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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 9 (v.1) - Chapter 9

Submitted: November 03, 2017

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Comments: 2

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Submitted: November 03, 2017



Across the field, Karen stood, long hair swaying in the breeze. She looked over at me, an unusual sadness lingering in her brown gaze. “Leonard….”
My hand reached out to her not of my own volition. “Karen, what are you doing here?”
She smiled, approaching me slowly. “I’ve come here to say hello, silly. It’s a sister’s job to watch over her troublemaking brother.”
Despite my confusion, I couldn’t help the smile that settled onto my lips. Just like always, you’ve come to look after me. I’m not a child. The sentiments were bittersweet, though, as with anything that had to do with Karen.
She turned, looking out over the horizon. The moon had risen, illuminating the grass in a silver light. “Be careful, Leonard,” she murmured. “Dangerous things are brewing.”
“Of course I know that.” My tone suddenly adopted a much softer, desperate tone. “What about the family? Are they okay?”
My sister shook her head. “I cannot say. Those things are beyond my reach. Just be wary, Leonard. Things will only get harder from here on out.”
“It’s Jackrabbit now,” I said with a smirk. 
She embraced me, the gentle scent of her flowing across the space. “You’ll always be Leonard to me,” she whispered in my ear.
That smirk was now a wide smile. “Sis, please don’t go. Why do I only see you when I’m asleep like this?”
“I can’t tell you why,” she replied sadly, eyes looking downcast. “Please, take care of everyone for me.”
“But I can’t,” I protested as she started to fade away. “I’m not with them anymore.” But it was too late; she was already gone.
“Karen!” My heart pounded in my chest as I looked over the surroundings. The scenery had suddenly changed; sunlight filtered through the opening of the hut, peaceful and serene. The pungent scent of herbs and poultices permeated the air, almost sickening with how thick it was. 
“Look, one of them’s awake!” a high-pitched voice cried out. A girl ran into view, two brown braids bouncing against her flat chest. The dress she wore was old-fashioned burlap with red, blue and yellow triangles sewn in across the fabric. Freckles dotted her face, especially congregating around the bridge of her nose. The neck of her dress was embroidered in a floral pattern.
A low groan left my mouth. Now that I was conscious, a dull ache pulsed in my head. I felt sluggish, almost like I was bogged down with water. Everything hurt, and I immediately felt the urge to go back asleep. But the girl wouldn’t let me. She hung around, staring and making strange noises. With a twinge of annoyance, I fixed my gaze on her. “Where the hell am I?”
She covered her mouth, her cheeks growing paler than before. Now that I looked, her skin lacked a lot of the pinkish tinge people normally had. “Language,” she chided. But the stern expression was gone after a moment, replaced by a bright grin. “I’m Layla,” she said. The girl picked at her dress shyly, looking down at the floor. “I found you by the edge of the falls.”
“The falls?” Rapid images flashed through my mind. Rachel shouting as she floundered in the current. Renault trying weakly to save his mistress. My own attempt at trying to shield the princess. “Where’s Rachel?” I asked, looking around.
“Relax,” Layla replied. “She’s right there.”
The princess laid on the ground in a makeshift cot. Each breath she took, her chest rose faintly before falling back down. It was almost…serene watching her. Unknowingly, I had reached a hand out to stroke her cheek. Rachel stirred lightly, looking up at me with her honey-toned gaze full of bewilderment. “Lennard? Wh-where are we?”
“Er, I’m not sure,” I replied, yanking my hand back before she noticed it.
“You’re in Celstine,” Layla chimed in from across the room, “Village of the Dragonkin.”
“Wait, what?” Suddenly, Rachel and Renault were the last thing on my mind. My head spun with the information, completely overwhelmed. “What’s going on?”
Sensing my unease, Layla approached and rested her hands against my chest. “Relax, the last thing we need is for you to hurt yourself further. You’re lucky you survived.” At her touch, my pulse suddenly slowed. My muscles relaxed and I fell back into the cot with ease. “I’ll tell you more later when you’ve recovered more,” the girl said with a playful wink.
“What about Renault?” Rachel asked, her eyebrows knit tightly. Now that I thought about it, the manservant was not in the room. My stomach suddenly pitched with dread. Even a man as formidable as Renault wouldn’t be able to survive a tumble down the waterfall in the condition he was in. 
“Oh, him? We moved him to the intensive care section so Larcei could work on him.” Layla whistled. “He must’ve been real strong to have survived the whole ordeal. Most humans are pretty weak, but even after touching the snapdragon, he managed to live. I guess there’s a first for everything.”
“Snapdragon?” I echoed.
“It’s a flower that grows around here. You know, it’s black with yellow petals. It’s filled with poison to protect the mana reserves gathered in the center bud. We’re immune to it, but it’s quite nasty to humans if not deal with immediately.”
“You talk like…you’re not human yourself,” I murmured, but she was already gone. I turned to Rachel, looking slowly at the princess. She looked back at me, an almost wry smile painting her lips. In truth, it didn’t suit her at all. “I guess we made it to Celstine,” I chuckled.
“You think we’ll be allowed to stay here?” Even though she had just woken up, her eyes were half-closed from exhaustion. She seemed like a whole other person from the girl who insisted on continuing down the river. The firm ray of light inside her had been driven down to a timid flicker. Nevertheless, it still sent a thrill through me. The princess always managed to light up the room, even if she was a brat sometimes.
“I don’t know,” I replied, turning my gaze up towards the roof. It was quiet, with nobody in the room. That Layla girl mentioned someone named Larcei. Were they the medic here? If they were, they weren’t in the hut. Most likely, they were caring for Renault. It was strange to think he’d almost died. If that was what happened to Renault, what was going to happen to me? I was not nearly as strong or resilient as the manservant. Looking back on it, it was a miracle I hadn’t ended up worse.
A sudden figure burst through the opening, eyes wide. “Rachel!” It was Renault; the manservant was shirtless with various bandages wrapped around areas of his body. “Milady, are you all right?” he asked, getting down on one knee. He suddenly winced, pressing a hand to his abdomen. A swathe of bandages hung there with some sort of sticky poultice leaking through.
“No, Renault, are you all right?” Rachel shot back, looking down at the open bandages.
Before Renault could reply, a tall, slim figure burst through the door. “Wait, wait!” she shouted, dropping all the parchment she had been holding. “You mustn’t move! The poultices haven’t set yet!”
“My lady’s safety is paramount, well above mine,” the broad-shouldered servant retorted, forcing himself to his feet.
“Well she’s clearly fine, so sit down,” the woman scolded, ushering Renault into a spare cot next to us. Her voice was really low for a woman, but a tad high for a man. She was extremely slim, with long, blond hair. Long robes covered her body, revealing little, if any, details regarding her figure. In fact, her hair was similar to mine: just a little past her shoulders in a shaggy shape that seemed to crown her face. However, it was her eyes that stopped me dead; they were a vibrant purple. Unnatural, perhaps, but still achingly beautiful. It reminded me of violets that grew in the gardens of Langsport.
“Pardon, who are you?” I pressed.
She looked down at me with a mothering smile. “I’m Larcei. I’m the healer here at Celstine.”
“Y-You’re very beautiful,” I said, looking away with a blush.
“Oh, don’t flatter me,” she laughed.
Rachel rolled her eyes. “All right, enough with that. How did we get here exactly?”
“And what exactly is the deal with this place?” I added.
She paused, a slight frown playing on with lips. “We discussed it with the elders since you got here, but make sure you keep quiet. Layla will explain everything. We normally don’t welcome outsiders, but we didn’t want any deaths on our hands.”
As if on cue, the girl from earlier with her copper-brown braids hanging below her neck. “If y’all are feeling better, feel free to come with me!” she chirped.
With a moment’s hesitation, I pushed myself to my feet. The muscles in my arms shrieked in protest, but it quickly went away as I stood. The pain was a minor annoyance, but the word seemed clearer once I got to my feet.
I looked down at Rachel as she held her hand outstretched. “Hello, aren’t you going to help me up?” she asked in an impatient tone.
“Of course not. You can help yourself up,” I snorted.
“Milady, I’d be happy to --”
“No, no, you are staying here until you heal,” Larcei interrupted, pushing down Renault who had been trying to stand up. For how waif-like she appeared, the healer certainly had her moments of intensity.
I moved my gaze back to Rachel. “So? Get up on your own.” Princess. The word had almost left my mouth before I recalled what company we were keeping. Rachel pushed herself up to her feet slowly, fixing me with a mean-spirited glare. For the princess, it must’ve been new for her to not have Renault waiting on her hand and foot. This should be interesting, I thought to myself. Maybe now she can grow a backbone. Anyone besides Renault and Rachel herself would agree that the princess didn’t need any more spoiling.
My thoughts ground to a halt as we exited the hut. Outside, a warm breeze tickled my face. Open plains stretched as far as the eye could see, dotted with various, small huts. People milled around, each one looking stranger than the last. All of them had strangely-colored hair or eyes. A few children ran about, shouting and laughing as they played a game of tag. Far in the horizon, the sun was high in the azure sky. How long had we been asleep? At the very least, night had come and gone. All of the village folk wore different kinds of burlap or animal hides made into clothing such as tunics and dresses.
“This is Celstine,” Layla announced, waving her arms grandly, “Village of the Dragonkin.”
“You said that before,” I answered warily. “What does that mean?”
She turned back to us and smiled. “It means we’re dragons.”
The princess suddenly laughed so hard she was doubled over and clutching her knees. “You commoners are so funny! Just because I fell over a waterfall doesn’t mean I got brain damage from it.”
“Rachel, wait a second.” Now that I looked closer at Layla, something wasn’t right. Her eyes were a soft grey, completely normal in every regard. But her ears were pointed slightly at the tips. Magic could change almost every facet of appearance regarding color, but altering the shape of one’s body was outside the realm of possibility.
But that can’t be right. Dragons are in legends only, and even then, it said the gods drove them all away. “You have to be kidding.” My tone was extremely weary, unwilling to be taken in by some falsehood.
As if sensing the conflict inside me, the freckled girl offered a gentle smile. “I don’t know much of the outside world, but I’m guessing you humans are unaware of our existence. The last time a human came here was decades ago, and he swore he wouldn’t say anything.”
“If you’re a dragon then prove it,” Rachel countered heatedly. Once again, that light had been ignited in her. The light that had been doused by the river water was now shining once more.
“Er, I’m not sure how, honestly,” Layla sighed. “We have long ago given up our divine forms. Now we look like you, with a few key differences of course. We can’t breathe fire or anything like that.” The girl suddenly brightened. “I may not be able to prove I’m a dragon, but I can prove that I’m at least not human.” We followed her as she led us into a throng of various huts. The people of the village stared at us, some even hiding their children. Half of the gazes were hostile, while others seemed more curious.
At last, we stopped after entering a moderately-sized hut. The scent of freshly-cooked meat hung in the air, making my stomach growl. With a pang, I recalled my hunger from earlier. It was now driven up tenfold, making me double over with a gasp. It was strange how you could be immune to pain if you forgot about it.
“What’s wrong?” Layla asked, bending over. Despite the question, she didn’t seem very concerned. Her eyebrows were knit slightly in the middle, giving her a very cute expression.
“I need food,” I growled, sitting on the floor. “I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but I haven’t eaten in forever.”
The nymph-like girl plucked a hunk of beef off the stone grill using a sharp stick and handed it to me. The tender flesh burned my tongue, but I continued to chew anyway. Hot grease covered my tunic, but I needed to finish the meat before worrying about anything else. After a couple minutes, all of it was gone.
Rachel looked down at me, her nose wrinkling. “Your table manners are disgusting.”
“Aren’t you hungry too?!” I snapped.
“I guess,” she admitted, glancing away self-consciously. “I mean, I ate after you. So I have a few hours over you.”
Layla grabbed another piece of meat off the grill, handing it to the princess. “Here.”
Rachel ate it slowly, trying to make herself look delicate. Even so, it was obvious she longed to wolf it down. A light glinted in her eyes, revealing the sharp and savage hunger beneath. Nobody could make themselves look decent while eating something so messy and sloppy. After she was done, the princess took care to wipe her hands on a spare piece of cloth lying near the entrance. “So why did you bring us here?” she asked.
“Miki’s not here right now, so I figured I’d use some of his stuff while he’s away.” Layla grabbed a large butcher knife off the table, and in a swift motion, cut a thin slice into her arm. To my surprise, a light, silvery liquid trickled out of the abrasion. As calmly as if she were just picking flowers, the girl lifted her arm up to show us. “See? It’s not red.”
“That’s dangerous,” Rachel scolded. “You might bleed out!”
Layla laughed, and I struggled not to join in with her. “You can’t bleed out from something like this.” The blood from her arm caught a ray of sunshine from outside, glinting straight into my eye. “It’s quicksilver.” Her voice was oddly quiet as she wrapped a cloth around it. “We bleed quicksilver, instead of the red blood you humans have.”
The princess gawked before realizing she was looking quite unladylike, and shut her mouth. Indeed, her reaction didn’t seem too strange. The idea that dragons existed at all was quite bizarre. Immediately, a thousand questions ran through my mind. Why was this village hidden away? What’s the real story of what happened to the dragons? Are there more places like this? How many of them are there?
Sensing our turmoil, Layla ushered us outside the hut and away from the throng of villagers. It was only when we stopped in the fields that I looked at the freckled girl. “What is this place exactly? We were looking for it, but we didn’t know anything about dragons or the like.”
She frowned. “Hmm. That human was sworn to secrecy. If the elders hear about his betrayal, they’ll certainly not allow any more humans to enter. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even kill you.”
“W-wait, wait,” I sputtered, struggling not to panic. “He gave it to us for a very important reason. We need to seek refuge where nobody will find us.”
Rachel sighed, slowly lifting up her head proudly. “I am Princess Rachel of Leviatan,” she admitted. “Someone’s out for my head, and I’m on the run. He was sympathetic to our plight and offered us this map. He never mentioned dragons, however.”
Layla cocked her head, a curious glimmer shining in the depths of her charcoal-gray eyes. “A princess, eh? You seem pretty important.”
“Huh? You’ve never heard of me?”
“Of course they wouldn’t have,” I snapped. “They’re isolated away from humanity. Who knows when the last time they knew of the outer world was?”
The princess glared back at me stubbornly. “You didn’t have to be so rude about it. I’m not stupid!”
“Could’ve fooled me,” I muttered under my breath.
“Excuse me?!”
Layla’s soft giggling brought us back from our argument. The dragon girl laughed softly, her voice almost musical. “Are you mates or something? Or, wait, I think the human term for it is ‘lovers.’”
“Of course not,” I sighed. Where was she getting that from? “Rachel’s just a little brat I decided to babysit.”
“You didn’t need to come along, you know.”
“Oh, really? If I hadn’t shown up when I did, you would’ve been murdered and the whole kingdom would be none the wiser.”
At that remark, she shut her mouth and looked down. While my words had more than a grain of truth in them, it was still a cruel blow, even for me. Perhaps the princess resented me deep down. It made perfect sense, considering everything that happened. I may have saved her life, but it was all too easy to recall that the human mind was finicky like that. She would still feel resentment towards me, no matter what I did. Although it made perfect sense, frustration still clutched at my chest.
Layla stepped in between us, her braids swinging with each movement. “You know the truth now, so I’d best get you back to Larcei. He may not show it, but he secretly enjoys company. Especially since we rarely get injured enough to require medical attention.”
“Wait, he?” 
Layla tipped her head to the side, looking at me curiously. “Yes? Why?”
“You’re telling me Larcei’s a man?”
A bubbling laugh escaped the dragon girl’s lips. “Of course, silly! True, he looks a bit feminine, but Larcei is definitely a man.”
“You called him beautiful,” Rachel snickered.
“Sh-shut up!” I snapped, red rising to my cheeks. Larcei couldn’t have been a man. That was absurd! In fact, I continued in that method of thinking until we arrived back at the medic hut.
“Oh, Layla, how nice to see you’re back!” Larcei called out, waving her (his?) hand in the air. His robes were slightly open, revealing a smooth, toned chest. Various scars were scattered across the tissue, but my eyes focused more on the lack of breasts than anything else.
“I told you,” Layla chuckled before running over to the feminine medic. “Larcei, you look like a mess,” she scolded. “Fix yourself at once!”
“Of course, of course,” he replied, cinching his robes once more. “Sorry, that human inside is quite troublesome. Every few seconds, he’s always trying to get up and go see the girl.”
“I’ll have a word with him,” Rachel promised, taking long strides towards the entrance. As always, she was her usual, confident self. In all honesty, it was relieving to see she had already forgotten my harsh words.
Larcei turned his uncanny yet soothing gaze on me and smiled. “Ah, Lennard was it? Is that your name?”
“It’s Jackrabbit,” I told him, my eyes flickering over to the entrance of the hut before returning. “Call me Jack. Rachel calls me Lennard, but that’s…different.”
To my great deal of irritation, he flashed me a knowing smile. “Ah, well, it’s nice to make your acquaintance. I am Larcei, as you know.”
“Your name’s Jack?” Layla shot in, suddenly jumping into the conversation. “Sorry, I forgot to ask before.”
“You’re welcome to pass the time in here,” the blond medic offered. “The elders are still discussing your predicament, but for now, feel free to make yourselves at home. For your own safety, I recommend you abstain from journeying into the main village. But feel free to remain in this hut.”
“Oh, once the moon rises, I’ll go fetch you,” Layla offered. “You’re really lucky; tonight’s the Moon Ceremony.”
“The what?” I asked, my eyebrows raising.
She giggled. “You’ll find out later tonight. I have some things I need to do, but I’ll see you later tonight, Jack.” She dashed off, my name still hanging in the air. The girl had spoken it with the caring intimacy of a lover, though it was probably just my imagination. Turning my gaze back, I looked inside to see Rachel fussing over Renault. Beside me, Larcei smiled. 
“Not everyone agrees with my sentiment, but I’m happy you’re here.”
And looking at all of them, happy in their own ways, I found myself smiling too.

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