"Remember this Selene." Liza spat. "I'm only doing this because Aster asked me."
I was in my Wednesday night lesson with Liza, and she was not happy. Her gray-green eyes inspected me harshly and I had a feeling I wouldn't enjoy my lessons with her. "Honestly, I don't see why you'd do anything Aster asked of you after what he did to you." I said bluntly.
Liza turned away. "He's my good friend and my lord. I will do what he asks."
I put my chin on my hand. "You're so obedient. You should stand up for yourself."
She whipped around to face me. "You're one to talk! This is all your fault!"
My eyes narrowed. "Actually this is all Aster's fault. If I had my choice, I wouldn't be involved at all."
"Oh really?" Liza asked. "Then why aren't you doing anything to get out of this?"
"What can I do Liza? If you have a suggestion, please tell me because I'm so lost right now." I said with exasperation. She faltered, and I continued. "You know Aster better than I do. If I tried to run, he would come after me. He won't remove this bracelet either. You're not the only victim in this." I held out my hand. "Truce?"
Liza eyed my hand like a poisonous snake and remained frozen. "You have no idea how long Aster and I have known each other. We were together before you were even born." Her eyes were pleading, and she seemed to be on the edge of tears. "I know him better than anyone. I accept him even with all of his faults, and he does have faults." She laughed a bit. I didn't join in. "I just… I just can't believe it's over." She sniffed, pulling herself together and shaking my still outstretched hand. "Look, I may not blame you anymore, but that doesn't mean I have to like you."
I nodded. I'd expected as much. It would be too much to ask for us suddenly to be best friends. In fact it would be really weird. "Same here."
"Now," Liza began, quickly releasing my hand and changing the subject. "The first thing you should know about dragon etiquette is that you never ask about another's hoard."
I leaned forward with curiosity. "Wait, dragons actually have hoards?" Liza nodded. "Like your own stash of gold and gems?"
She shook her head. "What a dragon hoards varies. It is often something very personal."
"So what do you…" I stopped midsentence as Liza's eyes narrowed dangerously. I laughed nervously. "Oh, right. Never ask. Sorry."
Liza sighed heavily. "Somehow I don't think this is going to be easy." She stated.
"So on Aster's lesson plan thing, this was labeled as dance?" I asked skeptically when I arrived for my Thursday night lesson with Berlioz.
He nodded with a small smile. "Dance is a very important part of certain events including the official marriage ceremony."
"Wait, official ceremony? I haven't heard anything about this." I said angrily.
Berlioz remained frustratingly calm. "Yes, official ceremony. It is planned to take place this spring."
I huffed, crossing my arms stubbornly. "Then I don't want to learn. If I don't know, I won't be able to participate."
Berlioz's smile was unsettling. "Oh, you can participate either way. One would just be much more humiliating." I glared at him, and Berlioz continued. "Let me explain. For dragons, the ceremony is an act of courtship. Dragon women are proud, and won't yield or accept a man easily. The ceremony is just as much of a fight as it is a dance. It ends when the woman surrenders. It is a matter of pride for a woman to last as long as she can before surrendering. If you weren't prepared you wouldn't last any time at all. Everyone in the clan would view you as weak, and you would embarrass Aster as well. They would doubt his decision of taking you for a bride. The fact that you are a human, even though you're also goddess means you won't be expected to last very long anyway."
My eyes narrowed, and I knew he had me. I was not weak, and would not have the clan viewing me as such. After thinking for a moment, I asked. "What would happen if the man were to surrender?"
Berlioz gave me an approving smile. "Good question. The man would be seen as unworthy of the woman, and he wouldn't be able to marry her." At the brightening of my expression, Berlioz said. "Don't get your hopes up. It hasn't happened in years."
"Sure Berlioz." I said dramatically. "Crush my hopes and dreams."
He laughed, and we began my instruction.
"Today we're going to talk about the four dragon clans." Berlioz began on Friday.
I watched him expectantly. My days had been blurring together. Lesson after lesson. With my classes and assignments, I hadn't had hardly any time to spend with Kelly and Casey, Sebastian, or Zach. I was tired and I ached everywhere from my dance lesson the night before. All Berlioz had had me do were exercises, but still. I'd been in gymnastics before, but that had been a few years ago, so my body wasn't used to this kind of activity.
"Selene." Berlioz prompted, and I snapped to attention.
"I'm paying attention."
"What did I just say?" He asked.
"Selene." I offered with a smile, but Berlioz wasn't amused. "Four dragon clans?"
Berlioz sighed. "I guess I'll start again from there." Feeling kind of ashamed, I apologized. Berlioz accepted it with a nod, and began again. "Each of the four Dragon Lords has a tattoo. The location of that tattoo shows which they are. Aster, The Dragon Lord of the West has the tattoo right side of his face, the Dragon Lord of the East has one on the left side, the Dragon Lord of the North on his forehead, and the Dragon Lord of the South on his chin.
"Each clan also differs in the type of dragon it contains. Our clan, the Western Clan, are dragons of fire. Dragons of fire are built sturdily, can fly, and can breathe fire, as the name implies. The Northern Clan, are dragons of ice. They have a slimmer, more delicate build than dragons of fire, and they breathe frigid air that freezes all in its path. They can also fly. The Southern Clan are made up of sea dragons. They have no wings, their bodies are long and slim almost like a snake, and they can also breathe underwater like a fish. Finally, the Eastern Clan is made up of hydras, dragons with multiple heads. They are built sturdy like us, but they have no wings. The number of heads depends on the age of the dragon. They begin with two. Any questions?"
I nodded. "Do the Eastern Clan have multiple heads as a human as well?" I asked with a small amused smile.
Berlioz laughed. "No."
"What happens if two dragons from different clans marry and have a child?" I asked.
"That doesn't happen." Berlioz stated flatly.
"But what if?" I persisted.
"Selene, drop it." Berlioz said. His tone was such that I did, though he couldn't stop me from wondering.
I collapsed in the grass. "I'm so exhausted."
Zach laughed, and lay next to me. We'd just gotten back from supper. "Aster sure is working you hard." He commented.
I nodded closing my eyes. "I don't know how I'm going to remember it all. Always do this when you meet so and so. Never ask about this. Don't offend this person or that person. This certain war happened in this year, and we're still mortal enemies with them. And I'm really sore from the dance lesson. Berlioz wants me to go through a set of exercises every morning to make sure I get into shape. I don't know if I'll be able to move in another week."
Zach laughed again, and I smiled. "If you're so tired, maybe you shouldn't help me tonight." Zach suggested.
I opened my eyes, and rolled onto my side so that I could face him. "No, I promised I would help. Besides, tomorrow is Saturday. I'll be able to sleep in. How is your search going by the way?"
Zach wouldn't meet my gaze. Instead he focused on demolishing a weed that grew in front of him. "No luck."
I put my hand on his, preventing further plant destruction. "We'll find him Zach." I assured.
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right."
I stood, pulling Zach up with me. "Come on. Let's go now."
He followed me to the forest in silence. We stopped once we'd gone in a ways, and I turned to face him. "Can you give me any shapeshifting tips?"
Zach shook his head. "I've been shifting my entire life. I don't really know how it works."
"I thought you'd say that, but I wanted to try anyways."
I'm not sure how long we stayed there as I attempted assorted methods to change into either an owl or a wolf, but it was quite a while.
Eventually Zach burst out laughing. "I doubt crawling on the ground will help at all." I smiled, happy to have cheered him up at least. "Look Selene, we can just go on foot."
I frowned. "I don't want to slow you down."
He shrugged. "Don't worry about it." I sighed, and Zach took the lead as we started walking.
In the beginning we engaged in idle talk about classes and our childhood, but the further we walked the more unsettled Zach became. His fox ears and tail even appeared.
With a small laugh, I said. "Now you look more like the Zach I remember."
"What?" He asked confused. I gestured to his ears. Zach lifted a hand. "Oh, you're right."
"You used to complain a lot about the fact that you couldn't get rid of your ears and tail." I said with a fond smile.
Zach nodded. "All the other foxes my age could transform completely, but not me. I was often made fun of at home."
"Really?" I asked in surprise. "You never said anything about it. It must have been kind of like a smack in the face when I was always ranting about them."
Zach smiled. "No. The fact that you loved my ears and tail gave me confidence."
We both fell silent. Zach met and held my gaze. His brown eyes were intense, and my breath caught. His ears flicked, and he whispered. "Run, Selene."
"What?" I asked in confusion.
"Just run!" He demanded.
Before I could say anything else, people appeared in front of us. "Just couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you Zach?" One of them sneered. There were about ten of them, and they were moving in to surround us.
Zach ignored him, and instead repeated. "Please, Selene, run!"
I was held there in confusion and concern. What did they want? Was Zach involved in all this? Would they hurt him if I ran?
The people formed a circle around me, just me, and my option for escape was gone. "What's going on?" I asked no one in particular. My initial surprise was wearing off leaving anger.
"You're little friend Zach here led you into a trap." said the man who had spoken earlier.
My eyes narrowed as I turned to Zach. If it was true, it would explain his odd behavior lately. "Do you even have a little brother?"
His eyes were wide. "I'm so sorry Selene. I didn't want to, it's just…" He trailed off before asking sadly. "Why didn't you run?"
I didn't answer. I turned back to the man who'd spoken. "What do you want with me?"
"Let's just say the Fox King has some plans that involve you." He said with a wide grin. "Now," Go To Sleep.