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A Box Under the Bridge

The Princess and The Dragon

Once upon a time, in a land far away, the kingdom of Resembia was terrorized by gigantic beasts known as dragons. A peace treaty was created, a deal between the king of the people, King George, and the queen of the dragons, Queen Lutencia. Every member of the royal family would be partnered with a dragon. In a tremendous ceremony, the soul of the person would be bonded with the soul of the dragon, inseparable. In return for having a human to do their work, the dragons would not harm the Resembians.

Centuries later, King Charlie the Third, the bond mate of the dragon of fire, Flamxe, had his firstborn child. A baby girl, the future queen of Resembia. She was a precious little thing, with smooth, pale skin and a light tuft of black hair on her head. Her bright green eyes sparkled with excitement at every little thing, and the first thing the baby did was not cry, but laugh. A precious, ringing little laugh, a moment of happiness that will end up being very rare for her.

Her name was Serafina. Princess Serafina Akain.

It was the day of her Bonding Ceremony. The child was dressed up in a small, pink dress, her father cradling her in his arms, the mother beaming with pride. He stood in the middle of a large arena, the seats filled with people, and dragons standing around the arena, looming as tall as the castle.

"WELCOME, CITIZENS AND DRAGONS OF RESEMBIA!" the king announced, followed by thunderous applause. The baby squealed with delight. "WE'VE GATHERED HERE TO CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF YOUR FUTURE QUEEN, PRINCESS SERAFINA AKAIN!" Once again, his words were followed by applause. The mother gently touched the king's bicep. "AND NOW, WOULD THE DRAGON THAT WISHES TO BOND THEIR SOUL TO MY DAUGHTER PLEASE STEP FORTH?!"

The baby cooed, turning to the giant dragons and smiling a wide, toothless smile. The dragons all stared back, but none stepped forward.

"I THINK I WILL TAKE THAT HONOR!" a loud voice boomed out, low and menacing. The light from the sun suddenly disappeared, a dark shadow passing overhead. The dragon flew above the crowd, wings outstretched, before landing with a THUD in the arena.

The dragon before them had pure black scales, and, like Serafina, had shining green eyes. The people leaned back in their seats while the dragons growled.

"Lilith!" the king clutched the baby to his chest. "You're back?!" The dark dragon had long disappeared since the peace treaty and hadn't returned. "Queen Lutencia got rid of you years ago!"

"Queen Lutencia is dead now," Lilith hissed, his lips peeling back to reveal sparkling fangs. "And I feel a strong sense in the child. I shall be the one to bond with her." Lilith lowered his massive head down to the royal family. The king and queen reeled back in fear, but Serafina laughed the most she had ever laughed, reaching out and touching Lilith's giant nose.

The king found himself blinded by a flash of light. "NO!" he gasped, stumbling away from the dragon, but it was too late. Serafina's soul and Lilith's soul were forever connected.

"I knew I liked you," Lilith reached out a single claw. Sera clasped both hands around it and cooed. The two were too busy adoring each other to notice that the wind had picked up.

The trees beyond the arena started to thrash around, clouds gathering in the sky. A spark flew up from Lilith's wing, and he looked around with curiosity.

"What?" Another spark jumped from his horn, and the other wing, and then his claw. "Wait, what's going on?!" Dust picked up and swirled around him like a tornado, sparks dancing in the gray clouds.

And then, Lilith began to shrink.

“Oh yeah, I’m feeling really weird now,” Sera said as they neared the bridge. “Like something in the back of my head is pulling me this way.”

The group moved slowly, Dylan praying that they couldn’t be spotted from Grandpa’s house, or he would get in so much trouble for sneaking around with strangers. They snapped twigs and squished mud under their feet as they made their way through the woodsy area. The sounds of the water trickling down the creek grew louder. Dylan, as a native of the city of Nashville, was still growing used to the bugs constantly buzzing in his ear. He flicked his head every time a mosquito dared to fly near him, eventually leading to a nasty case of whiplash and a cramp he can never seem to fully get rid of. Ella didn’t seem to mind, however, and grew very accustomed to their new surroundings quickly. Some could say this area was beautiful, the sun shining through the leaves and leaving spotlights breaking through the woods’ darkness. Others could just notice the brown ground and the dirty stains left on their clothes. Cliffhaven had a little bit of everything. Hoping to understand the characters more, Dylan looked over his shoulder to study them.

Sofia still bothered to hike up her skirt as she marched through the mud, even though her gown was obviously ruined. Alexandria sauntered beside her, peering around curiously, and didn’t seem to mind the muck. Neither did Rebecca, surprisingly. She just clunked around in her armor, crushing anything under her boots and paying no attention to her surroundings, just on her walk. Kyros was a curious being, however, and Dylan didn’t quite want to look at him any longer, his slow, elegant strides and his calm poise. Dylan quickly turned to look at Sera and Zach, leading the group.

Neither sibling seemed bothered by the same things as Dylan, but that was mostly on account of their undivided focus on the strange feeling in their minds as they neared the bridge.

“This is so weird…” Zach mumbled, walking to the middle of the bridge and looking over into the creek. It was a small bridge, barely a foot off the ground, just enough to get anyone over the creek and back onto the other side, where a stone path started on the way to the mayor’s house. Alexandria didn’t hesitate to jump into the creek, which only reached to the ankle of her black boots. Still, the water splashed up and hit Sofia’s shoes. Despite them being destroyed beyond repair, stained with dirt and both heels broken off, Sofia still gasped with shock.

“Watch where you are going, Alex!” she scolded.

Watch where you’re going, Alex!” the pirate taunted in a high voice, planting her fists on her hips.

“Both of you shush,” Rebecca stepped in between Sofia and the creek. “I want to see what all the fuss is about.”

“Sera, Zach, what are you two doing?” Sofia asked as they turned to the siblings, who were on their hands and knees crawling around the bridge.

“There’s something to find here, I can just feel it!” Zach said. Dylan’s eyebrows furrowed, but Ella slipped off her pink, light-up sneakers and her thick white socks before stepping into the creek as well.

“Ella, get out of there!” Dylan scolded. “You’re goin’ to get your feet all gross. Get on out!”

“Make me!” Ella stuck out her tongue. Dylan threw down his backpack, trying to reach over to Ella without falling into the ankle-deep water. Ella swatted his hands away. “I’m tryin' to help them look!”

“Thank you, child,” Zach looked up momentarily before continuing to crawl around on the bridge.

“You don’t even know what you’re lookin’ for!” Dylan groaned as Ella bent over to look under the bridge.

“Found it!” she cheered.

As the dust cleared, all eyes rested on the once-terrifying dragon. It was now the size of a small cat, looking around in surprise before looking up at the king.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!" he yelled, his booming voice now the volume of the average human.

"I haven't done anything!" the king stepped back from the dragon.
Baby Serafina began to sob in his arms, thrashing about. The king struggled to hold on to her. "What have you done to my child?!"
Despite his small stature, Lilith still grinned a large Cheshire grin smile. "Our souls are still bonded, you know."
The queen gasped, looking up at her husband and gripping his arm with worry. "Charlie?"
The king looked down at his baby girl, first with sadness, then disgust. "You've sullied her soul, beast.""Yeah, that sounds about right," Lilith giggled with glee. "What are you going to do about it?"The king looked down at his wife before looking back at the dragon. "Well, considering you are such a convenient size now," he grabbed Lilith by the back of his neck to lift him in front of his face. Lilith struggled but couldn't break free. "You shouldn't be that hard to get rid of," the king finished."You can't kill me," Lilith growled. "Unless you want to hurt your precious little daughter."The king's snarl wavered for a moment, until a light bulb practically appeared above his head. "There's always the Banished Lands."The queen gasped. "Honey!" "Do we have a choice?!" he spun to his wife. "We can't trust her as long as she's bonded to Lilith!" He spun back to the dragon. "On behalf of the royal family, for the good of Resembia, I hereby banish thee, Dark Dragon Lilith, and Princess Serafina Akain, to a lifetime in the Banished Lands!"

“You WHAT?!” Dylan gasped as all heads turned to his little sister.

“Well done, Ella!” Sera jumped to her feet. “What is it, anyway?”

Dylan’s cheeks flushed with jealousy as Ella reached under the bridge and began to tug on something. “This old crate is in a hole on the side of the bridge,” she explained as she pulled out a metal crate the size of a shoebox. She climbed out of the creek and handed it to Zach. “I think it’s what y’all are lookin’ for.”

“This is so weird,” Zach’s hands were shaking as he put the box down on the railing of the bridge. Sera scooted up beside him as he tried to pry it open. “It’s sealed tight.”

“Throw it against a wall or something,” Alexandria joked, chuckling.

“I can try to pry it open with my claws,” Lilith held up his claws for emphasis, sparkling under the sun like ebony.

“Go for it, Lilith,” Sera stepped back, allowing her miniature dragon access to the box. He curled and leaped onto the railing, sniffing at the box.

“It’s like something’s calling for me from the inside,” he said as he tried to dig his claws into the crack between the top and the bottom of the box.

“I feel that way too,” Sera said. Zach pursed his lips, obviously unhappy with cooperating with the other two.

“It won’t budge,” Lilith sighed, releasing the box and curling away from it. “If only I still had my powers,” he shot a glare towards Sera. “Or if you still remembered your training, Serafina,” he spat her name like it was something grotesque.

“If I could, do you think I would be stuck with this merry band of men?” she snapped in return. “All that training is lost with the rest of the stupid pages.”

“What...kind of training, Sera?” Dylan asked.

“Hell if I’d know,” Sera shrugged before Zach smacked her on the bicep.

“No cussing in front of the children, Serafina!”

“Oh well excuse me, Your Highness,” Sera put both hands to her heart. “I didn’t realize children in this world were so privileged. I assumed they grew up the same way I did, where kids knew a lot worse than a swear word.”

“Would both of you stop fighting, please?” Rebecca walked onto the bridge and stood in front of the box. “Your bickering won’t open this crate.”

Meanwhile, something had caught the attention of the young Ella. Her head snapped back into the direction of the stables, her big brown eyes wide with wonder, and then narrowed with suspicion.

“She has a point,” Sofia agreed quietly. “We should probably focus on getting that box open.”

“And how do we know what’s in there is important?” Dylan asked.

“I feel it,” Zach said bluntly.

“Good,” Dylan rolled his eyes. “We’re going off on a gut feeling.”

“Hey, tone down the sass, pipsqueak,” Sera growled. “A gut feeling is all we have!”

“And I wouldn’t underestimate a gut feeling,” Sofia put a hand on Dylan’s shoulder, looking down at him with a kind, motherly smile. “Not when magic is so common where we’re from.”

“Hey, Dyl?” Ella asked, standing at the other end of the bridge. She still hadn’t turned her attention away from the stables. “When the characters came out of the book, do you reckon the others came out as well?”

“Others?” Dylan turned to his sister and raised to his toes to look over her shoulder, but saw nothing but the old wooden stables, trees, and a whole lot of mud.

“Other people. Monsters ‘n dragons ‘n fairies ‘n...stuff?” Ella explained without looking back. Her dark eyes weren’t focused on just one place, they darted around rapidly, searching for something.

“I don’t know…” Dylan slowly trailed over to her, putting a hand on her shoulder and squinting out towards the stables. “What on Earth are you lookin’ at?”

“Is there something wrong, child?” Rebecca slowly turned to the kids, her left hand moving to rest of the hilt of her blade held to her waist.

Ella glanced at Kyros, who hadn’t spoken at all. The man seemed just as interested in the stables as Ella was, but he said nothing. Feeling her gaze, his big, unblinking, cold eyes snapped to her, his head never moving. Ella tensed and looked away. Kyros raised his chin, his eyes turning back to the stables.

“The answer to your question, Ella, is yes,” he said calmly, making everyone jump at his voice.

“It speaks!” Alexandria snorted.

It speaks, and it senses something,” his voice grew louder, but remained as calm as ever as he turned to the pirate. “When the seal was broken, all three of our worlds came into this one. Every creature.”

“Says mister ‘I Can’t Remember Anything’,” Sera snapped, planting a hand on her hip.

“I’ve lost my memories, Serafina, not my common sense,” Kyros stated plainly.

Ella shrieked, turning everyone’s heads back to her. The thing that caught her attention finally made itself known, launching out from behind the stables. It was about as tall as the building, with thick, rippling muscles. It looked like a giant, beefy human, but it fell onto all fours to chase after them. As it grew closer, they realized it looked a lot less like a human, with sickly green skin and two off-white horns poking out from above its beady black eyes.

And it looked mighty angry.

“HOLY HUCKLEBERRIES!” Dylan instinctively grabbed his little sister by the forearm, spinning on his heel and flying off of the bridge onto the stone path.

“Hold up, kid!” Sera snatched the box from the railing and sprinted after them.

“What is that thing?!” Sofia gasped, hiking up her skirt to run away.

“A troll, from my world!” Sera explained as the rest of the group followed them, tearing down the path. The monster was catching up quickly. “They were all captured and sent into the Banished Lands, I’ve dealt with them all the time!”

“I ain’t afraid o’ no troll,” Alex scoffed, unsheathing her sword and halting in her steps, turning to face the oncoming troll. “Come at me, beast!”

“Alexandria, wait!” Zach stopped as well, the rest of the group passing by him. The troll’s massive hand swung down at the pirate, knocking her sword out of her grip and sending her flying into the mud. She gasped in pain as she skid across the ground, the mud splashing up into her face. She choked on dirt, lifting herself to her hands and knees, coughing.

“They’re one of the strongest creatures in our world!” Zach grabbed Alexandria by the wrist and hauled her onto her feet, dragging her back to the group. “They aren’t so easily beaten!”

“Lilith, can’t you do anything?!” Sera asked her dragon, running along beside her like a cat.

“Not with my powers drained!” he reminded.

“Then I do believe it’s my turn,” Rebecca unsheathed her sword with one smooth SWOOSH.

“You can’t!” Zach objected. Rebecca’s head turned to him sharply, her gray eyes staring at him with such intensity that he nearly froze.

“Watch me,” she said, falling into a crouch as the rest of them continued running. She turned on her haunches just in time to leap into the air, slashing her sword across the troll’s attacking hand. The monster growled in pain and stumbled backward. Rebecca dragged her sword down its arm before landing on the ground in another crouch. Not wasting any time, she spun back around and jumped onto the troll’s back, digging her sword into his massive shoulder. She grunted as she met with resistance, realizing just how muscular this beast is, as it used its good hand to grab her by the torso and lift her into the air.

“Rebecca!” Sera gasped, her head swiveling over her shoulder as she watched the warrior get slammed up against a tree. The troll released her, letting her crumple to the ground limply. “That’s it!” Sera growled. “Zach, get the others out of here!”

“Sera!” her brother gasped as, clutching the box, Sera charged at the troll.

“I used to deal with these all the time!” Sera shouted as the troll reached out for her.

“Sera, you can’t without your-!” Lilith started. Still howling in pain, the troll’s bleeding hand swiped at Sera, knocking her and the box into a tree. “Training…” Lilith mumbled, turning and continuing to run away.

Sera choked as her back slammed against the tree trunk, the force ripping the box from her hand and smashed against the wall. Thanks to the troll’s inhuman force, the top tore off the box. As Sera fell with a SPLASH into the mud, something flew out of the box and fluttered down, like a feather, to land in front of the girl’s face. Weakly, her eyes fluttered open, resting on the object that landed in front of her.

An old, wrinkled paper, yellowed with age.

Meanwhile, Rebecca was back on her feet, digging her sword into the troll’s foot, through the troll’s foot and managing to hold on tight. “If any of you can fight, now would be a good time!” she called out to the others, who were still struggling between running away or staying and helping.

“I’m afraid I don’t remember how to,” Kyros said as calmly as ever, leaning against his cane and watching with serenity and what looked like… intrigue.

Sera dragged her fingers across the ground, dirt picking up in her fingernails. Her hand fell on top of the paper, crumpling it in her fist and dragging back towards her.

“CAPTAIN?!” Rebecca looked to the pirate for help. Alex glanced around before nodding.

“Right, right, sorry mate,” she scrambled for her sword, gripping it by its circular golden hilt, digging it into the troll’s other foot. The beast fell forward onto all fours, screeching in pain.

Sera slowly pushed herself up, sitting against the tree trunk, and wiping the mud off of the paper.

“ANY OTHER TAKERS?!” Alex yelled over the screaming monster, struggling to keep it down.

Zach patted his belt desperately, but only found a small dagger. Engraved into the hilt were his initials, ZA, Zachary Akian.

“You can’t fight with that!” Dylan gasped, holding his sister close to him. Ella had her arms wrapped around his waist, unable to look away from the bleeding troll, not noticing the tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

“I have to help,” Zach said determinedly, rushing into the fray. As Alex and Rebecca held down the troll by its feet, Zach tried to dig his knife into the fleshy neck of the beast. He grunted as its tough skin and rippling muscles created resistance, leaving the wound nothing worse than a paper cut for a human.

Sera’s eyes darted across the page, before flipping it over, studying the illustration on the back. Her jaw fell more and more slack with every passing second.

“We best be leaving,” Sofia said anxiously, putting one hand on either one of the children’s backs.

Alex looked above at the trees before flinging her sword at a hanging branch. The blade sliced through the wood and dug itself into the trunk, and the branch began to fall. “Out of the way!” she called, stumbling backward. Rebecca and Zach retreated quickly as the branch collapsed on top of the troll with a THWUNK! The troll, whacked right in the head, fell to the ground dizzily.

Rebecca pursed her lips. “Stylish,” she scoffed, sarcasm dripping in her voice.

“I’m a pirate, mate, I’m not looking for style,” Alex smirked, swaggering towards the warrior princess, pushing her weight from one foot to the other. “I’m looking to win.”

“We haven’t won yet,” Zach pointed out as the troll pushed the branch off and climbed back to its feet. Both feet now wounded, the monster howled in pain and fell back to its hands and knees.

Sera slowly rose to her feet, blinking once, twice, then looking up from the paper at the troll.

“We really should be getting out!” Sofia urged Dylan and Ella, trying to pull them away from the battle. Rebecca and Zach readied their weapons towards the troll while Alex, once again weaponless, took a step back. Kyros didn’t move from his spot.

Sera raised her chin. “EVERYONE GET BACK!”

Suddenly, the troll was swallowed by an invisible force in the ground.

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