When the spinning sensation stops, Morgan sits up slowly. When she sees her surroundings, she almost lets herself drop right back down.
She’s in a valley between rocky cliffs. On the highest cliff sits a castle. An honest-to-goodness medieval castle with high stone walls, huge towers, and a moat complete with a drawbridge. There’s people up there! They’re tending sheep, but they can probably tell her where she is.
There’s also dragons. They’re all around Morgan. Her dragons, her powerful and majestic dragons. Her sharp-clawed, vicious, and huge dragons. Morgan lets out a terrified squeak.
Her real dragons. She’ll be dead in seconds.
But the dragons don’t make any move towards her. Morgan is just beginning to think that no one has noticed her when a whip cracks threateningly. “Back! Back! Down, you useless reptile!” A person is moving towards her. Who would be stupid enough to walk among dragons? They’ll die together, her and the person.
The whip cracks again as the other person gets closer. None of the dragons attempt to eat the idiot or disembowel him. Are the dragons actually… scared?
Unless Morgan is wrong, they are. They’re cowering away from the whip. Why don’t they fly away? Then she sees the dragons’ wings are chained. That’s why. They can’t.
The person has reached her. “What’re you doing in here? Who are you? What’s that thing?” A man’s voice asks gruffly. Then he appears to change his mind. “Never mind that, now, though. We’ll get out of here first.”
Morgan gets shakily to her feet and finds herself following a strange man into an unknown place. But anywhere is better than her current location.
As Morgan follows the man through the maze of dragons, she realizes she’s still clutching the dragon mirror. The mirror! If that’s what brought Morgan here, then it can take her back. She finds the big dragon and rubs its eye, but nothing happens. The gem glows green, like it did before, but other than that, remains the same.
“You coming? Or should I leave you here? The dragons are hungry, you know.” Morgan had stopped when she remembered the mirror, and now she hurries to catch up.
The dragons are eyeing her. After years of fantasizing about dragons, here they are. In the flesh, blood, and fire. Unfortunately, they look ready to eat her. Morgan decides that maybe dragons aren’t so awesome.
When they finally emerge from the mess of vicious creatures, the man leads her to a cliff. Then he walks into the cliff, straight into it, and disappears. His hand appears and beckons to Morgan, who nervously steps forward and puts her hand on the cliff. It stays solid. “I… I can’t,” she says.
“Oh, right!” The man reemerges from the cliff, grabs her hand, and pulls her along with him. “You don’t have security clearance. That’s how they keep the lizards in. You can only get through the door if you or someone you’re touching has clearance.”
Going through the cliff didn’t hurt. It didn’t feel like anything. One second they were in the valley, the next they weren’t. It was as simple as that.
The space they’ve appeared into is a cavern. The man doesn’t stop, just pulls Morgan along. “Got to get out of the way, in case they bring a lizard in,” he says gruffly. But after a minute of walking, he stops. “My name’s Penn. Now who are you and what were you doing in there? You’re lucky, you know. The lizards eat almost everyone they see, unless they’ve got a whip...”
Morgan thinks for a minute before replying carefully, “My name’s Morgan Kensing. I don’t know how I got there. I just felt dizzy and then I was just...here.” She figures explaining that the mirror had done it would just make him label her as insane. But maybe she is insane. Maybe this is a dream.
Penn looks at her skeptically. “All right, Morgan, you know the rules. You were in the Valley without permission, you go to a hearing.”
The two walk through the huge cavern with Penn in the lead. He’s obviously been here before, so many times he can navigate through flawlessly. But Morgan barely notes this, because she’s so busy taking in her surroundings. There’s quarries, paths, and even livestock stalls with dragons in them. Morgan’s brow creases. Why such small pens when they have enough space outside?
But eventually, the cave curves upward and narrows to a tunnel. Only a few people walk with them. The stone gets cleaner the higher they go, and eventually changes to hard-packed dirt.
After what feels like an eternity to Morgan, the path leads out into the blindingly bright sun. After her eyes adjust, she realizes she’s standing near the castle she saw down in the valley. It’s even cooler up close.
Penn notices Morgan looking at the castle, smiles grimly, and walks towards it. They cross the creaky drawbridge and go through the wooden gate. Then they’re stopped by a guard carrying a sharp-looking sword. Morgan tries to skirt around him, but Penn grabs her collar and yanks her back.
“Business?” The guard demands.
“A trespasser. Taking her to her hearing.”
“Why must they use these hearings? I think that swords would be much more effective…” He fingers his blade wistfully. “Fine. Go.”
Penn shoves Morgan forward. The two of them move into the castle and down many steps. Finally, Penn stops outside of a dark room. He pulls a set of keys from his pocket, unlocks the door, then prods Morgan through. He leaves, pausing only to lock the door and light one lantern. She’s alone again.
Morgan can’t tell how much time goes by in the cold cell. Once, a guard comes and shoves some moldy bread and a small cup of water in through the bars. Aside from that, though, the only distraction is her mirror. Over and over, Morgan’s finger strokes the dragons. Their eyes, their tails, their teeth, their wings. Nothing happens.
Eventually, though, Penn returns. He grabs Morgan roughly and shoves her ahead of him. But as they walk through abandoned staircases, he whispers, “I’m sorry. Just tell them the truth and you can go.” His eyes plead with Morgan to trust him. But why? He betrayed her…
Then they reach a gilded wooden door. Penn only pauses a moment before knocking. It’s pulled open from the inside and they enter, Morgan wishing she was anywhere but here.
In front of them is a row of chairs. In the center is throne, the only place not occupied. “The trespasser to see the Council,” Penn says.
A bearded man wearing elaborate robes leans forward. “State your name, reason for being in the Valley, and the purpose of that... object,” he demands.