. Princess Ashley, how are your parents and brothers?” King Matt moves the knuckle of his right index finger horizontally across his right cheek, a gesture that expresses blessing and hospitality. Ashley does the same gesture, “They are healthy and contented, thank you for caring, your Highness.”

“Naiad has been reconciling with Amalthea for centuries in transportation, diplomacy, commerce, and cooperation in wars with the barbarians. We are grateful of the wisdom of your parents,” the king lets out a slight smile on his lips. Ashley smiles back, “I’m certain that my parents appreciate your understanding, too, Sire. The peace benefits civilians from both kingdoms, so as the princess of my people, I must express my own gratitude.” Fortunately, Amarie sees Ashley has no more words to say and takes over her place. Ashley lets out a huge sigh of relief and goes to join the others who have gone to talk to their dragons.

Half sitting half crouching, Akann growls behind her, and the riders laugh together. The great dragon grunts happily as Ashley speaks in Drakon to him, “Well, you can’t stay here, obviously, but they say you can occupy the nearest mountainside. And just please, please don’t breathe fire on the people and their villages, or you’ll get banished forever!”

Akann snorts, and a small gush of fire comes out.

Phineas stares at the strange scene: five girls standing beside five gleaming, and astonishing dragons. When the red dragon spits out fire, the princess laughs as if it’s a pet.

Dragons have not appeared in Naiad for centuries, so haven’t the dragon riders; Phineas has only learned about them in books, paintings, and poems. The Amalthea Academy for females only seems to be a legend for him until now, when he realizes the girl whom he is going to marry in the future is standing in front of him with a scarlet dragon at her side. He has disagreed with the girls from the beginning, especially with Ashley. He can’t understand why someone with her beauty and charisma can tolerate to live like this. Since most Amaltheans are quite exclusive, they don’t usually come to Naiad; therefore, when he saw her at the Academy for the first time, he had to admit that she was mesmerizing even more than what he had heard from rumors. In fact, despite of her short hair and strange apparel, she looks even better than most princesses. Her black hair, black eyes, and yellow skin are “traditionally Amalthean,” yet something makes her stand out. Probably because of the natural dauntlessness inside the Amalthean blood, or because of close contact with the dragons, the sharpness and calmness beyond her age are exceptionally distinctive to him, at the same time making her more mysterious.

However, he still finds it difficult to even talk to her as her actions resemble the behaviors of an ordinary civilian too much, and he has no idea how to react. When they got off their dragons, Ashley was the only girl who evaded to look at him when she could.

From what he can tell, she has completely no interest in him.

Amarie is still explaining to the king and queen, “There is a deep bond between a rider and her dragon, so they all have intimate relationships with their own dragons. Ashley has stayed with her dragon, Akann, for thirteen years.”

“Impressive,” the queen comments. “She is sixteen, isn’t she?” Amarie nods, “Yes. She has just become of age a month ago. Yet, she has already graduated as a senior trainee, so she has already been executing missions for me for two years.”

“I heard she is one of your best riders,” the queen says tentatively. She seems to be intrigued by Ashley.

“Indeed, she is talented and courageous! The bond between she and her dragon remains very strong. Excuse me, Your Highness, but we have to settle our dragons now.” Amarie says apologetically.

“Of course,” the queen nods. So, Amarie walks over to the girls.

“All right, girls, time to let them go,” Amarie announces loudly to gather the girls. Instantly, the dragons soar away with a gust of wind that brings the hems of their clothes into the air, and all of them come back to the crowd of Naiadians.

“My ladies, we will be entertaining you with a feast tonight, but we’ll leave you to rest, now. The attendants shall lead you to your rooms,” the king says gently and leaves with his family. Following their departure, a group of retinues come up immediately.

“Lady Ashley, if you’ll follow me,” a maid points a direction different to the one the others are heading.

“Wait, we don’t live in adjacent rooms?” Ashley stutters.

“My lady, the court has invited you to stay in our royal chamber,” the maid answers shyly. “You staying there shows our respect for you.”

“Um, okay. I guess I’ll see you guys later then,” she waves at her friends hesitantly and follows the maid into a building. “Your room is prepared only for royal guests, my lady, so your friends cannot come according to our law here,” the maid starts to speak after a few questions. Ashley turns to look at her, “Yeah, I understand. Will it be far from theirs?”

The maid laughs, “Not very close, unfortunately, but the scenery is fantastic! You can see the ocean from your windows. And look at the intricate decorations on the walls, my lady! The tapestries and vases are more than three hundred years old.” Ashley lays one hand on a vase: it has the horn emblem of Naiad and a profile of Queen Mayne.

They walk through the building and come outside to a garden. There are lush and carefully-trimmed bushes and trees on the edges of the garden.

“We have to cross this square here, my lady,” she leads on. “Every building here is named after a king or queen. The tallest is named after the former king whose name is Boldan. The building where you’ll be accommodating is named after Queen Esmea. It’s right here.” They enter an antique building which is in a quiet yard, so that its residents won’t be disturbed except by a peaceful rumbling fountain in the yard.

The marble staircases are covered with thick carpets, swallowing down their footsteps. The maid doesn’t stop until they reach a floor with an open balcony, but instead of stopping, they walk right into an elegant corridor lightened up by the outside world. “Just look at that ship! The white one with engravings and flags! That’s the prince’s ship,” the girl points excitedly outside the window. In the ocean, a giant, white ship stands out among other boats. Flamboyant flags on the ship flap around in the wind, creating one of the most colorful scenes in the entire city. “My lady, you may not feel like it, but I grew up in Saenysse, and it’s not very frequent to see such vivid colors.”

Ashley winks at her, “You don’t have to call me ‘my lady’, you know. In most times I am only a dragon rider. Feel free to call me ‘Ash’ or ‘Ashley.’ But you’re right, the unity of white color makes Saenysse so beautiful!”

The maid beams proudly, “White is our major color, and we also use sea-blue sometimes as Saenysse is a city famous for its fishery and sailing. Silver and gold are colors only for royals.”

She pauses and frowns, “But sometimes one does get exhausted with the simply color styles since we are only allowed to use white and a small part of other colors. I really want to go to Amalthea to see the most colorful island in the seven kingdoms! Is it true that you can see more than a thousand colors in every city?”

Ashley thinks about it, “First of all, we don’t have a lot of cities, and yeah, we do love all kinds of colors, so I guess that’s true. If you go to Amalthea, you must go to our capital, Harboron. That’s a place you’ll not regret to see. They say ‘it’s difficult to find two bricks with the same color’, not to mention our decorations and dyed-cloths.”

The maid pictures the scene in her head, “I’d definitely love to go to Harboron. There is a tale in Naiad here that depicts Harboron’s harbor: ‘Amidst the flames of thy colors is the supremacy of passion and freedom, vivid against the blue serenity of the ocean beyond’. We’ve been taught of this poem since we were small.”

Ashley nods, “Uh-huh, the Tales of Barnabud. I love it so much.”

As they turn into a quiet corridor, the maid stops at a door. “Your room is here, my lady. If you need any help, just call my name, which is ‘Elfie’,” she grins. “I’ll be living next to you.”

Ashley thanks her.

“Oh, yes, my lady, Ashley, your belongings will be brought to you shortly. The formal feast in the evening will be held in Feynon Hall, and I’ll bring some dresses for you to try if you like.” she leaves happily.

Ashley observes the room: it is much bigger than the plain dormitory she shares with Vivia, and certainly more luxurious. The room contains an inner room within it to provide privacy. In the outer room, there are ornate carpets and furniture that demonstrate a color between silver and grey, and blue tapestries and curtains are hung on patterned walls. The bed is positioned in the inner room, and it is draped with canopy at all side which is currently rolled up. She finds a giant armoire that is too big and empty to keep all the things she has brought for this trip. Like Elfie said, outside the windows is the scene of the vast ocean currently littered with small white boats. The wind brings the fishy but fresh smell from the ocean, which reminds her of her travels with Akann. Fortunately, there are books—most of them poems and novels—that helps her kill the spare time before Elfie and a few other maids bring in all the dresses and ornaments to try for the feast.

When Elfie finally leaves, Ashley is dressed up with an ink-blue dress and wearing silver jewelries to cater to the Naiadian etiquette. There are also silver and sapphire on the elegant dress, which reminds her of the night sky she saw when she was flying across the ocean between the two islands.

She is just checking her makeup for another time when the girls barge in, each wearing bright dress and gleaming jewelries.

“Oh my god, Ashley, you look fabulous. I mean, like, fabulous like a princess,” Vivia shrieks. “I’ve never seen you like this!”

“Yeah, alright, you guys look fabulous, too,” Ashley examines them.

“This is the first time I’ve seen you dressing up as a real princess,” Vivia walks around her. “Ooh charming! Which guy would not like you? Seriously, if that princess doesn’t like you, then he is a total idiot!”

Everyone laughs. “Well, he is good-looking enough for Ash,” Mavis comments. “Personally, I think they are perfect.”

“Why don’t you replace me in the feast then, Mave?” Ashley sighs.

Someone knocks on the door, and Amarie steps in. She is dressed properly, too, with a deep red dress that echoes her profoundness. “Wow Ash, you look amazing,” she studies her carefully, trying to make sure if everything is prepared. “You do remember what we taught you about how to behave at the feast, right? Just perform your usual manners like you do back in the palace of Amalthea. So far, the king and queen really like you, so I guess your parents would be…furious if something goes wrong between you two. May I remind you that the engagement was made when you two were small.”

Ashley listens impatiently: Amarie is always solicitous about trivial details. Then, Amarie goes to inspect Vivia, Annes, and Gea. “If all of you behave well tonight, I’ll start to teach you magic,” she says temptingly. All these years studying and training in the Academy, they have never been allowed to approach magic, so haven’t most riders. Only the most proficient can step slightly into the field of magic. So, they become excited about the idea of reading a magic book and learning enchantments.

A second knock forces everyone to stop their current business. Amarie’s dark eyes light up, “Go open the door, Ash.” Bewildered, Ashley stands up, straightens her dress, and turns the door knob. Mavis lets out an exclamation. Standing face-to-face to Ashley, is Prince Phineas.

He is wearing a white tunic, a pair of silvery-grey trousers, and a pair of boots. His dark hair is certainly carefully-brushed so that it doesn’t cover up his light green eyes. “What are you doing here?” she asks, bewildered.

He studies her, “I’m here to escort you to the feast. Or should I wait for another few minutes?”

Mavis pushes her out of door and nearly shouts out to him, “No, no, she is perfectly available now!”

Ashley raises one eyebrow at her.

“Shall we proceed?” she asks Phineas, trying to get away from five pairs of eyes. He nods and holds out his arm. Ashley lays her hand on his arm, and they head towards the luxuriant hall. As soon as only themselves are in the corridor, the prince comments mockingly, “I thought the Amalthean court has similar etiquettes.”

Ashley laughs sarcastically, “Yeah, we have. It’s just we are not so close-minded to follow all the obsolete progresses.”

Phineas seems to pause for one second, but then he continues. “Following the intelligence of our ancestors is better than being arrogant savages,” he glances at her intentionally.

Ashley snorts contemptuously, “At least we are smarter than following every superannuated rule left by our great great grandfathers and grandmothers.”

Phineas tries to reply something, but they climb a few flights of stairs and arrive at the golden doors of the hall. The hall is the only place with diverse colors: golden walls and furniture, maroon curtains, porcelain cutleries with indigo patterns, people wearing colorful, formal clothes……The king and queen, in silvery and golden attires, welcome them with bright smiles and invite them to sit down. While she is walking toward her seat, Ashley notices that outside of all the luxury, is a small platform that faces the ocean.

Ashley is still irritated about Phineas’ insults, although she retorted back. Why does she have to marry someone like that? The peace engagement was made fifteen years ago, when she was one and the prince three. Before the treaty was established, Amalthea and Naiad barely had any contact, but in the past fifteen years, people have developed all kinds of communications, especially business.

Anyway, when the servants start to serve food, all indignations vanish. Being a city that is surrounded by water on three sides, the Saenysse people’s diet includes seafood dishes so much that Ashley thinks she won’t be able to eat any fish after this feast. Fish, lobsters, shrimps, crabs, scallops, and plenty of marine animals she has never seen before now lie in front of her, covered by colorful sauces and seasonings. She is glad to see that the desert is made in Amalthean style after all the strange dishes.

“Ashley, are our dishes fine with you?” the queen asks her after servants cleared the table.

“Yes. The food here are certainly different from what we have back in Amalthea, but they are as delicious, if not more,” Ashely replies.

“I’m glad you like it,” the queen smiles. “How about your dragons? What do you usually feed them?”

“Well, back in the Amalthea Academy, we have a joke that dragons swallow whatever we feed them. Wild dragons eat whatever they can find, but since they get their energy from the sun, feeding is more like an…entertainment. Therefore, we enclose a region in the mountains and graze some herds to let them hunt for themselves.”

“Their energy comes from the sun?” the king is intrigued, too. “So, they can fly permanently as long as they are exposed to the sun?”

Ashley nods, “Exactly, even if there is a storm going on, they can just fly above the clouds to feel the sun.”

“That’s very impressive. So how do you know all these about dragons?”

Ashley smiles, “Well, we do not only ride dragons in the Academy. We have to take lessons. Flying lessons are probably the most significant, but there are other lessons. As most riders were about eight or nine when we recruited them, we mostly teach them to be familiar with their dragons through learning dragon’s language and behaviors. Also, we give lessons on learning literature and poems, recognizing animals and plants, and basic combat skills. When they get older, our training will be mostly focused on flying, combat, and around the dragons, but there will also be etiquettes, literature, nature related lessons. So, we know our dragons through various ways.”

“I believe this education system is even more complicated than most schools,” the queen says. “You must learn the dragon language since you arrive at the Academy.”

“Yes. ‘Drakon’ is the dragons’ language, so this is the first thing we learn since we are accepted into the Academy, and after we can master some basics, we will be given the opportunity to match with a dragon which leads on to the rest.”

“What do you mean by ‘match with a dragon’?” Phineas can’t help but to ask.

Ashley’s right eyebrow lifts for a second but she answers him. “You can’t be a dragon rider simply if you want. Becoming a dragon rider is an honor for most Amalthean families, and there will be too many riders if we train everyone. Also, most families can’t afford to let their daughters leave because they need them to do their jobs in farms and gardens.” She pauses to look at Amarie who nods to signal her to continue.

“There is also a rigorous process in order to select a rider. Every year there is a special day when families that want to have a dragon rider send their daughters to the Academy. Amarie and other mentors will meet all of them and keep those who they think have a potential,” Ashley says.

She turns to look at Amarie who smiles satisfyingly.

“Then, as I said, the newcomers will learn some basic Drakon, and then they’ll meet the young dragons. We believe that dragons and riders on the similar ages can build firm bonds, so we clearly mark the young dragons’ ages and let them meet the girls when they are in an appropriate age. If the girl finds a dragon who can bond with her well, then she is to stay and train, and if she doesn’t, then, she will have to leave the Academy with her memories cleaned.”

“Where do you receive the young dragons?” Phineas pushes his question further.

“So, you are interested,” Ashley glares at him. “You may know that most riders retire before they turn thirty, and the rest of them remain in the Academy as mentors. So, those retired riders release their dragons into the mountains of Amalthea or to the western islands. Some of the dragons later choose to bring their offspring back to receive the same training they went through when they were young.”

“I don’t think we can arrange all these if the Academy is in Naiad,” the queen sounds shocked.

“It’s different, my lady. Amalthea is full of mountains and forests, so it provides natural habitat for dragons,” Amarie explains from her seat, mapping the fluctuate horizon of Amalthea with her finger.

“Indeed,” the queen’s eyes follow Amarie’s finger. “I remember my visit in Amalthea. We climbed to the top of Luca Highland, and the scenery was beyond the description of words! So enchanting!”

“We feel the same about the ocean,” Ashley looks out of the window—it’s already dark outside, but she can still hear waves brushing the coast.

“We love the ocean just like you love your mountains and dragons, Ashley,” the king studies her. “If you look up at the ceiling of this hall……” As he points, everyone looks up. The guests gasp together.

Painted and sculpted on the ceiling, is a map of the Seven Kingdoms. Among the blue that represents the ocean, green lands emerge. Ashley looks from the island at the west, and then moving to the east: fluctuant and wild Amalthea, flat and civilized Naiad, peaceful and reclusive Esmeer, tiny but rich Oslomay, decadent and old Lorrean, and the barren and savage twin-islands, Cutloottang and Farghon.

She has seen maps in the Academy, but this is the first time she realizes that the islands are not placed in their usual positions, but the shape of a……a dragon? Yes, a dragon! With Amalthea as its head, and the twin-islands as its long tail.

She glances around, expecting to see others feeling awed, but everyone else has a plain expression that displays other kinds of emotions.

Why doesn’t anyone else realize this astounding strangeness in the map? It’s just so obvious!

“I’m sure you are all confused about this map. It’s not the Seven Kingdoms in your memory,” the king chuckles at their bewilderment. “This is an enchanted map. We never understand what this different shape mean, but according to the sorcerer who gave this map to us as a gift, it will show something important that only a few can read. The seven islands are always moving around in the ocean as we all know, but these islands on this map is constant.”

“We hope you of all can read this, Ms. Amarie,” the queen says. Everyone turns o look at the head of the Academy, but she sighs, “I’m sorry, my lady. All I can see is a random procession of islands that has no specific meanings.” Everyone seems to be disappointed. “I guess it’s not the time for the person to appear and enlighten us.”

After a few more small and polite conversations, the king and queen stand up.

“Thank you, our alliances, our guests, and, more importantly, our friends for joining us at the feast, and we sincerely hope you are entertained tonight. Now, we don’t want to disturb you further, so you can have more private time to rest,” the king announces. Everyone stands up to bow at the king and queen.

Ashley is about to leave when the king calls her name. “Ashley, please let Phineas escort you back to your room. He has hardly showed any proper politeness tonight.” Before she can answer, Phineas has come up to her unwillingly. “Thank you, sire, and good night,” Ashley smiles at the king before she lays her hand on Phineas’ arm.

They speak of nothing on the way back to her room, and she is glad about it so she can think. From the moment she realizes that only she can see the pattern of the dragon, she knows that everything has changed, but why? When? Where? ……How?

Phineas only nods politely when they arrive, and Ashley replies with silence and a quick nod. After she closes the door, she steps close to the window and opens it. Cool, salty air blows in instantly, and she could forget about the map for a few moments. Far away on the dark sea surface, lights from a few fishing boats twinkle like fireflies. In the quiet city, people have gone to sleep, and the city becomes silent as if a cold winter has arrived. She remembers the song the mentors sang to them when they were young. It never made any deep impression to her until now:

“Far, far away where dragons don’t dwell,

Fishermen sleep well.

Far, far away beyond their heads,

The stars point the way ahead.

Their territories never stop to expand,

But it’s always Fatherland.”

No one comes to bother Ashley the next day, which is weird: when the girls do something, they always do it together, no exceptions. She looks out of the window: the dragons are not flying in the sky as well, but then a glint of sunshine captures her eyes on the sea surface. Therefore, she stretches her head out of the window, and something else falls unto her eyes—the rusty iron edges of a ladder. It starts from the spot above her window, and reaches upward.

She waits for ten more minutes, and still, no one comes to visit her. Bored and curious, she steps onto the ridge of the window, catches the iron ladder with one hand, and swings her body upward so that both her hands catch the handrails tightly. Having one hard step on the wall, she manages to stand on the latter steadily.

Looking around, the view is out of the world. There are no more window frames to block the world from her; everything just lays out in front of her eyes. Even better, if anyone comes into the room, he or she will not find her outside.

The latter extends to the top of the building, blocking her destination. When she climbs, everywhere she touches is rusty and scratchy with thick dust, so she guesses no one has stepped onto these bars for years.

She stops for a few seconds to turn around and gazes at the ocean after she realizes the endless bars have a stop shortly ahead. Then, as she proceeds, she finds herself climbing to the top of a wide white brick. Looking up, she realizes the bricks make up the edge of a flat roof.

Turning around to gaze at the ocean, she finds the view spectacular, but she is not as surprised as she realizes that she is facing a large garden.

Ashley gasps—never did she expect to see such a huge garden on the roof of a palace building. When she approaches it, the leaves of the nearest plants roll out towards her, blue, like dragon blood. “Vanesse,” she murmurs its Drakon name, trailing her fingers along the cool, smooth leaves. “Why are you planted here, huh, Dragon scales?” The leaves respond by a hustle, catering to the call of magic. Although she hasn’t leant magic from Amarie yet, she has taken courses about magical creatures, and the mentor has taught them that the fountain-shaped Vanesse is one of the most common plants in the magical world.

Then she walks pass the Vanesses, and now, she is truly immersed in a forest.

She is stepping on humid soil instead of bricks, and when she raises her head, no sunlight is there to tickle her skin. Huge leaves from tall plants she has never seen before block all the warmth away, leaving the air cool and damp and clear. As her eyes flicker around, she can see more than one hundred kinds of plants, and she is sure more is to be revealed as the trail meanders ahead. Vanesse is everywhere, standing on the ground, stretching out on tree branches, and floating in the air. Beside Vanesse, there is another kind of plant she has seen so frequently back in the forest in the Academy. Phylane.

Amarie used to tell them to call this plant as Phylas and Melane for Phylane is actually made up of two parts: the tall tree and the parasitic silver ivy, but then everyone starts to address them as one whole plant since they are bonded together eternally, and that’s why romantic poets in Amalthea will symbolize it as the joint and permanent love of two lovers.

The only place besides here that can have so much magical plants is the forest in the Academy. Ashley feels like she has gone back to the forest where she spends every morning learning cultural studies with their culture mentor Claire. What’s even stranger is that there are no animals here—every noise is made by plants and the wind. As she walks, Adenisian pollens are released into the air like little golden parachutes, and then they join Vanesses to fluctuate up and down with the breeze.

Every few minutes, Fountain Trees squirt water into the air through the pores at their treetops, and the water flows down along the tree trunks and branches, forming small gushing waterfalls. Claire likes to call them “land whales.”

Just as she is savoring this serenity, something makes her stop. She turns around and finds a pair of light green eyes staring at her. It is Phineas.

“Good morning,” he smiles, with a different manner from the night before.

“Morning,” Ashley nods briefly. “How did you find me?”

“Well, it’s not difficult to discover your red shirt in all these,” he studies her. Indeed, she is wearing a bright red shirt today which is not difficult to spot in the sea of green and blue.

She lifts one eyebrow and lifts her feet to leave.

“What, are you leaving?” he sounds surprised.

“Well, I don’t want to disturb you,” she answers. “See you later.”

“Wait, you are not disturbing me,” he looks confused. “You are just leaving because you don’t like me.”

Ashley rolls her eyes, “Excuse me, but you are the one who started to attack my country and my culture first.” Phineas shrugs, “Well, yeah, but that’s not the only way I judge people with. Hey, you are the first person I’ve ever seen who shows interests in this garden you know, which makes you…special. Please enlighten me.”

She doesn’t know what to reply, “Yeah, I’m not speaking to you unless you apologize for all the things you said.”

He raises his hands, “Okay…I’m sorry for what I said last night and a week ago. And I truly do. I thought about it last night, and maybe this cultural maladjustment has been mutual, but you didn’t start about mine, so I guess I should apologize for all that.”

She observes his face, “Funny, that’s kind of polite for a prince. Okay, I apologize too for all those I said then. Anyway, why did you say that at the first hand?”

Phineas thinks about it, “Probably because I wasn’t use to you being you instead of a princess.” He tries to find the appropriate wording. “You know, with your hair, your clothes, your dragon, and how you live.”

She raises one eyebrow—the act she finds herself doing more and more frequently—and laughs, “And you are used to it now? About all these?” She points at herself.

“Now I just find it hard to imagine you as the princess on the feast last night,” he grins. “I’d better get used to it quickly, since I’m going to marry you”


“What? You don’t want to?” he purses his lips as if he’s heartbroken.

“Well, everyone’s been talking about this, but I thought you would be the last person to want to, well, do this,” she lifts one eyebrow.

“Do you know how many girls want to go out with me?” he exclaims.

“Quite a lot, I suppose,” she shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. There are princes who line up to propose to me, too. It makes no difference.” She stops talking as a Fountain Tree near them starts to spray water.

“Hey, I love this kind of tree. What’s its name?” Phineas raises his head as water spatters down onto his dark hair. “Fountain Tree,” Ashley strokes its trunk after the water stops. “One of the easiest names in here, I suppose.” Phineas watches her as she murmurs the tree’s name in Drakon: “Favnae Meekon.”

Like Vanesse, the tree responds. Water vapor forms around them, building up a small world of unclearness.

“Was that Drakon?” he asks, moving his hands around in the misty vapor, and she nods quietly.

“They say that every word has a meaning in Drakon, so is there a meaning for my name?” Phineas asks. He seems to be curious.

“Our language originates from Drakon, so you can find an equivalent word in Drakon for every word in our language, but not the other way around. And yeah, there is a meaning for your name if you are curious. It means ‘ocean’.”

Phineas opens his light green eyes wide, “So it’s true!” Ashley shrugs, “Alieson fy Thorgen.”— “Truth is true.”

“And it’s not the normal ocean, you know, that is ‘Phiner’,” she continues. “Yours means specifically the grand and mysterious ocean that shall remain unexplored.”

“So, it’s like the Open Sea.”

His eyes glow with satisfaction of his name. He turns to look at the ocean through the gap of the plants along with her. Right now, the ocean seems tame and gentle, like a royal horse served for riding. Nevertheless, they both know its other side: the ferocious devil that can swallow all islands in the world in one gulp of waves.

He suddenly wheels around to stare right at her, “What does your name mean then, Azalie?”

“I’m surprised that you actually know about my name,” she smiles.

“Yeah, you are more famous than you think,” he shrugs.

“Well, my name demonstrates the lack of human language. There isn’t a right word for it in our language, but it basically indicates a combination of hope and freedom.”

He ponders about it in his head. “Hmm that is very interesting. Does your name appear in Amalthean poetry a lot?”

Ashley says, “Most of the literatures we now read have already been translated into human language, but I believe I have read maybe one or two that contain similar meanings.”

Phineas is just about to say something when the bell rings for ten times. “I got to go,” he apologizes. “My father usually asks me to help him in the morning at ten, but you got to tell me about those poems next time.”

Ashley nods, “See you…Sire?”

Phineas swirls around, “Don’t you call me ‘sire’ again, my lady, just ‘Phineas’.” Ashley laughs.


As he looks at his father dealing with debriefs arriving from all corners of the Naiad kingdom, Phineas thinks about what happened this morning. Yeah, yeah, he talked to her, and the conversation seemed to go on, well, smoothly, in fact. It doesn’t feel like she’s different from his other friends.

Somehow, he has started to forget about all her “peculiarities”; what’s worse, he now thinks what she said about magic and enchantments and dragons are interesting. Probably just curiosity.

Since his childhood, he has heard a lot of legends and m

“What are you thinking about, Phinny?” his father, the king, asks. The king has stopped working when Phineas is not noticing.

“Eh…Nothing,” he answers, wishing his father won’t dig deeper for more.

“Hmm, that’s really not you. Are you thinking about the princess?” the king smiles as he understands his son too well.

“She is not normal, is she?” Phineas asks lightly.

“If you mean not normal in a good way,” the king thinks about the question. “I may speak a lot to make you like her if you don’t, but since you already do, I don’t want to make much comment about what’s going on between you two.”

“I don’t,” Phineas argues, and the king doesn’t answer because he knows his son won’t admit until the last second. “Let’s continue then.”

Phineas shifts his gaze back to the papers.


It seems that there is a rule in the Naiadian palace that the royals must have a casual feast every ten days if a guest is present. Therefore, on the tenth day of their arrival, they are all invited to dine in the hall again. All the girls are gathered in Ashley’s room to play cards while they expect Amarie to come and check on their clothes before they head out to the feast.

“I love your silver shirt, Ash,” Vivia comments through mouthfuls of snacks. “Suits your face.”

“Hmm, likewise,” Ashley lies out a card. “How’s the fudges?”


When someone knocks on the door, Annes stands up, “Amarie is kind of early today. I’ll open it while Vivia keeps on stealing my candies! Hey stop it, Vivia!” When she swings the door open, her body stiffens, and they all hear a polite voice asking “Evening my lady, is Ashley here?”

Vivia pushes Ashley to the door quickly before she can resist.

“Eh, I thought you didn’t have to escort me to the, eh, feast tonight,” she stutters.

“Yes, but there’s no rules saying I can’t,” he tilts his head.

“You’d better agree to the prince, Ash,” both Vivia and Annes push her out of the room and close the door behind her, giggling excitedly. “He is the prince you know,” she adds behind the door.

“You really don’t know what they say to me every time something like this happens,” she sighs.

“I heard they’ve been selling to you about how great I am,” Phineas chuckles.


“If you will believe it, my friends have been doing the same thing, too,” he purses his lips. Ashley smiles but keeps silent for she can hear her friends giggling quietly behind them.

“Nice shirt, for a second I feel like you are a Naiadian,” he turns his head to see where the girls are.

“Glad I’m blending in,” Ashley answers. “And I am really trying to.”

“Hey, so you are really not angry with me anymore, right?” Phineas asks tentatively. His light green eyes dart around anxiously.

Ashley turns to look at him, “Huh? Course not. Friends?”

Phineas sighs light-heartedly, “Yeah, friends.” He is relieved that he can forget about what has been bothering him in the past few nights. It’s a total new feeling now.

The feast is pleasant since no one is tense about obeying complex rules. The king and queen laugh and joke with Amarie who is sitting with them tonight, relieving Ashley from the burden.

She sits with Vivia tonight while the other three girls sit on the opposite side.

“The prince likes you,” is the first sentence Vivia says to her after she finishes eating her dessert. “Not funny Vivs,” Ashley mutters. “We are just starting to become friends.”

Vivia rolls her eyes, “Seriously, you are just like this because you are not watching this as an outsider!”

“How can you tell that he likes me then?” Ashley sighs. “It’s not like you have more than zero experience in this matter.”

“A blind person can tell, Ash,” Vivia rolls her eyes. “Seriously, the way he looks at you, is just different.”

“Vivs, that guy insulted my country and my culture just a few days ago.”

“Well,” Vivia looks speechless. “That happened when he was not familiar with you, and I’m sure he has apologized.” She winks. When Ashley doesn’t respond, she grins, “So he has! Course he likes, who would not like you! Okay, you can be fierce and intimidating sometimes, but you are always like that.” And she starts laughing. “A few days can change a lot.”

“Shut up,” Ashley pats her as she hears something. Vivia becomes silent at once, and they hear it. Everyone in the room hears it: a noise combined with screaming, chaotic footsteps, and smashing of glasses erupts outside the hall.

King Matt stands up quickly, “What’s going on outside, guar—” However, before the word “guard” even comes out of his mouth, something hurtles into the room like a blur arrow. People gasp, some even shield their faces with their arms, but Ashley sees nothing of these.

At that moment, in Ashley’s eyes, time seems to freeze, and she can see the thing’s every flap of wings and every piece of dim blue scale. Suddenly, their eyes lock, and its amber eyes pierce into hers. It opens its gigantic mouth, and a gust of ice and snow bursts out: the air where it passes freezes, just like time.

A dragon. In Naiad.

Without thinking, Ashley hurls her legs across the table and stands in front of everyone, facing the coming dragon with her body tense. She raises one hand in front of her, “Viene Sebanna Sefang Nuella!” She shouts. Lights and wind burst out from her raising hand instantly, blowing her flaming red hair to the back and forcing her golden eyes to close. As the spell works, the dragon drops down to the marble floor like a rigid bolder, with a booming sound.

Ashley drops her hand to her side. People are still trying to evade the dragon’s upcoming attack. When their visions become clear, she has turned back to the sixteen years old girl. Her whole body is trembling because the spell costed her an enormous amount of energy. Everything around her is moving in such a slow pace that it takes the soldiers forever to walk out of the hall. The fire burning on torches is dancing, but they seem to be drunk tonight, swinging around without any perfect balance or stability. In her world, nothing is defrosted yet: the wind, the air, the frozen moonlight.

Amarie is the first person who realizes something is not right. She walks quickly to Ashley who is still standing at the same place without moving one finger. Her hair has turned back to the original black, so has one of her eyes; the other, is still golden—the eye of Akann. Snowflakes linger on her eyelashes which are barely moving, and frosts coat her lips with silvery white. Amarie shakes her body gently, “Ashley?” There is no response. “Azalie!” Amarie calls Ashley’s name again; except this time, she calls her name in Drakon.

Ashley stares at Amarie bewilderedly. She seems to be moving her body and calling her name slowly, but how to respond? Every time she tries to think up of a word, a roar of reply comes up. When she tries to comfort Amarie that she is fine, a different growl appears in her head. More people join Amarie. Their moves are so slow……

“What is happening?” Phineas yells. “Do something!”

“The spell is too powerful,” Amarie puts a hand on Ashley’s forehead. “She is in, well, another zone.” “What do you mean by that?” Phineas asks loudly. “Another zone?”

“She has transferred into the zone of the dragons, which is dangerous,” Amarie points at the golden eye. “Few people have made into that zone, let alone come back. Please, step back, everyone.” Like what Ashley did to the dragon, she raises one hand and chants a spell in a low voice, “Viene Xanen Ivestanuelle Eastiong!” Flashing lights conquer the hall for the second time.

Ashley lets out a huge breath of air and starts choking. Her lungs crave for air as if this is the first breath she takes after staying under water for a long time. She blinks for a few times: her world is back.

The first face she sees clearly is Phineas who has taken Amarie’s place. “Hey,” he exhales. “How are you feeling, Ash?” There is something in his voice that she can’t tell for now.

She stares at him, digging for a word in her head. She blinks for a few more times, and a word comes up.


He rolls his eyes at her, “Course you are not ‘fine’!”

Ashley smiles, glad that she can move her lips again. At the same time, Amarie and the other girls have left to check the dragon. She tries to see more, but Phineas blocks her view. “What do you think you are doing?” he demands.

“Have to…check out…the dragon,” she answers while lifting and bending one knee, and then the other.

“Huh, you’d better go after you are strong enough to finish a sentence in one breath,” he says, examining her.

She shakes her head, “Please, Phineas, I got to. It’s my job.” She lifts one foot, sets it on the ground in front of her, and then repeats the same process for a dozen times. Relieved, she feels her body coming back to her again.

The girls move to create a space for her as she crouches down beside them. Like what she saw, the dragon is blue. “It’s sleeping,” Amarie whispers. “We’ll summon the dragons and give it to them, and Ash, you stay here to explain what happened to the king and queen.”

“What? No, no, I want to come,” she stands up. “Ash, I know you have your body back by now,” Amarie lies a hand on her shoulder gently. “Anyhow, you have lost so many energies to conjure the enchantment, and you should rest tonight.”

She walks up to the king and queen, “Sire, my lady, my riders and I are going to send this dragon to our own dragons, and they’ll deal with it. Ash will stay to explain everything to you.” Amarie pushes Ashley down to her own chair so that Ashley is sitting beside the king and queen again. Conjuring up a lifting magic, Amarie and the other four girls walk out of the room as if nothing happened.

Ashley sits down slowly on the hard surface and drinks some water from her cup—it both cuts and soothes her throat. When she looks up, she finds three pairs of eyes fixed on her.

“The dragon,” she starts, “was only a baby dragon. If it was more than ten years old, it might break down this entire hall. The fundamental method we use to classify a dragon is by its color.

“That one, had blue scales, so it meant that its powers might be related to water, in this case, ice and snow. My dragon is a red one, so it can breathe fire. Simple enough.”

“What was the words you shouted, ‘Vienne Seba’ something?” Phineas asks.

“There are a few enchantments we are actually allowed to learn in the Academy, even if we are prohibited to learn most. These enchantments can help us protect ourselves. The spell I casted put the dragon’s mind to sleep. There are much weaker spells that could have controlled the dragon, but this was the first thing that came into my mind. Although, speaking of which, I shouldn’t have chosen that spell as we were not supposed to learn that spell; in fact, it is one of the spells that they warned us not to use,” she smiles apologetically.

“Because it’s dangerous, because the caster of the spell will be in the state you were,” Phineas concludes. This is not a question for him.

“Yeah,” Ashley admits. “This is one of the oldest and strongest enchantments ever created in the history because its creator are the Zu Elf Spirits, if you have heard of them.”

They all nod.

So she says, “If the sorcerer is powerful enough, the subject that receives the spell could be killed. Only the most powerful sorcerers can control it properly, and the rest will face the danger of being trapped in a zone. I have not read many records about this zone, but most people call it ‘Lost Area’ or ‘Ice Realm’. When I was in there, I could still see and hear; it’s just everything was happening in a very slow speed. No one has an exact explanation, but some say that the person who enters the Lost Area would be seeing the original world through the mind of a dragon.” She smiles as she meets three puzzled frowns.

“Yet, they are in the same world with us, aren’t they? Why is the world slow in their mind?” the king looks confused.

“Dragons are magical creatures, and their brain process information different and in a much faster speed than ours. So, from our eyes, the world is extremely slow. However, what I just experienced was much more dangerous, now that I think about it,” she says.

“Some dragon species have the ability to control time. Coincidentally, both the dragon who attacked and my own dragon Akann have the potential, so when I casted the spell, I was thrown into a double-layered Lost Area they created through the protection bond I had with my dragon and the spell I let out.


“One layer is difficult enough to be broken, not to mention two,” Ashley sighs. “The enchantment Amarie used was a tearing spell, and it managed to tear both layers apart so that I could get out.”

“What will happen if someone is trapped inside forever?” the king pushes forward.

“Well, those people did not come back to tell us, but we assume they were frozen to death,” Ashley shudders as she remembers the frost on her skin that melted soon after she woke up, but she didn’t feel any coldness at all in the Lost Area.

“What about that dragon? Why did it appear in Saenysse?”

“From the way it flew, I guess it didn’t have any specific destination, so it probably strayed into this palace. I am not very certain about this though; it wasn’t an Amalthean dragon,” Ashley frowns. She still hasn’t got everything straight yet.

The queen smiles at her, “I don’t what we could do if you are not here tonight, Ash.”

“Thank you, my lady, but maybe the reason it came tonight was that our presence summoned it,” Ashley frowns again. “I think more clues are needed.”

The king nods solemnly, “Yes, thank you, Ashley. You have had a stressful night, and we can’t express our gratitude enough for you putting yourself in danger to save us. Please go back and rest.”

“Yes,” the queen interjects. “But it’s still not safe to be alone tonight. Phineas, why don’t you stay with Ashley tonight.”

Ashley opens her mouth, “No, no, it’s not necessary. I am perfectly fine on my own.”

“Two people are better than one at such times like this,” the king smiles. “Go ahead, Phineas.” He says encouragingly to his son.

Phineas has a long and meaningful look with his father, communicating silently, and he joins Ashley, “Let’s go then.”

The corridor is completely empty; all the soldiers and servants are patrolling around the palace to make sure there are no more sudden surprises.

“I don’t need you to stay with me,” Ashley sighs.

“Why? Because you can protect yourself?” he smirks.

“Exactly,” she answers firmly.

“I’ll leave you alone if you can cast one more spell right now,” Phineas points at the ground. “Right now.”

“I’ve told you,” Ashley waves her hand. “I don’t know much spells, only those that can save me. Also, I don’t have time talking to you.”


“No, I didn’t mean that. I just have more important things to do.”

“Like what?”

“Like having some peace and quiet for a start,” she says lightly, not feeling like using her energy again.

“Fine,” Phineas purses his lips. “I still have to stay with you, you know.”

Ashley hesitates about replying, but keeps her mouth closed until they are in her room. “Thanks for not bothering me,” she sighs heavily. “It takes time to let everything come back.”

Phineas shrugs, “You’re welcome. You can go inside and sleep; I’ll just sit outside.” Ashley stares at him, “You really think I can sleep tonight, after facing a dragon, conjuring a spell, being frozen and trapped in another world?” She smiles.

“Oh, okay. Then, you can take the couch, and I’ll just sit on this chair,” he grabs over a chair and sits down heavily. Although she is not sleepy, Ashley is exhausted enough to lie immobilized on the soft couch. What happened keeps replaying itself in her head: the dragon-shape map that no one else can read, the lost dragon in Naiad palace, what next?

Why is Naiad, an island that had not been visited by these magical creatures for centuries been continuingly associated with dragons? Does the six riders and dragons from Amalthea has anything to do with it, or is it just a coincidence?

Her head aches. Thinking now feels like wielding a rusted machine, and she is pushing buttons like an amateur operator. “Your new look is cool,” Phineas says from the chair. “What new look?”

“Oh, you don’t know? Just find a mirror,” the figure buried in the chair mumbles.

Bewildered, Ashley gets up so that she can see directly into the mirror and finds herself gazing into that familiar eye that is not hers. “Oh no,” she moans. “Why do I have a golden eye!” She has stared into eyes like this for so many times, but never through a mirror.

“It’s amazing,” Phineas’ voice is muffled. “I bet you are the only person who has such an impressive eye color.”

“Well, don’t you realize what this is? This is the eye color of my dragon Akann,” she sighs. She would not mistaken it for anything. “This means he was with me when all that happened.”

“Through your bond?”

Ashley grunts, “Maybe.”

“Were you afraid?”


“Were you afraid when you faced that dragon?”

Ashley shudders. All come back: the wind, the cold, and the terror of being isolated in a deserted world forever, but she ignores them. “Facing a ferocious dragon is a training we have,” she sits up. “This is a test we have to pass before we become a rider. Although most of the dragons used in our test are just acting as if they are mad, some are really wild.”

“What if you can’t control it?”

“This happens if you do this training a lot—you will be attacked once or twice.” She rolls up her sleeves. “For a person who receives special trainings from Amarie frequently, I have faced so many aggressive dragons that are freshly released from prison, and accidents happen once in a while. Yes, sometimes, the attacks do leave marks, most of them just scratches though.”

Phineas struggles out of his chair to inspect her injuries. “Oh my god,” he gasps, staring at her arms which are full of crisscrossed scars. “The deepest ones are left by the same one,” Ashley rolls down her sleeves again. “I remember that time when I faced him. Nothing could stop him, and he just ran into me.”

“And Amarie did nothing?” Phineas asks.

“Well, she did stop it with an enchantment, but even she was not fast enough to react when it attacked,” she smiles.

“Do the scars hurt?”

“Not anymore,” Ashley sighs and crouches into the couch again. “They are fading away very slow anyway. Thanks for worrying though.”

Even though she said she didn’t want to sleep, it evades her head eventually. In her dream, nothing comes up. No dragons, no magic, just pure black tranquility.

“Phineas? I mean, sire,” Vivia studies him. “Ash is not here.”

“Where is she?” he sounds surprised.

“Well, it seems that she has locked herself in her room for the past few days, and she wouldn’t answer the door when we invited her to hang out with us,” Vivia shrugs. “I guess she is still not recovered after that night. By the way, it’s only past dawn, so if I were you, I won’t bother her. She could get, you know, kinda nasty.”

Phineas thanks her, but he doesn’t believe her. The Ashley in his understanding would not do something like that. When he thinks about this, only one place emerges in his head; turning his destination, he wanders to the mystical forest.

Vanesses are still sleeping, and only the sound of dropping water is audible. A crease of sunlight sheds on the sky; only by this vulnerable light, he sees her sitting on a branch high above the ground. To tell the truth, he can only see her red shirt, but no one would come here to climb up tree in the morning, except her.

“Hi,” he moves forward.

The shadow on the tree moves, “Hi.” When the shadow looks down, he sees her golden eye. “How long have you been here?”

“Probably an hour,” she answers after a pause. “Something can only be done in darkness.” “So what are you doing here? Vivia told me they had been unable to reach out to you these few days.”

Then comes a chuckle, “Reading a book Amarie gives me. How could they find me when I had been spending all day here?”

“A book about the Lost Area?”

“It’s a book about enchantments,” she sighs. “Amarie gave it to me the day after the attack, and she said she wanted me to learn some spells.”

“But you said you are not allowed to learn them.”

“Yeah, we shouldn’t. I, uh, I actually argued with her about this, and she compromised.” Phineas hears her relieved smile. “She then gave me this book which has been passed down in the Academy for centuries in order to let the few to practice sorcery.”

“Have you learned any new enchantments yet?”

“Just the basic ones,” she turns the pages. “Most enchantments are Drakon words assembled together, so as long as I remember how to put together the words through patterns, they are not difficult to learn.” She closes the book heavily. “What’s difficult, is learning how to control the most difficult and oldest ones.”

“Such as the one you used that night?”

“Yeah,” she rummages through the pages. “That spell has a Drakon name, like everything else: ‘Hypnox’, meaning sleep.”

He stares at her, trying to combine her with the fighter who raised her hand at the dragon and shouted out illegible words. He doesn’t trust his eyes any more, but he is sure he saw her hair changed color, and her eyes must did too, seeing as one of them is never going to change back from the profound color, forming a perfect balance on her face.

“Phineas,” she stares at him three mornings later. He raises his head: she is sitting on a different tree with the book in her lap. “We are going flying tomorrow afternoon, so I won’t be here next morning.” “Flying? In Saenysse?”

“Around Saenysse, that is for sure. We are going to the mountains to fetch the dragons, and then just fly wherever we like. I think we’ll circle around Saenysse though, since they are super excited of looking at the city from the sky.”

“I’d love to see you guys fly,” he sighs. “But father asked me to help him work with the army tomorrow.” She looks at him as if he is ten years old. “It’s not the only time we fly, Phineas.” She smiles. “You will have another chance.”

She jumps off from the tree and casts a spell that conjures water from her fingers. The water flows brightly on the long leaves of a black plant.


“Phineas, you may leave now,” the king arranges the paperwork on his desk. It is four in the afternoon, and they have spent nearly all day dealing with reports and letters. “Thank you, father,” Phineas mumbles. “I shall leave you in peace, now.”

He steps out of the heavy doors, nods to the guards, and wanders aimlessly around the palace. Normally he would take his ship out to sea, but today is a little late for that as most fishing boat are already preparing to head back to the harbor. Then, he suddenly remembers what Ashley told him yesterday, and he raises his head: a few specks are moving in the sky. He runs up to the building named after his grandfather—Bolangon Palace—where a huge platform is built for leisure entertainment for the royals.

From this platform set high above the ground, he can see the dragons’ colorful scales: grey, blue, green, auburn, tawny, and flaming red. They seem to be soaring around the city while flying up and down in the air. He wonders what the White City would look like from the sky—his future realm of prosperity.

In the sky, Ashley is not noticing anything. Although on the ground, it may look like the dragons are gathered in a small group, but in reality, they are not close at all. Akann is excited about flying freely again since they have stayed low in the mountains for such a long time. He dashes up and down happily, roaring and stretching his wings like a sparrow hawk. Ashley feels the same. As Akann leaves the ground, she has left everything that encages her down on the ground. She is Ashley again. Not the princess of Amalthea, not the future queen of Naiad, not one of the most notable girls in the Seven Kingdoms, but just Ashley.

The White City looks different from the times she had seen it at night. It seems more familiar and more complex, and she has more positive and negative feelings attached to it now. This divine color consecrates and estranges the kingdom she is going to rule, but she is not afraid like she has always been; she knows she only has to venture on dauntlessly. The piece of land lies down there among the erudition that overwhelms of blue now seems so small, and people who rely on it are gazing up at her with amazement—the exotic girl who is to excel in all the fine girls in their own country to rule over them. Right now, she leaves them behind to construct their own thoughts silently.

Akann flies further away from the others so that blue replaces the bustling white below them. Ashley can’t help to laugh; she has nearly forgotten how to laugh again. The sound of her laughter is covered by the howling wind, but she doesn’t care. A while later, they are going to return to the world below, to the complications below, to the destinies below, and tears streak down her cheeks without any warning. She doesn’t know how she is feeling right now, happy or sad, but she continues laughing while tears continue to run freely.

The sun is setting, and her face becomes golden.


“I was thrilled back there,” Vivia laughs. “It was like back in the Academy again.”

“Yeah,” Mavis watches her dragon leave. “When are we allowed to do this again, I wonder. Maybe your remaining flies can be counted before you retire, Viv.”

“What?” Annes grabs Vivia. “What did she mean?”

“She’s getting married according to Naiadian law,” Mavis answers. “Youngest daughters from commercial families are to be married when they are nineteen.”

“Just because your parents are from Naiad doesn’t mean you are. You live in Amalthea!” Annes stares at Vivia. “Talk to Ash, she’ll figure something out.”

Vivia shakes her head, “I’m from one of the oldest Naiadian commercial families, and besides, my parents still want me to be Naiadian.”

“And by the way, I can’t,” adds Ashley.

“So you are going to marry someone you don’t even know in a year?” Annes asks.

Vivia nods, “That guy will be from a similar family, that’s what I know. I’ll retire by then. I’ll miss all these flying I guess.”

“The first Naiadian rider retires at nineteen, what a shame,” Annes mutters.

“We are retiring sooner or later,” Vivia shrugs helplessly. “Yes, at thirty, not nineteen,” Mavis sighs. “Ash, are you coming?”

“In a minute,” Ashley answers behind them. “You guys go ahead.”

They have landed on an empty square that is far away from most palace buildings. Saenysse sits on one of the two long sides of the island, the palace sits on the north side of the city, and the square sits on the north side of the palace where only cliffs can be found. Merely a few more steps across the stone parapet would bring her to the farthest point of the entire island. The other dragons are nowhere to be found, but Akann crouches down beside her on the bare cliff.

“Have you made contact with Ganymedes?” she strokes his giant head. He grunts loudly in Drakon, “Yes. He wants me to warn you that something is wrong.”

Ashley smiles bitterly, “And he wants me to solve it?”

“He thinks you are the best option,” Akann growls and flaps his wings. “Dragons cannot solve problems in a human world.”

“Yeah, but it’s a dragon issue,” she says.

“Maybe. All I know is that the cause of the issue is not a dragon,” he says, breathing out hot air. “I may be young, but knowledges passed down from my ancestors have told me better.” He suddenly sits up and turns his head alertly.

“What’s wrong?” Ashley asks.

“I think your prince is looking for you, Azalie. I’ll come back for you later after my hunting if you like,” he says, preparing to take off.

Ashley stands up quickly, “All right, thanks. See you later then.”

Akann leaps into the air and disappears in a few seconds. Ashley likes him very much. Although they are linked, he never pries on her privacy through it.

Unlike the peaceful waves brushing the shore at the harbor on the more welcoming side of Saenysse, the waves on this side are trying to tear the stones apart. They jump out of the roaring grey ocean and lash against the tall cliffs furiously, bringing white foams to the top of the cliff; strangely, they give her peace. The waves remind her of Amalthea. The sky is now occupied with thick, grey clouds that hide away most of the glorious sunset. It is the first time she has seen a storm on Naiad.

Ashley wanders along the cliff until houses appear—palace houses. She studies them carefully, carefully debating whether she wants to go back or stay outside in her head, but then the bells ring six times, and she tries to memorize the splendid place where the sun still shines before even the last glory of the sun disappears into clouds. And she turns around again.

“I am going to take after my family business, so I have no choice,” Vivia is explaining to Annes. They have returned to the main buildings in the palace now. “Want to have dinner in the hall?” she asks them, and they all nod. Dinner is served at the hall every evening, and the king said they were free to eat there if they didn’t want the maids to serve dinner in their room. The hall is not much occupied with only the king, the queen, the prince, and Amarie eating quietly. Phineas look up as they walk in, but then burry his head in his food again as he doesn’t see his target. Vivia smiles to herself. Amarie has accepted her proposal of retirement, and she is preparing for it every day. She has prepared to embrace it, at least Ashley would be here with her.

After dinner, when they are leaving, she sees Phineas walking in a short distance behind her, so she slows her steps. “Sire, I assume you want to know where’s Ashley?” she asks after he catches up.

“Please, just call me ‘Phineas’, and yeah, do you?” he smiles.

“After the ride, she didn’t come back with us,” Vivia says. “We landed on the cliff.” Phineas nods lightly, “Thanks. Is something wrong with her?”

“She’s just like this, all the time,” Vivia rolls her eyes. “Probably bearing too much burden or thinking too much again.”

He frowns, “Really?”

“Relax, she’s Ashley,” Vivia says before waving her hand. “She’ll be fine.”


The stars have come out, and Ashley is still sitting on the cliff with her legs dangling. This side of the sea is deserted, so she is actually sitting in complete darkness in the warm summer eve. The stars extend to the end of the world, until she couldn’t recognize the constellations. Beyond her head are the familiar ones—Aeneas, Katan, Lessolus, Gissopi, Nyla—that represent those oldest dragons who, she believes, are still alive. She wonders if one day, after becoming a woman who does commercials, Vivia will still remember them, their other ancestors, when she is sailing on the ocean.

“He wants me to warn you that something is wrong.” Akann’s words ring in her head. Wrong. She is the only person who can deal with it. She is the one who always has to take risks because others reply on her. And now, Ganymedes is asking her to do something for him, something more dangerous and hazardous than previous experiences. She looks down at the dark surface of the ocean: it is dangerous and hazardous.

“Ashley.” She startles as she hears someone calling her name. Of course, it’s Phineas. She does not reply but doesn’t conceal herself either, only sitting stiffly and listening to his footsteps come near. It’s not because she is afraid of him or something; she merely doesn’t know what to say to him.

In the past few weeks, especially those days they spent alone in the forest, they have talked a lot, about her, about him, and something between them seem to change. After he apologized, he never speaks of how he thinks about her differences, or maybe he has changed his thoughts by now.

“Haven’t seen you at dinner,” he says slowly. Ashley shakes her head.

“Something bothering you?” he asks. She smiles and shakes her head again. If even she doesn’t want to admit, she realizes he is gentler when he talks to her, which is quite nice.

“Then, can you explain why you are sitting in a pitch-black night on a cliff?”

“I can’t, Phineas,” she sighs. “Please let me spend some time alone tonight. I just want to sort things out.”

Phineas sits down, a short distance away from her, and then he lies down with his arms folded behind his head. In the darkness, she can hear his breaths, calm and soothing.

“Phineas,” she opens her mouth, and he grunts.

“For one moment, I wanted to jump off,” she murmurs. “What!” he sits up abruptly.

“No, no, not to kill myself, no,” she laughs. “Don’t worry. I only wanted to float on water.” The dangerous and hazardous water.

“What’s wrong?” Phineas moves closer to her, close enough for her to see his eyes. “I heard something may be wrong with the dragons.”

Ashley thinks about it. Those feelings have not come up since the dragon’s attack, have they? “It is wrong,” she sighs. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely not right. It’s barely a feeling.”

“But, are you alright?” he asks, concerned.

She nods, “Yeah. It’s just something has changed these days, and I don’t know what.” No one shall feel all this except her—the alluring waves that come from the dangerous and hazardous ocean—maybe the danger has already arrived.

“Something is not right,” she says.

Phineas leans even closer, and Ashley meets his eyes. For one moment, his face disappears; instead, a scene emerges: grey waves brushing a piece of desolate land. It melts as quickly as it appears.

He is too close now. His breath is warm, and rapid.

Both flinch quickly as they hear the footsteps of another. Phineas whips around. A soldier is standing behind the parapet with a torch in his hand looking over to where they sit. “Sorry, sire,” the soldier apologizes. “I didn’t realize it’s you. I thought there was a thief.”

Irritated, Phineas waves his hand, “It’s okay.”

“Sir, you should go back now; it’s not safe to be out there at night,” the soldier says with a sense of warning in his voice.

“Yes, of course, thank you,” Phineas answers. The soldier nods and leaves.

They are left alone again.

Ashley struggles to stand up quickly, not knowing what to say, “I…should go now.”

“It’s too dark,” Phineas stands up as well.

Ashley brushes her hand gently in the air, and a ball of light appears. She stands in silence for a few minutes, listening for the most detailed sounds. Then, she whistles in a low sound, a long and low sound, and flaps shiver the silence. Akann’s red body dashes out from below the cliff, and his golden eyes pierce the darkness.

He growls with delight, “Azalie.” She touches his forehead and murmurs in Drakon, “Fancy flying?” Akann straightens his wings and wraps them around her, so that their talk is private.

“Just finished hunting,” he grunts. “Don’t mind a few more flights before I return.”

Ashley chuckles.

“I feel like I’m connected to the other dragons since I can feel desperation and fanatism whose source I can’t trace,” she says seriously. “Can you feel that?”

Akann moves his great head up and down, “Yes. I think they are related to the danger Ganymedes mentioned. The distance between us and the western islands are too far for me to make sure what is happening.”

“The other dragons here don’t know anything either?” Ashley asks.

“None of us can. Now don’t worry, Azalie, things will be clear when they are supposed to be. Now, want to leave this dangerous cliff?” Akann asks.

Ashley nods her head, “Sure.” Along the dragon’s rough scales, she climbs up and sits down at the hollow spot on the dragon’s back where it is the softest. Then, she looks up, “Wanna come?”

Phineas runs over quickly. As he comes near, the dragon that lets out hot breaths studies him carefully, but then it moves its wings so that he can climb onto its back.

Ashley withdraws the light in her hand, “Ready to go, Sire?” She smiles.

Akann stamps on the ground hardly and rushes up into the night sky like a gust of wind. He opens his wide wings so that they can reach the height where he can use the currents to glide.

Ashley feels the wind brushing her hair behind, and a grin climbs onto her lips. Flying at night is different, serener and more peaceful; moonlight shines in the hollow space that they call “sky,” calming down the raging ocean beneath them. Akann flies quietly like a shadow, using the currents completely to avoid deploying his wings, making the journey more turbulent. Phineas gasps as a current brings them high up, and Ashley laughs.

Akann soars around the city, ignoring the lights from houses as if they are gliding above a deserted highland. The great dragon roars, eager to let his exhilarated bellows ring around in the quiet night, and then he glides down to the glistening sea surface like he used to do when they flied cross-ocean travels. When his stretched claws touch the now tranquil sea surface, a procession of ripples blossom behind them and trail off. Phineas makes no sound behind her, so she has no idea what he is doing right, probably gazing at another angle of his world he has never seen before. When he is done with the waves, Akann sets off again for another few rounds of hovering in the air.

Phineas suddenly grabs her shoulders, “Hey Ash.” She turns around to look at him. “You must love this, don’t you?” he asks, meeting her eyes.

She smiles and nods, “Won’t give it up for anything.” He can see from her eyes that she means it. Nothing is better than flying: not royal identity, not money, not even queenship over a kingdom. He stares at her: her hair is blown back by the wind, exposing her entire face to be bathed under silvery moonlight. Her right eye shines with the golden color that doesn’t belong in this world—the world that is realistic with no magic, no dragons. He nearly kissed her. Nearly. That soldier! He growls. And now she’s becoming farther and farther away from him, making him feel more and more like an ignorant toddler in her world. It seems their worlds could never encounter.

While he is thinking, Akann has flown lower to the square that the riders used to land on the first day of their arrival. He lands with a thump as his claws touch the ground. Both of them slide off Akann’s back quickly. The dragon nudges Ashley for one last time for farewell and digs into the night.

“My building is in the different direction,” Ashley gestures. “See you later then.”

“Wait, Ash,” Phineas calls, holding out a hand. “Do you want to go out with me tomorrow?”

She raises one eyebrow, “Go out?”

“Uh, I mean take my ship out to sea tomorrow,” he tries to phrase a sentence in his head. “You haven’t been on a ship to sail around Saenysse, have you?”

Ashley shakes her head, “Never, to be honest.”

“How about tomorrow morning…or afternoon then?”

She pauses to think for a moment, “Morning works fine for me, perhaps. After breakfast. Is that okay for you?”

He smiles relievedly, “Great! I promise, my ship is the best ship in Naiad.”

“Alright,” she turns her back on him. “See you.”


The next day, while they are having breakfast, Vivia asks, “Hey, Ash, wanna go to downtown today? The others are having lessons with Amarie in the morning,”

“No, I’m occupied today,” Ashley answers. “Sorry.”

“Come on! I don’t want to go there alone!”

“It’s an opportunity to meet boys,” Ashley smiles at her. “In case there is a boy who likes you has a family equivalent to yours.”

“You are just abandoning me because you are hanging out with Phineas,” Vivia pushes her out of the palace gate. “Go ahead. Promise me you won’t forget about me when you are queen.”

Ashley laughs, “I promise. We can hang out next time.”

She strolls down along the street. People stare at her: they must know who she is by now. The weather is perfect, so most ships are out on the ocean. Phineas’ great white ship is not difficult to spot for it stands out among others. He is not there when she arrives, so she stands on the harbor to wait for him.

A man walks to the ship. He is dressed like a sailor with the gloves and boots, except for the apron he straps around his waist. Unlike most Naiadians who prefer not to keep a beard, the man has a thick, black beard on his chin. When he comes nearer, Ashley realizes he is at least six feet tall and weighs a hundred kilograms. “Why are you dressed like a man?” he takes off his gloves and asks her jokingly.

“Well, why are you dressed like a woman?” Ashley points at his apron, and they both laugh.

“Joseph, most people call me Joe,” the man retrieves a hand from his pocket and holds it out.

“Ashley,” she grins at him.

“Oh, so you are the princess,” Joe realizes suddenly. “Should have known from how you dress.”

“Well yeah, though I don’t like people talking to me with that idea in their head,” she shrugs.

“Yeah?” Joe grins. “You’re cool.”

“Huh,” she laughs. “The disadvantage is that I don’t have much majesty when I should be a princess, that is, when I have to wear your apron.” She gestures. Joe laughs; he is a forthright person.

“Joe, ready to go?” Both look towards the source of the voice to see Phineas walking toward them. He is looking exceptionally spirited today with his silver and blue tunic and a pair of bright green eyes.

“Wait, you work on this ship?” Ashley is shocked. “Yeah, the very best ship,” Joe pats his apron. “I’ve been working on ‘Beacon’ since she was constructed.”

“You are here early,” Phineas says, walking to Ashley. “Want to walks around the ship before she sets out?” She gives him a searching look and steps onto the ship’s wooden floor.

After she disappears behind the wall, Joe pats Phineas’ shoulders hardly, “Phineas, you gotta keep her here. She’s so cool, not any other girl I’ve met like this.”

“Trying my best,” he sighs and follows Ashley onto the ship.

Ashley explores the ship. It is large with two decks on the surface and a hidden deck where sailors work. There are wooden platforms on both decks so that people can stand on them to look at the ocean. Under Joe’s command, the brilliant Naiadian sailors have taken them out to sea.

“Loosen the sails, pull up the anchor, sit next to your paddles, and let’s go sailors!” He himself stands behind the aspen helm, taking the beauty out to open sea.

Phineas is right. Gazing at the ocean from the same level is indeed very different. Everything seems more prominent as she is now closer to it. She remembered the fight between the Zu Elf Spirits she learned on Enya’s literature class. How ferocious could the waves be when they stood on the shore and fought?

“Checkers?” Ashley stares at the wooden boardgame positioned on a table on the deck. “Yeah,” Joe comes over from the helm, ordering a sailor to take his place instead. “Do you know how to play?”

“A little,” Ashley picks up one piece. “Vivia taught me how to play. She’s from Naiad, you know.”

“That’s already better than Phineas,” Joe laughs. “He has absolutely no interest in boardgames.”

Ashley laughs and turns to look at Phineas, “You really don’t know how to play boardgames?” He shakes his head, “I got more important things to do. Let’s take her farther before the sun becomes too vicious.”

“Yeah, right,” Joe makes a face. He steps onto the deck to command the sailors.

“How come your friend knows how to play this?” Joe ties a not on a rope to steady the helm so that he doesn’t have to put his hands on it all the time.

“Well, she’s from Naiad actually, although she was born in Amalthea. Her family moved to Amalthea very early, and she has never left there, but her parents do teach her some Naiadian cultures.”

“First Naiadian rider then,” Joe turns the rudder. “Is she going to stay in Amalthea?”

Ashley sighs, “No, she’s going to come back to Saenysse.”

“Pity,” Joe rubs his face, “I’d rather stay there if I were her. Hey, you are the first princess to become a rider, aren’t ya?”

“Yeah,” Ashley smiles. “Although I prefer people to forget my royal identity when I’m trying to be a real rider.” “Yeah, royal identities can be annoying,” Joe says, smiling. He seems to understand the agony.

“Where are we going? I thought we were going to go around the city,” Ashley asks. They are passing other boats, heading fast to the open sea where ships can ride waves.

“Oh we are, it’s just Phineas, down there on the lower deck, wants to admire his city in a far distance,” Joe says. Phineas is standing alone on the lower deck of the ship, watching water rolls back beneath it.

“What do you call the sea between our two islands?” this question suddenly occurs to her: she has never thought about the name of this sea area; for her, it’s always been “the ocean.”

“You have never learned the names of each sea area?” Joe sounds surprised. “No, for dragons, every piece of water in the ocean belongs to one unity that they call ‘Phinean’, meaning ocean, so we haven’t learned each area’s geographical name.”

Joe grabs a scroll of map from nowhere and traces his fingers on it.

“Yea, I guess you don’t need to know their names if you aren’t a sailor or don’t live in Naiad. This sea area between Naiad and Amalthea, we call it ‘Dragon Pathway’, since Amalthea’s most prominent feature is your dragons,” Joe points his forefinger at the narrow sea between Naiad and Amalthea. “Then, we call the entire ocean from Saenysse to eastward islands ‘Whaling Sea’.” He circles the entire region that occupies most of the map. “All the way to Cutloottang and Farghon,” he stabs his fingers at the twin-islands that are painted on the margin.

“So Dragon Pathway and Whaling Sea make up the ocean between Amalthea and the twin-islands,” Ashley concludes tentatively, and Joe nods.

“Are there real whales there?” she slides her finger on the map.

“Rare, but yes.”

“Have you seen them?” she raises one eyebrow.

“No. I’ve been sailing on Whaling Sea for nearly thirty years, ever since I was six, but well, they say whales are only for those who are to do great things.”

“Why are Amalthea and the twin-islands painted on the edges of this map anyway? Aren’t there more water and lands outside, like the western islands?”

“There are, but no one has been there before, or at least seen anything worthy marking, so we just call the outside ‘Horizon’. That’s where the world is dominated by the Open Sea. Speaking of which, do you like Phineas?”

“Huh? ‘Speaking of which’ indeed,” she flicks her eyebrows again. “I don’t know, to be honest. He’s nice and everything, but it’s just too early to make any decisions.”

“He’s really nice. I mean, he’s handsome, he’s rich, he’s polite, he’s smart, he’s the future king—”

“Joe, please,” Ashley says. “You are the hundredth person trying to sell him to me.”

“I know him well, at least from an angle different to his friends’,” Joe smirks. “If they tell you that he’s good with girls, don’t believe in it.”

“He has never had a girlfriend before?” Ashley says with wide eyes.

“Have you?” Joe widens his eyes.

“Who hasn’t,” she shrugs. “It’s normal to have two or three or more boyfriends back home.”

“I thought the Academy doesn’t allow boys,” the sailor studies her carefully. “How many boys have you gone out with? One? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Two actually,” she says, moving her eyes away. “I don’t mind, since you are his friend, but please don’t tell others. Anyway, we are not always prisoned in the Academy. On weekends or during holidays, we can visit nearby cities, and sometimes the mentors arrange exchanges with a normal school, so we do have chances to meet others.”

“I bet Phineas doesn’t know anything,” Joe grins.

“He knows nothing,” Ashley says. “Do you think he should know?”

“Maybe,” he shrugs. “Maybe you should tell him.”

“I can’t tell him about my, well, past relationships,” she covers her face with her hands. “Maybe you can do it when the time is right. I know it’s a huge favor to ask since we’ve only met an hour ago, but I really can’t find an appropriate person to do this, and things have gone a bit weird between Phineas and I, so I really don’t know how to face him right now. Uh…I’ve been bothering you for too long. I’ll leave you be.” She walks quickly to the side of the boat where she is close enough to hear him, and Joe chuckles behind her, “Sure, my lady, but I have to think about how.”

However, time doesn’t give him enough time to ponder about the conversation.

When neither of them realizes, Phineas has run up to the upper deck. “Please, Joe, I need to borrow your binoculars!”

“What’s going on?” Ashley stares at him as he stands next to her looking into the binoculars. A crease appears between his eyebrows, “The sailors say there is a dragon around.”

“What?” she takes the binoculars as he hands it to her. “Where can I find a big enough clearing?”

“On the back, there is a higher platform.”

She streaks to the tail of the ship and aims the binoculars at the sky. From the it she can see the flying animal: it has wings and silver scales. “Is it a dragon?” Phineas asks. He and Joe has run to the deck after her.

“Yes,” she thrusts it back to him. “Stand back, I need to talk to him.”

Phineas opens his mouth but then thinks about it and stands behind the mast with the others, anticipating what’s going to happen next.

Ashley squints her eyes. A silver dragon! They are so rare that she only knows the name of one, the one that has lived only in legends until now. Amarie has taught them about summoning a dragon, but she has not done it from such a long distance. She places herself in the middle of the platform, raises her arm high into the air, and calls out the dragon’s name.

“Egnar! Come talk to me, my brother!” she speaks in Drakon. Flame and light bursts out from her outstretched hand. “I am kin of the fire dragon!”

Her voice is not loud, but somehow the dragon, or the speck in the sky, redirects its destination and soars down toward the ship. Subsequently, a strange but miraculous scene appears in front of everyone on the ship: a girl whose hand emits fire stands face-to-face with a spectacular silver dragon.

“You are Egnar, son of the moon?” she meets the dragon’s ember eyes.

“I am, Azalie,” the silver dragon Egnar says.

“It’s my honor to meet you. You had only existed in legends for me until now,” Ashley bows to the dragon.

“The honor is same for me, Azalie. Ganymedes said you were destined to do great things,” Egnar says sincerely. He looks even fiercer than his descriptions in legends.

“Where are you heading?” Ashley asks. “Most dragons don’t travel to the human kingdom unless emergencies.”

“I have travelled for more than a week from the western islands,” Egnar grunts. “I am summoned to go to Jaynar.”

“Summoned? By who?” Ashley frowns.

“No idea. We have received no message from Jaynar and the dragons that left before me, so I am going to find out. Ganymedes is going, too. I assume he will arrive in Saenysse in a week.”

“Ganymedes! He’s flying all the way from the western islands? I thought he was never going to come back.”

The dragon grunts with laughter, “We cannot control this summon, Azalie. Even if I don’t want to come, my body has decided to take me there.”

“Why? Do you have a theory?”

“Well, we suspect that magic is involved,” he sighs. “What else can attract dragons?”

“Yeah, but how come my dragon is not summoned?”

“None of the dragons in Amalthea are,” Egnar sighs. “We have no idea. I guess you’ll be able to see flocks of dragons returning to the realms of the Seven Kingdoms like migrating birds.”

Ashley shudders. She understands how serious the problem is now, but she struggles to show her politeness. “Thank you Egnar, I won’t delay you from your journey. Please notify us if you or any other dragon finds out what’s going on.”

Egnar nods, “I shall if I can. Azalie, I don’t like this. I think this is something dangerous, so be careful and do not do anything rash. If anything happens to us, you and your dragons may be our only hope.”

Ashley nods gravely, “Safe journey, Egnar.” The dragon dips its head at her and joins the sky as a silver speck once again. Ashley retrieves the fire and lets her arm drop to her side.

When she turns around, people are gaping at her with open mouths.

“Let’s better head back,” she sighs.


“So it was Egnar?” Amarie asks. The king, queen, prince, and the riders are gathered in the meeting room. “Yes,” Ashley nods.

“The silver dragon’s name was Egnar?” Phineas asks, looking at Ashley for an answer. She lowers her head. “Yes, it means ‘son of the moon’. Silver dragons are so rare that we honor them very much,” Amarie answers for her. “He is one of the most respected dragons, so we are quite surprised to see him here.”

“There’s also one thing he said,” Ashley opens her mouth unwillingly. “He said Ganymedes would be coming.”

“No way!” Vivia stands up excitedly. “Sit down Viv,” Ashley sighs. “And he would probably arrive here in a week.”

“Ganymedes? What else did he tell you? Why are they all returning into human world? Who else are coming?” Amarie gazes at her. “Where is Egnar going? Who is waiting there for him? Is this a gathering? When are they going to meet?”

Ashley rubs her hair with her hands until it is messy, “Please Amarie, I have told you all I know. I…I uh really, really need a break now, please excuse me.” She waves her hand, and the door of the meeting room swings open as she storms out.

“It happened again!” she shouts out to Akann in her head. Although she hates communicating to him in her head, she can’t wait for him to fly by. “I could feel it; everything became fuzzy suddenly,” he replies. “That wasn’t you. The entire network has been feeling it continously. Sorry our connection dragged you into all these.”

“So you mean all the dragons that you can feel with your mind felt that?” she asks.

He replies with silence.

“Where are you right now?” he asks after a pause.

“On the cliff.”

“Do you need me to come over?”

“No, no need bothering you. I just wanna know what’s happening. You heard Egnar, have you managed to get in touch with other dragons?”

A sigh comes. “Azalie, the western islands are in a mess. The only thing I can feel is chaos, and I can’t receive any message from those dragons who have already gone to Jaynar.”

“Where’s Jaynar?” she feels like she’s an idiot in geography.

“It’s the archipelago around the twin-islands. It has been deserted even by the barbarians,” he grunts. “Egnar is right. Something is wrong. Nothing is right around the twin-islands, let alone that archipelago. No dragons have returned to this day, and more are going there. I’m afraid, Azalie, I really am.”

He ponders for a few moments, “Oh Azalie, please stay away from the cliff; who knows what’s going to happen next!”

“I’ll try,” she smiles to an invisible company.

“But don’t worry, I will protect you,” he says before he signs off from the connection.

“I know you will,” Ashley says in a low voice. “We will fight through this together.”

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