Dragon fire, bright gold, casts rainbows instead of shadows.
Camry was gifted with the power of fire by the dragon that saved her life as a child. She hides her gift from the world for fear of what they would do to her should they discover it. Her secrets and lies make her the prime suspect in the murder of Yarrow Norcross, the man who owns the cottage she rented for, what should have been, a peaceful vacation in the mountains.
Agent John Ashley has been fighting against the dragon scourge on humanity for years. Hardened and disillusioned from his time in service, the seemingly innocent Camry is a breath of fresh air. However, there are secrets behind her dark eyes. He can't believe that she was the one who killed Norcross. Nor can he believe that she's involved in dragon poaching, obstruction of justice, or any of the host of crimes being laid at her feet.
Summitville was once a quiet mountain town. Now, a hotspot for murder, discord, and frequent dragon attacks. In such a tumultuous environment, can Camry still keep her secrets? Can she protect her heart from the trained dragon fighter? Or will she become another victim to the lies and deception that run rampant through this seemingly peaceful town?)
"Oh, now look at that, Evie." Laughing, Conner turned to his wife where she sat, lips curled upwards uncomfortably, as he carefully maneuvered their truck through the snowy embankment that was supposed to the be the driveway of their mountain cottage. "How can you look at something that... that... picturesque and not be put at ease. This place is perfect!"
Evie held in her breath as she tried not to dampen his spirits. At the same time, she couldn't quite bring herself to feel the same enthusiasm. Where he saw a beautiful snow-covered cottage, she saw a drafty wood house on top of a mountain, far from aid or even a basic cell tower. They were alone and isolated long before they reached this driveway, and that made her uncomfortable.
Conner picked up on his wife's emotions easily. Smiling, he put the truck in park before touching the hand that she had clenched into a tight, white-knuckled fist on her leg.
"Evie, you promised to give it a chance."
"I know..." She sounded pained, but tried to smile for his benefit. "M-Maybe it's nice inside."
"That's the spirit!" Laughing, Conner turned to look in the backseat. "What do you think, kiddo?"
Camry, strapped tight in her car seat, wasn't even looking at the cottage. She was staring outside at the snow that was piled up high all around the drive. Her mouth was hanging open, revealing the empty socket where she had recently lost one of her baby teeth, as she gazed in wonder.
Conner laughed. "They don't have snow like this in the city, do they?"
"Can I go play?" She asked eagerly, already reaching for the buckles on her car seat.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Evie turned frantically. "Not like this. You have to put on your coat and your gloves and scarf. All of it. All of it. You'll catch your death out there."
Conner was humming excitedly as Evie supervised the donning of their winter gear. The heater in the truck kept it more than comfortable inside, so the cold weather accessories had all been piled into a large heap in the back seat. Most of it was buried under half-eaten snacks and drinks that they had been picking up along their drive to and up the mountain as well as the toys that Camry had been systematically playing with and discarding once they lost their appeal. The rest of their luggage was in the bed of the truck, already covered in a few errant snowflakes that had descended while they climbed the mountain.
Only once both Camry and Conner both were bundled up to Evie's satisfaction did she allow him to turn the truck off and open the door.
The blast of cold air hit the cabin like a hammer and, nearly instantly, all the warmth was sucked away and replaced with a nose chilling cold.
Camry didn't notice. She already had her door open and was jumping down off the high step – too excited to hear her mother tell her not to and to wait for her to come help her down. The crunch of snow under her thick boots was an entirely new sensation and her little bluebell eyes widened in delight to hear and feel it crush under her weight.
Laughing out loud, she began stomping excitedly just to trample the snow. Evie climbed from the cabin of the truck, hastily pulling on her gloves, as she stared in worry at her daughter. She had barely opened her mouth to tell her to be careful when Camry slipped and fell butt first into the pile of snow just off of the drive.
The white wall closed around her like a cloud and she laughed harder as she kicked her feet and bounced her hands inside.
Evie was there in a flash, admonishing her carelessness as she pulled her out.
"Are you okay?" She asked, worried, as she brushed the snow from her little thermal pants.
"I wanna make a snowman!" Camry yelled, completely oblivious to the coating of snow that now covered her pretty pink jacket and bright blonde hair.
"In a minute, sweetie."
Taking her daughter's hand so she wouldn't fall again, Evie turned to look for Conner. He was whistling merrily, already fitting the key he had been sent by the cottage caretaker into the lock. He cried out in delight when he turned easily and swung open.
"Oh. Yes! Evie! Come and look at this! The fireplace is huge!"
"Conner! I wish you wouldn't walk off like that."
Camry had gone back to stomping in the snow. Evie pulled her along as she jumped and kicked at the fluffy powder, heading for the cottage. She frowned when her husband limped inside, probably tracking snow from his boots all over the entryway.
"Conner. I'm really not so sure about this."
Her concern only deepened when Conner flipped the lights on inside a few times and nothing happened to alleviate the darkness. It was as cold inside as it was without. There was no hum of electricity. It was dark and cold and felt abandoned.
Evie gave him a quick look. He beamed at her without concern.
"We just have to turn on the generator, honey. And look! A landline! See? We can call for help if we need it. We don't need cell phones."
"Oh, great. That means we're only ever an hour and a half away from rescue." Evie sighed as Conner made his way towards the door labeled as the basement with a warning to watch your step. The limp in his right leg was even more obvious than usual and Evie worried that the cold might be making his old injury worse.
"Look, mommy!" Camry pointed inside. "Pretty."
"Yes, dear. Mommy sees it." Evie wasn't even looking. She was frowning at the ancient refrigerator and the even more outdated oven. The former didn't bother her so much as the latter. Clearly, there was no lacking for cold around here, but how was she supposed to make something hot to stave off more of the cold if the oven couldn't, or wouldn't, work.
Camry was more focused on looking at the bright, intricate tile squares, each about the size of a dollar coin, that made up the massive fireplace at the far end of the living room. Even without a fire inside of it, the reds, yellows, and oranges of the tiles made it look ablaze. Camry touched it with her gloved hand, marveling at the lovely sight.
A moment later, Camry turned as a loud rumbling started up from below. A few seconds later, the lights all came on in the cottage and Evie heard the humming of the heaters growling to life. Conner's victory cry from below was soon followed by one of awed delight as he came up from the basement and saw the cottage in all its splendor.
The couches were thick and comfortable. A bear skin rug took up most of the floor space while rustic artwork decorated the walls. Each door was labeled. The bathroom beside one of the two bedrooms, all three directly across from the master bedroom and mudroom. It was exactly the sort of mountain retreat that he had asked for when he called the owner to request a cottage for their family vacation. Now this was a place a man could relax and get closer to his girls.
"Oh, Conner." Evie frowned, turning from one of the living room windows. "Look at this. The lock is busted. Anyone could just come in here at any time."
"Anyone?" Conner chuckled as he walked over and took his wife under his arm. "Now, who in their right mind is going to be just walking about all the way up here?"
"Psychos and murderers."
"Evie, don't be silly. You promised, remember?"
"I'm trying really hard, Conner. I just don't understand why we couldn't go somewhere nice where there are people and security locks. That beach in the islands seems even better now up here in the cold. And I feel like I can't breathe."
"That's just the altitude getting to you. And I already packed containers of oxygen. They sell those, did you know? Just for altitude sickness."
Evie looked surprised. "You... bought some?"
"Enough for you and me and Camry to each go through two a day and still have some left over." He laughed as he kissed the side of her head. "I also bought two first aid kits, a radio transmitter in case we lose power, and a box of emergency supplies. See? I'm completely prepared. I defy you to find one thing that I am not fully ready to handle."
"Well, it does sound like you thought ahead..." Her shoulders relaxed slightly. She should have known he would have anticipated her worrying nature and packed accordingly.
Still, they were so very far from anything. The nearest town was halfway down the mountain and took an hour and a half to reach even in the relatively good weather they had now. Evie shuddered to think of what they would do if something bad happened.
"Mommy! Can I go back outside?" Camry asked eagerly from where she stood near the open door. She kept looking out at the gently falling snow.
Evie hesitated. "How about we wait until later, sweetie? Let's unpack and get comfortable first."
Disappointment and sadness pulled down on her little shoulders as her head hung down. She wasn't going to fight the decision, she knew better than to try. When her mother declared something, nothing Camry could say would change it.
"Evie, come on." Conner squeezed her a bit. "Don't be like that. Most of the reason for coming out here is the snow. Let the child go play."
"It could be dangerous, Conner."
"What could possibly be dangerous? It's just like her playing out front back home. It's even safer, actually, because there's no one around."
"That's exactly why I don't want her out there." Pulling from under her husband's arm, Evie lowered herself down to speak to her daughter. "Later, sweetie. Okay? Why don't I show you your room and you can set up all your toys and stuff."
Camry didn't bite at the offer. Conner grabbed Evie's shoulder and pulled her back. He smiled at his daughter kindly.
"Stay in the front, kiddo, okay?"
"If we look out these windows, we need to be able to see you. Understand?"
Without waiting for her mother to revoke the permission, Camry turned and sprinted out the door. Evie gave a small cry of dismay as Camry threw herself down into the snow bank, laughing as she began flinging out her limbs to make a snow angel. Evie turned to Conner.
"How could you undermine me like that?"
"Relax, honey." Conner kissed her forehead. "Look at her? Where's she going to go? And you can watch her obsessively right here as you get everything situated the way you like."
"I'm going to go get our things from the truck. You'll see. This is going to be a great vacation. I think we should do something like this every year!"
Evie sighed unhappily as she stared outside at Camry.
She was already done with the snow angel. As she pulled herself from the snow pile, half of it collapsed into the shape, destroying it. Camry just laughed as she began gathering it up to try and form a snowman. Her father kept walking back and forth behind her as he pulled things out of the truck, and she felt her mother's watchful eye on her at all times.
Even after her father stopped coming out, she knew her mother was watching. Evie was nearly constantly looking after her daughter. She had always been the anxious type, and the trait had only worsened when her husband had been injured while in military service. Her nervousness was a constant presence in Camry's life, and she had adjusted to it well.
She also wasn't a bad little girl. She wanted to make her parents happy, and she was normally quite content to follow the rules. When she didn't, her mother usually yelled, then cried, and her father would frown disapprovingly.
As she played in the snow, she had every intention of staying in the front where her mother could see her and where she knew they could watch over her playtime.
But then she spotted the bunny rabbit.
Glistening as white as the snow it blended in against, Camry only caught sight of him because of the pink of his little nose as it twitched while he scented the air. When her eyes fell on him, she froze and the snowman head she had been rolling unsuccessfully in her arms fell at her feet into an amorphous pile that covered her boots.
She had seen bunnies in books and on the internet. She knew they existed. But this was the first time she had come face to face with one. It's thick white fur looked as fluffy as the snow it walked upon while it stared at her through a pair of glassy black eyes.
"Bunny..." Camry took a step towards it, hands outstretched.
The movement in its direction spooked the rabbit. Turning on its heels, it began bounding quickly through the snow, heading for the far tree line. Camry cried out in dismay as she hastily pulled herself up onto the snow bank to follow after him.
Laughing, oblivious to where she was going, she disappeared from the front of the cottage and into the shade of the bare trees with bark so dark it was nearly black. They were spaced far enough apart that she could run through them without issue. The rabbit kept stopping and looking back, as though trying to see if the potential predator was still giving chasing.
Camry laughed at the fun game. She thought only of how soft that fur would be and how awesome it would be to have a bunny for a pet. Everyone back at school would be jealous and she would have a bunny, and what was cooler than that?
And though the rabbit kept stopping to check to see if she was still behind him, he was still much faster than the human child unaccustomed to snow. It didn't take at all long for him to bound out of sight and for her to continue only chasing the memory of him.
"Bunny!" She called out, lifting her feet higher than normal to clear the snow. The awkward method of jogging was tiring her out quickly. When at last she pulled up short to catch her breath, the rabbit was gone, the forest had closed around her, and she had no idea where she was any longer.
That was when reality returned to her. Turning around, Camry felt fear close over her little heart. She was alone, and that was unusual enough to cause her panic.
"Mommy!" She yelled out, expecting an immediate reply. There had always been an immediate reply in the past. "Mommy!"
She turned around. She heard nothing.
And now that she wasn't having fun anymore, now that the excitement was wearing off, she realized quite suddenly that she was cold.
"Mommy! Daddy!" Tears gathered in her eyes as she became afraid.
Turning around again, she tried to think of where she was and how to get back home. Following the deep tracks she had left in the snow didn't occur to her as an option. Picking a random direction, she started walking quickly, calling out for her parents again.
Each minute that passed only made her more fearful, more distressed. She yelled for her parents every couple of seconds, certain at any moment that one of them would come running for her.
She didn't see the trees suddenly shortening. She didn't see the ground where it stopped. She didn't notice the large slope she walked towards until her foot stepped on snow that was not supported by ground and it all collapsed beneath her.
A shrill shriek ripped from her throat as she began sliding down the steep drop, bringing with her a small avalanche of snow that only grew as more snow was caught into it.
Camry screamed for her mother again. She felt twigs and rocked buried under the snow catching and ripping at her coat and pants. Terror filled her little body as the ground suddenly evened out like the bottom of a slide.
Camry and a storm of snow shot off of the edge of the cliff. Gravity caught hold and began pulling her and the snow down towards the frozen lake below. Camry didn't even see it coming as she flailed and twisted in the air, surrounded by a metric ton of snow and forest detritus.
The snow hit the lake first, cracking the surface. She hit after it, breaking through. Dark, cold water closed over her head, cutting off her scream. More snow piled on top, pushing her down further. The water was too cold. It soaked through her heavy coat, weighing her down. Camry could swim, but in that moment, it didn't matter at all.
She began sinking, her body thrashing as she fought to pull herself up. Fear robbed her body of coordination as her throat closed reflexively to keep water from her lungs. Her eyes stared upwards, burning from the freezing cold, as she watched the bright white ice of the surface slowly moving away as she fell deeper into the lake.
A bright light, bursting with rainbows and rays of spectacular colors, exploded on the surface. A crack, louder than a gunshot, echoed down through the entire lake. The white of the ice faded at the same time as the rainbow lights.
A shadow dove into the water with a loud splash.
Camry had stopped moving. The freezing water had frozen her limbs. She only stared, brain numb and reasoning gone, as the shadow came in closer to her.
Something grabbed hold of the front of her coat. With a powerful jerk, she was suddenly pulled upwards towards the surface. She still couldn't think. Couldn't move. She stared at the unrecognizable shape that was rescuing her without emotion or thought.
The sharp bite of winter air hit her soaking wet body like a thousand needles as she was suddenly thrust up from under the surface. The scratching of claws on ice filled her ears as the light of day illuminated the scaled face of her savior.
Camry had never seen a dragon in real life either.
The massive reptile lifted its body from the water and a chill ran down its body before it began sprinting across the lake surface. The ice had been made brittle first by Camry breaking it, then by the dragon's fire melting a larger hole through it. It cracked further as the dragon ran, holding its head, and Camry, up in the air as its feet broke through in places, splashing water all around.
The human girl just stared. She was too cold to think. She couldn't feel her fingers or toes. But she was getting really sleepy...
The dragon didn't stop running until it could pull itself up onto the snow embankment of the lake edge and its feet hit upon solid ground.
Shaking, the dragon dropped its cargo and Camry fell about a foot to the ground, dazed and unmoving but for the blinking of her eyes that were quickly frosting over.
There was something wrong with the dragon. Its scales had been so golden, bright and beautiful, just a second ago. But, as Camry watched, they began turning fiery red. And the red of the markings on the dragon's face, wings, and talons, turned back.
The dragon didn't appear to pay it any mind as it sniffed her. Her breath was frozen as it puffed back into the dragon's face.
She wasn't going to drown, but she couldn't survive this cold either.
With its long, sharp teeth, the dragon grabbed hold of the coat, and, with its front talons, began shredding it to pieces. Ripping it away from her body. The water-logged material fell away, but the thick sweater she wore beneath it was in no better condition.
Shivering violently now, Camry tried to reach up. Her joints all felt stiff and frozen as the air began hardening the water that filled her pants, boots, and sweater.
"Bunny..." She whispered, touching the dragon's snout.
The dragon winced as though she had smacked her, but didn't pull away. Frowning, the dragon nudged the human girl slightly.
Camry's arm fell back to the ground and she stared without seeing as her lips began turning blue. The shivers were starting to subside.
The dragon nudged her again, but Camry didn't react.
Turning its large head, the dragon looked back at its own body. Its scales were beginning to slough off, their color no longer red but gray and ashen. The water began freezing on its body as well, causing more damage and pain.
The dragon looked back at the child. She was staring at nothing, her tiny chest moving slowly as her eyes began slowly drifting shut.
The dragon drew in a long, slow breath and held it for a moment. Savoring the last taste of oxygen. It then blew out a bright gold flame that created rainbows, dazzling flares of light as it swept over the human girl.
The ice turned back to water. The water evaporated away. A spark of white light escaped the dragon's mouth and fell into Camry's chest.
As the fire began eating at her clothing, Camry took in a deep, powerful breath. The cold faded quickly, replaced by a bright, burning heat. It soaked in and through her. The fire devoured her clothing, but it didn't burn her skin.
Her bright blonde hair dried as her eyes began focusing again. She pushed herself up and the ashes that was her coat fell around her waist.
She found herself looking at the cold, lifeless body of the formerly bright gold dragon. She frowned at the sight of it.
"Bunny?" She asked, pushing against the dragon.
It didn't move.
Camry pushed herself up, her pants fell away into a pile of ash as the rubber at the bottom of her boots melted into the ground. Camry lifted her arm and blinked at the fire that had completely wrapped her body in its embrace.
She knew fire was hot. Or, at least, it was supposed to be hot. This felt nice, like a bath set at the perfect temperature that she sank down deep within. And from the fire was created the most beautiful halo of rainbow lights that flashed upon the white snow.
Camry brought her arm back into her chest as she looked back at the dragon.
"Thank you, Bunny," she said to it softly before turning and walking away. She had to get back to her parents. She had to see them again.
And she was suddenly terrified of the water of the lake and was desperate to flee from it.
Snow melted away from her with each step she took. The dragon fire couldn't catch on the snowy ground. Camry frowned at the warm flames as she tried to pat them off of her.
The fire responded to her will more than her actions. It began absorbing into her flesh.
Stark naked, but somehow not at all cold, Camry walked across the landscape. She didn't know where she was going or how far she was from the cottage. She only thought about escaping the lake and returning to her parents.
The road, tar black and flat, caught her eye and she changed directions. The ice was beginning to hurt her feet, turning it red. It didn't feel cold though. It almost felt hot.
She was grateful for the rocky asphalt. At least the ice had been banished from here by the thick layers of salt spread out upon it. She turned and began following the road upwards, wondering if she recognized any of this.
Walking along the road, naked, feet red and raw, was where her parents found her nearly an hour later as they searched from their truck.
Evie cried, bundling her up in her coat. Conner cried, holding onto her in the front seat of the truck as though he would never let go again.
They asked why she had left. The asked what happened to her clothes. Camry tried to tell them about Bunny and how it had saved her, but they didn't really understand.
They didn't return to the cottage. Conner drove them down the mountain and rented a hotel room that he left Evie and Camry in by themselves as he went back up to get their things. Evie just sat on the bed, kissing and holding her daughter, crying and admonishing her in turn. She kept saying that it was a miracle that Camry hadn't caught her death of the cold. Only her feet had taken any damage, frostbitten and raw, but otherwise she was unharmed.
And though Camry was tempted to show her mother the cool trick she could do with the fire that Bunny had given her, she didn't want to for fear that she would get in more trouble. She just let her mother hold her tight and kept it to herself.
17 years later...
It was interesting to Camry how everything looked so different when you grew up. She had visited her elementary school once in high school, and the halls seemed so much smaller. She traveled to her hometown when she had grown up, and there were so many businesses and homes and roads that she didn't remember from her past.
That's why it was so surprising to her, as she drove up the mountain, how little things had seemed to change here.
The mountain road was still as dark as pitch, with licks of snow and salt lining the entire perimeter. The trees were still barren with trunks nearly as dark as the road. Snow covered every surface that wasn't salted while a light flurry still came down from the sky, as though the glistening particles had been shaved from the clouds themselves.
Sitting in her father's old truck, the music on low to drown out the engine, she almost felt like a kid again. For all that her old childhood haunts seemed so much smaller as an adult, this was the only place that seemed bigger somehow.
The chains that she had installed over her tires in the town below crunched across the thin layer of snow and ice that had accumulated on the driveway. Camry began slowing the truck, pulling it to a gradual halt as she stared at the small cottage through her front window.
She couldn't honestly say that it seemed smaller or larger than she remembered. She had only been inside the once, and it hadn't been that long. She remembered very little of the cottage itself. It almost seemed as though she were coming upon it for the first time.
Camry cut the engine of the truck off and immediately the silence of the mountain descended upon her in full force. It was calming and oppressive at the same time. The hush of the world, laid dormant under the snow, made her feel as though she were walking through a house of sleeping people in the deep, dead of night.
Taking the time to pull on her coat and wrap her scarf around her neck, Camry stood from the truck and looked up at the cabin, struggling to remember it. The images were lost to time though. She gave up after only a minute and, instead, retrieved her suitcase and travel bag from the back of the truck. When she shut the doors, the loud thud was immediately absorbed by the trees.
The air was thinner here, and much colder than the big city. Despite that, it still filled her lungs more satisfactorily as she walked up to the door.
The dark windows made her frown as she climbed the steps to the front porch. She peered inside but the cottage was closed up, most of the furniture covered in sheets. Her frown deepened as she pulled back and looked for signs of life.
"Mr. Norcross?" She yelled out, hoping for some kind of response.
There was nothing.
She hummed thoughtfully as she set her suitcase and bag down.
The caretaker of the cottage, the man who owned all the land here, Mr. Norcross, was supposed to have been here waiting for her. He had promised he would come up here to start the generator before she arrived and to be there to give her the key. He wouldn't have done so normally, but when he had found out that she would be coming up here alone, he insisted on the courtesy.
Someone had to check up on her, he had laughed over the phone. He would be happy to give her a tour himself.
Camry frowned and pulled out her phone, fully intending to call him to find out where he was. And also, fully forgetting that she was far from a cell tower out here. There was no reception, and there wouldn't be unless she was in town.
She sighed, shoving it back into her jean's pocket. She crossed her arms, tapping her toe. What was she supposed to do if he wasn't here to open the door for her? She didn't want to travel an hour and a half down the mountain just to call him and come right back.
The answer hit her in a flash as she looked back at the window she had been peering through. The memory, as though activated by the sight of the old, rusty pane, hit her like a brick. She didn't remember her mother's exact words, but she remembered the general statement.
Camry grabbed the window and pushed upwards. It didn't budge. She peered inside again and spotted the next window.
She was laughing as she jumped off of the side of the porch and into the snow. It took another two windows before she found the one with the busted latch. She laughed in triumph as she pushed it upwards, wincing a bit at the squeal of metal on metal as it moved.
She hoped Mr. Norcross wouldn't mind. It wasn't like she was the one who had broken the window, after all. She never needed him to come up here for her anyway. Camry was perfectly capable of turning on a generator.
Besides, it wasn't like she really felt the cold much anyway.
She shook off her boots outside the window, trying not to drag too much snow inside. There was inevitably a cascade of it down onto the floor as she walked across to the front door, unlocked it, then stepped outside again to grab her luggage.
Once inside, she dropped them right by the door before pulling out her phone and turning on the flashlight. She scanned it around the room, curious about the place that was barely a dream to her any longer.
Her light immediately caught on the bright tiles of the fireplace. It nearly exploded with color as she ran the beam off it and onto the fluffy green couches she barely saw under the white sheets, the bearskin rug, the rustic décor. All of it unchanged, yet nothing that she remembered.
Her phone moved again to the doors and she immediately found the one with the word 'BASEMENT' written across it on a small wooden plaque.
She was humming to herself as she walked across and opened the door. If it was possible, somehow it was colder down below than it was upstairs. The air was musty, almost too much, as she began descending. She curled up her nose at the smell and was grateful that she would be living upstairs and only needed to come down here to turn off the generator when she left.
The large machine was in plain sight right at the bottom of the stairs. Mr. Norcross had even left a handy chart explaining to the guests who rented the cottage how to operate it. Camry followed along with a smile, flipping the switches to start the current, then the final switch to flood the power upstairs into the house.
The generator roared to life before lowering itself to a loud thrum. Camry beamed as she shut the door over the power switches and turned to return to the main rooms upstairs. She shut the door behind her gratefully and grinned out over the room.
Well, she might as well make herself comfortable.
The sheets covering the furniture was the first thing she removed. It had been a while, Mr. Norcross had explained to her, since someone had wanted to rent the cabin. People who came up here these days weren't really looking for a secluded mountain retreat.
That only made her feel happier as she piled the sheets into one of the corner in a neatly folded stack. She would replace it before she left. For now, she continued by moving into the kitchen to wipe down the counters and stove before cleaning out the refrigerator.
She returned to the truck and brought in the food supplies which she promptly stocked inside the fridge and small cabinet. Unpacking as soon as she arrived was a trait that she had been given by her mother, and, if she wanted to relax, she had to make sure that she was settled in. Otherwise, knowing that she had to do this later would just weigh on her mind.
Once the food was stocked, she took her suitcase and bag to the master bedroom. She removed the sheets in there before stowing her clothes in the dresser under the TV, her shoes in the rack hanging on the door, and her toiletries in the small master bath.
The water heater was inside the small closet of her bathroom. She reminded herself to turn it on before she tried to shower then returned to making herself at home. The two smaller bedrooms and bathroom she ignored. She wasn't going to be living in there, so there was no reason for her to remove the sheets that would be covering that furniture.
Instead, she went out to the truck and grabbed her second suitcase. This one didn't have any clothes or such items. She brought it into the living room and opened it up before popping it against the wall, using it in lieu of a bookshelf to display all the tomes that she had brought with her. Old favorites that she still enjoyed rereading, as well as a few new pieces that she had bought especially for the trip up to the cottage.
First thing was first, however...
Checking to make sure that she still had plenty of daylight, Camry walked outside of the cabin and turned to begin hiking into the woods.
It was another place that she had very little memory of from her childhood. Now, as an adult, she knew her way only thanks to the maps she had downloaded of the hiking paths that were normally closed in winter thanks to the snow. They still, however, would take her by the lake that most people didn't even realize was up here on top of the mountain.
It took nearly an hour to climb down to the low spot where the lake had settled. The hiking paths were closed and so no one was working to clear them. She had only the way posts to keep her on the path and she made her way between them like a giant game of connect-the-dots.
Like a phantom in the snow, it seemed as though the lake suddenly snuck up on her as she turned around one of the larger clusters of trees. She beamed as she rushed towards the water's edge. It had completely frozen over.
It was surprising to Camry, in finding herself face to face with this lake for the first time in seventeen years, that she still felt a lingering anxiety deep in her belly.
The cottage was a forgotten memory, and she couldn't possibly recognize one section of the forest from another. However, one thing she remembered with stunning quality, was her fall down into this lake from the high cliff that she could see far across the water.
It shouldn't have been a surprise that the scene was tranquil and untouched after all this time. Still, somehow, she expected to see evidence of her fall and crash through the water. It was like it had never happened, despite how brightly it was burned into her brain.
Letting out a long breath, trying to gather control over the nervousness that now plagued her, she turned and began walking along the water's edge. After all this time, she wasn't entirely sure where her target was, or even if it was still there. Surely, if someone had found the body of a dragon, it would have been big news though, right?
Despite the hiking paths, this area wasn't well traversed. More than snow blocked her way and, occasionally, she had needed to step out onto the ice and slide her way across an obstacle. It was not a pleasant experience.
Ever since the accident that had happened here, Camry had a fear of large bodies of water. Bath tubs were fine, and swimming pools didn't make her afraid so much as wary. But the sight of lakes, and especially the sight of oceans, made her outright uncomfortable.
This place that was the source of that fear made her feel it even more acutely. This was the place where she had nearly fallen to her death. Before her young mind had even comprehended what death was, she had forced to come face to face with the possibility of it.
And, before she had recovered from that shock, she had been given another one.
By pure luck, Camry had chosen the right direction to travel the first time. Though she nearly had to walk all the way to the base of the high cliff to find it.
Time had eroded the flesh of the beast that had lain here, and scavengers had spread out most of the bones into the trees. However, they had left behind the dragon's skull.
The sun-bleached bone looked up at her through a pair of empty sockets as she came to a halt and stared down at it. Unmoving, dry, and worn from the elements. Somehow, it looked nothing like the golden, turned ashy gray dragon from her memories. The teeth seemed larger somehow, as an adult, and much more fearsome than her young, frozen mind had been able to comprehend. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she still saw tiny pink fibers caught between the fangs that faced up towards her as she came down onto her knees.
A puff of frozen air came from her lips as she stared, amazed, at the creature that had saved her life. Or, at least, what was left of it.
That day, so long ago now, was the first, and only, time that she had ever come into contact with a real life dragon. Though she supposed this skull was still real, she didn't think she could count this as a second meeting.
"Hello, Bunny," she greeted the dragon softly.
Calling it Bunny was the only way she had been able to cope with the events as a child. Her parents had begun to think Bunny was just an imaginary friend, and by the time she was old enough to realize her own past, she had also been old enough to know how, and why, to keep her secret.
Reaching up her hands, she grabbed the edge of one of her black leather gloves. She pulled on the fingers, freeing the digits, before releasing the glove to the ground. She stared at the palm of her hand for a moment through a pair of eyes so dark that they appeared to be black. She knew, in a bright enough light, however, that they were a very deep red.
The same red, though much darker, as the deep, bloody red of her gently waving hair that came down around her shoulders from under her fluffy hat. Her once blue eyed, blonde haired features had long since faded away. Though Camry had no proof, and she certainly didn't know anyone else with her situation to compare, but she knew that the color change was due to the dragon fire that coursed through her veins.
After all this time, she had an easy and expert command over the fire. It responded to her will easily as she took in a breath and breathed out the flame onto her hand. She pulled up the sleeve of her coat, trying to spare it from the fire as she let it dance on her fingers.
The fire didn't bring shadows. Instead, it created bright rays of light that scattered in rainbow colors that surrounded her far away from the small fire in her palm.
She only played with the fire for a moment. A long life of hiding her fire had trained her to never use it for long periods of time. That fear followed her even here, at the top of a mountain, at the side of a remote lake few knew about.
Her fingers closed, sealing the fire back into her skin. She had only wanted to come here and show her Bunny the fire that the dragon had passed onto her.
A fire, without which, she would not have survived. A fire that Bunny had given after sacrificing her life to save a foolish human child.
"I just wanted to say... thank you, Bunny."
Camry turned back to the weathered skull. It was continuing to stare at her sightlessly. Now, unlike last time, Camry could feel real remorse for the dragon that had given her life and her fire to rescue a simple human.
Though Camry wasn't one to enjoy things like gore and bones, she felt that she owed it to Bunny to at least give her something. She stroked along the dragon's skull before leaning down and giving it a short, but loving kiss.
"Thank you," she whispered to it again.
She stood and turned to leave. And she actually felt better for having visited. After all this time, it was good to finally return to properly thank the dragon that had saved her.
Though she was happy to return to the resting place for Bunny, she was honestly relieved to get away from the icy lake. She knew it was frozen solid, and she was no longer a helpless child who would merely sink to the bottom, but that didn't lessen her fear of it.
The hike back through the trees was calming. She felt like things were coming full circle. This fire wasn't hers, and she knew that. Part of her had felt guilty since she realized what the dragon had done for her. She hadn't returned to this mountain with the express intention of coming. At least, that wasn't her initial purpose.
However, when she told her parents where she was going, they had brought up their failed vacation attempt here in the past. In hearing that, Camry knew that she was going to have to return to their old cottage and the place where the dragon had died. She honestly hadn't expected any of the skeleton to remain, but she was glad that part of it had.
Maybe, after she had settled in, she should return and bury the skull properly. She wondered if there was a shovel in the utility shed of the cottage, or maybe the basement. There had to be something.
By the time she got back to the cottage, the heaters had finished bringing the rooms up to temperature and she let out a long moan of delight as she peeled off her coat. The cold air didn't bother her overly much, but she did prefer it to be hot.
Her coat was followed by her other glove, her scarf, and her boots. Her thermal socks she kept on as she walked across the wooden floor to the refrigerator to fix herself a sandwich.
A quick spread of ham and cheese matched with a glass of tepid orange soda accompanied her to the longer of the two sofas. She set them down before retrieving one of her favorite books. She took in a deep breath of the pages, enjoying their old, well-loved smell.
As she walked by the fireplace, the sight of stacked wood caught her gaze. She pulled up short and turned happily. She set her book down onto the mantel before grabbing a few logs and tossed them onto the grate. She needed to feel around to find the lever that opened the chimney. Lifting her bare hands, she blew a fireball into them. Grinning, she tossed the rainbow throwing orange flames between her fingers for a moment before flinging it onto the logs.
The bright gold fire caught immediately. However, since it was no longer in contact with her skin and was feeding on the wood and not on her ability to keep it alive, it dimmed down into a standard orange flame that was less hot and less colorful. However, it was still dragon fire and would keep burning until it had devoured the wood completely.
Camry turned back to the sofa and moved her plate and glass before she pushed it closer to the fireplace. She had to move the bear skin rug to get it across the floor, but she didn't like the ugly thing anyway. She was thinking about leaving it in the corner with the sheets.
Letting out a sigh of contentment, Camry sat down onto the fluffy couch. She stretched happily, getting her legs and arms into it before flopping over onto the side of the couch. She stretched again before dropping her legs down and staring into the fire.
And now that she was laid down, she wasn't really hungry anymore. She thought that she might very well be contented to lay here for the entire night.
Up here on the mountain, time seemed to be completely still. Even as she watched the sky beginning to darken with the coming sunset, it seemed that everything was still unchanged. The hush of the snow, the lack of other people, even the thinness of the air gave this place a slightly alien quality that made it seem completely foreign to her planet.
What had taken her so long to return here? She should have done this years ago.
Her eyes began drifting shut as she was lulled into a doze by the crackling of the fire. The book, the sandwich, the soda all lay forgotten as she began re-living half formed dreams of staring into the red eyes of a golden dragon. Unlike reality, however, this one's scales never diminished in color and the life never left its body.
The two of them sat together, Camry petting the dragon's head as it purred loudly. Her eyes traced the red markings that covered its head and neck that she barely remembered. Female markings. Males didn't have those. It was a female dragon that had saved her.
"I suppose that's why you did it in the first place," she said, scratching, gently, at the softer scaled behind the dragon's ears. "Maternal instincts, huh? They're effective even if the child isn't yours. Even if it's not the same species."
The dragon couldn't talk, but the rumbling of its purr deepened as though she were agreeing with the human in the dragon's own way.
Camry continued petting her, enjoying the warmth of her body and the purr in her throat. It matched well with the crackling of the fire that she could still hear going on distantly in the far dimness that was reality.
Neither of them matched well with the whining scream that began so randomly.
Camry frowned, looking from the dragon and around the bright dream that surrounded her. The scream sounded soft, but it was gradually raising in pitch.
As she was trying to identify it, however, it began fading again.
"What is that?" Camry asked Bunny, frowning.
The dragon nudged her side, nuzzling her gently.
The scream was raising again, like it was coming around closer to her ears.
No. Not a scream, she realized.
Camry's eyes snapped back open on reality and she pushed herself up off the couch, turning her head about as though she might be able to see the siren warning that was blasting a loud cry into her ear. It sliced through the quiet of the mountain like a knife.
She stood up quickly, accidentally knocking over the warm cup of soda. She cursed as it splashed across the wooden floor. She hastened to grab a towel from the bathroom to throw over the puddle. Instead of wiping it up immediately, however, she rushed to the switches on the wall.
One by one, she darkened each of the rooms until the only light she had was in the fireplace. She then walked to the bright tile masterpieces and dunked her hand directly into the flame. The sleeve of her sweater began burning, but only for a moment, as she sucked the fire off of the logs. She absorbed it into her body quickly until all that remained was the smoldering logs.
She turned from them and, in the darkness, finally wiped up the remainder of the soda. She then dropped the towel into the hamper in the bathroom before walking into her bedroom. She shut the door behind her and pulled all the shades.
All the while, the sirens continued wailing, their tone raising and lowering in pitch as the horns that blasted the warning across the mountain spun about to reach as far as it could possibly.
Now in her darkened room, with the shades drawn, Camry blew a small fire onto her fingertip that she held up like a candle.
The remote for the TV was on the stand beneath it. And though she didn't have cell phone reception, she did have a land line and basic cable. Basic cable which included the national news channel and, more relevantly, the local news channel.
Camry sat back onto her bed, absorbing her fire again as the light from the TV filled the room in its place.
The local news was a small operation, she could tell just by the quality of the set that surrounded the single anchorman. He was in mid-sentence when Camry flipped to his station. Fine black hair was askew and the line of his suit was sloppily hung over his shoulders. He hadn't been prepared to come onto the air.
Through the TV, Camry could hear the siren playing along with her own, just out of sync so that the one on the TV became louder just a second before the one coming from outside did. The anchorman spoke over the cry of the warning system.
"-is advised to shelter in place. Do not attempt to leave the building you are in. If you happen to be caught outside, find the nearest residence or business to take refuge within."
Camry pulled herself further into the bed, using the remote to dim the lighting on the TV so the light wouldn't be so readily visible through the shades of the windows. She watched, face impassive, as the man continued to speak.
"We are getting confirmed reports that there has been a dragon sighting. I repeat, there has been a confirmed dragon sighting over Black Ridge Mountain. Anyone that happens to be caught on the mountain is advised to turn off all electronic devices and hide wherever you can. If you are listening to or watching this broadcast, turn it off immediately and seek shelter until the sirens are silenced or you hear aid coming to you."
Camry didn't move except to tuck her legs under herself. She dropped the remote down onto the bed as she leaned forward to continue listening.
"We have no video footage of the dragon sighting, but it has come from three different sources near the mountain. The WPA has been scrambled and they will be taking to the air soon to deal with the threat. I will bring you updates as they come in."
"A dragon, huh..." Camry said to no one.
She leaned back onto the bed, using the pillows to prop herself up against the headboard as she looked towards the shade over the window.
She heard nothing but the siren. She saw nothing but the darkness. If there was a dragon out there, she wondered what it would be like to meet it. Would it treat her as Bunny had, or would it attempt to burn her to a crisp and eat her?
The prospect of burning wasn't nearly so fearful as being eaten. Fire couldn't hurt her, after all. She wondered idly if she was more afraid of dragons or the WPA.
Someone stepped briefly into view of the camera, passing the anchorman a piece of paper. He took it and read it over quickly before clearing his throat.
"It's just come in that Griffin Langston of Geovation has opened all sites available to the public. If anyone needs shelter, they are free to seek it from his buildings. A quote from the Mr. Langston's office says here that he is 'devoted to seeing to the protection of the people and will be allowing anyone who needs shelter to take it through this potentially dangerous time'. If you happen to be near a Geovation construction or office site and are in need of shelter, please seek them out. Doors will be open and there will be water for those that need it."
"Griffin Langston." Camry was playing with her hair now. "That's awfully nice of him."
Another paper was passed to the news anchor.
"I'm also being informed that all government offices are open if you need it. Furthermore, the headquarters for the All Goods are also open for those that need shelter. There is no statement from Garret Goodall, leader of the All Goods, but the note comes from his-Oh. Oh!"
Fierce whispering off camera cut off the anchor and his eyes widened. Now stuttering in surprise, he dropped his papers and turned to the camera.
"We now have footage of the dragon sighting. R-Roll the footage. Roll it now."
Camry tilted her head curiously as the screen darkened. The footage was grainy, even when all it showed, at first, was darkness. The owner of the camera turned it around quickly and she caught sight of what must have been a backyard before the camera owner turned it around and began focusing on the sight. All the while he was breathing heavily and dropping curses that she only recognized as words because the censor for the news was bleeping it.
She didn't see anything interesting immediately. Just the dark sky light by the half moon and what was obviously the mountain. There were also bright searchlights that were quickly tracing over the sky, catching nothing but the starlight in the clear expanse.
The dark shadow that crossed in front of one of the beams made Camry sit up quickly. The light abruptly changed course to catch up to the dragon again. She didn't see any colors or markings, but the dark shape was unmistakable.
The man operating the camera began screaming and gasping in fear as the light tracked the dragon for a few seconds before the dragon turned suddenly and ducked back into the darkness. The light tried to find it again, but was unsuccessful.
The video was turned back and restarted. The anchor began speaking over it, but Camry wasn't listening as she watched for the dragon where she knew it would appear.
It was hard to tell, just from looking through this terrible footage, which side of the mountain that he was filming. Did it really matter when she knew that she was somewhere near the top? The dragon could be flying over her right now...
Even as she had that thought, from outside, she heard a steady thumping, beating. Not that of wings, but that of the rotating blades of a helicopter. She heard the engine of it as it passed over her cottage and moved further up the mountain.
She didn't hear anything of the dragon, but she heard the gunfire that began echoing loudly through the no longer calm mountain air.