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“So, what did you mean by that?” Tafel asked, crossing her arms and staring at Mary.

“Grandpa Nova gave me a sword,” Mary said, holding out her weapon, “for being Vur’s friend. And I’m a girl. I have to be Vur’s girl friend to thank him properly for the sword.”

Tafel exhaled. “You’re just his friend, okay? You don’t have to append girl to friend just because you’re a girl.”

Mary tilted her head. “But don’t you have to specify genders?” she asked. “There’s a girl chicken and there’s a boy chicken, and they both do different things, so we don’t call them both chickens.”

“No, we do,” Tafel said. “A hen is a chicken. A rooster is a chicken. You only have to call them hens and roosters when you want to be technical. When you tell someone to make that dumb chicken stop crowing, they know you’re talking about a rooster.”

Mary furrowed her brow. “But don’t girl friends and boy friends do different things?” She nodded. “When my sisters had their girl friends over, they’d discuss different ways to poison men while painting their nails. When my brothers had their boy friends over, they’d fight each to see who was stronger. Boy friends won’t talk about poisoning men with you while painting their nails and girl friends won’t stab you with swords.” She nodded again, firmer this time. “That’s right. You have to specify.”

Tafel let out a small groan and stared up at the sky. She exhaled through her nose while lowering her head. “Mary.”

“Yes?”

“You look like a girl, and you’re Vur’s friend,” Tafel said. “You don’t have to say you’re a girl when that’s already obvious. You’re just his friend.”

Mary blinked. “That makes sense,” she said. “But they’re dragons.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Tafel asked.

“I can’t tell a dragon’s gender apart just by looking at them,” Mary said. “Wouldn’t it be the same for dragons? Can they tell a human’s gender just by looking? Maybe we look the same to them like they do to us.”

“Is that true?” Tafel asked, turning to Prika.

Prika shook her head. “Nope. She’s just dumb.”

“W-what?” Mary took a step back. She lowered her head and looked at Tafel. “Am I? I know I’m not very smart, but am I dumb?”

Tafel turned around and stuck her head into the giant portal behind her. “Hey! Are you four coming out or not? This portal doesn’t maintain itself, you know!” She turned back around to face Mary. “Sorry, what was that?”

Mary pursed her lips. “Nothing.”

Prika sighed. “That was a lot more boring than I thought it would be. You were supposed to fight each other for Vur.” She spread her wings. “Okay, I’m seriously leaving now to find the love of my life.” Her brow furrowed, and her cheeks bulged as she moved her tongue around her mouth. She muttered, “Did I swallow them?” Her eyes landed on the two wet clumps of twitching feathers on the ground. “Oh, no, I spat them out. Phew.” Her knees bent, and her wings fully extended.

“It’s another red dragon!” Alora walked out of the portal behind Tafel followed by Grimmy, Sharda, and Lindyss. Alora pointed at Prika. “Is she a blood dragon too?”

Prika craned her neck to the side. She unbent her knees and folded her wings against her side before whirling around to face Alora. Flames shot out of Prika’s nostrils as she snorted and rose up, sitting on her hindlegs while crossing her front legs over her chest. “Okay. Who’s this imposter? Last time I checked, I was the only red dragon in this weird extended family thing Nova has going on.”

Alora blinked and pointed at Sharda. “I’m her granddaughter. Who are you?”

Prika tilted her head. She pointed at Sharda. “Blue.” She pointed at Nova. “Green.” She gestured towards Kaela and her mate. “Both blue.” Then she jabbed her tail at Alora. “Red.” A low rumble escaped from her mouth as she cleared her throat. “Clearly, one of these does not belong. Were you adopted?”

Alora narrowed her eyes. “Adopted?”

“It means you’re loved no matter what,” Vur said. “I’m adopted too.”

Everyone turned to stare at Vur.

“See?” Vur asked. He nodded. “Loved.”

“Where did you learn that definition?” Tafel asked, tugging on Vur’s arm.

“Ma told me,” Vur said. He looked around. “Where is she?”

“After bringing the staves back, she and Vernon flew back to your grandmother’s place to pick up more firewood. Apparently, the staff that your mom was making for you was gone, probably stolen by someone,” Nova said.

A bead of sweat rolled down Tafel’s back.

“Vur,” Mary said. She picked up the mostly dried staff that was planted in the ground and held it out. “This is for you. I made it.”

Before Vur could accept the staff, the annoying trio surged forwards. “This is for you too. It’ll help you cast fire magic.”

“This one is better for wind magic.”

“This one is great for bludgeoning things, but you can use it to help you cast earth magic too.”

Vur looked at the four staves held out in front of him. “That’s perfect,” he said and raised his arms. Another pair of arms sprouted out of his torso, and he picked up all four staves at the same time.

“Oh my lord,” Tafel said and planted her palm against her forehead. “Vur, you look….”

“That’s so cool!” Youngest said, his eyes lighting up. “Can you use all four staves at the same time?”

Vur raised his staves into the air, sending mana into them. Then he slammed them down onto a nearby boulder. The boulder shattered. Vur nodded. “Yes. I can.”

The annoying trio exchanged glances with each other. Then they smiled at Vur before applauding. “Wow, amazing!”

The staves clacked against each other as Vur moved his hands. He frowned and gathered them all into one hand. “Maybe I’ll tie them together.”

“Does that work?” Tafel asked Lindyss. “If you tied two staves together and used them to cast a spell, would it amplify the power?”

Lindyss scratched her head. “An idea like that never even crossed my mind because it’s so dumb.”

“But would it work?”

“For the sake of fashion, it shouldn’t work,” Lindyss said and sighed. “But … well, we’ll find out shortly.”

Mary shot forward. “Wait a moment,” she said, grabbing Vur’s arm. She stared at the four staves before nodding. “I’ll make you a staff to hold those four staves to make it easier to hold with one hand.”

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Virlyce

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