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Lost and Found

The Toddler and the Violet Dragon

By Delaney HowardPublished 2 years ago 16 min read
Leonora and Perciana by https://openai.com/dall-e-2/

When Leonora Tucker got an idea in her little curl-covered head, she acted on it. At almost four years old, she was extraordinarily bright, fearless, impetuous—sometimes reckless—and somehow impervious to harm—much to her parents’ consternation and relief. This morning, at an hour that was barely past dawn, Leonora decided that she needed flowers. It was her sister Sabrina’s birthday, and she had to give her a present. So, Leo walked to the edge of the compound where she and her family lived. Her mother and the other adults kept a pretty garden where she knew there were flowers. Her little legs trotted along quickly; the adventure was fun, the getting caught, not so much, she knew from experience, so she hurried. She reached the garden and was disappointed with the options. A colorful butterfly floated over her head, and she giggled as it flitted by her outstretched hand. She watched it head toward the forbidden place. The forest. But she also saw the pretty wildflowers on the very edge of the woods. She could pick those for Sabrina. They were much nicer than what was in the garden. No one would ever know. She looked around before she squeezed through the fence railings under the chicken wire and skipped toward the wildflowers.

Perciana, a violet dragon, tilted her elegant, elongated snout towards the sky and sniffed. Then she huffed out a small puff of grayish smoke and continued to sulk. She alternately hopped and walked in her very Perciana way and eventually reached the edge of the forest. She decided to find a nice, cool spot to nap off her morose mood. Her brothers had teased her about her fire-breathing skills again. Or, really, her lack thereof. They were mean to her. Three older, fully grown dragon brothers teased a young adult, for she was no longer really a juvenile, until they made her cry iridescent dragon tears. She was nearly fully grown too, or she would be on her next birthday, which was coming soon. She couldn’t wait to be away from her odious brothers and part of another family of her own making. Her father had scolded her brothers and even singed their eyebrows, but they never stopped. Their eyebrow scales always grew back, so they didn’t care. If only I could find something unique about myself, she thought miserably.

Before she knew it, Perciana found herself so deep in the forest that it seemed like the new day that was just beginning had turned instantly to night. The dragon, although young, was still larger than several grown human men, and when she plopped herself down in a heap of shiny purple scales and a few remaining iridescent nestling feathers, the ground trembled, and she let out a great sigh. Just as she tucked her muzzle under one wing to nap, she heard a faint noise. She ignored the sounds that she was used to, like chirping birds, other creatures of the forest, and water flowing over rocks in the stream. This was a different sound, but not so different from the one she made when the shimmery tears fell from her lavender eyes earlier. She stood slowly. She turned her head this way and that, scenting the air for a smell that didn’t belong but might go with the unusual noise. As quietly as a dragon could, Perciana did her hop-walk as she followed the sound and the scent to a giant old tree, one which her relatives had not yet reduced to ashes. Perciana disapproved of destroying beauty. Her soft heart also did not endorse killing anything you did not intend to eat immediately. Another thing her brothers teased her relentlessly over.

As Perciana’s angry thoughts filtered away, she found the source of the unusual sound. A tiny human sitting beneath the ancient tree. Her little legs were drawn up with her, what did they call the knobby parts?—Oh!—Knees! knees drawn up and her wingless arms around them. Quietly, the human juvenile hiccupped and continued to cry.

“Hello, juvenile human,” Perciana said in as soft a voice as a dragon could muster. Unfortunately, the vocalization was still rather deep and loud in the quiet of the wildwood.

Leonora looked up, startled. At first, when she looked around, she didn’t see anything in the shade of the deep wood. All the colors and all the shadows blended together. Then she saw movement, and a lavender iris with an oblong black pupil came to her eye level and looked closely at her. Leonora let out a high-pitched shriek, the likes of which Perciana had never before heard. The sound knocked the young dragon right onto her scale-covered bottom. The dragon looked around in alarm and disbelief that a sound like that could come from something so small.

Leonora backed even further up against the tree and said, “Dragon talked?” She scrambled behind the tree and peered out just a little. Her speech and thoughts reverted to simple sentences she’d outgrown well over a year ago.

With whatever dignity she could muster, Perciana regained her footing and replied, “Why yes, small human dragons talk. But, regrettably, most of you humans don’t bother to listen.” With that, Perciana let out a harumph of discontent and two puffs of smoke from her nostrils, each bigger than Leonora.

“No, no. My papa would have said, ‘dragons use words.’”

“As I said, most of your kind don’t listen. What is your name?”

“Le-Leonora T-Tucker,” the frightened child stuttered.

“I am Perciana of Rockhill,” the purplish-blue scaled creature replied haughtily.

The tone wasn’t lost on the clever girl because, for some reason, Leonora felt the need to curtsy like the people did in her bedtime storybooks. Like the people did for a King or Queen. So, tentatively, she edged out from the tree a few inches and curtsied prettily. Then she dashed back behind the giant tree trunk.

“Who are your people, Leonora Tucker?”

“Papa, Mama, ‘Breena, Nicholas, August, and me. We are a-a family.”

“Why are you so far from your family, Leonora Tucker?”

“I lost,” the little girl blurted, remembering why she’d been crying before the dragon interrupted. “I-I ju-just wa-wanted flo-flowers for my…my sister’s bir-birthday,” she managed between great gulps of air and renewed sobs.

“You were going to give your sister a present?” Perciana said with surprise. Presents were the last thing she’d give her brothers. Instead, she’d blast them with dragon fire—if she could produce any. “I suppose you love your sister and brothers.”

The crying child nodded vigorously, her dark curls bouncing around her head.

“Well,” Perciana said genially, feeling generous and kind despite the start to her day, “let’s see if we can find your way back home.”

Leonora’s eyes rounded with awe. “You help me?”

“Indeed,” not knowing why she felt she needed to help this teensy human, Perciana reached out a long, winged arm to allow the child to sit in her palm. Leonora hesitated. Even at four, her sense of self-preservation was well-honed. “I will not hurt you, child. I give you my word. A dragon’s word is unbreakable.”

Leonora looked up at Perciana. “You talk like my books.” She was losing her fear, regaining the power of speech.

Perciana was puzzled. “What?”

“You talk like my books about Kings and Queens and Princesses. Fancy talk.”

“Oh. Well, in any case, I will not harm you. Come ride on my back. I will take you home.”

There weren’t always dragons in the valley. Anthony Tucker pulled his black cloth cloak closer as he reminisced. This morning, his memories were about his youthful aspirations in another valley filled with silicon chips, people biking to work, computer code, and electric cars. Hard to imagine that where he now crouched was barely ninety miles north of there.

As he remembered, his eyes never stopped surveilling the sunburned brick walkways and the scorched and partly barren land below him. Finally, his eyes settled on the large, interconnected group of buildings nestled together in the deepest part of the Sonoma Valley, where his children, his friends, and their animals slept without a sound while he kept watch. Even the animals had learned to keep quiet at night. Not a single stray whicker or lowing could be heard as dawn broke over the valley. He scanned for any irregularities in the landscape. Once, wine grapes grew on stately, twisted generational vines, and the ground trembled several times a week, sometimes violently. One of those quakes, a major one, caused this hell he now lived.

Calm but alert, Anthony knew they’d done everything possible to secure what belonged to them. He and the other Senior Watchers would keep it safe every day until they retired and the next generation took over. His eldest child, Sabrina, with her unruly black curls trailing down her back and her deep green eyes so like Jenny’s, was already preparing. She was in her late teens. She’d begged on her last birthday to be allowed to begin training. That day he’d idly wondered what day or year it actually was but had learned to give that thought up immediately after it came to him. It did him no emotional good to dwell in what had been or might have been, yet occasionally he allowed himself the luxury of memory. He must have made some sound because he found emerald eyes boring into him with worry.

“I was just thinking about the day Sabrina and the others take this job from us,” his rich baritone quietly replied to her unstated question. Anthony saw his wife’s expression flash some combination of happiness, fear, and sadness.

“I always hoped they wouldn’t have to.” She tripped over something on the ground, righted herself immediately, and bit back a curse.

“Are you okay?”

“Of course. Just my usual graceless self.”

Anthony sighed quietly at her self-deprecation as they moved along their patrol route toward home. As they walked silently in tandem, Anthony shifted the crossbow’s weight on his back and continued his musings as his eyes remained clear and aware. He took in every dip and crevice of the landscape, every emerging blade of grass that stubbornly continued to sprout. Knowing they’d created this haven together. Protected it together. Now that the children were older, they often patrolled together. He longed to take her hand, but that gesture could make them both too vulnerable, too easy to strike.

Today was Sabrina’s birthday again; they would celebrate the occasion much as humans had, he reflected, in the Previous. Always with a capital P. Much like humans used to invoke BC or AD. In the Previous, his life had been fluid and perfect. Then the rift opened, and everything changed.

First, the plague. It seemed to spill from the fault like an invisible primordial ooze. Hundreds of deaths in mere hours. And in the weeks that followed, a crisis exponentially worse than the pandemic of the 2020s. New rifts opened all over the world. In the first weeks, scientists on television said climate change was wreaking irreversible havoc at last. Then there was no more television. But when the world’s billions of souls were reduced to a few million scattered here and there, the “Remainders,” as they called themselves, found a way to use shortwave radio to communicate.

Their group of Remainders in Northern California finally found a permanent refuge. It was in the buildings that had been a successful vineyard and bed and breakfast for almost a century. The buildings had endured time, plus after the rifts, the loss of power, the looting, the riots, and more. Then, when the dead had been buried or burned, the people and the buildings in the Sonoma Valley survived the sky unfurling with sounds unlike any those still alive had ever heard. The screeching cry of dragons. The rhythmic pulsing of gigantic wings that spanned two hundred feet or more. Their exhalations, scorching flames able to ignite almost everything they touched, were more terrifying than wondering if you were next to die of the plague. It was as if nature had fashioned the beasts out of whole cloth. They sprang from the rifts into the sky, fully formed, to terrorize an already tormented and terrified people. A veritable rainbow of mythical creatures came to life as if birthed by the planet’s molten core. The old fables clearly had some truth to them. How the original dragon populace was sent to the bowels of the Earth was a story lost to time. Now, just a few million comparatively diminutive humans were fighting a thousand times as many gigantic reptilian creatures worldwide. The dragons were reborn.

After some incalculable time, for neither calendars nor clocks had meaning in the Wake of the Rifts, the dragons settled into a predictable, reliable pattern. As the sun burned off the night, the fearsome beasts slept in their makeshift roosts on the cities’ oldest skyscrapers, avoiding the modern, glassy buildings or in citadels of their own creation in the nearby Sonoma mountains. They hunted for food in the dusky twilight, lighting the bruise-colored sky with their fire. Stealing farm animals, wild animals, and unlucky humans. Yet, some of each of those groups managed to survive and thrive. The Northern California Remainders farmed, worked, built, communicated, and did everything they could between the hours after sunrise and the hour just before dusk.

Anthony was a man of forty-five now, at least as close as he could figure. The rift had grown in the Sonoma Valley for seventeen years, as had the other rifts worldwide. He was awake with the realization that the money he’d chased and coveted couldn’t buy you survival in this new world. Only resistant genes, good fortune, and sharp wits could do that.

On this brightening morning in early spring of the seventeenth year, by the new count, Anthony Tucker looked over at his wife and smiled briefly. They were the Senior Watchers of that morning. They were two of “the elders” at forty-five-ish years old. Gray peppered his tousled black curls, but she remained so fiercely, youthfully beautiful. Bright hair as shiny and golden as ever, covered now to stay hidden in the shadows. Green crystalline eyes could still light with humor and mischief and see directly into his mind and heart. The hand on her staff still wore that antique ring he’d carefully hidden and then hastily retrieved when they left San Francisco for the mountains to wait out the plague in her family’s cabin. But, most importantly, she was also still alive and still brilliant.

Something caught his eye, a reflection from one of the perimeter mirrors. He nudged Jenny without a word, and she took note and turned her head. The Remainders learned that the dragons feared their reflections more than any military-style offense they’d ever mounted. The information had been discovered by accident, as many great things in science and history always had been. Jenny grasped his hand despite the danger of entanglement. The reflection was their youngest child, Leonora, sneaking past the barriers toward the forest.

By the time Anthony and Jenny made it to the spot they last saw Leonora, at least twenty minutes had passed. They needed to scale down the hill to the compound, with the constant, overriding need to keep quiet. They tapped on the doors of their other children’s rooms to wake them, to see if Leonora had returned or told anyone where she was going. No one knew anything.

Sabrina finished donning her tactical gear, “We need to find her!” She did not want to lose her baby sister on her birthday.

“We will,” her father replied with a hand on her shoulder.

They met the rest of their family in the hallway in front of their quarters. Everyone was geared up for a search. Others in the compound had awoken, too, and were gathering in the hallway as well. They were coming along on the hunt. Leonora was the youngest among the Remainders and was much beloved by all.

They set out for the front doorway and the compound gates when Anthony stopped short. He stretched his arms to either side to hold back the people behind him. His mouth dropped open at the sight in front of him. His little Leonora was sitting on the back of a violet dragon with long eyelashes and lavender eyes.

“Leo!” he exclaimed rather unnecessarily.

“Daddy!” she cried, and as the plum, scaled giant bowed, Leonora slid helter-skelter down the dragon’s wing and ran into his outstretched arms.

Anthony buried his face in her hair as he held her tightly.

“Daddy, need to breathe.” Leonora struggled to get free.

He released his daughter and looked around as everyone stood facing the dragon in a fight stance.

The beast had backed up several giant hop-steps.

Leonora also looked around, and her eyes grew large. She pulled her hand from her father’s and ran toward Perciana. She made her tiny body as large as she could. And held out a small hand.

“No!” she shouted at the human crowd. “This is Perciana of Rockhill. She helped me when I was lost in the forest. I just wanted to get some flowers for ‘Breena’s birthday, and I went too far. I got really lost. I was scared and crying, and she helped me. She talks! She is smart! Leave her alone.”

Anthony looked skeptically at his youngest child, his sensitive and big-hearted baby. Leonora often anthropomorphized her stuffed animals. Finally, he glanced at his wife, and it was she who spoke the dubious thoughts they both were having.

“Leonora, please come here, away from the dragon.”

“No. You will hurt her. I don’t want her to be hurt.” It seemed to Jenny that the dragon smiled then.

It was not Jenny's imagination when the dragon reached out, patted Leonora on the head and then on the bottom, pushing her slightly, and said, “Go on, juvenile human.”

Leonora stubbornly shook her head and refused to move. Jenny, a doctor and now the veterinarian in this world, knew that dogs protecting children were not an uncommon occurrence in nature. It’s a result of their pack animal nature. A well-trained and well-raised dog knows that the humans are the pack leaders, and its job is to protect them. Just as adult dogs are very tolerant of puppy behavior that would get another adult dog bitten, they seem to understand that children are human “puppies,” and the instinct to protect kicks in. It worked for other canines, feline, equine, and even bovine species as well… but dragons? Could it be the same?

Just then, the dragon spoke again in a deep and enthralling voice, “Humans, I mean you no harm. I am Perciana of Rockhill, and although I acknowledge my siblings can be quite awful, you will find I am not of their ilk. I only wish to return Leonora safely to her family and be left in peace. This day started horribly, but as I have made a new friend, I feel it is going much better now.”

After the shock of a dragon speaking such fine English wore off, Sabrina was the first to respond. “How are you not like the other dragons we’ve encountered?”

“What do you mean?” The dragon asked politely; this time, Jenny was sure she saw a frown on the violet face.

“I mean, you seem very, uh, not aggressive, not violent, not angry.”

“Well, mostly, I think the other dragons are like that because they never take the time to stop and appreciate the world. Sadly, I can’t seem to make dragon fire, so I have to find other ways to eat, and it’s led me to appreciate beauty, other creatures, and the planet in general.”

Once again, the humans stood still in various states of awe at what this creature knew and could express to them in perfect English.

Anthony’s mind was whirling at a mile a minute, and he spoke his thoughts. “Well, maybe this is our way to breach the gap between our species. Maybe Miss Perciana of Rockhill is the ambassador we’ve needed to help keep us alive and at peace with the local dragon communities.”

The other adults looked at him with dawning admiration and understanding that their daily life and death struggle to survive could be coming to an end.

Perciana bowed, and her lavender eyes, with their vertically slit black pupils, came to stare directly into Anthony’s soft brown eyes. Leonora was holding her father’s hand again and softly petting Perciana’s muzzle, as she often did the family’s Labrador Retriever, Maxie.

“What is an… ambasssssssador?” Persiana intoned, dragging out the “s” for a long moment. "I am unfamiliar with that term."

Anthony wasn't surprised. Dragons didn't seem to compromise. Ever. “An ambassador is a member of one of a pair of groups that can communicate with both groups without fear of torture or death. This member can then make a deal about territory, about trade, about almost anything. Then both sides agree to abide by the terms of this agreement. That is called a treaty.”

“Well, my brothers never listen to me, but my father is kind to me. He would listen to me when I talk. I also have many friends among the dragodensis.”

“Daddy?” Leonora asked, “Will Perciana be very special then, like in my books?”

“Yes, very special indeed,” he answered with a smile and lifted her so that she, too, was eye-to-eye with her new friend.

“See Pericana? I knew you were special—like in my books!” The little girl threw her arms around the front of Perciana’s snout…all she could manage with her tiny arms. Perciana received her first human hug with joy. This was the most love she’d ever felt, especially from one not of her species. This new life, this unique opportunity, might be just the thing she’d been searching for to help her get away from her brothers when she’d run away this morning. Also, she’d found a new friend who would grow up alongside her. This awful day had turned out to be a day Perciana would remember forever.

Fantasy

About the Creator

Delaney Howard

Writer of romantic suspense, and apparently fiction of other varieties too. Reader of all the words, theater nerd, liberal, teacher, wife, dog-mom, optimist. http://www.delaneyhowardwriter.com/

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