Starlyn lay by the glow of the small fire by her guardian’s hut staring up at the constellations in the
night sky. Homesick, tears glittered in her eyes, mimicking the stars above. She missed her dragon family most desperately.
“Ti-ti,” Starlyn addressed Tala affectionately, “I like it here, but I miss my dragons. When can I go home?”
Busy mashing Datura root to add to her apothecary, Tala felt a tinge of sorrow for the tiny girl. It had only three days had past, but she was obviously homesick.
“I’m not sure, my little dove,” she answered the melancholy child,“You know they’re on a very important mission to rid Kilacomb of the very same monster that put those wounds on your back. It takes very careful planning to kill monsters.”
“Yes, I know,” Star said, “but what if something happens? What if they don’t come back?”
Tala had been been ruminating on that very question. What if Star’s dragon parents never returned? What would happen to Star? She would of course stay here, but would Star seek out other dragons or be content with to stay here with her?
“Let’s stay positive and not think along those terms, okay? They are coming back and they will be just fine.” Tala told her. “I keep hearing the name Dae, who is he, Star?”
“Dae is my brother, Ti-Ti,” Star’s face lit up with happiness, “He’s the funniest, strongest, most handsomest dragon in the whole world!”
“You sound like you love him very much,” Tala observed, “and he sounds like a wonderful big brother.”
“Oh, he is!” Star gushed, “He does everything with me! He teaches me about the stars and the moon and about the whole world! He protects me from monsters and never, ever yells at me.”
“What a wonderful big brother you have, Star!” Tala agreed, “but you do realize that you had human parents, don’t you?”
“Yes, Ti-Ti, I know,” Star said, “but my real parents died. Now I’m a dragon girl.”
Tala laughed at the child’s reasoning, “yes, but perhaps you have relatives elsewhere that would love you and miss you.”
“Relatives?” Star asked, confused, “What’s a relative?”
Tala smiled at her young mind. Pushing aside the wolf pelts, she held out her hand to Star and led her to talking logs that were placed strategically around the fire for family and friends to have conversation. Sitting down with Star by her side, she picked up a stick and drew two adult stick figures in the dirt.
“Let’s learn about relatives, Star,” she told her, “Let’s pretend this is your mother and father.”
She pointed at the figures and drew two more adult figures next to each one.
“Now these people are your mother’s parents,” she said, “and the other people are your father’s parents, they are your grandparents.”
Star thought about it for a minute and her then her face lit up with understanding.
“Oh! I get it!” she exclaimed happily, “So Elder Astor is my grandfather!”
“Elder Astor is a dragon?” Tala asked, knowing the answer.
“Yes, Ti-Ti, he’s a dragon, a very Old dragon.”
“No, my dear child,” Tala corrected her, “Astor is not your grandfather, only in name. Your grandparents are human, love, not dragons. Now let’s teach you about brother’s and sister’s.”
Rafa sat high on the ledge of South Peak Lookout staring thoughtfully at the clear night sky as he listened to his son. Ark explain the bizarre relationship between a human child and the son of one of his father’s most hated enemy, Baylor, from the Shadow dragons. Just the name alone was enough to put him into a rage. Come tomorrow night, all of Kilacomb would pay for banishing the Atranoch to Darkmoon. He’d make sure of it.
“Father, you have to see it to believe it,” Ark divulged, “it was like they were brother and sister or best friends.”
“How soon will my army ready to move?” Rafa inquired, “I want them rested, fed. and ready to go when the moon is high. I don’t want to see a single dragon or human left standing tomorrow! Not one!”
Ark watched his father stalk back into the cave on the Peak’s north side, a little overwhelmed by his sire’s raw hatred. Unlike most of his kind, he didn’t feel the need to slaughter every living thing. He could understand the need to kill when hungered, but the senseless bloodshed wasn’t something he agreed with. Even his mother had a love to spill blood. Was there something wrong with him? Although his kind didn’t worship any higher powers, he looked to face on the moon and asked for guidance, for some kind of a sign that would put his heart at ease. When none came, he turned towards the cave with a heavy heart. Tomorrow he would be expected to kill for the sake of killing and he didn’t know if he had it in him. He lay down on his fur bed and fell into a troubled sleep.
After the lesson with Tala, Star yawned big and lay down on her furs in the hut, feigning sleep. Listening to Tala lay down on her own bed of furs, Star waited until she heard the tell tale sound of her guardian’s soft snoring, grabbed her gathering bag and tip-toed quietly out of the hut. With only the moonlight to to guide her, she ran barefoot to the horse enclosure, quietly ducking under the fence. Because Starlyn spent so much time with the animals, the horses barely pawed a hoof at her arrival. Grabbing a blanket and a rope halter she went straight to Rane, her favorite mount and stroked the mare’s velvety muzzle. Slipping the halter over her head, she led her to the wooden fence where a thick log lay. Standing on the log, she threw the blanket over the horse’s back, jumped down and led her in silence to the edge of the woods.
“We need to find something I can stand on, Rane,” she told the horse, “Your going to help me find my relatives because Ti-Ti said I have a grandparents and maybe aunts and uncles, too. She said I wasn’t a dragon even though I want to be a dragon.”
The child and the horse walked deeper into the forest until Starlyn found a tree stump just perfect for mounting the grey mare. Climbing up, she wound her small hands into Rane’s silver mane and heaved herself up onto the horse’s back.
“Take me to my relatives, Rane,” she commanded, “and if we can’t find them, take me to Dae.”
Rafa watched the sun kiss the horizon, his body tense with the anticipation of sinking tooth and claw into warm, giving flesh. His army, denied food the day before, were ravenously hungry, ready to tear into anything living and breathing. Except for the girl; per Rafa’s orders. The girl was obviously someone very important to Baylor and before Rafa killed her before Baylor’s eyes, he wanted to know why. Killing something Baylor loved would be extra sweet and he’d savor every tasty morsel. He turned to Hadrian, his second in command.
“Have you seen Ark?” he asked, “I haven’t seen him since he told me about the human child. Find him and tell him and the other to gather near Broken Rock in one hour. It’s almost time to shine.”
Ark watched a fat rabbit munching on bits of sweet grass and clover, his stomach rumbling noisily. He wondered why they couldn’t eat until the killing was over, but had a good idea. Well, he thought, too bad, because he was hungry right now. Pouncing on the unsuspecting bunny, Ark snapped its neck with two quick shakes and gobbled it down in one bite. He roamed away from the Peak and into the forest to clear his head. Unlike his kin, he enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods and the way the soft, loamy earth felt under his feet. As the sun sank behind the mountains, the dappled moonlight filtering through the trees to give his eyes just enough to see where he was going and then his keen ears picked up on a sound not conducive to the forest. The sound of a horse’s soft nickering. Quickly, he ducked behind a large boulder, his dark, bristly fur blending in with the darkness. As the horse approached his hiding spot, his ears picked up another strange sound; a human child singing softly to herself.
Rane snorted and pranced, almost knocking his tiny rider to the ground had she not tangled her fingers in her soft mane. Rearing up, she came down and side stepped away from the boulder neighing, a warning. She could smell the beast, but couldn’t see it.
“Whoa, Rane!” Starlyn yelled, “What’s wrong with you? Do you want to make me fall?”
Rane, with the beast’s foul odor in her nostrils, continued to prance nervously until unable to stand it any longer, bucked, lashing out with her back feet. Starlyn felt herself slipping off and fell face first onto the forest floor. Rane bolted, leaving Starlyn dazed as she struggled to get up until she felt strong claws pushing her back down. She tried to scream, but the unknown assailant shushed in her ear as a warning.
Ark felt a number of emotions run through him as he held the soft, struggling human child under him. Her shirt rode up her back revealing raised, red scars from the attack a few days ago. Curiously, he felt an emotion he’d never felt before. As he looked at the child’s smooth, soft baby skin, the three slash wounds stood out in his mind and pity overwhelmed him. Rolling her over, he was startled by the intensity of terrified, green-eyed gaze.
“Please don’t hurt me!” she begged, “I only wanted to find my relatives.”
Ark was fascinated by the softness of her skin and stroked her cheek with a long, bony finger.
By all rights, he should kill her right now or at least bring her as a prisoner to his father, but for some reason, he couldn’t.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone. Not tonight,” he warned her gruffly, “Now stand up.”
Eyes wide as a frightened deer’s, Starlyn stood up, her body shaking. She studied the horrible beast before her, wrinkling her nose in distaste at his foul odor.
“You should take a nice bath, Mr. monster,” she blurted out, “you smell bad.”
Ark, shocked at her boldness, choked on a laugh, something he hadn’t done in a very long.
“So you think I smell, do you?” he asked, “well, you don’t smell like a bed roses yourself, human.”
Her fear abating, Starlyn reached up and touched the Atranoch’s face, running her fingers over his backward pointing horns.
“How come your horns go that way instead of pointing front way?” she asked, her curiosity overcoming her fear, “are you broken?”
Again, Ark snorted with laughter. Humans were more interesting than he ever believed. But he was torn. If he made the child his prisoner and brought her back to the cave, it would be a great victory on his part in the eyes of his father. But for his victory, this child would pay with her life. He chided himself for his soft heart, unworthy of his kind and was torn between wanting to please and saving her life.
“Monster, sir?” the human girl inquired fearfully, “are you going to eat me?”
“Eat you?” he exclaimed, “Why would I want to do that? You probably taste like old, moldy bread sitting on a bed of worms.”
She gasped, laughing out loud, “I do not!” she giggled, “if you tasted me I would taste as sweet as the sap of a maple tree! I have a better idea. Maybe instead of eating me, you could take me to my relatives!”
Ark looked at the little girl’s eyes, the color of the sea, wondering if she could even comprehend his indecisive thoughts. She obviously had no clue she could die tonight. Making up his mind, he told her to stay put while he searched for her horse. The grey beast was busy grazing a short distance away, prancing nervously as Ark approached.
“Whoa, there, I won’t hurt you,” he assured the frightened animal, “someone’s waiting for you.”
Getting close enough to grab the horse’s halter, he led her back to her tiny owner. Lifting the little girl up onto its back, he handed Starlyn the rope and looked up at her.
“Listen very carefully to me,” he said, “There are more like me coming, many more. They are NOT good and if you see them coming, you must hide as quickly and as best as you can, understand? They will kill you if they find you, or worse, take you prisoner and torture you.”
“Why would they want to kill me?” she asked tearfully, “I’m a good girl, mostly and I don’t even cry when I fall down!”
What amazed Ark the most about this human was her pure and refreshing innocence, something he’d never before encountered. It fascinated him, making him feel something all warm and fuzzy inside. Was she bewitching him? Hypnotizing him? Ark knew if his father ever found out he’d found the girl and let her go, there would hell to pay.