In the house, they found Wilhelmina sitting at the kitchen table, one of the old liquor bottles from Kal’s room sitting in front of her. She silently poured a shot and passed it to Kayse who gladly accepted.
“Are you ready for the next big shock?” Wilhelmina asked.
Kayse cast a look at Orion then shrugged. “May as well.”
Wilhelmina stood up and waved her hand in a flourishing fashion. Her bent over frame straightened and her height seemed to increase. A britil old body became full, taught and lively, the deep furrowing lines and dark spots that aged her face softened. Her frizzy white hair became a long, smoothe platinum blonde braid. The old lady that had stood before them was now a mature, stately woman.
Kayse poured herself another shot and poured it down her throat before speaking. “What the hell?”
“I’m an elf,” Wilhelmina said. “I’m also your ancestor.”
Kayse plopped down into a chair and rubbed her temples before setting her hands down on the table and sitting back. “Okay, explain from the beginning.”
Wilhelmina sat across from Kayse and began to explain, “I was a young girl when the dragon hunts started. My tribe lived a life among the dragons and we tried our best to protect them. They disguised themselves using dragon magic, taking the form of horses and cows. The problem was that when dragons procreate, they have to take on their original form in order to keep their nests burning to incubate their eggs and keep their newborns warm until their own fire developes.”
“Oh, they actually do breathe fire?” Kayse said.
“Yes,” Wilhelmina said. “They don’t just breathe it, they need the fire inside them to keep them alive. They’re cold blooded just like any other reptile, but their scales are so thick that even if they lived in a tropical environment, it would be hard for them to stay hot enough to keep their bodies functioning. It also has something to do with their ability to fly. Here’s the real surprise, I’m not a real veterinarian. I use my elvish magic to heal animals.”
“So, how’d this all start?” Kayse asked.
“Dragon hunters went from being a couple knights searching for glory to being whole armies seeking to exterminate ‘serpents'. I had married a human man, my Keone. We had six children together and lived along side a drake and his harem of twelve dragonesses. We thought they were safe. We hadn’t heard of any dragon hunters in years. My children were all grown, and even starting families of their own since we’d last heard of a dragon hunter. So, the dragons built their nests in the forest near our farm and they laid their eggs.” Wilhelmina’s eyes grew dark with sadness. “The hunters waited until the dragonesses were consumed with their hatchlings and then they descended on us. Dozens of infants perished, we lost all but four dragonesses. Our drake was slain. They took his head and dragged it through every village for a hundred miles. My beloved Keone and my son, Farland both died in the struggle. We took the dragons we could and ran, my and my whole family. One of my daughters was with child at the time and gave birth in a cave. My oldest son had two sons and a wife. We tried to return to my place of birth, but humans were not allowed to live there in light of the dragon hunts. They gave us refuge for a couple nights, healed our wounds and sent us on our way with new carriages. The dragonessess disguised themselves as clydesdales and pulled the carriages. They found it demeaning at first, but, they were willing to do whatever was needed to protect the babies that remained. We heated the hatchlings in our camp fires. The dragonesses hunted for us and, in time, we found more and more dragons. We turned ourselves into a traveling caravan. We sold animal hides, herbs we collected along the way. Dragons have a knack for finding shiny things, so we’d occasionally find gems or precious metals. It turned out to be a decent life for a while. We even found more black wings, including a couple new drakes.”
“Drakes,” Kayse interrupted, “they’re important?”
“Very,” Wilhelmina said.
“The drakes are dragon kings,” Orion said. “In our tribe, only one male has been promoted to a drake in the last thousand years. That’s Shaemus.”
“You will have to be presented to the drakes as well,” Wilhelmima said. “It’s a ceremony, an old tradition between keeper and dragon.”
“Keeper?” Kayse asked.
“That’s what we are,” Orion said.
“When I realized what we had to do for the dragons,” Wilhelmina explained. “I cast a spell on our bloodline and sent my children in their own directions with a different breed of dragon. My youngest son, Kaiden and I stayed with the Black Wings as we took to calling them. There were the Blood Tips, the River Whips, the Green Eyes and others.”
Wilhelmina’s eyes watered a little. She reached over and poured herself a shot from the bottle, swallowing hard. She picked the bottle up and smiled sadly.
“I brew a bottle of this every fifty years or so,” she said. “It was Keone’s recipe. He said one day, this whiskey was going to bring us good fortune.” She put the bottle down again. “I put a spell on Kaiden’s blood lines, he looked so much like his father it only seemed to make sense, every generation or so, a Hughe’s would be born who would look like my Keone in some aspect and they would have a K name and that child would become a keeper. You have his beautiful, brown curls. I always loved his hair so much, I’d just lay awake at night and run my fingers through it.”
Kayse gently tugged at her curls. “I always wondered where they came from. I figured it was my biological father’s side of the family.”
“Nah,” Wilhelmina scoffed. “They all had thin black hair if they had any at all.”
“I also ensured all my children’s children would prosper wherever life took them,” Wilhelmina said. “Your mother was truly an exception and I’m very disappointed in your grandparents for turning you away because of her. I instructed Kavin to contact the state himself when I found out what was going on.”
“So, you’ve been watching over all your descendants?” Kayse asked.
“Of course,” Wilhelmina said. “I have outlived countless generations, but I’ve gotten to welcome even more.”
“So, is Orion…”
“No,” Wilhelmina smiled. “Though I’d be proud to claim him and his grandfather among my progeny. They’re from a different elvish line and his elvish lineage is much more recent. It was frowned upon for elves to marry humans back when I married Keone. But, it became very commonplace during the crusades. Elvish communities spit up hoping to avoid accusations of being witches. I had the pleasure of running across Orion’s ancestor a few times. When we met again in the states, he’d recruited Gerald from his bloodline and I’d found Kalvin. They both came up with the idea of using a big ranch in one of the emptiest states in the union. We’ve lived peacefully here for four breeding cycles. He’s been traveling to check on other clans. It’s the first time in history there’s been any communication between dragon keepers.”
“If I can ask then,” Kayse posed cautiously. “Why were Uncle Kal and Mr. Ward killed.”
Wilhelmina’s eyes began to water.
Orion sat down and drew a deep breath, “there’s still dragon hunters out there. We got news that they were closing in on us. They know it’s a breeding year. So, Abuelo and Mr. Hughes, they went and bought a big piece of Florida swamp land. Pretended to be developing it. Let themselves be found.”
Reality settled over Kayse like a splash of cold water, “they sacrificed themselves.”
Orion nodded grimly, “yeah. And we faked Willy’s death.”
“The dragon hunters should be plenty busy scouring the deep south,” Wilhelmina said. “And, if they start looking in our direction, we have resources to let us know in advance. In this day and age, we can do that. I can’t tell you how many dragons we’ve lost over the years because the dragon hunters caught us by surprise.”
“So, I came along just in time for a breeding year,” Kayse said.
“That you did,” Wilhelmina said. “And there’s work to do. But, first, your presentation to the drakes. Orion, would you go talk to the boys for me in the morning. We’ll go tomorrow evening. Right now, I think we’ve left Kayse with enough to think about for the night.”
Kayse sighed, she picked the bottle up again and filled all three of the shot glasses sitting on the table. The three silently toasted each other and threw back their drinks.
“It really is good,” Kays said looking at the bottle.
A smile lit up Wilhelmina’s face. She stood up and waved her hand. Once again, she took on the form of an aged. woman.
“I’m going home to prepare,” she said. “I have some old elvish dresses, I think I have just the one for you.”
As Wilhelmina left, Kayse turned to Orion. “I have to wear a dress?”
“It’s an old tradition,” Orion said. “I was sixteen when I did my presentation to the drakes. I never went to prom, but I doubt I’d have had a tux so nice for it.”
Kayse shrugged and poured two more shots, “I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress.” She chuckled. “No, actually. I do. My mom’s fifth wedding.”
“Fifth?” Orion choked.
“Yeah,” Kayse laughed. “I hated the guy with a passion, but he had money, at least, more than we ever had. The day before the wedding, I swiped his credit card. Went to the fanciest store I could find, bought the most ridiculous sparkly gold and black dress I could find. My mom was so mad at me for ruining her wedding, she literally ripped it off me when we got home. Of course, that meant it could be returned. They got home from their honey-moon and my new step dad got a look at his credit card statement.” She laughed. “I will never forget the look on his face. I swear, he had new bags under his eyes for three days after. Was worth the bruised ribs.” She laughed as she poured another shot.
“Bruised ribs?” Orion asked.
“Yeah,” Kayse shrugged. “He ripped into me pretty good.” She stopped when she saw the concerned look on Orion’s face. “Trust me, he wasn’t as bad as he sounds. Step dad number 3 used to whip me with the buckle end of his belt, or a wire hanger, used a fire place poker on me once. Sent my mom and me to the hospital more times than I can count.”
“Kayse,” Orion said in a strange tone.
“It’s okay,” Kayse assured him. “I got out as soon as I turned eighteen. Got my GED and headed west. I’ve gotten myself into a couple messes. Got myself out too. And now look at me.” She chuckled. “I’d love to see Big Bad Mat show up with his belt now. I’m friends with a goddamn dragon.”
“Kayse,” Orion said again.
“Do you know what a game changer that is for me?” Kayse poured another shot and tossed it back. “The money, yeah, that was a game changer. But, dragons. Dragons! And, I’m responsible for taking care of the next generation. The old bag is still upside down in a tequila bottle and I’m going to do something great. And, I never have to worry about her and her enablers again.”
“Kayse,” Orion said.
“What?” Kayse sighed.
“I’m sorry,” Orion said.
Kayse froze. She was definitely beginning to feel the whisky but the way Orion said those words hit her like a wrecking ball in her chest.
“Why are you sorry,” Kayse said. “You didn’t do anything?”
“No,” Orion said, “but, I feel like you're long over due to hear it.”
There was a long moment of silence between the two.
“Thank you for that,” Kayse finally forced out. “Orion, I’m no small town belle. I’m not...”
“Do you know what makes a keeper special,” Orion cut her off. “It’s not that you won a genetic lottery or a magical one. It’s in the heart.”
Kayse was left speechless yet again. She scoffed and shook her head.
“You can’t possibly be that handsome and that smoothe,” she sighed.
A grin spread across Orion’s face, “did you just call me handsome.”
Kayse felt her cheeks warm. “I…”
She didn’t have a chance to explain herself before she found herself on the receiving end of a deep kiss. Orion pulled away and smiled.
“Sorry, I’ve been wanting to do that since you ripped me a new asshole on day one,” he admitted. “Seemed like a good time.”
“As good a time as any,” Kayse said breathlessly.
The two spent the rest of the night talking and laughing. Kayse asked a few more questions about the dragons. Eventually, they made their way into the living room. Orion lit a fire in the wood stove and joined Kayse on the couch. The cozy atmosphere supported the growing amorous mood. The two spent the night on the couch talking until the mood overcame them and, after a vigorous entanglement, they fell asleep together.
“Oh for the love of… I leave you two alone for one night with a bottle of whiskey.”
Orion gasped awake and pulled the throw blanket off the back of the couch over himself and Kayse where they laid on the couch. Kayse opened her eyes to see Whilhelmina standing in the door to the livingroom.
“I’ve lived for thousands of years, boy, you don’t have anything that would surprise me,” Wilhelmina laughed. “Get up, it’s a big day.”
She headed into the kitchen. Orion groaned and buried his face in Kayse’s hair.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Kayse assured him. “We’re two consenting adults.”
“So, no regrets?” Orion asked, resting his chin on her shoulder.
“No,” Kayse said.
“Good,” Orion planted a kiss on her cheek. He stood up and began to get dressed. “I gotta go talk to the drakes. They know you’re here, so there should be no problem.”
“Right,” Kayse said, feeling the overwhelm from the previous night all over again. “Dragons.”
Orion chuckled as he pulled his shirt on. “You’ll get used to it.”
He went into the kitchen, no doubt attracted by the smell of fresh coffee. Kayse wrapped herself in the blanket and dashed upstairs to get dressed. She made it back down stairs to catch Orion on his way out.
“See if you can keep it in your breeches long enough to get your chores done today,” Wilhelmina was joking as he walked out.
Orion shook his head and grabbed his hat from beside the door.
He turned around and gave a wink as he put it on, “I’ll catch you later.”
Kayse stepped into the kitchen waiting for the inevitable lecture. Wilhelmina was sitting at the table, coffee in hand. Kayse crossed to the cupboard and grabbed a cup.
“I saw this coming a mile off,” Wilhelmina said. “I’ve been around a long time. I’ve had my share of… let’s call them trists. I never married again after Keone, but I’ve had my fun.”
“So, it doesn’t bother you?” Kayse asked.
“No,” Wilhelmina said. “Just… be careful with him. He’s not as…”
“We’ll use the word ‘experienced’ in this case,” Kayse said over the edge of her coffee cup.
“He’s not as experienced as you,” Wilhelmina said.
“Point taken,” Kayse sat down. “Don’t break his heart or you’ll break my knees?”
Wilhelmina laughed. “Something like that.”
“So,” Kayse said, sitting at the table. “Dragons. What do I need to start learning?”
“They have a fifteen year breeding cycle,” Wilhelmina explained. “The females aren’t sexually mature until they’re thirty, males don’t breed unless they become drakes. As far as we can determine, there’s a genetic predisposition for a young buck to become a drake, but he has to earn the dragonesses loyalty to do so. Shaemus was promoted to drake shortly before we crossed over. In the heat of battle he was able to organize the young dragon to defend the dragonesses while they fled. He saved countless hatchlings and dragonesses at great peril to himself. Before the battle was over, he’d saved one of the drakes at the cost of one of his wings.”
“He can’t fly?”
“No, he’s long since healed now,” Wilhelmina said. “Dragons have incredible regenerative abilities, but a shredded wing, that took years to heal completely and he’s still terribly scarred from it.”
“So, there’s three drakes?” Kayse asked.
“Four,” Wilhelmina said. “Odran and Shaemus of course, and Piran, and the eldest and most respected is Kellen. He actually prefers to stay in the hills alone outside breeding years. Old dragons sleep a great deal and Kellen is the oldest I know of.”
“And, it’s them I’m going to be presented to tonight?” Kayse asked.
“Yes,” Wilhelmina said. “They will look into your heart and the drake who likes what he sees most will become your patron. In exchange for our centuries of service to them, the drakes offer each of us a blessing. They call it a piece of their heart. Kellen is my patron, and I’ve been able to tap into his wisdom and intuition over the years. Shaemus is Orion’s, and he gets bravery and no small amount of dumb luck from him.”
“What if they look in my heart and none of them like what they see?” Kayse asked.
“Oh,” Wilhelmina took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, “that’s not going to happen. I think they’re all going to love you. The dragonesses already do and they’re the difficult ones to impress.”
“What about them?” Kayse asked.
“Well, you saw Ember and Brigid. Ember is a good, healthy, fertile dragoness. She’s probably already carrying a clutch. Brigid, well, like I said, her mother was killed when she was just a hatchling, along with the rest of her brood. I tried not to let her get too cold. But, it was all I could do just to keep her warm enough to stay alive. We lost too many dragonesses that year, and had too many babies to keep warm. Brigid and several others were stunted by the cold. Most of them will never be able to breed, they’re too small or their fire isn’t strong enough to sustain a nest. So, they act like nannies to the younger dragonesses that can’t breed yet and to the young males. They teach them, keep them in line, show them what to do to help during mating season. The older males act as hunters and guards.”
“Oh, god,” Kayse said, recalling the lone steer in the north pasture. “That’s why we raise
cows, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Wilhelmina said. “They hunt wild game too, but if the elk and deer population in the area suddenly plummeted, people would start snooping. So, we keep enough cows to keep them pretty well fed. It was very difficult when we first moved here. We’re so close to Yellowstone. They all wanted to try buffalo. We finally broke down and went and bought a few head of domestically bred buffalo.”
“Wait,” Kayse put her hands up, “they can talk?”
“In their own way,” Wilhelmina said. “Some can telepathically communicate, but it’s not like hearing a voice. Just images and impressions. Older dragons have a better command of their magic and can take a human form and speak.”
“How intelligent are they? Dolphin level, human level?”
“I’d say they’re like wild humans,” Wilhelmina said. “They are self aware, they have emotional capacity, they can learn, use tools, follow instructions, but they don’t really grasp finer things like hobbies and social protocol beyond what hierarchy demands. But, they have a spiritual wisdom that you couldn’t imagine.”
“So, all the times I confided in Ember?” Kayse asked.
“Oh, she understood,” Wilhelmina said.
“Oof,” Kayse cringed a little.
“Now,” Wilhelmina said, slapping the table top and standing up, “Go get troughs filled, oats put out. Dragons exist but horses still need water. Get your chores taken care of. Get yourself washed up, I hung a couple dresses in your room. You’re getting late start on the day. Must have had a busy night.”
She cast a mischievous smile at Kayse before leaving. Kayse finished her coffee and set to work taking care of the quarter horses. She started water to the pens that didn’t already have automatic waterers and backed her truck up to the barn. She began loading bags of oats into the bed. She didn’t realize until now how long chores actually took when she was doing them on her own. She went to the barn where Brigid was still occupying a stall, now returned to her equine form.
“So, what have you done with all the oats I’ve given you?” she asked.
To her surprise, Brigid used her mouth to open the stall, lifted her rubber bucket off the hook on the wall and walked over to the nearest occupied stall.
“Figures,” Kayse said.
As she finished up her chores, she looked up to see Ember standing in the door of the barn with a few other mares -or dragonesses- behind her.
“What’s this?” Kayse asked aloud.
“For the presentation to the drakes,” Wilhelmina said. “Ember is your clan sponsor. I’m your human-ish sponsor. We’ll present you to the drakes, kinda like a father presenting a bride to a groom. Except you know, there’s four grooms, and they're the size of a small house.”
“That big?” Kayse asked, following Wilhelmina back to the house as the horses made their way into the barn.
“Bigger maybe," Wilhelmina shrugged. “The Black Wings and their kind are one of the smallest breeds of dragons. They’re still plenty fierce. They’re faster than the other breeds and pound for pound, stronger.”
They made their way inside and headed up the stairs. Kayse turned into her room to find a cloth dress bag hanging on the wall. She glanced at Wilhelmina who nodded eagerly. Kasye noticed that the dress bag was made from a thick white, woven material and had wooden buttons rather than a zipper. She started opening the buttons to reveal the elegantly embroidered top, filigree patterns in gold and silver accented with green gems. A silken cape was attached at the shoulders by silver ornaments. As she let the dress bag fall down to the ground, she found the bottom was a tule skirt made from layers of silk and sheer fabric that was so fine and soft it hardly added any width to the dress.
“It's beautiful,” Kayse said.
“It was my wedding dress to Keone,” Wilhelmina smiled. “It was also the last thing my mother made for me. She said she could never condone my marriage to a human but she absolutely refused to let me do so in one of their ‘raggedy’ dresses. Every woman keeper has worn it.”
“How have you kept it safe and in one piece this whole time?” Kayse said.
Wilhelmina smiled and took a lighter out of her pocket and grabbed a corner of the dress. Kayse covered her mouth and gasped as she lit the edge on the fabric. The flame wooshed violently for a split second then went out. Kayse was amazed to find the fabric completely untouched.
“Elvish lace,” Wilhelmina smiled. “I haven’t seen another piece of it since the Victorian age. I’d kill a hundred men for a bolt of it. It can’t be burnt or stained, if it’s torn, it can mend itself. It will even change color to suit the wearer. I won’t be offended if it doesn’t stay white.”
Kayse nodded and turned around. “I better shower first.”
“I want to show you something else,” Wilhelmina said.
She led the way down the hall to Kalvin’s room. Kayse was only a little surprised to find that Wilhelmina knew about the secret drawer in the jewelry box on the dresser.
“I assume you already found this,” she said. “Since you had the files from the downstairs desk. But, you haven’t looked to see what the rest of them go to?”
“It was kind of on my to-do list,” Kayse admitted.
Wilhelmina took out a keychain with a rose design on it. “This one, you’re going to like.”
She went to bed and placed the keychain on top of one of the bed posts. The board under the mattress popped out. Wilhelmina gave Kayse a coy smile and pulled the board out, exposing a blue velvet lined drawer full of sparkling jewelry. Kayse gasped at the treasures before her.
“Lovely aren’t they,” Wilhelmia said. She leaned over and picked up a necklace made of diamonds and silver. “These are some of my elvish jewelry. I sold much of it over the years, when things were lean. They got us through some awful times.” She set the necklace down and picked up a few other pieces that were more colorful, made with emeralds, gold, amethyst and other gems. “Dragons have a remarkable eye for valuable things. There’s whole mines’ worth of gems in Europe that have yet to be discovered by anyone else. They funded us for centuries. I kept a few for myself and my descendants. You get your shower, get dressed and pick something out to wear for the night.”
“Seriously?” Kayse asked. “These are worth more than I’ve ever made in a year and I get to just pick one? And, what do the rest of those key chains go to?”
“Oh,” Wilhelmina looked back at the jewelry box on the dresser. “Laurel leaf is documents, in the bottom of the gun safe. Olive branch is a list of our allies and our sister tribes, last known where-abouts of other tribes. The bear head opens the armory under the barn.”
“Armory?” Kayse gaped.
“I’ll take you on the grand tour another day,” Wilhelmina said, looking at her watch. “You need to get ready.”
Kayse agreed and went to the shower down the hall. Her heart rushed with excitement as she showered, styled her hair and dressed. As she stopped to look at herself in the full length mirror, the flowing gown and cape seemed to change color as if a dye had been dripped on it. The straps turned a rich purple that spread down and softened into a pale plum. Kayse gasped at the sight of herself. Recalling a specific piece of jewelry, she rushed to the master bedroom, selecting a emerald and amethyst jeweled comb, she also selected a tasteful silver and diamond choker and earring set.
“Perfect,” she muttered, stepping back and taking a look at herself in the mirror.
She started down the steps. She could hear Orion’s voice in the livingroom and felt her cheeks warm a little. As she rounded the corner, she was impressed by the sight that greeted her. Orion was dressed in all black, from his polished boots, to his clean jeans, a button up shirt with pearl buttons and his usual, dusty, black leather cowboy hat was replaced by a felt hat with a horse hair braided band adorned with silver cabs. He was talking casually with Wilhelmina, who had resumed her elvish form and Charlie. As she stepped into the room, Orion looked in her direction and froze, a look of awe washing over his face.
“Stunning, my dear,” Wilhelmina said. “I guess we kind of forgot to tell you, Charlie is in on all this as well. He’s actually Orion’s third or fourth cousin.”
“Oh,” Kayse smiled politely at Charlie. “It’s good to see you again. And, that makes things easier in a lot of ways.”
“You have no idea,” Charlie said. “Gerald tried to hide the truth from me for a while. I thought something illegal was going on around here.”
Kayse chuckled a little bit and looked back at Orion. He didn’t seem to have heard a word that had been said.
“Well, let’s get going,” Wilhelmina said. “Charlie?”
She looped her arm into Charlie’s and they headed out the door.
“Are you coming?” Kayse asked Orion.
“You look amazing,” Orion finally spoke. “I mean… really, really beautiful.”
Kayse blushed, “you look pretty amazing yourself. You clean up good, Vaquero.”
Orion smiled, and stepped up to her. “We should talk about last night at some point.”
“We will,” Kayse promised.
Orion planted a lingering kiss on her lips and led her outside. Four horses including Brigid and Ember stood saddled and waiting. Wilhelmina and Charlie were already in the saddle. Kayse looked down at her dress and up at the saddle.
“Allow me,” Orion said. “Bend your knee in the saddle instead of throwing your leg all the way over.”
He effortlessly lifted her into the air and helped her find the stirrup with her foot. Kayse did as she was instructed. Soon, they were on their way to the back pasture. Charlie and Wilhelmina rode a ways ahead. While Orion hanged back with Kayse. The full moon was rising over the fields making the path to the north hill almost as bright as day. As they came up to the tree line, they stopped and dismounted.
“Leave the tack,” Wilhelmina instructed.
Orion helped Kayse back out of the saddle and she took all the gear off Ember. One by one, as they were unburdened, the horses turned back into dragons.
“We’ll see you guys inside there,” Wilhelmina said.
She, Charlie and Brigid walked into the woods.
“Well, she sprung this on me,” Orion said. “I thought she was walking you in.”
“You’re presenting me?” Kayse asked.
Orion shrugged, “I did this once, like, ten years ago.”
Ember let out a low purr and started moving towards the woods. Kayse and Orion took it as their que to follow. The other two dragonesses followed behind on either side. In the trees, Kayse began to notice dark forms moving along side them. More dragons. She also noticed that there were holes in the ground, and trees that appeared to broken in half. Despite knowing she was safe between Ember and Orion, Kayse couldn’t help but think the whole area felt spooky. Soon, however, it became clear what had happened to the trees. Mounds of dirt, tree trunks and branches rose from the earth. She realized they were nesting mounds, dozens of them forming an arch. As they came to the inside of the arch, she was greeted by a sight that drew the breath from her chest. Black dragons formed a great circle with an aisle down the middle at the head of the circle four monolithic, regal, black dragons sat, heads held high, eyes tracking the trio as they approached. Kayse felt like she was walking by automation as she followed Ember down the aisle. She felt Orion’s hand brush hers. She looked over at him.
“Incredible, aren’t they?” he smiled.
Kayse nodded in agreement. As they reached the head of the aisle, she noticed Wilhelmina and Charlie standing off to one side of the drakes. Ember stepped forward, lowering her head down till it almost touched the ground. She raised her head and there was a long moment of silence where the drakes stared directly at her.
“They’re listening to her,” Orion said. “She’s telling them about you.”
Ember lowered her head and returned back to Kayse’s side. The drakes’ eyes landed on Orion.
“Orion Ward you present this girl?”
The voice seemed to echo through Kayse’s head.
Orion seemed unsure but he stepped forward.
“Yes,” he said. “I present Kayse Hughes, the grand niece of Kalvin Hughes, now past, and the decentent of Wilhelmina Hughes.”
“Does this keeper have a good heart?”
Orion looked back at Kayse and smiled before looking back at the drakes. “The best.” He spoke confidently. “She’s been through hell, and somehow came out the other side a beautiful and compassionate soul. Never in my life have I met someone who could so easily set aside anger to express empathy and concern. With no real experience, she stepped into this lifestyle and stepped up to the responsibility without hesitation.”
There was a moment where the drakes exchanged some low, rumbling noises.
Orion stepped back to Kayse’s side. “You’re turn, I think.”
Kayse looked to Wilhelmina who gestured for her to step forward. As she did, the largest drake rose.
“Don’t move, child.”
Kayse looked up as the dragon opened his great mouth ever so slightly. Blue flames flooded out around his razor sharp teeth. Kayse closed her eyes as warmth surrounded her but did not burn her. She could feel the intense gaze of the drakes as the flames surrounded her body.
“Kayse Hughes,” a new voice rang through her head. “I am Odran. You are a child after my own heart. I too became familiar with pain and trial in my youth. I offer you a piece of my heart, so that, for the remainder of your life, you may find peace and clarity in all situations.”
A feeling of peace unlike any she’d ever known washed over her. Her heart felt as if it was swelling in her chest. Tears welled in her eyes and streamed out the corners freely. Slowly, the warmth of the fire and the feeling in her chest faded.
“Welcome to the Black Wings Clan,” Odran’s voice rang in her head.
Kayse opened her eyes to see the drake to the left of the leader had lowered his head to make eye contact with her. Odran. Unlike most of the others he had brilliant blue eyes. Kayse couldn’t explain it, but she felt so close to him that she could almost have embraced the giant face in front of her.
“Thank you,” she smiled, unable to find any other words.
Without another word, the drakes all stood up and moved separate directions into the woods.
About the Creator
I'm a 27 year old wife and mom of three. Engaged. Born and raised in Montana. I've been writing since I was a kid and published a book at 17. Haven't written much in recent years, hoping to get back into it through this forum.