Dragon Child

Larien Nolatori

Chapter Two

A huge, deep green dragon was carrying her high above the orchards, the villages and their simple cottages, even the clouds. The dragon's grip around her stomach was firm, but not tight- almost a gentle touch, if one could say so about a dragon. The scales were large, the size of a slice of bread; but unlike bread, they were also tough and hard- the armor of the dragons. They gleamed in the moonlight like thousands of large emeralds, and Mariah was drawn to their beauty and smoothness.

Despite her seemingly perilous situation, Mariah couldn't help but feel a sense of awe toward the creature. Its wings were long and slender, and were webbed with a thinner (yet still tough and resistant) lighter green skin that allowed the moonlight to glow through. The steady, rhythmic sweeping movements and the sound of the air rushing away at each beat made the dragon seem rather graceful. Mariah felt calmer at each sweep of the great wings.

"I wonder where it's taking me," she wondered aloud.

"Taking you?" asked a deep, melodious voice. "I'm taking you to my home, the Dragon Gardens of the old Aurelius Castle." Mariah stared, open-mouthed, at the dragon, which had turned to look at her. Its eyes were bright amber; full of wisdom and ancient understanding of things Mariah probably did not know anything about. Its lip curled into a smile at Mariah's surprised expression.

"No need to be so shocked, dear," she said gently, "all dragons can talk. You'd better get used to it, I suppose," she added. "There are quite a few of us back at the Gardens."

"The- the Gardens?" Mariah asked. The dragon nodded and turned back around.

"The old nesting grounds for the Dragon Guardians of the royal family," she explained. "Speaking of which," she added, turning once again to face her passenger (and this time with a more serious expression), "has anyone ever told you that you look like the last Aurelian queen?" Mariah raised her eyebrows.

"The Queen Mariah? Who died during the Great Slaying?" Mariah asked. When the dragon nodded, she smiled. "Yes. Actually, I'm even named after her- my name is Mariah." The dragon smiled.

"I'm Willow," she replied. "No last name, Miss Mariah?" Mariah solemnly shook her head.

"Orphan," she explained. The dragon's eyes grew sad, and she looked on the girl with great pity.

"Oh dear," she said quietly. "I'm dreadfully sorry." Mariah smiled.

"No need to be," she said. "Actually, I suppose I should thank you. You saved me from those two men with the pitchforks-" Here Mariah paused. "-and that stranger…" Willow smiled.

"You're welcome, young one," she answered. "Oh, here, I should be ashamed of myself!" Willow exclaimed suddenly. "Here I am, rattling off at the mouth and you're still dangling about! Climb up on my back, there's a girl." With a bit of help from Willow, Mariah climbed up onto the great glistening back. "Put your knees behind my wings," the dragon instructed. Mariah did as she was told. It was quite a sensation, feeling the great, flowing muscles under that jeweled skin, and all the while feeling the rush of the wind on her face.

Suddenly, the eyes of the man in the woods came to her. They were so intense, so full and deep, and yet they were searching… perhaps even longing for something. What had he meant by not knowing who he was? And who did he think she looked like? How did he know her at all? Mariah looked inquisitively at Willow's face. She was once again watching the horizon.

"I have a question," Mariah said abruptly. The dragon looked at her curiously. Mariah hesitated. "Why were you following me?" Willow's face grew grave.

"What makes you think I was following you?" she asked slowly. Suddenly, Mariah felt ashamed and hung her head.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I just assumed… the shadow, you know…" The two were silent for a while. The dragon was back to looking out ahead of them. Suddenly, and without turning her head, she spoke again.

"You reminded me of someone." Mariah looked back up, a bit confused.

"Who?"

"Someone… from my past."

"But-" About to ask for more information, suddenly Mariah felt a lurch in her stomach as Willow swooped down on a small clearing in a large patch of trees below. With a flap of her great wings that made the trees sway, she alighted gently on the grassy turf.

"Well," Willow said as Mariah slid off her back, "we're home." Mariah was about to take a look around when a large red dragon stepped out of the trees ahead. On instinct, Willow raised her wing to shield Mariah from the advancer. She relaxed, however, when the dragon's face came into the light.

"Chang, you startled me!"

"And you had me worried half to death!" he exclaimed. "Leaving the nest in the middle of the- where have you been?"

"I went for a flight," Willow answered simply. Chang was now circling her, obviously examining for damages. "Chang, I'm all right! There's nothing wrong with me! Honestly!"

"I'm not as worried about you as I am about those eggs!" he said sternly. Having completed his circle, the ruby dragon nuzzled his emerald counterpart with his head. "You know better," he said softly. Willow returned the gesture.

"Chang…"

"Don't ever do it again, alright?" Willow nodded. Their sentimental moment now over, Chang happened to look down and catch Mariah's eye. She held her breath, and he merely… stared. His keen yellow eyes glistened in the moonlight. "Is that," he asked slowly, "what I think it is?"

"Chang," Willow said gently, "this is Mariah. She's an orphan from Selena." Mariah smiled weakly and waved.

"What is a human doing in the Gardens?" Chang asked. Both Willow and Mariah could tell by his voice that he was not pleased.

"I rescued her from one of those "aristocrats" earlier," his mate answered. "But before you say anything else, Chang," Willow added quickly, seeing the gleam in her mate's eye, "I need to talk to you- in private. Where's Silver?"

"Silver?" Chang asked, suddenly not as stern as before. "Asleep in the Sanctuary, along with everyone else." He looked at Mariah with an intrigued glint in his eye. "Why?"

"Perhaps we should wake her, just this once," Willow said, also turning to look at Mariah. Under the two dragons' gazes, the young orphan felt very awkward and shifted her weight uneasy. She could almost feel the intensity and heaviness of their stare on her tired shoulders.

"What?" she asked timidly.

"Do you see it?" Willow asked, seeming to ignore her question. Chang's eyes widened slightly.

"Yes…" he answered breathlessly. "Yes, I do." He turned to Willow. "Could it be…?"

"Silver will know," Willow replied.

"Yes… yes, Silver will know," Chang repeated, more to himself than anyone.

"Silver? Who's Silver? What will they know?" Mariah asked. The two dragons started into the woods. "Hey, wait! You're not listening to me!"

"Stay here," Willow told her, turning around and giving her a stern look. Mariah swallowed hard and nodded. After all, you don't say "no" to a dragon.

"Do you really think that she could be-"

"I'm not sure, Chang…" Willow said. "But when I saw her tonight… walking around in the moonlight- well, before those goons surrounded her… She reminded me so much of…" She looked up at her mate with hopeful eyes. "Do you think… do you think it's too good to be true?" Chang sighed.

"I'd not get my hopes up… though I do see the resemblance," he added quickly, as Willow had hung her head in disappointment. "Silver will know right away if she's the one." Both of them passed through the ancient stone archway that led to the Sanctuary. It was falling apart- cracked and turned to rubble in some places- but had once served as a gateway into the nesting grounds of the Dragons.

Past the gateway, the sole remainders of the Dragon Guardians were asleep. Here they had hid since the Great Slaying and survived for the last 12 years. They were even fortunate enough to have a few expecting couples. Perhaps the Dragons would not die out after all.

Willow glanced around the Sanctuary. There were about a dozen dragons, give or take a few, sleeping around various large nests of stone. Each nest was filled with very fine gravel, as the jewels and gold that used to be there had been stolen many years ago during the first years of the Slaying.

Her eyes narrowed. Someone was missing…

Chang quietly approached a large silver dragon under the shadow of a great willow tree. Ducking through the long, slender branches, he leaned his long neck and held his face inches from the dragon's face. "Lady Silver, wake up," he whispered softly. The great dragon's eyes flitted for a moment. Then, slowly, the eyelids retracted, revealing two crystal blue eyes.

"Chang? What is it?" she asked in her soft, gentle voice. The elder dragon slowly sat up and twisted her neck to stretch. "What time is it?"

"Nearly daybreak," Chang answered. "Silver, Willow and I have something we need to talk to you about." Silver stared at him.

"This is important, then?" Chang nodded.

"Very."

Mariah shifted her weight again. The silence of the woods since the dragons had left was making her uneasy. She had the odd feeling that someone was watching her, and it was not a pleasant feeling. Not liking the openness of the clearing, Mariah moved into the woods, where she felt more hidden. Not that it would do any good, she told herself. If someone were watching her, they would know where she was hiding anyway.

There was silence for a few more minutes.

Her eyes intent on the clearing, Mariah suddenly became aware that she was sweating. The back of her neck was hot and moist, with many beads of salty wetness. She sighed and wiped away the perspiration, telling herself to calm down. A sudden warm, damp puff of air blew her hair in her face. She irritably pushed it out of her eyes- and froze. Her heart beating as hard as it could, she spun around and found herself face to face with two large eyes and a pair of glowing orange nostrils. Mariah cried out and fell backwards in surprise and terror and found herself crawling backwards into the clearing as the creature approached her menacingly. The large, deep red dragon was suddenly looming over her and pushing her farther into the clearing. It snorted, and smoke poured out its nose. She could almost see it smirking at her from so far above as it advanced. Suddenly, her hand made contact with something hard and scaly. Dreading what she would see, Mariah looked up and found another dragon, this one a bold burnt-orange, staring down at her with an ominous grin on its face.

"Going somewhere?"

"Willow, tell Silver what happened tonight," Chang said suddenly. Willow snapped out of her trance.

"Oh, yes, of course." Willow strode over to the tree and sat down next to Chang. She then proceeded to tell Silver all that had happened since she had left the Sanctuary for some fresh air. Silver listened patiently and nodded occasionally until Willow was finished.

"And this girl is here, in the Gardens?" she asked once Willow had finished her tale. Willow nodded.

"Yes, she's in the clearing," Chang answered. "We think she is-"

"I know who you assume her to be," Silver answered calmly. She stood and stretched her wings. "Well," she said, "let me meet this girl." Willow and Chang also stood. A scream broke the silence in the Sanctuary. Willow gasped.

"Mariah!" she cried. She spread her wings and took flight over the treetops.

"Willow, wait!" Chang exclaimed. He and Silver chased after her and raced to the clearing.

Mariah gasped as another dragon, green in color, emerged from the trees. On its back was a boy about her age. He jumped down from behind the great beast's wings with ease, landing crouched on one knee, and stood up. As he did, he unsheathed a sword that was hanging by his left side. He kept his head low and tucked toward his chest as he approached her, sword glinting in his hand. It reflected the moonlight right into Mariah's eyes, and by the time they had readjusted to the darkness, the sword was pressed against her neck. She raised her head and found herself gazing into two beautiful blue eyes.

The boy was smirking at her, gloating over her apparent fear and helplessness. He ran his fingers through his short, rust-red hair and leaned in close to her face- so close she could feel his breath on her face. Mariah held her breath as he leaned a bit closer.

"Like my dragon friends?" he asked mockingly. His voice was bright and bold, even when he was trying to be intimidating. He cocked his head and his smirk widened. "'Cause they sure like you." Mariah narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to retort when Willow, Chang, and a silver dragon Mariah had never seen before flew into the clearing.

"Willow!" she cried happily. The boy retracted his sword in surprise.

"Willow?" he asked. His voice shook a bit as he spoke. He looked back at the three dragons nervously. They returned his anxious gaze. Chang sighed, exasperated.

"Darrith, Milan, Kaiu, Keanu!" he yelled angrily, rattling off each of their names as if he'd done so many times before. The four of them cringed at the mention of each name. "What in the name of all things sacred do you think you're doing?"

"We were suspicious when you and Willow were gone," the red one explained. "Keanu said-"

"You were gone!" interrupted the orange. "I woke up, and you were gone!"

"Then we found her," said the green one, nodding to Mariah.

"How were we to know who she was?" the orange one exclaimed.

"Keanu, be quiet," Silver ordered. The orange dragon hung his head and sighed. "And Darrith, put that sword away!" Mariah's courage now renewed, she glared at this strange boy, "Darrith," stood, and pushed the sword away. The redhead glared back and put the sword back in its sheath. "Now someone please explain what is going on here."

"I think we'd all like to know that," said a deep voice. Four more dragons- black, deep blue, purple, and teal- had just entered the clearing. It was the black one that had spoken, and he was now eyeing Keanu and the red dragon.

"Kaiu, Keanu…" sighed the blue, shaking her head.

"We're sorry, Mother, Father," said the red.

"We shall see," replied the expressionless black.

"Darrin, you should not be so hard on your sons," Silver said. "After all, they are their own masters, now that they have come of age- and have little ones of their own on the way," she added with a smile.

"I'm sure this is all a big misunderstanding," the blue remarked, turning to her mate.

"Could someone tell me what's going on?" came a small voice from below. All eyes turned to Mariah.

"Oh!" cried the blue. "Who are you?" She smiled at Willow. "Bring home another pet, did we? I must say, this one is a bit cuter than the last one," she added with a wink to Mariah.

"Hey!" Darrith exclaimed. He put his hands on his hips and glared up at the blue dragon.

"Now Aurora," Chang said, making Darrith smile, "we all know that although Darrith isn't the most adorable thing in the world, he's been a very good pet." Darrith frowned.

"Stop picking on me just because I'm smaller than you!" he said angrily.

"I suppose we should give the girl an introduction," the teal said suddenly.

"Wonderful idea, Stella!" Aurora exclaimed. "But first," she said, leaning down towards the girl, "let's have your name." Mariah brushed the dirt off her pants and took a deep breath.

"Well, my name's Mariah," she said slowly. "I'm an orphan from Selena village."

"An orphan?" Silver asked, seemingly intrigued.

"Oh, you poor dear!" Aurora exclaimed.

"Aurora, let the girl speak!" exclaimed the purple dragon. Aurora smiled sheepishly.

"Oh, you're right, Minerva, as usual," she said. "Sorry," she said to Mariah. The girl smiled.

"That's alright."

"Well, I'm Aurora," said the blue, "if you hadn't caught on. This is my mate, Darrin," she said, nodding to the black dragon, "and those two are my sons, Keanu and Kaiu, and my nephew, Milan." The orange, red, and green dragons nodded respectively.

"You've, of course, met Willow and Chang," Aurora said. "The lovely teal dragon is Stella-"

"Oh, stop it, Aurora," Stella said, shaking her head. Aurora smiled and continued.

"And her mother, Minerva." The purple dragon flapped her wings nonchalantly. "And then, of course, there's Darrith, whom you've, er, also met," Aurora said. The haughty redhead turned and glared at her. Mariah narrowed her eyes at him.

"Darrith is our human brother," explained Milan, the green.

"He's the runt," Keanu added in a whisper.

"He's also a raving lunatic," said Kaiu.

"He is," Chang admitted, "but only when he's off duty."

"I'm not a lunatic!" Darrith exclaimed, his face turning pink.

"I beg to differ," Willow said with a smile.

"Willow," Darrith groaned, "you're supposed to be on my side!" She laughed.

"Sorry, Darrith, I'm just telling it like it is." The boy hung his head and sighed.

"So how did you come to our Gardens?" Darrin asked.

"That was my doing," Willow said, stepping forward. "I brought her here."

"You did?" Keanu asked. Willow nodded. "Why?"

"That's a matter to be discussed between us elders," Silver explained.

"But you just said we were our own masters!" Milan exclaimed. Silver smiled.

"You're right. I apologize. It is not easy, thinking of you as mature adults, when I have known you since you were eggs."

"Wahoo!" Keanu exclaimed.

"Keanu, be quiet!" Kaiu and Milan said simultaneously. Everyone, excluding those three, laughed. Once the laughter had died down, Mariah looked up at Willow.

"But why did you bring me here?"

"Well, as I told you before, Mariah," Willow began, leaving the circle of dragons and pacing in front of them in the moonlight, "you remind me of someone- someone from my past." She stopped pacing and turned towards the human girl. "That someone I knew since she was a little girl. I even helped raise her daughter, right here in the Gardens. And I was there when she died." Mariah stared at her inquisitively. Willow turned away and stared up at the moon. There were obviously tears in her eyes as she spoke.

"That woman was Queen Mariah, daughter of the Dragon Lords and wife of the king of all Aurelia." Willow looked down at Mariah and stared at her, the dragon's tear-filled eyes intense with such a passion that they almost glowed. "Your mother."