|Image from a Google search|
Suggested By: Jess Hughes
When Faith alighted at the little station in Scrabster, she blinked and looked around. She had never been overseas before the trip to France, and now she found herself dragged all over the British Isles by perfect strangers who all seemed convinced she was somebody important. Faith had never done anything significant in her life—till now, apparently. She nervously clutched at the locket Uncle Hugo had given her. At least, he had said it was a locket, but since the first moment she saw it, the thing had somehow fused shut, so it ended up more of a pendant than a locket.
"Come on!" Darren was calling to her as he navigated the streaming lines of people. Mud squelched under Faith's tennis shoes as she trotted over the wet ground to keep up with her guide.
"Some protector," she snorted.
A shadow in the corner of her eye made her turn, and she almost tripped over her own feet when she saw what it was.
"Darren!" She squeaked. "It's the man from Lancaster!"
Darren had other things on his mind. Jeanne Hughes had been taken on the 24th of June, and the incident had made the papers. There was apparently irrefutable evidence that a large animal had been responsible. He would have to find another contact to get—
"Darren! Did you hear what I said?"
Faith tugged at his arm.
He jerked it away irritably. "Ow! Yes, I heard! So what? Plenty of folks come to Scrabster, and you don't think any of them are following us!"
Faith glanced back; the man in the black fedora was nearer to them now. She could not explain the dread she felt when she saw him.
Darren made a beeline for the ferry timetables.
"Oh, bollocks!" He groaned. "We're too late! The last ferry was ten minutes ago." How were they going to get to Orkney now?
Faith couldn't believe the turn her life was taking. All she wanted was a nice, idyllic little vacation in France, and here it had turned into a helter-skelter quest full of dragons and dwarves and magic tunnels—
A gloved hand grabbed her arm and pulled very hard. Darren had his back to her and didn't notice.
"Darren!" Faith shrieked. "Darren!"
She just barely saw him look up and turn before the milling crowd blocked her from view. She glanced up.
The man in the black hat, the one she had feared—he had stolen her away! Was he trying to stop Darren? Would he kill Faith to make that happen?
Faith pulled only once, and the strength with which he clamped down on her wrist nearly separated the bones. She didn't try to escape his grasp again.
They reached an alleyway, and he suddenly released her, sending the girl spinning into a stack of dirty, sodden crates. He slumped against the wall, and she saw his face: pale as death, and drawn with pain.
"You the Ecrivaine?" He nodded to her, panting heavily.
Faith looked down to where she clutched her only possession—the notebook—to her chest.
"Yes," she answered. "What do you want with me?"
The man chuckled to himself as he stood away from the wall, and the pain cleared.
"Do you have it, then?"
The man cried out in pain and slammed his fist against the wall. Faith did not fail to notice the cracks his blow left in the bricks. Who was this freakishly-strong man?
"Dinnae play games wi' me, lassie!" He burst in a strong brogue. "I know ye summoned the dragon, but did ye have the Ring first?"
Faith remembered the discovery she had made on the train ride from Lancaster. She pulled the strange-looking ring from her pocket. "You mean this ring?" She asked.
Relief swept over the man's features, replaced quickly by pain again. "Yes, that's the—GAHH!" He doubled over and stumbled against the wall. When he looked up at Faith, his whole body was shaking. "Please," he begged hoarsely. "You have to help me." He cried out in another fit and began convulsing violently on the ground.
"Faith!" Darren's voice had never sounded more welcome to her ears.
"I'm back here!" She called.
He arrived at the alleyway just as the man had finally managed to get his legs under him. "Help me!" He begged her. "Make it stop!"
"Make what stop?" Faith shrank away from his touch.
"Here now," Darren pushed the man sideways, and the tortured stranger toppled like a rotted tree. "Leave her alone! Come along, Faith. We've got to find a boat that will take us to Orkney."
"Orkney, is it?" The man groaned from the ground. "You're headed to the Ring of Brodgar, aren't you?"
"What's it to you if we are?" Darren called.
The man crawled after him. "Because I'm the man you were supposed to meet, idiot!"
Darren froze and turned back to the sodden heap on the ground. "You?"
He gasped. "You're the Mark of the Dragon?"
The man squinted up at Faith and Darren. "That's me," he grunted. "The name's Courtland."
Faith heard a peculiar cracking sound, and suddenly Courtland jumped to his feet. Every vein in his face and neck stood out distinctly.
"I need the Ecrivaine to help me!" He growled, gritting his teeth as beads of sweat formed on his skin.
"What could I do?" Faith could barely get the words out, she shivered so badly.
"The pain!" Courtland clamped down on her shoulders with his bizarre strength. "It's too much! Please, make it stop!" His body jerked and he released her as another bout of convulsions sent him reeling around the alley. "Please!" He roared. "Make it stop!"
Faith turned horrified eyes to Darren. "What do I do? I don't know what to do!"
"Write it, ye ninny!" Courtland roared. "Write it and make it stop."
Faith was so terrified at the sight of a man in such pain, she could not think straight. "I don't know what to write! I don't know what to do!" She shoved the notebook at Darren. "You do it!"
He shook his head. "I'm not the Ecrivaine, love. Just write away his pain!"
"Do it now!" Courtland writhed as Faith saw something happening to his coat.
"I don't know how!"
And as Darren and Faith watched, the back of Courtland's coat burst open to release a pair of large, black, leathery dragon wings.