Anole of the Emerald Water Dragons emerged from the cool streams of the sun river, whose name derived from the blinding illumination that shot upward from the subterranean cave system of waterways. Anole met the humid temperament of the leafy paradise with contentment as the aromas of verdant flora and earth of the jungle filled her senses with those of wild animals. The humming of cicadas and other insect life, the chirping of colorful avian species, and the random cries of simian creatures drew a stark contrast to the calm waters where Anole spent most of her time.
The Emerald Water Dragons existed as a serene species, but Anole craved the activity of the surface, finding boredom in how her fellow basilisks lived. However, one scent overpowered her. The water dragon did not expect to encounter such an odor so quickly on her journey to the surface world: a human baby. She zeroed in on the toddler as the tiny person stumbled about with the staggered steps of a two-legged creature new to walking.
Anole's presence remained invisible to the human infant; the Emeralds kept a strict policy of not interacting with the human world while in dragon form. She shook her expansive reptilian wings, the water sprinkling over the vegetation surrounding her massive serpentine body. Like all her kind, Anole's skills included flight, but that feat stayed hidden, given that the Emerald Water Dragons spent most of their time submerged in the majestic waters below the land. Today was her day to camouflage in human form and walk amongst the Tainakanos. The brown-skinned humans that made the land their home fascinated Anole, especially the adult versions. The toddlers appeared far too intimidating.
She harbored the ability to transform into a human, emulating the land dwellers' physical features and making herself visible to the infant. But then what? Should she care for the creature? Feed it? Did humans eat their young? Anole couldn't recall. The brevity of her studies reflected her impatience; Anole just wanted to reach the surface and walk among them. She performed the duties required by the elders at the most basic levels, but perhaps she should have spent more time reviewing how the Tainakanos dealt with their offspring.
The infant seemed lost as it continued to stumble about, and Anole discovered another scent: blood. The dragon focused on the metallic odor and took light steps around the child, given how massive her quadruped form appeared. She found two adult bodies sprawled on the earth. Humans grew shocked at the sudden sight of their own dead. She remembered that detail during her studies. Curiosity pushed Anole to remain.
Did the toddler belong to the dead Tainakanos? What should she do with the infant? All Anole wanted was to take human form, make herself visible, and partake in the city's culture just beyond the tree line. Now, she was stuck with a random child.
Anole only had hours before needing to return to the illumination of the sun river's depths. The source of life and power for the magic that allowed the Emerald Water Dragons to exist called to her from beneath the water's surface. Too long without the magic would force her to lose her abilities. If she remained in dragon form on the surface beyond the time allotted, her ability to stay invisible would vanish, and she would be stuck in that form, unable to return home. As a hatchling, the elders ingrained cautionary tales into the dragon's mind; the Tainakanos would hunt and kill her for sport. If the time expired while in human form, she would remain a human for the rest of her days.
Anole began the transformation process, allowing the magic to morph her serpentine body into that of a Tainakano. She retained the choice of shifting into a male or female human and decided on the masculine form. Her breathtaking wingspan shortened, and the aqua-green scales of her body molded into dark brown human flesh. Soon, the wings joined with her front legs forming into arms, and she stood upright as the hind legs elongated; the torso readjusted for a vertical posture to accommodate a bipedal stance.
Using her magic, Anole covered the blatant nakedness with the traditional clothing adorned by the Tainakanos. Colorful patterns of fabric covered what their customs deemed inappropriate for public eyes. She made herself visible, and the toddler reacted. The child cried for the first time since she discovered it. This confused Anole, as she figured the infant would have been happy to experience another human.
Anole stepped with ease to the child and lifted it from the earth. The wailing and crying ceased as she held the toddler in her arms, swaying to a pacifying rhythm. The act seemed to soothe the creature and keep more wailing from occurring. This pleased Anole in a way she couldn't describe. She decided the strange sensation had happened because she had shifted into human form. A fine brown cloth wrapped around the infant's bottom, and a small brown and blue tunic covered the top half. Through the smell, Anole determined the creature to be female. Water dragons could tell human sex apart by scent.
From there, Anole headed to the city of the Tainakanos, where she hoped to deposit the child and enjoy her limited time in the human realm. She soothed the child with each step, maintaining a calming rhythm. Another pungent aroma came from the child as she approached the tree line. She expected one of the native Tainakanos might explain the strange odor emanating from the toddler's bottom.
"Young man, you should be ashamed of yourself! Your child soiled herself!" The elderly woman, known as Hilda, chided Anole.
Anole wandered through a busy market in Tikalmuka, eager to experience the abundant festivities and exchanges in the city. She figured the dense, populated area would produce a means to deposit the tiny human, allowing her enough time to partake in what the market offered.
"Can you fix her?" Anole asked absentmindedly. She grew more preoccupied with the goings on of the busy market, and she emulated just the right amount of bass in her voice. She heard and studied a few male Tainakanos speaking before attempting to communicate.
The elder woman tisked placing the child on a table meant for preparing her goods. The old Tainakano seamstress owned a fine display of handwoven garments with influences that spanned the kingdom and beyond. Anole gathered, given her old age, that Hilda was well-traveled.
With experience as her guide, Hilda undid the cloth wrapped around the baby's bottom. The piercing aroma forced the old woman back, causing her to knock over a basket of woven tunics she caught at the last minute, and she regained control after a few moments. Then she cleaned the infant's bottom, having the proper means at her disposal. Unfortunately, it wasn't the first time an infant needed help at the market.
She tossed the soiled cloth, the baby laughing during the experience, and wrapped the child up in a fresh one so the cloth remained tight but comfortable. The elder noted how stained the tunic appeared and tisked. "This won't do," Hilda muttered under her breath.
Hilda removed the tunic; she froze. "How did you come by this child?!" she demanded. The friendly demeanor was gone.
"What?" The question confused Anole. "I found her. Why?"
A pendant hung around the toddler's neck. It was the royal pendant.
"Guards!" Hilda cried out, holding the infant close to her and creating space away from Anole, using the tables around her market spot as barriers.
"Guards?" Anole echoed, still confused.
Five intimidating Tainakano men patrolling the market and bursting at the seams with lean muscle approached the table. Their wooden armor appeared minimal; the unique trees of the deep rainforest produced robust and lightweight timber that was easy to mold. The wood could withstand the impact of almost any bladed weapon.
The guard in charge stepped forward. "What is it this time, Hilda?" He asked with a tone that suggested the woman called on them often.
"You must take this man, Technalon!" She pointed at Anole with her free arm; the other one cradled the infant.
"For what crime?" Technalon asked, doubtful the interaction was worth his time.
Anole watched as Hilda held the baby up for the guards to see. The royal pendant hanging around the little creature's neck shined when the sun hit it.
The at-ease guards drew their blades. The tips surrounded Anole's neck, pinpointing where each stood around her. The shocked expressions on their faces soon turned to rage.
Technalon kept his sword in the scabbard on his hip. "Where did you get this child?!" he demanded, spittle flying from his mouth.
Anole realized the masculine form she wore might be too intimidating for her current situation. Attempting to de-escalate the rising tension, she transformed into a feminine shape, the clothing changing to mold the new body.
The guards grew even more defensive, stepping back while keeping their blades on Anole. Again, she grew confused by the hostility. "I found her," Anole said, her voice changing to complement her new form.
"A changeling!" One guard yelled.
"Kill it!" A second one shouted.
"Hold!" Technalon ordered.
The infant wailed with a primordial cry, and a fit like no other took over. Hilda did her best to keep the toddler calm. Others in the market watched with fascination as events unfolded.
"Where did you find the child?" Technalon kept a calm tone. Command came easily to him, and his training helped control his emotions.
Anole explained where she found the child in the most agreeable and cooperative voice, which unnerved everyone around her. Anole did not protest or fight when the guards bound her arms, dragging her to what they referred to as a prisoner's hut. They tossed her into a cell, and she sensed their collective fear of her. She didn't understand. What did she do wrong?
Random straw from various batches was strewn about the holding cell along with a bucket for what Anole realized collected the liquid and sometimes solid materials that exited a human's body. The bars on the small window allowed a bit of light to shine through, and she patiently waited. She was not familiar with this particular human custom. Anole could force her way through the bars that kept her in the cell, but she figured that wouldn't be right. How long did she have to wait?
A rustling in the straw startled Anole, much to her embarrassment. She was a dragon, after all. There wasn't much that was supposed to scare her. What surprised her was the figure of a man dressed in unfamiliar clothing, revealing himself from beneath the copious amounts of straw. He appeared to have awoken from a deep slumber. He yawned and stretched, his red trousers and gold button-up shirt stressing how out of place he appeared, along with his pale pink skin.
"Hello there!" His accent differed when compared to the Tainakanos. He smiled with curious eyes and seemed ecstatic about having company. "Does the lovely woman I have the pleasure of rooming with have a name?"
"Anole." She was not afraid but didn't want to be startled again, so she monitored the man.
"A pleasure. My name is Rem Bosker." Rem gave a profound, deep bow to Anole. "At your service."
Anole bowed in return, confusing Rem. He chuckled at the gesture. "It's not the custom for a lady to bow in return from where I hail."
"You are not from here?" She asked.
"Guilty." He smiled again. "I'm from another realm that makes up the Celestial Domain. Another planet, or orb, or sphere, as they are called."
"They don't like you." She stepped forward.
Rem laughed again. "My, you are blunt. That can get you killed in certain areas. I imagine that's why you're here."
"No. I wanted to experience the market." Anole corrected, not catching the humor.
"It appears you didn't make it. The market is closed by now." He sat down in a pile of straw.
"Why are you here?" she asked, emulating the behavior and sitting down.
Rem sighed. "Let's just say I procure rare items not for sale." He smiled. "And someone that didn't want to sell a particular item wasn't thrilled that I was in the middle of a procurement whilst in their residence."
Anole sighed, understanding. "You're a thief."
"That's a rather crass label, but not inaccurate." Rem pouted, crossing his arms.
Anole did the same, hoping to learn something from Rem's mannerisms.
"On your feet!" Technalon barked as he entered the prisoner's hut.
Rem darted up to his feet. A split second later, Anole did the same, copying Rem's movements.
"You killed them!" Technalon yelled through clenched teeth.
"I killed no one!" Rem protested.
"Not you, outsider!" Technalon stood on the side of the bars nearest Anole. "Her!" His eyes filled with rage. "The Chief and the Chieftainess were murdered! You killed spilling royal blood!"
Anole realized why they reacted with such fear and anger. Changing forms from male to female might have been a mistake. That only heightened their suspicions. She locked eyes with Technalon. "I did not." She maintained eye contact.
"We found their bodies where you said you found the child. So why didn't you mention her dead parents?" Technalon demanded.
"It did not occur to me," Anole answered with honest enthusiasm.
"I didn't take you for the murdering type. I must be slipping. I'm such an amazing judge of character." Rem lamented.
"I didn't kill anyone," Anole said again.
Technalon took a calming breath. "We will have two executions this evening. One for the thief and one for the murderer." Technalon stormed off.
"I still think that punishment is a bit extreme!" Rem called after the guard. He turned to face Anole. "You're no murderer." He said after sizing the woman up again.
"Correct," Anole confirmed. "And you are a thief."
Rem sighed and sat back down in the straw. "Indeed. At least my last moments will be in paradise. The weather is always beautiful here, after all."
"I don't have much time," Anole said aloud, noticing the sun's descent through the window bars.
"What do you mean?" Rem asked.
Anole dismissed the question with a hand gesture. If Anole didn't return to the sun river before nightfall, she would be stuck in this realm as a human or a dragon, depending on which form she remained in upon sunset. The magic allowing her to remain invisible would be gone forever, and the Tainakanos would never stop hunting her until they killed her.
The procession to the city square, which sat before the royal residence, was met with scorn by the commoners standing off to the sides. They considered the outsider a bad omen, and the death of their beloved Chief and Chieftainess was the result. The strange woman with the outsider was the one who carried out the heinous act of murder and would soon pay for her crime.
"When I first arrived," Rem commented, "they all loved me. I was exotic. The outsider with an accent. Now they want me as dead as you."
Anole gazed at Rem. "What did you try to steal?"
"A royal pendant, one imbued with magic. The one wearing it can have no harm come to them. A useful item if you live a life of danger or have grand ambitions that require bloodshed." He sighed. "I found it in the royal residence, but our guard friend, Technalon, discovered my trespassing."
Anole thought on this. Technalon was nowhere to be seen. She figured he would have been here for the executions, given how outraged he appeared in the prisoner hut. She realized the shock was not of seeing the child, but of the pendant the child wore. Technalon recognized it.
"Are you well?" Rem asked. "Silly question, I know. We're about to be executed, so I guess it doesn't matter."
"Where in the royal residence is the pendant?" Anole asked.
Rem grew confused about why the young woman wanted to know, but he played along. "In the family room, near the infant."
"Is that where it would be now?" Anole continued her interrogation as they were led to an elevated stage with a chopping block.
"I imagine so. The Chief's daughter would be returned to the residence. A regent is in place until the child comes of age. The pendant will keep that child alive until she comes of age." Rem mused.
"Can you take me there?" Anole asked.
Rem held up his hands, bound in rope. "I'd love to, but we're a little tied up. Have you forgotten?"
Anole studied the ropes that bound their hands, having indeed forgotten. She turned her sight on Rem again. "I'll get us out of here. Can you take me to the child?"
Rem laughed as they climbed up the steps to where two guards waited with sharp swords. The crowd gathered, yelled obscenities, and cheered for the death of the outsider and murderer.
"Can you?" she asked again.
"If you can get us out of this, I'll take you anywhere your heart desires." He promised, amused. The amusement faded as Anole tore from the ropes and ripped the ones holding Rem's hands together.
"Deal," she said in a casual tone. Anole remembered humans needed confirmation of verbal agreements and wished she paid more attention to those lessons before going to the surface.
Rem gasped as Anole proceeded to change her shape. Her arms split into front legs and wings as she lunged forward, growing in size. The dark brown skin associated with the Tainakanos changed into aqua-green scales, and her wingspan blanketed the setting sun.
The crowd ran in fear. The guards froze, not ready for such an encounter. Rem laughed as Anole swooped him up with a wing, placing the thief on her back. Then, she flew into the sky toward the royal residence.
A mass panic took over the royal residence as news of the dragon spread. Technalon didn't care. He slew the child's protectors and stood over the infant's body, eyeing the desired pendant hanging around her tiny neck. Then, to test the power of the magical charm, he unsheathed his sword and stabbed at the child. The blade stopped, held back by an invisible force. Technalon smiled at this.
Technalon's smile vanished as the wall nearest exploded inward. Debris trickled around him, making a mess of the royal nursery. Toys meant for the infant and lavish gifts for when the child grew older were strewn about in haphazard piles. Then, after regaining his senses, Technalon was shocked to see the dragon eyeing him up.
Rem Bosker jumped with clumsy grace down from Anole's back. "Get away from that child!" Rem demanded, stumbling for balance.
"This isn't your sphere, outsider!" Technalon barked. He kept his sword before him. The might of the wooden armor kept most of the debris from doing harm.
"And that pendant doesn't belong to you," Anole said with her authentic voice. Words came not from her mouth but filled the room. Her voice rang inside the heads of Rem and Technalon.
"Where did you come from, dragon?!" Technalon demanded.
"This world belonged to us long before humans arrived." She explained, remembering the history of the expansion throughout the Celestial Domain via the portals. "You are the murderer. You killed this child's parents, did you not?"
Rem kept a careful distance circling around Technalon. The guard noticed this but kept his eyes on the dragon as he spoke. "I did! They were weak! They carried this power at their disposal! This Chief could have used it to conquer!"
"It was not your place to make such decisions." Anole moved closer, her steps light despite the mammoth dragon form.
"And it is your place to mettle with the affairs of the Tainakano?" Technalon countered with indignation in his voice.
This gave Anole pause. Did she have the right? She thought of the infant and how it warmed to her. She thought of the tiny creature's innocence. At that moment, the Emerald Water Dragon decided it was her place to protect the infant.
Anole made quick work of Technalon's defenses, swatting the sword away with her wing, and clenched her formidable jaws around his squirming body. The mighty wood cracked beneath her sharp teeth. Dragons were one thing the wood could not stand against. With ease, Anole tossed Technalon's flailing body through the wall-sized opening her appearance created, and he fell to the streets below. The distant audible thud of his body's impact confirmed the man would cease being a threat.
"Well. It's not every day a dragon comes to my rescue." Rem gave Anole a deep bow; this time, he meant it with the greatest respect he could muster.
Anole moved with grace toward where the infant lay. The cradle remained sturdy throughout the violent engagement, and the child laughed with delight and excitement upon seeing Anole's true face.
"I think she likes you," Rem commented.
"I think I like her too." The dragon smiled. "I must go." She turned from the child and attempted to cloak herself. Realization hit Anole. Forlorn dragon eyes peered out the opening where the outside wall once existed and saw the sun disappear on the horizon.
"What's the matter?" Rem asked.
Anole moved to the opening, her impressive dragon head staring at the vast sky, emoting sadness. "I'm too late. I'm stuck like this forever. Trapped in the human realm."
Rem Bosker received a full pardon from the new Regent in charge. She had been most appreciative of his involvement in saving the life of the future Chieftainess and allowed Rem to return to his realm.
After partaking in the luxuries offered by the local government, Rem found himself with a new wardrobe and feeling refreshed. He awaited off-world passage through the travel portal placed here by the Continuum Maximus that allowed for travel throughout the Celestial Domain, and he smirked to himself.
Rem got away with it.
He reached into his pocket and held on to the pendant that granted the owner protection. During the commotion with Anole and the traitor, Technalon, he swapped the true one for a fake, as he always intended to do. The job was completed, and he would take the pendant to the one that hired him.
Rem struggled with removing such protection from the child. Then he peered into the sky and saw Anole soaring through the air off in the distance. The mighty dragon circled the city, and not a single Tainakano lifted a weapon against her.
Who would dare hurt the child, Rem thought, when a dragon is her pet? No, not pet. Her protector. Friend, even. Rem laughed to himself, stepping through the portal when his turn came up.
Anole found freedom by flying through the open sky. The avian species of the rainforest welcomed the mighty dragon. Sometimes, they flew alongside her as if she had always been there. Of course, it wasn't the same as navigating the underwater terrain of the sun river, but it would have to do. This was her life now.
She circled the emergence point, where she first arrived on dry land. She flew down, nestling near the water and allowing the shade of the ancient trees to blanket her elegant serpentine body. Anole yawned, stretching out her wings and looking at the spot where she first set eyes on the toddler. She chose to protect an innocent child, and Anole could happily live with that decision.
About the Creator
I'm a Puerto Rican storyteller/filmmaker who uses lies to tell the truth; this is the essence of what I love about good stories. Author of Casino City and Distinction of Realms! Scifi, fantasy, horror, and thriller are among my favorite!