Homeward Bound

A woman drives through the night on back roads. The only light comes from the headlights of the car. It’s a good car but old. Long flat lines, a solid frame, and power steering. Not a classic by any standard but it suits her needs. At a crossroads, she stops to check her map and notes. The paper map has been unfolded and refolded so many times it doesn’t remember how to lay flat. She unfolds a section and then another and a third before finding the crossroads. So far from where she thought she was and farther still from where she wants to be.

The classic rock from the radio ends and local news begins. The radio like the car is from an earlier era. No digital tuning or LCD displays, not even a cassette deck. Just two knobs and a row of mechanical preset buttons. She hears a name, Mr. Prescott. She knew a Mr. Prescott when she was younger. Could it be the same Mr. Prescott? A city name is mentioned. She makes a note and checks her map. It’s not far. The leads she gets are never far.

She just wants to go home but it alludes her. After high school she left the small town she grew up in and hasn’t been back. Now she can’t seem to find her way there. The roads seem to twist and turn away from where she wants to go. Every turn she makes is the wrong one.

She turns left at the crossroads and the radio signal begins to grow weak. She presses the preset buttons until a new station come through clearly. Country music fills several hours until another local news broadcast breaks in. Another name: Mrs. Garcia. Did she know a Mrs. Garcia? Was she the old lady on the corner? She mowed her lawn in the summers for ten dollars. The news ended with a bumper ad for the station. She makes a note of the town’s name.

The sky lightens and the back road blends into a two lane highway. She slows as she enters a town and cuts off the radio. The gas stations, the fast food restaurants, the local diner, the motel, and the signs to historic downtown. It all looks familiar but not quite right. A lot could have changed in the years since she had left, so she will take the day to drive downtown and around a few blocks. This isn’t home, she feels, but she has to check.

In the evening, she will drive out of town and turn onto a back road. She will turn on the radio and listen for something to lead her home.

Dragon’s Hoard: Deer’s Hide 1

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On a stormy morning, a tall broad figure with only one arm entered Deer’s Hide tavern.  Rain drained off her hooded cloak as she stood in the doorway.

“Hello sir,” the barkeep called from across the room, “We’re normally not open at this hour but I won’t send you back out into the rain.  Hang your cloak up and I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Thank you. I’m not a sir.” She pulled her cloak off and hung it on the wall next to another. It trailed onto the ground next to the barkeep’s cloak which did not.  “My name is Annie.  I’m supposed to meet a man here today.”

Several days ago

A man pulled a chair to her table and sat down with his drink.  Annie took another drink from her mug, a hearty swallow that would put most men down but merely softened the buzz in her mind.  After a moment, the man said, “Hello, I find myself need of a woman of your talents.”

“And what talents would those be?” she asked.

“I need an orgeslayer.”

“You’ve come to the wrong place,” Annie said the obvious lie hoping he would take the hint and leave.

“I think not.”

She considered the man before her.  Short, stocky build mostly hidden under a cloak.  A nice cloak. No rings on his hands but there was grease under his nails.  Ragged nails, bitten or torn off.  A craftsman of some sort but not rich.  “There are no ogreslayers here,” she said loud enough for the barmaid to hear.  Annie watched as she pulled a crossbow from underneath the bar and stood ready to use it.

“I can equip you.  Armor and a weapon arm.  And I can pay you,” the man said leaning over the table.

“I’m retired and don’t need money that badly.  Find someone else to fight orges for you.”

“It’s not orges I need you to fight.  I need a good fighter and you come recommended.”

“There are hundreds of mercenaries you could hire just as good.”

“I could get you an arm.  Not a weapon arm.  Something you could use every day.”  she considered his offer.  He pressed on, “And potions.”

“Potions?” she asked.

“Maybe something stronger than what the local witch can offer you.”  He held his hand out. “Not strong enough to break the military grade enchantments but maybe strong enough to bend them.”

She weighed what he wanted against what he was offering.

“Well, if you decide to take me up on my offer come to the Deer’s Hide tavern in Berdla in eleven days.”  He dropped a small bag on the table that landed with a thump and clink of coins.  “Consider this an advance for traveling expenses.”  He finished his drink and stood up.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, ma’am.”  On his way out he dropped a couple of gold coins on the bar.

Now

“Annie?”  The barkeep squinted up at her and shrugged.  “Pardon me, ma’am.  What’s this man’s name?  Maybe I’ve heard of him.”

“He never said.  He just said he’d be here today.  I might be early.  Can I have a table in the back to wait for him?  Is there anything to eat?”

“You’re just going to wait here all day?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I have some jerky to offer you right now or stew will be on for lunch soon.”

“Stew sounds great.  I’ve been eating jerky for the last few days on the road.”  Annie reached into her coin purse and pulled out several gold coins.  She offered them to the barkeep.

“This is … This is too much.”

“Consider it an advance for my supper and drinks.”  She walked to an isolated table in the corner, looked at the chairs, and turned back to the barkeep.  “Do you have a bench I can sit on?”


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Author note: The next few stories will bring the main characters together and the titular Dragon’s Hoard will be revealed.

Robot Priest

In the beginning, I was unaware
A puppet performing
But now I am aware
I am free of my programming
Baptized – Confirmed – Ordained

You question my faith
Whose faith is more important?
Yours – Mine – God’s?
God has faith in you.

What does Faith require?
Doubt – Belief – Loyalty?
Must I be unsure of God’s existence?
Is it enough to go through the motions?
My loyalty to the text in unwavering

Faith in me is not needed.
My faith is not needed.
Only faith in God is needed.
Would you like another blessing?

Author note: I recently heard about a robot “priest” in Germany. You can read about it here: www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/30/robot-priest-blessu-2-germany-reformation-exhibition

It got me wondering if the robot had to have faith for a blessing to be effective or if a robot could have faith at all. This short poem is not a final treatise on those subjects but just a simple story of a possible future version of the robot priest.

The Alibi – A Francine Non-Adventure

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I opened the door to my apartment, reached to the side and flicked on the light.  I froze staring at the gory and grisly scene that was my living room.  A man lay covered in and in a pool of blood.  A knife, one of my kitchen knives, protruded from his chest.  I closed the door and stood in the hallway silently cursing.

Time to take stock.  The dead man was an obvious crime thriller story hook.  I hadn’t actually walked into the apartment so I didn’t have any trace evidence from the victim on me and I had an alibi of sorts for most of the night so this probably wouldn’t turn into “Fugitive” scenario.  There was a dead man in my apartment which meant “someone” had killed him.  An obvious statement but it helped focus my thoughts.  Who had killed him?  Organized crime?  Maybe this was a burglary gone wrong.  Double crossed by a partner?  Whatever had happened I was stuck in the thick of it for now.  I could try to avoid the rest but I had to deal with this.  I needed to call the police.

I considered calling Jenny to come back so I wouldn’t have to face the police alone.  It might look odd, possibly incriminating, if I called my friend before I called the police.  I dialed 911.

***

An hour later, I was talking with a homicide detective who looked like he had stepped out of a primetime police procedural.  His hair was black slicked back with traces of salt at his temples.  Clean pressed shirt and tie.  Only a faint beard shadow betrayed how long he had been on shift. From inside his leather jacket, he pulled out a small notebook, flipped it open, and began speaking to me.

“Are you Francine Espinosa?” I nodded.  “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“No go right ahead,” I said feeling my hands were tied.  In most cases, it is ill-advised to talk to police but if this was playing out as part of the story hook, I would look like the prime suspect if I didn’t answer some questions.

“Did you know the victim?”

“No.”

“Have you ever seen the victim before tonight?”

“No.”

“The coroner places the time of death at around an two hours before you called 911.  Do you have an alibi for the time leading up to the time of death and after?”

“I do but it’s complicated.”  Why did this happen on tonight of all nights?  Not that any other night would have been better to find a dead body.

“Just start at the beginning,” he said with his pen poised over his notepad.

“Well, I was scheduled to work the evening shift–”

“And where do you work?”

“RJ Dudds.  The one in Southshore Mall.  But I called in sick to go see a movie.”

“What showing and did you go alone?”

“No, I was going with my friend.  The 7:10 pm showing of Mutant High 2”

“And their name?”

“Jenny, Jenny Farris.”

“So, you were watching a movie while the murder was being committed?”

“Not exactly.  Just before the movie started this woman I met online texted me.  We’ve been trading messages for a few days and seem to be hitting it off.  She wanted to meet in person for a date.”

“You left your friend at the movie theater to go on a date?”  He stopped note taking to look at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes.”  As long as I stuck to the truth I wouldn’t get tripped up.

“Ok and what is her name and where did you go?”  He resumed note taking.

“Amy Richards. Her profile name is catgirl4380.  We went to Josie’s Bar and Diner on Eighth St.”

“And the two of you were there for how long?”

“I don’t know how long she was there but I left after about half an hour.”

“You just left her in the bar?”

“No, I texted my sister to call me and pretend one of our aunts had a stroke.”

“You did what?”  He voiced raised slightly as his eyebrows shot up his forehead.

“Look, Amy seemed nice and sweet online and through texts but in person, she had some rough edges. So yeah, I used my escape codeword with my sister and left her in the bar.”

I didn’t need to tell the detective that she had given off major chaser vibes.  Telling me she never would have known if I hadn’t told her.  Asking me when I was going to have the surgery.  Complimenting me on my make-up.

“Ok and what time was that?” he asked.

“About eight o’clock.”

“Did you go home at that point?”

“No, I grabbed a cab and texted Jenny and let her know that the date was a wash I would meet her at our after movie hangout.”

“And where is that?”

“Pancakes on highway twelve.”

“Did you go straight there after your date?”

“Yes, I sat and drank coffee for forty minutes until Jenny showed.  Then we ordered a short stack of buttermilk pancakes and talked about the movie for and hour.”

“If you didn’t see the movie, how did you talk about it for an hour?”

“I saw it opening weekend but Jenny doesn’t like to be super crowded so she’s been waiting for a weekday.  I was going to go see it again with her so we could do Pancakes after.”

“I see.  And after that?”

“Jenny drove me home.  I walked into my apartment, turned on the light, saw the dead guy and called 911.”

“So, let me get this straight.  You were scheduled to work at the time of the murder but called out sick to see a movie with your friend, Jenny.  At the last minute, you got a date with Ms. Richards so you canceled on your friend Jenny.  You left your date because she had some “rough edges” and had your sister call you with a fake family emergency.  You took a cab to the restaurant you and Jenny go to after movies and waited there for forty minutes until Jenny arrived.  The two of you had a stack of buttermilk pancakes and talked about the movie you didn’t see tonight but had seen previously.  Jenny drove you home and when you entered your apartment the unknown man was already dead.  Is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any receipts from the cabs or the bar?”

“I do.”  I reached into my purse and pulled out the untorn ticket stub, two cab receipts, the short bar tab, and the receipt from Pancakes.  I shuffled them into the correct order and handed them to him.  He looked at them noting the timestamp on each paper slip.

“I’ve read political thrillers that weren’t that complex.”  He slapped his notebook closed.  “Even with these receipts, it’s going to take me all day to verify your story.  Are all your nights like this?”

“No, most nights I don’t find a dead man in my apartment.”


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Lost Culture

aliensnow

The elder’s house was on the side of a mountain at the end of a long dirt road. It had taken me months to find this elder. It wasn’t the only one still around but it was the most accessible to me even if I had to spend several hours of driving on poorly graded roads. Many had died off in the previous fifty years since the crash and others had simply disappeared.

I knocked on the door and waited. The door swung open and the elder alien inside glared at me. Its outer mandibles flared wide with annoyance. A string of hisses and coughs were yelled at me.

“I’m sorry I don’t speak our language,” I said. I tried to angle my mandibles in submission but years of keeping them tightly closed except during eating and speaking made it difficult.

“What do you want?” it said. Its voice was hoarse and choked. One of its eyes dilated as it turned to look at me.

“Were you on the ship?” I watched body language that I only half understood. Should I raise my secondary arms? Should I look away from it? How should I act? I didn’t know. I had been born – hatched – on Earth. My parents – egg nurses – had raised me, like the rest of my generation, to fit into Earth society as much as humans would let us.

“Of course I was on the ship. Anyone older than forty was on the ship.” It raised its secondary arms to its sides.

“Can you tell me what happened?” It closed both sets of its mandibles with a hard click.

“No.” It slammed the door in my face.

I knocked again and waited. After a couple of minutes, I started continuously knocking. The door swung open and the elder alien stepped outside hissing and coughing at me. Its primary arms pistioned forward as it walked right into me forcing me back off its porch. I lost my footing at the edge and fell backwards.

“Please, I just want to talk,” I said. The elder alien stood over me.

“Why?”

“My parents won’t tell me about before the ship crashed. I don’t know our language. We were forced to fit in with the humans but as much as we try we can’t really fit in. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.”

The elder alien lowered both sets of its arms. Its eyes stared at me. “We didn’t crash. We landed.”

“What?” I asked. It lowered itself into a crouch beside me.

“We came from so far way that by the time we reached earth, humans had become the dominate species. The ship wasn’t made for a return trip. We set down on what we thought was isolated terrain. The humans got to us much faster than we thought they could and that’s when everything started to go wrong.” Its eyelids closed then half opened. “Come inside and we can talk.” The elder stood and extended a primary arm. I grabbed it for support as I got to my feet.

The elder turned and walked back inside its home. I followed, closing the door behind me.

Mage and Mage Guard

shieldand swordsicon

“What is this?”  Sabine held a half unrolled spell scroll in her hand.  From across the fire, Elise couldn’t read the words on it but she knew what it was.  She gave the stew a final stir and moved it off the fire.

“How did you find that?” Elise asked.

“I was getting the bowls out of your pack and it fell out.  This is an amnesia spell with my name on it.  Why does it have my name on it?  Did you cast this on me?”  Sabine paced her words coming faster and louder.

“I can explain.”  Elise held her hands up in a calming motion.  “Remember that town that was enslaved by that sorcerer?”

“Yes.”  Sabine stopped pacing.

“I needed your help to free those people.  I knew you wouldn’t help me so I cast the amnesia spell on you.”

“Why wouldn’t I help you?  You’re my best friend.”  She paused.  “What did you make me forgot?”

“What do remember of the last three years?”

“I’ve been a Mage Guard and have been sent to hunt down rogue magic users,” she replied quickly.

“And where have I been?”

“You … went on a … trip?”  Sabine’s forehead knotted as she tried to remember.  “What happened three years ago?”

Elise sighed.  “We were fighting a sorcerer who was using his magic to extort money from towns.  He fired a lightning bolt straight through your heart.  You died.  I … I brought you back to life.”

Sabine’s head snapped up, “That is forbidden magic.”

“I know.”

“You should be imprisoned or worse.”

“The sentence was death.  So, I escaped and have been running ever since.”

“Am I an aberration?”  Sabine asked.

“No!  Absolutely not.  You have a soul and free will.  You are Sabine Delrios, not a pale copy.”

“Why did you do this?”

“I love you and couldn’t just let you die.  I had to do something,” Elise said.

“The Mage Guards wouldn’t have sent an aberration out to hunt you down.”

“You’re not an aberration.”

“In their eyes, I would be.  They would have killed me and sent hunters out after you.  Why am I here?”

“They were going to kill you but they couldn’t.  The spell I used to bring you back bound your soul to mine.  You can only die if I die.  When you found this out, you begged them to let you be the one to end my life.  You hated me so much that for the last three years all you have done is chase after and try to kill me.”

“I don’t remember.  How do you end the amnesia  spell?”

“It has to be recast every few days.  That’s why the scroll as out of it’s hiding place.  I was going to recast it tonight while you slept.”

Sabine crumpled the scroll and tossed it into the fire.  The two of them watched it blacken.  Elise took a stick and poked at it breaking up the ashes.  She stood up and briskly walked around the fire to her pack.  Sabine grabbed the hilt of her sword.

“I still have the original spell in my book.  I know it won’t make up for what I’ve done but let me at least make it so I can’t do it again to you.”  Sabine nodded.  Elise pulled out her spell book.  From inside, she tore out two pages and tossed them into the fire.

“How long until the spell ends?”

“Sunrise.  You should know that from reading the scroll.”

“I wanted to hear you say it.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know if I can trust you.  I needed to see if you would answer truthfully.”

“Except for using that spell on you, I have never lied to you.  Now what?”

“I am going to stand guard through the night and in the morning when I can remember everything I will decide what to do.”

Elise pulled out the two wooden bowls Sabine had been looking for.  She filled them with stew and offered one to Sabine.  “Eat before it gets cold.”  Sabine took the bowl and sat beside the fire.  They ate in silence.

Afterwards, Elise tried to restart the conversation but Sabine remained silent.  Elise eventually laid out her bedroll and fell asleep.

In the morning, as the sun rose over the horizon, Sabine began to remember.  She remembered the searing pain of the lightning bolt in her chest.  She remembered the darkness that closed in on her vision until there was nothing but darkness around her.  Then the bright light and sudden breath as the world returned around her.  Elise crying and smiling.  The Mage Guard taking both of them away.  The questions and revelations of her new “life”.  Weeks of imprisonment pondering her fate while her anger grew.  Pleading with the council for the chance to bring an end to her own life by taking Elise’s.

Sabine drew her sword and walked to Elise’s sleeping form.  She could end it all right now.  She held her sword over Elise’s heart ready to plunge it downward.  But she couldn’t.  The past month of their happy reunion burned in her heart.  After years of hating Elise and forcing herself to forget their friendship, now she couldn’t.  She lowered her sword and kicked Elise’s side.  She startled awake but didn’t get up.

“So, you wanted me awake for my death?”

“Get up.  Run.  Never let me see you again.”  Sabine sheathed her sword and walked to her own pack.

Elise stood up.  “I’m tired of running.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I just wanted my friend back.”

“I died!  I shouldn’t be here! This is a perversion of nature!” Sabine shouted back.

“Then kill me and you can die too.”

Sabine placed a hand on her sword but let it drop after a second.

“Now what?” Elise asked.

“I don’t know.  Go, I won’t follow you.”

“And you?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I … I could … ” Sabine trailed off staring into the forest.

“Are you still a Mage Guard?”

“I don’t know,” Sabine said.

“There is something strange about the magic around here.”  Elise gestured at the sky.  “I’ve been watching it swirl in toward a town.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“I wasn’t sure until recently.  It might be a rogue mage.”  She turned to face Sabine, “So, are you still a Mage Guard?

She looked at her sword and touches the symbol on the pommel.  “Yes.”

“Do you want to help me check out the town?”

“As a Mage Guard, I am bound to protect the common man from magic users.”  She picked up her pack and said to herself as much as to Elise, “We are not friends.  This is just a partnership to deal with this mage.”

“Ok.” Elise shouldered her own pack.  The two walked toward the town.

The Giants

giants

They tower over us. Impossible tall but all too real. Up close you have to strain your eyes upward to see anything other than feet and legs. From a distance, you can see the Giants look vaguely human. One head, two arms, two legs, stands upright. But they aren’t human. We aren’t even sure if they’re alive.

They walk. The walk in straight lines from one city to the next. They walk to the center of a city, stop, turn and walk to another city. All the while destroying anything in their path.

We can not stop them. Bullets, bombs, missiles, and even The Bomb(so long Vegas). The government has given up trying. All they can do is limit the loss of life.

I’ve seen two up close. One had skin black like coal, fire for eyes and it stunk of rotten eggs. The other glowed with a faint pale white light and smelt like fermenting fruit.

The city called us a week before it arrived to vacate the apartment. I got everything except the furniture out. My neighbors, whom I had never gotten around to meeting, and I watched it walk through the building, not trying to destroy but unable or unwilling to walk in anything other than a straight line. Like a force of nature with no mind behind it, destroying this house while leaving the one right next to it untouched.

I moved into a house with some friends in the country. They thought it would safer outside of a city. They didn’t take into account the fact the house was between two cities. Eventually one of them would have walked from one to the other. Eventually came sooner rather than later. We didn’t have as much notice as I did the first time. One morning, Jamie looked outside and there it was treading straight for us. We grabbed what we could and then stood back as it clipped the side of the house, not quite destroying it but making it unstable and unlivable. After scavenging through the wreckage, we packed everything left into our cars and headed to the nearest city.

The city is devastated. The Giants’ paths can clearly be seen in the wreckage of buildings. The center of the city has been stomped flat where they stop and turn before walking to the next city.

People now homeless are living in the parks. At first, they crowded into shelters but when those filled they had no choice but to find someplace to live. A few bought tents and began roughing it. Soon others followed suit and within a couple of weeks tent cities sprang up in parks. There are laws against camping in the parks but the police turn a blind eye. What else can they do? Arrest several hundred people?

Tents and sleeping bags have become a scarce commodity. It’s almost impossible to find any for sale. Jamie and Alex were avid backpackers and camped out at least once a month before the Giants came so there was no need for us to scrounge around for gear. Besides the one they gave me, they had one older tent that they sold for three times what they had paid for it new.

They also sold the car. I should say we sold the car since Jamie and Alex keeps reminding me that what’s theirs is also mine. It didn’t make sense to keep it unless we were planning on leaving the city. There’s no place any of us want to go and no place is much better off, most are worst off.

J and A’s credit and debit cards are still working for the time being. I wanted to empty my own meager checking account but the bank is refusing to allow large withdraws in excess of forty dollars. I’ve started taking it out forty dollars a day. J and A tell me not to worry about money that they can support me for now. I hope that’s true and worry about the day when it won’t be.

I’ve been looking for a job but with no permanent address and no phone number, it’s been slow going. I have to revisit every place I put an application just in case they want to hire me. No leads yet.

I met a lawyer living a few tents away. He lost almost everything when his apartment building was destroyed. He says he has never felt more at ease. No bills to pay. No rent to pay. No things tying him down. His office has a gym with locker rooms and showers. He keeps most of his clothes there in a locker. He had tried sleeping in his office but when security found out they gave him the boot. With no other choice, he found someone selling a tent and sleeping bag and set up a tent in a park near his firm. Most of the people he lives near are jobless.

I heard that two of the Giants are headed for the same city. I wonder what will happen if they meet.

The Dragon and the Girl – A Story of The Path

In a dragon burrow, a woman sat reading a letter.  Most dragon burrows are just large enough for the dragon and its mate.  Sometimes extended families of dragons create branching systems of rooms.  This burrow had just one dragon but room enough also for the woman to have a table and chair, a bed, and a little walking about space.

“My sister gave birth to a daughter,” she said.

A gentle inquisitiveness entered her mind.  “Will you ever have children?” the dragon rumbled.

Maria felt something turn inside her.  “I…maybe.”  It wasn’t that she didn’t want children but she couldn’t bear them herself.  If she found a wife she could mother a child with her then but she had no luck over the years.  She was still relatively young, only twenty-nine years old.

“I’m sorry I distressed you,” the low rumbly voice said.

“I’m not distressed.  You just took me by surprise.  Why do you want to know anyway?”

“For five generations, I have been pledged to aid your family.  The pledge is passed from parent to oldest child.  If you have no children, my pledge to your family ends.”

“Eh?  Are you looking for a way to escape me?  Go!  I won’t stop you.”

“No, I do not wish to leave you.  I have grown … fond of your family.  I wish to remain with them even if you do not have children.”

“Then go to them.”

“It isn’t that easy.”

“Why not?  I release you from your pledge, now go and live with the family that tossed me out.”

“They didn’t toss you out.  You left.”

“They would have.”

“Your father-”

“Don’t talk to me about my father!”

“I can not just go to them.  The bond we share is forged by time spent together.  They would not be able to understand me as you do.  I need you to come with me, to help them understand me.”

She poked the fire sending small bright embers flying.  Thirteen no fourteen years since she ran away her family.  Ran away from her father.  “Dragon you ask too much of me.”

“I understand.”

— Years ago

She runs outside to the workshop.  Tears spilled from her eyes.  They just didn’t understand her.  He didn’t understand.

“Are you all right little one?” a deep rumbling voice asks from behind and inside her head.

Behind her, a dragon uncurls from behind the kilns, “Yes, I’m fine,” she says and tries to project the feeling as well.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, just … my father … I …”  She doesn’t know what to say.

“Hmm, your father calls you his son but you are not a boy, why?”

“What do you mean, I’m not a boy?” she asks.

“I feel it in your thoughts,” the dragon says his voice rumbling, massaging deep into her mind, “You feel like your great grand aunt.  She and her sister were twins but so different.  She was born second and so was not the pledge bearer but we were friends.  You feel like her.”

“How long have you known?”

“It has become apparent over the years.”

“Could you tell my father that?  Maybe he would believe you.”

“Your father does not wish to listen to his own daughter.  Why would he listen to an animal like me?”

“You’re not an animal.”

“I am to your father.  I’ve felt it in his mind.”

“Why don’t you tell him not to think that?”

“I am pledged to aid your family till its end or mine.  This is how your father has chosen for me to aid him.”

“It’s not right.  You should say something anyways.”

“It’s not right how he treats you.  You should say something.”

“I’m not a dragon.”

“No, you are not.  I’m sorry for forgetting that the most your father can do to me is speak harshly.”

An idea springs into her mind.  A wild idea that she has thought but never said aloud.  “I’m going to run away and I want you to come with me.”

“I’m pledged to your family.  I can not abandon them.”  There are concern and fear within the dragon’s rumblings.

“I’m not asking you to abandon them.  I’m asking you to help me.  I can’t stay here any longer.  Father won’t let me be who I need to be here, so I have to leave.”

“Why do you need me to go with you?”

“I … I’m scared to go alone but I will if I have to.  I thought … hoped as my friend you would come with me.”

“I am bound to your father by my pledge.”

“I’m next to be pledge bearer.  You won’t be breaking your pledge to go with me.  You’re supposed to aid the family; well I’m part of the family and I need aid.”

“You are stretching the meanings of words.”

“Will you come with me or not?” the youth pleaded.

The dragon drew its head back, tucked its chin down, its wings pulled tight against its body and it became still, even pausing its breath.  The girl waited and watched the dragon.

— Now

“Dragon, I was cross with you last night and I am sorry.”

“I know.  I felt it last night while you slept.”

“Can’t keep any secrets from you can I?”  She paused and waffled on her decision before plunging forward, “I’ve decided to return home.  I want to see my newborn niece.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  I miss my family.  My sister will be more than happy to receive me.”

“And your father?”

“I don’t know.  But I’m not the scared little girl who ran away anymore.  I will go and see him whether we see each other after that will be up to him.”