Chapter 23: Maze of Thorns

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For the past three days, the egg had been the center of my thoughts. It was all I could think about. Merely knowing it was right there in my saddlebag was enough to even forget my concerns about entering Vallinstra. I still hadn't decided how I felt about Salena's gift: absolutely euphoric or downright upset. As if I didn't have enough to worry about already.

According to Salena, the libraries in the Onyx Tower contained books with detailed information on Dragons, including their upbringing. That was why she had chosen to give me the egg in the first place, knowing that Vallinstra was the only place left where you could figure out how to raise a Dragon. She had stolen the egg from the Dark Sorcerers all those millenniums ago in an attempt to spare at least one Dragon from a terrible fate of lifelong slavery. Still, she now wanted me to take it to the very place where it could be subjected to that fate once more.

"Kenna." Rowan's voice snapped me back to the present.

I turned my head and my eyes found his. "What is it?"

"Look ahead," he answered softly.

My breath stopped for a moment as I did what he said. The impressive skyline of Vallinstra dominated the landscape in front of us, defined by three high towers, the highest of which was the Onyx Tower. A large stone wall marked the perimeter of the city, with only one visible opening: the Gate of the Forsaken, its massive, black doors closed. A statue of a giant raven decorated the top of the gate, its black wings spread and its razor-sharp beak wide open, as if it stood prepared to swallow anyone who attempted to enter the city.

However, the statue was not what stopped most people from going in. It was the vast maze, connected to the entrance gate, that evoked real fear within any person who gazed upon it. Tall vines formed the walls of the maze, covered in large thorns as sharp as the edge of a knife. The structure stretched out for at least two miles in every direction, an impenetrable barrier for unwelcome visitors.

The Maze of Thorns. We had reached our destination.

"I think it would be best to proceed on foot from now on," Rowan remarked.

And leave Inna behind? Not to mention that stupid egg that was still in my saddlebag. "What about the horses?" I asked.

"The maze is a test, so that the Dark Sorcerers can determine whether we're worth their time or not. It's not safe to take the horses with us, but once we reach the other side, we can ask the Sorcerers to transport them through their portal. As for the egg ..." He paused, scratching his neck.

"I may have something to carry it in," Ellie said, sliding off Rynn's back. She rummaged inside her saddlebag until she found her duffel bag. She turned the bag upside down to empty it, stuffing the contents—mostly clothes—into her saddlebag, and handed it to me. "This should suffice."

"Thanks." Carefully, I lifted the Dragon's egg from my own saddlebag and let it slide into Ellie's duffel bag.

"I can carry it for you, if you want," Rowan offered.

"By the Light, Rowan, I'm no damsel in distress. I can carry my own stuff," I grumbled, although the soft smile playing on my lips betrayed that I felt flattered by his thoughtfulness. He answered my smile with a wide grin, as though my being difficult was a great source of amusement for him. It probably was.

"That's enough, lovebirds. We'd better get going." Unstrapping her axe, Ellie gripped the weapon tightly as she strode toward the entrance of the maze.

I rolled my eyes at her back. "Just one second." Turning around to Inna, I stroked the horse's beautiful white mane. "Don't go too far," I whispered to her, looking deep into her wide, brown eyes. "Our separation won't last long. And keep an eye on the other two, especially Eros. In my experience, he's got quite a strong will, just like his rider." Inna neighed in response, brushing her nose against my face. I knew she had understood me.

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