Black Dragon: Chapter 6 | Verso.ink

Black Dragon: Chapter 6

Masato

By Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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Masato

Erica woke slowly, her head ringing and her eyes shut tight as she tried to shake away her nightmares. She didn’t bother to peek around the room, not wanting to see the forgein place at the moment. Not wanting to admit to herself that she really was here.

Finally, she let out a groan and opened her eyes, wondering how early it was, and found herself an inch from another face. Shrieking, Erica instinctively jerked up, slamming into Asami’s face and throwing the girl back, only to roll over on her pallet bed with another cry, shoving her head against her pillow as Asami caught her balance, shaking her head from the sudden impact.

“Ow!” The Violet haired girl complained, rubbing her forehead. Erica silently agreed with the sentiment-- ow indeed-- and forced herself to sit up, blinking back unnecessary tears.

“Asami, what are you doing here?” Erica asked, glancing at the window-- which was open, and revealed a still dark sky just beginning to be painted gold with sunrise. It was beautiful, but Erica’s head only pounded harder as she saw it. She’d spent most of the previous day wandering, looking at the various murals and gardens that filled the city, and then found Asami again in the evening. Her muscles ached with discomfort at all the exercise and excitement, and were not at all pleased to be used again so soon.

“Ow,” Asami said again, and sat down on one of Erica’s chests of belongings. “Ow ow ow. Sorry-- I didn’t mean to startle you so much-- I’m just a little dumb I guess; I was waiting for you to wake up.”

“...” Erica squinted at the girl. “How did you even get in, Asami? I’m certain I locked the door last night…” Surely Asami didn’t have some sort of strange power too? People called dragons were enough to handle without the one girl who seemed interested in being her friend being so-called magical as well.

But Asami jumped to her feet with an easy explanation. “I came through the window! Doors are for boring people! And it’s sooo nice out, I thought you’d like a breeze!”

Erica pulled her blanket over her face. Then peaked out again. “It’s barely sunrise, Asami.”

“I know! So we have to go or we’ll be late!” Asami agreed brightly. “That’s why I came to get you!”

“...Late?” Erica asked blankly.

“To meet Masato! Remember, you promised you’d come hang out with us today!” Asami reminded her. “Right? I think you did. Anyway, he has the day off from his work today, and so I asked to be off too, and they said yes, so we’re going to meet up and you have to come because he hasn’t gotten to meet you yet and he really wants to! And you’ll love him, he’s smart and cute and super smart! And he’ll want to know all about you and where you come from, because he’s so smart!”

Erica’s head hurt too much to take in most of that. She did remember saying she would let Asami introduce her to her friend today, during the short conversation they’d had the night before. But she had not guessed that her new friend meant at the crack of dawn.

Still, if Asami’s friend was already waiting, it would be rude to just refuse. She didn’t have anything else she needed to do, except that she would need to be back before noon so she could visit the Black Dragon child again. In which case, maybe going out early was a good idea, so she wouldn’t have to rush back.

Sighing, she climbed off her pallet and to her feet, rubbing her eyes. “All right. Just let me get dressed, and find something to eat,” she said, moving over to a chest to retrieve a dress she could wear in public.

“Okay!” Asami leaned forwards, peeking over Erica’s shoulder as she ruffled through her dresses. “Wow, those are so cool! I’ve never seen clothes like yours before-- why are they so long?”

Erica flushed, tugging at her bangs. “Showing your legs is immodest,” she murmured, but couldn’t bring herself to say with conviction. She’d read about places where women wore practically nothing-- it must not feel the same to them to see a woman’s ankles as it would to men in her own home. If women did not cover themselves fully here, she would just keep standing out as foreign and bizarre forever.

“Really?” Asami asked, her tropical-blue eyes wide with eager interest. “Why? What’s wrong with legs?”

“Nothing’s wrong with them.” Erica shook her head, pulling out a lightweight dress-- one short enough that her feet would show while she was wearing it. A summer style, it was the closest to what the islanders wore that she had. It still looking nothing like their tunic-like shirts and short skirts: the dress was white with a violet ribbon, meant to fit tightly to her chest over her corset, and had a decorated, square neckline.

“If nothing’s wrong with them, why is it bad for people to see them?” Asami asked, stretching out her own leg to stare at. Erica blinked, thinking she’d seen a dark spot on the girl’s pale skin, but quickly looked away in embarrassment. She shouldn’t be staring at Asami’s legs! Even if the girl did show them, it wasn’t proper.

“It just is,” she stated. “At least, it is where I come from.”

“Oooh.” Asami nodded. “But it’s fine here, right? That dress is really pretty, even though it’s really weird,” she added as Erica hesitated, trying to decide an appropriate answer.

“Thank you. It’s the closest can find,” Erica said, glad Asami at least liked her choice. She didn’t have any water to wash her face-- even exploring her hostess’s home the day before had proved strange, and she hadn’t been able to find any washing bowls or anything-- so for the moment she just grabbed a short corset and pulled it on over her underdress, lacing it in front. She would have to prepare better for tomorrow, go out to a well and fetch water for the mornings, but she’d been too distracted yesterday.

Asami was still peering into the open chest when Erica had pulled her dress on and started brushing through her hair. The island girl was pitched easily on the other chest, her legs crossed and her mouth open in an O shape, slowly tapping her lower lip in deep thought. She looked up as Erica set her brush aside and went to get her stockings.

“You wear a whole lot of clothes,” the girl noticed. “Do you like them all? I’m not that smart.” she paused to shrug with a big smile. “But I think all those clothes look kinda hot and heavy?”

Erica shook her head. “I’m sure that’s not true.”

“That they’re heavy?” Asami asked, her head tilting. Erica grabbed a hat with a wide brim.

“Nevermind,” she sighed, still rather tired. She ought to eat before they left, but the thought of Asami’s friend waiting for them was still nagging in the back of her mind. The sun was starting to appear on the horizon. “I can manage my clothes, though. I have to; I don’t have anything else to wear.”

“Oooh! Ooh!” Asami leapt to her feet, ignoring Erica’s start of surprise. “I can help! I’m good at sewing!” Without waiting for a reply, she scooped an armload of several dressed out of the chest and scampered to the window. She looked back at Erica with a grin. “Meet me outside when you’re all ready, okay? I’ll be waiting for you! It’ll be great! I’m so glad we’re gonna be friends!” And she vaulted out the window, dashing away before Erica could respond.

For a long moment, Erica just stared at the window. Perhaps she should just go back to sleep. Pretend it was all a dream. Did she really want to be friends with this girl? Back home she would have shied away from anyone so bold and… possibly mad.

But Asami was nice, too. And Erica had no way to know what to do here, or how to make friends on her own. Her hostess seemed odder even than Asami was, and wasn’t even here; and Asami had been welcoming from the very beginning. And she did seem genuinely eager to be Erica’s friend-- something that had rarely occurred before. People were usually a little unnerved by Erica’s strange eyes and odd story: her father’s tale of his short meeting and romance with her mother, leaving him a widower with a baby in his arms almost as soon as it began. Seamen were often superstitious: Erica had heard whispers calling her a fey child for much of her life.

But here, of course, they had Guardian Dragons to whisper about. What was a simple girl to that, even if she was the first foreigner they’d met?

Unwilling to risk losing more clothing to strange outbursts, Erica locked the window. But she went to find food and soon stepped outside, taking a breath of the fresh, morning air, and found Asami waiting for her by the garden gate with a basket over her arm and… pants? Thin ones, almost like stockings, worn under her white, knee length skirt. Her tall sandals were laced over the stocking pants as if they weren’t there, but Erica couldn’t help staring a little at them. She’d wandered quite some time the day before, and never seen a woman in such garments on the streets.

Asami caught her look and smiled. “Do you like them? I made them-- I said I was good at sewing! They’re kinda based on Hitomi’s.” she nodded back towards the house Erica had come from. “Are you ready to go? We’re late and Masato will get worried! He’s a worrier-- he worries about lots and lots of stuff, but just ‘cause he’s really smart and he knows sooo many things to be worried about! Let’s go!”

Erica didn’t have time to answer before Asami had looped her pale arm in Erica’s and was pulling her along with her down the path.

Wood houses and colorful murals seemed to move past the girls in their hurry, few people awake yet to block the views. Dust flew up around them from the road, and Erica soon began to gasp to get enough air; Asami didn’t seem to have any trouble at all. They were moving through the streets quickly and it was hard to keep any track of where they were, but Erica was fairly certain they were moving towards the mountains behind the city.

Asami finally stopped to let Erica catch her breath for a few moments, her bright eyes focussed eagerly on the rising sun while she waited for her new friend’s gasps to fade. Erica couldn’t help but admire the girl. Asami was possibly mad, but she was also beautiful. Tall and willowy, with pale skin and a long, elegant face. Her eyes were large and round, a tropical blue shade Erica had rarely seen before. And her hair, despite its odd, pale violet color, was breathtaking as it cascaded around her shoulders and arms, falling just past her elbows in a silky sheet. There was something about her, something about her beauty and her bright, wide smile and curious expressions. Asami just looked happy.

“Are you okay now?” The girl asked, suddenly turning and breaking Erica from her thoughts. Erica hesitated, unsure she wanted to continue being dragged, but to be honest her breathing was back to normal, more or less. And Asami’s friend was waiting for them. So she nodded. To her surprise, Asami grinned and turned back to the path, hurrying but no longer running as she started off, leaving Erica to follow on her own. Erica, standing still a moment until she realized Asami wasn’t going to grab her again, dashed after her.

“Are we… going up to the castle?” Erica asked as she caught up, definitely noticing the mountains growing larger as they half-jogged down the road.

“Castle?” Asami asked, blinking at her.

“Yes, the… where the Dragons live?”

“I don’t know about castles,” Asami said. “But I bet Masato will want to hear about them! He wants to know everything.” She pointed ahead. “The Dragons’ Path isn’t this way though! They live over there.” She waved vaguely to the left. “We can’t go there. It’s just for them. But they don’t mind if we play here! It’s our favorite spot! No one ever bothers us!”

They did go up into the mountains, climbing high among the trees. Erica couldn’t see much of any path, but Asami seemed to know exactly where to go, barely even glancing around for landmarks in the green and brown. The sun had climbed well into sight by the time they reached their destination.

The trees were more spread out, giving way for a cool ocean breeze to blow up from the cliff’s edge, only a few yards from where Asami came to a stop. Green grass covered the ground and grew just high enough to tickle Erica’s ankles, powdered with little white and blue flowers like stars decorating a green sky. Sitting back against one of the trees was a young man with thick, curly brown hair. He held a book in his hands, but looked up as Asami and Erica reached him, the morning light glinting off his square glasses, forcing Erica to squint as she looked at him. He was tall, she thought. Taller than the White Dragon had been, but also thinner-- if she was guessing correctly; it was hard to tell under his coat, which was long, brown, and had the distinct impression of being notably too large for him.

“Asami. I’m glad you made it,” he said, his voice more monotone than any Erica had heard before.

“Masato!” Asami cheered, grinning widely as the boy set his book aside and pushed himself to his feet. “You’re here!” She dropped her basket and gave him a quick hug. “Look, I brought Erica! She’s great.” She turned to wave Erica closer.

“Err.” Erica offered an awkward curtsy, not certain exactly what else to do. She thought she recognized the boy-- wasn’t he the one the chief had sent to fetch her bags from the beach?-- but she had somehow assumed Asami’s friend would be more… like Asami. Wild and glad, eager and beaming. Masato stood still and stiff, watching Erica with an unreadable expression that bordered on judgmental, at least compared to any other emotion. “It’s… nice to meet you?” Erica offered.

“Likewise.”

They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment. The salty breeze picked up a little and Erica had to brush her hair out of her face, breaking their eye contact, and when she looked up again Asami had resumed her eager talking, telling Masato about Erica being invited to the Dragons’ castle the day before.

“Isn’t that amazing! And she’s so pretty and nice, and you’re going to love her!” she finished, leaving Erica flushing in surprise at her praise.

Masato just nodded, as if this was all perfectly expected information. He turned to face Erica again. “I do have a load of questions for you,” he stated. “But first, I think it’s best we make our way to our destination.”

Erica blinked at him. “You mean… this isn’t where we were going? I thought…”

A frown tugged at Masato’s lips and Erica trailed off, embarressed. But his displeasure didn’t seem to be for her.

“You didn’t tell her?” he asked Asami, who shrugged. Masato shook his head with a sigh. “I apologize for Asami. She doesn’t mean any harm,” he said, stepping closer to the cliff and pointing off it at the crashing waves below. “We always spent our free days down here,” he explained, studying Erica’s startled expression.

“You… jump off a cliff?” she asked slowly.

“We don’t jump, silly!” Asami laughed. “We climb!”

“But it’s…” She didn’t know how to explain her hesitation. It was too obvious a thing to say. Climbing down cliffs into the sea is a bad idea. It wasn’t the sort of fact that needed to be stated.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Masato assured her, returning to the tree where he’d been waiting for them. For the first time, Erica noticed that he’d left several large bundles of ropes there beside his book. “Asami and I have been coming here for years. We take care of the harnesses. There’s never been a major problem. And it’s not as far down as it may look at a glance. Only about fifty feet.”

“...If you say so,” Erica managed, sincerely considering making a run back for the city. Masato lifted some of the rope and she realized it was, in fact, tied into a sort of harness. Asami squealed in delight and bounced over, letting her friend help her into the ropes, setting her basket beside his book. They tightened the harness and then Masato gestured for Erica to join them. She hesitantly obeyed, and Asami helped her wrap the ropes around her shoulders and waist while Masato put one on himself. A final rope was tied around the handle of the basket, which Masato slipped his book into. He stepped to the cliff and lowered the basket down while Asami vibrated with excitement. As soon as he turned around to say he was finished, the violet-haired girl dashed past him and launched herself over the cliff’s edge, ignoring Erica’s cry of protest. A loud shout of “Weeeeeeeee!” accompanied the plunge.

Masato sighed, but a smile tugged at his lips for the first time since Erica had arrived. “Come on. I’ll help you down; she’s fine,” he assured Erica.

“Are you sure?” Erica inched closer to the cliff’s edge and peeked down, trembling at the height. But Asami had not fallen to her death: she was clinging easily to the rocks, like a spider on a wall, and moving easily downwards. She even dared move her hand from the cliff’s surface to wave as she looked up and saw Erica watching her. And below her wasn’t just ocean. There was a little, sandy beach, just large enough to be called that instead of just a bit of sand at the water’s edge. The basket already rested on the yellow-brown stones.

“I should have known she wouldn’t warn you ahead,” Masato said, testing the ropes one last time. “It’s my fault, really. I told her you might not want to join us. She’s set her heart on befriending you. I suspect she hopes to see some more of White Dragon by extension. And besides, you don’t have anyone else here. Asami likes to take care of lonely people. Here, this spot has the easiest hand holds. Remember, the harness will catch you if you fall-- you’ll be fine.”

Erica, unable to think of anything to say with the prospect of climbing down a cliff in the forefront of her mind, followed Masato’s lead as he helped her down, climbing alongside her and pointing out foot and hand holds when she couldn’t find any. Her arms ached by the time she reached the soft ground below, and her bones felt as though they wanted to melt. But she was down. And she was alive. The salty breeze blew into her face, refreshing and reminiscent of home. She stood trembling as Asami helped her out of the harness.

“Good job! You made it!” Asami cheered gleefully, tossing the harness aside. “Are you okay? You can sit down-- you’re all shaky!” She tilted her head, watching as Erica nodded and knelt down, her skirts spread over her legs and the grainy feeling of sand pressing against her. It was comforting to be able to feel ground beneath her.

“Asami, what’s all this?” Masato asked, poking at something in the basket as he retrieved his book. Asami ignored him, making a sudden dash towards the water.

“Weee!” she yelled, kicking at the little waves that rose around her knees.

Masato shook his head and sat down next to Erica. “Are you all right?”

“I… err, yes, I’m fine.” Erica swallowed, looking around the little beach. Despite the climb, she had to admit it was a nice spot. Peaceful. “You’ve really been coming out here for years?” she asked curiously. “How did you find it?”

“About six years,” Masato confirmed. “Asami and I grew up together. We spent a lot of time looking for places no one would find us.” He nodded to the cliffs. “No one would think to come here. Most of them don’t stray far into the mountains.”

“Because of the Dragons?” Erica asked, glancing up. There was a castle up in these peaks, but this beach felt completely cut off from the rest of the world. It was almost hard to believe there was a city nearby, much less a castle. Or magic. It was like its own little world here.

“Largely because of the Dragons, yes,” Masato agreed. He slapped his book open, pushing his glasses back against his face with a sharp movement. Erica flinched in surprise, but he didn’t seem to notice, drawing a pencil from his pocket and giving her a serious, intense look she almost called a glare. “Speaking of which, now that we’re here, I need to make some inquiries of you, starting first with your visit with White Dragon yesterday.”

“Err… All right?”

Masato wanted to know everything. Every detail Erica could recall of her walk, conversation, and visit to the castle. She didn’t mind sharing; in a way it helped her process some of the events. And Masato was as started as Adam had been to learn Erica didn’t believe in magic. He took furious notes; Erica could almost see steam rising from his pencil from the speed. He had finally decided he’d learned all he could from her memory and moved on to start asking her about her homeland-- another topic she honestly wouldn’t mind talking about, though she wasn’t exactly sure how to explain what a major port city like Aiamas was like to someone who had never heard of a horse and buggy-- when Asami grew tired of splashing around and came back to join them, plunking onto the sand and grabbing for her basket without thought for the droplets of water that ran from her hair and clothes.

“Masato, you should let her come play,” the violet-haired girl complained. “She’ll get bored.”

“I’m fine,” Erica assured her quickly.

“Some people have longer attention spans than you do, Asami.” Masato hesitated, then shut his book. “I suppose we can wait though. What did you bring?”

“A project!”

To Erica’s surprise, Asami drew out one of the dresses she’d taken from Erica’s chest that morning. Masato raised an eyebrow at the foreign costume and glanced in Erica’s direction. Erica pulled her hat down over her face, flushing hotly.

“Erica wants to have clothes like ours,” Asami explained, apparently oblivious to Erica’s discomfort. “So I’m going to fix some of hers! See, the skirt’s not too much different from mine! But I don’t know for sure if I can make the top right. It’s really stiff and complicated.”

“I see.” Masato folded his arms. “And you asked permission before you decided to do this, right?”

Asami fell silent. She lowered the dress and looked at Erica, who forced herself to peek out from her hat’s shadow. “Is it okay? I thought it’d be helpful,” the girl said.

Erica looked at her. Asami’s eyes were wide, as if she’d never even thought Erica might not want her cutting up and adjusting her clothes. And, to be fair, Erica would rather try to blend in a little here. She hated drawing attention on the streets. The dress was a bronze colored one, made in a summer style so the skirt would show her ankles. The top was designed with false flowers in the same fabric, and the sleeves would cover her shoulders but no more. It wasn’t exactly a favorite. None of the dresses Asami grabbed were.

“I don’t mind,” she decided with a sigh, pushing her hat’s rim back up despite some heat still in her cheeks. “Just… Please ask me first next time? I do have some things I wouldn’t be comfortable being seen or altered.”

Asami blinked slowly. “Okay!” She turned on Masato. “She says I can!”

He was rubbing the bridge of his nose, and gave his friend a nod. “I heard. You could have thought to ask her about her own personal possessions before running off with them, though.”

Asami stuck her tongue out at him and rummaged through her basket, pulling out a little sewing kit. Masato shot her a soft glare.

“It’s important, Asami.”

“Uhuh.”

He lowered his notebook to scowl at his friend, and Erica drew back, fiddling nervously with her hat. She didn’t want to come between them, and she didn’t know if she should try to diffuse their argument or not.

“This is exactly what I mean,” Masato snapped at Asami, who was blithely ignoring him. “People deserve to have control of their own lives. To be able to make these choices for themselves!”

“I asked,” Asami said.

“You know perfectly well that’s not the point.” Masato pointed up towards the cliff and the mountains. “We didn’t ask them to come, anymore than Erica asked you to alter her clothing. It doesn’t matter if it’s helpful if it’s also unwanted and--”

“We want the Dragons!” Asami protested, nearly dropping her sewing. She gave Masato a furious glare. “We want them and we don’t care about when they first came! So there! They’re good and wonderful and great, so stop whining!”

“Err…” Erica swallowed, realizing that she’d dropped into the middle of a much longer-lasting argument than whether or not Asami should mess with her things. Both her new friends turned to look at her and she flushed, pulling uncomfortably at her hat’s brim. “Pardon, but… I thought the-- the Dragons were…” She wasn’t certain how to finish her sentence. I thought they were your gods? It seemed surreal after what Asami had told her to see Masato arguing about them.

“Good?” Asami offered eagerly. “Because they are good!”

“So you say,” Masato grumbled. He pushed his glasses back against his face and lifted his notebook again.

“I don’t really understand,” Erica apologized.

“Masato doesn't like the Dragons,” Asami sulked, stabbing at the dress in her hands as she got back to her sewing. “Which is dumb. It’s the only dumb thing Masato is.”

“I never said I dislike them,” Masato stated cooly. He glanced up at Erika. “I simply believe they are too powerful for how secretive they are allowed to be. We should be able to choose for ourselves if we are to be ruled by anyone, but the Dragons just came one day, centuries ago, and it was taken for granted that they would hold authority simply because they lived long and held magic. We know next to nothing about them, we don’t know where they come from or, in reality, what they are.”

“They’re Dragons!”Asami called. “We know that!”

“We just assume they are our rulers, and bow to their whims,” Masato insisted, and Asami tossed a handful of sand at him. He blocked it with an arm and paused to make sure none of it was stuck in his book, and Asami tilted her head to look up at Erica.

“You met the Dragons. You liked them, right? You know they’re good!”

Erica’s eyes widened. She looked between the two of them. “I… I’ve hardly met anyone here. I can’t-- I’m not really… I don’t even understand your argument very well.”

“But you liked them, didn’t you?” Asami pressed. “You think they’re great, and great guardians, and wonderful, and dreamy and perfect, right?”

“I… I don’t know. They seemed nice,” Erica stammered.

Asami nodded eagerly and gave Masato a triumphant grin. “See?”

“‘Nice’ isn’t the point, Asami,” Masato stated. Asami deflated.

“You’re not the point,” she sulked.

“We deserve--”

Before he could finish, Asami tossed her work aside and leapt to her feet, offering Erica an eager hand. “Wanna build a sand castle with me?” she asked brightly. Erica hesitated, glancing past the girl, towards Masato. But he only shrugged, setting his notebook into the basket with a small smile at Asami’s back.

“I’ll help,” he offered, and she spun to give him a huge grin, their argument apparently completely forgotten.

They spent the rest of the day playing. It was odd, after a while-- Erica hadn’t spent so long in leisure since her young childhood-- but she found herself enjoying it immensely. They built a castle from the sand based on her description of the Dragons’ Castle from the day before, and Masato made certain it was strong enough that, he informed Erica, it would stay past the high tide. Asami dragged them into the water for a time, running straight into the waves and swimming with them towards the shore, and then they settled back onto the sand to eat some food Asami had brought along. Masato asked Erica about her homeland, eagerly taking note of her every word as she described the port city where she’d spent her life.

“And your boats are all driven by fire?” Masato asked, writing furiously. Asami was leaning against her basket a little ways off, sewing at Erica’s old dress and apparently too focussed on her work to pay attention to their conversation. Erica and Masato were sitting near the cliff, their faces towards the pink sunset above the sea. Erica’s hat was off, her face red with the day’s excitement and her clothes soaked with seawater. She was somewhat amazed that she didn’t mind at all. If this was what being friends with Asami and Masato meant, she was glad to have met them so soon upon arriving in her new home.

“Most of them are steam ships, yes,” she told him. “I’m not exactly an expert though-- my father owned a book shop. I’d never even been on a ship until I came here.”

“But I would imagine you know the basics, by virtue of proximity and awareness in your general community,” Masato pointed out.

“I suppose so,” Erica said, pulling her hat’s rim down and then pushing it back up, chewing her lip in thought. “The ships never interested me very much. They were too close to home, I think. I liked to read about far off places and histories far more. I’m sorry I can’t tell you all you’d like to know about the ships though.” She sighed. “If I’d had any idea… I might have done more research into all sorts of things, I suppose.” Not that she could think of anything that would have prepared her to come here. Perhaps she could have studied legends about magic, but she doubted her father’s book shop held many answers to her wonders at real magic.

“You can’t read about everything,” Asami pointed out. She was laying on the sand, holding her sewing up towards the sky as she worked. Her hair was spread out and full of sand. “Even though Masato tries to try to.”

Her friend raised an eyebrow at her. “Tries to try?”

“Yeah! You read, like, aaall the time!”

Erica smiled at them. It had been a long day-- a long few days, to be honest-- but she was glad to be here with them if she had to be here at all. She wished she could introduce them to her father; tell him about this strange island, about the Dragons. Especially about little Ilse, the Black Dragon who everyone feared as if the child would infect them with the black death. Her quiet little smile contrasted so sharply with that view, and yet she did seem to be so powerful. Erica wondered mildly if Ilse was watching her now. She’d been able to draw Erica sleeping in Hitomi’s house while all the way up the mountain in the castle. It was an uncanny thought, but not as terrible as Erica had felt at first. What did it matter if Ilse watched her? She wasn’t going to do anything wrong, and it would probably help them trust her more. As long as Adam couldn’t see her at all times-- a young child and a young man who looked near Erica’s age were a little different in that aspect.

Listening to Masato and Asami bicker with half a mind, Erica leaned back and looked up towards the sun in the brilliant, blue sky. The sun was still bright, but it was leaning towards the upcoming evening.

Long past noon.

Erica nearly let herself fall as memory slammed into her, and she let out a gasp. Asami and Masato both cut off to look at her.

“I was supposed to go back! At noon today,” Erica squeaked, turning to look towards the mountain. “I completely forgot!”

They stared at her for a moment. Then Asami jumped to her feet, eyes wide. “Oh no! Hurry, let’s get you there! You can’t--

“It’s too late,” Masato stated.

“But she has to go! The Dragons want her!”

Erica trembled, looking at the cliff they’d come down. There was no other way up-- they’d have to climb it. Which would take far, far too long.

“It’s already too late,” Masato insisted. He got up and put his things away. “We don’t have time to get her back before dark. We can hurry, but she will not be able to go today.” He shot Erica a glance over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Erica. I didn’t realize you had a time limit. We will be more careful next time.”

“Thank you,” Erica squeaked, following him to the ropes they’d left hanging off the cliff. Asami was vibrating with horror behind them.

“Don’t be afraid,” Masato said, helping Erica tie the rope back into a harness. “They’re unlikely to harm you for missing an appointment.”

“But no one would just skip out on the Dragons!” Asami gasped. She darted forwards to tug on Masato’s shoulder. “Even you wouldn’t! You have to make it better, Masato!”

Erica wasn’t that worried about being hurt, though Masato suggesting it did make her shiver despite the warm air. It was easy to forget, looking back, that Adam and Ilse were some sort of powerful beings, or even important rulers or guardians or whatever. The worst thing about missing her appointment was imagining the tiny, darkhaired child waiting eagerly for a visitor and then slowly realizing that Erica wasn’t coming.

“I can’t fix everything,” Masato grumbled, moving on to help Asami into her harness. “I can try to say something in her behalf if White Dragon comes to see the chief tomorrow morning. But I have no reason to think he would listen to me. My attitudes towards the Dragons are not secret.” He moved on to his own harness.

“It’s all right,” Erica told him, sighing. “I didn’t tell you; it’s all my fault I forgot. I’ll apologize myself.”

Masato paused, looking up at her. “You’re certain?”

“You should let us help you,” Asami admonished. “We’re friends.”

“I’m sure,” Erica assured them. “Really. I’m sure they would rather hear it from me. I’m the one who messed up. Hopefully they won’t mind too much.”

Her new friends hesitated, obviously skeptical. But then Masato turned to coaching Erica in climbing the cliff, and Asami rushed ahead of them. It was a small eternity, some anxiety about the Dragons still clawing in her stomach despite most of her attention on staying on the stones and avoicing the drop beneath her, but eventually Erica found herself crawling onto solid ground again, trembling a little with the effort. Asami offered her a hand and helped her to her feet.

The sky was darkening, the air beginning to grow cool. A breeze brought the scent of salt and fish from the ocean below them, and the stars were beginning to appear. Masato joined them on the clifftop, breathing quickly and adjusting his glasses.

“We apologize again,” he said, following Erica’s gaze towards the sky. “If you join us again, we’ll make certain not to get in the way of your other business.”

“Yeah. Sorry,” Asami agreed, combing her pale fingers through her hair. “Town’s this way. Come on.”

Other entries by Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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About Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

Genevieve is an aspiring author who has been dabbling in the arts of storytelling and writing for almost as long as she remembers. She writes mostly in the fantasy genre, and has received an Honorable Mention in the 'Writer's of the Future' contest for her short story 'A Faerie's Will'.

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