"Louise! Louise" three young voices called and Louise sighed.
She was a 17-year old girl with golden hair and soft brown eyes. She had a shy smile and a face filled with freckles that plagued her almost all year round. She was self-conscious of her looks and liked to stay indoor more than she got out. More than likely this is why she was still where she was, at Fereyn Orphanage, the place she'd been in ever since her mother had abandoned her 15 years ago.
Sighing and getting up from her chair, the young woman, who in effect had taken over most of the caretaking at Fereyn, walked to the window and looked out. She was on the second floor, but with the hills coming up the back of the house, she could look the three younger children straight in the eye.
"What is it Margharet, Rohn and Jefke?" she asked.
Margharet, a 14-year old tomboy with short brown hair that never seemed to stay neat for longer than five minutes was the first to look Louise directly in the eye. Margharet's own green-tinted hazel eyes never backed away from a challenge and she would cheat and lie to get out of trouble, like most brats with an attitude would.
"They stole my lunch!" she yelled, "Just today when we had berries for desert."
Louise looked at Rohn and Jefke, both 13-year olds, more children than teens still, who were avoiding looking directly at her. A clear sign of guilt. Though Louise wanted to make sure first. Margharet did have a nasty habit of tricking people in believing what she wanted them to believe.
"Come on you guys. Spill it, Did you take Margharet's berries?" Louise asked.
"No..." Jefke said, looking stubbornly at the ground.
For a short 13-year old he usually had a loud mouth and was very stubborn and decisive about his actions. If he said he hadn't eaten Margharet's berries, one could be sure he was telling the truth. Louise smiled when she saw the black-haired, blue-eyed boy sneak a peak at his buddy Rohn before he added, "He didn't either. We were eating our own. We saved them, just so we could eat them at the river after we'd had a swim."
"Is that true, Rohn?" Louise asked.
Rohn, a red-head with indigo blue eyes who was rather tall and lanky for his age, nodded silently as he inched a bit closer to Jefke who took his hand. Though Rohn was bigger than Jefke, he was quiet and easily scared by nature. He had the loveliest dimpled smile that could light up an entire room, but he hardly ever showed it to the world. Which is why Louise regretted that Margharet had picked them out for her bullying.
"Margharet, did you see tem take your berries?" Louise sighed.
"Well... no." the girl said, "But I left them in the house and when I went out for a walk the two of them were laughing and eating my berries!"
"Our berries." Rohn whispered.
"Now Margharet.", Louise said, "Have you checked where you left your berries? Do you even remember where you hid them?"
"I left them in the kitchen!" Margharet said with a disdainful look in her eye, "Why do you act like I would forget where I put my stuff."
"Because you usually do." Jefke pointed out, "And then you blame us."
"Calm down." Louise said in a firm voice, "We'll all go look. Maybe the others will help us too."
Stepping away from the window, Louise helped the three younger children into the warm shadowy room that was used for passing time. Louise herself had been busy knitting a sweater for Gert for the following winter, knowing it would probably be the last thing she could give the young man only a year younger than her before he left the orphanage.
Gert was the first one they found on their way downstairs. He was sitting in the hallway, right below the stairs. It was where Louise had expected him to be. Gert was 16 and waiting for word on his apprenticeship at a local bakery. He was eager to leave, a little bit too eager maybe, but Louise couldn't blame the good-looking brown-haired young man for wanting to earn his own keep and becoming independent. She only hoped her sweater would remind him of the fact that they at fereyn were still his family and that he would come visit every so often.
"Gert! Gert!" Jefke shouted, "We're going to look for treasure."
Gert smiled back with an amused expression, "Treasure?" he asked.
Some things never change with age and hunting for treasure is one thing humans never do seem to grow tired off. Though, in all honesty it never returns to being as fun as when you were a kid.
"Margharet misplaced her berries." Louise responded, "Wanna help find them?"
"I've got nothing better to do anyway." Gert shrugged.
He so wanted to get the go ahead for his apprenticeship since he knew how dire the financial state of the orphanage was. One mouth less to feed and maybe a small donation from him every now and then would really make a difference. But waiting for the message to arrive was murder. Gert never had been the type to calmly wait for things to come, he liked to go out and make them happen in stead.
"I think Elza and Ignace are in the dining room cleaning. I'll ask them to help us."
Gert got up and left through the door on his left hand side, to the dining room. He knew Ignace and Elza were supposed to be doing their chores as punishment for breaking their curfews last Friday, but he for a fact knew that the two of them were most likely making out in the pantry. Adolescents were never that innovative when looking for hiding places and Gert found them at his first try.
"Busted." he called.
"We... err... we were cleaning." Elza stuttered.
Ignace held out a brush which obviously hadn't seen any dirt that present day. Gert shook his head and smiled. If they wanted to make out they should do it in the forest where no-one was going to find them, but the more clueless they were the less chance of having accidents happen.
"You're going to help us find Margharet's berries." Gert announced, "Come on."
"Margharet?" Elza said, sighing heavily as she got up, straightening her dress and arranging her blond, nearly white hair so it fell in tidy curls around her face, "What's that busybody been up to now? She's so unladylike. Why doesn't she just grow up?"
"Like you?" Gert asked, "You pretty much seem like a kid as well, running around playing hide and seek and not doing your chores."
"We were going to do our chores." Ignace insisted.
A 14-yeard old just like his little girlfriend, Ignace had a severe father complex, he obeyed anyone older than him without a second thought and tried to get them to care for him in a way his father had never done. Gert used this bit of knowledge to his advantage to get the lean-built black-haired kid out of the pantry looking for berries that might not even be around.
"If you help look I'll let you come to the bakery. Maybe I can even give you some less than perfect pastries. Wouldn't you want that?"
Ignace's eyes lit up, "Yeah!"
A man's love goes through his stomach after all. Gert smiled at Elza and held out his hand so she could take the steps with considerable ease. She tried giving Gert a dirty look, but he knew she didn't mean it, Elza never hated anyone and never seemed to be able to keep a stable opinion of anything, which was most likely her problem.

With seven people searching the small house, one would have expected the berries to be found within minutes. That didn't happen however. Margharet might have stashed the berries someplace else for one thing, or she might have hidden them in a kitchen cabinet where someone else had taken them, or maybe she hadn't hidden them at all and she had lied to keep from being punished for bullying or to make everyone pay attention to her. Margharet just wasn't very predictable. Even so, as the day grew shorter, the 5 younger children had a blast running around the house, scaring each other by jumping out of closets, throwing stuff at each other and generally having the girls being chased by the boys... which in reality amounted to Elza being chased and Margharet aiding the chasers.
With every passing hour though, it became more likely that there was no 'treasure' and that their search was fruitless. Pun intended. One by one the teens started to leave the chase to the youngest of the bunch until at the last it where only those initial three, Margharet, Jefke and Rohn, that remained.
"Did you really hide berries?" Jefke asked.
"Of course I did." Margharet smiled, "But then I ate them."
"Then why did you say we had taken yours?" Jefke said with an accusing look in his eyes.
"Because I thought Louise had more in the kitchen and she might give them to me."
"Why would she keep berries stashed away?" Rohn asked quietly, "She's not like that."
"She might be like that if she could give them to Gert." Margharet said pointedly, "She hardly pays the rest of us any attention anymore."
"Well he is leaving..." Jefke shrugged, "What's wrong with making him a sweater?"
"For one, my sweater is full of holes and it's become too small. She should make one for me."
They argued back and forth some more, not really paying close attention to the surroundings. Finally they came to the hallway and opened the door rather forcefully.
"Watch out!" Gert yelled, but it was too late.
The candles that had been mounted on the chandelier which usually stood near the door but had been shifted so Gert could read something while he waited, had fallen and the jackets that neatly hung in a row on the wall caught fire.
"It's all your fault!" Margharet called to Jefke.
"I didn't open the door! It was your fault!"
"Hey guys..." Gert tried to calm them down.
Three pairs of eyes focused on him and Margharet pointed her finger to him while she shrieked,  "It was your fault!"
Gert sighed at the mess and tried to put out the fire by himself, but without water that was rather difficult. All he could do was swath at the fire with the other dry coats, which just made them burn as well.
"Get out you three." he finally said, admitting defeat, "I'll warn the others."
The three younger kids turned wide-eyed and for a moment wondered if maybe Gert was joking with them, but as the fire spread further, the reality of the danger came to them and they skidded out as fast as they could.
Meanwhile, Louise who'd been roused by the racket came down. She noticed the fire, the candles the open door and Gert walking toward the stairs.
"Who did this?" she asked.
"My mistake I guess." Gert shrugged, "I need water..."
"I'll go get some buckets, but I doubt us two'd be enough to put it out now."
"If those three rascals are smart enough for their own good they'll get us some help."
"What happened?!" Elza shrieked at the top of the stairs.
"You too." Louise called, "Get out of the house and get help."
Elza did not have to be ushered more and she bolted out, faster than both Louise and Gert had ever seen her run before.
"At least she'll get help." Louise shrugged, "I doubt she'd want her clothes burned."
"Louise headed for the kitchen to get water and buckets, but by the time they'd pumped two from the water pit, the fire had already reached the stairs and the air had become so smoky it was hard to see and breath.
Chugging the water onto the fire did virtually nothing to contain it since the inside of the house was bone dry from the summer heat and draught. Gert dragged Louise out while she tried to get back to the kitchen and told her it was no use. It was at this point that Louise started to break down.
"Did everyone get out?" she cried, "Where's Ignace?"
"Shit." Gert cursed.
With all the noise he'd assumed everyone had gotten out one way or the other, but in the confusion both he and Louise had forgotten that there was one very deep sleeper among them. It was just like Ignace to sleep through it all. But if he was still asleep he was in danger of suffocating since the smoke was already coming from below the rooftop. Where did that put the fire?
"Need help?" a voice behind them asked.
"Ignace... Ignace is still inside!" Louise yelled, grasping the stranger that had come to their aid.
The man turned out to be dark-skinned and wiry, almost as if he had no fat or muscles in his body. He was in his thirties and looked both capable and dependable. But what really brought hope to Louise's heart was the drak that was standing behind the man, it's earthy white and brown colours glowing faintly in the last light.
"Help us." Louise asked, "He's probably still asleep."
"Where can I find him?" Aruno asked.
"Round the back," Gert said, "Through the window and then the first room to the left. He usually sleeps in the same room as me but since I wasn't there to wake him..."
"I"ll go." Aruno nodded, "Defaya, try to contain the fir."
"Will do... sh." the drak replied, heading to the house himself, swishing his tail slightly.
Louise and Gert could only watch as the drak strode into their house and starting spitting. The acid on it's breath scorched away the path the fire was able to take and it was left to die out once there was no more for it to feed on.
Meanwhile, at the back of the house, Aruno had managed to break through the window and had found the boy's door closed. With luck not too much of the smoke would have penetrated, but it would now. Keeping a second cloth handy to place over the boy's mouth, Aruno stepped in.
As told, the boy was sleeping like a log. Aruno gently shook him awake, nearly frightening the boy to death when he thought some bandits had come to steal from them.
"There's nothing worth here to steal boy." Aruno said, "And don't ever insult a ninja to be a bandit. Now come on, someone said the house on fire and I need to get you out."
With the situation being explained so blandly, Ignace was too stunned to object to being hauled out of the house like a burlap sack over Aruno's shoulder. He was however conscious enough to recognise a drak when it stuck it's head through the window.
"Let us through, Fedaya." Aruno barked a command and the drak retreated.
"Wow..." Ignace said, "This is like so... cool."
"Are you ok?" Louise called as she ran up to Ignace, Gert following closely behind.
"Yeah, I'm fine I'm fine." Ignace replied, turning his attention completely to the knight, "He has a drak.... and he said he was a ninja." admiration dripped from his words and Gert shook his head in disbelief at how someone only two years younger than him could be so convinced of his own immortality to not even shudder at the thought of his house burning.
Cries came from the direction of Jagharta and four frightened young faces appeared at the head of a group of men and women who'd all hastily dressed to aid them.
"We're all right." Gert shouted back.
Sighs of relief sounded and both Louise and Gert were surprised as they were hugged by eight hands, "I'm sorry." Margharet said, "Is the house burned?"
"Can we stay here?" Jefke asked.
"What about our things?" Elza added, then turning to Ignace, "Where were you?"
"In my room, where else." Ignace shrugged, starting on a very embellished tale of how the mighty ninja knight had saved him from certain dead.
"The repairs might take a time, drak acid and all." Aruno intervened, "But you're welcome to stay at Acicade Castle in the meantime. There is plenty of work to be done and more than a few eggs need aspirants."
"We'd get to pair?" Margharet asked with big eyes, "Why us, we're nothing special..."
"Well, draks don't need anything special. It's just that they take a lot of work and you have to live in a small room, often sharing it with others. And there's always danger lurking. Not many people want to take the risk."
"They're mad." Ignace replied, "It's the coolest thing in the world."
"At least he didn't get rescued by a bandit..." Gert whispered in Louise's ear, followed by a louder, "Shall we take the offer?"
"Em... Well, I don't see where else we could..."
Cheers erupted from 5 mouths simultaneously. Aruno nodded understandingly and added, "Presently we'd like to split your group up if that's ok. You can all go visit each other since most draks have to do chores and flying passengers is more fun than mucking out the castle and cleaning the bathrooms."
"Everyone's free to choose." Louise shrugged, "They're free to do as they please."
"Well then, I'm from Acicade Castle, but DesCas, Savannah, Dawn and Dun Keiba presently also have clutches in their deep caverns. So take your pick."
"I'll stay at Acicade." Ignace called without hesitation.
"Then I'll go there too." Elza said, followed by a "Me too." from Margharet, "I love the ninjas."
"I want to go to DesCas." Jefke nodded, "My great uncle used to be a knight there."
"I'd like to go to Dun Keiba." Gert said, "I think my mother's family used to live there. plus they have runners. I want to see if I can learn to ride them as well."
The biggest surprise though came from Rohn who said, "I'll go to Dawn Castle." which was quite a distance away from DesCas where his best friend would be going. The two boys did not seem to be too shook up by the different castles though, and they were making plans for meeting each other the next weekend at one of the castles already.
"Then that leaves Savannah Castle for me." Louise said, "Please look after them well."
"You've got my word." Aruno nodded.
A few hours later, several draks had gathered near Jagharta, each to take home their respective aspirants. It was then that Louise turned to Gert and asked, "What about your apprenticeship?"
"They'll need bakers at the castles too. Don't worry, I'll be sure to visit you often and bring you some things I made."
"You'd come visit?" Louise asked stunned.
"Sure. Why wouldn't I?"
Gert grinned and smiled as the Dun Keiba drak he was on took to the skies and portalled out.

Stats and Draks:
Jefke - Louise - Elza - Margharet - Ignace - Rohn - Gert

All images were made by me with images found on the web.