Pitta, patta, pitta, patta… the sound of small feet hitting the old stone spiral staircase. The patter became faster as did a young girl no older than eight.
The noise abruptly turned to silence. Not, because the child had reached her destination. She stood halfway up the tower, staring out of a huge window at the sky above, smile bright and white. Her interest of course, was not on the sky, rather, the giant reptiles who flew through it.
Reptiles with talons, scales and huge wings. Different coloured scales, patterns and body types. The girl took a deep breath before screaming up into the sky, “helloooooo!”
A couple of the huge creatures who flew nearby paused, some roaring in response causing laughter to fill the air before the girl returned to her quick pace, bare feet against cold stone. Despite her speed, she had no trouble pulling to a stop at the very top of the tower.
One of the reptiles flew towards the girl, a blue one with silver markings, slowing as it reached the tower; a soft light covered it, and threatening talons became soft hands, scales became delicate skin and long shiny blonde hair, her feet touched the ground and her hands reached for the girl, throwing her into the air with ease.
“What are you doing all the way up here little miss trouble?” light blue eyes met violet.
“I want to fly too, mommy,” the girl smiled as her feet touched the ground.
“Not yet darling, you’re still young,” the woman moved a lock of purple hair away from the girl’s face, but it fell straight back into place.
“But mommy, I’m ready,” a soft light surrounded her. Replacing the girl with a smaller version of the reptiles. She spun around her mother. For an instant, she was no more than a blur of purple and gold, then the light returned along with the small girl.
“I know Sweetheart,” she giggled, “just another six months and we’ll start your lessons, okay?”
“You promise mommy?” she balanced on the back of her feet, wobbling back and forth.
“Of course, Sweetheart.”
The girl nodded, content with the response, already heading back down the stairs, maintaining a flight like speed as her laugh echoed off the old stone walls.
Ten years later, Itazu still clung to that memory, one of few clear memories of her mother, most were short, blurry or both. While her mind was stuck in the clouds her hands moved heavy books around, re-organizing those left carelessly out of place by customers who would be drawn by colourful covers or enticing titles.
The soft sound of a bell, followed by that of the street and finally soft steps got Itazu to turn her head, abandoning the pile of books to face the customer with a smile.
A tall man, with well-kept brown hair and green eyes.
“Father,” her smile became more genuine as she skipped over, hugging the man, “what are you doing here?”
The man smiled, pulling a small pouch from his oversized pocket. He wore a suit, boring and black, yet the personalized pockets were never absent from anything he wore, “I bought you some pocket money.”
“I have a job…” Itazu frowned as she grabbed the pouch, “how long will you be gone this time?”
“I’m not sure, the king has requested I spend a couple of days at the castle, we’ve made no progress with Errad’s historical centre. And who knows what else will show up,” his hand stroked her cheek as he moved some of the purple hair behind her ear, “you take care, okay Precious?”
“Of course, father, you too.” She eyed the glass door, “I’m guessing you did not bring a guard with you?”
He chuckled, “the day you agree to take on a better paying job, I’ll have one at all times.”
Itazu snorted, “you know I have no interest in that line of work.”
“But you would be so good at it my precious.”
“Perhaps one day, Father,” she grabbed an odd book of a table, “but today, I live in peace. Or at least I would if I weren’t constantly worrying about the king’s advisor being assassinated.”
“I’ll be sure to find a guard I like soon,” a quick hug, “I’ll keep in touch.”
The man gave a polite nod before the soft bell rang and the sound of the street leaked in, people talking, walking, horses galloping, it was a big city and prime hour. The man was gone before the girl could wave goodbye, consumed by the crowd.
Itazu stood watching the busy city for a minute. Before returning to the front desk, trying to recall what she had been doing before her father appeared, when she could not recall she took a seat and opened the book she held.
She made it through a whole chapter before, the soft bell rang once more; she closed the book, an old piece of parchment saving her spot for later.
The person entering was an unusual looking man, young, a bit older than Itazu but not by much. He was skinny, tall, or perhaps he was not tall, perhaps it was his way of holding himself, back straight, full of pride. He was well dressed, he had black tight-fitting trousers without a single crease in them, same went for his shirt, black checked, tucked into his trousers.
He had white hair, that lay flat brushed back from all directions. She smiled, but he took no notice walking straight past her and to the nearby bookshelf.
This was not unusual, so Itazu opened the book once more while keeping an eye on him in case he needed assistance.
Eventually, the man turned to look at her, she in turn closed the book, smiling, “may I help you with anything?”
The man nodded, “I have managed to locate these texts that interest me and would like to be informed if you have anything else covering similar material?”
He held up the books, ‘How Dragons Live’, ‘The end of Dragon-Kind’ and ‘Reign of the Reptilians’.
“Sooo, by material, we mean dragons?” she smiled at her own joke.
“Is there a problem with that?” he eyed her top to bottom.
“No,” she bit her lip, “no problem at all, we have one other book of interest, ‘Dragons of Culture’, the title is pretty self-explanatory, it’s a short book of only a hundred pages but is very well researched with many reliable sources.”
The man looked away, “good, I’ll take all four.”
Itazu quickly moved to one of many bookshelves, reaching up to a taller shelf and not even looking as she plucked out the correct book, heading back to the counter and adding it to the pile.
Itazu counted quickly and told the man the price. He handed over the coins, they made a small clinking noise as they jumped off Itazu’s claws and into her palm. She paid no notice dropping them straight into the till.
“Thank you for your visit and I hope you have a nice day,” Itazu said with a monotone sweetness to her voice.
The man stood still for a moment, then walked towards the door, slowly, bag in hand, but before exiting, he stopped. He didn’t move, nor say anything.
Itazu frowned, she opened her mouth to ask if there was a problem but then the bell rang and a short woman leaning on a wooden staff walked in, the man picked up the pace and left.
“Hello mam, hope we can help you today.”
Itazu bid the books farewell, as she pulled down the heavy metal gate, securing the chains and double checking the lock. It was the weekend and she wouldn’t be back for a couple of days.
The street was crowded. It wasn’t quite night yet, however the tall buildings, especially the palace, blocked the sun out. Because of this the streetlights were already shining brightly, floating orbs of green, blue, red and orange above every door.
Itazu made her way through the crowd unnoticed. Making her way into the lesser known alleys that were easy to get lost in but also great shortcuts.
In these alleys, there was little room for streetlights. Instead light leaked in from the busier parts of the city and through the odd windows.
The sound of her steps echoed throughout the entire alley. And it was because of these echoes that Itazu took longer than usual to realize she wasn’t alone. She paused to adjust her bag and a second later the footsteps stopped too.
She was being followed. Or was it no more than a coincidence? Itazu decided to offer up the benefit of the doubt, moving away from the alleys, the footsteps followed.
She headed into a supermarket that would remain open for many more hours. The fairy at the front desk smiled brightly, “hellooooo,” the sweet voice got a smile out of the teen.
“Hi.” Itazu moved past several Isles, ‘Vampires’, ‘Fairy’, ‘Babies’ until she reached ‘Treats’ and picked up some chocolate.
She heard the door open and eyed the entrance, she recognized the white hair. She paid for her chocolate, the man stood right behind her, waiting to pay.
Itazu exited the store and power walked back into an alley, footsteps followed her.
Benefit of the doubt revoked.
She made her way deeper into the alley. Leading her supposed stalker further and further away from the well-lit city centre. Her hands, that were holding the straps of her bag, were becoming hot, not with sweat or nerves, but with magic. She was heating her hands up, preparing her best weapon.
Once she was in deep enough, she paused. The footsteps behind her paused. She turned around, ready to confront the man. But as she opened her mouth, a thud from the alley to her right interrupted.
A boy of her age lay flat on the ground, a broken piece of pavement at his feet. She turned back to her stalker but saw him walk away in the opposite direction.
Itazu moved over to the boy, “you okay?”
“Fine,” he groaned, sitting up and rubbing his knees.
Itazu held out a hand, he took it, allowing her to pull him up. The dark alley had her squinting. The boys’ only visible traits were him being an inch taller than her, having blond hair and skin slightly more tan than the usual city folk.
“You look lost.”
The boy nodded, “I thought the alleys would be faster but,” he shrugged, “guess I was wrong.”
“Where are you trying to get to?”
“The train station.”
“You’re heading in the wrong direction,” Itazu smiled, “I’m heading that way, you can come with me.”
The boy’s shoulders slumped, “thanks, name’s Kai.”
“Itazo?” he tried to pronounce the name.
“Call me Taz, everyone does.”
They left the alley, and the train station came into view. A familiar red circular sign with a golden crown in its centre, the name of the station below it.
“Here we are.”
“Oh,” the boy slowed his pace, “I was so close…” he mumbled.
She smiled, “you would have found it eventually.”
“Probably,” he eyed the map, “I’m heading North.”
“Oh, me too.” She led the way onto the station, “where you from?”
“That sounds nice,” she showed the worker her ticket, Kai did the same and they got on, sitting facing each other.
The train was well lit, allowing Itazu to finally get a proper look at the boy.
He had bright blue eyes, that he struggled to keep open with matching blue circles underneath.
“Long day of travel?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” he didn’t look at her, instead his eyes were on the door, watching the passengers pile on. Relaxing once the doors closed and turning his attention back to her, “so, Taz, you live here?”
The train began to move.
“On the outskirts, I come into the city every day for work.”
“Not really, the train is very convenient, and I have a good job. Book store.”
“Ah, sounds boring.”
“Not if you enjoy a good long book.”
“Especially the long part I take it?” he smiled, “I wish I could enjoy reading,” he shrugged, “but it never drew me in.”
“A real pity, you’re missing out.” She shrugged, “so… what brings you to these parts?”
“Family,” he frowned, “distant family.”
“Must be nice to visit a new place, I don’t get out much.”
By now the tall buildings had been traded in for tall trees. Which were now becoming further and further apart, revealing wide fields filled with animals, crops and the small cottages of families and farmers.
“Well, you should sometime, the cities nice and all but… you never seem to get the sun around these parts.”
“True,” the sky was dark, the moon had begun to rise but soon it would be covered by clouds, “well, this is my stop.”
Kai stood up. Itazu picked up her bag, noticing he had none.
“Well, it was nice meeting you,” she held out her hand.
The boy shook it, “same, maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
“Maybe,” she doubted it.
And with that, they took their separate paths.
It was a short walk through the fields, waving to the occasional friend of her father, stroking one of the friendlier horses. And finally reaching her home. From outside, it was no more than a small cottage, only a room or two at most.
Itazu knew better. She put the keys in the lock and entered into the wide living area and kitchen combined. At the back of the room was the spiral staircase that led underground.
Usually that is where Itazu would head, downstairs, into her own room. Today, her father was out, and she decided instead to enjoy the spacious living area. Moving over to the kitchen, she grabbed a plate placing it on the island before opening the cabinet to see what there was.
She could not help but frown as she realized, that despite her father giving her money, and having entered a supermarket, she had not bought any food.
Fortunately, there were some leftover vegetables and some rice she could cook.
She filled a pot with cold water before placing it on the stove.
She did not however turn the stove on, instead placed her palm on the side of the pot until the water bubbled and steam covered her face.
She pulled her book out of her bag and leaned on the counter, one hand on the pot, maintaining the temperature while the other held the book.
A short time later she sat at the table with the bland tasting food; her book perched up in front of her as she ate. She was so engulfed in the words, the story, the characters, that she was no longer in her living room, at least, until she heard something near the door.
She turned, expecting to see her coat on the ground or the cat coming home. The cat though, had died of old age a couple of months prior and her coat was thrown carelessly on the sofa.
Instead, the origin of the sound had been a letter, sitting innocently on the floor where it had landed. Itazu moved slowly, closing her book and placing her plate in the sink. It was late, and there was definitely no mail service at this hour. It could be something urgent, something for her father but they would have knocked.
Itazu carefully moved towards the door, passing the window with tightly pulled curtains, she pulled out her key making sure the door was locked. It was. Feeling a bit more secure, she peeked outside the window though the curtains, but it was dark, and there was nothing to see.
Finally, she picked up the letter and placed it on top of her book. There was no name or address. She frowned, opening the letter with care. She moved the candle closer.
It was handwritten, very neat, with rounded edges, but her appreciation for good calligraphy was cut short when the first sentence alone, caused Itazu’s heart to miss a beat.
Two words, one harmless, but the second, it caused Itazu to drop the letter and move away as if it had somehow burnt her. Something that was very much impossible and not only because paper does not hold heat well.
She had spent the longer half of her life, doing everything to hide what she was, never transforming outside of the comfort of her own home, keeping her powers to a minimum, even holding back smiles and handshakes to hide her claws and fangs.
Yes, the purple eyes and split pupil gave away she was not human, the dark violet hair wasn’t helpful, but she could be any other magical species.
Her eyes shut tightly, and she took deep breaths to relax. What had she done? What had given her away? Nothing should allow someone to draw such an exact conclusion.
She returned to the table and grabbed the letter, uncertain if she even wanted to read further, but despite feeling ill, she needed to know.
“First of all, I know near to nothing about you. About why you pretend to be that which you are not or how you get people to actually believe this. One thing is certain, you look young, probably too young to fully remember what happened to your kind.
“But I strongly believe you deserve to know. Meet me. And I can tell you everything.
“I have left a train ticket in the envelope, and if you take line 3, last stop, I will find you.”
Itazu took a deep breath and turned the letter over, confirming there was nothing more to read before setting it down on the table. She began tapping her claws on said table nervously, who was this person? She eyed the envelope before pulling out the ticket, turning it over in her hand.
She sat there, first she processed what she had read, then she reread the letter another three times, still, it was the second word that stuck out to her. She closed her eyes and placed her hand on the letter, suddenly it was gone. Only the train ticket and a pile of ash remained.
She couldn’t afford anyone seeing this.
Itazu paced for several minutes. Then she stopped and glared at the ticket. It seemed unfazed and continued to remind her that some stranger, somewhere, knew her biggest secret.
She considered burning the ticket too. Forget this whole thing, stick to the status quo and hope this stranger had no intent of revealing there was at least one dragon still around. But then her mind wondered, back to the tower, to her mother. And she felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time.
She considered contacting her father, but it could take days and he had more important stuff to do.
Itazu knew this could be a trap, as she grabbed the ticket and moved downstairs. She knew strangers could not be trusted as she walked across the hall and opened the door. She knew taking a train to an unknown location was idiotic at the least as she packed a bag, near suicidal at the worst, she changed into a more casual outfit. She knew, that if she did not go, she was risking this person revealing her identity and changing her life forever, so she left.
Itazu reached the train station, her backpack felt heavy despite it mostly containing clothes. In fact, every part of her felt like it was pulling her down, her feet, her arms, her eyelids, it was late, that didn’t help.
She stepped up onto the platform, grateful for the big city and its short wait times twenty-four seven.
But the train took a back seat in her mind at the sight of a familiar face. Standing near the front desk, muscles tense, mouth shut tight, eyes fixed on the ground, leaning against the wall.
His eyes darted up, wide, “Taz.” A quick breath, “what are you doing here?”
She smiled, “catching a train, you?”
Kai glanced at the information desk, “I left my bag on the train.”
“A slight inconvenience,” he waved his hand, “seems like I’ll be here for a while though, are you in a hurry or could I offer you a quick coffee?”
The trains whistled and hurried past, she wasn’t sure what to say, the letter had never specified a time or date, “I should probably go.”
“You sure? I’d really appreciate the company.”
Itazu was torn. On one hand, the extra time before her departure may be enough to finish convincing herself of what a bad idea this was, on the other. Was that bad? “A quick one.”
Kai grinned, his fangs clear. Itazu kept her lips tight as she smiled back. The station’s café, despite the time, was far from empty.
A fairy was manning the counter. Her wings moved like those of a dragonfly, smiling sweetly at everybody, serving coffees that smelt almost magical. Almost, all things magic had to be clearly marked, along with dairy and nuts.
Although if we were less literal, they had their own magic, people came in as zombies and left practically bouncing. If credit belonged to the hot beverages or the bubbly personalities of the fairies, was anybody’s guess.
Itazu placed her rucksack on a chair at an empty table, opening it’s front pocket and storing her ticket.
“What can I get you then?”
“Rooibos and milk, please.”
The boy nodded, heading towards the counter while Itazu sat.
Most people at these hours wore work clothes, many with luminescent affects, builders, officers, and cleaners. Twenty-four seven jobs.
Kai made the order and the two mugs appeared on a small tray.
“Careful they’re hot,” the Fairy sang.
“I’ll be careful,” Kai reassured with a smile, grabbing a mug in each hand, returning to the table.
“Cafés in this city are really busy, you guys sure love your hot beverages.”
Itazu took her mug, “so, you say you’re visiting family?”
Kai sipped at his coffee, “yeah.”
“May I ask who? I might know them?”
Eying his coffee, “I doubt you would, they’re kind of loners.”
“Well,” she sipped her tea, “try me.”
“Gi, that’s the family name.”
Itazu frowned, “Gi?” it rang a bell.
“I’m just going to go get—» and as he stood, he knocked his cup over. Itazu nearly knocked the chair over in her haste to stand, regretting the choice of a white shirt.
“I’m so sorry, I’ll go get tissues,” Kai was looking around frantically.
“It’s fine,” Itazu raised her hands, “I’ll be right back.”
She moved between the tables into the bathroom. There she applied her usual cleaning technique, abusing the fireproof fabric by literally burning away the filth. A couple of minutes later she exited the bathroom.
“I’m so sorry,” Kai sat, tissues in hand, biting at his claws.
“Its fine,” she waved her hands, “could happen to anyone. I should leave thought,” she gestured towards the train that had just arrived, drinking the remaining of her still steaming tea in one gulp.
Kai nodded “thank you so much for the company, I do wish this encounter had gone smoother.”
Itazu gave a small laugh, “you made an amazing first impression, this was just to make up for it.”
Kai sighed, “I fell flat on my face.”
“Yeah, but it was certainly memorable.”
Kai smiled, “guess every cloud has a silver lining.”
Itazu held out a hand, Kai shook it, “I hope to see you again.”
“You never know,” she waved goodbye, and headed towards the gate, gate three, she showed her ticket.
“Gate four,” he pointed after a glance at the ticket.
Itazu looked down at the ticket, nodding and moving onto the other train.
Once the train began to move, the fields became tall buildings and large crowds. A little longer and there were rivers, then mountains, and finally darkness. The late hour, the rocking of the train and the smell of soot bought with it a light slumber.