She’d grown up being told to run. She could hear Mama’s voice in her head, Baby if they ever come for you just run. Run far away, don’t come back. She shut the door to her room and slid the lock. I will find you again, Daddy will find you. She stuffed clothing in a satchel: pants, tunics, socks and leggings. Just run. She put on her boots, the comfortable ones for when she went on hiking trips with Mama.
“Not everyone is like you and Daddy,” Mama had once tried to explain. “You two are special.”
For the first time in her life, Kay hated being special. Her movements were mechanical and she bit back tears, wiping at her eyes. She stashed the last of her things in her leather satchel and slowly opened the door.
The hallway was empty. Kay slung her satchel around her shoulder and crept along the wall. It was like the games she played with Daddy. Daddy would close his eyes and Kay would have to creep around the room collecting pebbles without alerting Daddy she was near. She pretended she was playing now and only paused when she came to the entry of the kitchen. To her left was the hallway which led to the front door, to her right lay the truth. They were keeping secrets from her, and Kay wanted to find out what. Besides, Daddy might need her, she couldn’t leave without stopping to see. She slowly peered around the corner, hoping that she would find her mama and daddy, happy and ready to eat dinner. The strange visitor would be gone. Everything would be as it should.
The kitchen was empty. Kay spun around the room, as if her parents would suddenly pop up from a corner and surprise her like they had on her previous birthday. Where was Mama and Daddy? The door! It was still open a crack, as if someone had kicked it shut at their departure but not with enough force to close it fully.
But where would they go? Think Kay, use your brain. The barn. It was so obvious. She knew Daddy wouldn’t be happy when he saw. Mama would want her to run now while she had the chance and would probably cry when she saw her but she had to try, didn’t she? Daddy needed her help. She was special.
She ran back toward the north barn and found the massive twin doors flung open wide, hot air billowed out in waves. Kay coughed and stopped, knees shaking, while she tried to catch her breath. She had to use her head. She would be no help to Daddy if she barged in and made a scene. This required that sneaky word, what was it? Oh right! Stealth, she thought standing tall and feeling restored. This job required stealth.
She entered the barn and kept close to the wall, creeping along the west side of the barn. The barn’s dome was open to allow for dragons to take flight but there were darkened alcoves cut into the side that provided individual shelters for dragons. Kay walked in those shadows, keeping her breathing low and even, scouting her surroundings with watchful eyes.
She didn’t see anyone at first and she wondered if she’d been wrong. Maybe they had gone elsewhere and her being in the barn was not only dangerous, but also a waste of time. But if she was wrong, then where did everyone go? She frowned and was concentrating so fully on being quiet that she almost ran directly into a sleeping dragon. A beam of sunlight reflected off the dragon’s scales and Kay noticed Rumble’s deep familiar red. She muffled a gasp that tried to escape but Rumble didn’t open his eyes as she carefully scooted closer to him. If she walked around his snout she would have to step into the light and if she did that she risked someone seeing her. Her only advantage lie in the fact that she would be able to scout out what was happening before she was spotted by anyone. Her only alternative was to crawl over Rumble.
He would never hurt me. She leaned her weight on his neck. He felt smooth and leathery, unlike the feel of jagged metal and glass that Kay had imagined. She pushed her palms down and slid up Rumble’s side until she straddled his thick neck. He opened his eyes, but didn’t move. She slid down on the other side and stared up at the dragon. He blinked his giant eye and stared back. She continued creeping in the shadows. Her heart raced, she had touched Rumble! More than that, she had climbed over him, she’d practically rode him! And Rumble had done nothing.
He does like me, he would let me ride him. Concentrate Kay, you have to find Mama and Daddy. She was in the center of the barn, and she could hear voices. She slowed her approach and she felt as though she was barely moving as she crept against the walls.
Sometimes you have to be patient, her father had said when she’d stared down at her first dragon egg. She had been four or maybe five and she wanted to crack it open to see the baby inside. Daddy had rescued the egg before she smashed it and explained that if she had cracked open the egg the baby would have died. She’d been horrified and had cried and cried. Daddy had hugged her tight and told her everything would be fine, no harm was done and she had learned that patience was rewarded. A few weeks later she was able to see the tiny baby dragons nursing from their mother.
I will be patient. She pressed herself against the wall. She could finally see them. Daddy had his back to her, her mother struggled in the arms of the stranger.
Kay knew what it meant to use strong words like hate. Mama always said she shouldn’t ever use the word because it was powerful and mean. But Kay knew it was the right word for the moment. Kay hated that man. She tiptoed away from the wall and crept closer to her father.
“Do you think I’m a fool? I know why you’ve brought me here. You think to take me to the place you’re most powerful,” the stranger said. Kay watched as his arm squeezed tight against her mother’s throat. Mama cried as she kicked at the air and slapped his arm. Kay felt panic poke in her tummy and she bit her tongue to keep from crying out. Patience.
“Just let her go. Leave our farm and we’ll both forget you’ve ever come here. No one has to get hurt.” Daddy’s hands were in the air and his words were soft and even.
Kay could see him Breathing in the heat, pulling it up from the ground, from the air, Breathing it all in. She paused, maybe she’d been foolish in coming. Daddy had everything in control and he would be very angry when he caught her there.
The man laughed, loud and shrill. “I know what you’re doing. You’re not smarter than me. I can take in the extra heat from the dragons just as you can.”
Wait, this was wrong. The stranger was also Breathing! How could that be? Kay shook her head. She and Daddy were special, so why was this man Breathing too? The man Breathed in at an alarming rate. Kay could see the heat radiating from him in waves that distorted the air. She hadn’t been wrong. Daddy needed her help, she came just in time to warn him.
She Breathed. It was amazing, a sharp searing heat entered her lungs and she Breathed in deeply, holding the heat tightly in check. Holding in such power was a dizzying sensation, the stagnant energy bounced around inside her, waiting to burst from her fingertips at her command.
“Daddy, look out –he’s Breathing too,” she shouted. She Breathed in more, ready to release.
Mama was thrown to the ground. “Get out of here, Kay” she screamed. “Run, baby!”
The stranger released his Flame at Daddy just as her father released his.
Kay released her Flame at the stranger too and scooted close to Daddy. Streams of molten fire blazed from her tiny fingers. She stood just beside her father, using all her strength. Their flames were a wall of fire and they fanned against that of the stranger’s, neither flame sputtered out. Kay ignored the strength sapping out of her, it didn’t matter that she grew tired. Daddy and Mama needed her; she Breathed in more heat.
“No, Kay. Run, now. Do it.” Daddy used his ‘I mean it’ voice.
Kay’s bottom lip quivered and a line of sweat beaded across her forehead. “Daddy, I can help.”
“Now Kay, run. Don’t stop.” He shoved her away and her concentration broke. She breathed normal, surprised at the steamy heat in the air. Rumble was watching her with solemn eyes.
She knew she was supposed to run away but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from Daddy and the stranger, she had to make sure Daddy and Mama were going to be fine.
Rumble stood up, growling deep in his throat.
The stranger suddenly stopped his flame and leaped to the side, rolling out of Daddy’s line of fire. Her father Breathed in deeply and pulled his flame tightly to him. It encircled her father, a tiny tornado of flame that whirled around him. The barn grew dark from the sudden absence of so much fire.
“You’re a fool,” The stranger cried out from the darkness. “You thought you could live out your days in solitude, thought your life was your own to grow profitable, lazy in your wealth. She was never yours, just as your life was not your own.” He stood up and Daddy whirled toward him.
The stranger shot out his flame. But not at Daddy.
Mama screamed when the flame shot into her chest. The flame crawled over Mama’s body and she twitched and jerked under it.
Daddy’s flame sputtered out. “Kara,” he fell to his knees and whispered Mama’s name.
Mama! “No,” Kay shouted, rushing toward the stranger. She hated him, she would make him burn. She Breathed in, ready to attack.
“Kay?” Daddy turned white when he saw. “I told you to run away.”
The other man came from out of nowhere, he was dressed entirely in black and had a silk mask that covered his face. His large, strong hands wrapped around her throat.
Where had he come from? She shot a flame at him, it was weak because she was exhausted and he was choking her, but it was enough to make him jump back in pain. He released her and she struggled to Breathe in more.
She could feel Daddy growing hot behind her. “Daddy?”
“I love you, Baby,” He smiled at her, then pushed her away. She fell to her knees and watched as Daddy Breathed in more heat than she thought possible.
“You’ll kill us all,” shouted the stranger, shooting a small flame out toward her father.
Daddy breathed it in too.
The second man, the one that had sneaked up on her, was running out of the barn. Rumble roared at him when he got too close. Daddy was more hot than should be possible. She worried for him, wondered what it would mean for him to hold so much heat. And Mama…
“Run, Kay!” Daddy’s voice was pleading, the air was growing cold around her. Daddy was sucking in all the heat.
She was exhausted but struggled to pump her legs as hard as she could. Daddy wanted her to run, she would run. The air was cool and crisp outside the barn doors. Rumble came out after her, spreading his wings wide in the evening light. The setting sun reflected off him and he glowed brighter than any flame.
Kay kept running. She ignored the dragon that flew above her. She raced from the barn, bathed in the shadow of Rumble’s flight.
She was still running when Kay was pushed from behind and lifted off the ground before she was violently shoved back down into it. She coughed and looked up but could see nothing. Total blackness. She panicked. Ignoring the ringing in her ears, she screamed and wiped at her face. The darkness shifted and she realized she wasn’t blind, just completely covered by Rumble’s enormous form, cocooned under his wing.
She pushed her way out from under him. Exalted, she cried out Rumble’s name. Then she remembered Daddy. She looked around, dazed. Where was the barn? Mama and Daddy… Her mind was a storm, emotions crashed over her and she cried out, begging for her parents. Daddy had told her to run, he’d wanted to protect her. The barn…the barn had exploded. Rumble had covered her up to protect her.
“You really wouldn’t let me get hurt.” She offered the dragon a weak smile before falling to her knees in front of him. She wanted Daddy’s arms. She wanted to eat Mama’s fresh bread while her mother brushed her hair. Why? Why had this happened, what had the man wanted?
Rumble roared and Kay stared at the long stick protruding from his side. He stared at her with his giant black eyes before he collapsed to the ground. Smoke puffed out his nostrils.
“No, Rumble,” she screamed out. “No!”
The sneaky man from the barn. Where did he keep popping up from?
“Stay away from me,” Kay warned, Breathing in what little heat she could. Her head hurt and she was so tired.
“I can help you.” The sneaky man smiled.
Kay exhaled and tried to call in more heat. She coughed. “You’re a bad man. You hurt me and you killed Rumble.” She took a few steps back toward the house, trying to run. Her body felt heavy and she stumbled over her feet.
The man tsked. “Poor little Fyrling, you must be exhausted.”
“Stay away from me,” Kay tried to shout but the words were choked and she fell to her knees. “Stay away,” she continued to crawl further away from him.
He stood over her and reached out his arms. “Come little one, now you belong to me.”