Seren shut the door and concentrated on breathing, counting up to twenty and down to zero. This wasn’t over yet and she had about a fifty-fifty chance. Releasing her dad’s spell would either wake him up and allow him to find her since for the next few hours she would be the biggest burst of his magic. Or, if she was lucky, since it bore his signature, he might sleep through the burst and ignore her. Either way, there was nothing she could do about it.
She turned, seeing the table, the kitchen, and the bed in a new light.
“This is my home.” The words were flat in the air, but it was correct. Even if she was just borrowing it, this was where she’d be living for the next few days.
“Okay... there has to be a schedule.” She needed one or the days would meld together as she slept in the bed and passed over ports and cities without caring. “I need a schedule, and to do that I need my journal.”
She walked over to the table, unsteady on her feet as the shell moved through the air, and sat down on the bed. Her backpack yielded everything she needed, but the words wouldn’t come to her. Seren tapped her charcoal stick against the paper, leaving little smudges up and down the side, but nothing else. No words. No actions. No thoughts. Well, none that she wanted to write down. Plenty of thoughts about this whole situation.
“I’m not the same person as I used to be,” she said aloud, putting down the charcoal. A fingertip reached out to trace the blue ink on the tabletop, then the red, and finally the black splotches. “The old me wouldn’t have stolen a ship. Or taken dad’s emergency spells.” She laughed, the sound high-pitched to her ears. “What ‘old me?’ Today’s the same day. I’m still in the same body. Nothing’s new. It’s not like I’ve changed from a caterpillar to a butterfly.” The vibrant yellow ribbon of the bookshelf caught her eye, and she followed the wood to the cabinet below the table.
“I should look through it.” There, that was an action. Maybe if she stood up and did something, she could stop her thoughts from bouncing around her head.
“I mean, if this is going to be where I’m living, then I should know what’s in here, right? I don’t have to use anything I find.” She stood up, taking several steps to reach the other side of the table, and then Seren knelt down to examine the cabinet. The brassy keyhole made her sigh. “Never mind. I don’t have the key.”
The bookshelf was something she could use, though. A different action to take. Returning to the bed, she gathered the books she’d brought from home, then brought the haul over.
“Junk.” There wasn’t enough room for them all to fit. She removed the ones that had already been on the ship and studied the space. Seven books in total, if she included her journal, but the size of the magic primers was the actual problem. Elemental Mastery was a fat book, as thick as all four of her fingers put together, and 101 Ways to See Luck wasn’t much slimmer. She placed all the other books back, then added Elemental Mastery at the end, following Water Elemental Basics. That left just enough room to squeeze 101 Ways to See Luck in horizontally on top. The journal was left on the table and all of her charcoal sticks were wrapped back up, stored in the backpack until she could figure out where to put them.
Seren stifled a yawn, but after a few seconds, it came back stronger than before.
“I guess…” Another yawn rippled through the air. “I guess I should sleep…” She looked around. There was light inside the shell coming from somewhere, and she wouldn’t be able to sleep until she turned it off. “Um... off?”
No surprise, but the light remained on. She went into the kitchen, but there were no lanterns in there, nor were there any near the table or by the bed.
“Where is it coming from?” she asked herself, turning in a circle in case she’d somehow overlooked the source. She hadn’t. “Is this on all the time?” She didn’t think it was an elemental spell; at the very least, she’d never heard about light users and Elemental Mastery should have mentioned if people developed that type of magic, right?
She went back to the kitchen. Sink. Cabinets above, cabinets below, and a small stove. Opening the upper cabinets gave her access to a few bowls, plates, mugs, and utensils. The bottom ones held two towels, a thick blanket, and a set of bedsheets. The light wasn’t coming from here.
The other room had the table, the bookshelf, the locked cabinet, and the bed. She crawled under the table to inspect the cabinet, but she backed out soon enough, accidentally kicking at the rug on the floor. It didn’t move like she expected, half scrunched up at one end and half straight at the other. Hm…
“Why is this thing half under the bed, though? And why is it dyed to blend into the floor?” Seren pulled it out towards her, her eyes growing large as it slid away. “Wow…no way!”
Exposed was an iron ring, set into a circle so that it didn’t push up and reveal the existence of the trapdoor.
“The light can’t be coming from there, can it?” She reached forward and twisted the ring to its open position, but it was too heavy to lift. Remaining on the floor wasn’t an option if she wanted it open, so she stood back up, and strained with both hands to pull. It opened, hinges creaking, and a cool draft whipped around her. Even though the light was now coming from behind her, she could see the beginning of a rope ladder going down the side, descending into darkness. She hesitated. “Come on Seren. You wanted an adventure, right? Well, here it is. Right in front of you.”
The words didn’t make her feel any braver or stronger. She sat down and dangled her legs down the hole, hunched over in an effort to see her feet. From below there were howling winds and groaning noises, and before anything reached out to grab her, she’d already yanked her legs up and slammed the trapdoor down.
“The light can stay on, it’s not a problem,” she said, moving the rug back to where it had originally been. She sat on the bed when finished, staring at the floor. “Where does that go?”
Her mind supplied her with images of slipping out of the ship’s bottom and falling all the way back down to the ground. Or maybe a monster lived there, kept in the darkness by the person who’d lived here before. She looked around the room, and then her mind went to the blanket in the kitchen. Pulling it out proved it was heavy, maybe made of thicker wool, or crocheted differently than any of the winter blankets at home. The pattern wasn’t what she was used to as well, yellow pieces looking a lot like honeycombs held together with dark grey yarn. The ones at home had been multi-striped, her dad happy enough to take any color he could get his hands on. She thought they were funny-looking, going from blue to white to red in no traceable patterns, but her father had never liked the mishmash of colors, and they had commonly teased him about freezing during winter because of his fashion sense.
“This should be good enough though.” Thick enough to block out the light but not heavy enough that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. She took it over to the bed, and with a last uneasy glance at the hidden door, pulled it over her head and tried to go to sleep. Prepared to spend hours counting sheep, she was deep asleep within minutes.
What woke her up wasn’t a new day’s sun shining through the window, the light in the room, or the feeling of being well-rested. It was a musky, wild smell.
“Wha—?” Seren sat up in the bed and rubbed her eyes. She felt grimy. Rumpled. Still tired. “Where am—”
She broke off in mid-thought, the events from yesterday coming back to her. Her father yelling at her, charming her, and her finding the shellship on the island. Stealing things from the house and sneaking out under the cover of darkness. Activating the air spell her dad had told her to use only in emergencies.
“Elements!” Those memories felt more like a fever-dream than reality. She turned to look around the room, touching unfamiliar blankets and seeing unusual colors around her. And there was that smell. The one that made her think about the cows they had out in the barn. Everything proved beyond a doubt; this wasn’t her room, her home, or her bed. The memories were true. “I’m dead.”
Her parents would find her, and after they brought her home, they’d murder her, bring her back to life, murder her again, and repeat the process for the next thousand years. Maybe she’d be grounded after that.
“I can’t go back.” The thought of losing everything just because she’d been angry broke emotional barriers she hadn’t realized were inside. Seren cried, great big gasping tears that had her hunched over and arms around her knees. She’d left her home, her parents, her life, and for what? She didn’t know where she was and she didn’t know what she was doing now!
When she took a deep breath, she sneezed. It felt like there had been a joint out of place and that action had put it back where it belonged. It would have made her feel better to keep crying, but Seren could feel the panic in her slowly receding, and with each breath, she panicked less and thought more. Which meant that musty smell was foremost in her mind instead.
“Okay... you can panic later,” she said aloud, taking a firm voice like her father did when he talked to himself. “Much later. That smell wasn’t here last night, so where is it coming from now?” Her eyes darted to the hidden door, but the rug still covered it and it hadn’t moved from its position. A shadow sliced through the sunshine coming in through the window and flickered across her face. She turned on the bed, kneeled, then shoved the lace curtains to the side and looked out the glass.
There was a creature in the sky. It was slender, with the middle of its body most comparable to the eels she’d seen in the ocean. Four paddle-like limbs rose and fell in a timed sequence she couldn’t pinpoint, and the body itself was making sure strokes in a forward wave. Scales the size of her finger were painted almost every pastel, but the basic coloring was blue with small stretches of pink, yellow, orange, and even darker colors such as red and grey. She couldn’t see any wings, but it had no problem keeping up with the seashell.
“A dragon?!” Her voice was little more than a whisper. The dragon fell out of range and she scrambled to keep it in view. Her island didn’t have any creatures like this. The biggest animals were the cows, and the smallest were bugs, and one of her friends had written about unicorns on her island once but her parents had said that not every place had magical creatures. She’d pressed about that, asking what made a creature magical or not since a horn on a horse wouldn’t allow it to perform magic, and she’d never gotten a straight answer. She’d also never received a letter from Rias again.
Was this what the world had been hiding from her? Seren had missed so much already! She threw off the blanket, stumbling and hitting her big toe in her hurry to get to the door. The door swung inwards, helped by winds and she instantly grew colder, but it was worth it. The dragon was out here, pawing at the stopped propeller. And yes, that’s where the animal smell was coming from; a creature she’d only heard about a few times before and had never thought existed.
“Hello,” she called out in a hushed voice, tucking her flyaway hair behind her head. It turned its head to look at her, an amber eye on its forehead staring straight at her. When she said nothing else, it twisted enough to keep looking at the engine with its right eye, and focusing the main one on where she was. The scales she’d seen from the window were even more impressive up close, and the dragon was near enough that she could reach out and stroke it. She grabbed her hair so it would stop snapping around her eyes.
“You are absolutely amazing. I… I really don’t have any other words.”
There was a snort, small clouds of hot air emerging from two large nostrils. She giggled, and the dragon snorted again. Seren took a step away from the door. Her blood sang in her veins, strong and excited, and every fiber of her being was strung as taut as her dad’s hunting bow. She could see sharp teeth and talons, along with several starburst scars near the upper shoulder bones. The dragon dipped down, going under the shell to come up the other side, and looked at her from its left eye. That one wasn’t amber like the other two, but white like cow milk, ringed by a muddied grey.
“Thank you for sharing your vulnerable side with me.” Seren put her free hand out into the air, fingers spread as wide as she could so that the dragon could see she meant no harm. It watched her. Writhed closer. She held her breath, not daring to speak, to think, to hope. Closer. Closer... her fingertips brushed against cool, dry scales for a split second, and then the dragon pushed off, flying away from her and up into a nearby cloud.
She stared at her hand, replaying the miracle. A wild dragon had gotten close enough for her to touch!
“I can’t go back,” she said, repeating the words from before. This time, it came less from panic and more from a place of knowledge. Behind her, spreading from her feet to the far horizon, was a field of soft, puffy clouds. Further below were her parents. Her old life. One that didn’t allow for dragons or adventures. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and she didn’t know what the future would bring, but she could feel the truth of the matter rattling in her bones. “I can’t return to who I was yesterday.”
- Dust Warrior
CoffeeQuills is a transplanted Floridian, living in the Land Rising Sun. They write for 4thewords (an RPG for writers) and in the twists of space and time created by caffeine, they enjoy coming up with stories all along the spec-fic range. Anything goes for this Hufflepunk, so hold tight and pretend it's a plan!
“This is who I am, right here, right now, all right? All that counts is here and now, and this is me!”
(Currently back after a long hiatus - apologies to those I owe chapters and mail too. The plan is to update fictions and continue with a once a week schedule.)