Black Dragon: Chapter Five | Verso.ink

Black Dragon: Chapter Five

By Genevieve Ann Atwater Maxwell

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Alone

Adam kept his hands behind his back as he walked, even though he was far out of Ilse’s range. He’d picked up the habit centuries ago, so she couldn’t see his hands shake when they talked together, but even when he was on his own he kept the position up. She watched him often enough to notice if he did anything differently when around her.

So much thought had always had to go into every moment with his sister. Every move, every word, had to be thought through so she wouldn’t feel alone. And yet, the young woman walking beside him could just sit down and talk with the child. Erica Barnett wasn’t odd looking, other than her eyes: if not for them, and her foreign clothes, she could have been anyone on the island. But she wasn’t. She didn’t make any sense: a girl from the world outside Hoshizu who came with no idea why, on a ship with the dragons’ flag, who didn’t fear Ilse and bore metalic eyes like the dragons. It was far too much to be coincidence. There had to be some kind of connection. But to be perfectly honest, Adam knew that hardly mattered. Even if it was some sort of elaborate trap, he wouldn’t turn away someone who could bear Ilse. He’d known from the moment he’d seen her standing on the beach, upright among the bowing islanders, that he needed her here. He could only hope trusting her wouldn’t be a mistake.

They reached the end of the mountain path together, stepping out of the shade of his parents’ trees, and Erica turned to do her strange little bow, lifting her long skirts just slightly as she bobbed down and then up. “I think I can remember the way back,” she offered timidly. “I don’t want to take up your time.”

Her eyes glittered in the morning sunlight, and despite their metallic color they were warm and soft. Adam swallowed, reminding himself that he did have work to do today. He needed to talk to Kokoro about what had happened: he’d promised to come this morning. But he wanted to stay with the strange woman who didn’t believe in his magic.

“All right,” he managed to say. “If you’re certain you can find your way.”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “And… err… I’ll see you again tomorrow?”

Yes. She would come back. Adam felt a surge of relief, even though she’d already said she wanted to. It was too impossible to believe, even as she said it again and again. “Of course. I’ll come get you,” he offered. “Around noon?”

The girl brightened and nodded. She turned to face the mountain again and waved, smiling brightly. “Goodbye for now,” she called, just loud enough to make it clear that she wasn’t talking to Adam. He followed her gaze, looking up towards Ilse in the castle. He couldn’t see as far as his sister could, or as easily, but he thought he could make her out in the window now that he tried.

When he turned back to Erica, she was bowing again, and then she left him, strolling down the street with her hand sliding along the rim of her hat. People she passed stopped to stare at her, and many of them looked back towards Adam, but Erica didn’t seem to mind very much, her shoulders straight as she walked around a corner and vanished from sight.

Adam leaned against a tree, feeling the fingerprints of his mother’s aura in its enchantment. He didn’t often wish they had left him with more: they had given him all he needed to do his duty here, and he didn’t need more than that. But at the moment he would have given almost anything to be able to ask them what was going on. They would have known, or at least known how to find out.

Letting out a sigh, White Dragon forced himself to stand upright again, folding his hands behind his back, and started towards Chief Kokoro’s home. He might as well at least do what he did know how to do, and learn what Kokoro thought about the situation. Even if it probably wouldn’t be enjoyable to explain that he’d decided to let Erica stay, regardless of any risk, purely because he wanted to.

* * * * * * *

Erica made her way back towards Hitomi’s house, her hand hovering around her hat’s rim and her shoulders tense as the people around her stopped what they were doing to stare. What a sight she must be to them, in her Aiamas clothing, coming down from the dragons’ castle. She kept her eyes carefully in her hat’s shadow, where they were less likely to be noticed. It wasn’t the people’s fault that Erica was different, and she couldn’t blame them for staring at the first foreigner to come in a thousand years, but she hated to be the center of so much attention.

At least the dragons themselves had proved to be nice. Strange, of course; Erica still couldn’t wrap her mind around their powers; but Adam had been nothing but considerate during her short visit. And poor little Ilse… she almost wished she had stayed longer, despite her urgent desire to get back to the house and find her hostess. The city’s stares reminded her of her differences from them, but also of Hitomi’s. Something about the strange woman was all wrong, even in a place as bizarre as this was.

* * * * * * *

Adam followed his usual path through the city to the Chief's meeting house, where the island's leader and the council of elders conducted business. People bowed politely as Adam passed them, and, seeing him alone, one or two stepped up to greet him. It was a strange sort of act they all put on for each other, where they pretended to know him. He was their friend from the mountain; a dragon they could talk to without fear. And he smiled and did his best to remember all of their names by their faces, playing the perfect friendly guardian. Perhaps it was to make up for Ilse and the distance they felt towards her. Or perhaps Adam had started it by actually trying to keep track of them all, centuries ago, when he first came to the city after his parents left.

Regardless, the respectful crowd made a path for their dragon to walk through the busy streets, and he found himself looking up at the meeting house long before he’d thought of how to deal with the island chief. The building wasn’t much different from those around it, but it rose higher than the rest, and was painted a notable gold. No murals decorated its walls, but several buildings nearby sported images of the great Gold Dragon’s interactions with the chiefs and councils of the past. Adam’s gaze fell to one of them as he hesitated near the door. His father was painted tall and regal, dressed in golden armor, his blonde hair blowing around his dark face. So familiar, Adam could almost imagine he was still up in the castle, or out among the mountains with his wife. But still foreign in a way. Adam had never seen Gold Dragon in the famous armor he arrived on Hoshizu in.

“White Dragon?”

Adam glanced up, seeing that the council meeting house door had opened, a young man with curly, dark hair and glasses peering out at him. The boy pushed his glasses back against his face and stared as Adam shook his personal thoughts away and dismissed the mural from his thoughts.

“I’m here to see the chief; is he available?”

The young man nodded. “He’s waiting for you inside. He instructed me to come invite you in.” He nodded towards a window, where Adam realized Kokoro must have been watching him procrastinating. His hands clenched behind his back as a spark of embarrassment rose in his chest, but he only nodded and stepped past the boy, who closed the door and leaned back against it, hands at his sides as he considered his dragon. He didn’t bow, a rare occurrence, but Adam tried to ignore it. His attention was focussed instead on the Chief.

The inside of the meeting house was a single, large room, stocked with shelves and desks where the elders studied and recorded the island’s history. Scrolls of many sizes lined the walls, and bound books were set alongside them, both devices the first dragons had taught to the island people. Wooden chairs were set at various desks, and only one was currently occupied. Chief Kokoro was sitting near the middle of the room, looking over several scrolls at a desk it seemed, though now his attention was firmly fixed on his visitor. The plump man nodded respectfully in greeting, which Adam returned as he strolled over and took a nearby seat. The chief wasn’t wearing the gold jewelry symbolizing his position but White Dragon couldn’t help imagining the metal there when he looked at the man. Something about the way Kokoro held himself implied that he knew he was in charge.

“I’m sorry it took me some time to make it down this morning,” Adam spoke first. “I was checking on our new guest, and… appeasing my sister.”

He could see Kokoro’s jaw clench, but as usual the man nodded his acceptance of the excuse. They both knew it wasn’t a lie: Ilse was difficult to handle, even for her brother, and calming her down was something the entire island would consider a necessity.

“And how is the newcomer?” the chief asked. Adam noticed the young man-- Kokoro’s assistant, he knew; a boy named Masato-- stepping away from the door and sitting at a desk of his own.

“She… She’s well,” he said, trying to force his attention to focus. Masato had recently become a notable distraction whenever the White Dragon came here, though the young man seemed to want to blend into the shadows. Perhaps it was because he never bowed when Adam came alone. Or maybe just because Masato was seventeen. Near the same age Adam guessed himself to be equal to, compared to regular people’s aging.

“White Dragon,” Kokoro scolded and Adam shook his head.

“Forgive me, I seem distractible today,” he muttered. “Erica, she’s… She really can’t feel my sister’s aura at all. We tested it before I came this morning. It’s incredible.”

The chief nodded, frowning. “Do you think more outsiders could be like her? That could be a serious danger to us, White Dragon.”

“She… claims there aren’t. She doesn’t believe that magic exists at all.”

Kokoro’s frown deepened. “I assume you noticed her eyes,” he said. Adam glanced away, a little annoyed at being lectured.

“I noticed them. Kokoro, I can see.” Golden eyes, much like the silver ones all the dragons sported. “She says she’s never met anyone else like her. If she’s telling the truth, there’s nothing to fear from the world. I can keep any enemy at bay without trouble.”

“And if she’s lying?” Kokoro pressed. Adam’s hands clenched at his sides, but he could feel his expression remain the same. A little annoyance wasn’t going to break his mask.

“I seriously doubt anything has changed to the point of being a real threat, Kokoro. Your guardians can handle this: we’ll be fine.”

Behind them, Masato made a noise, focussed on writing something. Kokoro scowled, leaning back with a resigned expression.

“Did you know Hitomi knew she was coming?” the chief asked slowly. Adam frowned at him.

“Hitomi again?” The old woman was, admittedly, very strange. But she’d lived on the island for years, and her mother before her, and presumably her parents as well, without ever drawing any attention beyond that. And there were plenty of other strange people, now and in the past generations Adam had seen. “I don’t understand your obsession with her, Kokoro. She couldn’t have known: even Erica didn’t know, by what she says. And there’s no way to contact anyone off the island.”

The chief shook his head. “I’m not obsessed, White Dragon. She’s more worrying than you give her credit for. And she knew at least this morning. She told Asami to look for a guest this afternoon-- someone I would recognize as her guest.”

She sounded like an old woman losing her mind, or perhaps a prankster. Kokoro had claimed similar things about her before: as though the woman could see the future somehow. But Adam had never been able to detect anything to suggest magic in her.

Kokoro sighed, pushing himself to his feet with a slight effort. “Nevermind. I know you don’t care about her,” he said. “Just keep a close eye on her guest if you can, White Dragon. You say she’s staying, and now that her ship is gone I certainly don’t know how to send her back. But I am not comfortable with the situation as it is.”

“Chief,” Masato spoke up. “Asami is living near her.” He pushed his glasses back against his face and the light from the windows glinted off the glass. “Do you suspect her to be dangerous? Should you let her wander as she pleases if she’s such a risk?”

Before Adam could speak, Kokoro shook his head again. “It’s not that I expect particular danger, Masato, I just don’t know what to expect. From any outsider, but an outsider coming under Gold Dragon’s flag, with dragon eyes, seemingly immune to Black Dragon’s fear… there is something happening.” He looked up at Adam. “You do not deny that, White Dragon?”

Talking to Kokoro after making an important decision always made Adam feel like he was being treated like a child. Not a stupid one, but someone incapable of handling his duty alone. As if Adam hadn’t lived over a thousand years, and been guardian of Hoshizu two and a half centuries before the man was born.

“I’m not denying it,” he said. “I’m… hoping it’s something good. Not every miracle is a catastrophe. Maybe Erica is a blessing from the gods. Scarlet Sails, I could use one.”

He could see the chief soften, but the man still looked unconvinced. “I understand,” he said. “As long as you are aware that you may be wrong… I’m sure you can handle what comes.”

His voice was comforting. Adam couldn’t resist smiling faintly at it; few regular islanders ever thought to comfort their dragon. That had been more or less left behind when his parents left the island. “Thank you. I’ll take care of it; just make her feel welcome here.”

“As you wish.” Kokoro bowed, and Adam moved to go. He paused as he passed Masato again, the boy firmly focussed on his writing. Adam had come dozens of times to see Masato do more or less the same thing. He probably wrote more than anyone else on the island, from Adam’s guess. He offered no farewell, and Adam moved past him with a slight stinging feeling. He would have liked to try to talk to Masato. Kokoro was the closest to a friend Adam had among the islanders, and so many of their meetings held that same formality the rest of the island showed him, with that touch of disapproval added in. The chief before him had been more interested in spending sometime with Adam in games or idle talk when Ilse wasn’t along. And Masato, being here so often, saw more of a real side to White Dragon than most.

But even so, Masato showed no interest in his guardian other than to watch him or pass a message for the chief, and Adam knew the boy would only remain his equal in physical age a short time-- one of the main things drawing him to Masato in the first place. Masato would be as old as Kokoro before Adam aged the equivalent of a year.

So White Dragon left, closing the door carefully on his way out. His gaze found the mural of his father again, noticing not for the first time that the picture drew a single dragon surrounded by regular men. But Gold Dragon had had his wife by his side, as well as his children. Adam had only Ilse, and as much as he loved her, he knew she wasn’t enough to thaw the icy feeling he got walking among others. The cold of being alone, no matter how large the crowd he stood in.

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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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