Then, they headed out to get something to eat. After that, they made their way to the Qasalan Palace. The procedure there was much the same as it had been at the Sakhmetian Palace except that they could bring both Adil and Anemone with them! Not to mention, Dragao was now facing two rulers, rather than one. She made the same request of them as she had of Princess Amira.
King Jazan gazed at Dragao with an expression she couldn’t read. Queen Nabile looked faintly interested.
“You may do so,” King Jazan said, granting his permission.
Dragao breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you for allowing me this privilege, Your Majesties.”
A guard once more guided the group. This time, it was a short walk to a flight of stairs leading down.
“Good luck to you all,” the transparent Blumaroo guard said with a jaunty salute.
“Thanks, we’ll need it,” Dragao said, as she led the way down the steps.
Almost at once, Dragao realized that this search would be different. Not just a seemingly endless hall but an entire floor was dedicated to the Qasalan Archives. The area was well-lighted and they were greeted by a cheerful rainbow Elephante.
“It’s been some time since I’ve had visitors. How may I help you?” the Elephante asked, peering at them through her square glasses.
Dragao first introduced them and then said, “I’m looking for information on an ancestor of mine, a Chief Master Sergeant Skyheart, native of Tyrannia.”
“Tyrannia? Then why are you looking for information about him here, in the Lost Desert?”
“He lived part of his life in Tyrannia. Then, he left and never returned. No one in my family knows what happened to him. I’d like to find out.”
“Well, my name is ‘Abla. I am the Qasalan Archivist. I’ll help you as much as I can. Do you have any dates that could be worked from?”
“No, though my educated guess is to start at around three hundred years ago.”
“Follow me, please.”
‘Abla led the way to an incredibly massive book that looked longer than Dragao was tall. A set of magnifying glasses was placed over the book. ‘Abla began to search through it, flipping pages and checking the magnifying glass intermittently.
“I must say, Dragao, that your educated guess was well made. I’ve found one scroll that mentions your ancestor. If you’ll wait here, I’ll fetch it out for you,” ‘Abla said.
Dragao felt a thrill of excitement and exchanged an excited glance with Henry. The brown Pteri gripped her hand as they waited. A moment later, ‘Abla returned, scroll in hand. It was all Dragao could do not to snatch the scroll from ‘Abla. She hadn’t worked for years with ancient texts and not learned how to handle them.
‘Abla handed the scroll gently over to Dragao. “Here you are. I’m going to request that you are the only one to handle the scroll. It is hundreds of years old and quite fragile. Also, the scroll is not allowed to leave the Archives under [i]any[/i] circumstances. I don’t believe any of you are thieves. Queen Nabile has an eye for them and besides that, there’s a guard at the head of the stairs and magical enchantments. Now, I’ll leave you alone.”
The rainbow Elephante walked away. Dragao realized she was trembling. Slowly, she unfurled the scroll. Her ice blue gaze scanned the parchment and then tears began to fall.
“He was here, Henry! Skyheart was here! He made his way through the desert, despite the hazards from warring groups, heat and sandstorms. This recounts a few of the battles he participated in,” Dragao said, eyes never leaving the paper in her hands.
“Did he stay here in the Lost Desert?” Henry asked.
“No. He got restless, tired of all the sand. We know he left Tyrannia because he had accomplished everything he could there. He moved on to new challenges. It was the same here. It says he headed for the mountains west of here.”
“Great! We know where to head next.”
“Yes, but before we leave, Atroye has offered to teach us self-defense.”
There was a short pause. Dragao could see her young friend thinking. They were very much alike and it didn’t take long for Henry to reach the same conclusion Dragao had: he didn’t like it but it was a prudent idea. Henry nodded his head, once. He did not look pleased.
Just then, ‘Abla returned.
“Have you found out anything, Dragao?” ‘Abla asked.
“Yes, thank you so much,” Dragao said, returning the scroll.
They showed themselves out. The guard looked surprised to see them back so soon.
“Is this good or bad news?” the Blumaroo asked.
“Good. I found everything I needed,” Dragao said.
Once out of the palace, Dragao and Henry looked to Atroye. The sky was still overcast but there was no rain.
“Alright, we can begin your training now. I’ll only be able to teach you the basics but you, especially, Dragao, should be just fine with that. Eyrie are ferocious fighters, trained or not. First, though, we have to find…This will do!” Atroye said.
As the male Desert Eyrie talked, he led the way through Qasala. He stopped in front of a ruined building, which was only a few broken bits of wall, though the part that was once the door still stood. They entered and found an almost perfect place to practice. It was medium-sized, the ground was clean and soft. Atroye faced Dragao and Henry.
“Now, the best defense is your body. Know it well. Know its strengths, its weaknesses. Dragao, tell me about yours,” Atroye said with a nod.
“Well, I’m not very tall but I’m stocky, broad shouldered. I have good balance…,” Dragao trailed off.
“Good. You’re intelligent and you have wings. Henry, your turn.”
The brown Pteri looked utterly helpless. “I don’t know. All I can think of is a weakness: my size.”
“Size is a funny thing. It is both a strength and a weakness. Dragao is large but slow. You are small but fast. The trick is to know your weaknesses and make up for them with your strengths.”
“Thanks to our escapade last night, I have an idea of what makes you tick, Dragao. I can guess at how and why you fight. However, you had a weapon in your hands last night. Self-defense is a Kougra of a different color. Dragao, this is going to sound odd but attack me. I’d like to get a sense of what you would do if you found yourself in a situation where you didn’t have a weapon.”
Dragao frowned. “Atroye, I consider you my friend. I couldn’t just attack you.”
“Why not? If I’m threatening Henry…”
Suddenly, the male Eyrie’s eyes were ice cold and he lunged forward. Without thinking, Dragao met his forward rush. She was smaller than he was but she flared out her wings to look larger than she was.
“Your instincts are spot on. You used your body to block mine. You just need to follow that up with a move of your own.”
With that, the lesson began. They worked hard until the late evening. A chill breeze blew, making them shiver.
“Well, you’re both amazing students. With your background, I’m not surprised. Let’s get something to eat. Then, you need to rest. You are leaving tomorrow?” Atroye checked.
Dragao nodded. “Yes. Traveling through the western mountains isn’t going to be easy but I won’t be deterred.”
“You’ll make it. I feel sure of it.”
“Where will it all end? I seem to find one answer and ten questions.”
“Dragao, you will reach the end of your journey. This journey of yours will even give you answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had! Until then, you will grow and change. You will become a better Eyrie for it.”
“She already is,” Henry said in a low voice.
“We already are,” Dragao corrected gently.
The two friends smiled at each other. What Atroye said was true.
Atroye smiled. “The good news is that Qasalan Food is [i]much[/i] better than Sakhmetian food.”
“So why do you live in Sakhmet rather than here?” Henry asked.
“King Coltzan III was a Sakhmetian ruler, not Qasalan.”
The group found an open-air café and ordered an Aubergine Casserole to share along with Buttered Rice and Qando Fruit Punch.
“Wow! This is delicious!” Dragao exclaimed.
Atroye smiled. As they ate, they chatted about this and that, careful not to talk about the coming day. Goodbyes were painful enough without dwelling on them. At last, they could find nothing more to talk about. They munched on Honey Pastry while they headed back to their inn.
They slept soundly that night. Thankfully, the weather once more cleared.
“Let’s hope that was the last of the rain,” Atroye said.
“Yes, it had to stop raining on the day we leave,” Henry said wryly.
“Have a good journey.”
Atroye hugged both Dragao and Henry. Then, the female Desert Eyrie, brown Pteri, Djuti and Horus took flight with the rising sun illuminating the land before them. They couldn’t see the mountains yet and they wouldn’t reach them until early evening. Dragao found herself reflecting as she flew. They had found another clue into her ancestor’s history.
Truly, the entire journey had been one giant puzzle. The first piece had of course been the royal genealogy book with Skyheart’s name being the last entry. Then, it had gone from there. Leaving Tyrannia, flying off into the unknown. Here and there they had found another piece of the puzzle.
Slowly, the story was becoming clear. There were highs and lows to the journey, of course. Even in the Lost Desert, there had been a mix of good and bad. Other than the new bit of information (adding to Skyheart’s lore, Dragao thought), they had made a new friend, learned self-defense, eaten great food and gotten to know a new place. What could be better than all of that? Only one thing, really: another piece to the puzzle, perhaps the last one.
Dragao always had enjoyed a good puzzle.