The portal formed and shaped until a loud bang like an explosion made it clear that the portal had finished, and something was about to come through.
As the portal hummed and stood steady, Aaron came first.
He stumbled as he tried to regain footing from stepping to the other side of the portal. The half dragon boy felt like he had just flown down a hundred-foot slide faster than he could ever fly when all he had done was just simply jump to get to the other side.
After gaining his footing, he put his and the other travelers’ bags down and spun around just in time to help catch his human friend from stumbling to the ground. Brandon shakily stood straight and tried to keep his balance while Aaron’s steady arm stabilized him.
Slightly concerned, Aaron tried to meet his friend’s dizzy blue eyes with his own red eyes. “You good?”
Still dizzy from the trip, Brandon nodded and decided it was best to sit down. As he recovered his hand slipped to the hilt of his sword to make sure it hadn't gone missing during the trip. Aaron stayed next to him in case Brandon needed further help. As Brandon started to come back to a normal state, his head shot up like a cat’s, realizing that something was missing. Aaron realized it too, instantly thinking the same thing.
There were supposed to be three people, not just two on the other side of the portal.
Aaron walked to the entrance of the portal with his wings trembling in anxiousness as he became tempted to jump back in. “Where is she?
“She said she was coming right after me,” Brandon said. He got up and stepped beside his friend. “Are you going to go back in?”
Aaron hesitated and then shook his head. “Let’s give her another second. I don’t want to crash into my sister—if that’s even possible.” He pulled his friend back as he backed a few steps away himself. “Let’s step back in case she does come.”
They waited no more than half a minute before Aaron's sister fell through the portal as it closed. She crashed to the ground with a cry of pain as her wing hit the ground in an awkward position. Aaron rushed over and tried to help her to her feet, but she refused. She didn’t want to move with how unsteady she was both mentally and physically. She put a hand up to stop her brother and fanned him away with it. “Leave me be.”
Brandon stood up and went over to her as she collapsed into a slouched lying position, the portal draining so much of her energy. Brandon put a gentle hand under her chin and made her look at him.
She turned away. “I…I’m fine. I just need some air.” She closed her red eyes and focused on taking in air into her drained lungs. The breeze played with her pretty long, blond hair as she sat there, but the air didn’t seem as relieving as it should be. The air wasn’t as crisp as she remembered it. There wasn’t a coolness to its touch.
Aaron saw her sister's troubled face. “What’s wrong?”
Brandon panicked and grabbed Ashlyn’s shoulders. “You can’t breathe?!”
Ashlyn cracked an eye and winced as she flinched away from him. “I can if you quit strangling me,” she muttered, drawing her cloak closer around herself to cover her wings.
Slightly embarrassed, Brandon sat on his legs and ducked his head as he peered through his brown bangs at his pretty girlfriend. “Sorry.”
Aaron cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes at Ashlyn, not understanding. “What’s wrong with the air?” He straightened and took a deep breath and then shrugged. “It’s air. Maybe a little thick but we can all breathe.”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. It’s not crisp or cool,” Ashlyn answered as she stood up. She looked around trying to find something familiar to her as Brandon stood beside her, helping her balance. She was incredibly tired. The simple jump through a portal felt like a year of energy pulled from her without remorse or mercy.
“The trees aren’t much different either,” Aaron observed, slowly beginning to understand what his sister was getting at. “Soarvania’s trees aren’t supposed to look like normal trees.”
Ashlyn shook her head. “No, they aren’t.”
Most of Soarvania’s unmistakable trees were like willows but with darker wood and glittering leaves that seemed to have the colors gold or silver painted over them. Yet, there wasn’t a single one around.
Brandon looked around also in confusion. “Where are we, then?” He turned around to face Ashlyn and stared fiercely into her face. “Ash, where did you bring us?” he asked sharply.
Ashlyn looked back at Brandon. “I…I don’t know,” she replied fearfully. Her fear wasn’t a normal fear like someone would have towards spiders or the dark. It was a deeper, more dreadful fear of what could happen to them if someone found them. And she knew the others shared it too. Anyone who saw them –-two half dragon people and a regular human with a sword—would panic and attack, getting others to fight along with them.
Aaron’s wings shook, but he tried to remain calm. If his sister sounded scared, there was a good reason for it. “So…we’re stuck somewhere we don’t know, and we can’t go back home. Not until your strength comes back?”
Ashlyn slowly nodded. “I don’t know what happened.”
Brandon got irritated. “Ash, what were you thinking about that diverted your attention?!” he yelled.
Ashlyn stepped away from Brandon, throwing her hands up in the air. “I have no idea!” Stepping a few more feet away, she turned her back to the boys, letting her hands fall to her sides and her wings drag on the ground as she felt defeat grip at her. “I know we aren’t on Airleeniar anymore.”
“Anyone can realize that!” Brandon growled, throwing his hands up exasperatedly again. “What everyone doesn’t know is what you were doing that got us into this mess.”
Aaron watched the two argue. His gaze moved to the sky. Maybe if he got above the treetops he could figure out where they were. Maybe he could find a village, and they could ask someone where they were.
Aaron turned back to the two and tried to get their attention, “Hey, what if-”
“All you had to do was focus!” Brandon yelled, completely oblivious to his friend. “You’ve never lost focus before! What happened?”
Aaron tried again, “Guys-”
“I don’t know!” Ashlyn yelled louder, “Someone must have messed with my portal back at Airleeniar.”
“Guys, what if I-”
Brandon took a step closer at Ashlyn. “Who could have done that?!”
Aaron sighed in annoyance. People easily ignored him since half the time he wasn’t on track and tended to zone out. He crossed his arms and took a deep breath. “Guys!”
Both looked at him. “What?” They barked.
“Let’s just fly and see where we are,” he suggested as he took off.
“Aaron, no!!” Ashlyn yelled. Panic gripped her chest. What if someone saw him? She grabbed Brandon’s arm and pulled at his sleeve. “Brandon, do something!”
“What can I do?” he asked. Panic tinged his voice like Ashlyn’s.
“You can yell louder than me. Call out to him! I’m too tired to fly after him!”
Brandon yelled as loudly as he could, but Aaron was too far up to hear them. Aaron looked around for any sign of life, but they were in the middle of a forest with no one in sight. All he could see was a sea of green treetops.
Disappointed, he dropped back down. Ashlyn smacked him on the back of his head. He winced and rubbed his head. “Ow! What was that for?” he asked, glancing out of his red eyes at his sister.
Ashlyn put her hands on her hips and looked him in the eye. “What stupid idea went through your head?” she asked angrily, staring unblinkingly into Aaron’s eyes, a mere reflection of her own flaming red eyes. “Are you trying to give us a heart attack?”
“No. I was thinking that if there’s someone nearby, we can ask where we are,” Aaron answered sheepishly. What was the harm in that?
Ashlyn crossed her arms, “And ask to get our wings chopped off in the process?”
“No, of course not! I was just-”
“What you did was completely irresponsible and stupid.” Brandon said. “You can’t just take to the skies!” he exclaimed, staring seriously into Aaron’s face. “What if someone saw you? We have no idea where we are, Aaron. There could be people who want to hurt half dragons like you. Now, get your wings covered!”
“But no one did. We’re in a forest. There’s no one around!” Aaron exclaimed, pulling his cloak out of the bag he had left on the ground and draping it over his shoulders to cover his wings.
He lifted a hand and rubbed his head again, his gaze moving back to his sister. “Man, Ash, were you trying to knock my brain out or something?” He wouldn’t be surprised if a lump the shape of her hand had formed on his head.
Ashlyn didn’t find the comment amusing in the least bit. Her brother of all people should know the danger they were in. They were alone in a world they did not know with no one but themselves to trust. Back home people saw them as demons or monsters and constantly tried to harm them. Why should this world be any different?
“So, now what?” Brandon asked Ashlyn. “We can’t start a fire, or it’ll give us away to anyone nearby. And, to make matters worse, we don’t even know where we are.”
Ashlyn looked up at the sky and then down at her shadow. She turned back to Brandon. “We still have time left before the sun starts setting. Let’s at least look for some kind of food.” She swayed suddenly as a wave of tiredness pulled at her. Brandon caught her and helped her sit down. She frowned. “Or maybe you and Aaron can. I need to rest.”
Aaron nodded in agreement and watched his little sister as she tiredly made her way to a large oak try to rest against.
He looked at Brandon with eagerness. “Well, we might as well get started. We’ll make more progress if the two of us go out.”
Brandon shook his head. After what Aaron just done, there was no way Brandon was going to take Aaron with him and put their lives in even more possible jeopardy. “Uh no. You stay here and keep watch.”
“Aw, but why? I can help.” Aaron tried, staring pleadingly at Brandon through his red eyes.
Brandon sent him a warning look. “I said no. Stay there and don’t move. I’m not gonna have you take to the skies again.”
Sitting down, Aaron sighed and looked around when he heard barking in the distance. “Is that a wolf?”
“What?” Brandon asked, “I don’t hear anything.”
It got louder, and Ashlyn cracked an eye. “Now do you hear it?”
“It’s getting closer,” Aaron added as he stood up. He made his way to Ashlyn to protect her if whatever was coming was dangerous.
Brandon nodded. “Yeah. But where is it? This forest is just echoing it.”
As Brandon bent down to draw his sword, Aaron shouted, “Watch out!” A golden retriever jumped on Brandon, knocking him to the ground and covering him in layers of slobber from its constant kisses. Brandon called for help and reached for his sword lying on the ground beside him where it had fallen when the dog pounced on him.
Aaron laughed at his unfortunate friend. “Nope. You told me to stay right here.”
Brandon pushed the dog off and rolled onto his stomach to push himself up. The dog changed its target and ran to Aaron next.
Aaron laughed as he patted the friendly dog. “Look, she’s harmless.
Brandon shot the dog a glare and glanced down at his clothes. He gagged. The dog had covered him in layers of slobber that slowly began to drip off his arms which he had used to protect himself from the supposed attack.
Ashlyn and Aaron laughed.
Aaron cupped the dog’s face and smiled. “Where are you from, girl?”
The retriever was so happy to see people that she looked like she was smiling at Aaron and licked his face, her tail wagging so much that Ashlyn started to get hit by it. “Aaron, take her somewhere else before her tail starts to bruise me.”
Aaron stood up and the dog followed him to a more open area where Brandon was. Brandon backed away with a deadly scowl. “This is why I prefer cats.” He muttered his various reasons as he wiped his arms with his hands. The dog ran over to him, but Brandon kept her down. “No! Bad dog! Stay down!”
The dog ran back to Aaron who dropped to a knee to pet her. “She’s not a bad dog. She’s just looking for a friend. She likes you.”
Brandon didn’t even bother to look at them. “Well I don’t! Keep the beast off me.”
“Hey, what if her owner is somewhere nearby?” Aaron suddenly asked, glancing up at Brandon. “Maybe they can help us figure out where we are.”
“How do you know she has an owner?” Ashlyn asked with her eyes shut.
“She’s too well kept to be wild.”
“If she has an owner, you need to get rid of her. The last thing we need is someone like a hunter finding us,” Brandon warned. He wiped his arms with his hands again and grew more irritated. The slobber stuck. “Why won’t it come off?!” he yelled.
Aaron laughed, and the dog barked triumphantly.
When Brandon had finally gotten a good amount of the slobber wiped off, the dog jumped at him again, knocking him to the ground beside his sword. Brandon held the dog back as much as possible as she licked his face, and Aaron died laughing. Every time the dog was pushed away, she’d come right back to Brandon and lick him. It was as if she were trying to get his forgiveness and wouldn’t stop until she did.
Aaron finally got a hold of himself and pulled the dog away. She barked at Brandon who gagged at the sight of the dog’s slobber smeared over his clothes and causing his hair to stick out at various places.
Aaron reached into his bag and pulled out a towel, “Try using this.”
Brandon snatched it from him, but the dog grabbed it from him and dropped it in front of Aaron.
Brandon reached to grab it, but the dog barked at him. Brandon flinched away. “Stay down.”
The dog wagged her tail and stood ready to pounce as Brandon backed away slowly.