The Guild – Chapter 110 -Kaitlyn

    I sent texts to the others, and one to Ambrosse, asking about the kids. She said to keep them with us today. It took twenty minutes to convince Ylenia that she needed to watch today so she can learn later. Finally, all of us are gathered and dressed for combat. I ran into Eli when we went back for Andrei to change, and he showed up with Ceph in tow. Cliff also shows up, inexplicably. Apparently, he noticed us all gathering and invited himself.

    “Okay… So I guess we should start by finding out where everyone is. Who has any combat training?” I ask, staring at the lineup along the wall. Nik raises his hand first, followed by Andrei, Cliff, and surprisingly, Hitomi. Eli raises his hand with a cheeky grin. I roll my eyes. He and Ceph don’t count.

    I scratch my head, “Alright… who wants to go first? Other than you, Andrei. I know what you can do.” I add pointedly.

    “Oh man,” He complains sarcastically.

    “I will,” Nik pushes off from the wall. A wide grin spreads across his face. “I’ve been waiting to spar with you for a while,” Andrei suddenly loses his smile.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. “Fine. Weapon of choice?”

    “None,” he cracks his knuckles.

    “Okay,” I peel off my hoodie and toss it over one of the weapon racks. “I guess we’ll start with unarmed combat.”

    I stretch briefly as I walk to the center of the room. I’m still sore from last night, but I ignore the pain. My hair is tied in a bun, on the top of my head, keeping it out of my face. Nik waits with that grin plastered on his face. I give a slight nod, and the fight begins.

    He’s surprisingly nimble for someone so large. Usually, my strategy is to use size against my opponent, but I quickly need to switch gears. He’s fast, but I’m faster. He’s only able to block two out of three hits, and I dodge all but a few of his attacks. I note that he’s very cautious about his attacks, and never aims for my torso, even though it’s the largest target. It’s clear he’s holding back, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

    I catch his fist and lean in close. “Y’know, we survived being stabbed by a dark magic knife. I think I can take a hit or two in a spar,” I whisper, too low for the others to hear.

    He chuckles. “Even so, I couldn’t. Besides, I think your beau is just itching for a reason to start a fight with me.”

    I glance at Andrei. He’s absolutely fuming. I thought he was past that… “Fair enough.”

    I break away and Nik disappears in a blink. I feel his arm hook around my neck, and my chest fills with ice. My mind flashes back to the crypt, months ago… I’m vaguely aware of my body moving. The next thing I know, he’s flat on his back, ten feet ahead of me. I gasp to catch my breath, and the room goes dead quiet.

    Nik rolls onto his stomach with a groan. I snap back to my senses and jog across the mats. Gwen dashes over and drops to her knees next to him.

    “I’m sorry…” I kneel in front of him, eyes wide.

    He laughs bitterly. “Remind me not to do that ever again… Man. What was that about?” he looks up at me with those deep eyes. I notice, on the arm, he’s propped up on  – the one he’d grabbed me with, a pair of bright red handprints.

    “Shit…” I cover my mouth, lowering my voice. “I… I don’t know. I just…”

    “Whoa…” I hear a small voice gasp. I look over my shoulder to see Ylenia and Kira hovering close by behind Andrei, Ylenia pointing to Nik’s arm.

    “I can heal that for you,” Gwen offers, holding out her hands.

    Nik shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he pushes himself to sit up, waving his left hand over the burns. They disappear in a soft green light.

    I scratch my head with a sigh. “Maybe this was a bad idea…”

    “Nonsense,” Nik ruffles my hair. “You’re doing fine,” I pout at him, skeptical. “Who’s next?” He calls to the others cheerfully.

    I stand up and turn to find Hitomi step forward, her hand raised timidly. It’s a strange contrast, looking so timid while being brave enough to volunteer after what she just saw.

    “Okay, Hitomi… What weapon can you use?” I ask, watching Nik and Gwen walk back to the wall with the girls.

    “Ano, Katana… Ok?” she asks. She wears a strange red and white outfit, I’m guessing some kind of traditional attire. It looks like she would be able to move effectively, so I don’t judge.

    I nod and move to the sword rack. We have wooden training katana, so I pull out two and hand her one. Admittedly, this isn’t one of my favourite weapons. It takes even more practice than most, and its uses can be limited.

    “So, you know, we’re not using magic for this, right?” I ask, wondering if she understands.

    “No magic? Ok,” she nods. I wait for her to make the first move. The katana looks like an extension of her body as she shifts her foot, eyes focused on me intently.

    The small girl dashes at me with impressive speed. I find myself forced backward as I block her aggressive offense. Each impact echoes across the room. As the wall closes in behind me, I make a quick maneuver to dance around her as I deflect her slash. She follows without flinching and continues her assault. I switch gears and try an offense, and she’s right on top of it. She manages to parry and follow up with a solid thwack to my right arm.

    I flinch. That’s the one that’s still sore. “Okay, that’s enough. You’re pretty good, I have to admit,” I smile, rubbing my arm tenderly. Hitomi lowers her sword and bows deeply before setting the blade back on the rack. I turn to the others. “Anyone else want to go, or shall we move on?” I cradle my arm against my side as I put the sword away.

    Kaede pipes up with a grin. “You know, I’ve watched a lot of fighting movies and played a lot of video games. I could probably manage this.”

    I look him up and down with a brow raised. “Honestly, I’m shocked you’ve survived this long,” I remember my first impression of him was that he would get himself killed.

    He lifts his hands, palms upwards and shrugs. “Told you, I’m a computer wizard,” he walks over to the rack and picks up a… broadsword? He doesn’t even hold it right. I look to Caroline. She rolls her eyes. I guess this will be lesson one.

    “Okay… Come on, to the center then,” I shake my head, heading across the matt empty-handed.

    “Wait, we’re not going to spar?” he asks, disappointment all over his face.

    I stop with hands on my hips. “Sure we are. I won’t need a weapon for this.”

    “But in all the other matches you did as they did,” he frowns, confused.

    I smirk. “In the other matches, they actually knew how to hold their weapon. You’re basically defenseless like that. It would hardly be fair for me to use a sword against you.”

    “It’s a lot heavier than I thought it’d be,” he grumbles. Andrei snickers. Yeah, he learned that the hard way too, in Camelot.

    “Are you going to come over here or not?” I’m getting impatient now. He trudges over, carrying the blade awkwardly at his side. Once he’s standing across from me, I give him a sly grin, “Alright. Lesson one; what not to do.”

    His eyes widen as I run right at him. He struggles to raise the blade, but it’s clumsy and slow. I chop his wrist with the bony edge of my hand. He cries out as the sword falls with a dull thud. “Owww! That hurt, what’s the big idea?” he shakes his wrist.

    “First of all, that’s a two-handed sword. Only someone the size of Cliff or Nik should be using it with one hand,” I step back and cross my arms. “Pick it up and try again.”

    He grabs the sword with both hands and lifts it up in front of him. He takes a step forward and tries to lift it over his right shoulder but his arms don’t have the strength to keep it up that high so it sags as he swings wide. I barely have to lean to the side to avoid it. The tip bounces on the floor with the momentum.

    I sigh. “You’re going to need to work on your upper body strength if you’re going to go with that strategy.”

    He pants, placing the point of the sword on the matt as he stretches his back. “Man… I suck at this…”

    “I couldn’t do much better,” Caroline calls from the wall. “I may have muscle from swimming but it’s not the same as waving around a sword. What are the other weapons we can use?” she asks, looking at the rack. “I don’t know what any of these things are called or how to use them. How do we know which one is best for us?”

    “Trial and error,” I take the hilt of the sword from Kaede and swing it over my shoulder with my left hand. “General rule of thumb is to start small. Over time, with practice and, optionally, with weight training, you’ll build up muscle to be able to wield large weapons.”

    Caroline sighs. “That sounds harder than I thought…”

    “Wait… you just said that was a two-handed sword!” Kaede gawks.

    I smirk impishly. “For most people, it is. I’m not most people.”

    Eli howls in laughter from the sidelines. “Nicely done, sis!”

    Kaede narrows his gaze, unconvinced. I roll my eyes. “Guardian, with nearly two decades of training, and dragon blood. Really, after everything that’s happened, you still doubt me?”

    “Yeah, ‘cause you’re tiny and hardly look like you got any muscle,” he says defensively.

    I glare at him, annoyed. “Did you miss the part when I threw Nik clear across the room five minutes ago?”

    “No…” he pouts. “I figured that was magic. Fine… I don’t know how to fight. Anyone else wanna go at humiliating themselves against the terminator here?” he calls, looking over his shoulder.

    “Kae…” Caroline frowns at him. He ignores her.

    “Good,” I nod. “Now you’re ready to learn,” I lean closer, lowering my voice. “I know your pride is hurt right now, but in a real fight, your pride will get you killed. Be prepared to be embarrassed when you’re learning. Failure is the best teacher.”

    “But I’m never there when you guys fight. I’m always the one left behind or asked to take the injured person away…” he mopes.

    “You were there last night, you were there in Africa, and you were there in the past with Andrei,” I remind him. “Anyone of those fights you could have ended up separated. We have no idea what’s coming in the future. If you’re not prepared, you could die,” I say very bluntly. My mind slips back to the diner, to Ryan. “I’m not going to leave that to chance anymore.”

    I turn on my heel and move back to the racks. Replacing the large broadsword, I turn to the group. “Okay, now, come over here and try out different things that look interesting to you. Feel the weight, try swinging them around a bit. I’d like you guys to find something that’s not too heavy, and we’ll go from there. Something you haven’t used before, for those of you with experience.”

    I move off to the side and watch as the group timidly approaches the row of weapons. Even Eli and Ceph join in, examining things they’d never seen before. The girls sneak in among the fray to pick up things and play with them. I smile to myself as I rub my arm and flex my finger. It’s still tingling.

    Hands slide over mine, gently massaging my arm. “Kat, you should take a break. I can tell there’s something hurting your arm,” Andrei whispers in my ear. I meet his gaze, eyes filled with worry again.

    “It’s fine. She just hit pretty hard,” I lie, turning my face away.

    “Kat, it’s not fine,” he scolds. “I think you should rest. Maybe I can try healing it for you, or have Gwen take a look.”

    “We’ve barely started,” I argue.

    He moves in front of me, forcing me to look at him. “You don’t have to be macho woman for everyone all the time. It’s okay to get healed in a spar.”

    I chew the inside of my lip. “I know that… It wouldn’t help.”

    “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t healing it help?” he demands, confused.

    I heave a sigh. “Because it was sore before we started. Gwen already did what she could yesterday,” Yea, I’m gonna hear it now…

    “You mean… from Samantha’s attack? Kat, why didn’t you say anything?!” his voice rises. “These kinds of things, you gotta speak up about. If something’s wrong, you need need to rely on us to help you, but we can’t do that if we don’t know,” he drops my arm and runs both hands through his hair in frustration.

    “Magic healing isn’t perfect. You can heal the damage, but it’s still sore for a while after. You should know that by now. I’m not going to complain about every little ache. I can handle it,” I cross my arms stubbornly.

    Andrei growls. “I don’t care if you can handle it. I don’t want you to have to grin and bear it.”

    “I’m not going to sit around complaining and doing nothing,” I roll my eyes. “I would go insane,” I realise some of the others have noticed us arguing and I blush. “Look, they need instruction, and I need to do something. I’m not quitting because I’m a little sore.”

    “I’m not asking you to quit, but you shouldn’t strain yourself,” his voice falters. “You got seriously hurt yesterday.”

    “I know,” I reach for his hand. “Believe me, I remember. I’ll be careful,” I smirk. “Besides, you’re right here, even if I’m not.”

    He relents. “Fine, but promise me you’ll take a break if it starts to bother you?”

    I nod. “Now, go and find yourself a weapon you’ve never tried. But,” I step closer, pressing my chest against him, “Kiss me first.”

    He grins. “Okay, but I’ll be hard pressed to find one,” he leans down, placing a soft kiss on my lips. I wrap my arms around his neck and hold him there just a little longer. He’s red as a cherry when I let him go again, and he wanders over to the racks in a daze.

    I watch for a few more minutes as everyone mills about the racks. “Don’t feel like this is a super important decision. We’re just exploring right now, trying to find what you might be comfortable with, and trying new things,” I call out, hoping to reassure them.

    Selene heads to the center of the room first, a pair of wooden daggers in her hand. I snicker. It suits her pretty well actually. Nik takes the broadsword, with a mischievous grin. Eli finds a wooden sai, and his eyes light up with curiosity. Caroline picks the saber, though she seems unsure. Kaede takes a light short sword. Gwen also chooses a long dagger, and Andrei wanders over with a wooden axe. Interesting choices.

    Ceph moves back to lean against the wall, ushering the two girls along with him. Hitomi hovers by the wall. I guess I’ll leave her be for now. Cliff takes a two-handed hammer and is the last to join our motley crew. I scratch my eyebrow as I look over everyone.

    “Okay, so, spread out and show me how you would hold the weapon. I’ll come around and we’ll go from there,” I suggest.

    I decide to start with Caroline. She struggles to decide if it’s one handed or two. I take her hand in mine and adjust her grip. I nudge her feet apart for better balance, and I move her arm in an example swing. I move on to Kaede next, who stands beside her.

    “Am I doing this right?” he asks, stabbing at the air like he’s holding an oversized kitchen knife.

    Is there a nice way to put this? “Um… No,” Kaede puckers his lips. I hold out my hand, “Let me show you.” He hands me the sword, and I hold it out in front of me. “This sort of blade is not for stabbing. Very rarely do you use a sword to stab. It’s meant to slash,” I demonstrate one.

    “Oh, okay,” he takes the sword back and tries to mimic my movement. It’s a little underwhelming.

    I move behind him and nudge his feet with my toes, “Spread your feet more and balance on your toes. A slight breeze will knock you over if you stand like that,” I catch his hand with the sword. “Don’t grip so tight, you’ll strain your muscles. Hold just tight enough so you don’t throw it, but so you’re still comfortable. It should be like an extension of your arm.”

    “That sounds like a lot to remember,” he grumbles.

    I roll my eyes. “You’re thinking about it too much. It becomes second nature pretty quickly.”

    “If you say so,” he huffs. He adjusts himself again, mumbling under his breath step by step. I bite my lips together to keep myself from snickering. He’s genuinely trying, I shouldn’t laugh.

    When he takes another swing, I nod. “Good, that’s better.”

    He grins with pride as I move toward Selene. She holds the daggers in her hands backward, thumbs on the end of the hilt. I rest my hand on my hip and raise an eyebrow. She didn’t volunteer with combat experience so that only leaves one option. She’s been in my head. A smirk crosses her features.

    I shake my head and laugh quietly. “Alright, let’s see it then.”

    Her movements are fluid, just as I would have suggested. Daggers are one of my favourite weapons; fast, sharp, and easily concealed. I get the sense she chose them for the same reasons. Still, reading my mind for my expertise, and executing it accurately are two different things. She does pretty well, but she doesn’t have the muscle for speed.

    “You can’t mind read skill. You’ll still need to practice to build up the power behind the strike,” I lecture. She shrugs knowingly.

    I shake my head and move on to Nik. He’s still wearing that grin as he pretends to struggle to lift the large sword. I cross my arms. “I happen to know for a fact that sword weighs less than I do, so I know you can lift it.”

    Nik’s hearty laugh resonates. “Ah, you caught me,”  The sword swings up with ease, resting on his shoulder. “Enlighten me, oh wise one. How should I be using this big old thing?”

    I narrow my eyes. “Don’t make me throw you again.” From the corner of my eye, I notice Andrei staring and mocking Nik.

    Nik sees him too, but his smile remains. “Alright, alright. So, Kat, teach me.”

    “Swing,” I order. He raises the sword and brings it down in front of me, less than a foot from my face.

    I stumble back as I’m pulled by my shoulders. “You need to be more careful!” Andrei’s voice hisses beside my ear. I look to see him glaring up at Nik.

    I put my hand on Andrei’s. “It’s okay. He wouldn’t have hit me,” I assure him as I step away. “He’s just being an ass.”

    “That’s how accidents happen,” Andrei argues, glaring at Nik.

    Nik feins offense. “I would never! You told me to swing.”

    I stare him down, unamused. “Cleave.”

    He takes the sword in both hands and comes down hard, leaving a dent in the mat. I tilt my head. “I said to take a weapon you’re not familiar with, Nik.”

    Nik stands the sword up with its tip on the floor, resting his hand on the end of the hilt. “Hmm, so you did… You’re pretty clever, Kat.”

    “Now you’re doubting her intelligence?” Andrei demands in outrage.

    I place my hand on his chest in a subtle attempt to hold him back. “No, Andrei. He’s testing me, as much as I’m testing him. It’s okay. We’re on the same side here.”

    “I seriously doubt that,” Andrei trembles under my palm.

    “Okay, that’s enough,” I grab onto Andrei’s arm. I look at Nik and gesture to Gwen, who holds the dagger in her hands like a shovel, stabbing downward. Nik nods and heads over toward her as I pull Andrei away from the group.

    I pull him out into the hall and look around to make sure we’re alone. “What the hell was that about?”

    “He almost cut you with that blade, fooling around, pretending to not know what he’s doing. You could’ve been hurt Kat,” Andrei snarls, throwing out his arms in frustration.

    “No,” I shake my head. “No, he didn’t. He was in control of the sword, and I knew it. You’re overreacting. Nik wouldn’t put me at risk like that.”

    “Yea? And how do you know that? Can you read minds too?” he accuses.

    “No, I can read body language,” I cross my arms. “When we spared earlier, he was holding back. I even called him out on it, and he said very plainly he wouldn’t hit me on my body, even if I said it was okay. Even if he was willing, he wouldn’t because he knows you’d just use it as an excuse to start a fight with him.”

    “To start a f-” he splutters. “Kat, I don’t need a reason to start a fight with him. I already have one. Ever since you guys met he’s been flirting with you,” he states strongly.

    I gawk at him. He calls that flirting? “That’s not… He’s known about you before he even knew my name. Why would he flirt with me? He’s not that stupid. Nik doesn’t act much different from Eli, but I don’t see you getting jealous of him.”

    Andrei takes a deep breath. “I don’t know, but everything he does is so pretentious. You can’t tell me you don’t see that,” he frowns. “How could I be jealous of Eli? He’s gay!”

    “So?” I challenge. “What difference does it make, if they flirt or not? Do you think I’m going to leave you or something? After everything we’ve been through?”

    “That’s not what I mean! Don’t put this on me. I only want to protect you,” he growls.

    “So does everyone else in that room,” I point out bluntly. “You said so yourself, we have to look out for each other. This isn’t just about me; we’re all in danger, and we all need to be on the same page.”

    He clamps his mouth shut, but he’s still fuming. I step closer and take both of his hands, placing them on my stomach.

    “This is yours. I’m yours. No matter what you think is going on with Nik, or anyone else,” I stare him in the eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. I love you, and only you.”

    He pouts, still angry. “But what if someone wants to take you from me?”

    I smile. “Then they’d have to tear me away, and I wouldn’t stop fighting until I got back to you.”

    He nods reluctantly, lifting my hands to his lips. “I’m sorry. I just find myself so… tense when others look like they’re flirting with you. I guess I just don’t know how to handle it,” he admits, kissing my hands gently.

    “I understand, a little. I get that feeling sometimes… but I guess it’s a little different since I can act on it,” I blush, and quickly change the subject. “Do you think you can handle it if we go back in? Or should we take the girls to see some dragons?”

    He chuckles. “Let’s take a break and show my sisters the dragons. I need to cool off… and Lini will enjoy the distraction.”

    “Ok. Wait here, I’ll go get them,” I peck his cheek quickly. I slip away and go back inside.

    Everyone pauses and turns to look at me. I shuffle over to Eli and tug on his arm to lean down. “Would you mind taking over for a while? Andrei needs to cool off, so we’re going to take a break.”

    “You got it, Sis,” Eli snickers. “I know how jealous Time can get,” I raise my brows, and he nods. Interesting.

    “Okay, come on girls,” I jog over to the racks to grab my sweater before I collect the two kids.

    “Are we going to see dragons now?” Ylenia asks as we walk into the hall. I nod and smile. How am I gonna pull this off?

    We stop by my room to get the girls jackets, and Andrei goes to change into his usual jeans and hoodie combo. I put on socks and my boots, knowing there’s no paved road. As we head to the front gates, I focus my energy in an attempt to reach out to Blue. I used to do this with Rhoan, but I’m not sure if it’ll work long range.

    Much to my relief, he’s there, waiting outside the gates. He sits on his back haunches, his golden eyes wide and curious. He looks almost like a really big, scaley cat. I risk a glance at the girls. Their eyes are as big as saucers.

    “It’s huge!” Ylenia shouts, bouncing on her toes excitedly. She runs toward Blue fearlessly. Kira hangs back, still clutching Andrei’s hand tightly.

    Blue leans away from the excited child as she reaches to pet him. He growls, not aggressive, but confused.

    “Aww, he doesn’t like me! No fair!” Ylenia cries her bottom lip quivers.

    I walk up beside her and put my hand on her head. “No, no, you just scared him. Look,” I reach out and put my hand on his head, just behind his budding horn. “His name is Blue. At least, that’s what I call him. Blue, this is Andrei’s sister.”

    Blue blinks at me with his horizontal lids. I stare back at him hard.

    “She likes dragons, and we’re going to visit the nest,” I speak slowly. “They’re small humans, so you have to be gentle, alright?”

    Blue whines.

    “Yes, you have to,” I glare at him. “Come, let’s start walking.”

    “You think this one’s big, wait till you see the Matriarch,” Andrei muses, winking at Kira. Her face blanches, and her coat seems to turn white, over its original dark blue.

    I stop and kneel next to her, touching the surface of her coat. It’s stiff, and the white melts away around my finger. I guess I know what kind of magic she has now. “Hey, it’s okay,” I smile. “They’re not like dragons in fairy tales, they’re very nice. I promise.”

    “What about dinosaurs. Dragons are basically living dinosaurs,” she asks with a small squeak.

    “Yes and no,” I giggle. “They’re much smarter than dinosaurs. They communicate with each other, they have families, and they can even do magic,” I gesture to Blue. “He’s still pretty young, but he understands when you talk to him. See, he’s not attacking your sister, is he?”

    “My sister is more likely to attack him,” she replies quite bluntly. “Okay, I’ll trust you,” she hums, pulling Andrei as she walks forward. He follows along, amused.

    I look at Blue, watching Ylenia warily as she circles around him, checking out his wings and his tail. “I wonder if he would notice if she attacked him? He’s apparently immune to electricity,” I muse to myself. I’d rather not find out.  

    “Really? How do you know?” Andrei asks.

    “The lightning strike,” I shrug as I stand up.

    Kira pauses and smiles back at me. “Then he’s safe from Lini.”

    “Alright, let’s go. Blue, go on and tell them we’re coming okay?” I put my arm around Ylenia to pull her away from Blue. He grunts and takes a running start before taking off.

    “Woah!! Can we ride a dragon too?!” she asks, grabbing my arm and jumping up and down excitedly.

    “Ow…” I gunt involuntarily. I carefully pry my sore arm out of her grasp and switch sides. “Maybe. We can ask Blue when he comes back, but no flying until you’re older. Andrei almost fainted last time.”

    Ylenia whines. “But Andi’s a baby! I’m not scared! I want to fly!”

    “Not today. We don’t even have a saddle,” I try to reason with her. “It’s not safe.”

    “Safe, shmafe. I’m a big girl. I don’t need a saddle.” Ylenia gloats.

    “Ylenia, you’re supposed to listen to what Kaitlyn says. Mom told us to behave and listen,” Kira warns. I smile gratefully at her. I’m so glad she’s not like that too. Ylenia pouts but she doesn’t argue.

    The girls follow along patiently across the plains to the base of the cliff. Blue is waiting there. It’s been nearly an hour, and even I’m tired. I imagine the girls are exhausted. Andrei seems fine, but that’s not surprising. Sparring, taking care of kids, and getting up early takes a lot out of a girl I guess.

    “Blue, would you mind giving us girls a ride up?” I ask, assuming Andrei would refuse anyway.

    “Really?!” Ylenia’s eyes grow wide. Blue lowers his head to the ground. He doesn’t complain since it’s for me too.

    “Kira, would you like to come too?” I ask as I reach to pick up Ylenia.

    Andrei steps up, his hand on my shoulder. “Kat, I’ll lift her. You shouldn’t be lifting heavy things, remember?”

    “Right,” I smile at him. Honestly, I didn’t want to this time. I’m sore and exhausted. He picks up the girl under her arms and places her on Blue’s back, just at the base of his neck. He then turns to Kira, putting her behind her sister.

    “Need a hand?” he turns to me with a glimmer in his eye. I nod, and he lifts me up almost as easily as the girls. I grab onto Blue’s back and swing my leg around to secure myself. I scoot forward and reach around both girls, pulling them back into me.

    “Andrei, are you sure you don’t want to join us?” I ask, fluttering my lashes. Blue glances at him from the side of his big eye.

    “I don’t think Blue can carry all of us. I’ll meet you there,” Andrei smiles, eyeing Blue back.

    Blue snorts, nudging Andrei with his wing. I laugh. “He says he could carry all of us, plus one of the big guys.”

    Andrei gives me a wry smile. “I can’t help but doubt that.”

    Kira taps my arm and whispers with a giggle, “Andi is scared.”

    I lean closer to her ear. “I know, but I’m a little scared too. I’ve only done this once before.”

    “You’re scared? Why? Aren’t they your dragons?” she asks.

    “No, Kira,” I lean my chin on the top of her head. “They’re my family. Sometimes, family is scary too.”

    “Oh. Sometimes Andi was scary when he came back from a trip. Mom used to tell us he had gone on a school trip, but I saw him come back a few times. He looks scared then too, and really dirty,” she giggles.

    Andrei blushes. “Kira, don’t say that.”

    I reach my hand to him, trying not to laugh. “It’s not so scary when everyone is together, right?”

    “Who said it was scary?” Andrei balks defensively.

    “I did,” I sneer at him playfully. I know it scares him too, but I really don’t want to be alone with the two kids and a thousand dragons. “You’ll protect us, won’t you?” I ask with a wink.

    His jaw drops and his eyes narrow. “Of course… when you put it that way you make me sound like a wimp,” he reluctantly takes my hand, climbing up behind me. His arms slide firmly around my waist.

    I turn my head, leaning into him as I kiss his cheek. “Thank you, Mr. Hero.”

    “You’re so very welcome,” he grumbles. Blue lifts his head, standing up again. Andrei squeezes hard, and I squeak involuntarily. “Sorry…” he mumbles, resting his head on my shoulder. I snicker, holding the girls in my arms as well.

    Blue lumbers up the path around the cliff. I try not to look down as we climb higher. It’s definitely faster than we would have been walking up the steep path. I wonder absently how we might get back down.  As we approach the plateau other young dragonlings swarm around us, buzzing curiously. Blue stops as we reach the flat surface at the top and looks back at me.

    “Should he take us all the way to the end?” I ask Andrei, quietly. “Or do you want to walk?”

    “How much farther is it?” Andrei asks shakily. I point to the trio of hills up ahead, which are actually just the matriarchs.

    “Not too far,” I answer. It usually only takes a few minutes to cross, weaving between the nests.

    “Sure, we can continue. I’ll survive,” he whispers.

    Blue snorts and continues walking, as more and more dragons gather around us, following along. It’s like being in a crowded subway during rush hour. So many voices. I lean my head back against Andrei, letting my eyes close. I would cover my ears, but I’m too afraid one of the girls will slide off…

By Krystyna Yates

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