((welcome to one of the many side-stories from my long running story, Pact of Dragons. :D In this one I'm really trying a different angle, but hopefully everyone still enjoys it.))

Ranna sighed as she slid into the booth, nearly bumping her knees beneath the wooden table as she sat. She slid a hand through her short cropped brown hair and turned to stare out the nearby window. Something was nagging on her mind, and she just couldn't pull herself out of her fugue.
Someone moved to sit across from her, and her head jerked back around. Her friend and fellow server sat across from her, smirking.
"Two minutes into break and already daydreaming?"
She sighed and shook her head at him, "Step off it, Jestin."
The raven-haired boy shrugged and turned, resting his legs up on the chair next to him. "Don't be so snappy. I come over here to comfort you, and this is the thanks I get."
Ranna rolled her gold-flecked eyes skyward, taking a quick look around the tavern. It was only mid day, but even the few hours of hosting annoying customers had taken their toll. She ached to leaved early, but knew the tavern master would never permit it. Instead, she had decided to go on one of her few breaks early.
"You know, for someone normally so upbeat, you're rather quiet lately."
Jestin's question snapped her back, forcing her to realize she had been staring out the window once again.
"What's wrong, Ranna? Is something inside you itching for adventure?" Jestin chuckled.
She snorted and pressed a finger to her forehead, "No. You know I don't care about that nonsense."
He shrugged lightly in response, "Well, you know me. As soon as I can find a good crew, I'm out of this heap town!"
Ranna just rolled her eyes once more and shook her head in disgust. Wanderlust could be so pathetic, especially when it consumed her friends. Really, their small town wasn't so bad. If only people would learn to be happy with what they had.
"So then, what is on your mind?" Jestin's head tilted expectantly to the side.
She pursed her lips and eyed him a moment before answering, "All month I've been having these strange dreams. The first few were a series of short scenes involved some man's death." She shrugged, "I guess he was a knight or something. Gold armor and all."
"That's eerie Ranna. Keep going."
"Well, obviously!" She sighed in irritation at the interruption, "Anyway. I don't know how, but this knight dies. The dreams after that are all a blur of gold light, and some woman's voice. She's calling out to me, telling me she needs me." Ranna paused to look over at Jestin, who was staring intently back at her. "After that all these scary things flash in my dream. Horrible monsters and creatures. Gold dragons, gryphons, so many others that I can't even begin to describe. I always get scared and start screaming back that whatever she needs me for, I won't do, and that I don't want anything she can give. But then I wake up in tears every time, and I don't understand why."
Jestin was still staring, his tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth as he tried to phrase an answer. She shook her head and held up a hand to stop him before he began.
"I'm probably just tired and anxious from all the work we've been putting in lately."
He nodded and shrugged, "Maybe you're prophetic or something! So many people would kill for power like that. Me for one!"
"Well, I DON'T want it. You can have these strange dreams."
He grinned and winked across the table at her, "Deal. I'll be sure to ask this woman where any good treasure spots are. We can get a group together and go hunting."
She groaned loudly as he rose to his feet to return to work. He apparently hadn't heard a word she had said.

When the tavern had finally closed its doors, Ranna felt as if she had been trampled by a heard of horses. Walking along the dark streets of the village, her shoulders sagged from the stress.
She grimaced and jumped at the same time when she felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder. She whirled in alarm, her waitressing skirt flaring out around her.
Jestin grinned mischievously back at her. He lifted a tightly tied scroll that he clutched within his right hand and tapped her nose lightly.
"GUESS what?"
She smiled weakly back at him, "You made a lot of tips?"
He smirked and took a step back, throwing his arms wide. "BETTER!"
"I don't know, and I'm too tired to guess!" She snapped, causing him to flinch.
"If you put it that way, I'll tell you." He held up the scroll once more, "THIS is an actual map to some nearby ruins! A wandering vagabond pawned it off on me for a free meal."
She glared over at him, "You gave someone a free meal?!"
He shook his head, "No no! Look! We can go out there ourselves tomorrow and see if there's anything good. We could find ten times what we make in a month, Ranna! Imagine!"
"Are you crazy?" She placed a hand angrily on her hip, "You would trust a map from a VAGABOND?"
He grimaced at her reaction. "Well, yeah. I figured we would all go out there tomorrow and see.."
She held up a warning hand, "We don't even have tomorrow off of work, Jestin."
He shrugged lightly, "We're all still going, Ranna. With or without you. Just thought you might want a piece of the adventure."
"I don't want."
He cut her off with a shake of his head, "You know your problem, Ranna. You're too homely. You've lived here your entire life, and you desire nothing more. It's really sad and appalling. Life isn't just going to come to you." And with the final word, he turned and stalked back down the streets.
She cursed lightly under her breath and turned to continue her walk home. The nerve of him! So what if she was happy with what she had? That was how she had been brought up, damn it! Appreciate everything you get. Don't pray for anything more and waste the gods' time! Spare yourself the wrath and disappointment.
Well, they would be disappointed when they went looking for some nonexistent treasure. They might even get themselves hurt. It's not as if her friends were seasoned adventurers. Pah! Let them get lost and be disappointed!

She was still grumbling to herself as she crawled beneath her blankets. She tossed a bit before rolling to be able to stare out the window at the waning moon. It HAD been a beautiful night, and now who knew what nightmares she would have.

The next thing she knew, Ranna was staring ahead of her at a circle of golden pillars. They spread widely around her, encompassing the excess of space. She tilted her head up. Nothing but blackness above her. She looked down beneath her. Nothing but blackness beneath her. She was floating in void, with nothing but the golden pillars.
Odd, she found herself thinking. This wasn't how her other dreams had begun. In those all she could see was a golden light. Perhaps she had finally passed that phase of dreaming. A semi-comforting thought, because the emptiness around her was starting to make her feel an unnerving sense of disjointment from the world.
She could have been falling, or floating. It was impossible to tell, and yet she was still able to move. Taking a step got her nowhere, and she remained in the center of the circle. This wasn't right, she thought. This sense of infinity. It wasn't normal. Her mind was already beginning to ache at the sensation of fathomless depth. Impossible to comprehend. How could she possibly be here?
Something shimmered in front of her. Only a short distance away, the glittering light took on the form of a massive beast.
The scales of the golden dragon glimmered, even with an ultimate lack of light in the void. Its eyes flashed briefly as it looked her over, its arrow shaped head craning toward her.
Ranna froze in a combination of fear and awe at the sight of the creature. It was so beautiful, almost delicate despite its enormous size. Its wings flapped once, and the blackness around it seemed to expand and shift.
A few paces from the dragon, another form shimmered and flickered into sudden existence. In the wake of the glittering light sat another creature, though it was only about the side of one of the dragon's broad shoulders.
The beast's birdlike wings flapped and settled against its fur matted back. It shook its eagle head once, pawing at the space in front of it with its feline-like claws before hunching into a seated position.
The dragon snorted suddenly, breaking the eerie silence that hung in the darkness.
"I don't see what she sees in her."
Ranna's brow furrowed in confusion at what it had spoken. She dared not reply, in the general fear of being made into a light snack for either creature.
The gryphon leaned back on its hunches and shrugged its broad shoulders. "Who are we to question her will?"
"If she would just let me look for a suitable candidate, I'm sure I could come up with something better than this!" The dragon glared down at her, "Humans are rarely divine potential! The last servant was a rare exception. Now, there are some nice elves on my land recently."
"No." The voice echoed, seemingly within Ranna's head, though she could sense it emanating from all around her. It was distinctly feminine and utterly beautiful, as if all the music Ranna had heard in her entire life had been woven into one single tone.
The golden dragon bowed its head respectfully, "Of course."
Soft laughter streamed throughout the area, another lightly flickering between the two beasts. It glittered brightly then pulsed outward, forcing Ranna to shield her eyes.
When her vision had unblurred, a gorgeous vision of a woman stood between the dragon and the gryphon. Her skin was golden, and her long hair flaxen as it flared out behind her. She was simply clothed in only a white robe, though a she wore golden circlet as well. The shape of her body mirrored everything Ranna had ever found or envied in other women. Warmth flickered in the stranger's eyes, forcing Ranna to come to the only conclusion she could. This being was perfection.
The gryphon had also bowed its head, and the dragon's eyes narrowed as it noted Ranna gaping.
"Show the proper respect for a goddess! You should be enthralled enough that she allowed you to come here, let alone see her! You don't even worship!"
Ranna heard herself gasp, but the goddess held up a hand to stop her from doing anything else. She found herself gazing into the deity's eyes, and though she knew she had lulled into a dreamstate, it felt as if everything she had dreamt about in the past month suddenly made sense.
And yet she found herself shaking her head. Both dragon and gryphon gasped in alarm, and the goddess' sweet smile suddenly faded.
"Why won't you take what I have to give?"
"Because." Ranna's voice was breaking, "I don't deserve it, and I don't want that kind of power. I can't be what you wish me to be. I've barely been in any temples in my entire life. There must be someone else who can better serve."
"I desire you." That voice, it remained beautiful though it had begun to take on a forlorn lilt. "I want to give you everything. All I ask is that you serve me as my last knight did."
"I can't take it. I won't. I don't want it."
"You don't understand. You are worthy, and it is your modesty that captures me. My chosen doesn't just serve me in battle."
"No." Ranna was shaking, "I don't want it. You can't make me!"
The dragon was incredulous, tensed in anger and ready to pounce. "Your insolence! You cannot refuse a goddess!"
The goddess frowned and shook her head, immediately silencing the dragon's roars of protest.
"I will not make you. But I know that if you just try enough, you will allow it to break free and consume you. Until then, I will not bother you."
The voice had grown so sad, and though the goddess' face only hinted at it, Ranna found that tears had begun streaking down her cheeks.
Both dragon and gryphon roared in anger as the vision of beauty vanished in a burst of golden light.
Ranna woke with a start, the roars resounding in her ears. She lifted a hand to her face, tracing the wet path the tears had left. Something caught her eye, and she lifted her hand to the moonlight. A simple golden band now adorned one of her fingers, and soft voice flickered through her mind.
"A gift."
Something within Ranna's stomach knotted and she fell heavily back against her pillows. She rolled on to her stomach and buried her face, bursting into a fit of anguished sobs.
She had made a terrible mistake, and the sound of disappointment in the goddess' voice was almost too painful to bare.

When dawn finally came, Ranna roused herself from a dreamless sleep. She stalked to her closet and threw on a simple bodiced dress, then headed down the stairs and out the front door.
She was half way to the tavern when she remembered what had happened with Jestin the night before. She sighed and shook her head. It was no concern of hers, especially with all that was on her mind now.
But then again, what if they were hurt and needed help? The forest surrounding the village was known to be dangerous. But what could she, Ranna the simple tavern waitress, possibly do to help in a situation like that? She couldn't fight! All she knew how to do right was balance a food- laden tray!
She paused and groaned at her dilemma, reaching up to scrub at her forehead. The ring on her finger once more caught her eye, and she froze as she stared down at it.
No, she decided to herself, She wouldn't let anyone else down.
With that, Ranna turned and blindly marched towards the border of forest that surrounded her town. For once in her life, she was going to be brash!

When the afternoon sun had begun filtering through the trees, Ranna sighed to herself. She had been wandering, lost, through the forest for hours now, and was beginning to wonder what she had gotten herself into.
Jestin had had a map, and she had only the instincts that seemed to be failing her.
She groaned and plopped herself heavily down atop a nearby rock. She was so tired now that it seemed like the forest was closing in on her. How was she ever going to find her way out of this mess?
It was then that the pitched scream rang out through the trees. Ranna was instantly on her feet, her eyes frantically searching the woods surrounding her. Another scream reverberated, setting her into a desperate sprint towards its source.
The rocks and branches left welts and scratches on her arms and legs as she ran, but Ranna was determined to find her friends. She fervently prayed they were only screaming because they were injured, and not because something was attacking them. Somewhere inside her though, she envisioned the worst possible scenario.

The bushes rustled in protest as they were parted, forced apart as Ranna burst into the massive clearing. She quickly scanned the area, spotting her downed friends and rushing over to them. The three of them, including Jestin, had fallen to the ground in shock, and Ranna noted that their friend Orla was clutching at her ankle as if it were sprained or broken.
Jestin turned as he heard her run clumsily towards them, gasping for air.
"Ranna!"
"Why!" She gasped, "Did you scream?!"
Jestin shuddered in fear and turned to point ahead of them. A large cave sat at the opposite end of the clearing.
Ranna squinted, but could see nothing. "It's a cave? So what!"
Jestin turned to stare back up at her, wide-eyed, "No Ranna! That map led us into a beast's lair! When we saw it in there, we screamed and ran. It was huge! But I think we escaped, because it hasn't come out yet."
She sighed heavily, relief washing over her. "Praise the gods."
A deep growl emanated from behind her and she heard Jestin and the two other girls scream. Before she had fully turned around to face what had leapt from the cave, a blur shot out from somewhere in the bushes. A mix of a birdlike screech and animalistic roar rang out, and both creatures went crashing into the rock surrounding the cave.
Ranna gasped as one of the beasts uncurled and stalked toward her. The unmistakable form of the gryphon padded angrily towards her, an attempted scowl on its face.
The three screamed again, but Ranna simply gawked in surprise. It was a moment before she finally regained enough composure to speak.
"What are you doing here?"
The gryphon snorted and shook itself off, "I was sent here to watch over you, despite how you caused our goddess so much disappointment!"
Ranna gasped and pressed a hand to her chest, a sudden flood of emotions from the previous night rushing back to her. Before she could choke out another response, the gigantic beast that the gryphon had tackled began to stir.
The gryphon shot a frantic look over its shoulder, then turned to glare up at Ranna. "I can only hold that thing off for so long!" He nodded his head down at her ring. "Accept her gift, or the behemoth will kill everyone! Give in!"
Ranna's eyes went wide at the haunting words that had been on the fringes of her mind ever since the vision had ended. Her body froze, only her fingers twitching reflexively as all the images of the goddess came back. Strangely her life began flashing in front of her eyes as well, and her mouth opened in alarm. The world around her faded as she struggled with all the things that were suddenly flowing through her. She thought she felt herself gasp for air, unable to fight against everything that was coming to her.
The chaos was spreading throughout her body, and she felt as if she would lose control. For an instant, her goddess flashed in front of her. The words rang out once more, a clamingly melodic voice drowning out the other noise.
"Give in."
Ranna fell to her knees in pain, clutching her head. She tucked her knees to her chest and screamed as the power overtook her. Something within and around her snapped, and she was suddenly aware of the wings that had sprouted from her back. Then all at once, the pain and confusion was gone. Suddenly she understood.
She had given in, and she felt as one with her goddess as the power of the sun pulsed through her. She rose to her feet, the golden bow and arrows clasped in her hands. She turned and looked over at the gryphon, who nodded as if it understood. He now looked upon Ranna, the chosen of the golden goddess.
Ranna turned as the behemoth leapt towards her, claws extended and maw wide. It was if the entire world had slowed around her. She spread her wings and lifted her bow, knocking an arrow. To imagine, this was only a fraction of the true power of the gods.
She fired a half second later, though it felt as if it were far longer to her. In a flash, the arrow flew into the creature's wide mouth, embedding itself in the back of its throat. The apparent power behind the shot knocked the gigantic monster back, the arrow tip reappearing in time to stick into the rock of the cave, pinning the beast by its neck. It emitted a final, gurgling sound as it died.
Ranna drew in a sharp breath and lowered her bow. Her wings flapped once more before disappearing in a burst of golden light, the bow and arrows disappearing as well.
She gasped in surprise at everything that happened, falling to her knees. The gryphon padded to her side and nudged her with its beak.
"Relax. You'll get more used to the power the more you use it."
Ranna deftly nodded, feeling numb. She felt exhausted, yet exhilarated at the same time. She found herself mumbling quietly to herself. "I serve only her."
The gryphon nodded and jerked its head, motioning for her to follow. "Indeed, and I'm to be your guide for now. Obviously you can protect yourself, but I was told to stay on for a while, observing. I know what I'm about to say is what you were afraid of all along, but Ranna, your life will never be the same again."
She nodded and rose to her feet, "I know that. And now, I strangely don't care as much as I thought I would."
"Welcome to the world of the chosen." The gryphon chuckled, winking playfully back at her.