Stay True

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Chapter 12

After the welcome feast, Clara stumbled into her room. She promptly yanked off her shoes and rubbed her sore, blistered feet. She had danced with mostly the prince for hours upon hours.

When the ache in her feet had been slightly subdued, Clara went to the screen and searched for the kettle so she could bathe. Eve was not back in Clara's chambers just yet. Eve was probably saying goodnight, or possibly cleaning up from the feast. Clara would have summoned her, but she had been self-sufficient for the first eighteen years of her life. Several months posing as a princess did not change the fact that she could provide for herself.

Finally locating the kettle, Clara searched for her hair potion. Upon finding that, she happened upon another small, albeit unlabeled bottle. She opened it and took a whiff to see if she could identify the contents. It stank. It was an unholy combination of rancid meat and dirt. Clara gagged and replaced the stopper.

What could the strange substance be? She ran over the possibilities in her mind. Poison...possible, but unlikely. A first attempt at potion-making...probable, but Clara had never heard anything about Melanie or her ilk taking a shine to the kind of work someone like Didacus could do for her. Clara had had to try potion making as part of her training, but that was one of the activities nobody ever explained the reasoning behind. Perhaps it was an ancient perfume, left by the room's occupant many eons before. Clara snorted quietly to herself. Yes, and there was such thing as a pink polka-dotted bird!

Having exhausted that chain of thought, Clara's mind wandered aimlessly, from thoughts of the prince, to Eve's tardiness, to the fact that there was a hair on her sleeve, to...

The late hour and the fatigue were getting to her. Clara allowed her mind to wander everywhere, a sort of waking sleep for her.

Nearly half an hour later, she remained where she was, seated on the floor, surrounded by the folds of her dress, the two potion bottles, and the other contents of the trunk that she had flung about in her search. Eve finally walked into Clara's quarters and put her head around the screen, looking more tired than her charge. Clara looked up at last.

"Eve." Clara made no effort to be cordial. She was not in the mood.

"My lady," Eve sighed. She glanced at the mess Clara had made and seemed to realize something. "Oh, you would like to bathe. I will be right back. I didn't fetch any water." She sighed again and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ears.

Clara stood up stiffly, automatically. "Don't worry," she said flatly. "I can just bathe tomorrow."

Eve nodded, then put her hand to her head and slumped to the wall. Clara watched her crumple to the ground, supported only by the stone.

Clara leaned up against the wall as well, only to join her friend on the floor a moment later. They looked at each other, at how ridiculous they looked, and giggled weakly.

"I...have to get out of this corset," Clara finally managed. Eve gave her the barest hint of a smile, pushed against the wall, and unsteadily rose. She held out her hand, and Clara felt a strong wave of recognition. The way they were was exactly the same as the day she had arrived; only Eve was holding her hand out rather than Colin.

Clara took the proffered hand and stood. They both made their way to the screen, where Eve undid the back of Clara's gown and untied the laces of the dreaded corset. Clara's relief at having the thing off nearly eclipsed the exhaustion that filled her. There is no greater pleasure than removing a corset you have been wearing for hours. Eve helped Clara into a nightgown and they both made their way to their respective beds.

The next morning, all Clara could think about was the prince and her dilemma. How was she supposed to be rid of him? He was following her around like a dog! He clearly was deeply in love with Melanie.

Clara pondered it for a long time. So long that Eve came over to her and shook her a few times to make sure she was not asleep. After all that, however, Clara had come to realize she had but three choices. She could break his heart by telling him that she did not love him, she could tell him the truth about herself and let his unrequited love for Melanie continue, or she could find a way to contact Melanie and, well, basically switch the two of them back.

Now, there were major flaws in all three of Clara's plans. The first plan was mean-hearted, and she could never do that to a person. The second and third plans amounted to the same thing as each other. Either way she would jeopardize the entire, elaborate, dangerously fragile setup that James, Colin, and Eve had so painstakingly created.

I suppose I shall just have to put up with it, Clara thought. But for how long? And at what cost?

Throughout the day, Clara pondered her problem. Prince Killian snuck up on her in the hallway while she was searching for Eve on the way back from dinner and handed her a small wrapped parcel before dashing off to fulfill some princely duty, which was likely something along the lines of being utterly idiotic and attacking one of your own with a sharp object. That seemed to be what princes did, if James was to be any indication.

Clara wanted to wait until Eve was found before opening the gift, but gave up after a solid hour of fruitless searching had passed. Clara returned to her chambers and eagerly tore at the paper, revealing a small wooden box carved with horses and birds. She marveled at its loveliness before opening and gasping.

Nestled inside on a bed of gold velvet were the prettiest earrings Clara had ever seen. They were simple, huge clear diamonds on silver backing that had clusters of tiny diamonds surrounding the central ones. There was a note inside the box as well, and it said, "These should go with anything, like that necklace you never take off. Their beauty will only enhance yours, and by then you will be more radiant than the sun." Not the most romantic letter in the world, but it was the first sign of sweetness from the prince to Clara. She supposed that she could grow to like him, given time. The gift-giving she could definitely get used to.

Night began to fall, and Clara was slightly concerned that Eve had gotten lost. She played with her new earrings absentmindedly until Shawn started whimpering. Clara and Colin had discovered a tiny passage under the steps in the front of the castle that led to a series of pipes that led throughout the castle. Clara was unsure what they were for, and Colin had several far-fetched engineering theories, but they agreed that they would be an excellent way for Shawn to get in and out of the castle sneakily, and since he was still just a pup he could fit.

Clara put her present away carefully, and by the time she was done, he had stopped. She dismissed it and stood up when Shawn whimpered again and then paced in a circle. "What is it, Shawn?" Clara asked. He gazed up at her with his liquid brown eyes, but only for a moment before focusing his attention on the window again.

There is a person. Right there.

Frightened, Clara stood and looked out the window. She saw the usual view of the courtyard, with the fountain, the stables, and the boarded up stalls; but no people.

"It's okay, Shawn. There's no one there," she reassured him. He stood and paced along the window seat, kneading the padding with his paws and growling faintly.

There is someone there.

Clara knelt beside him and looked out the window as he sat silently, back ramrod-straight, like a sentinel. He continued to bark, growl, and chuff at the invisible intruder.

"I still don't see them," Clara said. "Of course, maybe they disappear as soon as I look at them. That happens in stories all the time." Clara pressed her nose up against the cold, clear window, murmuring, "Who are you?"

*****

Her cloak had been imbued with an invisibility spell, rendering her nonexistent to the naked eye. But this stupidly clever girl had a wolf pup with her. Wolves had such keen senses from being born wild. He had seen right through the cloak, and even though the idiot peasant girl could not she had closed the curtains on his word. The one in the cloak hissed and swept her cloak around her in a spiral, creating a spinning cloud that was meant to be seen.

I am coming for you. You will pay for this.

She sent out her voice in a whispering echo meant only for magical ears. The targeted girl yanked the curtains back. Her wolf was standing now, hackles raised and teeth bared.

I am the predator, the girl in the cloak thought. I will win.

She looked into the center of her magical vortex and was gone.

*****

The second month had really snuck up on Clara. There she was, preparing herself for another long night of dancing with "her" prince and denying not-so-subtle hints at him visiting her in her room later. She had decided to wear his present for her to the second ball, and was very glad that Eve had forced her to get her ears pierced, as it would have been awkward to get earrings as a gift and not be able to wear them. She was shifting the back around so that it would stay in her ear when it slipped, a glittering cabochon that fell from her hand and skimmed over her skirts like a dewdrop.

Clara shrieked and knelt in her newest golden (what other color could it have been) dress. She frantically ran her hands over every single grain in the carpet, lifting her skirts to above her knees, standing and shaking out the voluminous fabric, and surveying the area from above for any hint of sparkle.

Finally, when she could stand it no longer and Eve was out of sight, Clara muttered, "Accitsetem emuc," and pictured the earring as best she could in her mind's eye. It flew into her hand, jabbing her and drawing a few drops of blood, but Clara did not care. She wiped them away carefully and secured the earring in her earlobe. Her timing was impeccable, as Eve entered the room immediately afterwards and said, oblivious, "So are you ready for me to do your hair?"

*****

Sometimes she wished that Eve had trusted her. She was so smart...they could have been great partners. Together, the two of them would have been unstoppable...

Whenever her mind turned to this, she usually turned it away again. But then...something held her back, and she allowed her mind to explore those thoughts. Was it because she wanted retribution? That she was rethinking her plan? She gladly dismissed those thoughts. She was not going to let fear rule her life.

She sat down in the middle of her cave, blissfully empty of bandit brutes, beginning the ritual of stretching various muscles in preparation for the new day. As she lay on her back, palms outstretched, something tickled her. Her hands reacted with her newfound reflexes. She sat up, feeling the strain on her core, and glanced at her treasure before setting it aside and continuing her ritual.

In her hand, she had held a tiny, shimmering, green and gold feather.

*****

Clara was not looking forward to the ball that would take place during the third month of their stay. She had recently been told that, since her birthday was during that month, the festivities could double as a birthday party and another betrothal celebration. Wasn't that fantastic?

"Yes," Clara muttered to herself when she was told. "Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic." The only reward was that Eve had requisitioned a gorgeous red gown to be made for her, rather than the usual various shades of gold. Based off the sketches Eve had shown her, the dress was to be fitted in the Mescian style, with an off-shoulder top and a wide white sash embroidered with roses. Clara also received another gift from the prince, a delicate silver circlet with small red flowers scattered here and there and a blood-red ruby hanging down on her forehead.

Upon hearing of this, Colin decided that he had to gift Clara with something as well. They had hardly seen each other over the course of the months, and he quite honestly missed her. She had been making herself scarce so that Prince Killian would not bother her, but the result was that Colin could never find her either. She assured him that she was not avoiding him, rather that she was attempting to avoid just about everyone. She did not like the Mescian country, all plains and tall swaying grasses, no forests. Though the mountains bordering the castle and Theorden were quite nice.

The next day Colin arrived at Clara's room, timing it just right so that she was already dressed and planning to sneak away. "We are going on an adventure," he announced. She raised an eyebrow at him, intrigued. "If you would like to change your shoes or your clothes or anything..."

"No," Clara said. "Let's be off."

Hand in hand, they snuck away from the castle. Once they reached the stables and had mounted horses, Colin apologized for the blindfold he put over her eyes, but slipped it on her anyway once she gave her consent.

This is an interesting sort of adventure, Clara decided. And I am not sure that I would like to go on another. It is simply too odd.

Shawn poked his head out of the brush.

Friend! Would you like me to tell you where you are going? Clara heard him bound into a bush, sending twigs to cracking and snapping.

No, Shawn, but thank you. This is meant to be a surprise. Also, do you think you could go hunt or something? We should be alone.

As you wish, friend. And with that, Shawn bounded off.

After a short while, the horses stopped. Clara dismounted under her own power and then tried to take a step away from her horse and instead tripped over its hind leg. Colin removed the blindfold and stowed it, telling her to keep her eyes shut.

"Okay. Open your eyes."

Clara followed his instructions, blinking in the sudden brightness. Once her eyes adjusted, she looked around. They were at the base of an immense mountain. All around them was new foliage, and below their feet was a clearly well traveled path of an orangey dust that clung to their clothes and skin.

Clara had no words to describe how she felt. "Wow..." Well, she had one.

Colin grinned his bright, happy smile. "Shall we head up?" he suggested. Clara nodded happily, and he took her hand as they began the journey.

The trail was thin, steep, and rocky. The hike was rather taxing, but Clara was enjoying herself nonetheless. Colin had promised her something else wonderful at the top, but he hadn't said how far they would have to go to reach it.

At one point, they had to cross a small stream. They had gone mostly without talking until that point, because they needed all the breath they could get to keep moving. Colin took Clara's hand, helping her jump over the stream, but his foot slipped, splashing muddy water over both of them.

"Ugh! I so totally hate you right now, Colin!" Clara glanced down over her spattered gown. "I'll have you know that these are my favorite shoes!"

He held his hands up. "Okay, okay, but why did you wear them hiking? Don't answer that, I know I surprised you with this," said Colin as Clara opened her mouth to respond. He let his hands drop back down to his sides. The path had flattened out more, and speaking came easier. "You know, the last time I heard someone say 'I totally hate you' was when Eve was thirteen and had just started working at the castle."

"How old were you?" Clara asked, interested. She had had rough estimate of how old he was, but she wanted to know exactly.

"Fifteen," he answered.

"When did you start working at the palace?"

"At the tender age of..." He paused for dramatic effect. "Fifteen."

Clara laughed. "So...Eve's about half a year younger than me...so that would make you...nineteen?" Clara inquired, after counting carefully.

Colin nodded, holding a tree branch out of the way. "Turning twenty on the first day of the fourth month," he answered proudly.

"Wow...I cannot believe that James had me found on your birthday. He can be so inconsiderate," Clara declared.

Colin nodded his agreement and let the tree branch snap back into place. "When's your birthday?"

"Seventh day of the eleventh month," she replied. This time it was Colin's turn to laugh. "What?"

"That's a mouthful," was all he said. "And it's coming up soon, which you know."

Clara groaned. "Don't remind me."

Colin started counting on his fingers, presumably to figure out how far apart they were in age, and was very disappointed when he ran out of room. "Help me out here," he said, and took Clara's hand. "Third...fourth..." he said, putting up one of her fingers as he said each number. When he got to "eleventh," Colin counted the fingers and announced, "We are nineteen months apart."

Clara gave him a small, somewhat sarcastic grin. "Congratulations on that very difficult math."

Colin took a swat at her, making her squeal and scamper away up the path. They emerged from the close-set trees into a clearing.

It was a sweet, cozy sort of place. Colin immediately sat Clara down on a log in the center of the area and told her to wait a moment. Then he pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and hurried off. Clara smiled and folded her hands, content to be patient. Looking up, she admired the pattern of the leaves overhead, forming a natural canopy. A slight wind spun through the clearing, ruffling her hair and baring the sun from behind its curtain of trees. Clara closed her eyes against the sudden brightness and sighed happily. Everything seemed so beautiful and perfect, finally falling into place.

Hidden carefully, another scowled at their happiness. There was nothing to be happy about! If only they knew what was in store for them, they would be terrified, quivering with dread. She reminded herself that if they knew, the whole thing would be blown. But a little terror would be welcome.

A bee flew towards her face. She dove out of the way, hand frantically flapping to ward the bug away. She held her breath once she realized just how loud her crashing into the undergrowth was. Fortunately, her sister was quite absorbed in cloud spotting, or whatever mindless activity she was occupying herself with.

She had discovered a positive outcome of her clumsiness. Colin had already left, and Clara had proved herself so distracted that the hidden one could begin her spell.

She started chanting, forming complex symbols with her hands as the arcane syllables flowed from her mouth. The trees shivered and froze. Excellent.

The wind abruptly stopped blowing. That in of itself did not trouble Clara, but the fact that the crackling in the trees that she assumed had come from the wind did not cease. Clara glanced around uneasily. Maybe it is just a squirrel. She began to relax, but then she noticed that beyond the mysterious rustling she could hear no other noises. No birds cawing overhead or twittering in the bush, no little creatures chattering to each other on the ground. Her pulse quickened again.

A figure stepped out from the shadows. "Well, well, well. The princess remains alone." The figure's face was still shrouded in darkness, but Clara would recognize that voice anywhere. It was her own.

"Melanie?" Clara breathed. It could not be...

But it was. She stepped fully into the light, and Clara saw that nearly a year living in the woods had not been kind to her features. Her dress was horribly tattered and dirty. There were deep shadows under her eyes, hollows under her cheeks. Her entire face was drawn and smudged with dirt, but her eyes sparkled with a wild, malicious glee at seeing Clara trapped, her plan coming to fruition.

Clara tried to find something, anything different about them. Something small, even, just to settle her mind, to assure herself that she was not her sister. Melanie's hair, shorter and more tangled than Clara's. Melanie's eyebrows more arched, giving her a slightly manic expression. Melanie's lips were thinner.

As Clara's eyes roved over her twin, seeking things to set them apart, she noticed Melanie was doing the same to her. Clara also saw that her sister's eyes were a deep green. They were dark, and very similar to hers in color, but they were not brown, as Clara's were.

Clara realized that their difference in eye color was a grave oversight. Anyone observant could see that they were two different people. She clung to that.

"So...we finally meet." Melanie spoke again, and again it shocked Clara how similar they sounded. Clara responded with a curt nod.

Melanie tsk'ed at her. "Now, now, don't be like that." She was sarcastically disappointed and she shook her head gently. Clara was too scared to respond this time. Every foul deed Melanie had committed was coursing through Clara's mind, effectively paralyzing her.

"Come now, we are sisters! You can talk to me," Melanie coerced. She seemed slightly on edge, and Clara could not figure out why until she noticed Melanie's eyes darting about. Why, she was as nervous as Clara was! The thought of Melanie the Great and Terrible scared by Clara of all people was enough to embolden her into a semblance of her usually confident self.

"Mother Nature has not been kind," Clara managed. Melanie stiffened almost imperceptibly, but Clara caught the movement and smiled. Her voice evidently had the same effect on Melanie's as Melanie's to Clara. Fascinating.

"And why are you here, sister?" Clara asked. Melanie smiled at her with gritted teeth. She seemed determined not to let Clara's voice affect her. Clara noticed her own jaw was clenched, rejecting Melanie's presence, so Clara's focused on Melanie's eyes, a different color than her own, and forced herself to relax. Clara was able to smile more sincerely, now that her jaw was released. This seemed to incense Melanie further, Clara's sudden comfort with her. It occurred to Clara, not for the first time, that Melanie really might be mad. She truly believed that she was in the right.

Melanie grabbed a small, stout branch that was sticking out of a tree and lightly jumped over the bush she was behind. For the first time, Clara saw that she had no shoes. "Merely a test," Melanie said silkily. Clara had no idea what she meant by that, so Clara pretended she could see right through her.

"So..." Clara prompted. She was interested and hoping to learn more about Melanie's plans.

"Perhaps you would like to know what has happened." That was the idea, yes. Melanie began pacing a circle around Clara, her tread muffled by the leaves and grass. Clara decided that spinning to keep Melanie in sight would look silly, and as she was trying to look fairly intimidating, Clara decided to stay put. "Well," Melanie continued. "I'll tell you a bit, but I won't just tell you everything. That never ends well. I also will not tell you the full extent of my plans, should you escape. I believe this is called a monologue," she said airily. Clara swore in her head. Melanie had clearly read more books than Clara, for in the few Clara had read the antagonist always gave everything away so the reader would know what was happening. Apparently, that just did not happen in the real world. But it was worth a shot. And Melanie said she would tell Clara something...

Seeming to realize something, Melanie took a moment to laugh softly. "I've already said too much." She resumed her pacing. "Although, I must admit, it is rather satisfying." Clara swallowed. So far, nothing Melanie said was of any use to her. "I have performed a spell that briefly stops time. It is of my own invention, of course." Clara's eyes widened. That was some seriously advanced magic. "I am going to send you away, and no, I won't tell you where, so that you are out of the way and everyone is out-of-sorts while I exact my revenge." Melanie paused again, facing Clara, and put her hands on her hips. "That sounds so petty, doesn't it? Ah, well, better to be brief and truthful." Better than what? Clara wondered. "My idea is genius in its simplicity. But first, you must be gone. Goodbye!"

Clara gasped. She did not expect to be "sent away" so quickly. Before she could even utter, "Wait!" Melanie had lifted her hands and began murmuring. The words sounded ancient and powerful, and Clara wondered how Melanie had managed to continue her magical education while she was gone.

Clara's whole body started glowing; softly at first but growing brighter as Melanie chanted so she could hardly look at it. The light prevented Clara from seeing Melanie, but from the way her words had gone up in pitch Clara assumed that Melanie was shining with light as well.

The glow faded away slowly, as well as Melanie's voice. Clara opened her eyes and found she could no longer hear her twin. Clara shivered, and in crossing her arms to warm herself, she discovered that she was wearing Melanie's tattered dress, and indeed was as dirty as Melanie had been. Clara glanced around, at the walls, at the floor, trying to ascertain the direction of the exit. On the ground just before her was a tiny, jewel-toned feather. Clara picked it up and slipped it into a pocket. There was nothing else in the cave. Where am I?

*****

In wandering down a passageway, Clara discovered a warm, inviting light. She headed towards it, running to reach it. It was sunlight, and she breathed a sigh of relief at finding the way out at last. But as an echoing sigh found its way to her ears, and the breath of a great something whooshed down her spine, she turned.

"Oh, dear," Clara whimpered. Her knees seemed to turn to water. She quickly sat down before they buckled and brought a hand to her mouth. "Oh, dear," she mumbled again, this time through her fingers.

The dragon took one look at Clara and snorted a smoky breath at her. It smelled of ash and charred meat. She had to plug her nose to prevent herself from gagging. Her eyes watering furiously, Clara finally got up the nerve to say, "Who are you?"

He (at least, she thought it was a he; in any case, she wasn't going to ask) laughed, sending another cloud of noxious fumes her way. Clara pulled the neck of her dress up over her nose and mouth, no longer caring about courtesy, and making the dragon laugh all the harder. Clara waited him out.

Seeming to notice her discomfort, he rumbled, "Uncomfortable, princess?" and deliberately blew a copious amount of hot, stinky vapor at her.

Since he finally deemed it fit to talk to her, Clara sat there patiently until she could pull her dress back down. And how did he know she was a princess, anyway? "My name is Fyrdraca. You should fear me - why, the word itself is even in my name," he thundered in a deep, smoke-stained voice. Clara glared into his open, inky red maw, noticing as she did so that his teeth were easily as long as sabers.

Seeming to think that she was staring him down, the dragon stopped breathing on Clara and instead lay down so his head was about a pace from her feet. It took most of her willpower not to scoot away. Fyrdraca seemed to be settling in, as if expecting a nice conversation over tea. Clara had read that dragons were quite mercurial, but this was still surprising to her. "So, little human, how did you come upon my lair?"

Clara held her breath as his washed over her. Clara belatedly realized that she would never be able to wash the smell out of her clothes. Not that it mattered. She would be throwing those rags away as soon as she returned to the castle. "I am not here by choice," Clara explained. His nostrils flared. Imagining she could hear fire crackling in the back of his throat, Clara hurried on. "Maybe you know Melanie? She is a sorceress. She sent me here. Well, to the cave next to yours. I was just trying to get out. I-"

Fyrdraca shot a small curl of fire somewhere to her right. Clara jumped, even though it was clearly just a warning. "Do not ask me a question without allowing for an answer," he growled.

Gulp. "Terribly sorry, sir dragon. Allow me to ask again." Without all the babbling this time. "Do you know Melanie?"

He sighed, deep in thought. Clara swallowed hard, stifling the rising urge to vomit. "Yes," he rumbled at last. "I believe so. I did not know her name, but I was aware of my neighbor."

That made Clara realize that Melanie had sent her to her own dwelling. She had probably meant to send Clara to Fyrdraca's lair, but missed and sent her to Melanie's instead. Or maybe she was clever enough to realize that the spell had a better chance of success if she sent her to a place she was familiar with, or her own cave. At any rate, Clara was clearly supposed to end up there and be eaten by a dragon. Little did Melanie know that Colin and Clara had enjoyed studying dragons, and had actually planned out something of what they would say to one should they get the chance. Remembering this, Clara had to suppress a cunning smile. This will be easy. Fyrdraca will not know what happened to the pale, weak, scared goat of a girl Melanie dropped on his doorstep.

Clara asked Fyrdraca tentatively, "How big is your hoard?" This was not where she and Colin had started their mock conversation with a dragon, but it seemed as good a place as any to pick it back up. Clara knew that dragons loved to brag, so she asked about something she was sure he loved.

Fyrdraca looked somewhat startled with which the randomness that Clara had changed subjects. He was still seemingly happy to talk about his hoard, though it was difficult to read emotions on his hard, scaly face. "It is larger than you could possibly imagine, larger than this very cavern," he boasted proudly. Clara was glad her gamble had paid off. Some dragons do not have hoards and just like to wreak havoc. That is most common among fire and earth dragons, and since she was dealing with a fire dragon, she was very relieved.

But her relief came too soon. "I am bored with you, little princess. Why shouldn't I just kill you, here and now? Perhaps your answer will entertain me," Fyrdraca boomed.

Death threats, death threats...I know we went over this... Clara racked her memory. Ah, yes. "Well, you see, I can be very valuable to you," she said. Fyrdraca started tapping one of his bright orange foreclaws on the floor of his cave, creating a sickening tap-tap-taptaptap-taptap-scrape-taptap-scrape-taptaptap that grated on Clara's nerves and made her shudder. She unconsciously drew her shoulders as close to her ears as she could and her stomach (already tender from the smoke bath) turned over. It was a sound unlike any she had ever heard before, and there were no words to aptly describe her utter loathing of the sound.

Swallowing hard again, Clara forced words out. "I know of Melanie's whereabouts. She can't have been a very nice neighbor, what with all the magic." This was another risk, but she was hardly thinking straight. The noise had scrambled her brain, and she was desperately grasping at straws, anything to make him stop. Clara did not know how actively Melanie practiced her magic, or if it was disruptive, but it was a good guess, considering all the trouble she had caused during the year.

The dragon finally ceased his tapping. Clara could not resist sighing as every tensed muscle in her body released. Fyrdraca did not notice, though. "Magic? She was practicing magic in there?"

I guess my gamble did not pay off this time. Clara closed her eyes and resigned herself to being dragon food.

"She was practicing magic and she didn't invite me?"

What?

"I am a dragon! I could have made her spells a thousand times more powerful...I could have practiced magical arts for the first time in years..." the dragon raged.

Clara opened her eyes. The dragon was pacing, all thoughts of her forgotten. Fyrdraca went on like that for some time, angrily setting fire to the wall every so often. It was akin to seeing a small child throwing a temper tantrum.

Slightly confused that such an ancient and powerful creature would have such a reaction, Clara had edged closer to the mouth of the cave, hoping to either leap off or find some path leading out of the forest.

The dragon continued to rage.

Clara reached the lip of the cave. She looked out, over the edge, and down to the sharp fall that awaited her if she took a mere one step further. So definitely not going that way, then.

The dragon roared at her. "Where are you off to, puny human?"

Clara was blown back by the force of this seemingly out of character outburst. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for her to go. She tumbled and spun through the air, and her last thoughts probably should have been something along the lines of Please don't let me die or I hope Colin can have a wonderful life without me but, truth be told, her thoughts were something along the line of a wordless scream that transcended words.

The dragon blinked. Clara disappeared in a flash of light. Fyrdraca nodded to himself.

Go, child. Complete your destiny.

Smiling enigmatically to himself, the dragon retreated into his cave. He was glad he had not set the girl on fire. It had taken him longer than he cared to admit, but he had eventually realized that she was a girl of his prophecy. It was out of his control now.


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