So, for a while I was all fired up about this story, The Dragon’s Egg, a new YA fantasy novella WIP. In short, it’s about Slevyn, a conflicted, adolescent girl who dreams of meeting a dragon and who, through various events, comes to discover that the world she knows and her place in it are not at all what she believed. Her companion through the story is her mute younger brother, Shasta. But lately, the story kinda stalled. I didn’t know where to go next and couldn’t find the motivation/energy to get back into this character-driven story. So, I started writing other things, began this blog, chatted it up on social media. You know, the usual excuses. Anyway, yesterday, I determined that I was going to get back to Dragon and finish a chapter. Nope. Nothing doing. Everything I wrote was garbage. So I stopped and wrote something else. Yay! But I still had to go back to Dragon to finish the chapter. Today, I am happy to say that I did it. What follows is the draft I just completed. It’s still rough but I’m posting it as a means of Marking this moment. 🙂
Chapter 11-The Change
‘Shasta! Wake up!’ Slevyn gently shook the boy’s shoulder. Touching the small, sleeping form reminded her of how much she’d worried for her little brother because of the nasty cold that had fast weakened him, and of how she’d come to regret letting him leave the village with her. Shasta was everything to her. Life would be a cold, dark, miserable place if he were not in it, and without him to anchor her, she would run amok. She was sure of that. Slevyn squeezed her eyes shut as a wave of fear fluttered through her. Doret had promised that the dragons could heal him. Slevyn hoped he was right.
‘Shasta!’ she called again, ‘I need you. Please, wake up!’
Still lost in the throes of sleep, the boy mumbled, brushed aside her hand and then rolled over, almost getting smothered by the white puffballs which made up the extra-comfortable bed. How the puffs stayed joined together to form the bed-like structure while also being able to loosen up to form a blanket or individual balls, depending on a person’s need, was a mystery Slevyn had not yet figured out. All she knew was that those white balls made up the softest, most perfect bed she had ever slept on. But that wasn’t saying much, considering that at home, she slept on a thin pallet and wrapped herself in an old, holey blanket.
An hour had passed since she’d left her own sleeping chamber. Her talk with Stamos had left her exhausted, and seeing that she was close to fainting, he had insisted she rest. Just before her eyes closed, Stamos had bent over her as though to kiss her forehead, until a look akin to pain or anxiety crossed his face so that he pulled back. Instead, he brushed her cheek with his hand. She was asleep before he left the room.
When she’d awoken and had risen from her bed, curiosity about what a dragon ‘home’ looked like gnawed at her, but she had not been able to satisfy it. There were no lights inside the chamber save for the two small candles at the head of the bed, so that the chamber remained hidden in the dimness. Then Stamos had reappeared, and what time she would have spent exploring was used up for the ensuing discussion. Still, as she had followed Doret through the tunnels, the closest thing Slevyn could think of to describe it was a beehive. Tiers of rounded chambers, each one seemingly the same size, hollowed out the Egg’s interior. The lowest level chambers all branched off the main tunnel, while those higher up must be connected to one another by some means Slevyn could not see in the flickering light thrown from Doret’s torch. A fine dust, luminescent in the firelight, covered the floor, and to her touch, the Egg’s inner walls felt smooth and solid, like stone. Slevyn welcomed the warm glow of the torchlight, though clearly, Doret had lit it for her sake since she knew he did not need it. This time, as they walked through the tunnel, he had not offered to hold her hand, a fact which made her unconsciously bite her lip and hug her upper arms with her hands.
‘Cold?’ he’d asked.
‘Do you have eyes in the back of your head, too?’ she shot back, surprised by a sudden, unexplained flash of anger. ‘You see in the dark. Out of the blue, you speak perfectly and know everything there is to know about dragons while all this time making me think you know nothing—‘
‘What are you so upset about?’ Doret stopped and walked back to where she stood in the tunnel. He didn’t continue speaking right away, but instead looked at her in a way that made her chest constrict and her cheeks flush, then lifted a hand as though he meant to touch her hair. It took all her strength to stop herself from tending to it, as it was now surely ruffled and matted from sleep. She turned her face aside. Doret pulled back.
‘Are you angry because you are the last to know everything, or is it because you realize you really know nothing at all? Slevyn, the truth is staring you right in the face but you refuse to see it.’
‘T-truth?’ she stammered, not understanding which truth he was referring to. How he infuriated her! ‘Doret, nothing you ever told me about yourself was true. You never had family in the Southfarms did you? What was the point of deceiving me by putting on that fake accent, anyway? And then hounding me all the time, ratting me out to my father! Basically making my life hell!’
‘Is that all you’re concerned about? Me making your life miserable? Slevyn, wake up! You’re a dragon in human form! But that could change any moment. Or not. Strange things have been happening over the last few life-spans, so no one knows for sure what your course as the last dragon princess will take. The King sent me to watch over you, to make sure you didn’t unknowingly do anything to make The Change happen while you lived amongst humans. My job was to keep you and the humans safe. All those beatings you suffered at your adoptive father’s hands…even those were to meant to save you.’
She exploded. ‘What!’
Years of harsh words and imposed physical pain came flooding back in that moment, raw and hot as though they had only just happened. Slevyn screamed and threw herself at Doret, but likely because he knew her temper, he easily caught her fists and held them fast in his. He pulled her close to whisper in her ear.
‘The Change is a devastating event for all dragons. When dragonets come of age, they go through a period of intense change. They become willful, stubborn, and difficult to control while painful changes happen to the body. It’s a long, painful experience but it is necessary or they won’t mature. Think about it: the body has to adapt to changing from human form to dragon form and vice versa. Until the Hollows–those cells you see above–were formed, young dragons wreaked havoc in the world wherever they went. King Stamos could not allow you to harm the villagers who had chosen to keep you until you could return to the Lair. The only thing known to stop the Change was strict discipline. You, for some reason, refused to submit to it and Steig was forced to resort to harsher and harsher means.’
‘I hated him for it! I still do!’ she spat, wrenching her arms from his grasp. ‘How could such harsh discipline ever lead to anything good? How could my parents tolerate it?’
‘You haven’t Changed, have you?’ he answered calmly. ‘There are rumours that say royal dragons are more difficult to Restrain than regular ones. Perhaps that explains your situation. As for the King and Queen, they tolerated it because there was no other choice. For generations, they had witnessed the destruction dragonets were capable of if not sent to the Hallows or not properly Restrained. What you are forgetting, Slevyn is that you are both human and dragon. You have not yet learned to think like a dragon. We are powerful and terrible, as well as great and beautiful. We are humans and we are beasts, at the same time.’
‘I wouldn’t have minded wreaking a little havoc on those villagers,’ she mumbled, still seething. ‘They never accepted me or treated me with any kind of kindness. They always looked at me with fear in their eyes. Even my own—‘ She couldn’t say the word family. It stuck in her throat in a ball so tight it brought tears to her eyes. She spun away from Doret to continue in the direction they had been going. ‘I’d like to see Shasta now.’
From the time he had left her at the entrance of Shasta’s cell, Doret had not reappeared. She didn’t mind.
Beside her, Shasta stirred agian, drawing her attention. His face was mercifully devoid of all signs of stress or pain, and his cold appeared to be gone, a fact which caused Slevyn to rejoice. She remembered how pale and frail he had looked the days leading up to his disappearance, and seeing him now…it took all her strength not to grab him up in her arms to hold him. In fact, she hated the idea of rousing him at all, especially when he looked so well. But she needed him.
Shasta moaned slightly and slowly opened his eyes. At first, his eyes did not hold the light of recognition in them when he looked at her, and an ice cold stab of fear hit her in the chest. But as he looked around, his eyes kept moving back to Slevyn’s face and within a minute or so, his familiar, easy smile creased his face.
Slevyn sighed. ‘You almost scared me to death!’ she scolded him. ‘We’re holed up with dragons—dragons, Shasta!—and though you looked all nice and comfy and everything…well, I just got worried for a second. How do you feel?’
His eyes lit up at the question. He curled his fingers into a symbolic cup which he put to his lips while imitating the act of swallowing.
‘They gave you something to drink, I guess. Like an elixor.’ He nodded vigorously and then jumped out of the bed to investigate the surrounding area.
Slevyn smiled as she watched her brother’s excited motions. ‘No, Shas, there isn’t any more of the stuff. But maybe it’s for the best. Judging from the wild look in your eyes, I’m afraid you’ve become dependent on it!’
Shasta threw himself down on the bed, sending white balls of fluff billowing into space. Soon after, the rasping sound she knew to be his laugh grated from his throat into the air.
‘That’s it,’ Slevyn said in her most motherly tone, ‘no more of that stuff for you.’
Shasta tossed a pile of the white stuff at her and she swatted it away, complaining when it got stuck in her hair. Shasta suddenly stopped laughing. He pointed at her head.
Forgetting the puffballs stuck in her hair, Slevyn looked down at her hands. After a second or two, she started to pick at the hem of her shirt sleeve. ‘I-I know. My hair. It’s changing. It’s getting redder and straighter. That’s…what I wanted to talk to you about.’
Catching the hesitation in her voice, Shasta suddenly grew serious. He scampered towards her through the sea of puffballs until he sat across from her, their knees touching. Then he touched her face with his hand, the sign that she should look at him.
‘I know I can tell you anything. It’s just…I’m afraid of how you’ll see me after I tell you the truth.’
Shasta cocked his head to the side and pointed at her hair again and shrugged.
‘That’s just a part of it.’ She took a deep breath and blurted it out before she could change her mind, or think of the consequences. ‘Shas, it turns out…I’m not really your sister at all. It turns out I’m a…dragon. Or something. I don’t really understand it all but it seems to be the truth. Doret, that moron, keeps telling me the most unbelievable things, and I also spoke with my dragon mother and father, and none of what they say makes sense! But,’ she added softly and looking off to the side, ’it makes perfect sense. I know it’s true, Shas. I’ve always felt different, always felt like I didn’t belong. You know that. There is something inside of me that believes what I’m hearing.’
The words now out, Slevyn braced for whatever was to come. She knew Shasta better than anyone in the world, knew his moods and, sometimes, even his thoughts before he himself was aware of them. But how he would respond to this was something she could not foretell.
She turned back to him when she heard what sounded like a loud sob erupting from beside her. Tears ran down Shasta’s face making his blue eyes shine in the torchlight. He did not shy away from her, only stayed there gripping her hands in his. Before he could do anything else, she told him the rest, well as much of the little she knew.
‘I don’t understand it. Uncle Stamos is actually my dragon father.’ She paused when his eyes opened extra-wide at this piece of information, ‘He said that after I’d seen you and was reassured you were okay, that my mind would be clear enough to hear the rest of the truth. But Shasta, are you…what do you think? Can you still–?’
He didn’t let her finish. Slevyn was shocked into silence when he threw himself into her arms. It took her a second to understand what had happened.
Her shoulder was soon wet with his tears and his fuzzy, brown hair brushed against her cheek, but Slevyn didn’t pay any of it any mind. Shasta still belonged to her.
Relieved, she tried to pull away so she could talk to him some more, but he clung to her harder.
‘It’s okay, Shas,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘I understand. We’ll be together forever.’
No matter what, came a high-pitched voice inside her head.
Slevyn jumped, the abrupt action breaking Shasta’s vise-like hold. ‘Shasta! Did you just speak?’
He shook his head, but he smiled.
‘Can you…hear what I’m thinking?’ He nodded and his grin widened as her look of incredulity increased. ‘You mean you made me go through all that when you already knew what I was thinking?’ Slevyn’s lips tightened into a playful pout. ‘Why you!’
Shasta, having played similar games with his sister in the past, jumped up from the bed and dashed aside while Slevyn plowed right through the thing as she chased after him, sending the powder puff balls scattering. The two giggled and laughed until they could no longer stand and they dropped to the floor, one on top of the other, exhausted.
Then, the thought she had been pushing back the whole time they played suddenly crashed into the forefront of her mind. Her hair was different. She could hear Shasta’s thoughts and he hers.
She felt Shasta grab her hand and squeeze. ‘You know now, don’t you?’ she asked. Looking at her hands and then touching them to her face, she steeled herself to say the next words. ‘Little brother, the Change has started.’