± Part One ±


± Chapter One ±

The chickens were in the coop and the three goats herded into their pen. It wasn't the nicest pen, and the beasts frequently escaped, constantly breaking the wooden sticks that had thick coils of wire tied around them. It was rather makeshift, and none or amazing, but it wasn't meant to last. Joc's family rarely stayed in one place. They were constantly moving, being of a gypsy-like heritage. They weren't covered in bangles and shawls, and certainly didn't read fortunes, but somehow, through rumors and stories, they were given the title 'Gypsy', and gypsies were good only as slaves in the minds of normal folk, or the People, living in the lands of Gryflen.

So now, brow sweaty and palms crossed with wire lines due to the fact that he had recently repaired the fence, Joc trudged up to the house, weary eyes upon the ground and grim smile upon his face. It was openly known through the camp about his great grandfather, and it was also known that the boy held that tinge of arrogance that made him think he was above such womanly tasks. It couldn't be helped, as his father had been pulled away to fight in the war a few years ago. They said he would back soon, and with a bag of money and name of respect, and so he left with high thoughts. But everyone knew that he wasn't coming back after the first year. Gypsies were always put in the front, and were always killed in mass. Not one taken gypsy had ever come home. With such in thought, young men were sent as scouts for the next land, so they would not be taken from their homes.

Most young men thoroughly despised such thought of a trek, but to Joc it was heaven. They weren't stuck acting like housewives, but sparring in the fields, practicing their battle moves and wrestling. Joc dearly wished to take part in such, but he had earned himself quite a name between his woman work and arrogant attitude. So his great grandfather had been called away to the Golden Clearing. Who really knew if it was actually true? What if the man was just insane? Now, after so many years, it was a mere legend of a man who might have not been quite as sane as everyone believed.

Yet Job believed otherwise.

If the man was simply a drunkard, leaving the town in hopes of finding a better brewery, then his whole title was ruined; not that it wasn't already. None of the other young men believed him. They though him an arrogant fool, a women in words. What true man stooped to cop up chickens and herd goats?

Rubbing a calloused hand over his brow, sharp grey eyes looked up. Standing tall, he was seen to be of around five feet ten inches, nothing extraordinary, though his people didn't grow that tall. It was rumored gypsies staunched their growth so they could be a smaller race, and all the greater with their thievery skills. Who ever heard of a seven foot thief? Yet this wasn't true. Maybe his people were small. It was just marriage lines, nothing more or less.

He was covered in drab clothing, dirtied by his day of work. The tan tunic was now dusted to a dirty grey, and his pants were ripped in several places. His shoes were leather, almost like moccasins, laced with thin strips of cowhide and padded with sheep wool. He'd made them himself, and was rather fond of them. Perfect for walking silence, not that that was a needed trait in the small village he lived in.

Shaking locks of sandy brown hair out of his eyes, he cringed when laughter was heard ahead. Turning off the dirt path that led up to his small house, he ducked into a roll and pulled up behind an old tree, body still and unmoving. Crouching upon the ground slowly, he peered out through the lower bushes around the trunk and glared at the two figures by his house.

Ralcon and Falthir. Just wonderful.

He knew why they were there. He was actually surprised that they hadn't come up earlier. He would have thought their pride wouldn't' allow them to let their enemy go unpunished. Perhaps they were too thick to think up a good punishment. Joc couldn't help but grinning at the idea.

It had been about a week ago, when he had substituted Falthir's nice sword for one he had made not too long ago. It was a trick sword, made out of some metal that looked glorious, but collapsed and blew bits and pieces of grit over the fighter at first clashing with an opponent's sword. Dead metal, in other words. Falthir had been bragging about his amazing skills for a while, and Joc was rather tired of them. So, when someone challenged Falthir to a sparring match, the switching had been made and Falthir had been made to look the part of a complete fool. It was typical for a swordsman to check over his weapons before a battle, but Joc knew Falthir too well. The boy was just as high and mighty as Joc himself and never stooped to levels of 'servant work.' In other words, why should a mighty fighter like himself check his own weapons? They she be checked before he was ready.

It was good that he was so haughty that way. It made the plain work out perfectly. Joc had made sure he was a god distance away, but still in seeing range when the sparring began. And, like planned, at first connect, the sword completely blew up, causing Falthir to get a nice mouthful of the dead metal and almost lose his head in the bargain. He had insisted that the fight would be fought with real weapons, and not just fake wooden swords. He was above such.

So, looking up through narrowed eyes, he spotted Joc right away. Joc knew the fun was over as the crowds sniggered slightly, and darted away as quickly as possible. It seemed now that his punishment was to come. How joyous. He could hardly wait. It was pointless to hide for long, as Falthir and his side kick would sit there until he came home, and hiding would only give him the name of a coward.

So, with a deep breath, he kept his face emotionless and stepped from his place. Falthir's head jerked up at the crunching of fallen leaves, and a smirk spread quickly across his sharp features. Ice blue eyes glinting maliciously, he elbowed Ralcon harshly in the ribs and jerked his head in Joc's direction. Seeing their quarry, Ralcon's face split into a mocking sneer. Falthir moved forward in an arrogant swagger.

"So, you decided to come out and play."

It wasn't a question. More of a subtle threat.

Joc inclined his head slightly in a polite nod, though his eyes gleamed with harsh irritation. "So I have, much more than you would have done at any rate."

Falthir's grin faltered slightly, yet he regained composure quickly. "You wouldn't have the wit to wait by my house until I came home."

Joc smirked at him slightly. "You're right; I would have come up with a plan that actually had some intellectual parts to it, not this stupid scheme you've got going."

Falthir's expression didn't change this time. "Maybe, but fancy insults aren't going to get you out of this one."

Joc shrugged, putting on a lazy air. "Your point?" Ralcon cracked his knuckles expressively. Joc looked at him dismissively in return. "That's supposed to scare me? I think I might have wet my pants."

Ralcon, not as apt to hiding his emotions as Falthir, stepped forward, brutal face contorted in fury. Falthir stepped smoothly in front of him and passed Joc a silky smile. "You shouldn't insult your elders, Joc, lad. It doesn't stand well, respect wise."

Joc rolled his eyes. "My elder is a boy half a winter above me?"

Falthir smoothly took the insult Joc's insult and replied with, "every day counts."

"A pity the extra days didn't do anything for your brain." Jock gave Falthir a sly smirk.

Feigning a yawn, Falthir answered in lazy tones. "You may have a slicing tongue, but how are you with the blade?"

"I know to check and see if it's been replacing with a fraud," Joc sneered.

Falthir's face paled; a sure sign of his anger. Eyes glittering with contained malice, he spat out his reply testily. "You'll regret that you did that."

"Will I now?"

"Oh, aye, you will indeed.

"I'm still waiting."

Ralcon was baffled by this reply, and Falthir took a few seconds to catch on to the mockery in it. They weren't slow, like some thugs, just not as quick as Joc. Swiping out with his hand, he found that he only held air. Joc had ducked down quickly and had popped up a foot back.

"Slow, aren't you?"

"Give me a sword and we'll see how slow I am."

"So you admit to having no talent without the sword? I always knew you were a poor wrestler."

That was how it was in the gypsy villages, talk first before fighting. Typically a man with a quick mouth and fast brain came out on top and combat wasn't necessary. This time, it was simply to press on each other's egos and see who could come up with the best insults before jumping into a sparring or wrestling match.

"I admit to being able to beat you in a single stroke."

Joc arched an eyebrow. "Oh? Prove it."

The challenge had been uttered. Joc knew it was going to have to be sometime, and it gave him higher respect if he did. Grinning slightly, he bowed to Falthir, stiffly, and with utter disrespect. Falthir took it and quickly jumped forward, fists beating on Joc's unprotected back.

With a yowl of outrage, Joc leaped back, hands reaching in front of him like claws to grasp Falthir's shaggy black locks. Pulling them in a quick jerk, he continued to hop back, eyes stinging as his back throbbed from where it had been pummeled. Falthir leapt back too, snarling, and pushed down his hair, as if trying to shove the roots back in.

"You know it's not going to be a wrestling match," he growled.

"Sparring, then," Joc agreed stiffly, still looking slightly grim. "Tonight, the fields."

"No funny business."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

"Yeah, you'd do it."

"I'm honored." Joc flashed him a grin before turning, a stupid move, but obvious sign of his lack of respect for Falthir and Ralcon.

Falthir didn't go after him, simply turned as well and walked his own way, still rubbing his hair.

The sky was cobalt, the stars flashing upon its velvet surface gleaming mirrors to the beauty of the earth below. The trees rustled slightly, their russet leaves dropping as larger gusts rattled through the bows. It was typical fall weather; breezy, cool, yet still with a warm air that ever told of the fact that they were quite near a desert.

Joc had a deep blue cloak wrapped around him, covering the leather belt he wore, connected to his sheath where his sword lay. He had taken great care to get out without causing alarm, and it had seemed to work. Now, hurrying out of view, he breathed a sigh of relief and began walking at a slower pace. He stopped for a moment to tie back his hair with a leather strap, and continued on after that, feet tapping so lightly the sounds were nearly inaudible.

Turning off the path and walking through a short grove of trees, he found himself at the edge of the fields. They were normal looking, with green grass slightly dried from the long summer a month before. Moving through the thick clumps, ignoring the scratching around his ankles, he kept to the shadows, moving soundlessly, looking for his opponent.

They hadn't determined how this was supposed to be fight out, so he decided to take no chances. If he just wandered out, Falthir would leap behind him and start the fight. Joc wanted to have the upper hand, and therefore stuck to the shadows, breathing softly and making no more noise than the night creatures.

There was a soft rustle behind him, and Joc quickly turned and ducked into the bushes, eve at the ready. Falthir blundered through the plants, taking no care to silence his movements. A soft sneer spread across Joc's face.

The idiot would wake a whole tribe with those actions.

He jumped up right before Falthir, giving a short breath of a laugh. Falthir stopped, face contorting in rage. His sword flew out with a stretched shhing! and he gave Joc a wicked grin.

"Starting already?"

"Why not?" Joc dropped his cloak and pulled out his own sword, wielding it in a graceful arch above his head.

"Pretty dances won't win you this fight," Falthir whispered lethally, holding his weapon at the ready.

"Maybe not," Joc said through gritted teeth, "to the first blood."

"Afraid of being killed?" Falthir laughed.

"Fine, to the death" Joc challenged loftily.

"First blood," Falthir amended.

"I figured, you babe," Joc crooned tauntingly, jumping forward and causing Falthir to stumble back hastily. "Not ready? I pity you."

Falthir's face grew taut as he leaped forward and met Joc in a clash of metal upon metal. Pulling back quickly, he circled around, tripping over the curling weeds that grew in the groves around the field. Joc grinned into the darkness before meeting his foe again, slicing and twisting, trying to maim Falthir.

Breathing was heavy through the cloak of darkness that and settled, broken only by consistent clashes of the two weapons, which were gleaming through the darkness sadistically, ringing out with their own war cries.

"Ah!" Joc cried, feinting and rolling to his left to pop up right as Falthir slashed down.

The swords collided and rang out.

"Try harder!" Falthir replied gruffly, pulling back and going in again before Joc could pull himself up.

"You're pathetic," Joc said raggedly, breathing patterns changing constantly as he struggled for breath. There had been no pause in the combat.

Falthir coughed slightly as he dodged, and struck down with his blade. Feinting again, jock ducked to the right and Falthir, not taken, followed quickly, sliced down and flicked his blade almost lazily against Joc's arm, cutting it cleanly. Holding back a growl of outrage at having been beaten, Joc stood up and scowled at his opponent, eyes glittering as the moon reflected off their mirror-like surfaces. Falthir took up his arrogant pose again, smile dancing across his lips.

"So, I guess you just aren't cut out to go against me," he said quietly, voice taunting and malicious.

Joc tensed; face growing hot with embarrassment and rage. He held his sword tightly in one hand while flexing the other. "Are you sure?" He started forward.

"Of course. It was first blo– what in the Guardian's Name are you doing?"

Joc was advancing slowly, like a predator might, Cheshire grin lethal. "Personally, I don't think this is over yet."

"To first blood! We agreed!" suddenly, Falthir didn't look as cocky as he had been before.

What about first blood? I can't say that I remember," Joc answered as he continued to walk forward, slow and easy, sword held in front of him.

Falthir's sword flicked up and countered Joc's. "Go home to your mother, Joc."

"In a second."

It seemed like all of time had frozen. It was deathly silent, like a graveyard. Then all sound came rushing back in torrents and Joc was lunging forward. The plants rustled angrily and the stormy clouds swept across the rumbling sky. Falthir's face was a mask of surprise and he was unable to counter the blow. Joc's aim was direct; his sword went straight into Falthir, whose face crumpled in shock and pain before his body collapsed to the ground.

Joc pulled back, eyes bright and façade contorted as realization struck him squarely in the face. Pulling back his weapon, he glanced briefly at the crimson stain upon it before dropping it to the ground with a soft thud. Whole body shaking and face milky white in fear, he glanced around the area. Breathing harshly, he looked about wildly again, trying to comprehend what just happened.

It was impossible. It had all happened to fast. Yet there he was on the ground, lying in a pool of his own blood. It was undeniable. Falthir was dead.

How had this happened? Anger? A chill ran down Joc's spine as he stared at the field, half expecting some village seniors to come rushing out and tie him up. There was only one fate for a murderer. Even being sent into slavery was too good for a killer. No, they tortured those who dared kill another human. How? No one knew. They only heard– heard the shrieks and yells of pain, and then the haunted silence that followed.

He gulped, fear taking him. He'd have to run. Where, though? Picking up his sword, he cleaned it as best as he could on the grass and then touched up the job by using Falthir's cloak. Backing up, he continued thinking. Where could he go? His dark skin was an obvious sign of his being of 'gypsy' descent. People would know, and with the new law…slave holders paid good money for gypsies. They didn't care if they were buying formally free people, captured during their travels. A gypsy out of his village was most certainly walking into the arms of slavery.

But where could he go where there was no slavery?


He shivered. He didn't know anyone who went there. Bad people. Lots of horrid things happened there, but they didn't have slavery. He'd fit in. There were probably plenty of people who were murderers there. But they were the Darks of Gryflen, and even if he had killed someone, he wasn't about to join the Darks. That would further increase the anger he held for himself at this bloody moment in time.

Giving a dark noise of disgust, he glanced at the motionless body of Falthir once more before darting into the night, cloak swishing behind him silently and his footfalls quite inaudible. In fact, no one would have known that he was there, save the fact that a trial of bloody prints followed after him.

He ran into the night, holding with him only a sword and what clothes he had on. It was a pretty horrible start to running away, but he didn't dare chance going back into town. There would be questions, and even if he lied, Falthir's absence would be noticed rather quickly and his body would be found soon after. When the body was found, Joc's fate rested in the hands of Hitsune and Kalmah, and they were rarely forgiving. If the gods of Day and Night were even real… There was no true evidence, and the gypsies preferred not to believe in the Peoples' religion. They had only converted at threat of death for heresy, yet they rarely gave burned offerings, as the gods were nothing but stone idols to them. To Joc, they were simply the Peoples' way of keeping control of those they deemed lower than themselves. In Joc's opinion, the People were nothing more than scum.

Tripping over extended roots growing above the soil, he continued his mad dash away from his village, not really caring which direction he was going any more. He switched continuously, making sure not to snap branches when he did so. He didn't want the Hunters of his village to find him, and he knew they wouldn't stop searching until they found him– if they found him. He was hoping on the latter. He didn't want to think of what would happen if they did manage to find him.

His breath was coming in short gasps now, and his legs were like lead. With a spinning head, he fell into the bushes and lay unmoving, desperately pulling in air greedily, whole body slack and completely out of energy. He didn't know how long he had been running, only that the Kalmah was now rising, bathing the earth in her golden glow. For once, Joc was rather irked that she had to rise, as he would have to be much more careful now. The woods he had been running through seemed to be coming to its end. Well, he had to face civilization eventually.

Lifting up his head and blinking blearily, he ducked out of Kalmah's rays and spat to the side. His whole body was shaking from exertion, and he knew he wouldn't be able to get up if he tried. Not that he wanted to, but he had to. He had to put as much distance as he could between himself and his village Hunters. Holding his head in his hands, he groaned and tried to forget about the night before, yet it was burned so clearly into his mind's eye.

Pulling himself up slowly, he shook out his tangles of hair and glanced around, grey eyes sharp in their scrutinizing. He had no idea where he was, and noting the fact that a cobbled path lay a few yards past the edge of the forest, he was quite a bit away from his village. Had he really run so far? He couldn't remember stopping, and he was a fast runner. Long distance? It certainly seemed so.

He walked slowly towards to road and tentatively stepped upon it. Where did it lead? He knew that it was bound to lead to one of the Peoples' villages, and he knew that meant danger. But where else was there to go? He hadn't run all the way here to turn back and be hung. No, he was moving forward. Maybe this road lead to a lesser village that had banned slavery.

Stepping out with a slightly limping stride, he wrapped his cloak around him tightly, and pulled his hood over his head. Covering as much skin as he could, he moved on, a sick feeling dwelling in the pits of his stomach as the actions of the night before dancing mocking around his head. Rubbing it irately, he cursed as he stumbled and continued on. How was he supposed to live like this? Maybe death was the better choice….

The village he stumbled upon was nothing more or less than a rather large town. The fields surrounding it, filled with dark-skinned gypsies, left no doubt in his mind that this was a town that had chosen to delight in the 'art' of slavery. A tight ball of fury bobbed around in the pit of Joc's stomach. Human labor. Human labor! He found it very hard to control the emotions building within him. If he wasn't careful, there might be another murder committed. He wasn't looking forward to the time that that happened.

Carefully pulling his hood over his head, he trudged into the town, stomach tightened with hunger and anger as he watched arrogant salve holders move about the town, talking and trading, drinking and arguing. Fists tightened, he made his way up to a tavern and looked up at the sign.

The Slaveholder

The words were printed in a rolling script and it looked freshly made. So this was a rich town? Joy. The sarcasm rolled around Joc's mind. There was nothing better than a rich, arrogant slave holder who drank in a tavern with an extremely unique name. Knowing he had to get food or drink somehow, and this place would probably be the easiest to get some from, Joc pulled his cloak tighter around him and stepped in.

The outside was a complete mask to the innards of the rather dingy tavern. Tables were scattered around with random assortments of chairs thrown around them. The bar was old marble or some other stone, but chipped and scratched so much it looked as if it had never been finished, just sent in as a slab. A few torches flickered dully in their brackets, and a roaring fire was lit, though it was only mid morning. The tavern sorely needed it, though, as little light came in. The place was dancing with shadows created by the flickering torches, and the head was rather stuffy.

Making his way to a table farthest away for the fire and in the darkest shadows, Joc sat down with a tired sigh. Making sure his hood was still up, he looked around with narrowed eyes. The tavern was filled with an odd assortment of people, some cloaked as he was, though he could spot none of the gypsy heritage. Good thing he was covered. It seemed that this town allowed all save his line. How kind of them.

"You know, sitting in the shadows only makes you all the more interesting."

Joc lurched out of his seat, panic flooding into his gut and eyes looking widely at the softly smirking face of a pale woman, cloaked in a steel grey. She threw back her hood with a light flick, sending with it waves of straight raven-black hair. Her grey eyes glinted with a steely malice as the lights flickered off her face.

"Twitchy, are we?" Her voice was amused, though distantly so.

Joc glared at her, sitting down into his chair again. Slaveholder wenches. Just as bad as the slaveholders. He looked up at her as she sat down and watched him with unblinking eyes, rather draconian in appearance. Still he refused to answer, which seemed to make her irate.

"You aren't dumb, are you?"

Joc swallowed and answered in a gravely voice, partly because of his anger, and partly due to the fact that he hadn't had anything to drink for a while. "No."

"No, you're not dumb?"

"I would think that would be obvious." He tried to disguise he gypsy accent. It didn't' work.

"Your people aren't welcome here."

"Neither is yours."

The girl raised a thin eyebrow, arching it quite a bit. "And why would you think that?"

The truth was it had just popped out, but Joc figured that wouldn't be the best reply, seeing as how she knew what he was. "Who else is garbed like yourself?"

"Good point, though it seems like a spur of the moment one."

Jo feigned insult. "Why would you say that?"

"Because how would you know if I was different or not? You've not been here before"

Joc felt his face grow hot at this obvious logic, and was glad the tavern was so dark. "Smart wench."

A low laughter, strangely angelic, rippled from the girl's lips. "I'm Lyska. You are?"

Joc looked at her suspiciously. She looked back pointedly. "Joc," he answered gruffly.

"Winters?" she replied promptly.


She nodded once, almost appreciatively. A gleam was in her eyes, which made Joc twist in his seat uncomfortably. "Twenty."

Wit the formalities done, Joc leaned back, slightly worried about the glint that lingered in her seemingly fathomless eyes, suggestive and pointed. She had some aura around her, not scary, or fearful, but leaving those around her mystified. She leaned forward, black hair spilling around her, smile tipping slightly as spidery fingers drifted across the table.

"I presume you're not…a slave?"

"No," Joc answered, feeling as if the conversation would be better off ended, "I'm a murderer."

Again she looked amused. "An assassin?"

"No, a murderer. I wasn't told or paid to do it."

"But you meant to?"

"No." He was feeling rather nervous now. Why wasn't this girl unnerved by the fact that he had killed someone? It was like she was enjoying the conversation. There was no way she could be slaveholder's wife.

"But you killed someone?"

"I said that, didn't I?"

"I suppose you did." She leaned back again, running her fingers through her hair. "You running away?"

"I'd rather not be hanged." Why was he saying all this? It was like she had entranced him.

"I understand that. Where are you headed?"

"I dunno."

"Then go to the mountains."


"There aren't as many slaveholders up there, and plenty of adventures."

"What makes you think I want an adventure?"

"What else can you do now?"

Joc paused. In his village, he would be scouting just about now, or within the week. They had told him he would be leaving soon. But now what could he do? He was a murderer on the run. Those after him wouldn't stop until they died, lest they ruin their names as Hunters.

"Other things."

"I'm sure." Now she looked triumphant. Joc found himself liking her less and less, yet her strange looks were oddly appealing. A bad mix.

"Where are you headed?"

"I was after you."


"I was after you," she repeated, "but now I found you." Another grin lingered on her mouth.

"How did you know about me?"

"I'm Searching right now."

"For what?"

"The next Rider, what else?"

"The what?"

"Your line holds one sent to Cl'tal Gordene, does it not?"

Joc was open-mouthed in amazement. "What did you say?"

Lyska smiled at him. "It's in your blood. Your grandfather hatched a dragon."

Joc was still in a state of shock, and couldn't reply. Lyska shook her head.

"Does this mean you do not even know your own history?"

Joc mutely shook his head 'no'.

"Fine then," she answered, "I'll tell it to you.

"When your grandfather's father left your village, he found himself drawn to the Clearing. There it is told that all creatures reside within the eggs. He just so happened to hatch a dragon, the mighty Xanthe, a huge black creature with blood red eyes. With this hatching of a dragon, eh became not just a Companion, but a Rider. He never returned as he was given duties immediately after the Hatching. The Riders are myth to most, but they live on, and it is my kind's job to ensure that they live on. You are destined to be the next Rider, and therefore you must go on your search of a dragon companion, or be drawn to the Clearing."

Lyska finished smugly, as if quite proud of this information. Joc looked at her. He was suspicious yet again.

"I've heard the Riders are chosen, they do not get to chose if they are to be or not."

Lyska's face faltered. Regaining composure, she answered slickly with, "it is in your blood, and you have shown signs. Just adventure, and you will see if you are a Rider or not."

Still Joc wasn't convinced. "Why should I believe you, when I have just met you?"

"I am one that guards the eggs of the clearing your kin went to," she replied tartly. "I daresay that is all you need to know."

She glared slightly at Joc before sweeping up and pulling her cloak over her head. Striding away, he swept out the door and was lost from sight. Joc followed quickly, forgetting his thirst and hunger, trying to keep up. It was to no avail; she was gone into the crowds that were making their way down the street, where a faint voice could be heard calling. Sighing, Joc followed along, trying to seem inconspicuous.

A/N: So, my new story is up. I jsut started it, so mind you, it might not be as great at first. I need to get a feel for it. So, please review.