You are Jaden, about to have a solo adventure, without Rose's magic to back you up. Your Insecurity weakness is telling you how much you are going to fail this mission, let every one down, die, and leave Rose alone and heartbroken for all eternity.
"I'm sorry ma'am, but that's as far as you can go in that vehicle," says the park ranger, leaning in through your window. "It's just forest and mountains in that direction for a hundred miles."
"That can't be right," you protest. "I'm nowhere near the place I have to get to, there has to be a road!"
"No roads, no trails, and no way to approach by air, I'm sorry. Whatever is up there, you're going to have to do without it, unless you want to walk."
"What if requisitioned a heli- what did you say?"
"No air travel. Do you know what this place is?"
You shake your head.
"Dragon country. They don't appreciate noisy vehicles in their air space, that's for sure. That's why I'm here, to warn people. Lots of wizards come down here looking to score unicorn's horns or dragon blood or whatever. Others just want to come "see a dragon" which is foolish. Not that they'll just eat you up you understand, but they don't like to be bothered. And get to close their lair and they'll think you're after their treasure, and they don't like that, so they don't."
"Wait, unicorns and dragons in the same area?"
"Sure. The magical creatures and animals stick together. Dragons usually use magic to feed themselves, otherwise they would be hunted down and killed because of how much meat they would be eating per day. So the unicorns and fairies and what have you gather here, because they know the dragons live around here too. They do favors for the dragons and get protection in exchange. It's a pretty good system, really."
"So I can't go any further?"
"You can, there's a place to park right over there." He points to the area by his guard house, I guess you would call it, that's been cleared. "But I can't be held responsible for what happens to you after you go in there."
"Fine." You pull over and park the vehicle, putting the GPS coordinates into your phone. You get out.
"By the way, how long would it take me to reach these coordinates, anyway?" You show him the display on your phone.
"I've got a map of the area, let me go get it." He goes back into the building and comes out with a large sheet of paper, marked with a grid. "You're here right now, at this edge. From the looks of your image, it's right smack dab in the middle. Figure at least six days travel from here, and there are some mountains in the way, so that estimate is if you're a good mountain climber, too. If not... well, you might die."
"Great! Now what I am supposed to do?"
"Can you tell me what's so important you need to go over there?"
"I'm with NPC-PS, working a case. My friends and I all got a family member stolen from us by a wizard that's been causing us some problems. We're trying to get them all back at the same time. That's why I need to get to this place quickly. Is there anything you can do?"
He shakes his head. "Sorry, I just keep people out. Never had anyone so desperate to get in before. I'm not sure what to tell you."
"Okay," you decide, "I'm going to try something. If I don't come back by nightfall, it's worked, and I'll be back for my car by the next day or so. I hope. Wish me luck."
"Good luck?" he says, somewhat hesitantly. You grab a bag of stuff out of the trunk, put it into your inventory so you don't have to carry it, turn and march into the forest.
You keep one eye on your GPS unit so you know you're heading in the right direction, and walk for about an hour until you come to a good spot, a partial clearing. You sit down on a fallen tree and calm yourself, remaining still and thinking good thoughts. You push the repetition of "this is never going to work, this won't work, you're an idiot" out of your mind. It's a card. It has to work. Right?
"I declare the use of card 41," you say softly, and the card with the dark haired girl on the phone appears, then disappears. You close your eyes and say more loudly: "Spirits of the forest, hear me and come to my aid! My name is Jaden Shan, known to my lifelong friend, the fairy Rose Petal, who I have known and loved like my own sister." And more, you think to yourself. "I humbly beg your assistance. I must reach the center of the dragon's territory swiftly to save the father of another friend of mine, who was cruelly taken from his home by a wizard, my enemy. Always have I respected nature, and the power and wisdom of the fairies. Rose Petal has taught me much about the balance of nature and about her people. Please, you are my only hope now if I am to reach him before the wizard discovers me and moves him, or worse. Please, I have never wished harm to a fairy or a flower, a beetle or a tree. I mean you no harm. Will you help me?"
Your words fade into the trees, and you try hard not to give into your insecurity that this will never work. You wait a moment, then open your eyes. Before you is a small fairy, a man, and he's looking you over. He has dragonfly wings, and a leaf as a loincloth. His hair is a light blue, and he has what seems to be a tattoo on one arm like a bracelet. You resist the urge to start babbling at him and scare him off, and wait until he speaks.
"You know Rose Petal then?" he asks you.
"Yes, she came to me as a small child, and we've been together ever since."
"She always was one for getting into mischief."
"You know her too?"
"I did, years ago, before she left the forest."
"Wait, this forest? She left this forest? How did she come so far?"
He laughs. "No, no, I've moved since then, many times. Some fairies go where the wind takes them, others take a shine to a person or place and stay with them for life. Some fairies protect trees, others protect animals that might not be able to fend for themselves. Still others, well, they protect the people close to them, and I guess that's you in this case."
"I guess it is. Can you help me?"
"Maybe. You do have a fair look about you, and an honest one." He suddenly flies up. "All right everyone, she's okay, you can come on out!"
Suddenly, all around you, a dozen or more fairies appear, many of them with magical spells held that they dismiss as they come over. It seems if you were an enemy to fairy kind, you wouldn't have lived much longer... The fairies are all shapes and sizes, both male and female, some wearing things, some not. Some holding bits of wood or other things they must use to focus their magic, like Rose does, other not. Some have butterfly wings, some dragonfly. Their hair and skin are all colors of the rainbow, and you can't help but smile to see them.
They all start talking at once, crowding around in the air in front of you, asking about you, and the outside world, and about Rose, and the original fairy holds up a hand and shouts "Peace!" The others quiet down.
"Let the lady think," he says. "I'm sure she'll be able to answer all your questions later. Come, let us dine, and maybe we can come up with a solution to help you with your little problem."
You follow them into the forest and come to what must be a fairy village, there's little houses and everything.
"With your permission," a fairy says to you, "I'll take you down to a more appropriate size."
"Oh, a shrink spell? Yes, that'll be fine!"
He casts the spell, and you get smaller and smaller, until you're the size of the rest of the fairies, and they bring out a lot of fruit and nuts and things to eat, and it turns into a sort of party. Of course, "a lot" of fruit to a fairy is maybe one strawberry, and you sit and laugh and eat with the others, and learn a little about them as they learn about you. Some of them speak better english then others, and all are happy to hear you talk in order to learn more. It seems fairies actually speak a different language then humans! How odd is that! Other languages, who would have thought of such a thing?
Soon the food is put away and the original fairy, who you know now as Hail Stone, gets everybody quiet again.
"Well Jaden, you've shown yourself to be a friend to fairies, so we'll help you as we can. But it won't be easy. We don't know any magic to make you fly, because we can all fly, so we never learned any! But we could get you a steed. There's a unicorn that hangs around these parts, but she's sensitive to her color. She may ask you do to something for her, and of course we can't make her help you, that's up to you. She's the only one that could get you where you need to go because she knows a lot of speed magic. She loves to run, and I'm sure she'd be willing to carry you to where you need to go. Her name is Cieta, and we'd be happy to introduce you."
"I could meet a real, live, unicorn?" you say, excited. "No one sees unicorns, not ever! Some people still don't believe they actually exist, and you're saying I might be able to ride one?"
"That's right. I guess you're willing to make the attempt."
"Is it... is it dangerous?"
"I don't rightly know. We've never asked something like this of her before. But she's a friend to us, and we know her well, and where she grazes, so we'll take you to her and you can do the rest."
"I will, for that chance. Oh, thank you so much!"
"Not at all. Maybe some day when you're not on business you can stay with us awhile, and tell us stories of the big people world, and dance with us, and make merry."
"Oh, I would so love to do that, I love dancing!"
"I wish you had said so earlier! Still, we've taken enough of your time, Acorn Top, release the shrink spell, and everyone stand clear. No offense, but being without wings, we'll have to make what time we can to Cieta's glade with you walking."
"I'm ready, let's go!"
The fairy returns you to normal size and you take off after Hail Stone, wanting to run and run until you see this unicorn, but you hold yourself back.
You'll never be able to ride her, a voice inside you says. You'll screw it up somehow.
No I won't, you answer it, thinking maybe you should buy off Insecure after all...
A short time later Hail Stone stops you, and says he's going on ahead to let Cieta know you're coming. You agree, it would be no good to just crash your way through her glade and scare her off, so you wait. It seems like forever, but you know it's only minutes later that he comes back and says she's ready to meet you. You take a deep breath and step through the bushes that surround this place, and there stands the unicorn.
She's a perfect chestnut brown, with golden hooves and a glittery, silver horn. She stands taller then you, sleek, strong and proud, her tail the only indicator of her nervousness, as it swishes back and forth jerkily. In the most pragmatic sense, she is just a horse who happens to have a horn, through magic. But standing before her, there's just something magnetic about her appearance, as she seems to attract the eye and the heart. Is it just part of a unicorn's magic that captures the human imagination so? Or is the horn, the intelligence in the eyes, the regal bearing, everything about this creature that makes you want to run and throw your arms around her? Oh, you're in love, and the thought of riding such a fine creature is almost more then you can stand.
"You're beautiful," you breathe, transfixed.
"Oh. Um, thank you," the unicorn replies.
"You can talk?"
"I never heard of a unicorn talking, oh this is wonderful! Can- can I hug you?"
Cieta snorts. "I guess she'll do," she says to Hail Stone.
"Then our part is done. I wish you luck, Jaden Shan, friend of Rose. You are always welcome among the fairies. And bring Rose back to see us sometime, she needs time among her own people too, you should remind her."
"I will, and I'll come to visit, and bring lots of great things to eat, and games and all kinds of things, I promise!"
"You do know how to speak our language! We'll look forward to it!"
The fairies depart, leaving you alone with this wonderful creature you can't wait to ride. "Well," she says "Now that they're gone, I can tell you why they brought you to me."
"Is there some way I can help you? I'll do anything, just name it!"
"It's a rather... delicate matter," she says, looking down.
"I won't tell anyone, if that will help."
"That reminds me." Cieta weaves her horn in the air, muttering something, and stamps her front hoof, and you feel a wave of magical power wash over you.
"Was there something else, Hail Stone?" she asks, looking past you.
"Ah, you're too smart for us, Cieta. You've got us, we'll go."
The fairies turn and fly away, and you both watch them go.
"They're good people, but curious and mischievous, as you may know."
"My friend Rose Petal likes to play tricks some times, so yeah, I know."
"Now that we're alone I can tell you. It's not easy to talk about."
"Take your time," you say, seething at yet another delay.
"The fact is, I'm not really welcome in my herd because of my color."
"Appalling! You're a perfectly fine color, if it even mattered, which it doesn't."
"They don't think so. I'm a horse color, unicorns are supposed to be a nice pastel pink, or white, or aqua or blazing red. I'm just... brown."
"You are not just brown!" you say strongly.
"Maybe to your eyes. Anyway, I'm kind of an outcast so I do a lot more wandering around then most unicorns, and I met someone. And we kind of... fell in love."
"Oh, that's so great!"
"Normally, yes. He's an outcast too, of sorts, so we really understood each other and got along well. He taught me magic, and I helped him in his research, and didn't laugh at his peculiarities. We've been together a couple of years now, and it's been great, but I kind of want to marry him."
"That is so sweet! A unicorn getting married, it'll be one for the history books."
"I know. He says it's kind of foolish, we're already together after all, but the fairies tell me stories about human weddings they've seen and I just want to make that commitment to him."
"I know how you feel. But can a human even marry a unicorn? I mean, I could probably marry Rose," you blush furiously, "but we're both human... shaped? Same sex marriage isn't prohibited, but I don't think any human has ever married a fairy before. I guess if you went in disguise with magic-"
"He's not a human."
"Oh. I'm sorry, I just assumed- is it a fairy?"
"No." She hesitates. "It's a dragon."
"You're in love with a dragon?" Your eyes are wide, that wasn't what you were expecting to hear.
"Silly, isn't it?"
"No, I think it's so romantic! Oh, to have watched you two get together, and gently fall in love with each other, I bet that would make a fantastic tale! If you one day cared to tell it, I mean."
"That's the main problem," she says. "It's not like we want to hide our relationship, exactly, but we already live on the fringe of our species, we don't need any sort of scandal to make us feel worse. Maybe one day our story can be told, but not today."
"So what can I do? I'm just a marital artist who's learning to build electronic stuff. I'll help in any way I can, of course, but-"
"I just want you to witness it, and sign the contract that says we're married. That's all."
"Oh, because you can't ask a fairy or a unicorn to do it."
"Exactly. If a fairy found out, the whole forest would know in about... three seconds? And by the whole forest I mean every mouse, every bird, every tree, every unicorn, every dragon, you get the idea."
"I see your problem."
"So you'll help us?"
"It would be an honor to help you two get married," you say, a tear in your eye.
"I'll, uh, take that hug now."
You run forward and throw your arms around Cieta's neck, holding her close. "Oh, I'm so happy for you!"
"I admit I'm a little nervous now, actually."
"Well don't be, everything will be fine. Come on, let's go see this dragon lover of yours, I can't wait to meet him."
"Okay, get on and I'll take us there. I'll use acceleration magic so it won't take too long."
"Oh," you say, "I never even thought of that. I've never ridden before!"
"Don't worry, I won't buck you off. And I can give you some pointers as we go. For now, just get up on my back and grab on with your knees."
You bounce off a tree and swing up on Cieta's back before she can even move.
"I could have bent down a little," she says, lamely. "I guess that's the whole martial arts stuff you were talking about?"
"It's come in handy," you reply.
Cieta answers by again weaving her horn and calling on magic, and a large circle appears underneath her. She stomps all four feet in rapid succession and the spell goes off, and you feel her quiver underneath you as the acceleration magic takes hold.
"Ready to fly?" she asks, "Holding on tight?"
You clench your knees around her and take a gentle hold of her mane in case you need extra grip, and she takes off at a gallup far faster then you thought possible.
"It's not far," she shouts, dodging trees at a blur, what a fantastic ride!
After awhile you get the hang of holding onto her, and lean forward, almost laying down on top of her. "By the way, you said this dragon is more like you? Is he a non-standard color as well?"
Cieta laughs. "No, he doesn't keep a treasure! He says he would rather research magic, or learn new stories or make up new stories or visit other lands instead of just piling gold up someplace and never doing anything with it. Very untypical for a dragon."
"I should say so!"
You close your eyes, Cieta's hooves pounding beneath you, the heat of her body radiating up into you, as she dodges trees and leaps logs on her way to the dragon's cave. You're actually riding a unicorn, it's like a dream, and you're off to marry her and a dragon together, which you're pretty sure no one has ever done. You never dreamed this could ever happen to you, and you never want this ride to end. You feel Cieta's powerful muscles beneath you, and stretch out as much as you can while still hanging on. Now this... is magic!
"Oh, you want to go faster?" yells Cieta, lowering her head. "I could manage for awhile. Hang on!"
You're both laughing and shouting, the wind whipping your hair as the forest flies by you, almost a blur, as the sure footed unicorn races across the green carpet of the forest. All too soon she breaks through the trees and races up a path, finally coming to a halt in front of a cave, breathing heavily.
You slide off, barely catching yourself as your feet in the ground, and you walk around Cieta, holding on to her while you compose yourself again.
"Haven't... run, like that... for a long... time," Cieta says to you. "Felt good."
You give her a big hug again. "That was the most amazing thing I've ever experienced," you say, "Thank you so much."
"I had some nervous energy to work out," she says, and you both start laughing again. A head pops out of the cave and looks around, confused.
"Cieta, is that you? What are you doing with a human?" it asks in a low voice. "You know you don't have to bring me morsels, my magic provides for me just fine."
"Don't be silly, Vexixarax, she's here to marry us!"
"Well, I know you've wanted to marry me for some time, but the girl hasn't even met me, why would she want to marry me as well?"
"You know what I mean, you big tease," she says, walking over and nuzzling the head. "Come out and say hello, she won't bite."
"Won't bite, that's a good one!"
A long dragon crawls from the cave, stretching his wings and yawning. He's big, like all mature dragons, and his emerald green scales glitter in the sunlight. You can see the resemblance to the undersea dragons you met earlier, at least around the head.
"Jaden, meet Vexixarax, my beloved. Vexixarax, this is Jaden, she needs our help rescuing someone over the mountains. I thought if she would agree to witness our marriage, you might be willing to fly here there."
"Hummmmmm," he says, looking this way and that at you. "You've rode a unicorn today, do you know how rare that is?"
"Yes, I do Mr Vexixarax, Sir. I'll never forget it."
"A polite one, isn't she? I can see what you see in her," roars Vexixarax, laughing. "And now you want a ride from a dragon. Do you think you're worthy of such an honor?"
"Me, personally? No, probably not. I always try my hardest, but something inside me always says I'll just mess it up." Your insecurity is talking again, apparently. "But I think my mission to save someone's father from a wizard is a worthy one. I don't ask for myself, but for Clayton, that I might rescue his father. I'll be happy to see you two get married, even if you don't help me afterwords, just so I can know you two are together."
"Interesting answer. I'll think about it. Come my dear, if we're going to do this, we should do it properly."
Cieta looks over at you, and you could swear she looked a bit confused, but she follows Vexixarax into the cave, and you follow behind. She traces her horn through the air a little ways in, and a ball of light appears and follows you, as Vexixarax makes his way to the back of the cave. The passage is large, to accommodate his bulk, and you see books, vials of liquid, old weapons, and just general clutter inside the cave as you walk. Cieta notices you looking around.
"He often uses his shape shifting spell to become a man, and, uh, other things."
Can unicorns blush, you wonder?
"Anyway, he sometimes goes out and brings back things to study, and they get piled around. He's been alive a long time."
"I see," you answer, wondering just how long a "long time" is. He stops at the back of a large hollowed out area, and turns around.
"Girl, come with me. Cieta, wait here."
He turns back and growls something at the stone, which disappears, forming a passageway, and plods through it. You shrug at Cieta and follow. "My name is Jaden," you remind the dragon. That gravely sound could be him laughing? The light stays back with Cieta, and you're groping your way forward, until Vexixarax growls something else and the candles in the room all light up, reveling a sort of chapel, with a podium, stairs, and thousands of candles on every surface, making it almost look like the starry sky came down and landed here. It's beautiful, and you say as much to Vexixarax.
"If you like it, I suppose it'll do. I've been working on it for quite some time, since she started all this marriage business. I may not get married often, but when I do, I might as well do it right."
"You did all this yourself?"
"Do you think she'll like it?"
"You're just a big softy past all those teeth, aren't you? I like it, I'm sure she will."
"Don't spread it around, dragons have a certain reputation to maintain. I'm glad you like it. There is, of course, one other thing."
Vexixarax growls again, and upon the podium you see resting a quill and a sheet of paper. "This is the contract spell," he explains. "I want you to write up something for me, and sign it. It should read, I, Jaden, do swear that after the dragon Vexixarax and the unicorn Cieta marry I will speak of it to no one, unless released from this binding by the dragon Vexixarax. Then sign your name. I'm sorry to have you do this, but you really must understand our position."
"The first dragon/unicorn marriage? I understand." You write the words, having to ask several times how to spell his name because his pronunciation of individual letters is a bit shaky and he keeps speaking dragon at you, then show them to Vexixarax, who nods, and you sign the bottom. The quill disappears.
"You can keep the paper if you want, or burn it or whatever. The spell will still hold."
"It'll be a nice keepsake for me, as if I needed a reminder of today."
"Do you know how to even marry us?"
"I'll think of something."
You gently place, if such a thing is possible, the contract into your inventory, and Vexixarax growls again, and what looks like a little human girl with a basket appears. You make a REAson check, but you fail to penetrate the illusion, so you see a real little girl walk back to the other side of the cave and make a hand motion calling Cieta in. She steps in, and somehow she's radiating light herself, which you again fail to recognize as illusion because apparently you suck at REAson checks.
She calmly and slowly walks towards Vexixarax, the little girl throwing flower petals from her basket as she walks, until she's beside him.
I'm going to mess it up, you think. Bad thought, out with the bad thought. My bad thought belongs to the Narrator. It is his words, not mine. "Vexixarax and Cieta, you have come here today to make a commitment to each other and with love in your hearts. Although your respective people might not understand you, an understanding has been created between you built of friendship and respect. Although you may be different on the outside, your love shows you are the same on the inside. Vexixarax, do you take this unicorn to be your wife, to love, to protect, and never, ever, to eat, no matter how hungry you get?"
"Even if she were the last meat left and my magic was gone."
You ponder a moment. Seems valid. "And do you, Cieta, take this dragon to be your husband, to stand with him against all other dragons, and, uhm, to offer your body to him if you were the last meat left?"
"If it could make him live but a moment longer, I would not hesitate to give my life for my love."
"Then by the authority you have given me, I pronounce you husband and wife. You can-"
They can't exactly kiss, can they? Uh...
Both of them start casting again, and suddenly both shrink, Vexixarax a lot and Cieta a little, and become human, embracing and kissing.
"Kiss the bride." you finish, a bit lamely. They step away, smiling at each other, and are suddenly back in their original forms.
"Congratulations, you two," you say, stepping out from behind the podium.
"That was really great, thank you," says Cieta, touching you with her horn. "And you, working on all this in secret! I thought you didn't want to get married!"
"I am still a dragon," he answers. "When I find a treasure I want to keep it, I guess my treasures just don't happen to be gold."
"Oh, Vexi, I love you!"
Vexi, you think. Still, a tear rolls down your cheek, weddings are so nice, aren't they?
"Ahem. A deal is a deal. Come Jaden, it is my wedding day! Let us away that I might return to my bride," his voice drops even lower, "With all that entails!"
"Oh, you!" she says. "Goodbye, my new friend. When you come to visit the fairies, feel free to visit us as well, I would like that very much. I'm sorry we didn't get much time to spend together but I want to get to know you better, if that's okay?"
"I would like that, a lot. You've given me something precious, I won't ever forget."
You hug her goodbye and take to the air on Vexixarax's neck, his powerful wings lifting you off the ground and speeding you towards the GPS coordinates. You have your binoculars out, and it's getting dark by this time, but not so much you'll have to switch to night vision just yet. You tell Vexixarax what to expect, after he does some magic so you can both talk over the wind, and he says he'll keep an eye out for blocks of ice too. Suddenly you see it, there's a wide space that's been cleared, almost as if the top of a mountain had been sheered off, and there's a small army circling the frozen block that holds Clayton's father.
"Hang on!" he shouts, diving. The men see this dragon screaming out of the sky and break formation, this probably wasn't the rescue attempt they had in mind, and Vexixarax slams into the ice block with his four legs, talons crunching into the ice while his wings beat down, throwing the men back with a powerful wind. He inhales, and suddenly a stream of fire bursts forth from his mouth, driving them back even further. He pumps his wings again, taking off, and the men haphazardly fire into the air, but he's soon outpaced them.
"So where are we headed now?" he asks you.
"Back to my car, at the edge of the forest. We can get him thawed out and I'll drive him home. Thank you, you were great back there."
"Putting those men in their place back there was highly satisfying. They needed to be reminded who controls this area."
You all soar back to the car, and Vexixarax casts a spell that melts the ice, bringing Clayton's father out of the ice, unharmed. You thank Vexixarax again, while he stands transfixed by the huge dragon that's calmly talking to you, and then flies off to "take care of business."
You can't help laughing, but sadly a magical contract keeps you from explaining to a bemused, middle aged man on your way back to base.
You get back and everyone is there, families once again reunited, and now under NPC-PS protection so they can't be teleported away again. You run to Rose and give her a big hug, glad she made it through.
"It was actually pretty easy," she says. "Yours?"
"It wasn't too bad. Say, Rose, after this is all over, let's get married, okay?"
Rose's eyes light up and she smiles a huge smile before her eyes go back in her head and she plummets to the ground.
"So is that a yes, or a no?"