“You just flew back? That was it?”
Jason heard Tiffany grumble the question in their odd dimension-within-a-mirror. The room looked like the bathroom in his house, but they all knew what it really was; magically created pocket dimension. A dimension that only came to consciousness when the four figures on the other side of the mirror, the side in real time and space, looked at their own reflections.
Petros, Tonare, Procella, and Calor all sat in the actual Hewes upstairs bathroom and positioned themselves in front of the mirror. As had happened since the spell was cast in the forest those many weeks ago, their reflections came to life and then could converse with the young humans with which they shared a body. The four teenagers, trapped in a mirror reality, and the four dragons, trapped in human bodies, were finally able to speak face-to-face.
“Well, yeah,” Jason shrugged, “You know, we said stuff here and there. It was loud from all of the wind and all, and I was tried so it was hard to talk. Mainly, we just flew.”
Tiffany narrowed here eyes, “You just spent hours with a storm dragon and this Order of the Scale person, and you didn’t say anything, didn’t talk to them or find out more about who they are or where they come from?!?” Jason looked to Marcus for support, who gave him a ‘you’re on your own’ look. Jason just shook his head in the negative. Tiffany rolled her eyes and folded her arms, “You are SUCH a guy!”
It was the morning after the fateful trip into Billings. Calor and Procella had arrived early the previous day at the farm via the magic portal, and Jason had returned towards dusk. Nymbus and his rider veered off and bid him a farewell as they approached the county limits, and Jason continued on to the glade of trees where he landed, reverted back to his human form, and then let Petros walk back to the house. It wasn’t until nearly midnight that Tonare made his entrance into the homestead. He had gotten lost trying to get out of the city and took until nightfall to make his way back to the Rims, turn back to his dragon form, and let Marcus fly back to Malta.
They paused in their conversation as they heard the porch door fly open and foot falls run toward the staircase. George flew up the stairs and took in the sight of the four of them crowded in the bathroom, talking to their reflections. He blurted, “So what happened?!? Did you find Norm? Did he fix everything?”
From the other side of the mirrored glass, Jason answered, “George, we’re still talking to ourselves in the mirror. How do you think it went?”
“Oh,” he paused, “Right…umm…sorry, what happened?”
Procella took the time to recount the events, and George was slack jawed by the end of the story. He stammered, “It…it was all over the news. They said it was some kind of gang forming and trying to disrupt the crisis going on downtown, but that everyone was apprehended. Y…you guys are the gang?”
Tiffany shrugged, “Yep, that’s us. We’re pretty scary looking, aren’t we? The beauty queen here looks like she can take out two or three policemen with one high heel, doesn’t she?”
Kinaari folded her arms in anger, “HEY! That was unnecessary!”
They started to bicker as a chime sounded on George’s phone. He casually looked at it, and his face immediately sunk. Petros saw his change in demeanor and asked, “Squire George, what is it?”
George swallowed hard, “Umm, it’s one of my RSS news feeds,” He started to read, “To complicate the matters of the odd and somewhat violent string of events that took place in downtown Billings yesterday, eyewitnesses report seeing what is described as a large, winged creature leaping from the top of the First Interstate Center and fly beyond the city limits, eventually disappearing into the Rimrocks. Officials are not substantiating any of the claims, but one witness said it looked like a prehistoric pterodactyl, while yet another even more outrageously claimed it was a dragon. No one knows the truth or how this staggering report even relates to the incident that occurred downtown, but investigations will continue and look for anything that may link these two stories together.”
They paused in silence after George finished reading. Jason finally said, “Oops.”
Everyone turned to scowl at him as George scolded, “ ‘Oops’?!? That’s the best you have?”
“What do you want me to say, George? I know why Petros went all dragon in the middle of the city. It was best choice; get captured, turn into street pizza, or risk being seen. We went with risk being seen.”
Petros whispered to Tonare, “What is this ‘street pizza’? It is the second time I have heard it mentioned.”
Tonare shrugged and whispered back, “It must be some sort of dark magic since one transforms into it under adverse circumstances.”
Marcus stepped in, “No sense gettin’ all worked up about it, Georgie. It’s done, you can’t fix it. Just deal with it and move on.”
Kinaari added, “You worry way too much, George. It’s not good for your aura.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes at the last statement and said matter-of-factly, “There’s no way they are going to trace us up here. Jason disappeared into the Rims and that was it. We’ll be fine.”
All but George nodded in agreement and sat in their thought for several moments. Jason broke the silence again, “So, what are we going to do now?”
“Breakfast?” Marcus asked sheepishly.
“No,” Jason chided, “I don’t mean right this second. I mean, what are we going to do? We’re stuck this way, we don’t have a Norm or any other mage, you all have to get back home, and we’re being pursued by an ancient order of dragon haters who want nothing but our impending doom.”
“Thanks for that last picker-upper there,” Tiffany grumbled.
“AND school starts in a couple of weeks,” Kinaari added.
Calor picked up her head, “School? Education? No one told us about that. I cannot be confined to a building with hoards of children for hours on end.”
Tiffany glared back at her own face, “You ARE one of those children now, Calor.”
Calor’s shoulders slumped in frustration as Procella spoke, “We do the only thing we can do; adapt. We have no other choice, do we?”
“Nope,” Jason answered, shaking his head, “We need to face it; this is the new normal. No mage to turn us back…nothing. We have to get used to living each other’s lives; work, school, family, everything.”
They were silent for several moments before Petros stated, “Come, three of you have long journeys ahead. George will still keep us connected, but the elder Hewes will be returning home soon and, as difficult as it may be, we have to maintain the ruse that all is well. We have a great deal to learn.”
Dusk was creeping over the wide skies of Montana as the four Draconauts and George stood at the tree line in their now-familiar small glade to the north of the Hewes property. The high clouds were taking on fiery shades as the sun began to complete its westward descent. A cool breeze kept the temperatures in the mid sixties, and the five simply stood in silence as their hair flowed and faces cooled with the wind. The air carried a palpable bite of the soon-arriving autumn, a reflection of the changes that had happened in recent months.
Tonare was the first to step away. He faced them and stated, “It is time. My journey is longest and I may have stretched the patience of Marcus’ parents. They are remarkable for humans, you know. They have many children, and all are polite, respectful, and behaved.”
Petros smiled and laid his hand on his cousin’s tall shoulder, “Fly well. Be safe. We will be in contact.”
Tonare gave a reassuring nod and grasped the scale around his neck. The familiar burst of light followed and Marcus in his thunder dragon form stood before them. “Not sure I’ll ever get used to that. You all gonna be good? This could get weird, especially with those Wyrmkil lookin’ for us. Make sure you let me know if anyone needs help, ‘kay? I can get away from the family pretty easily.”
Petros smiled, “You are valiant, good Marcus; brave of the heart and level of the head. Please use that to teach young Tonare responsibility. He needs lessons of life to ground him.”
“And you keep an eye on Jason, got it?” With that, Marcus deftly took to the air and they watched as he soared into the clouds.
Calor stepped out next, “I believe I should be the next to take my leave.”
“Have you discussed with Tiffany where you will go?” Procella asked.
She nodded, “Yes, be she still swears me to secrecy.”
Petros frowned, “I do not like this, Calor. You only exacerbate her dysfunction.”
Calor held up her hands, “Petros, you need to trust me. The fire that burns within her is formidable, but that which fuels the fire is unstable. I must help her balance her past with her present.”
George shook his head, “I don’t like it.”
“As is true to your nature,” Procella countered, “But I have grown to see the wisdom and experience our heat dragon cousin possesses. I think we should let her handle the situation as she sees fit.”
Petros gave a resigned look as Calor stepped back and transformed to her dragon form. Tiffany asked, “Did she explain everything to you?”
“Yes and no. I have concern for your well being, young one.”
She smiled, “I’m a dragon now, and it probably for the first time in a long time, I’m happy with who I am. Calor will keep me on the straight and narrow, so don’t worry.” Before anyone could respond, she took to the air and flew off toward the setting sun.
Procella smirked, “Caring for the girl is tempering her nature. Calor is thinking and acting with thought and purpose; very usual for any fire dragon.”
Petros sighed deeply, “I do not know if that is by chance or design but, yes, I cannot ignore the change I see in her.”
“My time, unfortunately, has come as well. Kinaari’s family will grow suspicious soon. They are very protective of her.”
Petros said, “You have been a voice of reason in all of this chaos, Procella. The deep wisdom of the water dragons lives strongly in you.”
Procella approached Petros and George and gave them each a soft kiss on the cheek. Petros looked confused, buy George’s eyes went wide and he held his hand over his cheek. Procella asked, “A human sign of affection is it not?”
George nodded enthusiastically as his face flushed. Procella transformed to her water dragon body and Kinaari looked oddly at the speechless George, “George, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
Petros chuckled, “Far from it, Kinaari. It would seem George is not accustomed to certain kinds of human interactions.”
“Well, I’m not sure what that means, but I guess you two have it all under control. I’ve gotta get going; my parents around going to have kittens if I’m not home on time.”
Petros nodded, “Fly well, Kinaari. Take advantage of the wisdom of your counterpart.”
“I will!” She smiled as she took a running start and leapt into the air. With a few beats of her wings, she was soaring over the Montana countryside on her way home.
George’s voice cracked as he tried to shout, “Bye, Kinaari!” but he blushed even more deeply at the sound. “Dang it! I can’t even talk to a girl when she is in the body of a dragon!”
Petros laughed out loud and he put one arm around George’s shoulder and began to lead him back to the house, “Come, Squire George. Put aside your embarrassment and teach me about this thing called ‘High School’! I believe this may indeed be the greatest challenge of my life.”
A gurney flanked by four EMT’s was wheeled out of the immense and opulent office at the top of the AlansCo tower. The shape lying on the wheeled table was encased in a large, black bag zippered closed from one end to the other. The jackets of the EMT’s bore the logo of AlansCo.
An impeccably dressed woman gracefully shut the office door, as the seven foot tall hooded figure stepped away from the windows at the far end of the room. The woman wore a form fitting, navy blue business suit, and her raven black hair was done up in a tight and perfect bun. She took the glasses from top of her head and neatly rested them on the bridge of her nose as she looked down at the tablet computer she cradled on her forearm.
She confidently spoke to the hooded figure, “How should we handle the follow up with Mr. Reigles family?”
The figure walked over to the sea eagle and gently stroked the feathers on the bird’s head. It lowered its beak and welcomed the affection of its master. “How would I even need to concern myself with a detail like that, Ms. Moore?”
Veronica Moore nodded, “Very well; the autopsy will reveal a congenital heart defect that was undiagnosed in a man as young and healthy as Mr. Reigles. Steve Alans will send a personalized letter and make a donation to the family double the amount of his company life insurance policy.”
“Fifty percent. Do not be so generous.”
She didn’t blink at the correction, “Very well, fifty percent.” She tapped the screen of the tablet as she made the adjustments.
“Are you up to the task of replacing that failure, Ms. Moore? I will not announce you to the public until I am sure you will not act with the reticence our Mr. Reigles did.”
She looked at him without emotion, “My lord, Mr. Reigles wore his heart on his sleeve. This is business; you tell me what to do and I do it. No questions asked. You have obviously been…governing…far longer than anyone I am aware and therefore that depth of knowledge and experience leaves little unanswered.”
She could see the hood nodding, “A most wise answer. Tell me where we stand on the location of the artifact.”
“Very well, progress has been made in this area. We have located the artifact, but extracting it from its resting place is proving most difficult, both from a practical and political point of view.”
“Why do we not just wrest it from where it lays?”
She looked over her glasses at him, “It this another test, my lord? You know as well as I do the political implications of such as act. Governments will be set at odds and our entire operation could be compromised.”
A brief chuckle came from beneath the hood, “Very good, Ms. Moore. How long before the artifact is secure?”
She tapped the tablet a few more times, “I would estimate another month to go through the proper channels, file the appropriate paperwork, and distribute the bribes. I have already coordinated with our, shall I say, specialists, and they will begin their work as soon as the item is in hand.”
“And what of the wyrm and these children that possess their abilities?”
She gave a non-chalant shrug of her shoulders, “Sadly Mr. Reigles did not research this thoroughly. I cannot continue work that was not started in the first place. The answer seems to lie with the mage who, at the present time, remains missing. Mr. Reigles acted too quickly to secure the wizard and summarily frightened him into hiding. Our agents are working on the problem now.”
The figure inhaled sharply and rose to his full height, “You know that is an answer that does not please me.”
No emotion showed on her face, “I am sorry you are displeased, my lord, but the truth is the truth. Would you prefer that I lie to you, only to have you discover the truth at a later time and incur your wrath all the more?”
There was long pause, “Carry on, Ms. Moore. I will summon you at a later time.” She nodded in acknowledgement and left the room without a word. The imposing figure put a finger under the beak of the sea eagle and lifted its head to meet his eyes, “Yes, she will do just fine.”
Nymbus and his rider sat in their subterranean cavern under one of the Bears Paw Mountains. The rider’s helmet was sitting on a rock as she tied her blond hair on top of her head again, “That helmet makes this impossible. How am I supposed to be a vanguard for all dragon-kind and manage my split ends at the same time?”
Nymbus shook his massive head, “I fail to understand thy humor.”
She shrugged, “We’ve been at this for a few years now. You should know me by now.”
“I bore thy predecessor for decades; him I knew well.”
Her mood instantly soured, “Yeah, well, that didn’t work out too well for either of us, did it?”
Nymbus gave a conciliatory bow, “My apologies.”
“It’s nothing,” she said, waving him off.
The water of the connecting lake began to stir and bubble, and Nymbus came to attention as his rider put her helmet back on as she said, “Showtime,”
Two large horns were the first to break the surface, and were quickly followed by the tan scaled, draconic head they were attached to. The body of a grown heat dragon emerged from the depths and stood on the shore of the grotto. Nymbus and the rider approached the dragon, as the rider said, “I didn’t think you were going to follow through with this.”
Tiffany answered, “Why not? I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
“You have a family, right?”
She shrugged her dragon shoulders, “Not really. Not a real family.”
Nymbus looked over his snout at her, “And thou art prepared to commit to this endeavor?”
She nodded, “One hundred percent. Teach me how to be part of the Order.”
Petros laid in Jason’s bed, deep in sleep. His eyes darted back and forth beneath his eyelids as dreams filled his subconscious.
Images of dragons soaring through the air filled his mind’s eye as breath weapons both powerful and terrible blasted through the skies. He was witnessing an epic battle as other winged creatures, none of which he could identify, lanced to and fro amidst the battling dragons. Feathers mixed with flying scales and blood whirled about in the chaos, as Petros strained to make out any meaningful detail.
Soon, nothing but the death cries of dragons could be heard as his kin began to fall from the skies, some torn limb from limb. But the cries began to fade as a new sound arose. A deep, sinister laugh began to drown out the cries of dying dragons, and eventually everything. The laugh echoed through Petros’ head as, in his dream, he began to scream, “Enough! Enough! ENOUGH!” From the darkness, a hooded face rushed up and swallowed him whole.
He awoke with a start as sweat dripped down his face and back. He was breathing deeply and rapidly, and his heart pounded with fear. He swallowed hard and uttered one word;