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Dragon Hunters

Book One: Out of the Ashes

© 1999-2001 Draconus and Stratadrake of NEWST

Chapter Fourteen: And So It Begins

After a good night of rest at Greendale's Inn and a pleasant breakfast out in the morning bazaar, and after repairing their damaged armor at the smithy, Hunter asked Katra if they were ready to set out and explore. Katra nodded, for he was ready to go. Marcus, though, told them that he had to get a new supply of rations for the trip. Vrynn had to remain outside as Marcus stopped at the dry-goods store, but he didn't mind, for he seemed to love Katra every bit as much as he loved his master, Marcus. Katra still could not figure out exactly why Vrynn liked him so much, but by now, waking up with him nearby was hardly unusual.

Marcus came back out of the dry goods store, having purchased a few sets of rations and some flares for the trip. Hunter looked at him. "I get it; you think this is going to be a long trip."

Marcus shook his head. "Maybe not, but we must always be prepared, yes?" Hunter smiled. "Just don't go packing too much, or you'll slow us down." Marcus looked back. "No need to worry about me. Shall we be off?"

Hunter nodded, and Katra led the way with the key-compass guiding them. They traveled west by northwest along the trail into Constantine Mountains. Filled with evergreen forests, they are green during the summer but white when snow covers them in the winter. Some of its hills are flatter and more rolling, while its higher peaks protrude upwards in a cliff-like manner. There were the occasional times when one unwary shout or echo caused one of the snow-filled cliffs to collapse, resulting in an avalanche and, in one thousand years of time, nearly two hundred people lost. But now, with more of the cliff-rock and dirt occupying the valleys in the range (instead of the peaks), the risk of snowslides or avalanches is significantly lower, almost to the point of being nonexistent.

As they travelled, the heading on the compass gradually diverged until it was pointing south. This was a convenient spot to travel in a new direction, for they had reached a snowy crossroads. Their path, leading from east to west, would keep travelling until the next country (in about thirty more miles or so). The other road, going from north to south, is a highway for the merchant traffic that dares to go through the snow and mountains. Leading south, the road travels through many more miles of snowy plains towards Glacier Village at about ten miles; and to the north, the upper foot of the Constantine Mountain range and a highway to the nearest capital city, Sidney. With the compass pointing south, Katra led them on the road to Glacier Village.

Glacier Village is a small, out-of-reach hamlet bearing only about a dozen families. Kept warm by some unusual hot springs, it is a scenic place to live; not unlike what Norset used to be. Though lacking Norset's famous Twin Spires, the lack of trees or hills surrounding Glacier Village makes it an easy place to spot. However, about two miles away from Glacier Village, the compass heading was bearing west again. Considering their proximity to the nearest village, Katra asked if they should stop and rest. That was indeed a good idea; although the sky up here was clear, it was notably cold weather due to the altitude. Therefore, they travelled the rest of the two miles towards Glacier Village and stopped at its Inn.

"Well, what do we have here?", said the Innkeeper as they entered. The main room of the Inn was well served by a number of windows and fireplaces, giving the room an almost sunlight-like illumination. "What can I do for you fellows?"

Katra took a seat near the fireplace, while Hunter and Marcus remained standing. Vrynn walked over and sat near Katra as well. Hunter looked at the Innkeeper. "We're just passing through the neighborhood, and this hamlet looks a nice place to stop and rest.

"Then make yourselves at home," the Innkeeper touted. "It's not very often we get visitors this time of year. Business can get pretty slow in these winter months. Glad ya came. What can I get for you?"

Marcus sat down at the counter, and called Vrynn. Katra walked over as well to order a small bite to eat. "What type of meat do you serve here?"

The Innkeeper laughed for a bit. "Whatever we can catch. The other day, our hunting pack came across a strange band of feathered wolves. About five o them. They were quite tough to bring down, but should be much better tasting, too...."

Marcus was a little surprised at the news. "Airwolves... but how'd they get this far up? Their kind is native only to Norset overseas."

"Dunno. Strange thing, too. About five years ago, we spotted but one of them feathered canines. And now they're cropping up everywhere. As if they chased out the wolves & got rid of them. Definitely makes the paths a tad more dangerous to travel, don't it?"

Katra ordered something. "Airwolf, right? That sounds like an interesting meat. Have anything dried?"

"Why, sure indeed. About how much are ya looking for?"

Katra thought about it. "Not much...about a handful will do."

Marcus placed his order next. "Do you still have some of their feathers?"

"Feathers...?" The Innkeeper had never been given that kind of request before. "What use are feathers?"

Marcus pointed at Vrynn. "Vrynn's favorite dish, meat and feathers. And I think I can go for some steak as well."

Hunter gave his order too. "If you have anything in the means of eggs, I'll take two, over easy. Any vintages this time of year?"

The Innkeeper nodded. "What be you looking for?"

"If there's any Merlot, I'll take about a half-glass."

"Sure you wouldn't like the whole bottle?"

Hunter shook his head. "No; just a half-glass."

The Innkeeper nodded and relayed their orders to the cook, his wife. Katra looked at Hunter. "Merlot, huh?"

Hunter nodded to Katra. "It's a good thing to have every once in a while."

Katra looked at the compass, which was now bearing northwest. "Hmm.... About two miles north and this was pointing straight west. I'd guess that wherever the last key is, it's probably about three miles northwest."

Hunter nodded. After a few minutes, the Innkeeper returned with Vrynn's meal; "Wing d'Airwolf", as he jokingly referred to it. It was heated to about medium-rare. After setting it down on the floor, Vrynn happily began to scarf it up, feathers, meat and all, until only the wingbones were left.

Hunter's half-glass of wine was served next, along with two well-cooked eggs. "Your eggs refused to go over easy. Sorry...."

Hunter smiled. "Not to worry; they're still good." The Innkeeper made another trip with Marcus's and Katra's meals, serving them at the counter.

It was a good luncheon, even if a bit light. Vrynn was the first to finish, followed by Hunter. Marcus and Katra finished theirs at about the same time. By then, they were ready to resume the search. The Innkeeper asked for about half of what the meal was worth--apparently, Hunter's group was their first group of customers in quite awhile and the Innkeeper was giving them a discount as thanks--but Marcus still paid in full plus a courtesy for tolerating Vrynn.

Afterwards, they left the Inn and Katra led them straight northwest across the plains, in the direction the compass read. Travelling across the snowy plain was quick and easy. After about three miles, they arrived at the bottom of another hill. A cave was visible on one side of it. Katra was a bit excited. "This may be it!" He led them inside, while Marcus lit a flare for light.

Light, as it proved, was one thing they wouldn't need. The interior of the cave was lined with all shapes and sizes of various crystals, reflecting light off at many possible angles and illuminating the cavern in a beautiful glow. "What is this?"

Marcus took the lead, following he cave as it spiraled in and downward. As they descended, the area became more cavernous and open; and after rounding another few bends, gave way to a massive underground cavern. Their path etched along the side of the cavern, while ice-crystals and icicles of immense size filled the most of the cavern. Katra was stunned at its natural beauty. "This is amazing...!"

Hunter nodded. "Indeed; in an area like this, we might be the first to explore this particular cavern."

They continued around the cavern to its bottom, and another passage led further down and in. The next room was a dead-end. However, the compass still pointed straight through the wall. Katra was mystified. "The compass reads straight ahead, but it's just a wall...."

Marcus put his hand on the wall. It was soft dirt. "No, it's not. This is loose dirt...." Marcus examined the wall and ceilings nearby. "Someone chipped it off in order to hide something." Marcus began digging and putting the dirt aside. "This is too slow...." Marcus drew his lance and thrust it into the soft wall.

That worked. His lance broke through the dirt barrier to the other side. "It's through...!" Marcus withdrew his lance from the dirt and began chipping away. In another minute, he had uncovered a passageway leading in. Marcus stepped through and analyzed the dirt. "This side was packed well, and a bit baked. If someone's been here before us, they definitely didn't want anyone discovering this room.

The dirt surrounding the doorway crumbled further; apparently, the entire wall of this cavern--about twenty feet high and thirty feet wide--cracked and crumbled. Apparently, it was merely a partition dividing the cavern in half. The other side of the cavern had small bits of metal and plates lying about its floor and walls, and the passageway forward was lined with metal panelling.

They travelled further and into the next room, and judging by the metal panelling, they were now definitely in a Catacombs site. This one looked like some sort of lab. Metal tables were built into the wall; several other platforms lined the room. Strangely, and much like the previous Catacombs, this one was also illuminated by dim lights from above.

The next room was large, as if it had once been a warehouse. A large archway was etched into the wall. Before it was some sort of pedestal. There were two receptacles in the pedestal, and a third one was holding some sort of object.

Katra recognized it. "That must be the third key...!" Katra ran over, and separated the two keys from each other. Katra examined the key and the pedestal. Each receptacle had a number in it. Katra put the numeral 1 key in the numeral 1 receptacle, and similarly with the numeral 2 key, placing it in the numeral 2 receptacle.

With the three keys in place, they began to glow slightly. The entire room vibrated softly, and a hum of sorts was heard. The archway on the wall similarly glowed with an Ancestral power. It produced a bright glow, filling the entire room. A loud noise, crackling with energy, filled the room for a moment, and when it subsided, the image of a different cavern filled the archway. Katra looked at it, bewildered. "Is this their crowning achievement...? What is it?"

Hunter examined it. "It looks like a window...."

"Actually, it's a portal !", came a familiar voice from behind. Strato and Talon walked in, armed and ready for a fight.

Hunter, Marcus, and Katra turned around quickly. Strato had his Shock Bow armed and ready for action; Talon was behind him. Andrake was nowhere to be seen. Strato looked at them and smiled. "And so I said to myself, that if I gave you that key you wanted, perhaps you would do all my work for me. Congrats, guardsmen; I don't know where--or how--you found the second key, but you just made my search a lot shorter. Now, stand aside!"

Katra looked back. "What are you talking about?"

Strato chuckled. "Haven't you figured it out by now...?"

Hunter probed for an answer. "You're not from around here, are you? You called this a portal... but to where?"

"Home," Strato responded. "About twenty years ago, I was sent to hunt down a specific pair of dragons. I tracked them across forestry, rivers, and even caverns like this one. Yes, even until reaching the portal--I tracked them through it, and into here. However, once on this side, I lost their trail. And the portal was locked; I could not go back. I could only go forward....

"It took me five years to figure out exactly where I was. By then, I already knew what I needed in order to head back. I also encountered your father, Katra, in the city of Norset. Draconus was quite a valiant warrior. Far from home, I might add. And now, you will step aside, or I will swat you aside!" Strato aimed the Shock Bow at them.

Hunter pointed back at the portal. "Exactly what lies beyond that... portal?"

Strato put the Shock Bow down for a moment. "A place that you obviously know nothing about. I've seen dragons; not just in few or in dozens, but in hundreds and thousands. Cities like Nathos; countries like Catalonia. Wildlife that you see only in your dreams, and monsters that you pray exist only in nightmares. That... is the place I call home." Strato put his Shock Bow away, and drew a different weapon. "It's a pity you never mastered the Atom Blade when you had your chance...." Strato activated it; as sure as observation proved, he was holding the Atom Blade. "Stand aside and let me pass, and no harm shall come to you."

Hunter looked back. "What about Andrake? Where is he?"

"He has his orders," Strato responded. "I specifically forbade him to venture anywhere near this area. I instructed him to wait for my return; and that he will do."

Hunter still did not move; nor did Katra or Marcus. "You know we are not going to simply 'stand aside'. If you want that portal so badly, you'll have to go through us first!"

Strato laughed. "So you want to play that way, do you?? I'll give you reason to fear Strato Valkyros...

"Dragon Knight of Khatalus!!"

Strato leaped forward in a mighty bound, covering a distance of twenty feet and landing on their other side. He rushed at Hunter with the Atom Blade. Hunter rolled to the side to avoid it, but found Talon waiting for him. Talon grabbed Hunter and pinned him against the floor under his claws, trying to find a place to attack.

Marcus quickly backed off to the edge of the room and fired an arrow; but Strato blocked it with the Atom Blade. Strato attacked Katra, and Katra similarly had to evade. Katra counterattacked with his sword; Strato blocked it with the Atom Blade. Katra, though, knew that not even the Atom Blade of legend could destroy his father's sword, and thus even though he knew the risks of a direct fight, he would not give up.

Marcus called out to Katra. "Watch out!!" Katra rolled over to the side as Marcus fired the Silver Arrow at Strato. Strato dodged aside quickly, and was safe.

Marcus could not believe it--the Silver Arrow had missed its target. "That's impossible...!"

Strato laughed at Marcus. "You'll have to do better than that, Marcus!" Strato came at Marcus again, searing Marcus's bow into halves with the Atom Blade. Strato lunged at the wall, but Marcus quickly moved aside; the Atom Blade then melted a good hole into the wall. Marcus tripped Strato over, onto the ground, as he grabbed the two pieces of his lance. Strato rolled back onto his feet, finding Katra right on top of him. Strato swung the Atom Blade quickly at Katra. Reflexively, Katra tried to block. However, Strato still hit him; the sheer energy of the Atom Blade leaving a sizable burn in Katra's arm and armor. Katra backed off, with his arm in some pain.

Vrynn came to Hunter's rescue, landing right on top of Talon and sinking his claws into Talon's back. Talon screeched with pain and rolled over, trying to shake Vrynn off. That worked, leaving Vrynn right on the floor and scrambling to get up. Talon tackled Vrynn, yet Vrynn countered with a short burst of fire-breath into Talon's face. The two companions continued to fight each other.

Strato doused the Atom Blade and put it away, then unsheathed his greatsword. "The Atom Blade is very powerful, is it not? So, let us finish this fight with honor!"

Hunter came closer with sword and shield. "Now that's more like it!" Strato attacked at Hunter. Hunter blocked it and countered, but Strato saw it coming and evaded. Strato swung again, a low one this time, hitting Hunter broadsided against the legs and knocking him over. Strato prepared for an overhead swing to finish Hunter off.

Strato swung--clashing his blade right into Marcus's lance. Hunter rolled aside while Marcus attacked Strato. Strato blocked the attacks with his sword, repeatedly backing off so that he could counter. His own attacks were blocked by Marcus's lance, and as such they were relatively unable to hit each other. Strato attacked again, and Marcus blocked it. Similarly, when Marcus attacked, Strato blocked it.

Hunter knocked Strato aside with his shield. Strato fell over and rolled over. Strato tossed the greatsword aside and withdrew a grenade. Marcus saw it coming. "Watch out!!"

Strato threw the grenade down, and it produced a blinding flash when it hit. This time, though, Marcus's warning was right in time for them to shield their eyes against it; as such, they were unaffected by it. Strato, though, was nowhere to be seen.

Nowhere, that is, until he dropped from above and knocked Marcus aside. Strato withdrew his Shock Bow and fired it at Katra, the force of it throwing Katra clear across the room. Strato similarly turned around and fired at Marcus, knocking him back towards the entrance to the room. Strato fired it again at Hunter, knocking him into the pedestal. Strato called off Talon and fired a shot at Vrynn, knocking him out of a glide and throwing him back towards the entrance near Marcus.

Strato laughed. "And now, guardsmen, I shall take my leave."

Hunter was the first one to get back up. "I don't think so, Strato...!" Hunter yanked the number 2 key from the pedestal; and in an instant, the portal snapped shut.

Strato looked back in surprise, then put away the Shock Bow and drew the Atom Blade. "You will hand that key over to me, Hunter, or else I will destroy you!"

Hunter threw it to Marcus, and Marcus caught it. Hunter shouted back. "Marcus; get out of here and destroy it!" Marcus nodded and ran out of the room with Vrynn. Soon, they were out of sight.

Strato doused the Atom Blade and put it away; then he chased after Marcus, Talon following him. He shouted back towards Hunter and Katra. "This isn't over...!"

Soon, only Hunter and Katra were left down in the room. Katra picked himself up off of the floor and put his sword away. Hunter walked over and picked up Marcus's Silver Arrow from where it lay. Hunter sighed. "Marcus's Silver Arrow. I don't believe it; it missed."

Katra nodded. "I don't think I could believe that either; but it did." Katra looked at the pedestal, where now only two keys were in their place. "It's too bad you had do that, Hunter. I would like to have seen Nathos; even if only for a moment. But I guess that now, this portal will never work."

Hunter smiled. "Never say never, Katra." Hunter pulled the numeral 2 key from his pack.

Katra was both pleasantly surprised and shocked. "Hunter! How on earth...?"

Hunter explained. "I threw Marcus a rock. In this light, who could tell?"

Katra laughed. "Out of all the pranks I've ever seen, Strato falls for that one?"

Hunter smiled. "Marcus isn't easy to follow. By the time Strato catches him, Marcus will have disposed of the so-called 'key' for good." Hunter placed the key back in its place, and the portal flashed to life once again. "Shall we go?"

Katra was a bit nervous at the prospect of actually travelling through the portal into God-knows-where, but despite that, he gladly agreed. "Yes. If what Strato says is true, Dad's home town is somewhere on the other side!"

Hunter nodded. "It's no Dragon Buster, but perhaps we'll find something to stop Strato with."

Together, Hunter and Katra stepped through the portal into the other side.

They got a good look at the cave once they stepped through. The air in this one was slightly stale, but still perfectly breathable. Hunter looked around. "Any ideas where to go?"

Katra did not answer. "Katra?"

Hunter turned around. Katra was kneeling on the floor. "Hunter...?"

Hunter kneeled down beside him. "What's wrong?"

Katra blinked a few times. "I don't know... I just... something feels wrong."

Hunter held Katra on his shoulder. "Like what?"

The portal blinked shut behind them. The cave was utterly dark, and it was impossible to see anything. Except for one thing. Katra's medallion was, strangely enough, glowing; as if something in the very air was making it do so.

Hunter pointed to it. "Katra; your medallion, it's... glowing?"

Katra looked at it. "It is?" Katra pulled it out of his uniform and examined it.

That may have been the wrong thing for Katra to do. As soon as he held it in his hand, the glow intensified. Slowly at first, then quickly--and suddenly, it seemed to burst asunder with energy. Hunter was knocked clear across the cavern in the blast. "Katra!!!"

After that, the cave was dark again. Only a faint glow from Katra's medallion was visible. "Katra?!?"

Hunter ran over and grabbed Katra. "What in the name of the Ancestors happened!? Are you all right?!?"

Katra put the medallion away. "I--I don't know... I, I hope so..."

Hunter still was bewildered at the explosion. "What happened!?"

Katra shook his head. "I don't know...."

Hunter became a bit more puzzled. "What do you mean!?"

"I just... don't know; I'm as surprised as you are. Can we go topside now? Something down here... it's, it's giving me a headache...."

Hunter looked around, but due to the darkness of the cave, he couldn't see anything. "I'd love to do so, but I can't see a thing."

Katra stood up carefully and grabbed Hunter's arm. "I'll lead the way." Katra began walking, and Hunter followed. After about two minutes of walking, the cave began getting brighter as they approached nearer to the surface. Soon, they were standing at the cave's mouth. It was in the middle of a forested mountain range. The sky was blue, with only a few clouds dotting the sky. Judging from the climate, it was likely summertime as well.

Katra looked around, his eyes adjusting to the light. "This is different..."

Hunter nodded. "Indeed. Katra; what happened down there? Are you all right?"

Katra stumbled for an answer. "I don't know. Honestly, I don't know what the heck happened. Let's just keep moving."

"For that matter, how did you know which way led to the surface?"

"I could see it," Katra responded. "Couldn't you? That cave was lit...."

Hunter shook his head. "No, Katra; that cave was pitch black. So, how could you see?"

Katra looked back into the cave; indeed, after about twenty feet in, it was extremely dark. Katra was puzzled; previously, he could see his way about the cave with astonishing clarity; but now that they were at its entrance, he couldn't see anything back in the darkness. "I... I don't know. I... just could. Don't ask me why or how, I just, could see through it. Bright as sunrise..."

Hunter was puzzled too. He stepped out of the cave's mouth and into the forest. "Katra, you coming?"

Katra blinked for a bit, then jogged to catch up. "Sure thing."

They had hardly begun to travel through the forest when Katra's headache worsened. Katra stopped for a breather. "Hunter..."

Hunter stopped at a distance of ten feet. "What's wrong?"

Katra knelt down, clutching his head. "It's getting worse. Headache... ...pain...."

Katra was now on the ground, and his headache was starting to become unbearable. Whatever had happened, Katra was feeling its ill effects, and they were getting worse; Katra was almost reeling in his pain.

Hunter ran over. "Katra!! Are you ill?"

Katra struggled to reply. "I-- I don't know. Hurts... the pain..."

Hunter tried to lift Katra back onto his feet, but to no avail. "Am I just tired, or have you gained a bit of weight?"

Katra gave a nervous, pained laugh. "No... Hunter; get help. Somewhere... Quickly...!"

Hunter was bewildered. "Not without you. We're making this trip together; if you can't keep moving, I won't either."

Katra insisted. "Go...! Find help!"

"No." Hunter would not leave without him. "I'm not leaving you."

Katra knocked Hunter aside with his arm. "GO!!"

Hunter stood back up and tried to pick Katra up again. "I'm not leaving without you, Katra! We're going to make it together...!"

Katra refused, grabbed Hunter's arm, and shoved him aside. Hunter was surprised at this, but not nearly as surprised as he was when his arm began to hurt. Hunter looked at his arm; it was injured. His arm had four claw-marks resembling what a wild animal such as a lion or gryphon would dish out, and they really stung. Hunter looked at Katra's arm and hand in a bit of horror--for it seemed like Katra was now wearing gloves; gloves with razor-sharp claws on them. "Katra... your arm... by the stars, what's happening to you!?"

Katra couldn't respond, nor could he bear to keep his eyes open for a look. All he could tell Hunter was, "find... help... hurry...!"

Hunter looked around in the forest. They were nowhere near any major roads, and Hunter did not even know where the nearest city was. Miraculously, though, Hunter spotted a ranger out on a hunt. Hunter called out to the man. "Sir! Come quick!!"

The ranger responded and ran over. Hunter filled him in. "Where's the nearest city? My comrade needs help!!"

The ranger looked at Hunter. "It's about twenty miles north. Why--" The man got a good look at Katra. He muttered something quietly to himself. " Empyros's name, he's the one..."

Hunter looked at the ranger. "What was that?"

The ranger's entire attitude shifted abruptly, from inquisitive to defensive. "I hate to do this, Sir; but you must leave."

Hunter shook his head. "No way. I'm not leaving a comrade in trouble."

The ranger shook his head. "No. This is not your concern. Now leave!"

Hunter wouldn't move. "Not going to happen. He is my comrade; and that makes it my concern."

The ranger, though, insisted. "On the contrary, you aren't needed here. Now, will you be somewhere else!"

Hunter still wouldn't move. "He needs me, and I will not abandon a friend!"

Hunter felt a tap on his shoulder and a voice behind him. "Sir? We insist...."

Hunter whirled around and drew his sword just in time to block an incoming attack. Hunter couldn't believe what he was seeing. A soldier had somehow snuck up behind him, and was attacking with a strange sword. The man's sword bore a high resemblance to the Atom Blade, engulfed in fire. However, it clearly was not the Atom Blade, for Hunter successfully blocked it. Hunter knocked the soldier back. "Who are you??"

The soldier did not respond, so the ranger did. "We are no one of consequence, at least not for you. Now, you will leave, and now!"

Hunter made the mistake of returning his attention to the ranger. Because when Hunter turned back towards the soldier, all he could see was the fist that knocked him unconscious. Hunter passed out, the two men's words echoing in his mind but failing to register.

"I wish you wouldn't be so brash..."

"Sorry, Falknyr..."

"At least you're in time...." A pause followed. "This is worse than I thought." Another pause. "Blue stone, please...."

Yet another pause. "He's clean. Gray stones...."

"How many?"

"All of them...."

Hunter came to with two familiar eyes staring him in the face. It was Vrynn. Hunter rubbed his head and then sat up. Marcus was nearby. "Marcus...? What happened? Where's Katra?"

Marcus shook his head. "No idea. Vrynn followed your scent to this location; and here you are, lying on the ground, out like a candle. What happened? You look like you were attacked by a gryphon...."

Hunter remembered the claw-marks on his arm. "No; that was no gryphon. It was... Katra..."

"Katra attacked you?"

Hunter shook his head. "It's not like that. Something happened to Katra the moment we stepped through the portal. I don't know exactly what, and neither did Katra -- it was like some sort of explosion. After we made it to the surface, Katra fell ill to something. I spotted some help, or so I thought; this ranger took one look at Katra and said something about him being 'the one'. Then he demanded I leave. I wouldn't agree, so one of his comrades knocked me out. And now--"

Marcus shook his head. "That's not the worst of our problems. Strato discovered your ploy. He bested me in fair combat, and discovered that I wasn't holding the key after all. He then left, and we tracked him to and through the portal. I followed him, but after the cave entrance, we lost his trail."

Hunter sighed. "No.... First Katra, now this. Is there any good news?"

"From what I can tell, Andrake is still on the other side. And there's this...." Marcus showed Hunter a medallion. It was a blazing golden-orange in color, with the symbol of an eagle on it. "We found this on the ground near you."

Hunter wrapped up his injured arm so it could heal and took a look at the medallion. "This isn't Katra's; it's something else entirely."

Marcus nodded. "But at least it is a clue. Where should we head?"

Hunter looked off to the north. Before demanding him to leave, the ranger had told Hunter that the nearest city was about twenty miles north. With Strato still at large, the Dragon Buster to find, and now Katra too, they needed information. The distant screech of an eagle was heard overhead as Hunter led Marcus northwards through the forest. Something had happened to Katra, all right, and no matter how long it would take, they were going to find some answers...and Katra.

* End of Book One *