Suggested By: Leslie Conzatti
With Special Thanks To: Mary Findley, Emily Ecrivaine, Olivia C., Kimberly Rogers, Kileah McIlvain, Sam Garcia, Lauren Shearer, Andy Poole, Jess Hughes, Kaytra Copper, Clari Noel, Lindsey Bruno, Julieann Wright, Dayle O'Leary, R. R. Virdi, and Jess Colvin
Place: Ring of Brodgar
Object: a portal into another world
Faith clung tightly to the straps of the harness as she watched the circle of monoliths pass underneath her feet. Courtland circled and dipped lower.
"Bend your knees!" He warned as the ground rose to meet them.
Faith did her best to relax her muscles, but the toe of her sneaker caught a stray tussock and when he pulled up she went tumbling over the grass.
Her momentum caused him to stumble too, and the large, dark dragon wings spread reflexively. Still, his foremost concern was not for himself.
"I'm sorry," he called to her, folding his wings against his back, "are you all right?"
Faith got her footing and smoothed out her clothing. "I'm fine," she said, raising her eyes and squinting around at the gigantic circle of stones. "Where are we?"
Courtland sighed and sat on a stone that the weather had eroded to a mere stub of itself. "This, Miss Dunmore, is the Ring of Brodgar, the place where you, as the Ecrivaine, need to summon the Dragon for the last time and send it back to its world."
Faith felt the cold hand of doubt creeping over her insides once again, freezing her heart and twisting her stomach into knots. "How am I supposed to do that?" All these people talking like she was some kind of special entity, while she was still trying to figure out if the dragon appearing outside the shed was a fluke or not.
Courtland shrugged. "The same way you did it in France, I guess. Only this time you have the Ring," he pointed to her hand, "and you're in the Ring." He gestured to the stones around them.
She still hesitated; all she did in France was read something she had already written. She had been so busy running since that day that there was nothing new in her notebook, and she was quite sure no other selection would quite fit the apparent need.
The young Scot noticed her hesitation and reminded her soberly, "It's time, Faith."
Faith chewed on her lip as she opened her notebook and found the pen still clamped in the spiral where she had left it—oh, it felt like ages ago!
There was the page that had ended up summoning the dragon. Should she read it again? Faith absently picked up the pen. The little voice in her head that she called her "muse" kept insisting that she write something fresh, and repeat the words aloud as she wrote, for good measure.
She began: "Two youths sat among the stones that looked like the remains of some many-fingered giant reaching up from under the sod. As they pondered what to—" she stopped as a cloud bank suddenly blotted out the sun overhead. Just in that brief instant, Faith looked up and saw the man. He was tall, lean, fair-skinned with dark hair and dark clothing. She might have mistaken him for another tourist or municipal authority come to tell them off—if it weren't for the toad-like creatures crawling over the stones around him, and the red-headed figure being towed behind him.
Faith and Courtland leaped to their feet as the man snorted.
"Well, well, well! I must say you're braver than I thought, coming all the way here on your own!" He sneered at her. A few of the creatures tossed their unconscious burden at her feet.
"Darren!" The name tore from her lips. There wasn't any sign he was breathing. "What did you do to him?" She asked without taking her eyes off her onetime protector. "Is he dead?"
"No," the man answered, "I did what needed to be done. The question remains," he placed a long, thin—but incredibly strong—hand on her shoulder, "will you do what needs to be done?"
Faith instinctively pulled her arms closer around the notebook at her chest and closed her fist bearing the Ring. "What do you mean? Who are you?" Just the sound of the man's voice made her tremble with dread.
"Someone who has waited a long time to meet you, Ecrivaine." The man released her shoulders and held out a hand. "My name is Alexander VanTassel. Now, be a good girl and hand it over."
Faith took a step backwards. "Hand what over?" She squeaked.
Alexander scowled and snapped, "The Ring, you incorrigible child!"
In a flurry of flapping, Courtland planted himself between them, spreading his wings in front of Faith.
"I'll thank you not to touch her, VanTassel!" He challenged.
Alexander didn't back off, and his eyes glinted madly when he saw the dark wings. "Hello, what have we here? Is it a man or is it a dragon? You must be the one they call Dragon-Marked." He rubbed his bony hands in fiendish glee. "Oh, I have been searching for you, too!"
Courtland crossed his arms. "You think you're going to get what you want from me?"
Alexander smiled thinly. "No, I'm going to take something from you."
He merely beckoned with his hand, and the goblins that had surrounded them during the course of the conversation threw themselves at Faith and Courtland. Faith screamed and shoved their flabby bodies away, but Courtland wasn't so lucky. Alexander grabbed her arm and held on tight as the creatures flocked over the winged man and began beating him with clubs. To her everlasting horror, instead of bruising, Faith watched as the blows seemed to tear away Courtland's very skin, revealing the scales of a dragon underneath. Even his screams sounded more beast than human.
"Stop it!" She shrieked, pulling against the evil man's grasp. "You're hurting him! Stop! No!"
The goblins ceased their torture, but kept him pinned down by his wings. There was little human about him now, except his clothes and his feet.
"What is happening to him?" Faith shook so badly that she could barely get the words out.
"We're running out of time, Ecrivaine!" said Alexander. "He will soon be completely transformed into a dragon and there won't be any of his human form left."
She tore away from him as he held out his hand.
"Give me the Ring before it's too late!"
Faith crossed her arms and pinned her hands with her elbows. "No!" She cried.
As the wind increased, Faith became aware of a soft, whispering voice saying "Right now! Right now!" But what did it mean? What did she need to do right now? Or was it saying "write now"?
Alexander shook his head. "You give me no choice," he said, and signaled his goblins.
One of them sitting on his right wing immediately hopped up and yanked on the top, thickest part of the wing—while the rest of Courtland remained pinned. The sharp crack of splitting bone rent the air, and Courtland screamed in such agony that Faith burst into tears.
"Stop! Stop it!" She sobbed. "Just leave him alone!" When would terrible things stop happening to the people around her? All she wanted was a normal life!
The voice somewhere beside her still whispered, "Write it now! Write it now!"
Alexander strode toward her, his hand raised like he was ready to signal them to break the other wing. "Do I have your attention now, Ecrivaine? Your story ends here. Without your winged companion, there is nowhere for you to go that I cannot follow. You have no escape."
Faith gripped her locket, as she always did for comfort—and the voice faded slightly. She brought it up, and it fell open as it had in Cordelia's house. The voice was louder now, and it seemed that as she stared at the cameo of the "first Ecrivaine" that the cameo turned her head and stared back! Perhaps the legend was real! Recalling Cordelia reminded Faith of the time she wrote something and it came true. She finally lifted her face to look up at Alexander.
"You're wrong," she said. "My story has only just begun."
Faith took up her pen and wrote: "There was once a young girl and a tall, dark man who stood facing each other within a ring of stones on a Northern island. The girl's name was Faith, and the man's name was Alexander. The ring in which they stood was a portal to another world, a world of magic and all manner of magnificent creatures, protected by Unicorns and governed by the dragons. The largest, noblest, and most magnificent of them all was the Midnight Dragon. On this night, as the autumn wind blew, he came to the ring of stones, he answered the call of the Ecrivaine and the veil between the worlds lifted."
As she finished saying the last words, a gust of wind caught her hair, and a dark cloud filled the sky above her—but as it gathered on the ground, Faith saw that it was not a cloud, but an enormous dragon with dark skin flecked with gold, like stars against a night sky.
The narrow head dipped toward her, and she felt the warm breath from its nostrils around her. Its tail ran the circumference of the circle, keeping Alexander and his goblins at bay.
"I have come, Ecrivaine," rumbled the Midnight Dragon. "I am yours to command. Are you prepared to unlock the Door?"
Faith was so astonished that she put out a tentative hand. The dragon waited patiently as she assured herself that the glossy creature looming over her was indeed real. "Yes," she gasped.
The dragon swung its head toward the wide stone at the center of the ring, and placed its nose against the surface. Faith reached toward it with the hand bearing the ring. The very air came alive with magic, and the stone began to glow.
The instant before she touched it, Alexander and several dozen goblins vaulted the thick tail and advanced on her. "Not so fast!" He cried, dragging Darren along with him—awake now, but still invisibly bound. "If you do not give me the ring, Ecrivaine, I will kill your friends." He pointed toward Courtland, who was still covered in goblins. When Faith looked back at Darren, Alexander held a knife to his throat.
In desperation, Faith whirled on the newcomer. "Dragon, help me!" She cried.
The Dragon lifted its head imperiously. "I cannot intervene in the affairs of your world; the first Ecrivaine tried to compel me to end a war, but I did not. It is a choice you must make."
Through the grunting goblins and the swirl of magic, Faith could hear the cameo of Magdalena—the first Ecrivaine–speaking to her again. "Hurry daughter! Do what I could not! Use the power of your words to outsmart the enemy!"
Over the tumult, a familiar scraping sound reached Faith's ear, not unlike the sound she had heard in her aunt's shed. A bent spade broke the earth right between her and Alexander, and who should appear but a squat, wrinkled dwarf and a young woman with short dark hair.
"Huzzah!" the stranger cried, making straight for Darren. Alexander dove out of her reach, and she attacked the goblins surrounding him.
"Get your beastly little frog-hands off my cousin!" She yelled, mowing them down with her machete. When she reached Darren, she pulled something out of the quiver on his back: a red scarf, wrapped around one of his arrows. The moment she removed the scarf, Darren gave a heavy gasp and fell forward.
"Do it!" He yelled hoarsely to Faith.
She let the Ring touch the stone, and it seemed that the sky between the stones split open to reveal glimpses into another world, one with bright sunshine and a thick green meadow. With her other hand, she seized the pen and began writing the words Magdalena spoke in her ear.
"With a sweep of his mighty tail, the dragon overwhelmed the slimy beings covering the one he had marked all those centuries ago. Then he turned his golden gaze on the dark, narrow man standing before him.
Foolish mortal! In your arrogance and greed you have sealed your own fate. Without the return of the dragon, you cannot escape this ring of portals. You were so intent on getting what you wanted by any means necessary that you failed to realize that where the dragon goes, the Mark must follow. You are bound to me, and the Mark falls to you."
Faith only dimly heard the Dragon's booming voice speaking the words she wrote. When she looked up, Alexander was staring at the girl and the dragon in terror.
"No!" He gasped. "No!"
At that instant, bright tendrils of magic reached from Courtland to Alexander, and wherever they touched, his skin peeled away, replaced by hard, knobby scales. Alexander VanTussel writhed in pain as horns sprouted from his head, wings from his back, and claws from his hands and feet.
Faith looked up at the Dragon, who gazed steadily back at her. It was time to end the story. She wrote the last of it herself.
"With the last words on her page, the Ecrivaine dispelled the Dragon. He, along with his Mark, returned from whence he came, and the Ring of Brodgar was sealed forevermore.
The same moment she finished forming the last letter, a blast of light and wind knocked her off her feet. When her vision cleared, the other world was gone, it was the middle of a very grey day on Orkney Island, and the only people she saw were Darren, the dark-haired girl—and Courtland.
Faith scrambled over to the latter man. His wings were gone, and he was fully human again—but his dark hair had already turned silvery-grey and he could barely move his frail body. Faith knelt next to him and supported his shoulders with her arm.
"Courtland! What is—"
He gave a small gasp and interrupted her. "You did it, Ms. Dunmore; I am free of the Mark." His voice was faint, and every word came with struggle. "Unfortunately that also means that I am dying without the dragon-magic to sustain me."
Tears fell down Faith's cheeks as she begged, "There has to be something we can do!" Her searching hands found her notebook and pen, and she had just scratched out the words "He lived," when Courtland grabbed her wrist.
"Ms. Dunmore," he rasped, "Faith; I have lived two hundred years and longed for this day, and you would rob me of it?" He relaxed and leaned his head back to look at the sky. "My time is over. My story is done. I have reached my ending." He gazed back at the young writer and asked weakly, "Will you grant it to me?"
Faith Dunmore, the Ecrivaine, nodded as the tears fell. "Farewell, good friend," she said.
Courtland brushed a gentle hand over her cheek. "Farewell, Madame Ecrivaine," he replied.
Taking up her pen once more, Faith wrote in her notebook, "Then Courtland breathed his last.
She heard a long sigh, and then not a sound. Faith broke down and cried over the man she barely knew, who had given his life for her.
A hand rubbed her shoulder. Faith looked up through her tears and saw the girl who had saved Darren. Why did she look familiar?
"Hey," she said.
Faith suddenly recalled the school in Oregon where she had become close friends with a dark-haired girl named—
"Josie?" She gasped, surprised to remember the name after all these years. "What are you doing here?"
Jo shrugged as Darren walked up next to her. "It's a long story—but I guess as long as Pierre is here," she nodded to the dwarf, "we have all the time we need, right, Darren?"
Darren—who had only ever grabbed Faith by the wrist as if he detested all females, shocked her by putting his arm around Jo's shoulders. "Right, cousin," he said with a grin.
Faith jumped to her feet, sorrow forgotten. "Wait, you're kidding me; he's your cousin?" She gasped.
Jo shrugged. "Yeah; sit down and let me tell you the whole thing. Afterward, I am sure Pierre would be happy to return you to the exact moment you left France."
The dwarf caught his name and grumbled something contemptuous in French. The three friends laughed, and Jo began, "So anyway, after I moved to Michigan, I traveled to England to visit my cousin and that's where I found out about the legend of the Ecrivaine..."
And so the tale of the Ecrivaine ends with the beginning of another tale—and so life and its stories will continue one after another until one by one we all reach the words: