Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Eight

dragon cover2-200

 

Leelan watches Vibeke, how her eyes flicker over the trees and the meadow and follow the flight of the tiny fairies, how she scans the sky. So many things must be new to her.

This is the first time that Leelan has brought someone from the other dimension into the realm. While he watches her, he searches his mind for a reason why. Why has he brought her, why was he so sure that he absolutely had to do that?

Something draws him to her in a way he has never known before.

Before he took up his post as a watcher in the other dimension, he had to study that world and the humans. The books had said that humans had a powerful urge to procreate, that their desire to be intimate stemmed from the deChapsire to have children. But Leelan and the other students soon learned of the many times that humans were drawn to others and were intimate with each other when procreation was either not possible or actively prevented.

“It can’t be about just procreation,” his elfling friend had said back then. “Maybe they just love to touch, to be intimate? Maybe that’s a basic urge for them?”

Leelan had wondered about that too. Maybe it wasn’t so different for humans, maybe they also followed strands of destiny through space and time to find each other, much like here, in the realm.

Nobody ever explained to him how he would know if he had found his strand, his connection. Maybe it was a connection like what he felt for Vibeke or maybe it was just an alignment of minds. He just knew, when had he looked at her in her brightly dotted sleepwear in the hallway of her house, that he had to convince her to come with him.

He needs her by his side, he just doesn’t know why yet.

Vibeke plays with the stem of a flower, letting her fingertips dance along it. The flower twitches away and shakes its blossom.

“Is it ticklish?” she asks, her voice bright like a child’s.

“It looks like it,” Leelan says and tickles a flower himself. The bloom twitches away and then hits his hand.

Vibeke giggles. She continues to play with the flower when she suddenly looks at the ground in horror. “But I’m sitting on them, oh my god, am I hurting them?” She jumps up but freezes in her steps. “And I’m stepping on them.”

Verkesh tugs at her pants and hums soothingly. “No need to worry, Lady Vibeke, you don’t hurt it.”

Leelan points at a crushed flower he has been sitting on. “That is not the plant, it’s just extensions. The plant is underground, spread out in a gigantic network. We aren’t even sure if it is just one plant or many.”

“And it’s okay that I sit on them?”

“I think it’s kind of like sitting on hair?” Leelan gives her little smile.

“Oh, okay.” Vibeke doesn’t look entirely convinced, she still places her feet very carefully as walks. The color has returned to her cheeks and she looks healthier than before. She tugs a few strands of her dark hair behind her ears and studies the sky. “Is that the same sky that I see at home?”

“What is the sky, in your world?”

Vibeke opens her mouth and snaps it shut once before she starts to speak. “Well, it’s space, you know? I mean not directly, it would be black then but through the atmosphere of the planet it looks blue most of the time, unless it’s nighttime…”

“I like it when it’s blue,” Leelan says, thinking back to those sunny days when the blue color of the sky was so bright that he could hardly look at it. “And the clouds, when they are white and big, I like those.”

“You don’t have clouds here?”

“No, and no night time either.”

“What? How is that even possible?”

“This is not the sky as you know it. I don’t quite know how we relate to your world but this is not a look into space and the light doesn’t come from the sun.”

Vibeke shakes her head. “This is making my brain hurt.” She gives the sky another sceptical look. “The color is pretty though, is it always like this, pastel peach?”

“It has been as far as I remember.” One book in the Grandessa’s library mentioned the sky changing color to a deep red when an old god got angry but that had been just a story. No other story ever spoke about the sky changing.

Vibeke now looks towards the line of trees around the clearing. “You said trees are dangerous?”

“They can be a bit mean.” Leelan puts his hand on her shoulder and swallows a gasp at the surge of energy he feels from her through the touch.

Is it the same for her? Does she feel this too?

She laughs softly. “So, I should not go into the woods alone? Like in the old fairytales?” She shows him a delightful smile that makes her eyes sparkle and her cheeks turn rosy. But she quickly looks away to the trees, much more interested in her surroundings than in him.

He lets his hand slide off her shoulder, disappointed. She doesn’t feel it. The connection, the strand of destiny, she doesn’t feel it.

“You will be safe as long as I guide you,” he says and gently steers her towards a narrow path with his hand on the small of her back.

Verkesh makes a scratchy noise in his throat and a leaf unfolds on his head. “Leelan, if I may… I could clear the way easily, if…”

“Yes?”

“If I knew where we are going.”

“Ah, yes.” Leelan scratches his neck to hide the fact that he doesn’t quite know himself. “You know we’re not welcome in the palace anymore, my friend. And I don’t think we’ll get answers there anyway.”

Verkesh looks up to him, a frown forming in his bark. “Do you want to find the Ancient Ones?”

“Possibly. But at first, I want to find the roaming elflings.”

Three new leaves spring from Verkesh’s head as he looks even more worried. “Is that wise?”

“Probably not.” Leelan shrugs. “But they have magic and they must know something. I cannot rest until I have answers for the Grandessa.”

Vibeke gives him a strange look. He still has his hand on her back and he doesn’t want to lose that connection.

“Is the Grandessa your queen?” she asks.

Thinking back to the books he read, he nods. “Yes, that would be equivalent. She has been taught from birth to guide the realm.”

“Did she inherit that position?”

“Inherit?”

“Where I come from… well not exactly that but close enough, they have bloodlines that are supposed to be royal and one of the offsprings gets to be king or queen.” He must look quite bewildered at her because she raises her hands as if to stop his questions. “There’s not many places anymore that have kings or queens and most of the time they’re just sort of decorative, they don’t have political powers anymore.”

Leelan shakes his head. The human world is so strange, he isn’t really surprised by anything he hears. “Our Grandessa was chosen by the gods. There was a sign at her birth from the gods themselves.”

“The gods?”

He opens his mouth to tell her of the godly realm but she stops him.

“No, if we start talking about religion and compare it to the 3000+ religions we have, we’ll be here for weeks. Can we, like…” She sighs and turns fully to him. His hand slips from her back and hangs in the air. Before he can let it drop, she takes his hand in hers and holds onto it like a lifeline.

“You see, I like making lists,” she says, staring into his eyes, “And currently, my list has about 876 bullet points but if we stick to the first five, we get: Why am I here?, Where do we go?, Is it dangerous for me to be here?, What do you expect me to do?, and, most important: Where can we eat something?”

He can’t bear the intensity of her gaze any longer and looks to her hands clasping his own. Her touch ignites him and he can’t believe that she doesn’t feel how her energy streams through him like a fever.

“We will find enough to eat for all of us,” he says to her hands. “But we can’t go to the center, I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“I would have loved to show you the golden city and the palace.”

“But still… why am I here?”

He looks into her eyes again and is hit once again by the absolute certainty that she has to be here, with him, no matter what they’ll do. “I don’t quite know it myself, but I feel that I need you here, that you are important to this.”

“But how?” She stares at him, her eyes pleading. “It’s not that I hate it here, it’s lovely and fascinating but what can I possibly do?”

“I don’t know yet but I’m sure it will be revealed.” He sounds more confident than he feels. Even with his believe of the strands of destiny connecting them, he still doesn’t know what that destiny will be.

Her hands press his with more urgency now. “But you won’t leave me, right? You won’t leave me here with no way of going home?”

“If you desire to go back, I will take you at once.”

She straightens her shoulders and lets go of his hand. “Okay. I… I try to keep up.” She holds up her fingers and counts down on them. “What I learned so far: One, plants are aclive here and will grab you. Two, trees can be dangerous, stay away from trees. Three, there’s trolls and magic here and all sorts of stuff I can’t quite think about. That’s,” she turns back to him and drops her hand, “I think that’s all I can handle right now. And I’m hungry.”

He wants to take her in his arms and never let go again. Everything about her charms him. He turns to Verkesh to hide the blush he knows is darkening his skin. “Verkesh, we require food, do you have an idea where we should go?”

“Not towards the city as I understand.” The tree troll twists his stick-arms onto his back and paces in front of Leelan on his stumpy legs. “Can I assume that our path will take us to the Purple Plains?”

“I would think so, yes.”

“Then I’ll have to ask, as I not know that area well.” He gently picks up a small lizard from the ground but he hesitates to speak to him. “You are aware that the palace will learn of every conversation I have with these creatures?”

He has not thought about that but he nods in agreement anyway. This close to the center, the palace will know of everything they do anyway.

Verkesh whispers to the lizard and listens intently for a while before he sets him back on the ground. He picks a tiny leaf from his head and carefully lays it on the ground. Roots grow from it immediately and Vibeke watches the process intently.

“It’s so fast!” She pulls gently at the leaf but it has already connected with the ground. “How long until it has grown into a tree?”

Verkesh bends down to the leaf and studies it. “It might not become a tree. This is a gentle leaf, maybe it wants to be a flower instead.”

“It can decide?”

“Yes.” Verkesh gets interrupted by a tiny blue lizard climbing up his bark and settling on top of his head. They can’t hear anything but after a moment, five leaves sprout on top of his head and his eyes turn to slits. “I’m afraid we have to hurry.”

“We haven’t done anything wrong, yet,” Leelan says, but nevertheless steers Vibeke towards the line of trees with his hand on her back.

“But it seems the dragons are on their way to us.” Verkesh hurries in front of them, leaving a trail of leaves behind him.

“Dragons, like you?” Vibeke asks with wide eyes.

“Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are our friends.”

The trees twitch and shiver the closer they get and Leelan pulls Vibeke to his side. He has to suppress a shiver from feeling her so close but this is just for her protection, no matter how much he wishes it were otherwise.

“Don’t get too close to the trees, stay right beside me. Verkesh will ask them to let us through.” He tries to smile at her but judging from the fearful expression on her face, he is not successful.

“The trees might attack?” She presses closer to him, adjusting her steps to his.

Her closeness is making him feel warm and connected and he almost moans from the feeling. He expands his wing and settles it around her shoulder. “They won’t dare to attack me or Verkesh but they might attack you.”

They follow Verkesh on a narrow path, made by animals rather than elves or dragons. The trees close around them and it’s not their imagination that they move closer to the human and the dragon walking swiftly past them.

“Are all the trees like that?” Vibeke whispers.

“They’re more aggressive here near the center,” Leelan says. “When we get to the Purple Plains, the trees stand more solitary and are much calmer.”

“They don’t like crowds? I can relate.” Vibeke slaps a twig away that pokes at her and glares over her shoulder as Leelan pulls her forward. “That was rude!” she yells back.

“I’m afraid they don’t understand you,” Leelan says, trying to hide his smile.

“I bet they do.” She keeps up, huddled into his side, protected by his wing over her shoulder. The way she glares at the trees, it seems like she wants to dare them to touch her.

Verkesh stops in front of them and they almost run him over. The trees and vines are interlaced like a fence in front of them and won’t let them through. Verkesh stands still, slightly bend forward and leaves keep growing and falling from him. The trees around them stretch out their branches, getting closer, poking at them and even try to wrap around their arms and legs.

Leelan kneels down, pulling Vibeke down with him and wraps her and Verkesh in his wings to protect them. The tree branches are now encircling them and sticks are poking into his wings and any uncovered body parts.

“Verkesh?” Leelan says quietly. He had not expected this much aggression.

Verkesh groans as if he’s holding a terrible weight. “I’m trying but they won’t listen.”

Viebeke smacks a branch away and huddles closer to him. Leelan takes in the scent of her hair, wishing the circumstances were better for this closeness.

“We’re stuck here?” she asks just loud enough for him to hear.

“I’m not sure why.”

She draws even closer to him and whispers, “Did your queen order this?”

“She’s not just a queen, she’s — “

” — could she order the trees to detain us?”

“Yes, she could but why would she? She wanted me to investigate this, she has no reason to stop us.”

“Well, somebody is telling these trees that we should not go on.” Vibeke shrugs his wing off her shoulders and stands up, her voice growing louder as she speaks, “And I’m getting kind of sick of it. I don’t know how people here deal with rude trees but where I come from we take a big axe and — ” The twigs and branches freeze in their movements and for a moment the silence is absolute. And then Vibeke yells, loud and deep from her chest, “and then we CUT THEM DOWN!”

The branches snap back as if burned. Verkesh runs forward, Leelan and Vibeke close on his heels. The trees seem to be unsure how to react, their branches quivering as they run past. Purple hills rise far out in the distance when the trees seem to have recovered and creep closer again.

Vibeke pulls her backpack from her shoulder and opens the zipper at the top. “Do I have to take out my axe?” she threatens with her hand in her backpack.

The branches snap back again and the path opens in front of them. Leelan stuffs Verkesh under his arm and takes Vibeke’s hand and runs out into the grassy field, swerving left and right to avoid the few young trees scattered close to the edge of the forest until all that surrounds them is grass and heathers.

He slows down, stops and puts Verkesh down, who shakes his whole body, scattering leaves around. Vibeke leans forward with her hands on her knees and wheezes.

“Is now the time,” she huffs out between breaths, “to tell you that I’m not in good shape? And that taking me with you on a long trip is probably a bad idea?” She coughs as she straightens, taking in the air in deep gulps.

“We will go slower from now on, the plains are not dangerous,” Leelan says.

“I’m still not sure how useful I can be.”

Verkesh looks up to her with a frown, “Do you really have an axe in your backpack?” There aren’t many things a tree troll is afraid of but axes definitely worry him.

Vibeke laughs out. “Of course not. Where would I even get one?”

Leelan grins at her. “I think you just proved how useful you can be.” He wants to pull her into a hug, just to show her how happy he is to have her along.

“You mean bullshitting is a desirable skill for this adventure?” She laughs, bright and happy and it makes his heart skip a beat. “Why didn’t you say so? I can bullshit us through anything.”

She keeps on laughing and he can’t take his eyes off her.


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Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Seven

dragon cover2-200Vibeke looks up from her laptop when she hears the door opening. Mary and Justin scramble through the door, Mary’s hands full of plastic bags with takeout from a local Chinese restaurant. Justin runs towards the couch and flops down on it next to Vibeke. He’s an enthusiastic child but Vibeke is glad that he isn’t a hugger. Chocolate from a candy bar is spread around his mouth and his fingers look no better.

“Hey,” Mary says, placing containers with food on the coffee table. “Did you bring work home?”

“No, I was just reading up on some things.” Vibeke puts the laptop to sleep before Mary can get a closer look at her search history. She doesn’t want to explain why she looks at news site about dragons and missing children and if men with wings can really fly. That last search term especially had some disappointing results.

“Constanza came to my store again today and brought me a new line of make-up to test run,” Mary says as she sits down on a chair and picks one of the containers. “Wonderful stuff, especially for your skin color, I’ll bring something over tomorrow for you to try. And I had to show Grace again how to lock the store and arm the alarm. She’s always so worried that she might get it wrong but she already knows it just fine.”

Vibeke feels with Grace, she would be the same way if she worked with Mary. She would be terrified of making mistakes and disappoint her. Mary is such an amazing woman. She runs a drugstore, franchised but with enough independence that she can make it her own store and she specialises in having the best make-up for brown and black skin. Constanza is a sales representative that loves to use Mary’s store for test runs of new brands and lines. They also seem to have a good personal connection and Vibeke just waits for the day when Mary will invite Constanza over for dinner.

“I got you some spring rolls too by the way.”

“Thanks.” Vibeke doesn’t need to ask what else Mary has gotten for her, she always gets the same. Duck and vegetables in peanut sauce is her favorite and once she had settled on that, she always picks it. She misses her mother’s cooking and the turkish spices sometimes but she can’t deny the convenience of Chinese takeout food.

“Did you wash your hands, young man?” Mary asks and Justin dashes off with a guilty smile. As soon as he’s out of earshot, Mary turns to Vibeke and lowers her voice. “Is everything alright, honey? You seem so distracted.”

Vibeke tries to calm her features and smiles at Mary. “It’s nothing, I just have a lot on my mind with the move and the apartment.”

“Honey, I know that a decision like that doesn’t come to you easily and we’re really glad that you’re here.”

Mary knows her well. She still can’t quite believe that she helped that dragonman in the yard without making a list of pros and cons first.

“Also,” Vibeke says quietly, keeping an eye on the hallway for Justin coming back, “the thing with the missing children is worrying me.”

“Oh god, I can’t even think about that,” Mary whispers. “Justin told me that one girl didn’t come into Kindergarten today and the first thing I thought was that she has disappeared but then he told me that she got the flu.”

Justin returns from the bathroom, his T-shirt soaking wet and babbling something about the faucet attacking him. It speaks for the state of Vibeke’s frazzled mind that for a moment she wonders if that truly happened.

Later that evening, when the food has been cleared away, Justin put to bed on the air-mattress in Mary’s bedroom and Mary has given up on watching TV without dozing off and joined her son, Vibeke starts up her laptop again. The last page she has looked at, a collection of myths regarding dragons and men with wings pops up in it’s ghastly, late 90s design. She tries to ignore the flashing animations and texts but ultimately has to give up. All the flashing threatens to give her a headache. The site only lists fringe conspiracy theories anyway and has nothing that can convincingly explain to her why a man with wings needed her to put a bandaid on him.

She finally gives up on her research and goes to bed herself. Her mind is running through everything that happened in the last few days but despite the worries piling up in her head, she falls asleep after a short while.

After what feels like a few seconds, she sits up in her bed with a start. A noise, like a crash, has woken her and she’s not sure where it has come from. Another crash seems to come from the floor above her and she runs out of her room and up the stairs before her thought processes have even started. When she has reached the top of the stairs, her mind finally catches up with her and she stops mid-step.

The noises come from Justin’s room and they are eerily familiar. She wills herself to move again, quietly creeping forward, her mind helpfully listing all the dangerous things she could find behind Justin’s door. Two fighting dragonmen are at the top of that list.

The door bursts open just as she she comes close and Leelan crashes down in front of her feet. She is pretty sure that her heart has stopped beating. Plastic tarp is ripped in pieces opposite the door and flutters into the room in the cold wind. A huge shadow flies out through the hole and takes part of the scaffolding with it with a wing.

Leelan groans as he pushes himself up from the floor. “The child, where?” he calls out to her and Vibeke moves faster than she thought possible. The door to Mary’s bedroom is closed. Vibeke fights the urge to push the door open to storm into the room, she forces herself to twist the knob slowly and opens the door quietly. The air mattress is empty and Vibeke feels dread fall in her stomach like a block of ice.

She scans the room and sees a bump next to Mary in the bed. Relief makes her knees buckle, she has to hold on to the door frame as the room seems to spin around her. Just to make sure, she tiptoes over to the bed and looks that it is indeed Justin there in the bed with his mum. As quiet as possible she tiptoes out again and closes the door behind her.

Leelan stands in front of her and in a surge of emotion she throws herself at him and hugs him. “He’s fine, he’s sleeping in the bed with Mary.”

“That’s … good,” Leelan says hesitantly. He raises one arm and carefully places his hand at the small of her back.

Vibeke becomes aware that Leelan holds himself unnaturally straight. She had not even thought about it that he could feel uncomfortable from her enthusiastic hugging. “I’m sorry,” she says and untangles herself from him. The scent of his skin still hangs in her nose, something like smoke and leather.

“You don’t need to be sorry; I was just not prepared.”

Vibeke feels herself blushing and walks past him towards Justin’s thrashed room to hide her face from Leelan. “He came back for Justin, didn’t he?”

“So it seems.” Leelan comes up to her side and she’s keenly aware of his presence. “I felt that something was happening. I tried to be here before but…”

“Before? Before it happened?” she asked.

“Yes, but I was too far away. It took me too long to run here –“

“Wait, before it happened? Like with time travel?”

“In a way, yes. But hitting a specific point in time makes it harder to fix the place where I land.”

That sounds vaguely familiar and she decides to ask him about it later. “You felt something was happening? How?” For a moment she wonders if this is what having a soulmate feels like but she discards that idea as nonsense she picked up from reading too many fanfics.

I’m going insane!

“I can’t explain. It was quite disorienting.”

She puts her hand on his naked arm, feeling the soft scales give under her fingers. “You saved Justin again, thank you,” she says, failing at keeping the tremor out of her voice. She can’t help but let her fingertips dance over his skin. The scales shimmer under her touch. They are soft and flexible, the edges slightly firmer than the rest. It doesn’t feel as alien as it should and she presses her fingers down more, watching the colors change under her touch.

A sharp breath from Leelan wakes her from her reverie and she rips her hand away as if his arm bit her. “I’m sorry, I…” she looks up and sees him smiling at her. Relieved that she apparently didn’t commit a terrible faux-pas, she smiles back at him. “Yeah, I don’t know why I… sorry.”

“No need to be sorry,” he says. His voice is warm and she can hear his smile even as she looks down to her feet.

“What are you going to do now? Will he come back?” she asks to take her mind off the feeling of his skin.

“The Gerlen? I’m not sure. I had hoped that I scared him away for good the first time but this was obviously not the case.”

“What about the other children?”

“Other children?”

She looks up and sees genuine surprise on his face. “Yes, there are more; children keep disappearing. The FBI is already investigating it. I wanted to tell you all day but you didn’t give me a sparkly phone.”

“A sparkly phone?”

“Nevermind, I just had no way to contact you and I’m sure these things are connected and I thought I’d never see you again, you just showed up like that with your wings and everything and then you’re gone and I guess I have to thank that Gerly there for bringing you back –” she has to take a breath and it thankfully lets her brain catch up with her babbling. She shuts her mouth and decides to never say anything ever again.

“I wanted to come back,” he says quietly.

Vibeke waits for him to continue but he seems to be lost in thought. Her naked feet are getting cold. She clears her throat to remind Leelan that they’re still standing in the dimly lit hallway in front of Justin’s thrashed room.

He suddenly seems to wake and takes her arm to pull her along down the stairs, his wings tucked tight to his back. He whispers urgently, “I don’t know what it is but something is going on with my world and your’s and the Gerlen and the children and I don’t understand it. I need your help.”

“My help?” she calls out, glad that they don’t stand in close to Mary’s door anymore for she surely would have woken up by now. “I know even less about all this than you.”

“But you saw that connection, and there are children of your kind involved. What if I find them and they run away scared because I look like a Gerlen to them?”

“Will they hurt them?”

“I don’t think so. The Gerlen were never aggressive. We lived peacefully with them for generations. They never did anything like this. They were never…” he stops himself and Vibeke wonders what it is that he doesn’t want to say.

“But I… I don’t know how I could help you; I can’t fly, I can’t fight. I do spreadsheets, you know?”

“No, I don’t think I do,” he says.

“Well, spreadsheets, it’s a software for calculations on a computer. I guess you don’t have computers in your magic dragonland?”

A grin plays around his lips. “No computers but what we have is magic; it involves no iron and electricity but the strands of eternal connections within the realm.”

“Yeah, I know even less about that. What could I possibly help you with?” Vibeke shakes her head. “And I can’t just leave. Mary will worry and I have to go to work…”

“We’ll jump back, you won’t be gone for long.”

“Didn’t that just a few minutes ago not work?”

Leelan sighs and his wings shrug. “It usually works better, maybe the injury still hindered me.”

“But I can’t just… I can’t, I’ll only be in your way,” Vibeke says, fear crushing her voice.

“Please, help me find the children of your kind,” Leelan pleads. “I think you need to be there.”

“If you start with a fucking prophecy now, I’m gonna punch you,” she spits out, the flare of anger chasing her worries away. “I’m not here for some ancient plan I’m supposed to fulfill.”

Leelan smiles brightly at her and she feels her knees go weak. If only he would stop looking so gorgeous.

“There is no prophecy,” he says, “but we believe in strands of eternity, of destiny, connecting through space and time. That’s what brings us our magic. I don’t know for sure but I feel like our destinies are connected.” He takes her hand and looks her in the eyes. “You need to be there, I’m sure of it.”

“Shit, fuck, no!” Vibeke feels hot fear crawl up her back. “I don’t know, I – ” She stares at him, at the conviction in his brilliant eyes, and swallows her fears. “Okay, I’m coming with you.”

He turns around and walks towards the door. “Good, let’s hurry then.”

“Wait,” Vibeke calls after him, “I need to get dressed first.”

“You look fine.”

She looks down at her pyjamas with the colorful comic figures printed on them. “Am I going to enter a world where everyone is wearing pyjamas?” In her mind a row of men and women in red starfleet uniforms walk towards the transporter platform and she shakes her head. “Nevermind, I’d rather have some real pants. I’ll be right back.”

Leelan bows his head. “I’ll wait for you outside.”

Vibeke watches him walk out, his wings spreading out when he is through the door and she hurries into her room to throw her things into a backpack before her mind can catch up with the insanity of the situation.

***

Vibeke sets her backpack down behind a few bushes and trees next to a park. It makes a rather loud noise and she smiles an apology towards Leelan. She only packed the things she deemed to be absolutely necessary but she wonders now how many people would have packed toothpaste, deodorant, a flashlight and a collection of pens and notepads for a trip to a magical dragonland.

The portal is nothing but a faint vertical line wavering in the air. It looks quite disappointing; she expected more colors and glow and maybe ring of plasma flames like in science fiction movies. This line is so faint she would have missed it if Leelan had not pointed it out to her.

“Is this the portal you used to get here?” she asks Leelan as he walks towards the line. He is considerably faster than her and she has to put in a few running steps to keep up with him.

“Yes, now hurry,” he says, pointing to the line in the air.

“Why?” Vibeke has to catch her breath, the air pleasantly cool when she breathes in. “You just said, like ten minutes ago, that you can go back in time and return here just a few minutes from now. Why the hurry then?”

“But I can only go to a place in time after this moment of us going through the portal. And the longer we wait, the greater the risk of Mary waking up.”

“Good point.” Vibeke looks at the wavering line and takes a step towards it. “So how…?”

Leelan takes her hand and pulls her along with him. “Just come.”

She forgets to worry about her hand sweating in his as he disappears in front of her very eyes, only his hand sticking out of the slit in the air. He pulls and she stumbles right into the wavering line.

She can’t see but she feels the portal washing over her like a curtain of prickly coldness. She doesn’t move her feet but something pulls her forward and now she can see a light approaching her, getting bigger and bigger and swallowing her up and her ears pop as the cold curtain seems to close behind her with a sigh. She stumbles onto a field of soft moss.

Leelan still holds her hand and brushes something green from her face. Her legs are wobbly and she is glad to have his support. Apart from liking that he holds her hand.

The air is warm and has an incredible scent to it. It’s almost textual, soft and sweet. Something brushes over her arm, innocent and tender.

She looks over her shoulder and sees the branches and vines of the plants reaching for her like living things. The vine brushing her shoulder begins to wrap itself around her arm, pulling at it. Vibeke rips away in panic and stumbles into Leelan’s chest.

“The plant… did it just grab me?”

“Yes, our plants are more awake than yours. Most of them are friendly though, just curious.”

“Most of them?”

A voice from down at her knees says, “Just like people, most plants are good company but occasionally you come across a bad element.”

Vibeke looks down and sees a tree stump on knobbly green legs, beady eyes blinking at her out of slits in the bark, a smile forming almost where one would expect it in a face but the lips are made of bark. A mint-green leaf bops on its head and he has a long branch extended towards her that she recognizes as an arm after a moment.

Vibeke stares. Her hand grabs Leelan’s vest for support and she keeps staring at the barky smile. “Is the tree stump talking to me or am I losing my mind?”

She hears Leelan snicker. “That’s not a tree stump. That is my friend and servant Verkesh. He’s a treetroll.”

Vibeke takes the offered hand-branch and shakes the twig-like hand. The four appendices move like little skeletal bones and she almost shrieks. Her other hand is still holding on to Leelan’s vest and she isn’t sure if her legs can hold her weight.

“Are you alright?” Leelan asks.

“I’m not gonna faint,” she says, trying to convince herself. “But I think I need to sit for a moment.”

“You can sit on me, my lady,” Verkesh says.

“Oh god, I would rather not, if you don’t mind. I don’t think I can handle sitting on you and talking with you at the same time.”

“Yes, I understand.” Verkesh leans forward for a moment in what is probably supposed to be a bow. He gestures towards a row of boulders, surrounded by small white flowers. “If you would follow me, my lady, there is a soft patch over there and you can lean against the rocks to rest.”

“Yes, thank you, that sounds good.” She follows the little troll, only vaguely aware of Leelan holding her arm. She sits down on the ground, surprised by the softness of the moss. The flowers lean towards her and a vine stretches over the boulder to her shoulder. She jerks away from it.

“I’ll tell the plants to give you some space, my lady,” Verkesh says.

“Oh thank you,” she says, “I think you’re going to be my new best friend. And please don’t call me lady. Call me Vibeke.”

She isn’t quite sure but it looks like Verkesh’s bark changes colors for a moment. Vibeke takes a deep breath, taking in the spicy air and waits for her heartbeat to slow down.


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Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Six

dragon cover2-200“Grandessa,” Leelan says urgently, staring into her unseeing eyes as if he could make her see his thoughts. “I was attacked by a Gerlen, a –“

She stops him with her hand on his mouth. “Leelan, that is ridiculous and I don’t want to hear such silly lies.” She shakes her head; her cloudy eyes turned to him, her fingers moving up from his lips towards his eyes as if she tries to make up for her eyes not meeting his.

Leelan almost grabs her by the shoulders to make her understand but his hands hover in the air without touching her. He is not allowed to touch her without permission. She is a goddess.

He takes a breath to tell his tale once again but stops when he feels a bump against his leg. When he looks down, he sees Verkesh looking up at him with a frown on his borky face. Leaves are sprouting once again on his head and he twirls one of them between his fingers. The tip of the leaf points toward a row of shelves on the other side of the library and when Leelan risks a glance he sees a tall figure standing in the shadow.

Understanding, he lets his hands drop and straightens. “Of course, you’re right. I should not bore you with silly jokes. Would you care for a stroll through the gardens?” He offers her his arm but realizes that she can’t see it.

A smile appears on her face and she bows her head. “I would love to take a walk through the garden. As a matter of fact, it has been such long time ago that I’ve been at our old favorite place. Why don’t you take me there?”

Leelan takes her hand, touching her skin as little as possible, and places it on the crook of his elbow. He racks his brain for what she could mean and the only place he can remember are the kitchen gardens behind the stables. Utilitarian, simple and dusty, a far cry from the beautiful arrangements in the palace courtyards. But he remembers how they played around in those gardens as children, hiding from the cook and picking leaves from the herbs to smell or eat them.

Her hand securely in the crook of his arm, he leads her to a backdoor and into the servant’s hallway. When the door closes behind them, her grip on his arm becomes more urgent and she pulls at it to make him go faster. “Quickly,” she whispers, “before they catch up with us.”

“Who?” Leelan asks, picking up Verkesh with his other arm. The Grandessa clings to him with both hands now, trusting him to guide her through the winding hallway.

“The elves and dragons of the grand advisor, they watch me,” she whispers.

Leelan listens to the hurried steps that echo through the stone corridor behind them. Verkesh, who has been unusually quiet, jolts awake. “The door on the left is open, the room is empty.” Leelan understands. Verkesh has used his spirit to scout out their way and has looked into the room. It must have taken him a monumental effort to go in and out of his spirit form so quickly.

Verkesh struggles in his arm to lean over and press the handle down. Leelan leads the Grandessa in first and quickly closes the door behind them. He leans against it and listens for footsteps in the corridor. At least three people walk swiftly past. He can make out the faint sounds of bronze and leather armor.

They wait in silence, not daring to even breathe until the footsteps have disappeared. Verkesh keeps growing and dropping leaves, they fall to the hard floor and the root tendrils fail to find hold on it. He squats down anxiously and piles them up neatly in his green hands.

“Grandessa,” Leelan says, keeping his voice low, “what is going on?”

“Why don’t you call me by my name anymore?” she says, her face turned towards him. Her voice sounds soft like when she was still a little girl. His wings had not grown enough to carry him yet. He had watched over her back then, too, but they had also been friends.

“A dragon can’t call the Grandessa by her former name,” he says, hiding his face from her.  He remembers that she cannot see how he has lowered his eyes and rakes through his hair in embarrassment.

“You used to call me by name, please do it again.”

Leelan hesitates, recalling everything he had learned when he became a dragon. The Grandessa, ruler of the realm. She has become a goddess and is not to be addressed by a lowly name.

“Sonne,” he says, tasting the word like a forgotten flavor. “Sonne, what happened? Why are you afraid?”

“They hide it from me.”

“What?”

“Everything. I don’t know what happens outside of the palace, I don’t know about a war, what the elves in the outskirts do, the dragons, the elflings. I can’t read it for myself and they’re not telling me anything.”

Leelan needs a few moments to take all of this in. “But you are the Grandessa, if you order them —”

“The Grand Advisor controls all of them, they only say what she allows. The maids and the kitchen helpers are not permitted to talk to me and they are all afraid of her.” She lays her head to the side, listening like a bird. “We can’t hide here any longer.”

Leelan nods, forgetting once again that she can’t see, then makes a sound to indicate to her her that he agrees. “We should go to the gardens or they’ll alarm the whole palace.” He turns to Verkesh to pick him up and is shocked by his appearance. His bark has turned grey and fallen leaves of a drab color have formed a ring around him. He is in sleep, using his Spirit form again to scout the situation outside of room.

“No my friend, no no,” Leelan says, picking him up. Bark splinters under the pressure of his hands. “Wake up, this is too much.”

“What has he done?” Sonne asks.

“Changed into his Spirit form too often and too quickly. It’s not good for him.”

Verkesh stirs, the leaves on his head twitching. His voice is rough when he speaks: “Now, now we must go.”

Leelan opens the door, trusting his old companion implicitly and takes Sonne’s hand. They walk quickly towards one of the servant’s entrances and edge along the overgrown wall outside, keeping in the shadow. The kitchen gardens look empty and Leelan puts Sonne’s hand back into the crook of his elbow, slowly walking her to the herb patches. He keeps their pace casual, just strolling as if they had no other care in the world.

Sonne takes a deep breath. “Oh, this smells wonderful. I haven’t been here in such a long time.” She pulls on his arm, taking small steps towards a patch of bushy plants with leaves that seem to try to each form a bubble. The scent grows stronger the closer they get and even Leelan has to admit that it smells nice.

The Grandessa kneels down and picks a leaf from a plant. She hold it up to Leelan. “Smell it, taste it. This is basil; it’s one of the plants that also grows well in the human world. It says in the books that humans eat it with fruits and cheese.”

Leelan nibbles on the leaf, surprised by the intensity of the taste. He hasn’t really taken the time to explore the food over there, he just ate what looked alright. It had taken him weeks to realize that most things he ate were meant to be cooked first.

The sound of footsteps comes up from the building. Sonne takes his hand in hers and squeezes it. “You have to find out what is going on in the realm and tell me about it,” she whispers urgently. “Do you promise?”

“Of course,” Leelan answers, returning the pressure with his hand.

“Don’t talk to anybody from the palace; you can’t trust them.”

Verkesh clears his throat. His bark has almost returned to its original color and only three leaves bob on his head. “Grandessa, would you know of anybody we should speak to?”

She shakes her head and drops Leelan’s hand. A group of angry looking elves and dragons comes towards them with a tall elf of grey skin leading them. Leelan pretends not to see them and picks a twig from a random plant at his feet to show it to Sonne. He guides her hand to the twig but makes sure not to touch her any more than that.

Sonne smells at the twig, a smile on her face. “Wonderful. It must be new, I don’t know what it is.”

Their pursuers arrive in a cloud of dust rising from their feet. The grey elf turns to them and a forced smile spreads on her face. “Grandessa, your Highness, these gardens are not appropriate for you.”

Sonne turns towards the sharp voice, not bothering to fake a smile. “I like it here, it smells good.”

“I will tell the gardeners to plant nicely smelling plants in our presentable gardens,” the woman says, still with that forced smile. She turns her gaze towards Leelan and Verkesh, brushing over the small wood troll as if he’s not worth her attention. “The Grandessa has given you enough of her time,” she says towards Leelan.

“I’m sure the Grandessa can tell me herself if she wants me to leave,” Leelan says. He keeps his tone as neutral and polite as possible but the scales on his back are prickling and he has to consciously hold his wings in. He looks over the group and can see that the other dragons are not quite so good at keeping their wings tucked in. They display their aggressiveness rather openly.

A short hand wave from the leading elf signals the dragons to lower their wings and she turns her fake grin to Leelan again. “As the Grand Advisor to the Grandessa, it is my duty and sometimes burden to have to remind her Highness of certain obligations that come with her honoured position. It pains me to have to cut your visit short but the Grandessa has many more appointments today. ” She looks from one to the other, the smile on her face one of pride now. She knows that the Grandessa will not deny her.

The defeat is visible in Sonne’s sagging shoulders but she raises her head high once more and turns her cloudy eyes towards the Grand Advisor. “I will be with you in a moment to continue my studies. Please wait for me at the kitchen door,” she says and turns away, facing Leelan.

Leelan can feel Verkesh tremble next to his leg, the little troll sprouts another leaf already. For a moment it looks like the Grand Advisor is about to object but then she bows her head stiffly and says: “Very well, your Highness. Please don’t take too long, people are watching.”

Leelan isn’t sure if that remark is meant as a warning or a threat.

The group of elves and dragons shuffle away, kicking up a cloud of dust again on the garden path. Sonne waits for them to be out of earshot and keeps her back turned to them so that they can not see her speak quietly to Leelan. “You have to find out what is going on and come back and tell me.”

Leelan turns his face away from the stares of their watchers and whispers, “I doubt they’ll let me get close to you again after this.”

“I will think of something; we will meet in secret.” She giggles quietly. “It will be just like in our old books we read as children.”

Leelan sighs and his heart hurts for her and the careless childhood she has lost. “I’m afraid it won’t be quite like that.”

“I know,” she says, the happy smile dropping from her face. “But I will think of something, just… just find out what is going on. Something is threatening the realm, I can feel it and they’re keeping me in the dark!”

“I promise to tell you everything,” he says and places her hand in the crook of his elbow. “But now you must go back and be a good Grandessa for them.”

She holds her head up high and whips her black long hair back. “Of course.”

As soon as they are close enough, the Grand Advisor grabs Sonne’s hand and places it on her own elbow. “Come, come now, we have lots to do.” She looks over her shoulder as she pulls the Grandessa forward. “Beltrane, see to it that our guest finds his way out.”

A dragon with impressively wide shoulders and white scales steps forward. his wings are not quite spread out, but he keeps them just vaguely threatening. He blocks out Leelan’s view of Sonne as she is lead back into the palace so he can only call out his goodbye to her.

“Thank you for your time, Grandessa.”

“It was my pleasure,” she calls back before she disappears into the hallway.

The dragon ushers him forward, guiding them away from the palace and front entrance. Leelan picks up Verkesh and spreads his wings a little more. It is not enough to be an aggressive act but he doesn’t want to appear like some weak elfling either. The dragon squints at him but asks them to follow. He takes them through the kitchen gardens and past the orchards to a door in the back wall.

It’s one of the many servant entrances, the Gerlen of the palace go in and out through these doors on their errands. A group is busy pulling a loaded cart through the narrow door and some shriek in panic when they see two dragons approaching.

The guard snarls at them to hurry up, his wings spreading and his white scales rising and shimmering. He finally grabs the handle and pulls the cart through the door in one go. The Gerlen flutter their tiny wings, bowing and squeaking their thanks to the dragon. Leelan stares at them, tiny, bow-legged creatures, half as tall as him, more crawling than walking around; their tiny wings useless for flight. If he had not been attacked by a tall, strong Gerlen himself, he would not believe a creature like that could be dangerous to a dragon.

The guard spreads one wing towards the opening in the wall and waits until they have stepped through and stand outside on the street. Leelan turns back and the guard spreads out his wings to their full size.

“You will not be welcome here again,” he calls out to. He stretches his wings even more, flexing the claws on the tips in a clear warning. Leelan fights his instincts to answer the threat like any dragon would — with an attack.

But he doesn’t. He does not spread his wings, he does not drag his claws over the cobblestones, he does not flare his back fins. Only his blue scales rise up in an involuntary reaction to his anger but he doesn’t take the bait. He turns and walks away.

Verkesh in his arm lets out a breath and two leaves fall from his head. “Very good, Leelan; very good, my friend and Master.”

“Another time, another place, my friend,” Leelan says, “there will be another time, I’m sure. But now we have an order from the Grandessa herself and we better —”

He freezes in his steps. Something tries to reach him through space and time, like a giant bell ringing that only he can hear. It hits him like a physical force, a connection that crushes him under a planet’s weight. He stumbles forward, curling in on himself, the tips of his wings holding him up so that his face doesn’t hit the ground.

Verkesh has fallen from his arm and rolled over the cobblestones until he can stop and get up again. He runs back to Leelan on his short legs, a trail of leaves flying away behind him. “Leelan, what is it; is it your wing again?”

It takes Leelan a few long moments until he can breathe again and unfold from his crouched position. He leans on his wingtips a bit longer, grasping for that pull he has never experienced before. That feeling of a bell droning for him is still there, somewhere far away but tangibly close.

“Something’s happening, my friend,” he says, his voice rough as if he has screamed for hours. “I don’t know what it is but something is happening.”


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Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Five

dragon cover2-200Vibeke wakes up from a dreamless sleep as someone pokes her cheeks with a sticky finger. Enthusiastic four-year-olds don’t have a concept of waking a grown-up in a pleasant way.

“Hey, hey, stop it young man. I’m awake.”

The little boy giggles and runs to the kitchen. “Mom, Vibby is up!”

“Didn’t I tell you to let her sleep?”

“She woke up!”

“Yes, I bet she did.” Mary’s voice comes closer and Vibeke fights with her sleepiness to sit up. Mary places a cup of coffee on the couch table and sits down. “How did you sleep?”

“Alright I guess.”

Mary looks around on the couch and the floor. “Wasn’t there a beige blanket?”

Vib feels her face heat up. “Yeah, I was outside and must have left it there?”

“You were outside? At night? What in the world for?”

“Just needed some fresh air.”

Mary shakes her head. “What kind of crazy thing is that with you? Are you nuts? We may not live in the city but this is still no place to wander around alone at night.”

“Even bad guys sleep at night,” Vib says, not very convincingly.

“Maybe where you come from but not here.” Mary shakes her head again. “And who knows, that freak storm could have come back.”

“Naw, it was a clear night, not a breeze,” Vibeke says. She takes a big gulp from her coffee cup and thinks back to the night. The memory is clear in her mind; there is none of the haziness she feared before she finally fell asleep. She can see him in her mind, with his wings and his tail and his wonderful eyes. Vib shakes her head and takes another sip. Getting infatuated with a lizardman sounds like a profoundly bad idea.

Justin eats his cereal at the table, driving his favorite toy car around the bowl. Vib watches him over the rim of her cup. She has to protect him, that much she knows — but from what?

She strains her neck to look over the back of the couch. “Mary? Remember how you asked me to move in with you a while back?”

Mary comes out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Yes?”

“Does the offer still stand?”

“You mean it just needed a freak storm ripping my house in half to convince you to leave your moldy apartment?”

“I guess. Sorry, this may not be the best time…”

Mary sits down next to her and pulls her into a hug. “Girl, we would love to have you here. That room’s been waiting for you for months. You already have a key, just get your stuff and move in. I even had the shower fixed in the small bathroom, just a few weeks ago.”

“Vib will live here?” Justin calls out with milk dripping from his chin.

“Yes, Honey, she’ll have the guest room and the small office.”

“Then she can play with me every day,” Justin says, beaming at her.

“Now Honey, Vib is not here for your entertainment; she has to work and she needs time for herself too.”

Justin hops down from the chair and comes over  to sit on Vibeke’s other side. “Will you always sleep on the couch?”

“No, I’ll have my own bed in the room.”

“Okay, then you can stay.” The subject seems to be done for Justin and he runs up the stairs to get his backpack. Vib hides a chuckle. She had not been aware that she needed Justin’s approval to stay in the guest rooms but apparently she has it now.

She turns to Mary. “I have to terminate the lease on the apartment first before I can pay you the rent but I would like to move in right away if possible.”

Mary raises her eyebrows. “You’re in such a hurry? Did the mold get too bad now?”

Vib nods. It’s not a full lie, her apartment really is moldy but she had been living with that for a while now. She takes a breath to start a lengthy explanation why she has to move in right away but Mary’s attention is pulled to the TV on the kitchen counter. The tone is turned down low but the display shows a picture of a small brown boy and a white girl with the words “Amber Alert” over their heads.

“Another Amber alert? That’s the third one this week,” Mary says.

“Three already? And all around this area?”

Mary nods, her eyes wide in fear. “I’m not letting Justin out alone anymore, not even in the driveway.” She turns to Vib and her hands are shaking. “You have to watch him all the time, okay? I know you’re not his nanny but if you happen to watch him, you don’t let him out your sight, okay? Okay?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Vib promises. She loves the boy, she would never want anything to happen to him. Something gnaws at the back of her mind, something about what Leelan had said.

“I have to call Kim and remind her of that too. I didn’t take this seriously at first,” Mary continues, getting up and pacing between the living room and the kitchen, picking up things and placing them elsewhere all the while. “When I had my hair done last week, Latisha said that she heard about three teenagers where the police say they’ve run away but she didn’t believe it and now all these other kids are missing…” she desperately looks at Vibeke for answers. “What do you think is going on?”

“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Vib says to calm Mary down. She doesn’t believe it for one second of course but she sees no point in adding to Mary’s fears. “Some kids decided to run away together and it just happens to fall in a week where the media has nothing to report so they make it all sound worse than it is.”

She needs to talk to Leelan about this. She doesn’t quite know why but she is sure that it has something to do with him.

“Maybe you’re right,” Mary says and shakes her head. “Still, I’m not letting Justin out of my sight.” She picks up the lunchbox and calls for him to come down. Mary will drop him off at the Kindergarten on her way to work and Vib realizes with a start that she has to get home for a change of clothes before she can go to work.

“I better get ready,” Vib mumbles and hurries over to the bathroom. Thankfully she has slept here often enough to have her own toothbrush sitting under the mirror.

“Okay, Justin and I are leaving. Don’t forget to lock the door, okay?’

“Okay. I’ll be around tonight with some of my stuff,” Vib says.

“Bye, Vib!” Justin calls, running out to the front door. “See you.”

“I’m glad you finally made up your mind,” Mary says and waves from the door before she pulls it closed behind her.

Vib stares at her reflection in the mirror while she brushes her teeth. Her short hair is a tangled and dark mess and the bandaids on her face don’t look white anymore. They start peeling at the edges. She sighs. She needs to get home and take care of her face before she turns up in the office.

After putting on her clothes from the day before and sending a text message to her boss that she would be late, she drives to her apartment. Traffic is not bad this morning and she drives without really paying attention, her thoughts turning back to Leelan. She recalls their conversation and she almost drives against the curb when she finally remembers that he had said that the other creature had probably come for Justin.

“They steal children!” she says out loud in the safety of her car. Creatures that could hide with magic, stealing children. That’s what is happening.

“Fuck!” she yells, hitting the steering wheel. “Leelan, if you can hear me, we really need to talk and I promise it’s not the kind of talk they always make fun of in romcoms.” She holds her breath for a moment, hoping against her better judgement that Leelan could somehow materialize in her car just from calling him.

She curses some more under her breath until she can turn into the parking lot of her apartment building. She runs upstairs and into her apartment and is somehow disappointed to find it undisturbed. There is no logical explanation for it but some part of her had hoped to find the dragonman waiting in her apartment. She looks towards the landline phone.

“I can’t even call you, lizardman. You should have given me a sparkly magical phone.”

Because it’s important. And I would love to hear your voice again.

Talking to herself is a disturbing habit of hers. Soon she will turn into a crazy cat lady, muttering to herself. “Excellent idea to move in with Mary and Justin, excellent idea. Will stop the crazy,” she says and swears for talking out loud again.

Removing the bandaids reveals the cut as an angry red line going diagonally over her face. It starts right under her right eye, goes over her nose and ends below her left cheek. It stays red after washing her face but at least the swelling has receded. But even her best make-up can’t cover the red. She shrugs and decides to ignore it.

Her office day is so unremarkably normal and boring that it cures her of any magical ideas. By the end of the day she has told the story of the freak storm and a branch hitting her face so many times that she starts to believe it herself. It makes so much more sense than the idea that a man with wings whipped his tail across her face while fighting with another man with wings.

Her story only holds the attention of the gossip train  for a short time. One of her co-workers gets a call that his son has not come home last night. A cold silence falls over the office hallway and the gossip train disperses with worried whispers.

Vib has accumulated enough extra hours from working on weekends that she can go home early and her boss is surprisingly understanding about it. He tells her to take a day off and take care of her injury. While he says that he looks at her as if the ghastly injury is a personal affront to him, ruining his pretty outlook on his day.

She files that observation away as another “could you be even more stereotypical shallow?” point on her list regarding her boss and happily leaves the cold glass building. The wind is blowing dust from the freeway over the parking lot and she runs to her car to escape it. It’s cold today, she’ll need a warmer coat soon.

Her apartment is cold too. It’s a nice enough place, she put up colorful curtains and placed red pillows on the couch but somehow it still looks drab and cold. It only takes her thirty minutes to put most of her things into a suitcase and a bag. She didn’t have much when she moved here and the only things she added to it is books and kitchen utensils. Mary will probably question her invitation once Vibeke brings all of that stuff over to add to her bookshelves and kitchen.

Before she locks up the place, she picks up an empty box and fills it with her newest books and a few of her favorites. Who knows when she’ll be able to return to this place?

Mary’s house is cold, too, but it’s a different cold. One that is easily fixed with making a cup of tea and snuggling up with a blanket on the couch. She has brought a blanket from her own couch as a replacement for the one she gave to Leelan. She manages to store her stuff away in her new room and make a cup of tea before she collapses on the couch.

Her thoughts turn to cancelling the lease, rerouting her mail, when to get the rest of her stuff but those thoughts slowly fall back and away. The empty space they leave in her mind is soon occupied by a dark face with yellow eyes and a smile. She wonders where he is now and what he does. Is his wing still hurting? Is he among friends? Is someone waiting for him and taking care of him?

She groans loudly at that last thought.

Why worry about that?

To distract herself she types a message to Mary, offering to pick up Justin from Kindergarten today. Her phone rings soon after.

“Hi Vib, it’s Mary. Are you in our house?”

“It’s still your house, I’m just a guest who doesn’t leave.”

“Don’t be silly. Listen, I had a message from the Kindergarten and you can only pick up Justin if you’re registered there with ID. Only Kim and I are registered there yet.” Kim is the Nanny that picks up Justin from Kindergarten on weekdays.

“Oh, that a new policy?”

“Yes,” Mary lowers her voice, “They had the FBI there, advising them because of all the children disappearing.”

“The FBI? Did they say anything else?” The hairs on her neck are standing up like a warning.

“No, but it must be serious if the FBI is involved don’t you think?”

Vibeke hesitates to answer. She doesn’t want to make Mary more worried than she already is but she also doesn’t want to lie to her. “I’m sure the FBI will get to the bottom of this, whatever it is that is happening.”

Mary sighs. “I have to go, Kim will pick up Justin for his Teakwondo class and when I get home, I’ll bring Chinese. You want anything special?”

“Just something with duck.”

They hang up and Vib’s thoughts are swirling in her head like a swarm of bees. That the FBI is involved means there really is something going on. But she could hardly walk up to the next good looking FBI agent and tell him about lizardmen fighting over children.

“Leelan, I seriously need to talk to you,” she says out loud into the empty room. “Not just because I want to ask you so many questions and also look at you again and make sure that I didn’t just dream all of this and I really should stop talking to myself. I hope nobody put microphones in here; hello people, I’m not crazy…” She lets her head fall in her hands and groans. “Leelan, why the fuck don’t you have a magic phone?”


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Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Four

dragon cover2-200

Leelan takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the warm and spicy air and casts a ripple from his mind. The vines soften and sink down; a few branches snap and the rest he can move to the side with his hands. The blanket gets caught on a thorny vine and the vegetation pulls it from his shoulders. He hisses when it slides over his injured wing. A long step takes him out of this natural cage and away from the tall slate of rock. Turning back he can see the creeping plants already climbing up again, covering the hole he cut out. The blanket has disappeared, swallowed by moving plant tendrils.

The forest is thick and humid around him, a jungle of gnarly trees and winding vines. The tiny patch of light he stands in is threatened by the trees closing up over it. He raises his hand and casts another ripple upwards, a strong one this time. The trees lean back and branches snap and splinter above and rain down on him. The light spills down on the moss and small, white flowers rise up to greet it. Leelan steps right in the middle next to a small wooden statue and coughs politely.

The little statue begins to move, stretching itself out up to his knees. He yawns, which makes his bark crack and green light glows in the cracks. A knobbly face with a flat nose unfolds and looks up to him.

“Leelan! It has been quite a while,” he greets with a voice full of creaking wood and screaming birds.

“A good day to you, Verkesh,” Leelan says and bows low towards the little troll.

“We’ll see about that,” Verkesh says, shaking himself, sending flakes of his hardened skin flying off. “I was having a good day, sleeping like a little spring baby but now you woke me and what good has ever come from that?”

“I’m sorry my friend.” Leelan smiles at him and sits down next to him, wrapping his tail around. Verkesh can’t walk yet, not so soon after waking up. He lets his tail slide through the moss and the tiny white flowers and a long lost smile creeps up on his face. It feels good to be home again.

“Tell me, how long have I been gone? Did I aim so far off?”

“The flowers tell me that they have not been crushed by your ass for six tempers,” Verkesh says, his knobbly hand stroking lightly over the little white flowers.

“Six? I was aiming for one half. I was over there for not even a year.”

Verkesh looks at him, his black eyes blinking in curiosity. “And a year is?”

“The time it takes for their planet to revolve around the Sun.”

“Why is that important?”

“I have no idea.”

Verkesh snickers and stretches out his feet. “And how did you like it this time? And why is your wing wrapped up?”

“Remember how I said that it almost feels like home, warm and lush?”

“Yes?”

Leelan sighs. “I was wrong. At first it was warm but then it got colder every day. Maybe their world is dying? Do you think she sends me there because of that?”

Verkesh gets up and motions to Leelan to follow him. “The Grandessa does not let me participate in her thoughts, unfortunately. But she has sent out a message that she wishes to see you.” He shakes out his short legs and Leelan stands to walk with him.

“I wish I knew what she expects from me. I’ve watched the humans and I watched the portal. A few visitors here and there but they all behaved themselves. Nothing happens for so long that I even slept. And then I get hit with this enormous presence; a Gerlden, but wrong, foreign and strong.”

“A strong Gerlden? In that world?” Verkesh’s voice pitches so high that it hurts to hear him speak.

“Yes, as tall as me and not only strong but also trained.”

Verkesh looks to his wing that Vibeke had wrapped so neatly. “Is that how you hurt your wing?”

“Yes, I followed his scent to a house and fought with him. He was trained well enough to take me and he knew it too. He wasn’t scared of me.”

Verkesh gasps. “Did he not greet you?”

Leelan twitches his wing. “There’s the result of his ‘greeting’,” he says and hisses at the bolt of pain shooting through his body.

The small wood-troll shakes his head. “That is wrong, very wrong. A Gerlden not greeting a Dragon, a Gerlden strong enough to fight a Dragon…”

“He almost won.”

Verkesh shakes his head. Little flakes of dust and bark sail down. “It’s wrong, so wrong. Our world is falling apart and she isn’t doing anything about it.”

“Maybe she doesn’t know,” Leelan says, only half listening because he has to fill his lungs with the precious spices and scents of his home, his ears with the sounds of birds, lizards and squill. Life and happiness is returning to his mind; his melancholy dropped and forgotten.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Verkesh says with an angry huff. Little leaves appear on his head and are puffing up in anger. A bird circles his head, waiting for an opportunity to pick one.

They reach the edge of the forest and Verkesh has to walk ahead to have the wood creatures and trees make room for them. Occasionally he has to hiss and snarl at a tree aggressively stretching its branches. Leelan bows down low to pass under poking branches and grabbing vines. Before them, small lizards scurry over the path, clearing away leaves and mowing down grass for them. The last time he had taken this path it had been clean and wide, now it is overgrown and almost invisible.

“I’ve been gone too long,” he murmurs to himself.

“I must say that I welcomed the extensive sleep I got, but I agree that the overgrowth is quite tedious.”

“You could have left though; you didn’t have to stay.”

Verkesh shakes his head and the leaves on his head curl up. “What kind of servant would I be if I were not here when you returned? And my spirit was busy floating around so I was not entirely lazy.”

“I never would have accused you of laziness. You had no way of knowing that I’d stay away for so long. I didn’t aim right.”

“Your injury, Leelan, it hinders you.”

“You’re right, it tainted my focus.”

Verkesh leans down and whispers something to a lizard in front of them. The animal squeaks and runs away, jumping and running over the other lizards until it disappears in the underground growth of the forest. Verkesh nods, satisfied with himself. “The healer will await us at the gate now.”

“Thank you. I’d rather not step in front of the Grandessa with bandages wrapped around my wing.”

“I’m sure her Highness would understand.”

Leelan nodded in agreement. The Grandessa was not known for having a bad temper or being unforgiving. “What has your spirit heard while you slept?”

The wood-troll slows his steps, his breath coming in short puffs. Leelan adjusts his walk and slows to a leisurely stroll. Verkesh picks a leaf from his head, giving it a kiss and letting it float to the ground. The leaf settles on the earth and Leelan can see thin roots sprouting from it immediately. Soon another tree will grow here, one that could become a wood-troll should it choose to.

“In spirit, I listened to the talk of the cutters and growers, of the washers and menders and even to a few meetings in the halls of the palace. But they have warding spells there, to keep spirits out, I must apologize for the lack of information I could gather there.”

“No need to apologize. What have you learned?”

“A secret that no one wants to talk about. There is a war going on on the outskirts.”

“A war? How can a war be a secret?”

A new leaf springs up on Verkesh’s head, showing his worry. He touches it with two fingers, stroking over it before plucking it. It trembles down and lands  on the ground again the roots taking hold. “A rumor it is for now. Hearing of your encounter with the Gerlden, I would venture a guess that it involves them but nobody has said it yet.”

Leelan looks ahead where the path is getting wider. As they are getting closer to the city, the cutters are working everywhere, keeping the vegetation under control. Trees can be angry and vines can be vicious but even the most aggressive branches get cut down and bundled up. Small, white Gerlden pick up the bundles and fly them away to the washers and makers. The vegetation may be dangerous but this realm never suffers from lack of resources for it.

The closer they get to the golden city gate, the busier the path becomes. People of all kinds are hurrying towards the gate or leave the city. Leelan picks up Verkesh despite his protests before someone kicks him over. People move out of the way for a dragon but a small wood stump like Verkesh is usually not so lucky.

The people around them carrying wares, tools or their whole household greet Leelan whenever they notice him. He ignores most and searches for the healer instead. During the long walk, his wing has started to throb in pain and the heat he has missed so much begins to feel uncomfortable.

“Leelan, stop,” Verkesh calls out, his feet kicking against his side.

“What is it?” Leelan asks. He tries to look at the troll under his arm but his vision is cloudy.

“The healer is right here! Put me down and let her treat you.”

Leelan looks up to see the healer but he almost misses her. She is a Dark Elf; her skin so dark it swallows the light. She stands before him, smiling and her hand is cool on his forehead, but before he can greet her she disappears.

“Leelan, wake up,” a soft voice says. The woman who helped him, such a lovely voice she had. Her hands so soft and resolut at the same time. He opens his eyes to see her smile but the face in front of him is wrong. Skin as dark as pitch and bright red eyes, not pale and brown.

Something tickles at his nose and he turns to the side to see Verkesh shedding leaves from his scalp. One has fallen on his nose and the roots are tickling his skin.

“He’s awake, yes? Will he be well again?” Verkesh asks, three new leaves sprouting from his head.

The deep voice of the dark elf healer hums reassuringly. “He will be strong again soon.” She turns to Leelan and helps him to sit up. “I need you to stretch your wing so that I can heal it.”

Clenching his teeth, Leelan fights against the pain and tenses his wing muscles. The healer must have done her magic already because it is not as bad as before when Vibeke wrapped it but it still hurts. The healer’s eyes glaze over as she reaches into her magic and he can feel his bones bending and snapping into place and sinew and muscles adjusting. The pain retreats to a dull throb and Leelan stretches his wings as wide as possible.

Relief floods him. Finally he can feel like a dragon again. The air calls him, rise, rise up!

“Thank you, healer Reesela,” Verkesh says. “Can we do anything for you to show our gratitude?”

“My services are provided by the great foresight of her Highness the Grandessa,” the Dark Elf rumbles. “I have no need for any payment. But… ,” she looks on the head of the Wood Elf, “if you could spare one of your leaves, I would love to grow a tree from it.”

“Gladly I will entrust you with one,” Verkesh says with a bow and plucks a leaf from his head. She takes it with care and places it on a piece of moss she has in her apothecary. Immediately the leaf roots itself to the moss.

The piercing scream of a hawk sounds out above them and Reesela gives them a nod in goodbye. “The Grandessa is waiting: you better hurry. Be careful with that wing,” she says to Leelan, a threatening undertone in her voice. “If you break it again too soon, I will not be able to heal so quickly.”

Leelan nods and thanks her. He stretches his wings out once more, almost smacking an elf in the face. The elf takes a breath to yell at him but stops himself. Leelan folds his wings, only a bit of pain as he tugs in his wings reminds him of the injury. Verkesh smiles at him. His head is free of leaves and he turns to walk in front of him with happy steps.

The palace sits high over the city, watchtowers looking to all six directions of the realm. A dragon guard in bright red trousers, his blue scales as dark as the nothingness at the edge of the world, stands at the entrance.

“The Grandessa awaits you in the library,” the dragonman says with a surprising light and melodic voice. He turns and walks ahead, not checking if Leelan and Verkesh follow. He walks fast and Leelan has to pick up his friend to keep up with him.

“His rudeness certainly proves his noble upbringing,” Verkesh grumbles and a new leaf sprouts on his head and twitches angrily.

“When I was young, I always envied the dragons who got to live at the palace,” Leelan says quietly, so that only the troll can hear him. “Now I’m glad I learned with the Ancients in the outskirts.”

“They get good training here,” Verkesh whispers, “but terrible fashion sense.”

They both snicker loud enough for the guard to look at them sternly. He walks faster now along the seemingly unending hallway. Golden walls enhanced by red, blue and green drapes, and glittering crystals in various colors surround them. It’s so bright and colorful that it hurts to look at it.

The white door at the end of the hallway is a relief from the onslaught of colors and opens without a touch or a sound. The guard gives them a short bow as they pass him and stays in the hallway as the double doors close again.

The library is quiet and the main color is, thankfully, brown. Wooden shelving, some cut to form and some grown, are set up in a maze like pattern, covering the whole floor and all the walls. They hold books of all sizes, bound in bark and leaves with colorful markings on the spines. The books contain all the current knowledge of the realm, written down since the day of the printing press.

As Leelan has learned back in the day, the humans were actually the inventors of book printing and binding. Mashing up plant fibres to a pulp, making paper out of it and printing letters on it with ink was a remarkable process that looked like magic but didn’t involve any. Only the production of the ink needs magic to turn the green plant juices dark.

Ever since the fairies had brought back the technology of the printing press and reconstructed it with copper and bronze, the Grandessa ordered all knowledge to be printed into books. The book makers became the most important workers of the realm.

Leelan knows the current Grandessa from when she was a little girl and he isn’t surprised to hear that she is in the library. It is expected of her that she read all the books, acquire all the knowledge and he remembers having spend many days with her surrounded by books. They had been good friends; the little girl destined to become the Grandessa and him, the dragon, watching over her. He was already fully grown back then and itching for adventures. But even if he was desperate to get away he still remembers her voice when she read her books to him. He loved her voice.

He searches for her in the maze-like hall and follows the sound of someone reading aloud. It doesn’t quite sound like he remembers. In an alcove window, he finally finds the Grandessa sitting in a comfortable chair while a young elf is reading to her. Her eyes are closed but she turns her head to his approaching steps.

“Who is there?” she asks, her voice still as clear and bright as he remembers.

 The elf at the window stops reading and stares at him.

“Leelan, Grandessa,” he says and bows.

Behind him small feet hurry over the hardwood floor. “And Verkesh, his servant, Grandessa.”

The Grandessa smiles brightly and stands up, her arms stretched out wide. “Leelan, you came back! Come here!”

He steps forward with his head bowed low and waits for her to offer her hand to him to kiss it but she doesn’t. She steps closer and pulls him up by his shoulders and hugs him. He stands frozen, caught up in the conflict of greeting a friend who has grown into a beautiful woman and knowing that this is the Grandessa and nobody is allowed to touch her like that.

But she pulls him tight and he finally relaxes and returns the hug. They stand like this for a moment, memories almost tangible in the air around them. When she releases him and steps back, he gets a closer look at her eyes and startles.

She keeps her hands on his shoulders. She is tall for an elf and her eyes are almost on level with his. Her skin has gotten darker since the last time he has seen her but her eyes seem to have lost their color.

“Leelan, please,” she pleads, “please tell me what my eyes look like.”

“Your eyes?”

“Nobody is telling me.”

He stares into her eyes that used to be so bright and lively and now seem to look through him. “Do you remember the picture in the book of the human world, of the blue sky with white clouds?”

“Yes,” she whispers.

“That’s what they look like, as if clouds are covering your eyes.”

“Thank you,” she says, turning back to the chair. She feels with her hand for the tall backrest and holds herself steady on it.

“You have lost your sight?” Leelan asks.

“Yes, not long ago. Reading had become difficult a while ago but it has gotten worse. Now, only shadows are left.”

“I’m sorry.” Leelan’s thoughts rush through the consequences of a blind Grandessa. Will she be able to lead the realm?

“It is what it is. Come sit with me and tell me what happened to you.”

The young reader gets up and leaves and Leelan sits down in his chair. The Grandessa sits down in her chair, her hand sliding over the backrest to guide her. Verkesh sits down on the floor between them, worried leaves fidgeting on his head.

Leelan takes a breath and begins. “I was attacked by a Gerlden in the human world. He was tall, strong and he broke my wing. I probably only survived because a human woman saw us and her awareness scared him away.”

A bell like laughter interrupts him. The Grandessa laughs and reminds him of the young girl he once knew. “Leelan,” she laughs, “don’t be silly! A Gerlden? Strong enough to fight you? Oh, what a funny story!”

He swallows a sigh and looks into her unseeing eyes. “Your Highness, what do you know about the war in the outskirts?”

Another bell like laughter. “Oh my friend, whatever are you talking about? There is no war in the realm.”


< Previous Chapter — Next Chapter >

Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Three

“So, what are you, Leelan? Can you explain the wings?”dragon cover2-200

Leelan straightens his back and the blue shimmer runs in waves over his chest. The horizon grows  brighter behind him. She takes a step back to see him fully. Even though one wing is folded up and wrapped, the other is visible and with a grimace he stretches it out until the skin between the bones is pulled taut.

It’s of impressive size, she has to admit that. She looks further down his back where her brain doesn’t want to see his tail. He follows her eyes.

“Can you see it?”

She shakes her head. “Not really, it’s like it doesn’t want me to see it.”

He closes his eyes for a moment and she hears the same ‘sucking’ sound from before. Suddenly the tail is there, shimmering a greener tone than his chest. Yellow barbs curl on the upper spine. She steps closer to see how the tail works with his pants. A quick look reveals that he simply cut a triangle out in the back of his jeans with a belt going over the tail keeping the pants in place. The flickering effect is there again, as if the image tries to avoid to be seen.

The tail is just long enough that the tip touches the ground. The barbs look sharp like pointed claws, and her fingers feel for the cuts in her face. But she only finds the bandaids; she had forgotten that her face is covered with them.

How nice! You look like a patched up garbage bag while he looks like a gorgeous puppy.

She lets her hands drop and just keeps staring  at him. He truly is  gorgeous; more stocky than lean but strong and grounded. Looking at him, it is obvious that he didn’t build his muscles while sweating in a body builder shed but by running and flying a lot. Even with his injured wing he has a stance about him resembling a martial arts master. Nobody would be able to push him over, not even taller men and least of all herself with her muscles only trained by sitting at a desk or hauling groceries from the car.

“When you were fighting with the other… man”, she says, “you looked at me like you were surprised that I saw you. And you mentioned that I was not supposed to be able to see your wings and your tail was kind of not there until a moment ago and…” She feels a headache coming on and rubs her temples. “Can you tell me what the hell is going on?”

“I am a Dragon, or you might say a Dragonman. We don’t really distinguish between the two.”

“Dragon. Really?” She pinches her nose but it doesn’t really help her to think. “Were you born like this? Or did a radioactive lizard bite you one day and you turned into Lizardman?”

“I said dragon, not lizard,” he growls.

“Oh, touchy subject?”

“A lizard is not a dragon.”

She throws her head back and looks up to the sky that is beginning to turn blue. “You know what? I don’t give a fuck. I’m expecting the men in the white coats any minute now to take me away into a padded room.” She points her finger at him because she may not know what is real and what isn’t anymore but it’s definitely all his fault. “I think you can cut me some slack here. I patched you up and I think I did pretty good on the whole dealing with your lizardness front. So, excuse me if I have a problem with seeing you as a giant fire-breathing beast! There’s only so much weirdness I can take in a day.. night… whatever.”

He chuckles and it seems to make his dark skin glitter blue. “You have done very well indeed. I apologize.” He moves his wings with a grimace and his tail twitches.

“Okay, now can you tell me what the fuck is going on?”

He gazes up at  the sky which is getting brighter by the minute. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

“What? Why?”

“It’s harder to hide these –” he stretches out his uninjured wing, “– in the daylight.”

“Oh come on! I saw two lizardmen crash half of Mary’s house, and you have a tail for fucks sake; I need some kind of explanation so that I can sleep again at some point.”

Leelan bows his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t know yet myself why the Gerlden attacked, I just know that he was probably after the child.”

“Justin? What does he want with Justin?”

“I don’t know.” He looks increasingly nervous as he looks up to the sky. “I will find out and explain it to you as best as I can.” He looks around on the floor, searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” Vib asks.

“I had a coat…”

“I can give you a blanket.”

“I would be grateful.”

Vib goes inside and picks a blanket from the couch. She hurries to get back outside, expecting to find him gone but he still stands in the light of the lamp. He takes the blanket with a nod and throws it over his back like a cape.

“I have to apologize but I never asked your name.” He looks at her expectantly with shining eyes.

“My name is Vibeke, most people call me Vib.”

“Thank you for your help, Vibeke.” He makes a small bow on that. When he looks up again, his expression darkens. “I must apologize again. I don’t have explanations and I can’t stay.” He takes her hand in his and Vib’s heart does an unfamiliar jump. “I promise I will return and will tell you more. For now I urge you to watch over the child.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Vib asks, acutely aware that Leelan is still holding her hand. “I can’t watch him all day. I have to work.”

“It’s only the night you need to fear. But you saw us, the magic didn’t blind you…”

The daylight is coming fast and it obviously makes him nervous but he continues to hold to her hand. She maps everything to memory, his cool touch, his yellow eyes, his rough and warm voice. She wonders if she can just keep him talking so that he never leaves.

But he lets go of her and turns to leave, wrapping the ugly beige blanket around him. He looks at her over his shoulder and she is struck by his beauty. She wishes she could fall into his eyes. “I would love to stay, ” he says, a rough edge to his voice and the look he gives her makes her heart beat faster. “I’m sorry but I have to get going.”

“But I need…” I need you to stay and look at me like that again… “I need to know what kind of things I have to protect Justin from.”

He stops for a second. “You saw us, me and the Gerlden. You’ll see him when he tries to enter. He can’t hide in his magic from you.”

“Other people can’t see him? Or it?”

“His hiding magic is the same as mine. You can see me so you will see him too.” He nods and turns, wrapping the blanket tighter. “I will be back… soon.” He walks away quickly and turns around the corner of the house before she can say anything.

She stands frozen, wondering how she will ever be able to explain all of this to Mary.


< Previous Chapter — Next Chapter >

Tempting The Dragon — Chapter Two

Eventually, the house falls quiet. The police, the fire department and the neighbors leave; the tarp is secured over the broken window and Vib settles down on the couch with a sigh. Mary has taken Justin into her own bed to sleep and Vib decided to sleep on the couch to Mary’s relief. She said that she doesn’t want to leave them alone after such a shock but that’s only part of the truth.dragon cover2-200

Something holds her here. Something tells her to stay and find out what it is. She needs to take another look around, just her alone when all the other people are gone.

When everything is quiet, she tiptoes upstairs to check that Mary and Justin are asleep. Justin has his head on Mary’s arm and she holds him with her other arm wrapped protectively around him. Both are breathing deeply in their sleep and look so peaceful. Vib closes the door quietly.

She puts on her shoes and jacket and sneaks out through the backdoor. She makes sure to lock the door behind her. She has the key in her jacket and the alarm is off for the night because the system freaked out over the broken window. Mary admitted to her that she is a bit scared about unwanted guests in the house, even though this neighborhood is quite nice and the worst that ever happened here was some kid throwing a rock at a car’s windshield.

Outside, the air is cool and fresh and the crescent moon gives off a cold light. Vib takes a deep breath. Summer is almost over and the air smells of rain. She takes a few steps away from the house to look up to the broken window. What’s left of the split tree casts a strange shadow on the wall. It looks like the witch in a book from her childhood; a crooked nose with a wart, a pointy hat and fluttering rags. The witch bends over the tarp as if she tries to crawl under it and into the window.

Way to go, brain.

She shakes her head at her vivid imagination. Her mother had always scolded her for daydreaming but she never really stopped. Imagining things and letting scenes play out in her head is still her favorite pastime.

Something groans on the ground right next to her.

Vib freezes in her steps. The sound is not from any animal she knows and it is very close to her. She turns slowly and peers into the shadowy bushes at this end of the backyard. She almost doesn’t see it but she can make out the shape of someone curled up on the ground beneath a few giant ferns. The ferns are Mary’s pride and joy. If someone or something broke off leaves, Mary would be pissed.

“Hello?” she asks into the darkness, her voice embarrassingly squeaky.

Like in a stupid horror movie! Whatcha gonna do when a man with a hockey mask jumps out? Switch the channel?

She makes a mental list of things she can use to defend herself against whatever wild dog or drunken wife beater hides under there. She comes up with nothing. There is a shovel in the garden shed but it’s at least six steps away.

The figure on the ground groans and moves and Vib hurries to back away. Her eyes have adjusted to the darkness by now and she can see that he appears to be a human. He sits up and hold his head with another painful groan. She regards him in the pale moonlight and her eyes and mind fight to understand what she sees.

Blue scales on skin. He can’t have scales. Strong muscled wings. Wings? He can’t have wings!

She takes a tiny step close. “Can I help you? Oh shit, why am I even… you’re gonna kill me now,” she babbles, backing away again.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man says with a deep, rough voice.

“Yeah, that’s reassuring.”

“I swear, I have no intention to kill you but I would appreciate if you could… help me up?”

I’m so gonna regret this.

“Maybe you shouldn’t stand up; your spine could be hurt.” She looks over him more closely, especially his back where strange shapes seem to flicker in and out of existence. She tries to focus on what she sees but the more she concentrates the less real they seem. “Also your… I don’t know… on your back…” She turns to his face and her breath catches at the intensity of his yellow eyes looking at her.

Curiosity overcomes her. She reaches out at the wavering shapes that seem to retreat from her touch until suddenly, with a vacuuming sound of air sucked into another place, she sees and feels them. Leathery skin over muscles and bones and folded between long finger bones.

Wings!

“I’m probably losing my mind but…” she traces her finger along the long bone that holds the top of the extensions, now folded down and bleeding, “your wings are hurt?”

She pulls her hand back and shakes her head. “Of the things I thought I’d never say to a guy… .” She looks at his face again and notices he’s still staring at her. His eyes seem to look directly into her soul. “I’m sorry, I’m unfamiliar with wings. Is there anything I can do?”

He doesn’t answer right away, just stares. Finally he coughs and murmurs, “You can see them?”

“Well, yes? They’re pretty big actually. Not as big as I thought they would be but still…”

The man looks at her as if she just insulted him. “Not as big? How big did you think they would be?” he growls.

“I saw a picture of how big wings are relative to the body size of an eagle, and, if the size for a human would be on the same scale, they would be huge! Longer than two cars and… I’m sorry I didn’t mean to insult you, I mean I have never seen those kinds of wings before. I’m not even sure I’m seeing them now — oh god,” she hides her face in her hands, “now I’ve lost it completely.”

“No you’re fine,” the man says and his wings fold themselves closer to his body. “You’re not supposed to see them anyway; that’s why they’re probably a bit unfocused.”

“But I do…”

His face turns softer and he looks like he wants to smile but it turns into a grimace as he moves. “Shit, krissasstekass,” he hisses.

“Yeah, I think I can guess what that means.” Vib kneels down beside him. “What can I do to help?”

“I heal pretty fast but it would help if these wounds got cleaned and a splint,” he moved his wing and hissed again, “Krissass! I never…”

“Never hurt your wing?”

For a moment he looks at her like Justin when he fell down and scraped his knee. “Never this bad,” he mumbles.

Vib grins, “I have bandaids with Superman on them in the house.”

The winged man smiles at her and Vib’s breath stays stuck in her throat. He looks so beautiful that she has to look away.

“I’ll help you get up,” she says and goes to the side where he’s not injured. She side-eyes his unharmed wing and puts her hand under his ‘real’ arm to pull him up. He groans as he stands and limps along with her to the backdoor.

“You better not be a murderer or I’ll kill you,” she says, knowing that the threat doesn’t sound very convincing.

She can barely make out his grin in the weak moonlight but she hears it in his voice. “I swear I will do you no harm. I’m here to protect.”

Over the backdoor is a single socket that used to have an old-fashioned lightbulb that gave off a gentle yellow light. But now it has one of those energy-saving bulbs with a cold, fluorescent glow. It may not look pretty but she can see him better now.

“You’re gonna have to wait out here. I’ll get the first-aid kit,” she says. “I can’t let you in; I mean I don’t know you and… fuck, Mary would kill me…”

“And you don’t want to end up on the news as the stupid woman who let her attacker into the house,” the winged man says weakly.. “I completely understand. I’ll wait here.”

“There is a chair…” she points to a piece of rickety lawn furniture leaning against the house and her eyes travel to his injured wing.. It hangs low and quivers with obvious pain. “Can you even sit with that?”

He looks over his shoulder. “I don’t think so. Usually I can fold them up but now… .” The wings move up a handwidth and he winces. “I’ll just stand here.”

“Okay.” Vib unlocks the back door and slips inside, closing it behind her. After a moment, she slides the bolt out. It disturbs her how easily she trusts him and she has to consciously remind herself to be more careful.

The box with all the first-aid things one needs for an active four-year old sits on the kitchen counter. Vib fills one of Justin’s sports bottles with water and shoves the box under her arm. Back outside, the winged man still stands where she left him and she’s weirdly relieved that he didn’t vanish.

She puts the box on the lawn chair and dampens a cloth with water. “I’m going to clean the cuts now, okay?”

He nods and hisses foreign words when she cleans the many scrapes and cuts. The scales feel soft under her fingers and not slimy as she had feared. There is a nasty cut on his actual arm that she decides to clean first. His wing right next to it looks worse but she hesitates to treat it the same way. Even though she already touched it, some part of her still wants to deny its existence. It’s even worse with his tail. When she looks down his back, it appears to be not there even though she knows that it is.

She shakes her head and lifts the bottle to squirt water on the wounds and stops. “I’m going to… you know with your wings. Is water okay on them?”

“Yes, why not?”

Vib shrugs. “Geez, I don’t know, maybe they’ll go up in flames? Magical wings that can never be touched by water! Could be a thing, I’m no expert.”

He chuckles and his eyes seem to glow at her. “What a great imagination you have. I know this is all very strange, you’re handling this quite well.”

“The wings? Well, they’re there, not much to argue about. I’d like to know what all that carnage in Justin’s room was about though,” she says, generously squirting water over the wounds. “I can’t promise I’ll handle that well too.”

“Did you see the other one too?”

“The other creature? Yeah.” She uses the wet cloth to wipe away the dried blood and plasma and he whimpers. “Sorry,” she says, looking at him.

“No, it’s okay; just go ahead, I’ll try to be all manly about it,” he says with a pained smile.

Vib smiles back and gets back to work, cleaning and drying the skin. Digging around in the box, she finds a few giant band-aids that Mary probably brought home as samples from her work at the drugstore. “These don’t have Superman on them I’m afraid,” she says to him.

“I was so looking forward to those. Life’s so unfair,” he says and pouts.

Vib snickers and begins to apply the band-aids to the cuts on his arm and shoulder. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if the band-aids even work on the soft scales. She also becomes increasingly aware that he is naked from the waist up because shimmering scales don’t count as a substitute for a shirt. His chest is muscular, probably to power the wings on his back. A shimmer runs over the scales like blue-green light whenever she touches him. It extends over to his wings but she can see patches of grey on them.

“Your wings have these grey patches, does that mean that they’re sick?”

“In a way, yes, but I can fix that when I’m back home.”

She pictures a den full of muscular winged men without shirts in her mind and she quickly shuts it down. “Home? And where is that?”

“Somewhere else,” he says after a long pause. “Difficult to explain.”

She takes a bandage from the box and holds it against the crooked wing. “I don’t have anything to make a splint and I’m not sure how… .”

He looks over his shoulder. “Could you fold it up and just wrap a bandage around it?”

She eyes the extend of the finger-like bone that hangs down with two sharp bends in the middle. “One won’t be enough I think. I’m going to have to buy new bandages for Mary.” She rips off two pieces of tape and sticks them to his arm. When she touches the wing, he swears again and balls his fists. But he holds still, swearing under his breath in the strange language until she has folded the wing like a curtain and begins wrapping it. She tapes a second bandage on when the first runs out and wraps it tightly.

When she finishes she steps back to look at her work. “I don’t know if you have hospitals where you’re from but that’s probably where you should be going.”

He turns around and looks at the white package on his back. “Yes, I will go to…” he pauses, and she wonders if he isn’t allowed to say the word or if it’s just too weird for her to hear. Who knows, he might have to go into a sarcophagus and be killed and reborn.

Vib looks him over. The wings stand out clearly now but his tail still tries to disappear whenever she looks at it. She hopes he doesn’t have any big wounds on his tail because her mind refuses to acknowledge that the person in front of her has such a thing. She lets her eyes rest on his muscular chest for a moment. There is another cut on it and she takes a small band-aid from the box. “Look, this one has Superman on it.”

He laughs out and watches her stick the band-aid on his chest. The greenish shimmer runs over his chest again where she touches him. Her fingers itch to follow the colorful wave. She looks away and feels her face heat up.

“So,” she starts, “care to tell me what this all was? What you are? And maybe your name?”

She looks back to him and sees how seems to ponder her questions, the smile gone from his face.

“Your name is such a difficult question?”

The smile is back. “No, my name is easy. I am called Leelan of Deschebel. The other questions… will take a little while.”


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