Emil was not at home when the doorbell rang. Coleen no longer had an impulse to see who it was or ruin everything by opening the door. She had not had that impulse for fifteen months.
Something was wrong. Coleen could feel it, even though she had not neared the door to check. The person had not left. They wanted someone to answer the door. They knew she was home.
They knew someone was home. Though if they saw her face all they would know was that the usurped King Cole was here. No matter what, Coleen could not allow that to happen. Not even if someone was breaking in to steal things. She would have to hide and wait it out. A passive tactic she had never before implemented, but knew was her only option.
She felt a slow smoulder in her chest, before remembering it shouldn’t matter too much to her.
Coleen walked away from the living room. The handle jiggled – the person was not giving up. Then she heard a familiar sound.
They are picking the lock.
She heard another familiar sound.
They succeeded in picking the lock.
A full month after Mi had fully recovered, the doctor let them go back home on bed rest. Mi didn’t understand why no one else saw it. Perhaps they are all too busy celebrating their victory. Mi wished they could join. No more blood drying on brown. Their uniform came home with them, on display in their room. Still mocking them.
Jahan came to visit them. “You will be celebrated for your sacrifice. Fo’s agreed to let you come to the ceremony with the rest of us. We’ll just be careful.”
Mi couldn’t believe that the entire world thought they were still injured. Perhaps Mi was the problem. Yet they could stand and walk without trouble. Why did everyone act as though Mi were crippled? Costing them the rest of the war.
Town looked different, but at the same time like home. By that point, Natie was limping, but she refused to stop walking yet. She had to keep moving, to find if her house was still there.
It was. Even from the outside, it didn’t look the same. It was the same building, Natie knew, but when Mom had said “clean” she had meant “clean”. Cleaner than anything they could have ever done.
Her mother came out of that clean house, rushing to her and gathering Natie up in her arms. Natie clung to her with the remnants of her energy. Not very much.
“Mom, it’s just a person. Just a big person. We live in a glass box and the sun has a cord attached to it.”
She rambled on like that, not certain how much Mom could understand. Not with her mouth muffled into Mom’s shoulder. After another moment, she could feel Dad’s hand smoothing down her hair, the steady influence trembling on her head.
When Natie found herself lucid again, she was somewhere. Somewhere more familiar, yet not familiar at all. There was the river, but it couldn’t be the river, because it was going in a completely different direction. It couldn’t be her river, because the water was so clear she could see to the bottom.
But it was all the right size. She wasn’t looking at it from a distance and barely able to take it all in.
There were no Hands. There was no backpack either, but Natie didn’t remember if she had had it on when she had been pulled out.
Shaking, she eventually managed to get out of the tree. She climbed halfway down before she fell. Rolling onto her back, Natie wheezed for breath like her father after chasing her around the house as he used to. When she got to her feet, she stumbled away, not certain where she was, where her home might be. How long she had been gone.
She did not see the Hands.
“Do people make the jump to Unbonded often?” Emine asked Sanni. She stayed close to the woman’s side, staring at a place made by dragons for dragons.
Sanni smiled down at her. “Well, sometimes. Usually though, they come back with someone from another place who wants to come serve them. The more common change is Unbonded to Bonded. Dragons don’t choose lightly. They usually will have someone around for a while before they decide they want a specific person for themselves and not for the horde.”
While Emine wanted to ask why they were going to be Unbonded now, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. Sanni had been so calm and stable, but Emine could tell there was uncertainty under the surface there. She didn’t know if that had always been the case with Sanni or if it had only come the more and more the dragons had paid attention to the both of them.
The Alcoves were set into both sides of the valley that contained the town. From the bottom, from the town, the only sign of life were the holes set into the tops of the ridges, where the dragons came and went. There was an opening (okay, more than one) for people who couldn’t fly to make their way into the caverns.
They stood there now, each holding what they hadn’t wanted anyone else to move for them. Emine hadn’t had much she was attached to. It fit in the same bag she brought here.
Sanni brought just as much, but it had to be a greater sacrifice. Emine took her hand. Sanni squeezed it and they entered the Alcoves.
“We have discussed. You come to the Alcoves.”
The voice woke Emine up abruptly. She didn’t have to question what they were talking about. The voice was that of a dragon speaking the language the rest of them understood. Not Ramar, that much she could tell. Another dragon. Over the last couple of months, Emine had seen a lot of dragons. She could only keep a few of them straight in her head yet. Between them and the humans around, there were a lot of people to get used to.
They had to be talking about her. Sanni’s voice was angry. “No, no. You can’t do this to me. You don’t do things like this. What are you talking about?”
“The both of you are moving to the Alcoves now.” The dragon’s voice held no question.
“I don’t understand.”
“We like how she makes you act, Sanni. But other than that, you don’t need to understand.”
How she made Sanni act? Emine had no idea what they were talking about. However, it sounded as though that was all to the conversation. She watched the plants outside sway as the dragon took back off into the sky.
Getting out of bed, she had barely started to get dressed when she heard Sanni knock at the door. “Emine?”
She had tried to see this place as home, but it seemed things were going to change already.
“What is your name, small human?”
Sanni appeared as fazed as the horses were by a dragon. Emine tried to act the same. “Emine.”
Ramar stared at her. Emine had the idea she shouldn’t look into her eyes. At the same time, she didn’t want to look like she was cowering. What the middle ground was between those two positions, she had no idea. She looked back, deciding to fix her gaze on a particular point on the bridge of Ramar’s nose. From there, she could see the dragon’s eyes without looking at them.
It still made her feel a bit dizzy. She heard a sound that she had no idea how to interpret. Something distinctly draconian, not a hiss or a growl. Like a sigh with clicks.
“What’s so funny?” Sanni asked.
“Nothing.” Ramar’s head pulled back. “You’ve picked well, Sanni. Good for you.”
Emine didn’t know what that meant, but Sanni’s face flushed slightly despite saying nothing. Ramar didn’t await a response either. She took off into the sky, meeting another dragon somewhere halfway up the closest slope.
There really were dragons everywhere. Emine stared for a while before looking back at Sanni. “Am I okay?”
Sanni started out of her thoughts and looked down at her. “Yes. Yes you are. Ramar is a little pushy, but she already likes you. That’s good. Let’s go home, Emine.”
Home. The word meant nothing to Emine now. But it was time to redefine.
They sat there in silence.
Then again, Brother had been doing that for some time. He tried not to look up, to see what Brother was reading. Because that was what Brother did, read.
Brother turned a page.
It wasn’t like they both weren’t adults at this point. He really should have started acting like one. Not like a child. Not following Brother around as if he was the only thing that could float during a flood.
He looked down at his own paperwork. He had started bringing work home with him because he wanted to get more done. Maybe because Brother would be proud that he was so focused on his career. Well, it certainly hadn’t gotten him dismissal. Yet it hadn’t seemed to given him pride either. More like Brother hadn’t expected less of him.
Maybe he should have been doing this work in his office, instead of out here, where his brother had decided to read his book. Perhaps the problem was that he was sprawled out over the couch, because that was how his brain worked.
Or he should just focus, because he was already here. He might as well work. He needed to do so.
Brother turned a page.
And so did he.
“Is this it?”
Henri looked outside to see the circular apartment complex. As broken down as ever. He was oddly grateful to have had this disaster happen in the middle of the month. No bills or rent to miss. He nodded. “This is it.”
The vampire parked at the curb. It seemed almost too easy for Henri to take off his seatbelt, open the door and step out of the car. If anything though, the vampire seemed to just be waiting for him to close the door so he could drive off.
Henri almost did. A thought to return to the life he had had before he had walked into the wrong part of town. The life where the vampires were just those creatures who walked around that he never dealt with. His mother would be horrified.
“What is your name?” Henri asked, all mental faculties still present.
People weren’t supposed to ask vampires their names. That was known.
The vampire looked at him for a moment. Probably determining if Henri was dumb enough to be considered a decent meal that no one would miss. But, against all of Henri’s thoughts, the vampire smiled instead. He looked… younger than Henri had thought.
This wasn’t dangerous at all. Henri’s chest hurt from how hard his heart was pounding. His flight instinct threatened to take over. “The offer’s still open. As thanks.”
Then he closed the door and walked away, back home. Behind him, the car drove away.
That seemed to be the end of that.
Carine opened her eyes again. The tree was gone. So was the dress she had been wearing. At some point she had transferred herself into her fuzzy sleepwear with the blue little whales on them. Something she had never grown out of. She remembered how her father had sighed trying to help her find something similar for an adult body as she had worn as a little girl.
There was her father’s face, right in front of her. Even if she couldn’t see anything other than the greying mustache she would know.
Carine sat up. “Dad?”
“Carine, thank God!” He, a man who didn’t often do so, engulfed her in a hug. She would have felt more awkward about it if she could have gotten past what she felt like just happened. It was a dream, right? “You are all right! When did you get home! I’d tried to call you and…”
She looked down at her hands. There were flecks of blood on them. Now that she thought about it, she could see the tips of her brunette hair, braided in front of her shoulders, with blood hardening the tips of them. Oh, it had happened. It had happened. And she had only cleaned up enough to get into her pajamas.
“What happened?” she asked her father.
She didn’t like hearing the answer.