Monthly Archives: September 2012

There Are Dragons Here

Gertrude’s grandmother used to tell her there were two types of people in the world: People who preferred art museums and people who preferred natural history museums. Theoretically there was also a third group consisting of people who did not like any museums, but Gertrude never had much use for them anyway.

The skeletons and dioramas of long-dead animals never brought to mind old ghosts or lives cut short when Gertrude wandered the museum exhibits. History was filled with both, of course, but seeing it on display always felt more like a privileged window to somewhere far off rather than a cautionary tale or something to fear.

Natural history museums used to be the domain of dinosaur bones and speculation. But that was years ago. Before glaciers began to melt and dragons awoke to migrate farther south.

No one knew what happened to the larger dragons–the dangerous ones. No one knew why the smaller dragons came to the cities, only that they chose to settle in the sewers and subways systems. Some people–foolish ones–adopted hatchlings that had been abandoned or orphaned. They told themselves a collar and a leash could make a fierce predator into a house pet. How Gertrude envied their reckless confidence.

***

When she was younger, Gertrude’s grandmother would braid her hair while they watched game shows in the early evening. As her grandmother combed her wavy, dark hair Gertrude would ask what it had been like before the dragons came back.

As she divided Gertrude’s hair and began to braid, her grandmother would talk about days when the subways still ran without interruptions and water mains broke for reasons that had nothing to do with dragon teeth or claws. The tugs on Gertrude’s hair would punctuate each story as she tried to imagine manhole covers without the now-common warning “THERE ARE DRAGONS HERE” emblazoned on them in bold capital letters.

Her grandmother was always careful to tell Gertrude to be wary of dragons and remind her of their many dangers. But even as a child she heard the longing in her grandmother’s voice. The wish that she’d been one of those foolish people with a dragon of their own.

Gertrude had been eleven when her grandmother’s arthritis put an end to the braids. Three years later, at fourteen, she had seen her grandmother placed in a nursing home. She had died a year ago. She was buried the day after Gertrude’s seventeenth birthday.

She never found a dragon to adopt. As far as Gertrude knew her grandmother had never even seen one outside of newspaper clippings and television segments. And, of course, museum exhibits.

Her grandmother was also a lover of natural history museums.

Walking from the bus stop to the American Museum of Natural History, Gertrude studiously avoided the grates and manhole covers in the sidewalk. It had been years since any incineration incidents, and even those might have been more urban legend than fact, but as her grandmother had always said, “You can be reckless later. As long you’re careful right now.”

Her grandmother’s warning ran on a loop in her head. She told herself she had to remember the part about being careful but it was the part about being reckless that she kept hearing over and over.

***

Gertrude stood at the base of the museum’s steps as she cleaned her glasses with the hem of her lucky red shirt. Even with the short-sleeved shirt and sandals, her jeans were uncomfortably warm in the summer heat.

The museum’s heavy air conditioning would be a welcome change. There was plenty to explore in the museum’s various wings and exhibits and a variety of places to hide with a sandwich and a laptop to while away the hours. So far she had made it an entire week without being asked to leave or informed of the museum’s policy on outside food and drink (or loitering).

Surveying the front of the museum now with her clean glasses, she realized she wasn’t the only one hoping to spend the summer haunting the museum.

She had first noticed him four days ago when he leaned against a museum wall while he smoked in a light shower. The rain had been heavy enough to soak his button down shirt and change the color of his khaki pants but light enough that his cigarette stayed lit. He had looked a bit like a wet cat as she watched him from the shelter of her bus stop. That is, if a wet cat could look supremely unimpressed, dashing, and just a little bit dangerous–like he might claw you if you tried to touch him.

Today he sat on the steps in a black t-shirt and khakis again staring intently at a laptop computer perched on his lap. Gertrude was embarrassed to notice that his hair was shorter, newly cut, and he had on glasses.

He was smoking again. She wondered if anyone had told him that cigarettes would kill him. A girlfriend must have. Unless she was a skinny model who smoked to keep the weight off. Then she wouldn’t care. Maybe they split a pack of cigarettes every week. Or maybe he smoked a pack a day by himself.

He was probably already eighteen but with the short hair and casual shirt he looked younger. As she watched him remove the cigarette from his mouth, holding it between his thumb and index finger, Gertrude was struck by how much more illicit the cigarette looked held that way.

Too late, she realized she had stared at him for too long. His eyes shifted from his computer to her direction. Quickly, and probably without much subtlety she looked away. As she climbed the long row of steps, she forced herself to keep her eyes straight ahead.

***

Restless from her encounter on the front steps and an idea she couldn’t let go, Gertrude found no comfort in the museum that day; her own skin felt snug and scratchy. Having done a quick circuit of the prehistoric dragon skeletons on display, she accepted defeat and proceeded to the coat check to retrieve her too-large-for-security’s-tastes-bag.

Moving through the coat check line, she thought about her grandmother’s warnings to be careful and save reckless for later. Gertrude began to wonder if it might just be time to be a little reckless.

As she waited for her bag to be exchanged for her coat check token, someone tapped her shoulder. Turning around, she was unsurprised to see he had found her. After circling each other for days in various parts of the museum, it only made sense that he would find her now, stopping next to the coat check line to approach her.

His laptop was hidden away in a messenger bag with a museum ticket stub pinned to the front with a large safety pin. The cigarette was gone though the smell of smoke lingered on his breath and maybe even his clothes. Inside, this close, she could see that his glasses were thin wire-rims; the lenses still too tinted from the sun outside to gauge the color of his eyes.

“I saw you watching me,” he said with an easy smile. “I’ve seen you a few times actually.”

Gertrude didn’t know how to reply. As they looked at each other she wondered if he noticed her eyes widen. She hoped not.

He leaned closer to be heard over the din of the museum’s entrance hall. She felt his breath against her ear as he said, “Does your red shirt mean stop?”

She said, “Isn’t that what red usually means?”

Another smile. “What if I don’t want to do that?”

“I guess I’d need a reason to let you keep going.” As she said it, smoothly and without any indication of her nerves, she couldn’t tell which of them was more surprised. Their eyes locked and she could see now that his were brown, almost black.

They walked out of the museum together as he asked, “How about I keep you company on your next errand? That seems like a pretty good reason.”

Back on the pavement she turned to him. They were almost the same height. Eyes level with his, she said, “A name would be a better one.”

“You first.”

“I asked first,” she replied, still impressed by the calmness in her voice; the easy way she could talk even as she took in the square line of his jaw, the elegant curves of his fingers, and wondered how she was standing on the street talking to someone like him as if it didn’t matter at all.

“Alec,” he said after a moment. “Now you have two good reasons. And you owe me a name.”

“Gertrude,” she said as she automatically offered her hand to shake.

“Pretty name, but you must get lines about that all the time,” he said with another easy smile as they shook hands. Instead of letting go, Alec shifted position so they were holding hands as he looked toward 82nd Street. Gertrude was inordinately glad he couldn’t see the blush that must be creeping along her cheeks.

“So,” he said, “where are we headed next?”

A moment ago, Gertrude would not have had an answer. She would have said her awkward goodbyes, headed home, and tried to avoid Alec the next time she came to the museum–if she came back at all.

Now, as she held a stranger’s hand on the sidewalk in front of hundreds of people, she realized she had been careful long enough.

“Downtown,” she said with complete certainty.”I’m adopting a dragon today.”

***

It was too loud in the subway to talk. As the train moved them closer to Union Square, Gertrude wondered if she was making a terrible mistake. Really, though, if anyone was to blame it was her father.

As she handed him his carry-on suitcase, her father had smiled at her.

“I expect a signed book for every day you’re away,” she said as she always did before he went away.

He offered the expected reply, “I hardly think you need that many copies of my books.”

“I’ll muddle through somehow,” she said as they hugged. As his tour continued, shipments would begin to come from various destinations with inscriptions from all of the authors her father had met along the way. The glamour of so many books, so many gifts, made up for her father being away for weeks at a time whenever a new book came out. Mostly.

It was harder when he left this time—his first tour since they had buried Gertrude’s grandmother. Previous tours had seen Gertrude spending her days visiting her grandmother and listening to stories about dragons. Now that she was old enough to be left alone, now that there was no one else to be with, Gertrude wasn’t sure what to do with herself.

Before he had disappeared into a waiting taxi, her father had given her one more kiss and hug. His parting advice had been, “Don’t adopt a dragon while I’m gone.”

Since then, she had thought of little else.

She started haunting the museum hoping to assuage her sudden dragon-shaped want in other ways.

It hadn’t worked.

Even as Gertrude had told herself it was madness, she knew she was just marking time–just waiting for some sign that it was the right time to find her dragon. Since the idea had taken hold she’d had no doubt that there was a dragon out there meant for her. There had to be.

Sitting next to Alec, still somehow holding hands, Gertrude knew she had finally found her moment. Soon, she was certain, she would find her dragon.

***

Union Square was known for its weekend farmer’s market. Even dragons could not change that. Now, though, instead of the usual produce and freshly baked foods some industrious vendors also had dragon hatchlings. Orphaned before they hatched or too small to make themselves known among their brothers and sisters, these unfortunates would die without intervention.

Most people—the sensible ones—thought the hatchlings should be left alone. Darwinism at work. Reduce an already undesirable population. Stop pretending dragon teeth were meant for anything but rending flesh from bone and causing destruction.

Other people—people Gertrude now sought—rescued these runts and orphans so that they might still be saved.

Standing in front of a stall full of dragons, Gertrude let go of Alec’s hand for the first time since they’d left the museum steps. She gave her donation to the man sitting behind the table. He easily palmed the bills with a hand dominated by gnarled knuckles.

She offered that same hand to the smallest dragon on the table. Squat with four legs, a long tail and wings that had not yet opened, the dragon had purple scales tipped with yellow. Eventually those scales would shimmer as if they were made of gold or precious gems.

She could easily have held the dragon in one hand. Years of reading and countless museum visits told her the dragon would not get much larger. She held her hand out to the hatchling as it blinked its round, orange eyes at her. Staring intently at her hand, the dragon made a squeaking sound.

You only had a few seconds to impress a dragon—moments to move from food to friend. If you missed that chance, or worse wasted it, the opportunity was gone forever. It might be possible to train them, maybe even domesticate some, but no dragon changed its first impression of a human.

As Gertrude held out her hand, letting the dragon find her scent and sense her temper, she held her breath. It was too late, she knew, to find any other dragon. Far too late when she already felt her heart constrict watching this small, plum-colored hatchling. Alec inched closer to her.

“I think it’s a girl,” he whispered, neither of them taking their eyes off the hatchling. “I read that females always have longer tails. Most of her length is tail.”

“I think you’re right,” Gertrude whispered back.

She waited for the telltale pinch of the dragon biting her hand, telling Gertrude she was not wanted. It would hurt.

She closed her eyes and took what comfort she could from Alec’s presence. He wanted her. He, she somehow knew, would not be leaving her.

As the dragon leaned forward Alec moved closer still so that his arm wrapped around Gertrude, holding her other hand.

Slowly, the hatchling opened her mouth. But instead of the bite of sharp teeth, Gertrude felt a leathery tongue scrape across her hand, licking her. Claiming her.

Gently, the dragon began to climb up Gertrude’s arm.

Alec cleared his throat as he watched the dragon ascend. “What are you going to call her?”

“Adelaide,” she said immediately. “It was my grandmother’s favorite name in the world. After Gertrude, of course.”

“Of course,” Alec said with a smile Gertrude could hear in his voice.

Carefully, Adelaide found a comfortable seat on her shoulder. Poking past a strand of Gertrude’s hair, she leaned over and licked Alec’s cheek—claiming him as much as she had claimed Gertrude.

Gertrude stared as Alec’s eyes widened behind his glasses.

“I’ve never read about them doing that,” she said quietly, letting Adelaide wrap her tail around Gertrude like a necklace.

Alec leaned over hesitantly to stroke Adelaide’s head as he said, “Neither have I.”

Still holding hands, they walked away from the stall with Adelaide easily keeping her footing on Gertrude’s shoulder.

“I guess this means you’re stuck with me,” Alec said into the silence.

“My father comes home next week. I’m making spaghetti to welcome him back,” she said as she watched a bus turn the corner.

“I do love spaghetti,” he replied as they stepped over a “THERE ARE DRAGONS HERE” warning carved into the pavement.

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The Sacrifice

“Vivianna, don’t walk away from me. We’re not through with this discussion.”

“Yes we are Mother. I’m not doing it.”

“This is your rite of passage, Vivianna. Please don’t be difficult.”

“You can’t make me!”

“You know very well I can. I didn’t want to resort to that.”

“So you’re threatening me?”

“I’m not. I’m urging you to do this on you own accord. But I’m begging you, for all of Naroona’s sake, don’t make me force you.”

“Why? Why me?”

“Vivianna, you’re my only heir. The throne of Naroona is destined to be yours but only if you go through with the Awakening, you know that!”

“What if I don’t want to be destined? What if I want to be an average women, born only to bear children and the burden of my husband?”

“You’re better than that. And you know it,” mother spits between clenched teeth. She’s obviously fuming. Steam will shortly stream for her ears.

“You can’t make me, Mother.”

“I can and I will. Don’t test me Vivianna, you have no knowledge as to how far my wrath reaches.”

“But…”

“Don’t test me Vivianna. This discussion is over. Don’t bring it up again. In two nights time, when the moon is full you will sacrifice yourself to Naroona.”

I knew better to push Mother any further. I stop protesting and stare into my mothers cool yet kind turquoise eyes.

“You have a lesson. You don’t want to be late, now run.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said quietly bowing my head.

I scurry off down the stone corridor, and push my way into the third door to my left, the music room. In the middle my golden harp stands tall, towering over my five foot frame. Beside it, Lady Barrow sits waiting. Her lips in a tight straight line. She’s cross. I’ll suffer for my tardiness.

“You’re late.”

“My apologies Lady Barrow. I was discussing…something with my Mother.”

“You were arguing with your mother, that’s what you were doing.”

“You were listening, weren’t you?”

“What if I was?”

“It’s a despicable trait you know,” I say, adding a tone of disdain to my voice.

“So is being late.”

She always had to have the last word. But I’m a pro at this game.

“Eavesdropping is worse than tardiness.”

My lesson is exceptionally painful. When it’s over and I suffered for my tardiness I loiter about the castle I refer to as home. But the stone walls bore me. I move into the garden, the only outside world I know. It’s the only place in all of Naroona that doesn’t expect something from me. It’s the only place I feel most at east, most like myself – a simple girl born into a not so simple life.

I know nothing outside of Naroona, the lone island that makes up the new world. Whatever I know is what I’ve learned from ancient text books and equally ancient tutors.

The island of Naroona was founded some five hundred years ago when the old world – the former United States – came to a surprising end.

According to my text books it was 2012, December 21, 2012 to be exact. Throughout the year news reported the Mayans prediction of the end of the world, but the people’s ignorance was blinding.

The prediction: a series of intergalactic events would occur millions of miles away, ultimately causing a series of catastrophic happenings that would transform the world as people of the twenty-first century knew it. Some probably assumed it was nothing weather patterns would change. That California for the first time in history would have four separate seasons – fall, summer, winter, and spring. And New Jersey would be cast in a perpetual state of unbearable heat. But most thought it was a bunch of nonsense made up by the media outlets to scare the general public.

On December 21, 2012 seven ten point zero magnitude earthquakes simultaneously shook each of the seven continents. The world did not end, but it did in fact change … drastically. Parts of the world crumbled and sunk into the depths of the ocean. Parts of the world shifted, eventually forming one island: Naroona.

But something else happened, something the Mayans didn’t, probably couldn’t, predict. When the land finally shifted, settled into on extremely large island, something spectacular was released. Magic. The new world of Naroona was full of magic. Not just full of magic, but full of magical creatures. Every tree hole was a house for fairies. The waters were filled with selkies and sirens alike. And even dragons soared the airs above.

Even though humans occupied the Southern territory and the magical the Northern, people feared this new world in which they lived. we each had our own, separate territories, people were hesitant. That is, the people who did survive the Mayan Apocalypse. Yes, some were enthralled by this new magic. But most were confused and terrified.

Fingers pointed in every direction searching for someone to blame for the “unnatural” world that they were forced to live. They blamed the government for running the economy down. They blamed the Nazi Germany of the 1940s, saying this was the cosmos way of punishing humans for all their crimes and sins against humanity. They blamed the church for telling them not to believe in what was being called the ultimate rapture, but instead believe in a Christ that was nowhere to be found when the rapture did come.

But eventually humans learned to coexist with these once mythical creatures. And by coexist, it really means they kept to the North of Naroona while we humans kept to the South. Our only shared, common ground was Mount Ca-Vel, the center point of Naroona.

When there was finally some semblance of peace the eldest of each family gathered at the most center point of the newly formed world to discuss everything from the formation of a new government to the newly magical world they were not accustomed to the food supply that would surely dwindle rapidly.

Because details about this meeting didn’t go into any specifics within the pages of my ancient text books my ancient tutors taught from, I’ve learned most about it from my family. It was decided, since so many people ultimately blamed the democratic government for the events that occurred on December twenty-first, they decided on implementing an absolute monarch – one person or family to rule. Whether by pure luck, unabashed stupidity, or sheer magic the citizens of Naroona voted someone from my bloodline. No one really thought that one family, my family that is, could possibly rule an island for over five hundred years.

After ten years of living under the thumb of the same iron-fisted queen – a queen my own mother is ashamed to admit we’re actually related to – the people of Naroona pleaded their case to the island elders. Realize they had outgrown this monarchy approach, the elders set out to Naroona’s highest peak, Mount Ca-Vel, in search of, not only peace, but answers.

It was on Mount Ca-Vel that fate intervened, making the elder’s task a whole lot easier. They claimed a cosmic voice spoke to them, supplying an answer for a question they’ve yet to ask: if not democratic vote, how would a queen be elected?

A task. An answer so apparent and so simple the elders of Naroona overlooked it. It was decreed by this cosmic voice that every woman, on the dawn of their sixteenth birthday, was to hike the trail to Mount Ca-Vel. There they would meet their fate, and be asked to complete one task. If the task was completed up to the fate’s standard, a new queen would prevail.

But here’s the thing about the Awakening: no one knows exactly what’s waiting for them on Mount Ca-Vel. Each fate, each task differs. We go into this archaic ritual blind, only carrying a few items our mothers carefully selected for us based on their own experience.

Hundreds of girls await their fate, their task. All but one fail. It’s one girl out of hundreds. And for me, this means so much more than it does for the other girls. For five hundred years my family has ruled over Naroona, if I don’t complete this task, shame will fall on my family’s royal name. Our legacy lies in my hands.

In a mere forty-eight hours fate will either decree me Naroona’s next queen or will strip my family of its beloved titled, dethrone my very own mother, and shove us into a life of poverty. All of which my family – myself included – fear for.

As much as I fear being left penniless, what I fear most is facing the unknown. Even though generations of women have gone before me, no one can tell me what fate I will face. My own mother will not even what she had to face atop Mount Ca-vel. No matter how much I pester her about it, she will not relent. So, the only option I have left is to refuse, even though I know that my refusal means nothing. In two days I will hike the jagged path that leads to the top most peak of Mount Ca-Vel.

The temperature is swiftly dropping. The willow trees that surround my secluded bench in my beloved garden swish and sway in the chilly breeze. Shivering, I know it’s time to retreat inside.

When I step into my welcoming bedroom I’m shocked to find my mother sitting at my vanity. Her turquoise eyes stare at me through the mirror’s reflection. But unlike the cool eyes from hours before, there’s a softness found within her gaze.

“Sit down Vivianna.”

But my guard is up, still obviously put off from our previous disagreement.

“I’m fine standing,” I say.

She closes her eyes, searching for composure. I push every one of her buttons.

“Please, Vivianna. Please sit?”

I move over to the edge of my down comforter clad bed.

“I don’t want to argue with you. Arguing always proves fruitless.”

“So what do you want Mother?”

“I know this isn’t easy for you. I know because I too went through the very thing you fear. Even though I know you don’t believe me, I know what you’re feeling. It wasn’t easy for me either, you know.”

She pauses. I’m not one hundred percent sure as to where this discussion is going.

“This goes against everything I believe, every ounce of my being. But your are my daughter Vivianna, and I swore the day you were born that I’d do anything in my powers to protect you. You wanted to know what I faced during my own Awakening, well I’ll tell you.”

For the second time in only mere moments I’m shocked. My mother is going against her own principles, her own morals.
I wait. She looks pained. She knows that if anyone finds out what she’s about to do, she could risk losing the thrown, the crown, the life she’s struggled to provide me with. I consider her risk.

“I don’t want to know,” I say quietly, even though, on the inside I’m dying to find out.

“But Vivianna,”

“What difference will it make Mother? My Awakening will not be like yours.”

“I thought it would help.”

“It won’t. It will only make it worse.”

“If that’s how you feel.” She takes it as a stinging slap in the face. I pushed her away. She doesn’t realize I did this for her. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t realize this.

“Here.” She hands me a cloth bundle tied in a golden silk ribbon.

“What is this?”

“Everything I think you will need to get through your impending Awakening.”

I don’t open it. I just hold it there in my lap.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Not now. I don’t want to think of all this right now.”

“I understand.”

She stands up. Walks slowly to the closed-door, and reaches for the knob. She stops, and turns.

“Vivianna, you know if you didn’t have to do this, if the Awakening didn’t matter to me or to Naroona, I wouldn’t force you to do this.” She waits, when I don’t answer she pleads, “Vivianna, please answer me.”

“I know,” I whisper. She turns around and opens the door. She steps out and into the drafty hallway. “Mother!” I call as I run to the open door. She stops and turns her head, just enough to look me in my own turquoise eyes. “I’m sorry about the things I said before. I will graciously step forward, I will graciously accept what ever fate the cosmos deem worthy of me.”

She turns back and kisses me on my cheek. I don’t say anything, and step back into my room.

The bundle beckons me to the bed. I sit across from it, hover my palms just above the golden bow. Carefully I untie the ribbon, unfold the linen, and reveal the secrets the bundle carries: a black cloak, a jagged stone dagger, and a vile full of a think, amber liquid. I’m engrossed with the three items. I have several cloaks, all of which are prettier and sturdier than the one Mother has provided me with. The dagger is ancient, and I wonder if it could really do any damage. The vile sends an uneasy chill up and down my spine.

I tear my mind and my eyes away from the three items, and notice a small piece of paper. It’s fold into four neat square. It’s written on crisp gold cardstock, and sealed with wax. I tear at the seal, hastily opening the letter I’m sure my mother has spent hours writing.
I’m surprised to find that this folded piece of paper doesn’t contain words of encouragement and words of love. Instead there is only one sentence. A mere five words:

“Trust in what you are.”

I don’t know what to make of it. I fold the letter back into four neat squares and try my hardest to stop thinking about it.

That night I sleep restlessly. I toss from one side to the other. My dreams are full of nightmares. Dream after dream I find myself lying on the crumbling edge of Mount Ca-Vel writhing around in sheer and utter agony. I scream out for help, but no one hears me. They’re all miles below waiting to see if I’ve been decreed the new queen. I writhe and wriggle, my back arching and hunching over. From between my shoulder blades two green iridescent wings poke their way through the surface of my skin. They’re terrifying and magnificent all at once.

Just when I begin to hear the faintest voice, I’m pulled out of my dream state and back into the reality of my stone chamber. I wake up dry mouthed and in a cold sweat. Thoroughly shook, I crawl out of bed, move silently out of my room and through the castle corridors. I slip out into the moonlit garden. I slip into the glass gazebo, and lay on the bench. I stare out to the stars and the moon above me, wondering what secrets the night is keeping from me.

“Why aren’t I asleep, Mrs. Moon?”

She doesn’t answer me, she never does. Instead, she shines down above me, and with a gentle breeze lulls me to sleep. I sleep peacefully, near perfectly for the rest of the night, and wake only when the gardener shakes me awake. I sit up slowly, cautiously wondering why and how I got out here. But than I remember the dreams, than I remember the fear that I’m about to face. At at ten p.m. tonight I make my way to Mount Ca-Vel.

By the time I make it to the peak at exactly midnight, I will officially be sixteen years old. I will officially find out what my fate holds.

I spend the day camped out in the safety of my bedroom. When I don’t find comfort in my bedroom I move to the music room where I pluck a few lonely chords on my harp. And still, when that doesn’t easy my nerves I move down to the kitchen and scrounge up any sweets I could find – a candied apple, a few pieces if Turkish delight, a marzipan maple flavored leave, and a handful of fig cookies. But no amount of sweets can make me feel any better. In fact I feel worse. If that;s even possible.

Before I know it, it’s already nine o’clock. My mother sits with me. She strokes my hair as I prepare for my trek. I wear a soft pair of black slacks. snug black turtleneck shirt. When it’s time I let Mother tied the cloak to my neck. She covers my shoulders, and looks me square in the eyes.

“I love you Vivianna!” Her tone is fierce. My eyes well up with tears, but I swat them away. I can’t respond verbally, I nod, and when that isn’t enough I through my arms around her waist, and relinquish my tears against the smooth velvet bodice of her gown.

“Mother, I’m scared.”

“I know, but you are strong.”

“No! I’m not like you.”

“Vivianna, listen!” she raises her voice, takes my face in her palms and raises my turquoise eyes to hers. “Listen to me! Something unbelievable is about to happen to you. You have to believe in yourself, and trust in who – in what – you are.”

I nod and swipe the falling tears from my cheek. A light knock raps upon the door. A maid pokes her head into my room.

“Your Majesty, I’m sorry for the intrusion, but the carriage is here to take Miss Vivianna to Mount Ca-Vel.”

I’m whisked away to the awaiting carriage. My mother follows close behind, when I’m loaded and locked into the carriage I poke my head out the small oval window.

“Goodbye Mother,” I whisper.

“Don’t forget Vivianna, I love you and you are stronger than you know.”

At exactly ten I’m dropped off at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. The maid who’s traveled with me hands me a flickering lantern, along with it the jagged stone dagger.

“The vile! I left the vile,” I say near hysterics.

“Calm down Miss Vivianna, it’s here,” she sais handing me the vile. It’s dangling from a thick, black leather cord. She places it over my head and around my neck. I open the carriage door wanting nothing more to get the task at hand done and over with. When I climb out I look back at the maid who still sits in the carriage.

“Be brave Vivianna.”

Those are the last words I hear as a human.

At exactly midnight – I could tell by Mrs. Moon’s position in the darkened night sky – I crest the peak. I struggle to stand up on my the small ledge. My legs shake with ache. My breath staggers out of my lungs.

It’s cold. My teeth chatter noisily as I stare into the darkness, unsure as to what’s supposed to happen next. I tuck my cold hands into the cloaks pocket. An unfamiliar piece of paper tickles my fingertips. I pull it out, curious. It’s a note, but from who I’m not certain.

I unfold it, and realize that this piece of paper isn’t a note after all, it’s a set of instructions. At first I think it’s from Mother, but that I realize that I don’t recognize the writing at all.

“Vivianna.” My name is quietly carried on the wind. I pull my eyes away from paper and look for the source who called my name. The voice of the cosmos is a lot quieter than I expected

“Who’s there?”

“It is your fate calling.”

I’m not scared. I’m terrified.

“I accept whatever fate I am to face.”

“Read.”

I do as I’m instructed. I look down at the piece of paper in my hands.

“With the stone dagger break the vile and drink the liquid contents,” I read aloud.

I crack open the vile by tapping the crooked edge of the dagger on the thin glass. I down the amber substance, but not quick enough. It’s thick and bitter. My mouth is coated like chalk dust on a blackboard.

Seconds after I down the liquid I drop to my knees. A searing pain shoots throughout my body.

“What’s …. happening … to … me?!” I yelp out in between screams of agony.

“Vivianna, you are destined to be the next Queen of Naroona, but only if you are willing to give up who you are.”

“I’m willing,” I spit out. I can’t take the pain.

“Vivianna,” I hear my name again. But the voice is different. It’s the voice of my mother. “You must sacrifice yourself. You’re human self.”

“I don’t understand?” I try to stand up but I can’t. I don’t myself on all fours, a throbbing pain searing the space between my shoulder blades.

“You must give you your life. You must throw yourself from the rock’s edge.”

I can’t speak. This is not the fate I was expecting. But at the moment flinging myself of Mount Ca-Vel seems better than suffering though the pain.

I slowly stand up, my knees shaking with pain. I shuffle forward a few short feet. My toes hang over the edge.

I can’t believe I’m about to meet my death. But something deep within me knows I will survive this, something deep within me knows I will live.

“I give myself to Naroona,” I yell through the pain and tip my body forward. I fall full speed, the wind whipping through my loose hair. After a few solid seconds the searing pain courses through my body. It pulse from the tips of my toes and throbs all the way to my shoulder blades, where I feel two wings bursting their way out.

I am not longer falling to my death. Instead my newly sprouted wings flap against the wind, lifting me higher and higher. I fly for what seems like hours over mountain ranges and below the clouds.

It’s not until I’m soaring just above a lake that I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I’m so startled, so scared I lose focus and my wings falter. I’m not longer human. Instead I’m a … a dragon. This can’t possibly be.

Shocked and amazed I head back to Mount Ca-Vel in hopes of finding some answers. When I get there the ledge is just how I left it. Cold, dark, and empty. In a few short swoops I’m at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. A Carriage awaits. Still in my dragon form I creep over and peek inside. I find my mother. She peers out at me.

She blinks back tears and emerges from the carriage.

“Vivianna, you’re beautiful.” She extends a hand and cups my long snout in her hand. My skin is silky smooth and the color of pure gold. For the first time in my life I’m tall and slender. My wings flicker in the moonlight, sending a cascade of color over my mothers face.

I know, after looking into my mother’s eyes that I now inhabit two complete bodies, two complete souls: my human soul which will physically rule Naroona and my dragon soul who will spiritually guide my path as queen.

“Vivianna, we are empresses of knowledge – wise beyond our years. Our bodies are temples of strength that could withstand any weapon and any army. You have all the tools you need to rule Naroona.”

“But I sacrificed myself, my human self Mother. How can I possibly inhabit two bodies?”

“Because you willingly sacrificed yourself for your country, for your dragon self, you did not lose your human life, you only gained a dragon life.”

“Can I change forms?” I ask wearily.

“Of course.”

“How?”

“You’ll learn, in time my sweet Vivianna.”

“But,” I start to protest.

“Tonight we fly!” She says shifting into her dragon form. My mother was always beautiful, but to see her like this, like a dragon she’s breathtakingly beautiful. He skin is the color of rubies, her wings are gold. Her eyes, still cool yet kind, are turquoise.

“We fly,” I say as I push-off the ground and shoot upward towards the moon.

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