Scalding hot water runs over my skin. The bathroom fills with a thick fog. He laughed… The moment replays in my mind as I stand in the little shower. I was looking in the mirror, curious if there was any hint of the life growing in my belly. The internet said it would take three or four months, but I can’t help wondering. What if it’s different with magic? What about the dragon blood, will that affect it? The internet has no information on that, of course. I’ll have to ask the elder mages.
I don’t want to ask them. I mean, Mortecai already knows, but… Strangely, I’m more worried about Ambrosse and the dragons. Would they keep me here, like a prisoner? I wouldn’t put it past them. But… if I don’t ask, I’ll be totally on my own. I have no idea what I can or can’t do. Even Andrei seems to know more than I do.
I turn off the water with a sigh. Why did he laugh? It’s not that weird, is it? I look down at my stomach. My hands seem to rest over it without me even thinking about it. It’s always there, in the back of my mind. With a towel wrapped around my body, I brush my hair and braid it over my shoulder. I hesitate to leave the steamy bathroom. Maybe if I act normal, he won’t tease me.
I step out into the chilly bedroom. Andrei looks up, sitting on the bed leaning back against the headboard. My stomach twists anxiously, and I quickly look away. I move around the bed to the dresser and busy myself with finding clothes.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Andrei slips out of the bed. In my peripheral, I see his brow crease. When I don’t answer he says, “You look gorgeous, Kat. Always.”
I blush and bite my lip. I glance up at him from the corner of my eye. Is he mocking me, or does he actually believe I was looking at myself thinking I’m fat? I mean, sure… a lot of girls do that. I used to do that all the time. This is a little different though. “Um… Thank you,” I mumble, unsure.
“I know you don’t believe me, but why would I lie to you?” he hums as he slides his arms around my waist. I’ve only managed to put on pants and a bra so far.
I frown. “I believe you. That’s not what I was thinking about…” I trail off. I’m not sure which is more embarrassing; that he knows just how insecure I am, or admitting that I was looking for a baby bump.
He leans his face against my hair. “Then what were you thinking, hmm?” I struggle to find the words, so I push his hands down until they rest just below my belly button. He hums, rubbing my belly where a bump will eventually be. “Still beautiful,” he whispers in my ear.
We stay like that for a long moment, until there’s a knock on the door. Andrei rushes to the door before I even have a chance to blink. He stops with his hand on the knob and looks back at me. I pull a tank top out of a drawer and quickly pull it on. Satisfied, Andrei opens the door slowly.
“Hello?” he calls.
“Oh, good afternoon young doves. Am I disturbing you?” I recognize the heavy accent as Gwen.
“No, not at all. Please come in,” Andrei smiles as he steps aside. She steps inside holding a large cup in each hand. Her large eyes trace over the room before they land on me. Her dress is a kaleidoscope of bright bold colours that pop before my eyes. With a wide smile, she hands me one of the cups, and the other to Andrei.
Inside is a vile smelling purple liquid. I gag and cough, holding it away from me. “Oh, wow… I know this is supposed to help Andrei recover his magic, but why am I drinking it again?”
“You too need to replenish your strength after such a long journey. It can’t hurt you, trust me,” she encourages with her motherly tone. I take a deep breath. It’s my instinct to refuse, but she knows better what’s good for us, right? What’s good for the baby?
Andrei peers into the cup with a skeptical brow raised. “I don’t think it’s all that necessary. I’ll likely recover in a day or so, naturally. There’s no rush,” he turns his nose away, holding the cup out for Gwen to take it back.
“Andrei, she went through all the trouble to make this for you,” I pout. “Remember how in Camelot I said the same thing, and then I didn’t recover? What if this is the same?” I insist.
“I’m sure I’m fine. Really. I just… I think I might puke if I drink this,” Andrei gags.
Gwen stares at him with narrowed eyes.
I point to the bathroom. “Then drink it in there. I’ll do it if you do.”
“My droughts will not harm you. This is a mind over matter thing. Just drink quickly and it will be fine,” Gwen pushes.
He stares back at me, thinking hard. “Fine…” he says with a sigh, hesitating a moment longer before pinching his nose and chugging the whole thing. As he lowers the cup he coughs, sputtering a bit. “Is that… peppermint?” he raises an inquisitive eyebrow at Gwen.
She grins. “For taste.”
“It’s still disgusting!” he looks down at himself as if he expects to grow a third arm. He shakes his head and looks back at me. “Well?”
I guess I can’t argue now. He caved a lot faster than I expected. I take a deep breath and hold it before I follow his example. It burns going down, like cheap liquor. I feel like I just drank fermented pisswater with a hint of peppermint. I cough and put the cup down on the dresser, covering my mouth with both hands. It takes a lot of effort not to immediately puke it back up.
“You should feel the effects of the drought in about thirty minutes,” Gwen explains, taking the two cups back. “Please rest in that time. I will return to check on you.”
“Thanks,” I manage to say, muffled by my hands. She nods and leaves, closing the door behind her. I turn back to Andrei. “Are you okay?”
“No, that was disgusting,” he covers his mouth as he rushes to the bathroom. I giggle at the sight and shake my head. Maybe it’d help if we got something to drink… I find my phone, in the pocket of my discarded jeans laying on the floor. I order two cups of tea with the Guild’s app that Kaede installed for me. It only takes a minute before a pair of steaming cups appear on my desk on a platter with a mini pitcher of milk and a bowl of sugar.
I pour in some milk and sugar into one of the cups and perch on the foot of my bed, waiting for Andrei to return.
“Ugh. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this taste. The peppermint did nothing!” Andrei whines as he emerges from the bathroom wiping his mouth on a hand towel.
“Have some tea. It helps a little,” I point to the desk.
“Thanks,” he says as he crosses the room. He adds some milk to the cup and stirs briefly, taking a sip. This seems to relax him a bit. He sets the cup down and joins me on the bed, pulling his legs up and laying his head in my lap as I continue to sip my own tea.
“I’m sorry about earlier – if my peeking upset you. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” he reaches his hand behind his head, rubbing my stomach softly. “I think you’re beautiful no matter what. I was amused to see you checking though. I thought it was … cute,” he admits.
“Cute?” I blush. “Oh… I thought you’d tease me.”
“Tease? Why would I do that? I mean, sure, teasing can be fun, but… There’s plenty of other opportunities for me to tease you later if that’s what you want” he twists his head in my lap so he can see me and shoots me a wink. “I can only imagine what you’re going through… it’s still new to me too.”
I move the tea to hold it in one hand so I can run my fingers through his hair. “It’s scary. I thought I couldn’t… but now that it’s happening, I’m happy. I… want to have a family with you.”
“You do?” he asks. His voice rises in pitch.
“Of course I do,” I stroke his hair, looking down, trying to read his expression. “Don’t you?”
He hesitates. “I… do. I guess… I mean… uhh,” his voice falters and it makes my heart skip. I feel his neck tense in my lap as he stutters. “I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. I don’t know… if I’d make a good parent,” he whispers.
I chuckle. “Andrei, you take care of me, and everyone else. You’re already so much better at this than I am.”
“I am? I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time. How can you know if I’d be any good at raising a kid?”
I purse my lips, thinking about how to explain it. “Because you’re a good person. You’re sweet and patient and caring. You said you spent time with a family that was expecting, right? I’ve never even met a baby…”
“They were expecting, yes, but I jumped back before they had it. I mean… I never expected to become a parent myself, until … I don’t know. It was… unexpected. But I’d never leave you! I swear!” he turns around suddenly, worry on his face as he looks up at me. “I promise, I won’t leave you just because we have a baby on the way. I’m not dumb. I’m not irresponsible. It’s partly my doing so I have to help,” he says sternly.
I lean back startled at his insistence. “I-I didn’t think you would… but I don’t want you to feel like you have to. If you don’t want it…”
“No! I do!” he says, sitting up and grasping me in his arms. I quickly hold my tea up high, so it doesn’t spill. He almost seems… Desperate?
I hesitate, not really sure what to say. “It’s okay… we have a while to figure it out. Who knows if it will even survive that long…” I sigh. It’s entirely possible.
He frowns. “Don’t say that. Why wouldn’t it survive? I’m going to make sure you’re kept safe,” he says firmly.
I smile bittersweetly. “I know you will.” What if the fire affects it? What if my body is inhospitable? How can I be sure? I change the subject before he picks up on my anxiety. “Are you feeling better?”
“Better?” he asks, processing the question. “Oh, uhh. I guess,” he says, taking on a distant look as he assesses his magical condition. “Yea, it seems to be coming back,” he smiles, relieved. He leans forward, closing his eyes.
I peck his lips quickly. “Hold on, let me put this down before we make a mess,” I laugh, slipping out of his grasp. As I place the cup on the desk, I hear a tapping. Curious, I glance around.
A dark shape hovers outside the window, bigger than the three-paned window itself. I scream, stumbling back into the chair. My brain catches up and I recognize the shimmering blue scales. I lean against the chair, hand over my racing heart, gasping to catch my breath.
Andrei’s head snaps to the window. He rolls off the bed, stumbling to it. “What in the world does he want?!” he pulls the middle pane open.
The dragon flaps his wings to hover there. He’s far too big to fit through the window. Blue whines, his glowing eyes fixed on me. I narrow my eyes at him.
“You scared me half to death because I didn’t tell you that we came home?” I growl through heavy breathing. Blue snorts. “I wasn’t avoiding you. Things… got complicated.”
Andrei stands by the window, looking slightly confused at the one-sided conversation. Blue whines again. I rub my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose. It’s like I’m always being pulled in five directions.
Suddenly I feel a hand on my arm and I look up into Andrei’s hazel eyes. He has a warm smile on his face. “Hey, take a breath. Don’t let his overprotective nature get to you. We had our hands full. Why don’t we go down and see them? Maybe we can help with the ritual now, with our magic coming back. hmm?”
I sigh. “It’s not him, he’s just the messenger.”
“If they have a problem, then… I’ll tell them it was my fault,” he suggests.
I place my hand on his cheek. “No, it’s okay. They’re just nosey old women. Doing the ritual should satisfy them too. The cave is below the nests,” I turn toward the window. “You can tell them we’re coming tonight.”
Blue tilts his head with a little grumble.
I bite my tongue, trying not to be too harsh. “No, not now. We need to get the others first,” Blue grunts and flaps his wings hard to launch himself straight up. The gust of wind blows some papers off my shelf and the teacups rattle.
“He can be a bit pushy,” Andrei says after Blue leaves. “Well, now that that’s done…” he smirks, rubbing my arm tenderly. “What were you going to do before we got so rudely interrupted?”
My heart is still pounding in my ears, I can’t even remember. I slide my arms around him, burying my face in his chest. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want to deal with Rose. She’ll know something is up. I know she will. I feel Andri stroking my hair, and my tense muscles relax.
As much as I’d like to hide here forever, we need to get moving. The sooner we get this done, the better.
We manage to find Caroline, Nik, Selene, and Gwen together in the courtyard. They seem to be working on the old greenhouse. Ceph and Eli are there too; Eli is avidly assisting while Ceph hangs back, supervising.
“Hey, everyone is here,” I muse as we approach, stopping beside Ceph. Andrei hovers at my side, hand firmly gripped around mine.
“Sis!” Eli spins around eagerly. He drops the tools in his hands and runs at me. Andrei tugs on my arm, spinning me around to the other side of him and out of Eli’s reach.
“Hey, guys! It’s good to see you up and about!” Caroline straightens with a smile. “So does this mean we can start the ritual?”
“Aren’t we missing someone?” Gwen asks, surveying who’s present.
I look around, a little dizzy. “Um… yeah. What was her name again?”
“Oh, Hitomi. Maybe she’s back in the room. I’ll go back and check,” Andrei offers.
“Don’t bother,” Selene calls as she stands up from where she’d been working. “She’s not inside.”
“How do you know…” Andrei trails off.
Selene rolls her eyes. “I’m guessing. Honestly, how many times must I explain this?”
“Right, sorry,” he apologizes.
“So where is she?” I ask, squeezing Andrei’s hand.
Selene points. “Up there.”
I look up expecting to see her flying on the wind. Instead, I see not a person but an ever-shifting cloud in the shape of the Eastern mythological dragons of power. Its long slender body is coated with transparent iridescent scales that reflect the sun while its face is slender, with a misty mane and long tendrils drift backward from its snout. It’s body twists and turns through the sky like a snake or maybe an eel. My breath catches in my throat as I watch it spin through the sky with a graceful elegance.
Suddenly, it turns to face us and quickly approaches, descending to the earth. I feel the air shift around us as it closes the gap. I feel like it might crash into us and I’m suddenly filled with fear! The dragon’s face slams into the earth in the field beside the greenhouse with a strength like a hurricane. I shield my eyes as dirt is flung up and blown into us. When the wind dies down I hazard a peek, glimpsing the fading image of the dragon as Hitomi stands up from a crouched position. Her eyes appear glossy and distant at first, but slowly, she blinks and focuses on us.
I give a quick glance and see everyone else is staring in wonder, as I am. Her power, despite being an unawakened Guardian, is impressive. I watch silently as realization dawns on her face and her cheeks flush red. Everyone’s attention is on her, I can understand how she must feel.
“N-Nande?” Hitomi stutters in Japanese with surprise.
“Wareware wa kanmei wo uketa.” [We are impressed] Selene replies in the same language. I raise my eyebrows at her. What can’t she do?
Hitomi blushes even more so, shaking her head no. She spots Nik standing not that far away and dashes behind him for cover. “Shinaide kudasai.” [Please, don’t be.]
Selene actually chuckles, to my surprise. “Junbi desu ka?” [Are you ready?]
Hitomi peeks around Nik. “Nani no tame ni junbi ga dekite?” [Ready for what?]
Nik glances between Hitomi and Selene. “What did you say to the poor girl?”
Selene shrugs innocently. “I asked if she’s ready. We are leaving now, are we not?” she looks to Andrei.
“Yeah, if everyone’s here, we can start. Kaitlyn and I are ready,” he confirms.
“Shall we?” Selene smiles at Nik and Hitomi.
Nik rests his hand on Hitomi’s head. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fun.”
She looks up at him with big eyes. “Fun?” she looks like a little kid next to Nik, and especially with his hand on her head like that.
We make our way back through the Guild to the front gate, with Andrei and I leading the way. Outside, curled up on the grass, is a familiar dragon, about the size of a minivan.
“Blue…” I purse my lips, standing in front of him. His head rises. “Did you tell them that we’re coming?” he actually nods his scaly head for everyone to see, and then snorts, insulted that I would even ask.
To my surprise, Hitomi steps away from Nik and approaches Blue without hesitation. It’s hard to read her expression, as she always looks surprised when I see her, but now, she seems keenly curious. She reaches out a hand to Blue as if to say hello.
“Wow… does she realize that’s a dragon?” Andrei asks at my side. I shrug. I can’t read minds.
Blue sniffs her hand and tilts his head. His eyes shift to me.
“She’s a friend,” I say, sternly. He looks skeptical. “This is Hitomi. Hitomi, this is Blue.”
“Konnichiwa, Buruu san.” [Hello, Blue san.] She says with such an obvious accent.
Blue studies her for a moment, before giving a huff. He gets up and lumbers ahead across the field.
I roll my eyes. “Don’t take it personally, he’s not very social. He’ll lead us to the cave though.” Hitomi smiles, watching as he gets further away. There’s a sparkle in her eyes that makes me smile. “There are others, many more if you want to meet them later.”
Hitomi turns to me, head tilted, confusion on her face. I purse my lips and try again. “More dragons.”
“Hundreds,” she nods, looking off into the distance.
I flinch. How’d she know that? “Uh… Yea.”
“How does she know that?” Andrei echos my thoughts, whispering to me.
“I have no idea,” I whisper back.
“She’s as bad as Selene,” Andrei muses.
Selene brushes past Andrei. “Not quite. She has help.”
“See!” Andrei grumbles, exasperated as he gestures at her.
I tug on his hand to start walking. “No use in arguing with them. Let’s go.”
Caroline falls into pace beside me. “Maybe she hears things on the wind like I do from the water. Each element uses a different voice, right? Gwen mentioned the plants and animals speak to her too.”
“I suppose so,” I hum. “I wonder if Gwen can understand the dragons? They’re sort of like animals…” A gust of wind sweeps through the group, whipping our hair around. Weird, but I guess it’s probably just a strong ocean breeze.
Blue pauses, craning his neck to glance back. He lets out a low roar that startles Caroline and causes her to shriek.
I shake my head. “He says to hurry up,” I announce as I pick up the pace.
As the plateau grows larger, so does the knot in my stomach. I still haven’t decided if I should tell them yet…
By Krystyna Yates