A burst of fire erupted from his throat and danced around her wings, making her lip curl from the stench of burning. She didn’t dare glance back, didn’t dare stop and face the heat and its billowing of wrath. The ledge below her paws shook with fright. Creaked and groaned like a garbled voice, as though it was trying to tell her something, a voice that was desperate and hollow. Despite the fiery wind, her blood ran cold. The earth crashed beneath his paws. Gaining, growing faster, growing bolder--
Seconds before his claws crashed into her scales, she whirled sharply away.
“Get back here!” Grimald roared, fury simmering in his wild eyes.
She gasped when the ground crumbled beneath her, shattering beneath like an eggshell. Her pawsteps faltered. At the trickling of a wayward breeze, she unfurled her wings.
Another shot of fire burst forth from his jaws, singing her hind legs before she could veer away. Grimald screeched again, a haunting sound. She beat her wings frantically. This was her last chance. She had to make it!
The air became thinner, the sky more blurry, as though the trees and clouds were being welded together, morphed into some strange shape. A flash of golden scales. He was lunging for her again.
The sky shimmered at its edges. She saw how he paused a bit in midair, how his eyes widened. How he realized, just as the skies parted, that the Betwixt had surged open. He lurched toward her, claws outstretched, mouth open in a frightening roar.
But the air of the Betwixt was cool and quiet. It welcomed her like an outstretched hand.
She was already halfway in before she halted, her wings pumping her up and down in the air. Right before she slipped through to the other side, she turned with one last glare at the dragon.
Their eyes connected, his burning green ones against her cool gray. “I am no longer yours,” she snarled. There was no way of knowing if he had heard, because the Betwixt pulled her the rest of the way in and swallowed her up into a pit of nothingness. It was like swimming in a black sea where nothing existed, like the world before its birth. There was no fear here. She knew. This was a place where even Grimald, in all his monstrous glory, wouldn’t dare set paw in. A bright pinprick of light appeared ahead, burning as bright as a white star. She flew her way toward it and, without hesitation, plunged right in.
When Ginnie first met the dragon, it was a cricketsong evening, the part of night where the stars grew restless and the sky was still awake. Ginnie knew this because she could feel the rays of the sun across her back long after the sun had set, the summer wind billowing through her open window. She listened to the language of her attic. A little scritch, scritch, scritch, like old witch’s fingers tapping on the ceiling. Her father always blamed it on the rain hitting the roof, or the family of rats stretching their bones. Or maybe there really was a witch living up there with a broomstick and a pointed hat and a green, warty nose like the ones in her book.
She wasn’t afraid of witches. She knew how to see right through them. Only, this night, however, felt different. Her sleepiness was snatched away and hurled out the window.
Scritch, scritch, scritch.
The noise was insistent. It was not the family of rats, because their tiny feet whispered instead of scritched. It was not the rain, either, because the summer months had not been kind this year. Ginnie slipped out of bed, clicked on the flashlight and went on the brave adventure down the hallway.
It was silent once she reached the ladder, as if she had only dreamed it. Still, she held the flashlight between her teeth and climbed the rungs. The cellar door parted to let her pass.
Her sword of light tore through curtains made of cobwebs, skeletons of decaying flies and a blanket of dust.
Through the darkness, she caught sight of boxes stacked high in mountains, rivers of dusty clothes sprawled on the floor.
A lion’s den! She thought excitedly, and would have kept going if not for a flutter of movement out of the corner of her eye.
It was only a hint of something with eyes, a twitch of spider legs, yet nevertheless she swung her flashlight around and watched as the beam hit something that was tall and thin and very much alive.
Glossy, smooth scales that cascaded down its spine like dark waterfalls. A pale underbelly. Horns that were angled and sharp enough to cut glass.
But the eyes...the eyes were something else entirely.
“Oh,” Ginnie breathed, her heart quickening with wonder. The beast’s eyes were narrowed and knowing, a rich and rippling gray-blue. Like crystals. Like mirrors. Like frost draping down a roof in ribbons. Something snake-like in the way of her movements, how she parted her jaws as if to taste the air. Her shoulders were hunched, as though ready to spring.
Ginnie couldn’t think. She couldn’t move.
In the next second, the beast sprang out from the nearest window in a flurry of black wings, a stroke of liquid night leaping to become a part of the sky outside.
Unpinned from that rippling stare, the girl sprinted over to the window and peered outside. A gust of cold wind greeted her. Then nothing else except for the crickets and shaking of leaves.
She was alone once again.