Kya closed her eyes and saw the moon’s country in all its unfettered glory. There was beauty and order, but as her mind’s eye rooted deeper, she saw a wildness hiding just below the surface. It was hungry as all great magicks are, but had the civility to use cutlery where it had it, and long, tapered fingers—slender, but strong—where it had none.
As she turned her mind’s eye to the gate, the silver leaves and star flowers swirled together into a long face with star fire eyes and slender teeth that jutted out of a too-wide mouth. It managed, somehow, to eye both her hand and herself with a hungry gleam, waiting patiently while it considered whether she was prey or hunter.
Kya gasped and opened her eyes. The gate stood with silver elegance, silent and toothless, but her gasp had been enough to turn a small key in the lock she hadn’t noticed before. The key chimed against the lock, and the gate swung open on well-greased hinges.
A path the color of blue shadows stretched out invitingly before her, guarded on either side by green-shadowed hedges with leaves that curled away from her.
“The moon cheese,” Hearthorne whispered. “Remember the mouse said it would protect you.”
Probably. The mouse had said it would probably protect her from being eaten, but Kya didn’t want to argue. Not with the gate wide open and expectant. Not with the blue ribbon of a path suggesting the way to go. Not with her heart knocking against her chest so hard.
Instead, she pressed her lips together and stepped onto the path. A shiver ran through her like a spark racing up a piece of twine as she crossed the threshold, and the weight of unseen eyes watching her pressed down on her shoulders and up against her back.
The path soon led her to a large mound made of shadows that had forgotten what color earth and grass were. Kya’s mouth went dry as she stared up at the mound, more of a child-sized mountain, really, that looked uncomfortably like the bulk of a dragon resting in a crouch. But atop the mound grew a tree with silver bark and milky white leaves. Here and there, the tree was freckled with round fruit that could only be described as white, though white was a poor description for it failed to encompass brilliant and glowing and starry. They were all color and none. Bright and burning, yet soft and radiant. A halo of light seeped up from the leaves and into the place between the tree and what passed for the sky on the moon.
“Perhaps a wish would have been cheaper,” Hearthorne murmured as she stared half fretfully and half in wonder up at the tree. “It would have been safer, at any rate.”
Kya’s wings fluttered behind her, contemplating flight, but Kya shook her head. Flying to the top of the mound felt too much like cheating, and she had the feeling that the mound took a very dim view on that sort of shortcut.
For the mound was alive and waiting and watching, no matter how still it kept or how well it held its breath. In a way she didn’t quite understand, but attributed to the moon cheese, Kya could almost see the life pulsing through the mound. As she followed the flow of life, she made a surprising discovery. The roots of the tree stretched down, down, down, down to the center of the mound.
Down to its heart.
And nestled next to the heart was the face from the gate with its bright knowing eyes and lips that curved into a hungry smile.
Kya blinked stupidly at the mound that slowly melted into what it truly was.
She’d found the dragon.
“If you can keep from being eaten,” Hearthorne whispered, “it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“How do I do that?” Kya whispered back, swallowing a wail that was clinging stubbornly to her dry mouth. She was no longer a flower, and dragons were no longer an abstract problem handled—or not—by someone else. This was the price of her admission, and as the mouse had said, done is done.
“Ordinarily I would say to be cunning and sly and make sure you have either a transport ring or a fireproof cloak. In your case, there is something to be said for determination, but don’t be stupid about it. Dragons abhor stupid, and would likely eat you on that principle alone, even if it wasn’t hungry.”
“Okay,” Kya whimpered, feeling as though she was staring her doom in the face.
As though it could read her thoughts, the dragonish face in her mind stretched its lips back into a wider grin.
“A dragon’s strength is also its weakness, and it will protect its heart above all else.”
“Next time,” Kya said, forcing her breaths to resemble something calm and orderly, “I get to negotiate the bargain.”
The corners of Hearthorne’s lips darkened into a secret smile, and she nodded.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Join me next Monday and we shall see about meeting this dragon. And, perhaps, if we are very careful, we’ll be lucky enough to catch sight of the moon dragon’s heart.