Caught in the Dragon Cove

Chapter Two:

Present Day

Date: December 2011—Earth Calendar

Time: Unknown—Still Daylight

Place: Dragon Cove Realm

World: The Dragon Dimension

Superior Life Form: Dragon-Shifters (Maintain human-like forms unless provoked, senses a threat, and in planned or unavoidable battles).

Dragons, Dragons and more Dragons. Every size, shape, and color of which the brain could conceive. Beautiful. Scary. Amazing. Only three of the words that came to mind instantaneously. Some with soft, leathery-looking hides, others were tough, almost steely-looking. And surprisingly, several even looked as if they might be ‘friendly,’ if a Dragon could be considered friendly. Many looked territorial, extremely dangerous.

Iax was grateful she hadn’t caught their notice… yet. They’d most likely breathe fire and brimstone on her, incinerating her in mere seconds. The next three words that came to mind were; well, fu-uck me. It was all so bizarre, yet somehow beautiful at the same time.

Dragons flying overhead, running, or maybe—as it was hard to tell from a distance—they were merely skimming over the surface of land charred beyond repair, only scant inches below them. Many were launching themselves at one another, furiously swiping at others with massive, dangerously strong tails. Others colliding, tangling in thunderous claps midair, rolling and diving as they fell hard to the ground landing in large heaps with loud, sickening thuds, sounding imminently final. There were so many, at least a couple hundred, and it seemed such a waste to maim, destroy, or even harm such beauty.

The land and vegetation all looked as if it would go up into flames at any moment now as lava seeped lazily, and rolled slowly all around them as far as the eye could see down into the valley. Tall mountain peaks proudly loomed like sentinels on either side of the vast valley-floor.

Another waste of immeasurable proportions. It was a beautiful area; large copses of antique-looking trees in various types and sizes scattered over the mountainsides, uniquely attractive large and smaller bushes, wildflowers, and on and on. Such a waste.

How did I get here? she speculated. It had never been explained to her, other than some kind of weird ‘link’ thing. She’d be sure to corner Fred when she got back and find out exactly how, or what made these fun little ‘trips’ even possible. For now, there wasn’t time to worry about it.

She’d visited many different places while ‘hop-scotching-it-through-time,’ as she called it, in just under a year. Different time periods, people, shifters, animals, and alternate Realms from many of the different Dimensions. Everything had always seemed so surreal, possibly imagined, but not. This wasn’t her first rodeo; everything here was all-too-real.

The scene was breathtaking, both beautiful and dismal. The sky, which seemed to run forever in either direction of the seemingly enormous valley, was painted in vibrant swaths of purples, oranges, pinkish-corals, as well as different hues of greens and blues.

All the visuals were totally at odds with the sounds and explosions blasting all around her. Carrying on the wind with it all were the putrid, noxious odors, worse than the charred vegetation; charred hide. Everything on, and including parts of, the actual ground was melted to oblivion.

Iax wanted to retch at the smells and sights—it truly was disheartening—but that would give away her presence, something she most definitely did not want to happen. The massive explosions rocked her entire body, her throbbing head was begging for relief.

She needed to know where she was, what was happening, and why the hell she’d ended up here. Well, truth tell, she knew the here; The Dragon Dimension. But in which Realm? There were several: Each Realm consisted of various groups made up of a specific type of Dragon-shifter, all of whom inhabited their own territory;,the claim they staked upon their creation. Each group, a family or village of shifters, was called a Weyr; much like a Clan, Tribe, or some other such grouping. It was almost unheard of for a Dragon-shifter from one Realm to visit another, as they usually kept to themselves.

Although Iax had been to a few of the different Realms, she still didn’t know exactly how many there were. She could be wrong, but she thought this one in particular was the Dragon Cove Realm. The inhabitants were essentially your typical human-like beings who just so happened to be able to shape-shift into their Dragon-forms.

That covered the here part, but the why? She had no clue. Something she knew for certain was, one minute, she’d been sippin’ a vente mocha latte, trying on some killer heels, and the next… she was here. Fucking awesome. Not! She quietly snorted.

Iax learned on her previous ‘vacays,’ she had to remain focused, concentrate on every detail.

If only she could’ve landed somewhere poolside, apple-tini and a great book in hand. Oh, and maybe even one of those hot cabana boys massaging her feet, fanning her while feeding her grapes and berries. Not that she drank; Iax never enjoyed it after watching peeps she truly cared for fall apart—and worse—because of their drinking problem. Still, it sure sounded sensational, and would’ve made a much better vacay; so worth her time and trouble. Shoulders slumping, she sighed again.

I wish I had my Zune, all this noise is driving me fucking nuts, she grumbled inwardly as a groovy tune was running through her mind, bringing up questions about her mental state; what’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like this? I’m going crazy… Just to name a few. How àpropos.

Alas, fun was not meant to be had, at least not yet, and not here. Convincing herself that one of these times she’d certainly make the other trip happen. At least she’d give it one helluva shot, anyway.

Meanwhile, she was here, it was hot, dry, nasty, and she had a job to do. It was obvious that she was here due to the flame-throwers who evidently didn’t know how to channel their anger in a healthy way. Now, she needed to figure out exactly what was going on, and what she would do about it.

Hmm, she thought dryly, better check my bod and see what kind of goods I brought forth this time. Please let there be a canteen of cold water somewhere on my person.

Night’s darkness was closing in quickly, and the charred air around her was cooling just a tad as she hid under the cover of boulders and burnt trees. Her continual sweating could spell grim news for her, and soon.

Iax wasn’t fooled for even a second to think hiding would save her ass for long, these kinds of creatures always sniffed out anyone or anything different from themselves, all-too-soon.

Also, if she died here, she actually died, for real. Not an option, even though her real life wasn’t going quite her way, she still wasn’t ready to die.

She needed to reach Gemma, her ‘tour guide,’ as she called her. Gemma always knew what to do, where to go, and why the hell Iax was brought to, well, wherever it was she always ended up. Gemma was impressive like that, always had all the answers and knew just what to do.

To be honest, Gemma was more like a giant jigsaw puzzle; all the pieces were there and they were fascinating pieces, it was just hard to fit them all together sometimes. But, in the end, they always got the job done, even if the puzzle didn’t always come out perfect, it did come out done.

And, Iax got to continue living, for real.

Although she was frustrated enough to scream, she knew better. Screaming wasn’t necessary anyway, she could simply use mental projection, and Gemma would magically appear.

Here’s lookin’ at you, Gemma. Iax hoped fervently. Closing her eyes, she sent her thoughts out in a wide arc to summon her buddy. After the third try, Iax started getting pissed. She was hot, sweating, tired, a little hungry and, even though she shouldn’t—‘cause it seemed rather inappropriate—she had a deep craving for BBQ food.

Shaking her head to clear the random thoughts, she peered around hoping to see Gemma wandering somewhere close by, as always in a daze with a beautiful smile on her even more beautiful face.

Gemma always appeared clueless, but man, the sister should never be underestimated; she’s brilliant, and not one to be fucked with.

Still waiting, looking about again… nothing. Where is she? Dammit, I hate when this happens and she doesn’t show up right away! she grumbled inwardly, then using the same method, she shouted for Gemma. Big mistake! All that did was amplify her already hellacious headache. Ugh! Smooth doin’, Ace!

Iax started at the reply that came right next to her ear!

“Oh, bother, dear, do not have a hit-attack, I am here already. I am here.”

Like a welcomed flood, relief flowed through Iax’s veins cooling her overheated system at hearing the voice, but it did nothing good for her newfound headache or her nerves. Without thinking first, she snapped, “Gemma! Why do you always have to scare me? Shit! And, how many times I gotta ask you to please not sneak up on me, yet you keep doing it?” Iax hissed out.

Perfectly arched brows raised, Gemma replied, “Well, it seems that someone’s panties are in a wait. Really, Iax, you need to chill. Is this not what you have advised me to do so many times? And, look, I have. You, on the other hand, are so pumpy. Humph. You are welcome for me showing up, as I always do!” She sat down on a large rock, elbows on her knees, chin resting in her upraised palms.

Trying for patience, Iax didn’t want to start things out on a bad note, but she never could help herself from correcting people, either. “Okay Gemma, A; it’s panties in a wad not a wait, and two; it’s jumpy not pumpy, okay?  And, you’re right, thank you for always showing up and helping me. I really do appreciate it.” She let out a long, slow breath before continuing, “I’m sorry, I’m just pissed. I was having a great day, drooling over a hottie at the mall, having a coffee… thing, fixin’ to buy some kick-ass heels, and all of a sudden, I’m here.” She opened her arms wide and turned in a half circle to encompass the scene unfolding all around them.

“And, it’s heart attack, not hit attack—which by the way—I am not having. If you’re going to use my stuff, please try to get it right.” She waved a negligent hand toward the fiery scene in front of them, and asked, “Now, what’s the scoop on all this?”

“Well, my dear, you must not have a potty-party, we shall see you through this as we always do.” Gemma smiled innocently, knowing very well that she was riding on Iax’s last nerve.

Iax knew the woman thought it was entertaining to poke at her from time to time, but now was not good. Gritting her teeth, she tried to calm down and not blow a gasket. “Gemma, it’s pity-party, not potty-party, and I am not having one of those, either,” she finished, offering her friend a fake smile. Breathe, just breathe slowly. She’s here to help, ya gotta be more patient, Iax attempted to calm her hot-tired-self. Ahhh… better.

She was more than grateful to Gemma since, after all, the woman had saved her ass in more than one scrape, but she always got her euphemisms wrong. Sometimes it was truly funny, but others, it was a waste of precious time. Still, potty-party? She almost laughed out loud upon reflection, it was pretty hilarious! Snap out of it, Iax, and focus! It’s go-time!

“Okay, Gemma, what do we know about what’s going on here? Obviously the flame-throwers are pissed off, attacking each other and—” Squinting to see better, Iax tried to get a better visual on what was doin’ further up, and back down both ends of the valley, as well as on the mountains standing tall on either side. Trying to discern any possible other creatures or whatevers, she was unable to detect anything other than the huge, colorful dudes making jerky of each other and everything else in sight.

“Well, Iax. Gordell—a master-beastie whom is most likely picking his teeth with the bones of the much smaller-beasties as we speak—is very pissed off, as you say. It would seem his Truemate, Yoren, was stolen by another beastie-pack. Mind you, I am explaining this in a way you will understand better. These are the unofficial terms, you see.” She beamed a proud smile.

“Alrighty, then. So, who’s the other pack that stole what’s-her-name, and why’d they even do it to begin with?” Iax asked.

She’d done a quick, not-so-thorough inventory of herself. Every time she hop-scotched-it-through-time, she always had several supplies and was dressed in appropriate attire pertaining to the situation she’d be facing. And, though her supplies were always somewhat meager, they had saved her ass before. It was far better than nothing at all.

Rummaging around inside the large, lightweight pack that was strapped on her back upon her arrival, she found familiar, yet equally disgusting packets of ‘puke-powder’—Yum!—ick, was more like it. They were the kind of ‘meals’ where you simply add-water-and-eat. The nutritional value was unmatched. The taste? Not so much. Again, they’d saved her life in the past and were kind of better than nothing. Still, it was some of the most rank, nastiest shit Iax had ever consumed, which was saying a lot considering the woman had traveled the world many times over, and had vacayed in several Realms of the various alternate Dimensions.

As always, she also found pre-filled vitamin packets, all ready to go. Some of the buggers were huge, but they kept a person healthy. Who knew what you’d come across in a place like this? Health was all important.

The pack also held your basic, standard-issue military eating utensils; a metal plate, cup, fork, knife, and spoon. And there was a Swiss Army Knife with so many goodies in it, she couldn’t wait to play with them all.

There were two canteens shaped sort of like a small laptop, about two-inches deep and made of a flexible, seemingly indestructible material. They could be stored in several different compartments in the backpack, even folded to fit into a pocket when empty, if necessary. She decided the pack had too many little pockets and compartments to mess with at the moment, but she was pretty sure it held clothing, and everything else she’d need to eat, clean, even first-aid herself when need be. And it would be needed, that was a given.

One of the coolest things about these vacays was, all the battle-wounds she received while she was there, disappeared when she finally got home. Ah, home… Iax already wanted to go back. Focus!

Some claim that scars on men are sexy—so why not on women as well?—she had often wondered. To be honest, she had loved a few of her battle-wounds; they were like mementos, little reminders of what she’d done while saving the World and beyond. Some of her missions, though grueling and often deadly, left her full of pride at the end of the day. A few of her scars could’ve told some kick-ass tales. Others? Not so much, as most were nasty and awful, so ultimately, she hadn’t minded losing them.

Realizing Gemma was speaking in her proper, singsong voice, Iax decided it would be a good idea to pay attention. Although, at least a third of what the woman said made not a lick of sense, the other two-thirds was usually imperative.

Taking a long pull from her canteen, pleasantly surprised to find it was still cold, she turned to face a decidedly flustered Gemma. “Sorry Chicka, ya lost me back there. What was that?” Smiling brightly, Iax stifled a laugh at the expression on Gemma’s face. Poor thing, Iax thought, I seriously should stop being rude to her. “I’m sorry. I was going through my bag-o-goodies, guess I got distracted. I’m all ears now, so please, carry on.” Saluting Gemma with a straight face, Iax clicked her booted-heels together, giving the woman her full attention, in earnest.

“I-I was relaying to you the answer to your previous question, Iax. You asked me why Yoren was taken. I was explaining that I do not know the whole of it, yet. If you could simply pay me the courtesy of listening, you would have some knowledge by this time. I do not speak for my own self, you know.” With a resigned sigh, Gemma glanced around, taking in the hot-pocket they had landed themselves in.

“I am sure it has something to do with the fact that Yoren is young and beautiful, therefore, the boss of the bad-beasties wanted her for himself. Such typical male behavior, do you not think?”

Gemma wore a faraway, thoughtful expression that wrinkled her face brought out a few lines in her forehead, and around her pursed lips. She looked rather upset, in general, about ‘typical male behavior,’ yet none of it took away from her beauty.

“You’re on the money honey, men pull some pretty lame shit to get women. I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking. If some Jack-fuck decided he wanted me and I was already taken, he wouldn’t stand a chance. What a dick-move. Stealing me would only serve to piss me off, not to mention my own man, if I had one…” mumbling the last part under her breath, Iax continued, “Look around. Obviously, Yoren’s dude is highly pissed, and I don’t blame him a bit. But all this destruction is a bit extreme. Oh well, I guess to each his or her own, right?”

Checking the scenery once more, Iax shook her head in disgust. Thank God, men on Earth don’t go quite this postal or the entire planet would be disintegrated in mere days over ‘their women’!

She pictured a group of caveman-dudes pounding their hairy, dirty chests, chanting and spewing lame, degrading shit about ‘their women’ while pulling said women around their camps by their long hair. Jeesh! To think, those things actually happened, and to some point they still do to this day. Loons, all a bunch of fuck-tards! Iax huffed in exasperation.

“Lemme get this straight; Gordell and Yoren went up the hill to fetch a…? Pail of something. They turned around, to see on the ground, other badass-beastie dude thinking; Yo Bitch, you don’t need him ‘cause now ya got me, and I’m better. Gordell rebelled, and then decided he’d rather his enemy be dead… er.” Okay, lame, but still some funny shit. Giggling to herself, Iax was unquestionably delirious.

Staring at Iax as if she had totally lost her grip on reality, which maybe she was correct, Gemma slowly shook her head, her expression one of utter disbelief. “Oh, Iax, are you well? There was something wrong with what you just said. Do you not agree?” Her overlarge, violet-eyes looked a bit too concerned as they rested on Iax, clearly feeling sympathetic for her.

Laughing quietly, Iax replied. “Ah Gemma, I’m fine, really. I’m just tired and being a smart-ass. I’m an expert, do you not agree?” Lips twitching, Iax wanted to laugh again but she suppressed the urge for fear of drawing unwanted attention their way.

“Anyhoo, don’t you think we’d best get out of here? Don’t get me wrong, I love what they’ve done with the place and all, but it’s a smidgen hot, I’m tired, hungry, and we need to go somewhere safe so we can make a plan. What say, let’s boot-scoot and get the hell outta here? Or maybe ‘let’s get outta hell’ would be more àpropos.”

Iax did laugh at herself then, quietly as possible. Gemma shook her head again, her long, silky, molasses-colored tresses gliding over her shoulders and bouncing softly around her face. She even wore a half-smile on her mug, finally. There was no doubt for even a moment that this job could and most likely would get dangerous, but there was no rule saying they couldn’t at least try to keep up their lively spirits during the interim.

“Perhaps you are correct, Iax. And, yes I agree, you are quite the expert smart-ass.” Gemma quietly laughed at herself.

Iax thought those words just sounded wrong coming from the exotic, proper, ladylike Gemma, whose looks totally belied her persona. She could kick ass, and never pulled any punches.

After re-strapping her pack onto her back and glancing one last time around their surroundings, Iax took another swallow of the heavenly water before re-stashing it. Helping Gemma up off her rock, they started out in the direction behind them, toward the nearest mountain.

The entire mountain terrain was covered in thick trees, most of which were still intact; only a few here and there had become collateral damage in the fire-throw-down.

Iax was thankful when the temps dropped enough so she wasn’t sweating any longer while they continued to climb. Then once it became noticeably cooler, she was thankful again as she pulled out a lightweight, yet warm jacket from her pack. Shrugging into it, they took a much needed break.

After drinking from her cool canteen, she wiped her refreshed mouth on the back of her sleeve—no one ever insulted Iax by accusing her of being a lady—then she reached out and offered her canteen to Gemma.

All in all, it took two solid hours to complete their trek up through the densely populated forest to the mountaintop. From there, the view was astonishing. The Dragons had settled, at least for now, probably temporarily out of fire. Too bad they couldn’t just plug-in somewhere for a quick recharge, Iax thought with a chuckle. She was in desperate need of sleep. Her thoughts were just too silly especially for her, and her brain kept taking timeouts.

“Gemma, how much further are we going? I’m so tired I think I could sleep standing up. And these new steel-toed boots are kickin’ my ass. I’ve got some killer blisters on my heels and a few on my toes. Cool kicks and all, but owe! Please, tell me we’re close?”

Gazing out around them as she whined, which bothered her ‘cause Iax don’t do whining, she suddenly recalled another question she had for Gemma. “This is probably a stupid question, but are the Dragons all shifters? I know in the past all the ‘creatures’ we’ve encountered have been, but those guys are enormous! How in the hell does a mere body transform into something that big, then back into a regular body again without it killing them?”

She sat on a fallen log, removed the offending boots from her much abused feet, and waited for Gemma’s answer.

Gemma was, as usual, already gathering flowers and things sprouting from the ground. Experience reminded Iax of the stuff Gemma could make from the natural habitat wherever they were, and how much better it tasted than the nasty ass puke-powder. Always smelled better, too.

After a few moments of silence, Gemma joined Iax on the log, procuring her finds into a leather pouch secured at her waist. Gemma wore all leather, and not that modern-day, treated crap, but the roughhewn, quality stuff from way back before ‘back in the day.’ Not to mention, she was a knockout; rockin’ bod, all that thick, silky hair, gorgeous features, beautiful voice, and her eyes! Violet freakin’ eyes! Gemma was a five-feet-ten-inch-tall package of perfection.

Iax wasn’t lacking, not in the least. Standing a proud six-feet tall with long, wavy, golden-blond hair, bright green, almond-shaped eyes, and a flawless complexion. Her thick, pouty, raspberry-shaded lips accented her heart-shaped face.

As for her body, well she’d always been proud of that. Iax worked hard to attain and maintain her form. She wasn’t heavily muscled, but exceptionally strong, nonetheless. Her long, shapely legs and arms were smooth, sculpted from perfect muscle tone.

She tried to keep a good tan; one never knew where they would be from one minute to the next, so it was only wise in case you ended up in a place with no protection from the sun. Getting sunburned always put a damper on one’s mood and ability to keep oneself alert and alive.

Together, they equated two super-smokin-hot-babes. Iax smiled to herself, she’d have some serious competition if Gemma lived in the modern world with her. Not that she ever minded some healthy competition, but still.

Gemma’s voice brought her back to reality. “Yes, all the beings here are Dragons and shifters. I do not know the makeup of their genetics, nor do I pretend to know how they do it, as you said, being so large as their Dragon, then regular sized in their human-like form.” She shrugged a shoulder. “We shall arrive at a small building soon, it is not far now. We can make our plan, and eat, drink, sleep, or whatever else we may require. I studied the area before you arrived, and I believe I have an accurate account of the landscape. Also, I believe I may know where Yoren has been taken to. If we can get her back, it will halt this warring.”

She smiled at Iax for a moment before noticing the blisters on her feet. “Oh, my! Here, let me help you. I have just the thing to give your poor feet some relief. I am sorry, I did not realize you were in so much pain.” How sweet, Iax thought. They did hurt, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Still, the relief was a welcome offer.

“Thanks Gemma, I’d appreciate anything you could do.” Iax watched Gemma pull out a short, rounded, corked jar from her pack. Removing the cork, Gemma reached three fingers in and scooped out a large amount of some pasty-looking ointment. Iax reached over to take it into her own palm, but Gemma gestured for her to turn around, indicating that she preferred to apply the stuff on Iax’s sorely blistered feet. With a shrug, Iax complied.

“Ahhh, thanks a bazillion times over, Gemma. Whatever’s in your stuff took away all the pain and the blisters even look better. You’re awesome.” Only minutes after Gemma had applied her gunk to Iax’s blisters, it was as if they had never even been. Iax excitedly re-donned her socks, pushed her now happy-feet back into her boots, and they headed off to find the small building.

**Contents Copyrighted 2011 by Theressa Branham**

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