First Chapters Dear Dragon 

CHAPTER ONE

 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.”

“You better.”

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.”

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

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.”

“Itazu.”

“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?”

“Down south.”

“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.”

“Sounds tiring.”

“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.

Dear Dragon,

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.

Curiosity.

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.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

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.

“Kai?”

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.”

“Ah, sorry.”

“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.

 

First Chapters Rumoured Resurgence 

Chapter I: Rumours

Elizabeth left the local stables with the two large bags, ready to stock up on enough fruit and vegetables to feed the entire castle. The entire castle with it’s four inhabitants.
The streets were busy, as was normal for this time of day, but Elizabeth found it wasn’t worth waking up at four in the morning to get here before the crowd.
She reached the fruit store. It was the fourth one this month, not content with the previous three. She held a piece of paper with her order between two fingers.
As the lady took note and weighed the peppers, the dreaded small talk began. “So, have you heard the rumours?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath, her green eyes shut for a moment as she bit her thin lips. “Yes. I believe I have.”
“Dragons, alive, can you believe it?”
Elizabeth nodded, her skinny fingers made their way through her short black hair. “Yes.”
“The rumours are they could be very dangerous, that they’ve infiltrated the palace? Apparently, they plan to kill the king.”
“They’ve infiltrated… kill the king?” Elizabeth looked to the ground then back up at the middle aged woman who smiled as she did her job. “These rumours sound awfully dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” The woman smiled, it was clear gossip and rumours were the highlight of her day. “Those creatures are dangerous!”
“They’re magical creatures, just like any other. Probably terrified.”
“Terrified?” The lady handed over a bag of fruit. “Those creatures are huge and strong.”
“I heard a rumour, they were just children, the remaining dragons.”
“Hm.” The woman was now throwing the numbers into her machine, waiting for the total to come up. “They could be.”
“There’s very few of them left, something must have happened.” She handed over the coins.
“Well,” she handed her the last of the fruit along with the receipt, “agree to disagree.”
Though the woman smiled and waved goodbye. Elizabeth did little more than hold back a glare. Agree to disagree was a nice philosophy, but not when the rumours that spread were causing dangerous mindsets that put innocent people in danger. There was nothing there for Elizabeth to agree with.

 

Elizabeth left the local stables with the two large bags, ready to stock up on enough fruit and vegetables to feed the entire castle. The entire castle with it’s four inhabitants.
The streets were busy, as was normal for this time of day, but Elizabeth found it wasn’t worth waking up at four in the morning to get here before the crowd.
She reached the fruit store. It was the fourth one this month, not content with the previous three. She held a piece of paper with her order between two fingers.
As the lady took note and weighed the peppers, the dreaded small talk began. “So, have you heard the rumours?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath, her green eyes shut for a moment as she bit her thin lips. “Yes. I believe I have.”
“Dragons, alive, can you believe it?”
Elizabeth nodded, her skinny fingers made their way through her short black hair. “Yes.”
“The rumours are they could be very dangerous, that they’ve infiltrated the palace? Apparently, they plan to kill the king.”
“They’ve infiltrated… kill the king?” Elizabeth looked to the ground then back up at the middle aged woman who smiled as she did her job. “These rumours sound awfully dangerous.”
“Dangerous?” The woman smiled, it was clear gossip and rumours were the highlight of her day. “Those creatures are dangerous!”
“They’re magical creatures, just like any other. Probably terrified.”
“Terrified?” The lady handed over a bag of fruit. “Those creatures are huge and strong.”
“I heard a rumour, they were just children, the remaining dragons.”
“Hm.” The woman was now throwing the numbers into her machine, waiting for the total to come up. “They could be.”
“There’s very few of them left, something must have happened.” She handed over the coins.
“Well,” she handed her the last of the fruit along with the receipt, “agree to disagree.”
Though the woman smiled and waved goodbye. Elizabeth did little more than hold back a glare. Agree to disagree was a nice philosophy, but not when the rumours that spread were causing dangerous mindsets that put innocent people in danger. There was nothing there for Elizabeth to agree with.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the kingdom many hours travel inside, inside a two story building in the royal garden, close to the palace, it was dinner time. A long dining table was laid and covered in food. Along it sat the remaining dragons in their ‘human form’, as most revered to it. Despite the presence of food there was a lack of eating.
Sarah, the youngest at ten years old, was braiding her red hair, pretending like she hadn’t seen the plate in front of her. She still had pijamas on, her teachers had made a fuss but what could you expect when classes were held just bellow her bedroom? She had golden skin that according to her teachers did not look good with the yellow pyjamas, just as the pink pyjamas did not match her red hair. They’d soon learn Sarah wore what she wanted when she wanted and they’d be best keeping their comments to themselves, else they encourage her.
Her older brother, Danny age fourteen, sat facing her, scrunching his nose up at the vegetables one of the caretakers had thrown on his plate. His tawny coloured hair was always a mess but the past two months has been worse than usual. Soon he’d require an adults help to untangle it or a hair cut. His skin was already paler than most of the kids and it was becoming paler as it lost his tan. Back in Aerradra the sun was everywhere at all times, but here in Oppida, the kingdom’s capital, the sun remained hidden by the tall buildings and was not as warm.
Violet, the second youngest, was eating, but at a pace that would lead anybody to believe she planned to be there all night. She stopped after a little while to imitate Sarah, braiding her black hair before stopping and going back to her food for another few minutes. Stop and go. Her tawny skin was also becoming paler at the lack of sun. Kai wondered if they’d need to start taking vitamins soon.
Fred, the tallest of the children, was spinning the fork in his lean fingers with disinterest. He had umber coloured skin that made his white almost silver hair pop. Said silver hair reached his shoulders, he’d been growing it out for years now having fallen in love with long hair after seeing a picture in a book. Elizabeth and Emily had been happy to let him grow it out. May had been indifferent. However the new caretakers kept scolding him. He had taken it as a challenge but the older kids could see the comments affecting him at times.
Melany was the only one who ate normally, although she was never a great eater, eating was just something she had to do before getting back to her books. She too had umber skin that caused her blonde hair to pop. Her blonde hair contained pink highlights that she’d been criticised for when arriving at the new home. “It is not appropriate to have such colours while one is inhabiting the palace,” they’d said to her. Proving their ignorance as dragons are colourful creature not only in their four legged scaled form but also in their human form. Often their colours showed through their hair and their eyes. Melany had no intention to bleach her hair just to make some boring palace workers with nothing better to do than gossip feel better.
Zack, who sat next to his twin brother Kai, was not concentrated on his own plate. Instead he stared at the one across. Zack and Kai shared their brown skin and blond hair, they shared their height and head shape, and their traumatic childhood. However they were easily differentiable, Kai was more muscular where Zack was skinnier. Kai kept his hair short while Zack’s was close to covering his eyes. Kai had bright blue eyes while Zack’s were green, matching their scales when transformed.
Their personalities too were different, however their concerns were the same, the way they dealt with said concerns was once again different.
Zack stared at Itazu who once had a grand appetite, up until she’d been captured by a hunter along with Kai. She hadn’t been the same since.
Kai didn’t know if it was the near-death experience or the fact they found her dead mother’s head mounted on a wall. As though dragons were no more than ornaments with their colourful scales and large horns.
Itazu’s purple eyes were half closed and watched the food willing it to disappear. Zack was wishing for the same although with a different intended route. Itazu was only a little shorter than Zack and Kai, but with her back hunched she looked even shorter. Her hair that was usually curled into perfect little locks was looking a bit less curly and a bit more wavy. She had beige skin and dark purple hair. Of all the dragons she stuck out the most, which wasn’t good considering she was one of the best at getting into trouble. She was also the only one of the dragons raised separately. Believing herself the last dragon until Kai found her.
Kai elbowed his twin, his own eyes moving towards Zack’s food. Zack bit his lip, but nodded, taking a bite. Itazu pushed the plate away, she whispered something nobody heard, most likely excusing herself before heading up to her room.
She was the first, but the others didn’t take long to follow.
“It’s been a month,” Zack informed as they walked up the stairs.
Kai nodded, it had. Yet it felt like yesterday. One month ago Kai, Zack and Itazu had left the safety of Aerradra for no good reason. Kai and Itazu had been captured by a hunter, a person who had no problem killing magical creatures to sell for parts. The experience had been the most terrifying thing Kai had ever experienced, being chained up in a cell not knowing whether they’d make it out alive or not. They’d escaped, but a few weeks later Itazu had gone back and ended the life of the man who hurt them. The man who killed her mother. Now they lived in the palace garden under the protection of the king. “I’ll talk to her,” Kai promised.
At the top of the stairs, there were banisters from which they could see the dining table with the kids bellow, as well as the sofas, some bookshelves and some fireplaces on either side of the stairs. The building was large, nowhere near as large as the castle from which they came, but it was certainly big enough for the eight of them. Against the wall were identical doors, one after another, they led into mostly identical rooms. There hadn’t been much time to personalise them yet.
The building was not meant for a bunch of young dragons. It was meant for the king’s closest friends and family who came to visit from far of lands and needed a place to stay for long visits. But for the past month it had been the home to dragon kind. A secret that was kept only through the threat of losing one’s job if the rumours got out and could be tracked to any specific palace employee.
Zack moved over to his own door, while Kai moved past it, knocking on another.
“Come in.” He heard the soft tired voice.
He entered, closing the door behind him. “Hey Taz.”
She looked up from where she was sitting on the window sill. “Hey Kai.”
He walked over, sitting down next to her. “Good views?” he asked peering out at the palace gardens.
The view wasn’t much different to his own room. Long reaching grass fields, the palace that towered over them. In the distance the flowerbeds that stood before the palace walls, the forest behind the walls and the small train station.
Every morning a cargo train came in to deliver supplies for the palace. Once a week they would empty the castle dungeons into a more secure train to head to a secure location, usually one of the many prisons the kingdom had. You usually didn’t get into the palace dungeon for a minor crime after all. Unless you were of political importance.
“What do you want?”
Kai smiled. Itazu was always to the point, it’s something they had in common. “You’re not eating well.”
She nodded.
“Zack’s beginning to worry, I can’t keep reassuring him.”
“I’ll try.”
Kai frowned. “Does your father know?”
“The specifics? No,” Itazu rolled her eyes, “he’s already nervous enough about the whole ordeal.”
“I’ve barely seen him, I thought he’d be all over you after…”
“He’s been busy,” she explained, “with us and all…”
“Of course.” Kai nodded.
“I will eat more.” She looked at Kai. “I promise.”
“I’m… I’m not worried about that,” he admitted, “I’m worried about you. I thought being back in Oppida would help, you seemed so desperate to get back here.”
“Not here, not just the city as a whole,” she pointed out. “I wanted to be home, not locked behind stone walls in just another kind of castle,” she opened the window. “This isn’t…”
Kai nodded.
“I know I messed up, all of this is my fault and—”
Kai grabbed her arm. “Hey.”
She closed her mouth and took a deep breath, “it’s true.” They argued over this often. Itazu blamed herself for their capture, she wasn’t entirely wrong, it had been her who convinced Zack to leave Aerradra and Kai to follow behind. But unannounced to Itazu, she wasn’t the only one blaming herself, May too had put all the blame on Itazu at the time, going so far as to threaten her life while she was unconscious. Kai had protected her, threatening May so she’d save Itazu.
“It’s not that simple, you tried your best. Things were complicated. Nobody who didn’t deserve it got hurt, so, no harm done.” The hunter deserved it as far as Kai was concerned, and although their living situations had changed, they were alive, they were safe and they were together.
Itazu smiled. “It’s not that simple.”
Kai ignored the argument, pulling her into a hug. “You know you can talk to me, right?”
Itazu nodded. “How’s Zack handling all of this anyway?”
“Good, we have coffee every evening, you should join.”
She nodded, every evening they knocked on her door and invited her down. She was running out of excuses. “Maybe.”
“You should join.”
She eyed him.
“Join us.”
“Is that an order? Or a threat?”
“Depends, will either of those make you come?”
She smiled. “What do you think?”
“I think last time you failed to follow my orders we both ended up in trouble so, you should have learnt your lesson.”
Itazu laughed. “Okay, so if I go for coffee we’re even?”
“An arrow pierced my shoulder and I was locked up in a cage…” he shrugged. “Yeah, a coffee should do.”
She laughed. “Fine. I can’t turn down a deal that good or I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter.” Itazu’s father was the right hand man to the king, good with negotiations and other political matters.

 

That evening, when they walked down the stairs for coffee, they were all three surprised to find Henry, Itazu’s father, standing in the living area.
“Father.” Itazu jumped down the stairs and hugged him.
“Hello Precious.” He smiled, hugging her back, before pulling away. He had papers in his hands. Henry had dark brown hair that needed a bit of a cut, his suit was a little creased, yet he still looked mostly put together. He wasn’t very tall, taller than Itazu but shorter than Kai or Elizabeth. However the way he held himself most of the time, his expression and his way of dressing made him look taller.
“I was just seeking you out. I require we… um…” the smile was gone, he glanced at Kai and Zack, “could we talk in private?”
Itazu looked back at her friends, Kai nodded.
“Okay. I’ll see you two later.”
Zack looked a little disappointed. “Yeah. Sure. Later.”

 

Itazu followed her father out of the building, through the garden, the garden was huge and divided into many sections. There were the far off flowerbeds with benches and tress closest to the palace walls. There were fields closed off and grass kept short for guards to train in. There were the many paths through which nobles walks and discussed important matters. The two story home the last dragons were kept in used to be the guest house for visitors from far off lands, it was considered polite to offer them the privacy of remaining outside the palace.
It suited the dragons though, it meant the children could exit their home and instead being inside the palace with all the expected formalities they were in a field of grass they could freely run through.
Itazu followed Henry into the palace, he wasn’t looking at her, he was reading over some documents. Itazu felt out of place in the palace halls.
She was the only person not in uniform or at least in a suit. With extravagant paintings, and expensive rugs, stained glass windows, the palace was a place of luxury Itazu had no interest in. They reached Henry’s private office, once inside he placed the documents in a drawer, pouring some water into mugs and handing them to his daughter.
She placed her palms around them to boil the water with her powers. “So, you finally found some time for me?” It could have been an accusation, but her tone was soft and genuine.
“Kind of,” he sighed, sipping at the newly brewed breakfast tea.
“What’s on your mind?”
“I finally got the papers in order. I must inquire, do you find yourself comfortable in your new home?”
“It’s not uncomfortable.”
He nodded. “Well, the paperwork is all in order, your friends are all in the system, and under state protection. All of you, all dragons are under state protection.” He handed her some documents.
“I don’t know what that means.” Itazu shook her head as she accepted the papers.
“It means, at least for now, that they’re under the custody of the king. That allows us to keep you all here in the palace. Otherwise we’d be seeking out foster homes, however we do not consider it productive to separate any of them, seeing as they have grown up together and, related or not, are similar to a family.”
“They are family.” Itazu said looking down at the documents. “All the kids are under the king’s custody?”
“Yes, all of you. I of course have shared custody of you.”
“I think you’ll find I’m an adult,” Itazu looked up, she raised her chin and crossed her arms.
“I think, you’ll find dragons don’t have an exact age at which they are considered legal adults. Either way, it changes nothing, it’s just a short-term legal solution to a long-term problem.”
“Okay.” She leaned back in her seat, looking at the names, photos and details of her friends, her own file the only one with parental information. “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about? Why in private?”
“I thought it was a good ice breaker.”
“And the freezing cold-water underneath that could drown me?”
“The hunter… I believe that is how you refered to him?”
She nodded.
“He’s been sorted, the house re-appropriated and emptied. We are identifying the deceased… and… I…” he paused, he sat back. “Next week, I plan to hold a small funeral for your mother.”
Itazu nodded slowly, she could see her father’s hands shaking, the tears in the corner of his eyes that he was trying to hold back for her sake.
“I sent a letter to Elizabeth… there’s this flower bed in the palace garden, she used to like sitting there when her job was too much for her… I’d like to hold the burial there…” He had to pause to take a deep breath.
Itazu moved to grab one of his hands, she gave it a squeeze and Henry felt the tears running down his face as he took yet another deep breath.
“I’m sorry Precious.” He moved his free hand to wipe the tears away. “I don’t know if it’s what she would have wanted… maybe it should be in her home town or—”
“I’m sure she’d be fine with whatever makes you feel best.”
Henry nearly choked at that.
Itazu was out of her seat, holding both his hands now.
“You’ll assist, right?”
“Of course.” She hugged him. “It’s my mum’s funeral.”
“I know, of course.” He held her. “I’m so sorry you had to… you had to find her… you had to…”
“Father.” She squeezed his hands, looking up at him. “None of this was your fault.”
His shoulder sagged as he shook his head. “I love you Precious.”
“I love you too Father.”
“I’m sorry I’ve been so busy, but I promise this is moving forward, just hold in there a little longer.”
Itazu nodded, knowing that it was her father who clearly needed to hold in there.

 

Chapter II: The Funeral

The sun shone bright, not a cloud in the sky. The grass was green and freshly cut, it left a fresh clean smell in the air. The flowers still had plenty of colour left in them despite autumn inching ever closer. The day was perfect for a picnic or outing.
A small crowd stood in the palace garden, just before the flowerbeds. Seven people. All dressed in black.
Henry stood in front of the casket, words flowed from his mouth with the same amount of grace as when he gave a speech. He wore a suit, nothing new there. The words were about Charlotte, but he said nothing Itazu didn’t already know, the way he spoke was so politically correct, the use of words so formal, Itazu wondered if he even knew what he was saying.
Itazu wondered if perhaps he was on auto-mode, talking the way he always did while at work, so as to not have to acknowledge what was actually going on.
Itazu’s eyes moved past her father and to the interior of the open casket. Her mother’s head was visible, eyes closed, her blueish green scales shone in the sunlight just like they had when she was alive. Blankets were spread out across the casket in such a way, it looked like there may be a body beneath them.
There wasn’t.
Itazu knew as much. She’d found the mounted head at the hunter’s home. Her mother had been hunted like some kind of an animal, her and a hundred others. She’d been stuffed and hung on a wall like she was some kind of decoration. Seeing her mother’s head had triggered something in Itazu. She killed a man.
A despicable man who’s death bought Itazu no regrets.
Kai’s hand squeezed her shoulder. He was dressed in black jeans and a shirt, the best he could do on such short notice. He’d never known Charlotte, but Itazu had requested his presence.
He stood on her right, Zack on her left. She appreciated the support.
Once Henry stepped down, Elizabeth stood up. Itazu had learnt a lot about her mother from the woman, her words were not so formal as her father’s, but more honest and true to life. “Charlotte, was a mess,” she smiled, “I first met her in the throne room, she didn’t know how to bow or talk to the king… She broke protocol like… a lot. I don’t know how she kept out of trouble; well, she did get into a lot of trouble.” Elizabeth was looking at Henry.
He rolled his eyes.
“But her intentions were always good. She wore her heart on her sleeve, she made an effort to help everyone she could. She made an effort to learn and improve and do the things she needed to. I hated dragons.” She gave an apologetic look to the kids. “But she proved to me that was unreasonable. She proved that to a lot of people. I don’t think she gets enough credit for everything she did for her people and this kingdom,” Elizabeth stood still.
“Elizabeth.” Henry held out a hand, helping her down from the podium. “That was lovely.”
“I only said what came to mind.”
Emily was next. “Charlotte,” Emily took a deep breath, “there are a million things I wish I could thank you for. You stood up for what you thought was right. You introduced me to my wife. You left a beautiful young woman behind.” She smiled to Itazu who blushed and looked down. “You… you deserved to see your daughter grow up. I know you’d of been proud of her.” Itazu was not so sure of that last part. She didn’t regret her actions, but would her mother have approved? She remembered the mounted dragons’ heads, the knife coming towards her as the hunter tried to kill her and the dead body on the floor when she chose fight not flight.
Henry nodded politely to Emily as she came down. He turned to his daughter. “Would you like to say some words, Precious?”
Itazu shook her head, Kai squeezed her shoulder.
Henry nodded. “That’s fine,” he reassured, looking up at Rhombus.
The large man, with grey hair and wide shoulders, looked only five or so years older than Henry, but he was Charlotte’s father, Itazu’s grandfather. He was also a traitor.
But today, his eyes were full of tears as he shook his head. Itazu pressed her head against Kai, trying not to show her relief. She wasn’t sure why her grandfather was there. He who sold the maps to the escape tunnels, who sold his people and let his own daughter die. He who only recently discovered his only granddaughter was alive and seemed not to care.
The casket was closed and lowered into the ground with a green magic, the mage who cast the spell unannounced to the attendees. Probably standing somewhere at a respectful distance. The site would be surrounded by the most beautiful flowers, nearby there was a white bench, and next to the bench a small commemorative stone. There was a tree just over the bench. This was where Charlotte used to sit when her responsibilities in the palace became too much.
Once the casket was buried, Zack pulled Itazu into a hug. Something about the physical contact caused her to tense up. She wrapped her arms around him. For a moment she was silent, she rested her head on his shoulder and concentrated on her breathing. She felt her breathing hitch and felt tears she hadn’t realised were there pour down her face.
Seeing this Kai placed a hand on her shoulder again. He was not as touchy as his brother but the contact still meant a lot to Itazu. Zack didn’t let go, he did however loosen his grip so she could leave when she was ready. A minute later she pulled away only to hug Kai. He let her, holding her, trying to imitate his brother’s show for affection. He was more tense and for some reason this helped Itazu to compose herself and eventually step away.

 

Elizabeth, Emily and Henry would soon start talking.
“Well,” Henry rubbed his arm, “this was not the reunion I would have liked.” He smiled at Elizabeth. “And it certainly was not how I wanted to meet your wife,” he nodded to Emily.
Emily smiled softly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh?” Henry raised his eyebrows. “That can’t be good.”
Emily laughed. “Nothing too bad, not by Elizabeth’s standards.”
“Ah. Have you perhaps softened up since I last spent time with you, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth crossed her arms. “You’re a boring old man and more often than not a complete and utter fool. I just prefer saying it to your face.”
Henry chuckled. “Of course.” He looked towards the palace, just in front of the main entrance, on the palace steps, was a man with regal clothing and a guard on either side, watching the whole thing. “So, what are you doing with all that free time you must have now the children are here?”
“We’re still at the inn, there may not be any guests but it’s still home.” ClockTower Inn. Emily’s pride and joy. She’d moved away from home to start her own business and all had gone well until the town became a ghost town with the demise of dragon kind.
Henry nodded. “Well, if you become unenthused with your current predicament, you know there’s always a place for you at the palace, for both of you.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “You said if I quit my job as head of security I could never come work at the palace again.”
“I might have been a tad dramatic.”
“I’ve been retired for over a decade.”
“Well, I’ve spent that time trying to fill your shoes. Jack’s fine as head of security.” Despite his words he scrunched up is nose a little and glanced to the side before managing a smile. “But even now I still have not located a bodyguard for myself who I am willing to work with.”
Elizabeth’s eyes were widening before Henry could finish the sentence and he knew he’d made a huge mistake. “You don’t have a bodyguard?”
“You’d be welcome back whenever.” He tried to joke, tried thinking of a subject change.
“Are you insane?” She looked back towards Itazu afraid she would hear. “I’ve been out of the job, I repeat, for over a decade! You need an actual qualified bodyguard, Henry. You said Jack’s head of security? Why hasn’t he assigned someone to you?”
“That’s correct. I promoted Jack as you recommended. He’s good, not as good as you but—”
“Henry I’m serious here. Are you an absolute fool?”
“Elizabeth, I can take care of myself.” He sighed. “You sound like Itazu, you’re both so similar in some aspects and yet—”
Elizabeth was having nothing of this attempt at a subject change. “One day you won’t be able to handle yourself, if that happens, you’ll leave her an orphan.”
“That’s a low blow.”
“It’s true.”
“I’ll find one.”
Elizabeth bit her lip trying to figure out what to say now. Henry eyed Rhombus. “Mind if I speak to him in private for a moment?” Elizabeth looked back at Rhombus, a hesitant look.
“Don’t be too harsh on him,” Emily whispered. “Today has been tough.”
“For all of us. I don’t intend to aggravate him,” Henry reassured. “I just need some questions answered.”
Henry walked over to Rhombus, then they both walked a small distance away. It started civil but even from a distance it was easy to see the conversation becoming heated.
“I don’t know who I feel worse for,” Elizabeth said as she walked over to Itazu. “I always used to feel bad for Henry when Rhombus gave him a hard time, but now I feel like the tables may have turned.”
“Huh?” Itazu looked up.
“Well, he’s the father now, not Rhombus.”
Itazu shook her head. “I for sure feel no empathy for my grandfather.”
“It’s good to see you are all well,” Emily said. “Even if the circumstances are not ideal.”
Zack smiled. “Will you be staying long?”
“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “We have Rhombus so, we have to get back before May comes looking for us.”
“Ah,” Zack’s shoulders sagged.
Itazu was watching Henry and Rhombus. She forced herself to redirect her attention. “How are things at the castle? With May and all?”
Elizabeth frowned, “she still lives in the library.” She looked towards Henry, “I think we may restart tracking down the hunters.”
“By we…?” Kai raised his eyebrows.
“Well, now there’s no kids to take care of. I’d like to get back on the field.” She raised her head proudly.
Kai bit his lip, “hunters can be dangerous.”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth smiled. “I can handle them. Or we forgetting who taught you to fight young man?” Perhaps stating to Henry she was no longer qualified had been an exaggeration. Despite not working in the field, she hadn’t stopped training.
Henry and Rhombus returned. They both seemed agitated. Nobody asked.
“I think I need to go back to work.” Henry said, looking towards the man on the palace steps.
“Who’s he?” Kai asked.
“The king, King Philip,” Henry answered casually.
“You didn’t request the day off?” Elizabeth asked.
“Why would I? The funeral was short and—” Elizabeth’s eyebrows were raised, her eyes darted to Itazu then back to Henry, he caught on and his voice slowed down “—there’s important business to be dealt with. I’m still dealing with all the political repercussion of…” he hesitated before gesturing to the three dragons.
Elizabeth straightened and nodded. “I’ve been hearing some pretty horrible stuff.” She thought back to the lady selling fruit and gossiping about ‘dangerous creatures’.
Henry nodded. “I know,” he looked to Itazu, “which is why you can’t leave the palace.”
Itazu turned away. “I can handle myself.”
“He’s right,” Emily reached for Itazu’s hand, “there’s still a lot of fear. People don’t understand. And people can be horrible when they do not understand.”
“I’m not going to leave. Don’t worry.”
Henry looked to Elizabeth. “Do you have plans for Rhombus?” he asked. “I can take care of him if—”
“We’ve got plans.”
Henry raised his eyebrows, considering questioning, but decided against it. “I trust you, Elizabeth.”
“I know. You’re right to do so.” She leaned forward. “Get a bodyguard or I’ll be back.”
“You’re threatening to come visit me? Interesting.” He smiled, then turned to his daughter. “Precious, would you like to spend the night in the palace with me?”
She responded fast, “yes.”
Henry smiled. “I’ll pick you up later then.” And after one last polite nod to Emily and a hug for Elizabeth, he left.
Itazu took a deep breath, she felt Kai’s hand on her shoulder again, she smiled up at him.
He smiled back.
“We need to go too,” Elizabeth was watching Henry leave. “We came by carriage, long journey back to Aerradra.”
Emily moved forward, hugging all the kids in turn. “You take care of each other, okay? And know that you can always count on us for anything.”
They nodded. “We know.”
Elizabeth had a stern expression. “That last part is important.” She looked at the palace, “Henry is great, and the king will protect you but we’re still your family.”
Rhombus looked hesitant. Itazu expectant. Nothing.
“Well, bye then.” Itazu turned and began to walk away.
Emily waved, not that Itazu could see her.
“I’m going to go calm her down…” Kai gestured and ran off to catch up with her. “Love you both,” he shouted as his form of goodbye.
Zack glared at Rhombus, before speaking to Emily and Elizabeth, “we’ll see you again soon?”
Emily nodded. “Of course.”
Another quick hug. “We love you lots,” he whispered and Emily whispered it back. When they let go he had to run to catch up with Itazu and Kai.
“Just ignore him,” Kai was saying.
“Why did he have to come?” she growled.
“Because it’s his daughter’s funeral,” Zack responded.
“He’s the reason she’s dead.”
“Itazu,” Kai grabbed her arm, “you’re right. Of course.”
“Of course,” she repeated.
“But I don’t think he came here today with malicious intent. I think he just wanted to say goodbye, just like everyone else.”
Itazu took a deep breath.
“What was he supposed to say to you?”
“Anything would have been better than nothing.”
“To what end? What would you have responded?”
“Probably with violence.”
“There you go.” He pushed her towards their home, a two minutes walk on plain grass from where Itazu’s mother was now buried. “Let’s go get some tea, okay?”
“Hm, yeah, I want tea.”

 

On arrival, Zack gestured towards the stairs. “I’ll handle the tea.”
Kai nodded, a hand on Itazu’s shoulder as they walked towards the stairs, up into her room. Zack arrived with mugs of cold water and three tea bags. Itazu rolled her eyes, accepting the mugs, her hand wrapped around them as she heated the palms of her hand and by extension the water.
“You realice we have a kettle?”
“Yeah, but Itazu seems more polite of a name for you,” Kai joked.
Itazu sat on the sofa. Not every bedroom had a sofa, only hers at this time. It had come from the cottage where she used to live with her father. It was the smaller of the three they’d had there, her personal favourite. It was placed facing the window giving her the perfect spot to curl up and read.
Each of them sat in their usual spots. Itazu on the right, Zack to her left, Kai perched on the armrest to Itazu’s right, eyes on the window.
“So… you feeling… not great I’m guessing?” Zack asked awkwardly.
“I feel nothing.” Itazu said honestly, adding the teabag to her mug. “And at the same time, I feel guilty for not feeling anything…” She paused. She’d been crying only moments earlier. “I feel like I lost something but I also feel like I never had anything. I can’t remember enough of her.”
Kai nodded; it was something Itazu had opened up about several times in the past. Her trouble remembering her mother. She’d only been eight when dragon kind disappeared. Her memories prior to that were mostly blurry messes.
“You don’t need to feel guilty about that.”
“I know.” She leaned back. “I just do.”
“Tomorrow’s another day,” Zack tried to help.
“Yeah,” Itazu stared out the window. “Is it just me, or does this place not feel like home?”
Kai frowned. “It’s not been long enough to feel like a home yet.”
“The castle felt like home, I only spent a couple of weeks there.”
“Maybe that’s the problem, two very successive moves. That might be jarring.”
“Maybe.”
“Also,” Zack leaned over, “Emily and Elizabeth could make you feel at home in the heart of a volcano if you gave them the chance.”
Itazu smiled. “That’s true. Thanks, you two are the best. Well, Zack’s the best. You only get like… an eight out of ten.”
Kai kicked her from his place on the armrest.
“Okay, okay, a seven.”
“Thank you,” Kai nodded in approval.
“What tea is this?” Itazu asked as she took another sip.
“Breakfast tea,” Zack responded. Itazu had been set on Rooibos for a while now but this new one was growing on her. On arrival, Zack gestured towards the stairs. “I’ll handle the tea.”
Kai nodded, a hand on Itazu’s shoulder as they walked towards the stairs, up into her room. Zack arrived with mugs of cold water and three tea bags. Itazu rolled her eyes, accepting the mugs, her hand wrapped around them as she heated the palms of her hand and by extension the water.
“You realice we have a kettle?”
“Yeah, but Itazu seems more polite of a name for you,” Kai joked.
Itazu sat on the sofa. Not every bedroom had a sofa, only hers at this time. It had come from the cottage where she used to live with her father. It was the smaller of the three they’d had there, her personal favourite. It was placed facing the window giving her the perfect spot to curl up and read.
Each of them sat in their usual spots. Itazu on the right, Zack to her left, Kai perched on the armrest to Itazu’s right, eyes on the window.
“So… you feeling… not great I’m guessing?” Zack asked awkwardly.
“I feel nothing.” Itazu said honestly, adding the teabag to her mug. “And at the same time, I feel guilty for not feeling anything…” She paused. She’d been crying only moments earlier. “I feel like I lost something but I also feel like I never had anything. I can’t remember enough of her.”
Kai nodded; it was something Itazu had opened up about several times in the past. Her trouble remembering her mother. She’d only been eight when dragon kind disappeared. Her memories prior to that were mostly blurry messes.
“You don’t need to feel guilty about that.”
“I know.” She leaned back. “I just do.”
“Tomorrow’s another day,” Zack tried to help.
“Yeah,” Itazu stared out the window. “Is it just me, or does this place not feel like home?”
Kai frowned. “It’s not been long enough to feel like a home yet.”
“The castle felt like home, I only spent a couple of weeks there.”
“Maybe that’s the problem, two very successive moves. That might be jarring.”
“Maybe.”
“Also,” Zack leaned over, “Emily and Elizabeth could make you feel at home in the heart of a volcano if you gave them the chance.”
Itazu smiled. “That’s true. Thanks, you two are the best. Well, Zack’s the best. You only get like… an eight out of ten.”
Kai kicked her from his place on the armrest.
“Okay, okay, a seven.”
“Thank you,” Kai nodded in approval.
“What tea is this?” Itazu asked as she took another sip.
“Breakfast tea,” Zack responded. Itazu had been set on Rooibos for a while now but this new one was growing on her. 

 

That night, Itazu walked through the palace corridors with her father towards his quarters. She couldn’t recall ever having been there before. Before Itazu lived at the palace, Henry’s quarters had just been a space he slept in when there was too much work to come home. They reached a heavily guarded thick wooden door.
“This is my daughter, Itazu,” Henry introduced her to the guards. The guards nodded, checking her for weapons before opening the doors.
There was another pair of guards inside, as well as a pair at every door in the main passageway.
Itazu stood close to her father as he led her to a specific door, pushing it open and allowing her in.
“What’s with…?” She gestured to the now closed door.
“The king’s quarters are at the end of the hall,” Henry explained. He walked across the living area to open a window and let in some air.
“Oh.”
“Sometimes things come up late at night,” he offered as an explanation. He moved across the open plan living room and kitchen to the tea cupboard, placing two large mugs on the large isle that separated the sofas and the cooking materials. “I imagine you shall have Rooibos?”
“Breakfast tea,” she answered, eyeing the door. “Sounds like a lot of work, being available twenty-four seven.”
“I think I’ll go with something more adequate for the time.” He whispered as he picked out a chamomile for himself before acknowledging her second statement, “it is.” He began to prepare the tea. “If you’re happy with a service job or… anything less demanding really, you’ll be better off for it.”
“Most parents want their kids to go on to do big things.”
“I believe you could do amazing stuff, Precious, but I want you to be happy.” He pulled out food from the cupboards. “Big things take time and effort and… sometimes they’re just not what makes a person happy. You understand, right?”
Itazu nodded. “I think so.”
Henry placed a variety of nuts, crackers, cheeses, olives and fruits onto plates and into bowls. Laying it all out on the coffee table in front of the sofa before sitting down.
Itazu placed herself next to him, sipping at her tea and picking at some nuts. “So, how’s work?”
“Well, a once extinct species reappeared with the murder of a well respected local political figure. I’ve had easier periods in my career, but, in fairness, I’ve also had worse.”
“Worse than this?”
Henry smiled. “Perhaps a story for another day.” As he sat up straighter, Itazu leaned back, resting her head against him. “I wanted to know about you.”
“Well, I’m eighteen years old—”
“Precious.” He smiled, sipping at his own tea. “Are you settling in?”
“Oh, it doesn’t quite feel like home yet but… give it time.”
Henry nodded. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Nah, I ain’t used to it yet is all.”
“Am not used to it,” he corrected. “And nah isn’t a word.”
She sighed.
“Come on Precious, you live in the palace now.”
“I live in the palace garden,” she corrected.
He rolled his eyes but smiled. “And your friends?”
“Adapting well, I mean, this is a bigger change for them than it is for me.”
“Tell me more about your friends.”
Itazu did, she told him about the children and their weird antics, about Melany’s love for knowledge, Zack’s willingness to see the best in people. She talked about Kai and how he stood between the hunter and herself, even before they got along.
“I really do owe this boy a lot,” Henry admitted.
“I wasn’t too sure about him at first. But he’s a good friend. He’s seen shit though.”
“Language.”
Itazu smiled apologetically, sipping her drink. “Are you okay? Today must have been hard on you too.”
Henry nodded, eyes moving to the fire. “It was closure. A part of me never wanted it but in the long run it’s for the best.”
Itazu nodded.
“What about you?”
She frowned, chewing on the inside of her lip. “I don’t really feel anything.”
“Feeling empty?”
“No, not that kind. Not the depression kind you are thinking. Like when you hear someone important died, but you never knew them. Like… a journalist or something. Sure, it’s like, sad because death is sad. But I don’t personally feel like I lost anything. But at the same time I feel sad because I did lose the idea of having a mother… but I never had that idea or…” She paused. “I feel guilty for not remembering and…” She shook her head. “I don’t know what I feel.”
Henry brushed his hands through her hair. “That’s fine. Nobody expects you to feel a certain way.”
Itazu looked up at her father. “You really loved her?”
“Of course,” Henry smiled, “she was amazing. One of the most important people to ever touch my life.” He shook his head, “nowhere near as important as you of course.”
She smiled. They chatted about lighter topics after that.

 

Henry wasn’t sure which of them fell asleep first. But he was a much lighter sleeper and the soft knock on his door had his eyes wide open. He took in the sight of his daughter asleep next to him, her head resting against him. The only light came frin the dying fire and the moon outside. The smell of burnt lumber still lingered.
“Come in,” he spoke softly, grabbing a pillow from the armchair.
He heard the door push open slowly, the king peeked inside.
Henry managed to get up, placing a cushion under his daughter’s head. Itazu stirred, but ultimately remained asleep. Henry moved a finger to his lips, gesturing towards the door of his room.
The king nodded, slipping in, closing the door behind him, Henry added a log to the fire before they both entered his room.
“I didn’t realize you had company,” the king said as Henry lit the candles in his bedroom.
“Well, after the funeral I needed to be sure she was okay.”
“Is she?”
Henry nodded. “She’s strong. Like her mother,” he smiled, moving towards the window where he sat on the window seat, the king next to him. “What can I help you with this late?”
“Honestly, I mostly just came to check on you.”
Henry nodded. “I’m fine.”
The king gave a quick shake of his head, “I find that hard to believe.”
Henry looked out the window. “I knew she was dead. I never had any hope otherwise.”
“You’ve said as much in the past.”
“You didn’t come just to check on me.”
“It took a while, but some papers were located in the private house of the man your daughter killed.”
“The hunter.” Henry frowned. “A clue?”
The king nodded.
“Your Majesty, I know it’s not typical for a king’s adviser to take on this kind of case but—”
“It’s all yours Henry and how many times must I insist you call me Philip?”
“Many more, Your Majesty.”
The exasperation bought a smile to Henry’s face.
“I’ll be in my room if you need me.” He got up and walked across the room, his hands were on the wooden door when he turned back. “Tomorrow, my meetings?”
“Eight am, a vampire representative, nine am you have a discussion about taxes, ten am Ethel,” he frowned, “eleven am werewolves.”
“Good, don’t come till eleven.”
Henry nodded. “Thank you Philip.”
“Bring me a cup of coffee when you do.”
Henry smiled as the man left.