Illusions

"But Uen, it's dirt you're sitting on."

Cate had almost expected the mole to charge her for that, but instead he sighed deeply and dug his claws farther into his hoard. "Cate," he said, "Come here. Take a handful of this gold."

She did as he said.

"Now close your eyes."

She hesitates at this, but Uen removed a paw from the rubble and motioned for her to follow his order. Slowly, she closed her eyes, and when she did, the air suddenly felt colder- the smell of winter still filled the cave, though it was mid-August. There was only one season underground, and it only caught hints of the above world.

Uen's drawling voice came again. "Tell me, Cate," he said, "the difference between gold and dirt when your eyes are closed."

Cate blinked and looked down at her hands, and the mole didn't say anything. She took a trembling step forward, but she just had to ask the question on the tip of her tongue. She stood before him, knowing that he could easily crush her with a single paw, and stared him straight in the eye. "Uen, are you blind?"

Quickly, Cate retreated to a corner to await Uen's response, but he only twitched his ugly nose.

Finally, he spoke. "You didn't answer my question. Do go on."

Cate dropped her handful of dirt back onto his hoard. "I guess they're…I mean, they are different, but when your eyes are closed, they are the-

"Same. And I am a dragon, the mightiest of the East, and my hoard rivals those of kings! I am Uen."

"I'm so sorry."

Uen shot upright and bared his teeth at her words. His body was shaking. "Sorry? Sorry that my life is rich and limitless? Blindness is beautiful. Seeing is pain. I remember, girl. I remember the guns and the rockets and the blasts that dyed the air. Children starting. Animals and people beaten, slain, and locked away. Death lived in the streets, and I still smell him."

Uen removed his blind glare from Cate and burrowed his paws back into the dirt as he waited for her response, which never came. She was crying- not because of his terrible words, but the way he had said them. There were needles in the syllables, and each had pierced Cate through the heart. Uen, her Uen, had hurt her.

"If you're blind, you won't see me leave, but you can keep pretending that I'm here. There's no difference." She turned and walked back up the stairs, leaving Uen to his thoughts and dreams.