Michael led the trio to an area littered with flat stones.
“I don’t see a shelter,” Serena said.
“You are not intended to,” Michael said. “Stand back.”
He moved to one of the stones and pressed down on two areas of it. They depressed under the pressure of his fingers and an area of the desert slid open revealing a steel staircase.
“It will be a tight fit for your mounts,” Michael said. “Just keep them calm.”
They followed him down the stair. Behind them, the desert closed and several lights switched on. Magic? No, Serena could recognise magic. This, this was something else.
At the bottom was a great, metal door. Next to it was a pad with numbers and a needle on it. Michael hurriedly put in a long series of numbers and pricked his finger on the needle. For a moment, there was a series of buzzing sounds followed by a slight ding. The door slid open.
It revealed a rather large chamber with beds, dried food and even a water pump. The inside was cool.
“What is this place?” Serena wondered. “How… how does it work?”
“It is a shelter that the draconians constructed long ago,” Michael answered. “It was designed specifically to provide refuge when they crossed the desert.”
“I’d heard that they possessed a mysterious power,”Sylvie muttered. “Not magical in nature but something entirely different. But no one can figure out how the remaining relics work.” She stared at Michael. “How did you find this place and know how to open it?”
“That is not information you require,” Michael said. “What is important is that I have kept my side of the bargain.”
“Fair enough,” Inés said. “Let me grab a drink and I’ll meet you back on the surface.”
Michael turned and moved back up the stairs.
“So, how could he have found this place?” Inés whispered.
“Some old draconian writing, maybe?” Serena suggested.
Sylvie shook her head. “The draconians never wrote anything down. Could Michael be… Could one of them have survived?”
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Inés muttered. “Plus, he would’ve been four or five when they were wiped out. I kind of doubt that they’d have shared that kind of specific information with a kid that young, much less that he’d still remember it.”
“Could he have met a draconian?” Sylvie wondered.
“I suppose,” Inés said. She used the pump to get a drink of water and quickly gulped it down. “Well, it doesn’t matter. We’re safe and I’m off to keep the bargain. Serena, give Blitz some water for me, okay?”
“No problem,” Serena said. “I’ll have her watered, fed and brushed for you!”
“I don’t know if I’ll be gone that long,” Inés said. “He’s a nice enough guy but I don’t know if he’ll be much of a challenge for me.”
Inés returned to the surface. The stark difference in temperature between it and the cool draconian shelter was startling for a moment. Silently, Michael led her away from the shelter’s entrance.
“So, what are the rules for this little sparring match?” Inés asked.
“We will continue until one of us is immobilised, rendered unconscious or surrenders,” Michael stated. “Is that acceptable?”
“Fine by me,” Inés said. “Just one question first. Why do you wanna spar with me?”
“Because I am fully cognizant of your strength,” Michael answered. “If I am to successfully complete my task, then I must be able to persevere over overwhelming power. Fighting you will allow me to gauge how much more training I require. Are you prepared?”
Inés took a fighting stance. She stuck out her hand and beckoned him. “Bring it!”
Michael’s cloak was tossed n her direction. She quickly moved. He had vanished. “Where…” From overhead, the sound of the air rushing. She leapt back. Michael’s fist came down at the spot she had been standing.
That was when she got her first real glimpse of him. He had a purple-scaled reptilian tail with wings to match. Small pointed horns jutted out of his forehead. His eyes were almost serpentine. With a dark slit surrounded by a speckled violet colour.
“He is a draconian,” Inés breathed.
Michael was back in the air. With a quick incantation, a vicious wind blew dust towards Inés. She hurriedly closed her eyes. There was a slight rush of air and she felt his fist connect with her jaw.
It was a harder punch than she’d anticipated, but she managed to roll with it. She tried opening her eyes, but the magically constructed sandstorm was still all around. She heard it again. The slight rush of air from Michael’s movements. She moved to the side to avoid him.
She could hear him next to her. A whip-like sting lashed across her chest and arms. His tail. She hurriedly reached out and grabbed hold of it. Its scales were rough. A powerful, concentrated gust of wind slammed into her, but she refused to let go. She swung him around. Eventually, she felt the sandstorm die down and was able to open her eyes.
Michael’s eyes were closed. He seemed to be concentrating. His fingers snapped and a spout of wind erupted beneath her, tossing her into the air and allowing him to slip free.
Inés picked herself out of the sand. Michael was flying towards her, preparing another air spell.
“If it’s magic you want,” she muttered.
She ran towards him, preparing her own incantation. Michael gestured and a fierce wind whipped up around her.
She hit the ground and water erupted, propelling her into the sky. Her arm struck his neck and chest. The two fell to the sand together.
Inés regained her feet first and rushed him.
“I concede,” he said, putting his hands up. “It is apparent that your strength and skills surpass mine.”
“Too bad,” she gasped. “I was actually enjoying myself there. I didn’t expect you to be that strong.” She helped him up.