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Chapter 19: The Last Straw


Aeris rolled over on the mattress. Immediately she was greeted by Windor’s smiling face. He licked her snout and grinned. “Hey, you.”


She smiled then rolled over onto her back and stretched her limbs to the ceiling. “I haven’t slept like that in—I don’t know when,” she added, chuckling.


“Well, I like to think it had something to do with the company you keep,” Windor said slyly. He leaned over and nuzzled her neck.


Aeris leaned into his snout and let out a long slow churr. “I wish we could stay like this all night.”


“I would like you to stay longer,” Windor said, continuing to nibble her neck and under her chin. “But I don’t think my neighbors would like it. Shame. I have the day off, so I have nothing but free time.”


“Well, I don’t. I have to get back home before morning or else my master will notice I’m gone.”


Windor sat up and frowned. “Aeris, you don’t need to fear him. I mean, look at you. You may be a bit small, but you could easily take down a grown man. He doesn’t control you.”


Now it was Aeris’ turn to frown. She rolled over and stood to look Windor in the eye. “He has protected me since I was a hatchling; I’m not going to kill him, or threaten him,” she argued. “And I still live with him. I need to follow his rules.”


“I can’t argue with that. But isn’t being with me breaking his rules?”


Aeris fell silent. She didn’t have an answer to his question. Technically, Master Aaron hadn’t told her not to see Windor. But he did tell her to stay away from Aubrey. In that case, she had been lying and disobeying him for months.


She felt that strange knotting feeling return. Aubrey told her that dragons have no respect for those who don’t honor their word. Aeris never gave her word, but she still gave Master Aaron the expectation that she was doing something she wasn’t.


Windor must have sensed her distress because he sighed and nuzzled her. “I’m sorry. It’s too early to talk about this now. Wait here while I go get breakfast. It’s the first night we’ve spent together, and I shouldn’t be ruining it.”


It suddenly felt as if someone were pressing on Aeris’ throat. She had to swallow twice before attempting to speak. “D-did you just say…What time is it? Is it morning?”

Windor approached the door and peered through the window. “Not sure. From the looks of things, it’s close to midday.”


“What?!” Aeris bounded over to the window, nearly knocking Windor into the corner. Sure enough, the sun was up and shining brightly. Judging from its position it was close to noon.


Aeris’ tail curled around her legs. “No…no, no, no, no, no. Windor, why did you let me sleep here all night?!”


“I didn’t realize I needed to wake you,” Windor shot back. “After the night we had, I was a little exhausted.”


“I can’t believe this! I have to go!” Aeris rushed outside and kicked off the ground as hard as she could, taking off into the air.


She heard Windor calling after her. She beat her wings harder and increased her speed until the wind rushing in her ears drowned out all other sounds.


She needed to get home, now. If she were lucky, Master Aaron was too tired to check on her when he came home last night. Maggie may have noticed since she came to greet her first thing in the morning, but there was still a chance she was too busy to come by as well. The guard outside her room could have noticed, and if he had, she was in trouble.


Aeris continued to flap her wings until they began to feel sore. No matter how fast she flew, it felt as if the world was running just a little bit faster ahead of her. As if some invisible force had taken hold of her and was pulling her away from her destination. She began thinking up possible excuses for where she had been all night in case things didn’t go her way and someone noticed she left. She could try blaming things on Aubrey. Master Aaron already knew Aeris wanted to go see her. He may not even be surprised to hear of her disobeying him so long as he believed it was the first time.


Aeris is free to come and go as she chooses,” Maggie’s voice echoed.


I’m sure she is,” Aubrey’s voice answered.


Aeris couldn’t deny Maggie had a point; she was free to leave whenever she wanted. Once a dragon reached maturity, it was free to travel the city without supervision. Aeris wasn’t breaking any laws by leaving. And it’s not as if she was doing anything illegal. She was already registered, so that wasn’t an issue. But even knowing that she had done nothing wrong, she felt the need to hide her actions.


Aeris tried to force the thoughts out of her mind, but it kept returning, louder and more distracting. She knew exactly why she was so indecisive but didn’t want to admit it. Why even as she fought to be more independent she kept thinking of how it would benefit Master Aaron. It was because she was a good dragon; obedient, submissive, manipulatable. She was his good little pet.


Aeris urged even more speed out of her wings. Her wings ached and begged her to stop, but she didn’t even attempt to slow down until the estate came into view.


She flew up toward the clouds and circled back toward the forest to avoid being seen by anyone watching from the windows. In the woods, there was a small clearing about a half-mile from the edge of the estate grounds. She could land there without drawing attention and make the rest of the journey on foot. There was a path leading straight to her room. She just had to move quickly enough to avoid being seen. The guard would be an obstacle, but she could tell him she snuck out when he went to pee or something.


As she drew close to the clearing, she began to slow down. Unfortunately, her wings decided they had enough and seized up. Aeris plummeted toward the ground. She hit the tops of the trees first, the branches slowing her fall. She managed to land on her feet but pain still shot through her right foreleg.


Aeris bit back the urge to scream ignored the possible sprain, and limped through the forest as fast as she was able. There was little she could do about the injury now. The knot in her stomach tightened further. Even if no one noticed she was gone, now she needed a good excuse for why she was limping. If Master Aaron heard she hurt herself while flying, he would never let her do so again. And if Master Aaron suspected what she had really been doing, flying would be the least of her problems.


Aeris stopped when she reached the edge of the forest. She was out of breath, her lungs ached, her wings ached, her leg ached, and none of it compared to the fear that gripped her. She watched the open land around the estate carefully. There were no signs of anyone being outside or watching from the windows. Her room was still a good distance away though. But she was allowed on the estate grounds. So long as she remained calm and didn’t draw attention to herself, no one would think twice to see her walking around.


Aeris tried to look casual as she walked to her room, but it was impossible without limping and drawing attention to her injury. Thankfully no one ever came outside and approached her. The guard was also missing from outside her room.


She chose to count her blessing and went inside. Now that she was back in her room, she realized how exhausted she was.


“Tired?” Maggie asked.


Aeris' heart leaped into her throat and began beating at a rate she never thought possible. She was too afraid to blink, let alone move.


“Where have you been, Aeris?” Maggie asked, her voice cold and firm.


Aeris didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Any excuses she had thought of on the flight over vanished from her mind as quickly as a bubble popping.


“I asked you a question. Aeris, look at me when I’m talking to you.”


Aeris didn’t want to. She knew she couldn’t handle turning around and seeing the disappointment in Maggie’s face. But avoiding it wasn’t an option. Avoiding eye-contact would only make things worse.


She turned slowly, part from fear and part because of her injured leg. Her tail wrapped tightly around her ankles and her heart maintained its rapid beating as she turned.


Maggie sat on top of a crate by the old table in the corner of the room. Her face was completely calm and her hands were folded in her lap. On the surface, it looked as if Maggie didn’t suspect a thing. But the look in her eyes showed that she was at a level beyond furious.


“H-hi, M-Maggie,” Aeris said, trying unsuccessfully to keep her voice even. As it was now, she was almost squeaking. “I-I was just out-out flying, y’know? I-I figured I would circle the…estate a few times before lunch—”


Maggie’s gaze hardened and that was all it took for Aeris to snap her muzzle closed. “Aeris, you are a terrible liar, and you know I’m aware of this,” Maggie said in a calm voice. “I actually came by to check on you yesterday, but you were gone. I gave you some space and tried again this morning, and you were gone. I checked the skies, and you weren’t there. I searched every foot of this estate both inside and out, and there was no sign of you. Lord Strauss came by looking for you, and I told him you were relieving yourself in the woods. Now whether or not he believed it remains to be seen, but he has not asked about you again.


“Do you have any idea how worried I have been? Not knowing where you were and wondering what could have happened to you? After what happened at the wedding, I can’t believe you would run off like that without telling me where you were going.”


Aeris recoiled at Maggie’s words. “I’m sorry I lied, Maggie. And I’m sorry I stayed out all night. I went to see Aubrey and—”


“Aeris, I need you to stop,” Maggie said. Aeris immediately fell silent. “I already spoke to Helen earlier this morning. She told me about the argument between you and Aubrey. I can’t believe you’ve been teaching dragons to read! I told you that it was dangerous for you to be learning.” She sighed and smoothed her blouse which didn’t require straightening. “But that’s not what I need to say to you. Helen said you disappeared and no one had seen you since. I am going to ask you one more time, and I want you to think very, very carefully before you lie to me again: Where were you?”


Aeris’ tail wrapped around her hind legs so tightly, she couldn’t walk if she tried. She had never seen Maggie this angry before. Her voice and face were as still as a calm lake. Yet she could hear it in the woman’s voice. She feltit whenever she spoke. Every word, every syllable was seething with rage.


There was no way out. She had to tell the truth. Maggie would see through any lie, and it would only make things worse.


Aeris stared at her paws. “I-I was with Windor.”


She couldn’t see Maggie’s expression, but she felt the woman’s gaze burning into her skull.


“And who is Windor?” Maggie said, her voice shaking.


Aeris swallowed thickly and dug her claws into the dirt floor. She continued to stare at the ground as if everything she needed to say had been written there for her. But there was nothing there, just shallow furrows in the dirt she had dug with her claws. “Windor is a drake I have been…seeing for some time.”


“A…drake? Aeris, you’ve been—Look at me when I talk to you!”


Aeris flinched. It was a struggle to lift her head, but she managed to look Maggie in the eye. The woman hadn’t moved from the table, but she was on her feet. And her fury now masked her face.


“How long?” Maggie asked.


Aeris couldn’t answer. Her throat had locked up and any sound she attempted to make was cut off and sent back where it came from. She couldn’t understand why Maggie seemed more upset to learn about the drake than her sneaking off. But she dared not ask the question.


Maggie began walking toward her. Panic gripped Aeris and she yelped and tried to back away, but her tail was still wrapped around her legs. She lost her balance and fell on her side. She curled into a ball and watched with fear-filled eyes as Maggie stood over her.


"Aeris…" Maggie said in a dangerously calm voice, "I need to understand right now: In the last few weeks, you have been going to see a dragon. A male dragon?”


Aeris continued to lay on the floor and nodded.


“And did you…” Maggie drifted off before she could finish the rest of the sentence. But Aeris didn’t need her to. She knew exactly what Maggie wanted to know.


Part of her wanted to lie. Telling the truth wouldn’t end well. It would just serve to worsen Maggie’s fury. She had to lie even if it would just serve to put the woman’s mind at ease. But telling a lie wouldn’t be any better. Maggie would see right through it, and she’d be even angrier.


Aeris curled up even tighter and slowly nodded.


Maggie’s mouth dropped open as she stumbled away until her back hit the wall. Then she slid to the floor. “Aeris…do you know what you’ve done? Why? Why would you do something so foolish?”


Maggie's words echoed in Aeris's mind again: “Aeris is free to leave if she chooses.”


“I’m sure she is.”


For the first time, she understood what that meant. Why Aubrey got so upset when she spoke about how happy she was. She was a prisoner. They told her she had freedoms, they told her she could do whatever she wanted, but it was all a lie. A ploy to keep her placated. To keep her from seeing the silk bars of her cage.


Something welled-up within Aeris. Courage? Rage? She didn’t know. “Maggie, I’m a mature dragon now. Why can’t I go see who I want?”


“Aeris, you don’t understand—”


“Then help me understand!”


“Keep your voice down—”


“No!” Aeris stood, her fear forgotten. “I need to know why you say I can do as I please but try to talk me out of everything I want to do. I’m tired of being treated like a child.”


Aeris stood there, her breath coming in short hard bursts. Maggie stared at her wide-eyed. The two stared at each other, letting the awkward silence blanket them.


Eventually, Maggie stood then brushed the dirt from her clothes and said, "We will finish this conversation later. For now, I will talk to Lord Strauss and make sure he doesn't suspect anything. In the meantime, stay here and don't talk to anyone."


Maggie crossed the room and opened the door. Standing in the doorway was Master Aaron. Aeris fought the urge to bury her head in the dirt.


“L-Lord Strauss!” Maggie cried. “I was just coming to see you. I wanted you to know that—”


Master Aaron’s face twisted into a sneer, and he slapped Maggie across the face. The sound hurt Aeris’ ears as it cut through the silent room. Maggie cried out in pain and stumbled away, clutching her face.


Aeris backed away until the corner halted her retreat. She had never seen Master Aaron strike Maggie or this angry. His face was so twisted in fury she barely recognized the man.


Master Aaron stalked inside, slamming the door closed behind him. “This…This is what has been going on behind my back. Under my roof!”


Maggie lowered her hand. Aeris caught a brief glimpse of redness on Maggie’s face where Master Aaron had struck her.


“Lord Strauss, I can explain—” Maggie began.


Master Aaron slapped her again. Maggie fell to her knees. Aeris curled her tail around her body and her wings over her torso like a shield. She wanted to go over and help Maggie, but she was too frightened to move.


Master Aaron stood over Maggie. For a moment Aeris feared he was going to hit her again. But he only pointed a threatening finger at the cowering woman. "You…You put ideas in Aeris' head. You're the reason for Aeris' disobedient behavior. Do you have any idea the damage it could've caused if people found out about this? Do you know what I had to do to set up that wedding with Reks? And thanks to you, she's in danger of developing a reputation as a whore! If word got out, she would be useless to me!"


“M-Master A-Aaron, please,” Aeris pleaded. “I-It wasn’t Maggie’s fault—”


Master Aaron whirled around and pointed his finger at Aeris. “SILENCE!”


Aeris let out a frightened squeak and buried her face behind her wings. She couldn’t see what was happening, but she could hear Master Aaron speaking. Every word still dripped with venom and rage.


“I have put up with your disobedience for far too long, Margret. I never cared that you did things with Aeris behind my back. I know you have been the closest thing to a mother she’s ever had.” He sighed heavily, and his voice no longer carried the anger from before. “But I will not allow you to put her in danger in some misguided attempt to defy me. I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work. I have to let you go.”


It felt as if time itself had stopped. Aeris had known Maggie for years. Ever since she had hatched, the woman watched over her.


"What?" Maggie asked, "You can't be serious."


“I am serious, Margret. You’re fired. Gather your things and leave.”


Aeris rushed over to her master and threw herself at his feet. “Master Aaron, don’t! Please, don’t send Maggie away!”


Master Aaron looked down at Aeris. "I'm sorry, Aeris, but anything could have happened to you while you were out there. She knew you were running off alone, knew you were destroying the future I worked so hard to build for you and said nothing."


“But she didn’t know!” Aeris said quickly. Not a complete lie, but Maggie knew more than enough. She knew lying could potentially make things worse, but she had to try. If it was the only way Maggie could stay, she would tell any lie she had to. “I lied to Maggie about where I was and what I was doing. She would never let me go anywhere alone, just like you.”


Master Aaron reached down and gently took Aeris's face in his hands. "You poor, silly dragon. You don't need to lie for her. Someone who would knowingly let you put yourself in danger is not someone who can be trusted. Trust me, you'll be better off under someone else's care."


Aeris’ vision blurred. It was hard to breathe, but she continued pleading with her master. “Please! I’ll do anything—whatever you want! Just don’t send her away! I’ll be a good dragon from now on, I promise! I’ll never sneak out again. I’ll stay right here and do whatever you say! Just…don’t send Maggie away, please!”


“Aeris, stop,” Maggie said. “If Lord Strauss wants me gone then I will leave.”


Aeris faced Maggie. Half of her face had turned red from being struck by Aaron. Her lip was busted open and blood dripped onto her blouse, but she stared at Aaron with a fierce, cold look. “Aeris, Lord Strauss is right. I have knowingly allowed you to put yourself in danger. I cannot let that happen again.”


Aeris couldn’t breathe. Every exhale pushed more air out than she could draw in. The blurring of her vision worsened. It couldn’t be happening. She would wake up to find it had been a horrible dream. Maggie would walk in with her breakfast as she always did.


But she knew it was a lie. The next time she would wake, Maggie wouldn’t be there. Coming to greet her every morning would be a stranger. Someone who didn’t care for her. Someone she couldn’t share her likes, dislikes, and fears with. No one else besides Lilith gave her the time of day anymore, and even those visits were rare. She began to feel lightheaded as she struggled to breathe.


Maggie’s expression turned to concern. “Aeris? Are you all—”


Aeris didn’t hear the rest of Maggie’s words. Everything turned sideways, and her body felt weightless. Her vision faded to black and she knew no more.




Aeris slowly opened her eyes. The familiar sight of the walls of her room brought her little comfort. Her shadow danced on the wall, most likely from the flame of a candle making her assume it was dark out. She knew what happened before wasn’t a dream—no matter how much she wanted it to be.


The melancholic thoughts were interrupted at the realization someone was touching her. They held her tail and were touching her rear. She craned her neck to see who it was. She was surprised to see the doctor kneeling near her. He was a short wiry man with kind brown eyes. He had been her doctor since she was a hatchling, so she knew he could be trusted.


“What are you doing?” she asked.


The doctor lifted his head. “Oh? You’re awake. Well, this is certainly awkward. Forgive me, but I noticed something when I was examining you and I needed to be certain. He stood and pressed a long tube against her chest, placing his ear on the other end. “How are you feeling? You gave us quite a scare.”


“I-I feel…fine?” Aeris looked around the room. Master Aaron leaned against the door, wearing a look of concern. Lilith stood next to him, her face a mask of neutrality. “Where’s Maggie?”


Lilith turned away. Master Aaron spoke up in the voice he used when he was informing her of something important. "Maggie is gone. After you fainted, I had her leave. I thought it best she not be here when you awoke and upset you further."




The doctor patted Aeris’ side gently and hushed her. “I need you to remain calm. You don’t want anything to happen to the little ones.”


“Little ones?” Aeris asked, tilting her head.


The doctor suddenly looked uncomfortable and he shot a fearful glance in Master Aaron’s direction. “Uh, you’re pregnant.”


Aeris’ stomach dropped. “I’m what? B-But how? When?”


“I…Lord Strauss, she does understand how babies are made, correct?”


Master Aaron chuckled nervously. "She's just in shock. I don't think she planned this in any way." He shot a dark look in her direction which she avoided. "Doctor, would you mind giving us a moment? I need to speak with my dragon."


“Actually, Lord Strauss, I need to speak with you in private.” The two men left the room, leaving Aeris and Lilith alone.


For the first time in a long time, Aeris felt her curiosity return only this time, it wasn’t pleasant. It was a dreaded feeling about what the doctor and Master Aaron could be talking about.


“So, getting engaged before me wasn’t enough for you?” Lilith asked. There was a stinging bitterness in her voice that made it hard for Aeris to look her in the eye. “You said you had never been with another dragon. When did that change?”


“A few months ago,” Aeris said meekly.


“I’m guessing you didn’t consider the possibility of getting pregnant.”


Aeris shook her head. She hadn’t considered the possibility although she knew exactly how pregnancies worked. Not once had she questioned what she was going to do if she got pregnant. To change the subject she asked, “How long was I out?”


“A few hours,” Lilith replied stiffly. “I’m sure you noticed it’s night.”


“Is…Is Maggie really gone?”


“She is. Aaron had her escorted from the grounds. I’m pretty sure he’ll have her arrested if she comes back.”


“You could’ve helped her. Why didn’t you—”


Master Aaron returned, cutting the conversation short. The doctor was not with him. Whatever the two men had discussed outside, Master Aaron had a large smile on his face. As he approached Aeris, she remembered the fury in his voice and the frightening face he made when he learned of her disobedience. She scooted off the mattress away from him.


"Aeris, I would never hurt you," Master Aaron said. He didn't stop his advance and his smile grew wider. If he intended to disarm her, it was having the opposite effect. She closed her eyes tight and braced for the inevitable. Her master had never struck her, but the same was once said of Maggie


She still flinched when she felt him gently rub her snout. "You beautiful, wonderful dragon," he said. "And here I thought things had gone downhill. I am a little upset you hid it from me, but thanks to you and Reks, my plans can continue."


Aeris slowly opened her eyes. She chose not to tell her master who the real father was. It would only upset him and there was no telling what he would do to Windor. And something else about her master’s words had occupied her mind. “What plan?”


“You don’t need to worry about that. Just know that you are helping me greatly and I can never thank you enough for it.” He stood and added. “You just stay here and take it easy.” He beamed at her before leaving the room.


Lilith remained where she stood, looking crossly at Aeris. “I knew I was a fool for thinking I could compete with a dragon,” she spat. “The very notion that I had to compete with you at all is insulting. Even when you’re out causing mischief, you manage to become the center of his world.”


Aeris walked back to the mattress and laid down. Now that she was aware of the pregnancy, her body felt different. Heavier and more fragile at the same time. Every movement felt awkward and she worried if it affected her unhatched children. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you trouble."


“You never do. But I guess that’s what makes you so infuriating. You’re a thorn in my side without even trying!”


Aeris recoiled from the outburst. This was not something she expected from Lilith. “B-But you told me to be more independent.”


“Because I wanted you out of my way,” Lilith said. “But that will never be an option. Now that his ‘precious dragon’ has gotten pregnant, I doubt he’ll even look at me for the next several months. And that’s before they hatch…” She gave a short, humorless laugh. “I don’t even know why I’m still here. I should’ve cut ties and left a long time ago. Maybe I’m just as stupid and naïve as you for believing this man could love me.”


Aeris lowered her head. “I’m sorry.”


Lilith frowned then walked over to the door without a word. Aeris wasn’t sure what she had done to make Lilith so angry, but it seemed she was pissing off everyone she knew. She looked down at her stomach which was also larger than normal. Up until now, she never questioned it. Maggie had even made a few jokes about Aeris putting on a few pounds. She wondered where Maggie was and what she was doing now.


Aeris placed her head on her forelegs and whined. Reks and Maggie were gone, Aubrey and Lilith were mad at her, Cutter couldn’t be trusted, and there was a good chance she would never see Windor again. If there was a way for things to be worse, she couldn’t think of it.


The door opened and Lydia came inside carrying a large tray of food. The tray rattled as the large woman crossed the room, looking everywhere but in Aeris’ direction.


“Just set it down on the floor, Lydia,” Aeris said. “I’ll come get it.”


“N-No, that’s a-all right. After all, you’re pregnant and it wouldn’t do to make you do too much.” She walked up to the mattress and shakily placed the tray on the floor. “I-I’ll be right over there while you eat.”


Aeris stared at the tray. It was her favorite, and a much larger portion—likely because her master had no doubt told everyone the news—but she had lost her appetite. But Lydia had taken the time to prepare the meal as she always did and even decided to bring it to her despite her fear of dragons, so Aeris forced herself to eat the meal.


“I’m sorry about Maggie,” Lydia said. Aeris lifted her head. “She was truly a wonderful woman, and she cared about you greatly.”


“Thank you.”


“She wanted me to pass a message along to you: Don’t give up. She’ll come back for you one day.”


Hearing those words raised Aeris’ spirits a little. She swallowed a large chunk of meat and nodded.


Lydia smiled and they remained silent as Aeris ate the rest of the meal with much more enthusiasm than before. It wasn’t as if she could never see Maggie again. She had become quite proficient at sneaking out.


When Aeris finished eating, she noticed a note under one of the plates. She gingerly pulled out the piece of paper and read it. It was written by the same hand who wrote the first note someone left by her food all those weeks ago.


Hang in there.


Aeris looked up at Lydia. “That was you who was leaving me food before?”


Lydia played with her apron. “I told myself I would never let someone go hungry. And I think cutting someone off from food is a cruel punishment. But you hung in there. Just like Maggie said you would. She talked about you all the time.” She retrieved the tray and headed back to the door. Before leaving she added, “You’re stronger than you think, Aeris. No matter what happens next, never forget that.”


Aeris tilted her head as she watched the woman leave. It was an odd note to leave things on. She rolled over on her back and rubbed her forepaws over her bulging belly. It felt so strange to think that now she had become pregnant. She wished Aubrey was talking to her. If ever there was a moment she wanted her help, it was now.


Submitted: July 21, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Evan Drake. All rights reserved.

Check out Evan Drake's Book


Where Dragons Rule: Dissent

This is an older version of the book. Check out the revised edition with new characters and reworked plot on Amazon!


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