A woman ran towards a collection of abandoned buildings that lay before her. Powdered snow stung her exposed flesh as she drew closer to the source of a commotion. Tears streamed down her feathered face; her fears confirmed. She raced to a small body that was lying unconscious a half dozen yards away. She checked the child and made sure he was breathing before a boy’s cries got her attention.
The woman gripped her scaled hands to her breast and bit her lip. She then rose and sprinted towards the crying child. What the swirling snow had covered before, the still air showed a scene that caused the woman to stop.
A winged beast stood over the young boy who bled from the deep gashes on his face and arms. The lanky creature—the size of a small horse and with similar build—hissed and lashed its wispy tail when the woman’s movement caught its attention.
“Shh. It’s okay now, Alexis,” she whispered in Greek as she kneeled to show her palms to the creature. “Come here, my boy. Don’t be afraid.”
The creature’s hiss quieted and changed into a whine as it stepped away from the sobbing child. The woman held out her arms and smiled sadly as the gray-feathered beast went to her and placed its bloodied maw on her shoulder. It shivered, and as it did so, she stroked the plumes on its neck and spoke quiet words of affection. The drab, leathery skin on its face lightened and changed color. The feathers and tail shrunk and disappeared, and its scaly legs lost their build and became more humanoid. After a few minutes, the small dragon which the mother held became a much smaller boy who held on to her.
“Mana!” the child whimpered, tears streaming down his face. “I’m sorry, Mana. I’m sorry.”
“Shh, shh, it’s okay. I know,” the woman said, holding her son close. She stood up and lifted him up with her.
The brown-feathered woman frowned as she looked from the unconscious boy to the bleeding one. When she heard voices shouting and saw lights showing from behind, she ran. Wings spread from her back and she lifted off with Alexis. The mother couldn’t fly carrying the extra weight for long. The boy’s skin was uncomfortably cool. They needed to find shelter soon.
A few minutes later, they touched down on the roof of a small house on a cliff outside of the town. The mother entered the house through a latch on the roof, set her child on a bed in the room, and ran to a large chest in the corner. The boy—who had nearly fallen asleep—became alert as his mother lit a lamp.
“Mana… I couldn’t—they threw rocks at me. I couldn’t control it,” he said, tearing up as he rubbed the gash on his jaw. “Am I in trouble?”
The woman turned to her son and smiled as best she could, her bloodshot eyes showing the truth as she looked away and said nothing. She pulled out a satchel from the chest, looked inside, and then filled it with a few things as she hurried from one part of the bedroom to another. She left the room only to return a few minutes later.
“I need you to do something for me, okay, Alexis?” she said, stopping to face her son and bending over with the satchel in hand. “We have to leave now, but where you’re going… well, I can’t follow you.”
She put the satchel on Alexis’s lap, pulled a large shirt over him, and sniffed as she took his sparsely scaled hands in her own.
“Remember when we spoke about your father? We talked about seeing him, and I told you when you’re older, you can find him, right?”
“You will be with a friend of his, Misha. He can help you find him.”
“You’re not coming?” Alexis squeezed his mother’s hands and looked into her deep, blue eyes.
“I can’t,” she breathed. She drew him into a hug and lifted him in her arms. “Come. We must leave before it’s too late.”
With Alexis in her arms, the woman strode up the steps to the latch in the ceiling. She opened it and stepped into the light of the rising sun. An icy gale blew over them, and as she held her son, she sprang into the air and unfurled her wings, following the breeze towards their destination.
They landed a few miles away, in front of a much larger residence on the other end of the town. As the mother’s bird-like feet touched the ground, an older woman rushed out of the house.
“News has spread fast, Aquila,” the older woman said, frowning as she ran a hand through her graying feathers. “They are searching for your boy, and they are out for blood.”
“He didn’t mean to, Mother,” Aquila said.
“The others won’t see it that way,” the woman stated plainly. “Dragons are unpredictable, and that child is almost dead now. We don’t get many boys; no one is happy about this.”
“Please, Mother. Do you have the car ready?”
“Yes, yes. Come, we’ve had enough talk,” the older woman spat, pointing to an old car with its lights on and heat bursting from the exhaust pipe. “Your father will take you both to the train station. Your contact is waiting there.”
“Thank you,” Aquila said, peering over her shoulder as the door on the other side of the house pounded with heavy knocking.
“Go on, now!”
Aquila nodded before going to the car. She set Alexis in the back seat and sat up front on the passenger’s side. The car engine sputtered as the gears shifted. It pushed forward, and they rode down the hill, leaving the lights of the house and town behind them.
“They’ll be coming for him. You’re gonna have to answer for a lot,” the old man said through his ashen beard. “Almost makes me wish you’d leave with him.”
“I can’t. Someone has to take the blame, and if I go with him, they’ll never stop looking for us. They’ll be more forgiving if he’s out of their plumage,” Aquila said as she turned her head to the back seat where Alexis slept. “Misha said he will help take care of him. After, Alexis can get back to his father…and maybe once this all blows over…”
A train whistled nearby, and the vehicle became silent as they pulled into the station’s parking lot. A man with a heavy coat stood up from a bench outside the station and waved at them. Aquila’s father parked the car, and the man walked over to them.
“Thank you for coming so quick, Misha,” Aquila said in imperfect Russian.
“Don’t worry about it,” Misha said in Russian as Aquila exited the car. “Not comin’ after all?”
Aquila shook her head and opened the rear door to pick up Alexis.
“There’s money in the satchel, and I’ve set up an account with what little Demyan left for him. I will add more when I can,” she explained, putting the satchel in Misha’s hands.
“Don’t worry. He’ll want for nothin’,” Misha said, taking the sleeping Alexis from his mother’s arms.
Aquila took Alexis’s hand and pressed it as she kissed his forehead.
“They’ll be arriving here any minute, and this train’s gotta go,” Misha said, eyes fixed on an approaching crowd of passengers.
“I love you, Alexis,” Aquila whispered and pulled herself away from her son.
Misha, who held the satchel and the young boy whose small wings hid under the oversized shirt, stepped through the train door. Aquila stayed behind and watched as the train pulled away from the station. She wiped a tear from her cheek before turning around to meet the other harpies as they landed from the sky.