Black Dragon: Chapter Two | Verso.ink

Black Dragon: Chapter Two

By Genevieve Ann Atwater

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Hoshizu

A collective breath seemed to be let out across the beach and people climbed to their feet, though Erica couldn’t detect any change to signal it. The captain was shaking, but the men of the island seemed to be able to shake whatever had just happened away with only a couple breaths or a shudder.

“Well, this is an odd mess,” the man called Kokoro sighed, dusting the sand from his breaches. “We’ll have to find you a place to stay, Erica…” He turned to look at four men who remained around him. “What do you all think?” he asked. Before they could answer, the captain managed to get to his feet and strode down the beach towards his boat. The men paused, watching him go, and Erica felt a spark of panic at her last connection to her homeland, as well as whatever had brought her here, stalked away. But she didn’t go after him, her arm still throbbing slightly where he grabbed her earlier. He tossed her bags onto the beach without ceremony and pushed his boat deeper into the water, clamoring onboard and rowing towards the ship. Erica stared at her things, haphazardly thrown into the sand. One of them was in the water; she prayed it wasn’t one with books in it. Who knew if she would ever be able to get more.

Kokoro scowled and glanced up at the crowd, who were all watching with wide eyes and loud whispers. “Masato, Asami come here,” he called. “Masato, go fetch those bags. Everyone else, go home. There’s no attack; trust your guardians and let us work this out.”

Murmurs rose louder in the crowd, but they began to disperse over the ridge at the beach’s edge, disappearing from sight. Two people ducked out of the crowd and moved down the beach instead, one a young man with curly hair and glasses, who strode to get Erica’s bags. The other, a young woman, skipped up to Kokoro and bowed at the waist, smiling cheerfully. Erica couldn’t help staring as the girl straightened and brightly greeted Kokoro. She was tall and very slender, but still curved. She wore a yellow tunic with sleeves that ended just past her elbows, and a white, knee length skirt covered in aqua colored polka dots. She had pointed features and a slightly ditzy smile, but the really strange thing was her hair, which she had somehow colored a pale violet all the way through. It was longer than Erica’s, falling all the way to her waist, and a thick strand fell in front of each ear. One strand stuck up on the top of her head, and waved as though it had a life of its own.

“Asami, you live near Hitomi, don’t you?” Kokoro asked, ignoring Erica’s amazement.The girl cocked her head to one side.

“Hitomi? Yeah. Why?”

“Did she… mention anything strange that you know of, recently?”

Asami looked blank, tapping a finger against her mouth, which was slightly open in her confusion. “Um. She did say something a little weird,” she admitted. “This morning, she said that she was going to have an important visitor coming. But I asked who and she said to ask you this afternoon.” She looked up at the sky, considering the sun’s position. It was falling near the horizon now, and the clouds were beginning to turn gold. “Chief Kokoro, who’s Hitomi’s guest?” she asked.

Kokoro scowled. “Fine,” he muttered, glancing at Erica. “Wait a moment,” he said, and stepped to the other four men, speaking in a low voice. Asami blinked at his back.

“He didn’t answer my question,” she noted. Erica frowned at her, unsure. This girl couldn’t be ordinary, even in a place as foreign as this; was there something wrong with her? But her smile was friendly as she turned to Erica and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Asami,” she announced.

“Nice to meet you,” Erica said, curtsying. “I’m Erica Barnett.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Asami agreed. “Can I ask you a question?”

Erica nodded, but glanced back towards the ship. The boy had carried most of her bags up the beach already, moving quickly and leaving the spot bare. At the moment, Erica felt questioning her would be useless; she seemed devoid of any answers even for herself.

Asami smiled. “Thanks.” She took a deep breath and leaned forwards. “What were you thinking!?!?”

Erica blinked at her. “Err, what?”

“You didn’t bow to Black Dragon! How? Why? Everyone bows to Black Dragon! Even Masato, and he’s all whiny about it.” Asami shook Erica by the shoulders. “You can’t not bow to her! What if she gets angry and sucks your soul out of your body? And then eats it? Or strikes you with lightning in revenge?”

Erica pulled away from her, her confusion growing with each of Asami’s words. “What are you talking about? What-- I mean, who is Black Dragon?” She couldn’t be talking about the child, could she? Or… even if she was, her words were all nonsense. Eating souls? Vengeful lightning?

Kokoro and the men near him glanced back at the loud outburst, but returned to their discussion after a moment. Asami bounced back and forth, struggling to find words to express her clear horror at Erica’s question.

“Yes, Black Dragon is a little girl,” she finally admitted. “But she’s not just a little girl! Little girls aren’t scary, they’re cute and precious!”

“But… she wasn’t all that frightening,” Erica protested. Asami gaped at her.

“Wasn’t… Fright…” she gave Erica a look of pure shock and confusion, as though the newcomer were the one with randomly purple hair. “You mean you… didn’t feel it? At all?”

Erica opened her mouth to protest that she had no idea what it was, but then closed it. How had everyone known to bow, all at once? Even the captain had fallen, and trembled on the ground when the little girl arrived. Something must have been there, affecting them. Was there something wrong with her, leaving her beyond its reach? She looked up at Asami’s wide eyes, which were a deep green-blue. “Why do you all bow to her?” she asked.

“Because she’s Black Dragon!”

“But what does that mean?” Erica pressed. Asami blinked at her, and a slight smile twitched at her lips. She leaned back, tapping her lower lip as she thought.

“The Dragons are our guardians,” she said. “They protect us from evil. And they’re amazing! They’ve been here forever, or actually for a thousand years, and they protect us, and we honor them.”

Erica fiddled with her hat, trying to sort this out. So, they were a family then? A family of warriors who had been the protectors for a thousand years. That made enough sense on its own, even including Asami’s strange worries about lightning: superstitions rising up about a single family who did all the fighting would be expected. But it didn’t explain how even the captain knew to be afraid of a child. “You didn’t all bow to… to White Dragon, like that,” she observed. Asami nodded, giving a dreamy sigh.

“We love White Dragon,” she said. “He’s so handsome and strong! But we respect him differently than Black Dragon. ‘Cause he doesn’t carry fear.”

Before Erica could ask that she elaborate, Kokoro returned, his expression tired. “Asami,” he said. “I want you to bring Erica Barnett to Hitomi’s home. She’ll be staying there.”

“All righty,” Asami agreed eagerly. “But… won’t she be mad we went in her home?”

“I believe,” he said sourly, “That she is expecting a visitor. Is she not?”

Asami blinked at him. “Yes. So?”

Kokoro closed his eyes. “Just take her there, please. I’ll have someone bring her things over soon.” He turned to look at Erica. “I cannot pretend to understand who you are, Erica, or what is going on,” he said. “But I welcome you to Hoshizu.”

“Err… thank you, Sir,” Erica said, curtsying to him. He seemed to be a figure of authority, though she wasn’t certain what his authority was, and she was glad to know he wasn’t hostile to the lone foreigner here.

“This is good!” Asami gasped brightly, grabbing Erica’s arm in a hug. “You’ll live by me! I mean, not right by me, but close by! So we can be friends, okay? I’ll show you all the best things, and tell you all about the Dragons, and try to keep you safe from Black Dragon’s revenge, only that probably won’t work.” She paused, thinking. “Unless you say sorry, maybe? The Dragons are very good. I bet she would listen if you say sorry and don’t do it again. Maybe. Probably. Do you wanna go see Hitomi’s home now, where you live?”

Erica blinked at her, and glanced up at the ridge, where the crowd had stood before. “Is it… nearby?” She wasn’t sure what she ought to expect. These people didn’t seem like savages, and the young man who’d moved her bags, who now stood talking to Kokoro in a low voice, even wore glasses. That seemed to speak towards real civilization. Yet they were on a small island, cut off from the outside world.

“I mean,” Asami shrugged. “It’s on the right side of the city. Near the edge, up towards the mountains. I can show you.”

Before Erica could answer, she found herself being dragged up the beach, scrambling to keep up with Asami’s tugging on her arm. They reached the ridge where the crowd had been standing, though only a couple of people remained there now, and Asami pointed downwards. It wasn’t far, just out of sight from the beach, where the buildings began. It wasn’t a rudimentary village, like she might have expected from the books about native people on isolated islands, but a real city, with streets, and brightly colored buildings. People still filled the streets, and their gazes turned to Erica and Asami as they stepped off the ridge, towards the city.

“So, we live this way,” Asami said, pointing to the right as people parted around them. “It takes a while to get over there, because there’s a distance, but don’t worry because I can show you lots of stuff about the city while we go!”

Erica pulled her hat down, her face heating under everyone’s stares. Though many of them had brown hair like hers, her clothes led her to clearly stand out as the foreigner. The dress was fitted to her body, tight at the waist, with long sleeves, puffed at the top, and a skirt that covered her feet. It was simple and rather plain back in Aiamas, with no ruffles or extra ribbons, but seemed alien here, where the long, tunic shirts the women wore were loose, and the skirts so short. The bronze color looked dull as she passed through crowds of bright yellows, pinks, oranges, and blues.

Asami didn’t seem to notice any of this. She chattered happily as she half led half dragged Erica down the streets, pausing only to explain something when she noticed Erica’s gaze drifting to it. Many buildings were decorated with a mural, painted large over one of its walls, which drew Erica’s attention many times as they walked. They depicted people, usually only one or two at a time, standing in fields of flowers, or on cliffs during a storm. One of them showed a ship, like the ones used before steamboats were invented, sailing through clouds rather than water.

“That’s the story of how the Dragons first came,” Asami explained when Erica slowed slightly, eyes lingering on the picture.

“In a flying ship?”

“Uh huh. They sailed right through the sky, over by the beach! Then Gold Dragon came down and said they were going to stay and be our guardians, and they did! For a long, long time. But then they disappeared, and so their children became the new guardians!”

It was an interesting legend, Erica thought, giving the mural a last glance before they turned a corner and lost sight of it. The ship it depicted flew the same crimson flag the sailors had put up today, with the black dragon on it.

As Asami explained, the city was called Hoshizu, same as the island. Though there used to be more smaller groups, once, now there was really only the one city. Some people lived around the city, where they farmed food for everyone, or fished around the other edges of the island. No one lived in the mountains, which belonged to the Dragons.

“There must be a fair amount of them, to need so much space,” Erica murmured, looking up at the mountains above them.

“Nope. I think there’s just four.” Asami tapped her lip. “Unless there’s more. Before White and Black Dragon came down, we didn’t know they existed.”

“You mean…” Erica hesitated, rethinking her previous assumption. Four people couldn’t possibly be the only warriors they had here. Guardians must imply something else that she wasn’t getting. “You mean, only four at a time ever come down from the mountains?”

“Two at a time, so far,” Asami corrected. “First Gold and Silver Dragon, then they disappeared and White and Black Dragon came instead. And there haven’t been any more.” She cocked her head, apparently thinking. “I think there’s no more. ‘Cause they’re Gold and Silver Dragons’ children, and I don’t think they have any children yet, so where would they come from? Baby Dragons need mamas and papas, after all.”

Erica shook her head, trying to sort through Asami’s words, but she couldn’t make sense of them. Where the colors she kept bringing up some sort of clans instead of individuals? But what did them being “children” mean then? She couldn’t be saying that the white haired boy had been here long enough for there to be legends about flying ships… unless that was more recent than she thought, and the flying was metaphorical? Her gaze caught on another mural, one showing a thin woman dressed in a long blue dress, sitting surrounded by white flowers and holding a single blossom, which was a pale violet.

“There are a lot of that one, aren’t there?” Erica asked as they walked past. “With the flowers. I’m sure I’ve seen that same scene, more or less, several times now.”

“It’s Silver Dragon’s most famous and bestest story,” Asami said brightly. “My mama painted it on our home too.” She ran the hand that wasn’t clinging to Erica’s arm through her colorful hair. “She saw that we were all very sad, because the other islands and people were too afraid to trade with us, and we didn’t have as many pretty things anymore, so she went all over the mountains and enchanted the flowers to be all kinds of pretty colors we can use to paint and dye stuff. The first color she did was purple, so that’s the best color. It means rebirth, and new life, and safety.”

Erica frowned. Another nonsense story, if a beautiful one. “Asami, people can’t simply change the colors of flowers. Did she breed them?”

“No, silly; she enchanted them. With great magic!”

“But magic isn’t real, Asami.”

The purple haired girl frowned at her. “You’re awfully silly,” she said. “Of course it’s real. The Dragons can’t live so long without magic! And how else could a ship fly? And Black Dragon’s fear is magic! White Dragon told us so, and he only says true things.”

“Err… you’re sure?” Erica asked, glancing up at the mountains.

“Yes! He’s wonderful and perfect, and so dreamy! He would never lie to us!”

That seemed extremely unlikely, if these were the kinds of stories he was telling them. “How long has he been your guardian?” she asked.

“Uh…” Asami counted on her fingers. “Two… hundred. Two hundred years. That’s right.”

Erica shook her head, giving up for the moment. “How far are we from… the house?”

“Really close,” Asami assured her. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you there really fast. Come on!” She took off at a run, dragging Erica with her.

The building where Erica was to stay was, in fact, still a ways off, and Erica’s legs trembled with overuse by the time they arrived. Even Asami, with her apparent endless energy, was winded, and stopped to lean against a fence and gasp for breath.

Oddly, this was the only fenced-in house Erica had seen on Hoshizu, so far. The fence was nice, white like the house, and strong. Almost as tall as Asami was, so Erica could hardly see anything over it. The house rose up in a simple, sharp rectangle, with a roof painted the same crisp white at the walls. There were no murals marking it. It seemed rather out of place, as though someone had taken it from a different city and just plunked it down here.

“Well… here we are!” Asami gasped, grinning widely. “Hitomi’s home!”

“Err… thank you,” Erica said, studying the fence without eagerness. It was where she was to stay, apparently. For an unknown time. Perhaps forever.

She shook that thought away and pushed the gate open. The white house was surrounded by a garden, beautiful and green, with flowers and plants Erica didn’t know, springing up in various patches. Standing out against the white of the walls, the door was painted a bronze-gold color, not unlike the shade of Erica’s dress.

“Ooh,” Asami whispered. “I’ve never seen that flower before.”

“Haven’t you come here before?” Erica asked. She’d assumed from the way Asami spoke that she and this Hitomi person were friends, at least somewhat.

Asami shook her head. “I wasn’t invited. She talks to me sometimes though. I think she’s nice.”

“... is she?” Erica asked, worry churning into her stomach. She’d been too busy thinking about everything Asami was saying to think much about the Hitomi person they kept talking of.

“She’s not mean,” Asami shrugged, looking around. “She has nice flowers. I dunno.”

Well, that was lovely. Erica sighed and strolled through the plants, making her way to the front door. Asami followed, eyes still on the flowers. She moved to knock, but hesitated.

“What’s wrong?” Asami asked, poking her shoulder.

“I-- I’m a little nervous, that’s all.”

“Why?”

Erica glanced over her shoulder at the girl, raising an eyebrow. “Because I don’t know her, Asami. And now I have to stay with her, and I don’t even know why, or when I can go home.”

Why do you have to stay here?” Asami asked. “Can’t your monster boat come back for you?”

“Monster boat?”

“Well yeah.” She pointed back towards the shore, though they couldn’t see it from where they were. “The big metal one you came on, that breathes fire? I bet White Dragon would let it come back to get you. He let it come once, right?”

Erica shook her head. “It's a steamship, Asami. It doesn’t breathe fire.”

“Yes it does. I saw it.”

“It just uses fuel that--”

Asami raised a hand. “Wait wait wait, I can’t understand that kind of talk on my own. I’m too silly; you have to wait ‘till you meet Masato. He’ll want to know.”

Erica frowned at her. “Masato?”

“My friend! You’ll love him. But for now,” Asami said, stepping past Erica and knocking loudly on the door.

“Hey!” Erica protested, but the girl shrugged, stepping back again.

“You were too scared. So I did it. She’s probably waiting for you, since she’s so weird.”

“What does that mean?” Erica demanded, nervousness growing. Asami shrugged.

“Just that. Hitomi is weird. She knows stuff and does stuff and it’s weird.”

Who under heaven knew what that was supposed to mean, Erica thought wearilly. “Well, if I’m to stay with her I suppose I have to meet her sooner or later,” she admitted.

“Uh-huh.”

They both turned to look at the door, waiting. After a moment, Asami shook her head.

“I guess I’m wrong. That’s okay; I’m wrong a lot,” she shrugged. “You should go in then.”

“Go in? But--”

“You live here now,” Asami explained. “You don’t have to be invited. So go in!”

“Aren’t you going to come in with me?” Erica asked, startled at the idea of entering the building on her own.

“I wasn’t invited,” Asami said. “But if you invite me, I’ll come in with you. That’s good manners.”

That seemed a little backwards, given that it wasn’t Erica’s house, but she wasn’t going to protest. She tried the door, and found that it opened quite normally. Asami gave a little gasp sound behind her, but Erica ignored it, stepping inside.

“Ah, I see I have a guest.”

Erica spun around, and Asami gave a little squeak of surprise. An old woman stood by the gate, a calm and unsurprised smile painted across her features. She was tall and slender, with pale skin and white hair, which she wore pulled back into a neat bun. The oddest thing about her was her clothing, and Erica couldn’t help but stare at it for a moment. Even on the island, where she’d seen vibrant and almost bizzare colors and styles, she had never seen a woman wear men’s trousers before. But this woman wore them with easy confidence as she strolled over to them. A white coat hid what her shirt might look like, but beneath the green-blue breeches, she had on flat, black shoes, white gloves covered her hands.

“Hi Hitomi,” Asami said, wringing her hands. “This is Erica Barnett. Kokoro said she should live here; she invited me in.”

“Of course she did,” the woman agreed, reaching them and placing a hand on Erica’s shoulder. “Our Erica needs friends, doesn’t she? You’re welcome to come in anytime, Asami. But for now, I’m sure Erica is tired from her journey. Aren’t you, dear?”

Hitomi looked down, meeting her guest’s gaze, and Erica felt her breath catch in her throat.

Hitomi’s eyes were a glittering, metallic gold.

* * * * * * *

In a castle, high on the mountain, two silver eyes peered out a window towards the city. “She went to the white house.”

“You don’t have to watch,” White Dragon said. “I can ask Kokoro where she is, tomorrow. Come on, let’s put you to bed.”

Black Dragon pouted, still looking out the window. “Not yet. I want to see her more.” Her little eyes narrowed. “I want her to come up here.”

“Tomorrow,” her brother insisted. “Trust me, I have enough questions to fill the sea; I’ll get her in the morning.”

Black dragon sniffed. “Okay. In the morning.” She turned away from the window and let White Dragon lead her out of the room.

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About Genevieve Ann Atwater

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 is working towards publishing a romance novel (hopefully within the next year).

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