Gorynych didn't tell Kes everything about Asira Ing. He could remember that March afternoon as clearly as if he was there again. How his parents finally caved in to his constant badgering and finally took him for a visit.
"Actually, it might not be bad for us to go in spring," said Mama thoughtfully. "Gorynych has spring vacation, and hurricane season hasn't started yet."
Papa, however, wasn't too sure about a visit to the Island of the Winds. There were humans there, at least in the half still controlled by the City. On a nuisance scale, a human, at least in his opinion, ranked just below sewer rat and piranha. A troublesome, tricky, thoughtless animal who lived life stupidly, wasting and befouling the world in its quest for self-fulfillment and territorial expansion. But Papa didn't argue. He was also a big fan of Asira Ing's books, plus the Table Woods was a vast territory and the City seemed too far away to worry about.
Yet all three dragons were startled at the strange disarray that greeted them upon entering Asira's mansion. Every conceivable nook and cranny along the walls was stuffed with dusty leather-bound books, and the dining table and chairs were covered with stacks of newspapers, scrolls and manuscripts, all covered in grime, dust and cobwebs, drawn to face the fire were some battered claw-footed furniture haphazardly repaired with rags and clumsy stitching. There were also a couple old trunks standing open, spilling out clothes several generations out of date: white satin seemed to predominate, and it was as crisp and yellow as the parchment clutter. Such a strange place lit only by fire and candle light, and Asira Ing was even stranger--more like a ghostly apparition than a living being. Tall and slender, clad from neck to ankle in a long robe of gray muslin. Her nearly waist-long hair was a cascade of fiery red ringlets. She also wore embroidered, elbow length gloves of white silk.
Gorynych was somewhat frightened by her face. It reminded him of an old porcelain doll, moon-white and flawlessly smooth. She met the young dragon's startled gaze with eyes, intensely green as polished emerald.
He hung back shyly as he got his book signed. His parents were waiting outside, peering with great interest at an immense aloe plant that was growing right next to the front door. They didn't care much for the dark shuttered atmosphere of the old house and had departed after a brief conversation. After he said a hasty "thank you" Gorynych hurried toward the door, eager too to get away from the mysterious looming shadows and heavy, motionless air.
"Wait!" Asira suddenly exclaimed and she hurried out of the study, returning shortly with something small and shiny.
"What's this?" Gorynych took the glittering object the Ainsel thrust toward him. Looking it over, his eyes soon widened in astonishment and recognition. He held in his hand a beautiful gold bracelet. It was in the shape of snake biting its own tail, its eyes were two round rubies with intricate, realistic scales.
"This is Skellian ware," he said, looking back at her with wonder. "You only see these in museums."
"Ancient, isn't it?" Asira replied with a sly smile. "I have more in a box I keep upstairs. But don't tell anyone I said that"
"You stole this?" he asked.
"Stole it?" Asira frowned indignantly. "Certainly not! I am a finder of lost things, not a common sneak thief!" She pointed at the serpentine band. "This trinket was part of a huge horde that I now have safely in my possession. The Skellian tribe is now extinct, vanquished by the Ishonians, whose descendants now control half the Island. For several millenniums, the treasure just sat in the ground as precious and as useless to people as it had been to the worms. I made it useful again by trading it in exchange for money or precious goods or, in this case, giving it to a few of my loyal fans and closest friends as gifts."
"Goodness!" said Gorynyh, somewhat flattered. "Have you been giving away treasure all this time?"
Asira shook her head.
"Not recently," she grumbled, "not since the whispering began."
"What whispering?" he asked nervously. "Ghosts?"
"No, from the living," she replied. "Once a treasure's lifted from the ground, it's very impossible to hide the results. At the first sign of new prosperity--a new set of writing quills, a bag of feed for the epeeki, a pair of waterproof boots, people become curious, too curious. Even carefully concealing my finds doesn't help, people still want to know how I make so much money, especially that envious snit of a street-artist Rosalind du Tullugaq."
"Rosalind Tullugaq?" Gorynych exclaimed. "Who's that?"
"The most famous pavement and mural painter in all of Zelmak," Asira grumbled, "perhaps even in the whole Table Woods Territories. To me, she's just a nosy old biddy, who's taken it upon herself to discover the cause of my sudden good fortune. You see, my aunt never had a lot, despite her spangling herself in expensive jewelry and putting on airs. She would have had enough to have lived comfortably if she hadn't kept betting on the horses. She was always coming up with a new system to pick the winners but it always failed."
"Uhh," said Gorynych, feeling he was privy to a subject that wasn't meant for much younger ears. "So how exactly did you find this treasure? Do you have a map or an enchanted dowser rod?"
Asira studied him for a moment. "No map or dowser rod."
Gorynych hesitated. Her eyes were so clear, like green ocean glass. But at last he said. "Is it a dog trained to detect precious metal then?"
"No dog," she said. "I don't even like dogs. Too much noise and upkeep."
"Is it a treasure-hunting pig then?" The young dragon knew of pigs that were trained to detect truffles, another precious commodity from the ground.
Asira tilted her head, smirking at Gorynych as she twisted a corkscrew of hair. "What do you think?"
"Well, what is it then?" he asked, somewhat impatiently.
"Nope, sorry," said Asira, throwing up her gloved hands, "I can't divulge any more information about it. It's top secret."
Gorynych was still thinking about that secret when he eventually said goodbye and walked out the front door. He was still thinking about it as he followed his parents down the winding path through the forest. As they winged their way back to their hotel room, he was concerned. Not only was Asira a crazy lady, she was also an admitted tomb robber, and such scavenging could stir up more than irate archeologists and tribal people, like the wrath of barrow wights and other more malevolent spirits.