a week and a half later, in the capitol city of Itreya Proper
It took the Hunters longer to get back home than it to to get to Four Corners because Ezra constantly wanted to stop and examine everything. Josiah likened him to a child in a candy store. The older man was enjoying Ezra's delight almost as much as the dragon was.
Ezra was amazed as the sights, sounds, and smells. He wanted to wander the streets and learn about everything the city had to offer, but he would have to wait. The others were nagging him to keep moving. And he really did want to keep moving...
The pull was stronger now. Not unbearable or irresistible, but constant and welcoming. What surprised him the most were the people. When they saw him coming they greeted him with such cheer and warmth. Perhaps it was because they could see the glow and knew he'd been Called. At the moment, he was happy enough that it didn't matter why they were being so friendly--only that they were. Ezra kept glancing at the twinkling castle. It was like a living thing, pulsing in the heart of the city. "You're home, Little One". They were getting closer.
When the men finally got to the gates of the royal castle, the king's guard was already there to greet them and escort them to Michael's throne room. Word had gotten around that they were back.
Michael was waiting on the throne, decked out in his formal robes to greet the newly-Called Hunter. His counselors were also present, dressed for the occasion. "Good to have you back, Hunters. I see you picked up a friend in your travels. On behalf of the people of Itreya, I, King Michael, welcome you. You are one of us and we are with you, whether you accept the Calling or not."
Ezra wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He gave the king a quick bow. "Thank you, Your Highness. I'm honored to be here. The others have informed me on what the duties of a Hunter entail. I accept the Calling."
"Then I welcome you as more than a guest. I welcome you as protector, brother-in-arms, and friend."
Ezra blushed at that. He wondered how warm his reception would be if the king knew his true nature.
"There will be a public ceremony and feast of welcoming later for you and for JD-- who had to leave on this mission before we had time to arrange his. But first, how did your mission go? Were you able to track down the dragon?"
Chris exchanged a glance with his men. This was going to be fun. "We actually managed to bring it back with us."
"A dragon? Here?"
"It turns out the dragon was innocent so it came with us to see the city."
Michael was looking around. Where was it? No one said anything about seeing a dragon with them as they rode into the city. He saw the glint in Chris's eye. What was the man up to?
"Your Highness. I'd like to introduce you to Ezra Standish--gambler, swordsman, fancy-talker, and...dragon."
Buck nudged Ezra with his elbow. "Show him what you're made of, Ez."
Ezra wasn't sure if this was a good idea, but he did as Buck asked. He felt himself growing taller, broader, his skin becoming harder. He spread his wings wide, shaking them with pleasure. It felt good to stretch out.
Michael almost jumped out of his seat. Several of his counselors did. A dragon! A dragon Hunter! Josiah, Buck, and Nathan were openly laughing at him. JD was trying to suppress giggles. Vin and Chris were just smirking at him in an irritating way. He quickly pulled himself together. "I suppose there's an interesting story to all this?"
Chris chuckled. Michael had walked right into that. "It's actually a very long story. JD, you're good at telling stories. Why don't you tell him?"
"Well, Your Highness. It started when we got to the village and talked to... No, that's not right. Maybe I should start at the beginning. That would be when I went to see this oracle for some advice and she told me my destiny was in Itreya. So I got a ride on a ship coming to Belen. It took forever to get here and we..."
The Hunters all sat down, knowing this would take a while. Ezra stretched out on the floor and rested his chin on one claw. JD really could talk!
Michael raised an eyebrow at Chris. The usually somber man merely gave his king a slight nod and a smile. Michael would get him for this. He was imagining all sorts of interesting jobs for Chris to do in the future--dirty, nasty jobs.
"...and people were all waving at me and smiling. Then they told me I'd been Called. I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded important. So I walked up to the castle and..."