I started awake and I was shocked that my head was resting on something soft and warm as my tiny body was curled up on a blanket. I blinked and glanced around my cold and dimly illuminated cell.
"Happy eighth birthday, Miss Mirio."
That was Marcie's voice! I glanced up at the only person who gave a damn if the little halfbreed draconian girI lived or died. I tried to keep my eyes from welling up in vain as I rose from using her lap as my pillow and embraced her tightly around her waist. My voice wavered uncontrollably as I whimpered, "Miss Marcie…I thought that you were never coming back."
I felt her stubby fingers rub through my indigo locks, and over my silver horns as she soothed, "Why would I leave you behind? You are an irreplaceable part of me, my dear." She chuckled softly. You're a lot cuter in person versus my crappy pencil sketch of you in my Geometry notebook, for sure."
I was uncertain what she was going on about as I snuggled into her lap and curiously glanced upwards. Her faintly visible freckled face was pale with dark, frizzy hair and hazel eyes. Her impressively thick spectacles were rimmed with a strange clear translucent material that was clearly not metal. She was a plain and unremarkable human in all respects…so why was she here? I asked bashfully, "What was your sin to be tossed in here too, Miss Marcie?"
"Ah. No. I am here for you, Miss Mirio." She beamed brightly, although there were stormclouds behind her eyes. "You could say that your company is a refuge from my intolerable life."
I shook my head as I did not understand. "In-holler-bell? What do you mean?" I stared intently at her with my large, faintly glowing red eyes.
Her shoulders slumped as she sighed. "Intolerable means a life that you can't bear. I have prayed for years for God to neutralize these hateful feelings that I am burdened with daily." She attempted a smile as tears pooled at the corners of her eyes. "Picture a drab home made out of metal, mounted on wheels. Outside is a blighted garden decorated by twenty fake pink flamingoes on stakes. Inside is a mother who will never understand me."
I wasn't entirely sure why you made a home out of metal as it was prone to rust, or why you'd decorate it with artificial waterfowl.
"Picture a learning Academy five miles up Route 259 North from my pathetic home. There is a complex of tan brick buildings where five days a week I am surrounded by several hundred teenagers that either ignore me or pick on me. I have no friends or a sweetheart to call my own."
"So…you're alone like me?"
"Yeah, like you." Marcie gave me an effusive hug. "I like you a lot, little miss."
I had a flash of inspiration. "I'll marry you then, Miss Marcie! Then we'll always be family!"
Marcie flushed pink in her cheeks as she broke into awkward giggles. "Uh, maybe when you're bigger, Miss Mirio."
I smiled blissfully as I curled up against her and contentedly dozed off.
I started awake over gods knows how much time had passed. All that I was initially certain about was that I was in motion; though not of my own volition. Still in my bestial form, I attempted to open my right eye only to find I was staring at roughly hewn softwood planks mere inches from my face. The cart towing me hit a rut, and my entire body jostled painfully with each jolt. My left side ached dully, and my head throbbed where it had struck the water tower leg. I grimaced in pain and tried my left eye. Now I could see a strangely dyed tarpaulin covering at least my head. Every five seconds or so I would see a ball of light faintly shining through the blue fabric. I next grimly tried to effect motion in my limbs and wings. I should not have been surprised to find that my entire body was tethered down to the metal and wood cart by a dozen straps. I fumed silently as my ill-advised moment of weakness of saving that pathetic whelp Marcie had cost me my freedom.
The strange rumbling of the towing carriage slowed to an idle purr as it squealed to a stop. Then I heard an odd noise that I couldn't identify. "Beep….beep….beep….beep," the cart bleated out as it backed through a sizeable portal into a much warmer space.
Suddenly I winced as strips of blinding white light overhead made my eyes sting after being in the darkness for hours. I heard the magical carriage deactivate its magical propulsion system, and I heard a door in the near distance rhythmically rattle down with a dull clatter. I heard about half a dozen human voices as they gathered around my pinned form. After they sliced through the ropes lightly holding down the tarp, the covering was pulled off by a trio of muscular men attired in bulky boots, black helmets, baggy yellow trousers and jackets over black-hued shirts. I now saw I was in a harshly lit stone barn of sorts. A giant red and white carriage festooned with wooden ladders towered over me to my right. The only lettering I could read from my constrained position was "Ladder #1-'Prairie Pride'".
The oldest man wearing a white metal helmet that bore a painted black emblem that read, "Hazard County, Chief Preston, 47". He was heavyset, but still looked muscular for his years. He stared at me through wire-rimmed spectacles and muttered, "Holy mother of God. Hey, Bastian, you said you found a dinosaur right by the high school where Lewis totaled his Silverado?"
"Si, jefe. Mister Lewis plowed into our scaly friend here after having one to many at The Dive." The young man came into view as he gawked at me with an uneasy expression. Bastian was strapping and tall with bronze-hued skin paired with dark eyes and hair. He was wearing a dark navy jacket over trousers and leather shoes. I assumed that he had some sort of military uniform on with a bright brass badge that was inscribed with "Officer, HPD, 1024" pinned to his breast. He was outfitted with a cudgel on his right and a holstered weapon that I could not recognize. Perhaps it was an oddly shaped crossbow or wand of some sort.
Preston shook his head, "I'd say it was Nessie or something, but our fella has got scales and bat wings."
A brown-haired female guard in the same blue tailored uniform as Bastian piped up, "Shoot! Ain't you boys ever heard of a dragon before?"
Bastian whistled with a look of stark disbelief. He knelt down by my restrained head and shone a magical beam right into my infuriated crimson eye.
The nerve of these ants! I huffed in utter frustration, and the hot outwash of my breath sent the startled humans back a few steps. I locked eyes with the young officer and telepathically growled, If you don't stop illuminating my eyeball with that light spell, I will incinerate your face off.
His shock only deepened as he dropped his illuminating metal tube onto the stone floor. His hands touched his temples as the shock of the mental communication overwhelmed him. His compatriot gently squeezed his shoulder as she asked, "Hon, are you all right?"
Bastian gawked at me, blinked a few times and then spoke with a quiet, hesitant voice, "Are you talking to me?"
I seethed, Yes, I am speaking to you, nitwit. I have a right to know why you took a noblelady hostage. What do you want from me?
He relayed my message with a look of shock still plastered across his face. "Sh-she wants to know what we want of her, Chief."
Preston looked at me and then at the officer with a disbelieving frown. "I don't hear anything."
I tried to link up with the chief, but he could not decipher my telepathic message. I sighed inwardly as I realized that this man's mind was too inflexible to hear me.
The chief rubbed his grey moustache nervously and spoke to me, "Nessie, ol' girl. We can't let you go. Whatever you are, you're far too dangerous to let loose on our town." He then shifted his gaze to the lady officer, "Carol, when did the national guard unit from Bloomington say they'd be here?"
"They should be here any minute now, Chief."
I had no idea of what those elite soldiers they were referencing, but I was not knavish enough to passively accept my fate. I shook my head imperceptibly as I realized the chance of electing to remain in their custody was precisely zero. I warned Bastian as I still had a modicum of consideration for these bumpkins. Officer Bastian, I would strongly urge you to take cover…now.
"Get down," He hollered as he drew out his stubby black reflective weapon. Everyone in the chamber dove for what shelter they had at hand.
Good boy, I added with a feral grin. Then I used my luminescent blue-white breath weapon to lance apart my bindings. I stiffly stretched out my cramped-up wings and watched the blue-clad officers all point their metallic weapons at my head. I grimaced and stayed still as I was completely exposed, until a gift from the gods dropped into my lap.
An attractive teenaged girl dressed in a draping coat over her sweater and plaid skirt obliviously wandered in from a side door carrying a stack of brightly colored sheets of vellum. She smiled at Chief Preston and waved cheerily. "Hi grampa! I just finished the photocopies for the fire station food drive."
As Chief Preston gawked in impotent horror, I simply plucked up the girl in my forelimbs.
The luckless blond girl went rigid with fear, and didn't even utter a sound as my warm feet wrapped snugly around her midsection. The printed sheets fluttered to the floor like falling leaves.
The chief exhaled sharply, "Tiff, no."
Bastian and Carol both stared at me with resentful yet fearful gazes as they leveled their weapons at me.
I could clearly see based on everyone's expression that they wouldn't risk shooting at me when there was any chance at hitting their friend. I felt deep shame over the necessity of taking a hostage, but I was backed into a corner. I looked over at Bastian and calmly ordered him, Door.
He cursed and yelled out to one of the yellow-clad men, "Mike, open the garage door, now."
A burly man behind me punched a button, and a white segmented door noisily clattered upwards on a silvery metallic track. The sound of the rain pouring outside was music to my ears as I knew I could make good on my escape. I had no intention of harming the maiden; I simply would rather die than be locked in a dungeon again. I backed up slowly, squeezed past the bulky self-propelled carriage and was soon outside on the paved driveway connecting to the main road. I glared at the man by the switch, and he wordlessly dropped the shutter again.
Suddenly a dazzling explosive force struck my right temple, neck and chest, as a different officer ambushed me from the side. I roared as I dropped Tiff to the ground and used my tailswipe to send the officer flying into the shrubbery. My tough scales had shielded me from being felled, but I was still in immense pain, and I was bleeding profusely from the tiny lead crossbolts. I unfurled my wings and took off just as a set of three green carts with illuminating headlamps filled with soldiers turned the corner. I wobbled awkwardly in flight and sailed into the sky as blood stung my eye. I fumed at my idiotic lapse as I had allowed these nettlesome humans to get the best of me. I glided past the water tower and read the signpost that read 'South, Indiana 259'. My head cleared as the missiles had inflected flesh wounds, but had not penetrated through my bones. I recalled Marcie's description of the metal caravan home along this road. I glided through the chilled needles of raindrops; after traversing vast corn fields with scattered peasant shacks I came across a large field of boxy homes arrayed in a muddy grid. I pivoted down as I spied the white metal hovel with a field of artificial bright pink birds planted on either side of the freely swinging banging metal door.
After landing inelegantly in the mud, I converted back to my humanoid form. I groaned as I bound up my scalp and side wounds with pungent poultices, and secured them with bandages. It was only then that I noticed that there was saturated clothing and other possessions scattered all around the front of Marcie's home. It included furniture, books, posters, shoes, pants, tunics, outerwear, and undergarments. I recognized with a jolt that one of the items was Marcie's. It was a grey hooded tunic with the inscription of 'Indiana Corn Growers Association' next to a heraldic symbol of a green and gold corn ear overlaid atop a golden map of the territory under their authority. I opened my shoulder bag and cast a 'store' incantation on the soiled and sopping wet items. They were converted from physical form into magical energy and safely encoded in a crystal prism tucked inside my bag. I then used an illusion spell to mask my draconian features and knocked on the door after holding the broken storm door open.
I knocked again and no one answered. I gave up and tried the latch only to find out that the lock was a rounded golden knob. I tried to push it up and down, but it did not budge. I then realized that it rotated easily to the right. I stepped into a room that I could only describe as utterly shabby, even by commoner standards.
I saw a dissipated, snoring, middle aged human peasant blacked out on the unsightly and tattered brown lounger. She was plump with long dark hair streaked with gray; she was outfitted in a loose-fitting green and cream hued striped tunic and black trousers. I glanced around the chilly caravan home with floor to ceiling pine wood paneling and a speckled slate blue tiled floor that bowed in the middle. I saw dirty laundry scattered over furniture and on the less than spotless floor. I picked up an empty beverage container and smelled ale. I frowned and gave Marcie's mother a gentle poke in the shoulder.
"Ugh. Begone, child! I told you to never come back." She started back as her brown eyes took in the sight of a pale and tall stranger with a bandaged face, and long pale violet hair glare down at her with aggravated brick-red eyes. "Wh-who the devil are you, girl?"
I flashed a strained smile even as my eyes bored into this wretch. I bowed slightly due to my devotion to protocol. "Missus Margery Iverson, I presume? I am Mirio, an acquaintance of your daughter, Marcie."
Her face became contorted with fury and despair as she wobbled upright and seized my shoulders. She fumed, "I have no daughter, Miss Mirio. Her soul was corrupted by the unholy one. Only God can absolve her sins now."
My hands clenched into fists as I fumed, "You threw her out of this hov…home? You tossed out all of her clothing out of the front door in that bitingly cold rain and sent her away. How could you be so cruel?"
She raged as the alcohol on her breath assaulted my nose. "I'm cruel? I wasn't the one to turn down the sinner's path and damn her eternal soul! I even offered to arrange with our church to send her to conversion therapy! She said no, so I had no choice but to cast her out. Let her live with the Godless sinners if she wants to be that spiteful and selfish."
I still had no idea what nonsense she was spouting. I was reminded of a conversation with Marcie when she had kept me company in that hateful cell so many years ago. "Wait. You're not talking about her amorous affection for other maidens, are you? That's why you sent her away?"
"Of course that's why!" She collapsed back onto her cushioned seat as tears stung her eyes. "Judging by your hair color, I'd say you're one of them too. If you're her lover, just go be with her."
I took several deep breaths simply to contain my unquenchable ire that this woman would disown her own flesh and blood over her romantic preferences. I was a hair's breadth away from turning back into a dragon and incinerating this shack and its intolerable harpy of a resident with it. I took a step back from actually slaughtering her and seethed, "Where did she go?"
"The blue roofed Johansson barn. It's twelve miles south of here on the left." She drained another metal mug of ale and barked, "Now, go find her. Get the hell out of here and never come back!"
"I won't ever return, Iverson. Count yourself very fortunate if we never cross paths again, you insufferable, intolerant shipwreck of a malefactor." I wrenched the door open and strode out into the thunderous rainshower; I miserably reasoned that the horrible weather matched my bleak mood perfectly.
Despite being an intolerant, spiteful specimen of humanity, Missus Iverson was nothing if not honest. I alit at the barn a few minutes later, and instantly caught wind of Marcie's scent amidst the smell of old wood and hay bales. After taking my near human draconic form I stepped into the confined space of an abandoned stable heated by some sort of radiant device, and illuminated with a faintly hissing lantern mounted on a stubby cylindrical base. Marcie was wrapped up in a thick woolen blanket, yet she was still shivering from the cold.
Her eyes fluttered open as she looked at me with an expression of amazement. She squeaked out, "Mirio? I thought I had dreamed you up as a deluded fantasy."
Rather than replying, I ducked into the shadows as I heard rapidly approaching carts. In the near distance, several metal carts roared by with wailing inhuman sounds, and flashing red and blue lights ablaze. After they had departed up the road, I stepped into the light again and managed a sympathetic smirk as I reached out and patted her head with my black-scaled palm. "You are a knave, Marcie. But you are my knave."
She opened up the blanket and I immediately sat next to her. My head and side still ached insistently, but I knew she was my sole hope to return to my homeworld. She instinctively snuggled into my side and sniffled with a mixture of pain and relief to see a friendly face. I could only surmise that she hailed from a family of crybabies, based on my brief encounter with her mother. "Lady Mirio, th-thank you for saving me. I'm so sorry I ran off after you were knocked out."
I scrunched up my face into an annoyed expression as I rebuked her, "Do not apologize, foolish maiden. There was nothing you could have done to stop my capture anyway. I am more resourceful than you give me credit for, and I broke free of my captivity anyway. I was hit by crossbolts, but my hide was thick enough to spare me serious injury."
"Yo-you were shot by the police? It's all my fault," she whimpered. "I was up on that water tower to end my suffering. Still, I hopelessly prayed for you to come out of my stories and rescue me." She looked up at me with watery eyes, "I still can't believe that you did come. You came for a worthless sinner like me, twice."
"Do not think me so pure of heart." I sighed as I felt her cling to my side more insistently. "My goal is to return to my home realm, nothing more. You are welcome to join me as my retainer if you wish to serve one of noble blood."
Marcie shook her head as she giggled sweetly. "You'll always be my favorite creation. Your characteristics were always such a joy to write."
She continued, "Never change, Miss Mirio." She enthused as she wiped at her eyes, "You just want a friend because you're lonely, right? You can never be honest with yourself, can you?"
I protested a bit too vehemently, "I am not lonely!"
She blew her nose and shook her head in amusement of my flustered antics.
I decided to change the topic to conceal my embarrassment. "Marcie, I am aware of your attraction to other maidens. I do not consider that a sin, or even noteworthy."
"Oh…I…thank you, Mirio. I will never forget your kindness to me. Ev-even when I don't deserve it."
I airily proclaimed, "I will permit you to stand at my side as honorary kin. Do you wish to accept that peerless honor?"
I saw her face burn with shame as she seemed to wrestle with herself to come to a decision. Just as I was about to rescind my generous offer in annoyance, I was stunned to feel her chapped lips contact my scaled cheek. "I do, my lovely lady," she vowed. Without further ado she drifted off to sleep nestled against my body.
Long after she was asleep, I moodily stared up at the sound of percussive drumming of rain beating on the rafters and pondered my inexplicable fortune.