Oren stepped out of his front door to see a hummingbird- morph running madly down the street toward him. He feared for a moment being impaled by the bird's sword-like beak, but the runner screeched to a halt before impact.
"Can I help you?" asked the otter.
"I have a message for you. There was a woman found outside the keep. She's badly wounded, and she's asking for you."
"For me?" Asked Oren. "Who is it?"
"Don't know. Don't think she's from around here. She's at Healer Coe's right now."
"Thank you, uh..."
Fitting. "If you should happen to see my dragon friend about, would you please tell him where I've gone?"
"I sure will."
Gornul sat on the top of an ornate little house and looked about. He didn't think anybody knew about this house but him. The man who lived inside (woman, actually, though she had taken to wearing a false mustache as a reminder of who she had once been) enjoyed the solitude. She'd spent her life fighting monsters in the north, and now just wanted to be left alone.
Little Gornul, though, was a different matter. She enjoyed his company. It was not hard to see why, either. It was clear that the woman loved dragons. Her house was decorated with paintings of dragons, and there was even a tree which had been molded into the shape of a dragon adorning her front lawn.
He'd enjoyed a cup of tea with her that morning, but now had to be returning to the keep. He and Oren had work to do.
"I don't believe it." said Oren. "It can't be her."
"Who is she?" asked the healer.
"Well, her full name is Sawana. We grew up together in Hipocc. We were in love, once."
The woman on the bed, who was at the same time stout and beautiful, Oren thought, opened her eyes and looked about.
"Ana?" said the otter as he bent over his friend. "Welcome to Metamor Keep." Loudly, she screamed.
Sir Samantha stepped outside the cottage to breathe the fresh mountain air. She was still wearing the armor she'd put on to show off for her little friend.
A winged shape appeared on the horizon. Was it Gornul returning? No... The size and shape was right, but the color was wrong. Besides, the keep was in the other direction. Samantha stood and watched until the dragonette came and perched on his tree sculpture. He was larger than Gornul, and grey-green in color, but there was an unmistakable similarity.
The dragon sniffed the air for a moment, then looked at Samantha. He projected an image of Gornul into her mind.
The knight just stood there, confused.
Another image, this one of Gornul lying dead. It was accompanied by a sensation of anger.
Samantha drew her sword.
"I'm sorry." said Sawana. "My word, is it really you, Oren?"
"Yes. I continued to change after I left Hipocc. I'm sorry that my appearance frightened you."
Sawana laughed at herself. "Was it Metamor Keep or the forbidden lake that did this to you?"
"The lake. Metamor still hasn't gotten to me yet."
"So... how are things back in Hipocc?"
"Oren, there is no more Hipocc."
Again, the image of Gornul lying dead. Samantha took this as a threat and stood ready to defend herself. The dragon became enraged. He let out a jet of flame that set the head of the sculptured tree on fire.
"MY TREE! Ooh, you are going to pay for that!"
The dragon leapt forward right at Samantha's face. He clawed across one cheek with his wing and blackened the opposite eye with his tail.
Samantha brought the hilt of her sword to the beast's head.
The battle was over that quickly.
After she put out the wooden sculpture's flaming head, leaving only a stump of a neck, she picked up the unconscious dragonette by the tail and stared off in the direction of the keep.
She was going to go get some answers.
"What do you mean 'There is no more Hipocc.'?"
"It was terrible, Oren. Barry the tailor had got into a fight with Timothy. I don't even know what it was about, but it split the council. Barry was booted off of the council of elders, but then he became bitter and vengeful. He betrayed us, Oren! He secretly brought soldiers from Devil's Strand into Hipocc. They killed Timothy!"
Sawana begin to cry. Oren merely clenched his fists as his musteline face tightened in rage.
"Healer Nana made a brave stand. She rallied the whole town to battle, but the Stranders killed her as well. Most of our people were killed. Those who are left are in hiding."
Oren sat on the floor, curling into a ball and covering his face with his tail. His beloved Hipocc was no more.
What could he do?
...What could he do?
Sir Samantha knocked on the door of Oren and Gornul's apartment and was answered with the image of herself entering. Opening the door, she saw Gornul sitting quietly on top of his hutch. When he saw who Samantha carried, bound and muzzled, his look became one of utter amazement.
The image he projected was of a brimming oak tree, followed by an exclamation point. The larger dragon, in turn, projected a hall filled with grain.
Now the knight understood. She knew that the grain was Gornul's pictorial name. The oak must be the large one's name. She imagined it might translate to something like "Mitok", short for "Mighty Oak".
"So..." she said at last. "You two know each other? Would you like to clue me in?"
An image of Mitok holding a tiny baby Gornul.
"He's your father?"
Gornul nodded and asked her to undo his father's bonds.
Mitok looked sheepishly at the knight, projecting images of her wounds.
"Apology accepted. I think I'd do the same if I thought someone had killed my son."
Gornul looked confused. Rather than pursue the matter, he inquired after his father's presence.
Mitok explained in a rather lengthy show how he had grown worried when Gornul had not returned home after the day of the great storm. He'd gone to the island's wizard, who had cast a spell over him, enabling to follow the path his son had taken across the sea.
He'd followed Gornul's trail all the way to the lands surrounding Metamor, when his closeness made that trail too indistinct to follow. When he encountered the night and sensed that his son had recently been there, he feared the worst. He'd heard stories of humans who lived for the sake of killing dragons. This human's appearance was so close to those in the legends, he just knew that poor Gornul had been slain.
Gornul shook his head. He looked to the bed and projected Oren sitting there. He then placed an image of himself in the otter's arms. He then showed his father all of the friends he had here at the keep, both humanoid and dragon.
"So you traveled all this way, without food or water?" asked Healer Coe.
"Actually, I have water." Said Sawana. "I've been afraid to drink it, though." She into a bag next to the bed and produced a glass bottle.
"It's from the lake. The Stranders have poisoned almost all the other water sources. We've been treating the water, but our supply of antimagic powder won't last forever."
Oren shook his head, sadly.
"Come back with me, Oren. Help us."
"What can I do? I'm the least of Hipocc's warriors."
"I can't argue with that. You're the only one left."
"What? But Dad..."
Sawana hung her head. "Your father was one of the first to fall. He died defending the house of Yaweh."
Oren picked up a glass jar and threw it across the room in uncontrollable rage. He then fell to his knees and wept.
Charles was delighted to see Gornul, as always, and when he brought a second dragonette along to meet the rat, the smile on Charles' face looked like it would grow beyond the limits of his head if given the chance.
"Who's this?" asked the rat.
Knowing that humans, even partial humans, prefered to use spoken names, he tried to spell out his father's new name in the alphabet he had been learning. In the air appeared the letters "M-I-T-O-K"
"Pleased to meet you."
Changing the subject abruptly, he showed Charles a picture of Oren's face superimposed over Metamor keep, followed by a question mark.
"Hadn't you heard? He's been at the healer's all morning."
A picture of Oren with a black eye and his tongue lolling out the side.
"No, he's fine. If I heard correctly, they found someone from his homeland outside the keep, passed out from hunger, thirst and exhaustion."
Eyes wide, Gornul bowed in thanks and took off for the Healer Coe's, with his father in tow.
"I'm never going back there." Oren insisted. "They exiled me. Let them do without me."
"They didn't exile you."
"I said they didn't exile you. You assumed they were going to and you left. All they were planning was to force you to live outside the village proper as an example. It was to be temporary, even!"
Oren reeled with this information. They wanted him back? He was being asked to return to his homeland?
Even as he digested this information, two small dragons flew in through the window. Mitok landed in front of Oren and introduced himself in a quick sequence of pictures, announcing that he was the boy's father, and saying how glad he was that Gornul had a friend like Oren taking care of him. He gave his name using the symbols he had seen his son produce.
"Mitok?" Oren repeated. "Hello, Mitok."
"What brings you to Metamor Keep?" asked Coe.
A scene of Gornul returning to the island of the dragonettes.
Gornul looked horrified and reached out his hand to touch Oren's tail. He displayed Metamor keep with an arrow pointing to it.
Mitok seemed upset. He showed the island again with an even larger arrow.
Gornul shook his head. He projected the keep once again, and beneath it, in English letters, "MATAMOR KEP IS HOM NOW"
Mitok looked sad, and yet somewhat proud. He looked up at Oren and asked him with a few quick images to take care of his son. To Gornul, he displayed a scene of several small dragons, both male and female, and of Gornul, with a blank space over his head.
Gornul cast the image back, filling the blank with a big red heart. There was no doubt in anyone's mind about the meaning. "Tell the family I love them." He then displayed a scene of Oren's front door and several suns rising and setting.
The otter nodded in agreement. "You're welcome to stay for a few days."
Mitok nodded and smiled. He'd like that.
As Oren turned to escort the dragons home, Sawana reached out and grabbed his furry arm. "Oren?"
"Will you come back with me?"
He looked at her, seeming to search for the words. With a tremble in his voice, he told her "Metamor Keep is my home, now."
He turned away and left her alone with the healer. She looked at the raccoon, who cast her a sympathetic look. Placing his paw on her shoulder, he escorted her back to her bed, where she cried herself to sleep.