By Anj Dockrey
My name is Willamina and I’m thirteen years old. My family—mom, dad, and my sister Adabelle—live in a skinny, four-story house with our butler Shaorow . . . Shaorox
“How do you spell your name?” I call out.
. . . Shaoreaux. He’s nineteen, and he has blue eyes and shaggy black hair. He’s short for a boy, and not very muscley . . . athletic. Dad says he’s the smartest student he’s ever had, and he’s good at cleaning and really good at cooking. He’s also teaching me the ancient art of Dracongei.
“Why do you need to know how to write my name?” Shaoreaux asks suspiciously, coming out of the kitchen and drying his hands on the towel he has stuck into the belt of his pants.
I slide my textbook over my journal.
“We have to write observations of our family members, like a nature study.”
“Well don’t write about me. The other kids might look down on you if you write about your servant as part of your family.”
I roll my eyes. Shaoreaux has a chip on his shoulder about being a servant, even though he’s just doing it to pay his University fees. Dad calls it his scholarship. We have a student living with us every year.
“You could marry Adabelle. Then you’d be family.”
I’m up out of my seat and dodging by the time he snaps his dishtowel at me.
“The teacher isn’t even going to read it!” I bellow. “She said it’s private.”
“Just be careful what you say and write. You don’t know who might be—”
“I know, Shaoreaux!”
He stomps back to the kitchen, which soon begins producing the warm smell of sautéed butter and wild mushrooms. I pull my journal back out.
Legend says long ago everyone could turn into dragons. Long, snake-like creatures the length of an ocean-liner, with scales of every color of jewel, sapphire and pearl, gold and ruby, emerald and jade. Tufts of feathery manes ran down their backs and tails, and they could fly.
But no one turns into dragons anymore.
Adabelle thinks it’s a myth; that it’s physically impossible for a person to turn into a dragon. But if it’s a myth, why are there laws forbidding it?
Mom and Adabelle come in downstairs. Cold air wafts from the staircase and I can hear Adabelle griping all the way up about choir drama.
I don’t bother to hide my journal. When Adabelle is like this she sucks up all the attention in the room. She’s sixteen and very pretty, with light amber eyes that seem to glow against her dark skin. Adabelle got all the prettiness—my skin is brown as a nut and I still have freckles—but I got all the brains.
I didn’t turn into a dragon on purpose. Well . . . I wanted to, but I didn’t actually think it would really happen.
I was having a really bad day. I failed the math homework, and Mrs. Garvis pointed it out to everybody. I was so frazzled that when we did Spelling Showdown—which I’ve won five weeks straight—I lost to Marta Berenge. Then to rub it in I heard Karrigan Talli whisper that you’d think I’d be smarter since my dad’s a professor.
After that, nothing could improve my mood. Not even school ending early because of a fire drill. Shaoreaux was supposed to pick me up, but instead of waiting for him, I cut back through the playground.
Our house is quite near the school. Between our back yard and the school yard there’s nothing but a strip of woods. I’m not supposed to hang out there because there’s a drainage ditch that floods, but I do anyway.
Just before you get to the ditch, the trees open onto a field where nothing grows but dry yellow grass and a few shrubs. I kicked a crushed juice can and felt mad at everyone and everything. I couldn’t see the point of doing well in school. Marta Berenge wants to be a doctor and save lives, and everyone thinks she’s so great. (I think she’s fake.) But I don’t have a dream like that.
I looked up at the sky for so long it started to feel like I was looking down into it instead, into a pool of blue deeper than the ocean. My heart started to buzz, the way your foot does when it falls asleep.
I started to run, trying to shake the strange feeling. But it only got stronger. Suddenly I was running faster than I ever had before, so fast that the world blurred around me. I neared the ditch, and even though it’s twenty feet across and just as deep, I didn’t stop.
And I didn’t come down. I streaked up like a rocket.
It was the best feeling ever, flying, like that moment your stomach does a flip when you’re on a roller coaster, but the feeling goes on and on.
I could feel my body had transformed. Longer and bigger, but lighter at the same time. The cool air streamed around me, and I could feel the sunlight glinting against me as I twirled and flipped and spun.
“Willa, come down.”
It was Shaoreaux’s voice, as clear as if he were speaking in my ear, but I didn’t know where it came from.
I spun, and suddenly I saw him, looking small and distant in the field. I heard his voice again, though his lips did not move.
“Willa, come back. It’s not safe.”
I shook my head and streaked away, the air whistling around me. I hit the tree line and flew into the pines, my long body weaving through them effortlessly, with only a ticklish whisper of their waxy needles against my scales.
I made a game out of dodging trees all the way down to the harbor. A large shadow fell over me just as I reached the beach, which isn’t sand but rocks worn by the water to be smooth as marbles, and I looked up and saw a dragon with bright blue scales. Aqua fur, the color of the underside of a glacier, grew around his long snout like a beard, and ran along his back. He wove around me in a spiral and forced me down till I was skimming the surface of the water.
“Willamina, we have to go back. It’s not safe out here.”
“Shaoreaux?” I thought.
“Yes, Shaoreaux. Let’s go back now.”
Shaoreaux and I were talking, in our heads! It should have felt weird, but it didn’t. It felt as natural as flying.
“Willamina, come back now!”
“No! This is the greatest thing ever. I’m never going back!” I shot forward.
But Shaoreaux was faster. He forced me lower, till my belly smacked the waves, sending up cold salt spray. To my dragon eyes each water drop looked like a prism full of rainbows.
I veered left, towards the open sea.
“No!” Shaoreaux yelled in my mind, but I didn’t listen. We flew under the highway overpass and into the busy part of the harbor. I upset a sailboat, and nearly rammed a freighter, before Shaoreaux forced me under water.
Holding your breath going high speed as a dragon isn’t any easier than doing it as a person. I inhaled water and passed out. When I woke up Shaoreaux was a man again and I was a girl, and he was pounding the flat of his hand on my back. We were on the beach just under the tree line, drenched, naked and shivering.
“Avert your eyes,” Shaoreaux said. “Your parents will have me arrested if they ever find out about this.”
It wasn’t like I meant to look in the first place.
“We’re still down by the harbor,” he said. “It’s too far to walk.”
“Can’t we fly back?” I asked.
“Not in the open. They might be on the lookout for us now. We need to get home before your mother. Willa, can you change back into a dragon?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m too big to fly between these trees. I need you to carry me back to where our clothes are. Can you do that?”
“I’ll try,” I said, teeth chattering.
“Okay, first clear your mind and remember what you were thinking when you changed.”
“I was mad.”
“What were you looking at?”
“The sky. That was it. I wanted to fly.”
“Good. Look up and remember that feeling. Clear your mind of everything but that.”
I did as he said. I remembered the feeling of flying, of being buoyed in the air, and my chest began to buzz again. Pine needles crackled as my weight increased, and Shaoreaux had to scramble out of the way.
“Good girl,” he said, rubbing my snout. He climbed onto my back, and seemed to weigh no more than my backpack. “Remember, stay low.”
I took off, weaving through the trees so fast that Shaoreaux gripped my mane for dear life. It was fun, but we reached the field too soon.
Changing back into a girl was a lot harder. The problem was I didn’t want to.
“I can’t blame you,” Shaoreaux said, patting my head. He’d already put his clothes back on. “This is our true nature. But if you change back, I promise I’ll teach you both how to be a dragon and how to not get caught at it.”
I usually don’t trust adults who make bargains. Like when they say they’ll buy you an ice cream “next time” if you clean your room now. But Shaoreaux was different. We shared the same secret.
“Plus we’re having mussel pasta today,” he said, pointing at the shopping bags he’d dropped when he’d come after me.
Just thinking about it made me change back into a girl. He’s a very good cook.
My clothes were ripped, since I didn’t take them off before I changed into a dragon. Shaoreaux lent me his coat and we cut through the woods to get home.
Adabelle goes upstairs to change and leaves her electric notebook on the table. I grab it. Shaoreaux told me that dragon colors were named after jewels, and he told me I would be a jasper dragon, so I look up jasper. To my disappointment it’s a brown rock. I want to be a pretty color like Shaoreaux’s blue. I look up gemstones in general and find one that matches his color perfectly. Lapis lazuli. Even the name is pretty.
When Shaoreaux and I got home after that first flight, I changed into clean clothes and Shaoreaux threw my ruined ones away then put the trash out on the curb. Then he started dinner. I followed him into the kitchen instead of doing my homework at the table like I normally do. Our kitchen is tiny, with yellow glazed tile on the floor and counter. I can still walk under the low archway between it and the dining room, but Shaoreaux has to duck. A long time ago there was a door with a rounded top between them, but someone took it down before I was born. The black iron hinges are still there.
“Don’t worry, I intend to keep my promise,” Shaoreaux said, though I didn’t ask. He tipped a spoonful of salt into the water and waited for it to boil. “There’s no telling what trouble you’ll cause if I don’t train you.”
“Did someone train you?”
“My grandfather. He taught me how to not get caught. He also taught me the heritage of our people. There’s nothing shameful in being Dragon. The shameful thing is the need to hide it.”
“I don’t see why we need to hide it,” I sulked. I stuck my finger into the top hinge of the doorway and swung on my heels.
“The law forbids even talking about it. If you get caught changing, they’ll lock you away.”
“But why? We were dragons in the first place. Why did we change?”
“This is the way my grandfather told it to me. A long time ago we were all dragons. We lived in caves, or in the forest or under the sea. We were primitive and free. But then we met people from another world, people who look similar to how we look today. These people had clever machines, ships that could travel to the stars, powerful weapons. They told us all about the universe, about the wonders and dangers out there in the stars. Some of our ancestors wanted the ships of the strangers, so that see the wonders the aliens spoke of. Others wanted their weapons so that they could protect our world from danger. But our bodies were too big for ships, and we didn’t have hands to build machines. So the strangers helped us change our DNA, and we learned how to change our shape to mimic theirs. We gathered together to build machines, and our population grew, and soon there wasn’t enough room or food for everyone to be a dragon.”
“So where are these starships, then?” I asked sourly. “Since we traded being dragons for them why don’t we have starships now?”
“A war broke out in the universe. Our ancestors decided to hide our planet to keep it safe. We couldn’t send any ships or signals, lest our enemies find us.”
“Perhaps. Maybe they had good reasons at the time. But the rules were made so long ago, people have forgotten why. They just follow them blindly.”
“Well I’m not going to!” I declared.
“You will!” Shaoreaux snapped. “Or else I won’t teach you or help you if the government comes and throws you in jail.”
“Fine, I already know how to turn into a dragon and fly. I’ll take my chances.”
The water in the pot began to boil and Shaoreaux dumped a handful of noodles into it. The water hissed and splashed him.
Shaoreaux waved his hand and the water slowed midair. He flicked his fingers and the water spun into a ball, then froze into a crystalline snowflake that floated into my hand. It began to melt immediately on my palm.
“Still think you know everything about being a dragon?” he asked with a wink.
Since then, every other night, just past midnight, we’ve been sneaking out to meet in the backyard, as dragons. Shaoreaux has it easy—his bedroom is in the basement, so he just has to stand on his desk and shimmy out the small, high window into the flowerbed.
My room is in the attic loft. Instead it has a creaky ladder leading down into the den. So to get out of the house, I have to sneak past Adabelle and my parents, then out the front door and around the house, since there is no backdoor.
So instead of all that, I climb out my window onto the gabled roof. Shaoreaux changes into a dragon and I climb onto his back, and we fly to the field in the woods between our house and the school. I keep a bag of his clothes with me, so that he can change back into a man when we get there.
“Dragons have natural magic,” Shaoreaux explains to me in the field under a bright half-moon. “Your natural element fuels your magic, and your coloring is a clue to your element. You can guess mine?”
“Water,” I said.
“Correct. Yours may be earth or wood. I think wood, because you’re more brown than yellow.”
I am still pouting about the fact that I’m brown-colored and not something flashier. At my request, Shaoreaux brought a pocket mirror to our first lesson, but I couldn’t see my color in the dark. Shaoreaux refuses to use flashlights.
We walk into the woods, and Shaoreaux stops at a bush with heart-shaped leaves that have begun to brown.
“Do you know what kind of plant this is?” he asks.
“Can you picture what kind of flowers it has?”
I nod. In spring the bush has puffy clusters of fragrant white blossoms.
“Make it bloom.”
“Now? It’s fall.”
“If your element is wood, then you have an affinity with growing things. Try talking to it.”
Talk to a plant? Well, it wasn’t the strangest thing in the world. Last year in school we learned myths where the trees had souls called dryads that could talk and play tricks.
“Hi, bush,” I say.
“Not aloud,” Shaoreaux says, half irritated, half amused. “With your mind, the way we talk when we are dragons.”
I feel silly. But then I remember something that happened to me when I was a little kid. I’d climbed a tree and was lying on a branch with my cheek and ear against the bark. I dozed off and dreamt I could hear the tree’s heartbeat. I lie on my stomach. The ground is covered in fallen pine needles, silky and prickly against my cheek. I touch the thorny trunk of the snowball bush, and feel the life force coursing through it like blood through veins. The soul of the bush is sparkly green.
I think of the white snowball flowers, of the gentle warmth of the spring sun after a crisp, cold night, the ground wet and wakening. I feel the plant’s joy as its buds unfurl.
“Willa,” Shaoreaux breathed. “Look.”
I open my eyes and see the bush covered in blossoms, frothy white in the moonlight. Tears fill my eyes. This is my second miracle.
By the time mom and Adabelle came home the night of my first flight, Shaoreaux was tossing pasta with salty mussels from the harbor. Dad arrived home just as Shaoreaux dished the pasta up on plates, and we had a normal family dinner. Shaoreaux ate with us, like he always does. For all he gripes about being a servant, I’m pretty sure he’s the only one who thinks of himself as one. Well, maybe Adabelle thinks he is too, I don’t care what she thinks.
After dinner Adabelle shut herself in her room and Mom went to the den to use the NET terminal. Dad opened the window behind his chair and lit his pipe, settling in to read the news while Shaoreaux cleared the table. I brought my homework back to the table. I like the vanilla smell of Dad’s pipe.
“Sounds like there was a disturbance at the harbor,” said Dad.
I looked at Shaoreaux in panic, and he gave me a warning look.
“A boat overturned, and a freighter splashed by a mysterious wave. Several witnesses swear they saw a dragon in the water,” Dad read.
“Really?” Shaoreaux asked. He took a pile of dishes and disappeared into the kitchen. I kept my eyes on my fractions.
“I thought you’d be interested in this, Willa,” Dad said. I realized I was acting too nonchalant.
“Adabelle says there’s no such thing as dragons,” I said.
“Well that’s just idiotic,” said Dad. “They’re part of our history.”
I snickered. “You called Adabelle an idiot.”
“I did not call your sister an idiot. Our school system is what’s idiotic, ignoring such a vital part of our history. Don’t you agree, Shaoreaux?”
“It’s the best way to mold society,” said Shaoreaux, who had returned to the dining room with a glass of dad’s berry schnapps. “Indoctrinate the young with revisionist history, and it won’t even occur to them to question the current status quo.”
“Exactly!” Dad pounded his fist on the table, and he was off on one of his rants. Crisis averted.
The storm strikes in the dark hour before dawn. It’s right overhead, and a thunderclap shakes my attic bedroom with such violence that I wake. Normally I spend storms huddled under my covers, pillows pinned over my ears. I feel different tonight, afraid but drawn to it nonetheless. I get up and watch from my window, an afghan wrapped around my shoulders, my feet bare and chill against the wooden floor. The sky is lousy with lightning, and against the illuminated clouds I see a long, sinuous form spiraling up, upwards like a wisp of smoke. Lightning strikes and all I see is a shower of sparks as Shaoreaux and the lightening meet. I scream and throw my window open. The rain whips my face like cold needles, but I don’t care. I don’t bother to take off my pajamas or look down at the steep drop from the roof to the backyard below. I climb out the window, my bare feet slipping on the wet, wooden shingles of the roof. I leap and change mid-air. I coil then uncoil to boost myself upwards, and the tip of my tail flicks my open window and shatters it.
Thunder claps and the sound reverberates through me, my scales shivering with excitement and fear. The charged air makes my mane stand on end. I fly towards where I saw Shaoreaux last, towards the great, roiling cloud where light seems to be warring with the darkness.
A streak of lightning illuminates Shaoreaux’s silhouette in stark relief. He’s flying even higher, up into the storm cloud.
Thunder again, so close and loud this time that it hurts my teeth. Lightning lasts only a second, but somehow Shaoreaux catches it. He and the lightening meet, and beads of mercury rain down like a giant firework.
I realize at last that it isn’t hurting him, and I slow to watch in wonder.
“Go back,” Shaoreaux says, noticing me at last. “It’s not safe for you.”
“You’re doing it.”
“I’m a water dragon. I’m conductive. Your element is wood, remember? Do you know what lightning does to wood?”
I feel a tingling as the air charges around me, and suddenly Shaoreaux is barreling towards me through the rain. He catches the lightning as it strikes, drawing it away from me.
I fly back towards the house as fast as I can, fear making me foolish. I see a face in my broken attic window, staring right at me. I dart past the house into the woods, terrified that we’ve been caught.
“Wait for me there,” Shaoreaux calls. He takes a more roundabout way through the woods, and we change back to people under the trees. We shimmy down through the window into his room, cluttering his desk with wet leaves. He tosses me a quilt.
“Cover yourself,” he says. “Hide the fact you’ve lost your pajamas and let me do the talking. Wait.”
He points to my head, and I realize that our hair is wet.
Shaoreaux’s eyelids droop. He inhales then blows a sudden puff of air. I feel my hair and it’s so dry it crackles.
I grin and follow him upstairs to the kitchen, where we run into Dad. I freeze in shock, but Dad just asks, “What’s going on? Why are you down here?”
This is directed to me, but Shaoreaux answers.
“The storm broke her window and she got scared,” he says. “She woke me up to make her some tea.”
Dad frowns at me.
“Next time wake me or your mother. Don’t bother Shaoreaux in the middle of the night. He is a student first, not your personal maid.”
“Yes, Dad,” I say contritely.
“I don’t mind,” Shaoreaux says. “The storm had me up anyway. And it’s too close to morning to go back to sleep.”
My dad doesn’t agree. He lets out a mighty yawn.
“Sleep in Adabelle’s room. Don’t go up to your room until I clean up the glass.”
He goes back to bed and Shaoreaux goes into the kitchen to make tea. I sneak up to my room to put pajamas on, relieved because it seems like Dad didn’t see us after all.
I want to see what I look like, and I want to see by daylight. The trouble is I’m hardly ever alone.
But we have an assembly today last period. It’s perfect. They never take attendance at assemblies. When the classes pour into the halls at the bell, I duck into the bathroom. When all is quiet I sneak out and race outside, then across the playground until I hit the woods. I change there, because running as a girl takes far too long. Shaoreaux is at class until three today so I have just enough time. I snake through the trees until I reach our backyard. The coast seems clear so I cross the yard and peer at myself in the first floor window.
But the light isn’t right, and my reflection is faint and transparent.
Adabelle’s lavender lace curtains flutter. She’s left her window cracked. I rise up and nudge it open with the tip of my snout. I can just fit my head and neck in to peer into the mirror above her bureau. I see my true self for the first time.
I am glorious. ‘Brown’ doesn’t do me justice. I am every color of bronze and copper, earth and stone, as if each of my scales were forged and shaped from a different precious metal. My eyes are hazel with rings of ochre and umber. And my mane is the color of tree moss, or the blue upon raw copper ore, wispy and ethereal.
“Change back now!” shouts Shaoreaux in my head.
In a panic I try to change and fly into Adabelle’s room at the same time. I shrink and writhe and my tail makes one violent pass around the room before I become a girl, knocking down Adabelle’s collection of perfume bottles.
The door opens and Shaoreaux pokes in his head.
“Someone saw you leave the school. The story is you felt sick and came home.”
“Shaoreaux.” I am about to cry, because I realize how careless I’ve been, and Adabelle’s room is ruined.
“I’ll clean up here. I have to call your mother before the police start searching the woods and find your clothes. Move!”
I run upstairs to my room, throw on pajamas and burrow into bed.
After a few moments, Mom arrives and pulls down the covers, feels my forehead.
“Shaoreaux told me you left school because you felt ill. You’re a little warm, but you don’t have a fever.”
“I had a stomach ache.”
“Why didn’t you go to the nurse?”
“Sorry,” I mumble into the sheets.
“That was a very irresponsible of you, Willamina. The school didn’t know where you went. Everyone was worried sick. We thought you’d been kidnapped.”
The lecture goes on until I begin to develop a stomach ache for real. Finally Mom sighs and says, “Shaoreaux made you soup. Come down and see if you can eat.”
I feel so guilty that it is not hard to act sick. I pick at my soup. Adabelle comes home and goes to her room to change out of her uniform. For a few moments everything is silent and I breathe a sigh of relief. Shaoreaux must have come through.
But no sooner do I think this than Adabelle lets out a shriek that makes the rest of us jump in our seats. Her door bangs open and she storms out.
“Where is my bottle of Clara Luna!” she bellows in my face. “Did you take it? Did you touch my things?”
“It’s my fault,” Shaoreaux says. “I was dusting and I knocked it over. I tried to fix it but it was in too many pieces.”
“Why were you cleaning my room?” she whirls on him. “I never gave you permission to go in there. I don’t want some strange guy touching my things!”
“Adabelle,” Mom warns, but Adabelle’s temper is in full swing.
“I was gathering your laundry and noticed dust on the shelf. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry’s not good enough. That was my favorite perfume. Why would you do a teenage girls laundry anyway? Are you some kind of pervert?”
I forget I’m supposed to be sick and tackle Adabelle.
“Don’t talk to Shaoreaux like that!” I scream, and Adabelle and I smack each other until mom drags me off her.
“Both of you, enough! This behavior is absolutely shameful. You’re both grounded.”
I stomp up to my room. This is all my fault. Adabelle’s favorite perfume getting broken, Shaoreaux getting blamed and called a pervert . . . all because I had to look in the mirror.
I don’t know what to do.
Two strange men were at the house when Shaoreaux and I got home today. Dad was there too. The three of them were in the front sitting room on the ground floor, which we hardly ever use, dad in the mauve armchair and the strangers on the floral couch.
They all looked up at Shaoreaux and me as we walked in.
“Come in here a second,” said Dad.
Shaoreaux handed me the grocery sack. “Put this in the fridge, please, Willa.”
“Actually we need both—” began the man on the left.
“No need,” said Shaoreaux, telling me with his mind to go up to the kitchen and stay there. I set the groceries down at the top of the stairs then crept back down to listen.
” . . . reported that she saw a dragon in your yard. Would you know anything about that?”
“This isn’t the first sighting,” added the other man. “We’ve had three reports total in this area. We’ve already canvassed several houses in this area. We’ve narrowed our search to this residence.”
Silence. My heart pounded so loudly held my hand over it to muffle the sound. I knew who the men were. They were agents from the Compliance Bureau, and their job was to enforce the anti-dragon laws.
“I suppose there’s no point in lying,” Shaoreaux said. “Professor, I apologize for bringing this upon your house. I thought I was being careful. But I can’t ignore my nature—in fact I think it’s wrong to do so. I don’t agree with the law, but I accept its consequences. That’s the choice I’ve made.”
“I see,” said one of the Compliance Agents. “You’ll come quietly then?”
“And no one else was aware of your activities?”
“As I said, I thought I was being careful.”
“Then you are under arrest.”
As Shaoreaux walked out, escorted on either arm by the agents, I threw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his waist.
“No, you can’t!”
I felt Shaoreaux’s hand on my hair, and his voice inside my head saying, “Hush, Willa. Let me do this, as your teacher.”
Dad grabbed me and clapped his hand over my mouth until they had left and the door was shut behind them.
“Go to your room, Willa,” he said.
“They can’t take Shaoreaux! Don’t let them, dad, please!”
“He made his choice.”
“But I’m the one—”
“Enough!” Dad shouted. That shocked me into silence, because Dad never shouts.
“Go to your room, Willa. I don’t want to hear you speak of this again. Do you understand?”
I yanked myself out of his grip and ran outside. The government car was already peeling away. I ran after it, but tripped and fell, scraping both my knees on the gravel drive. I could see the back of Shaoreaux’s head in the rear window, but he wouldn’t look back at me.
Shaoreaux sacrificed himself to save me. This is all my fault. And now Shaoreaux’s gone and I don’t know what to do.
I don’t want to go to school the next day, but Mom forces me. She’s says she’s sympathetic about Shaoreaux, but not sympathetic enough to let me stay home sick.
I haven’t slept all night. What time I didn’t spend crying I spent trying to think of what to do. There are two choices and neither are any good. Either I turn myself in and Shaoreaux and I both end up in jail—because Shaoreaux is guilty too and I doubt they’ll set him loose just because they’ve got me too. Or I keep my mouth shut like Shaoreaux wants, and let him rot alone in jail, and forget about ever being a dragon again.
My face is so blotched and puffy that Marta Berenge comes up to me at break and asks me what’s wrong. I never liked Marta. But the worry in her eyes looks real, and for some reason I feel I can trust her.
Besides, I am tired of hiding the truth.
“I broke the law,” I say, looking her in the eyes. “But my best friend took the blame for it and was taken away.”
Her mouth forms an ‘oh.’
“What law did you break?” she asks.
“The law against being a dragon.”
I expect her to be surprised, or maybe disgusted.
But instead I see something familiar in her eyes. Longing, wistfulness, hunger . . . I realize that she feels the same way I do. I always thought that Shaoreaux and I were alone, that it was us against everyone else. Suddenly I know this is not true.
“What’s it like?” she asks.
Marta Berenge, former bane of my existence, has just become my muse.
I jump up and grab her hands.
“What if I could show you how?”
“How to what?” she asks.
I run to the front of the class. Break is almost over so most of the class is back in the room milling around, but Mrs. Garvis is still out in the hall.
“Everyone, attention please.”
A couple people glance my way, then go back to talking.
“Hey!” bellows Marta at the top of her lungs, coming to stand beside me. “Willa has something important to say.”
The noise dies down and the whole class stares at me. Mrs. Garvis pokes her head in.
“What are you shouting about?” she demands.
I have made a lot of progress with my training. So much that even Shaoreaux complimented me. The thing is there’s not much to it. I have an affinity with wood—leaves and flowers and grass too, but especially wood. Whatever I desire, the wood is happy to oblige. Even though the wood of the classroom door has been cut and dried and cured, it still has a spark of soul that I can speak to. With a wave of my hand I slam it shut, forcing Mrs. Garvis to jump back. I send some strength into that life spark and suddenly the door sprouts branches. The branches weave around the doorjamb and into the walls, locking the door in place.
I definitely have everyone’s attention now.
“What if I told you that every one of you could do magic like I just did? That every one of you could fly, and do magic?”
Shaoreaux sacrificed himself to save me. Dad silenced me to save me. But I don’t feel saved. What is the difference between Shaoreaux behind bars and me outside of them if I can never be who I truly am?
I look at the faces of my classmates. I’ve always thought of myself as different, but Marta has helped me realize that I am not. I am dragon.
And so are they.
Alone, we can be silenced, as I was, or intimidated, as dad was, or even locked away like Shaoreaux.
But there are twenty-four of us here, and six hundred in the school. We can communicate by thought, and fly faster than any ship can sail. We will reach out to others and spread the truth.
“What if I taught you all to be dragons?”
We can hear the teachers banging at the doors. When they try to come in through the windows I grow branches over those too. Meanwhile I tell what I have learned and my classmates listen. They all have that same buzzing in their chests, that same longing for flight, for freedom, for their true inner selves. They do not need much instruction. Holding it back has been hard for them too.
My branches crumble the flat school roof, opening it to the sky. Two dozen dragons fly upward, their scales of lapis and jasper, garnet and pearl flashing freely in the sun.