Later that night, the rest of the girls at the orphanage and I clambered into the bunk beds that filled the large room that we all shared. I climbed on top of my bunk, which was at the back of the room by the windows, and was about to get under the covers when Ms. Emery walked into the room. We all stopped what we were doing and stared, everyone noticing that the new girl was following her. They headed all the way to the end of the room and stopped at my bunk bed.
“Ketsuna, this is Vixia,” Ms. Emery explained. “She’ll be taking the bottom bunk of your bed for the time being.”
“Okay,” I replied quietly.
“Why don’t you come down and say hello?” I hesitated for a moment, but then I climbed back down and held out my hand to the girl. This was the first time that I noticed her yellow eyes. “Hi, my name is Ketsuna.”
She took my hand and shook it. “I’m Vixia,” she chimed. “Glad to meet—”
“Good,” Ms. Emery interjected. “Ketsuna, be on your best behavior. Everyone, it’s time for lights-out! I don’t want to hear so much as a peep from any of you.”
Vixia crawled into the covers of the lower bunk as I climbed back up onto the top one. Ms. Emery left the room, flicking the light off on the way out and closing the door behind her. I peered over the edge of the railing as soon as she was gone, and Vixia must have had the same idea as me because I was met with the sight of her glowing eyes.
“I thought she said that this place was at max capacity.”
“She did but that doesn’t make it true. She just doesn’t want any more kids here.” Vixia nodded in understanding and smiled.
“Sorry if my eyes are creepy,” she whispered. “They make it to where I can see really well in the dark.”
I beamed back at her.
“That’s so cool.”
That was the exact moment where our friendship began.
About a month passed and so did the pouring rain and winter weather that kept us confined to the inside of the orphanage. When nicer weather came, we were allowed to play outside in the courtyard. Some of the kids would garden with the other caretakers or run around playing tag, but not Vixia and me. On that day, we were sitting under a tree at the far end of the courtyard, taking in the spring sunlight as we skimmed through my dragon book.
“Isn’t that the book that Ms. Emery took away?” she asked. I nodded, flipping to the next page.
“Yeah, she usually does that. I sneak it back when she’s not looking, though.” I continued to flip through the pages as Vixia looked down at her lap, silent. After a moment, she spoke again.
“Did you have a family?” she asked. I stopped skimming and stared at one of my favorite illustrations in the whole book, which depicted an enormous red dragon.
“Yeah. They left me in the forest.”
“I’ve never had a family.”
“Really? Then, have you been here your whole life?”
“Then what happened before—”
“Look at this!” I interrupted, holding up my book. “Isn’t this picture cool?” I showed her the picture I was staring at, the one with the red dragon. However, my moment of excitement was short-lived.
“Ketsuna, what do you have there?” Ms. Emery shouted. I jumped, startled, and we both looked up to see her storming toward us.
“Crap!” I got up to run but Ms. Emery had already made it to us. She snatched the book out of my hands again and she was practically fuming.
“This again? You’re such a bad influence! Both of you, inside, now!”
Vixia and I looked down at the ground for the walk back to the house, but when Ms. Emery wasn’t looking, Vixia grabbed my hand and held it.
I laid in bed that night, staring at the ceiling above me as I contemplated everything. I wondered about why I was still there at the orphanage, when I would be adopted, if I would ever be adopted. But most of all, I wondered what it would be like to leave.
I wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. I could explore and do my own thing. No one could stop me.
I sat up and looked out the window. The moon was high in the sky, its light shining on the trees. The shadows of their leaves and branches were cast on the window’s glass and stretched across the floor. Everything else was dyed in an iridescent blue. I was admiring the color when I made up my mind. I climbed out of bed and began to get dressed as quietly as I possibly could. I had picked up my boots when Vixia sat up and looked at me, her eyes glowing against the shadows of the room.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
“Where are you going?”
She tilted her head while she continued to stare at me. I shrugged and began to head for the door, careful not to wake up any of the others.
“Wait.” I stopped and turned around to look at Vixia. She had her arm and hand outstretched toward me, but she hadn’t gotten out of bed. “Let me get dressed. Take me with you.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. She nodded.
“Okay.” I walked back over to her and she got dressed as quickly as she could. “Don’t put on your shoes,” I instructed. “They’ll be too loud inside the house.” She nodded again and picked them up, carrying them like I did with mine. We left the room and headed for the kitchen. I grabbed a sack that was sitting in the corner of the room and started to fill it with food.
“Wait, isn’t that stealing?”
“What else are we supposed to eat? Twigs?” Vixia shrugged and I continued to fill the bag. We then headed into the common room, where Ms. Emery put my book. I handed Vixia the sack and went to grab a chair. I carried it over to the bookcase and climbed on top of it.
“Please be careful.” I didn’t say anything back. I stood almost on the tips of my toes to peer over the top of the book case. I could barely spot the spine of my book against the darkness of the room but I could tell that Ms. Emery had made an effort to push it back further than usual. I stretched a little further and the chair shifted under me.
“Ketsuna, look out!” Vixia rushed over and grabbed the chair just before it could tip over. She steadied it while I regained my footing. I looked at her from over my shoulder.
“Hold it still. I’ve almost got it.” She nodded and did as I told her. I reached again and just barely touched the book’s cover with my fingertips. I managed to drag it close enough to grab and held it to my chest. I got off the chair and added the book to the sack that Vixia left on the floor.
“Should we put the chair back?”
“No,” I replied. “Let’s just go.”
We headed for the front door and I carefully turned the knob. There was no sound until we opened it. The hinges let out a high-pitched creak as I slowly pulled the door open. Vixia and I both listened for a moment to see if anyone had woken up, but after a moment of silence, we crept outside. I closed the door behind us as quietly as I could. Now we were walking across the courtyard, heading toward the forest.
“Are you sure you wanna come?” I asked. “As soon as we cross the gate, there’s no turning back.”
Vixia stared at me for a moment, her hair shining in the moonlight. She nodded firmly as she took my hand and squeezed it tightly. We finished walking across the courtyard and exited through the front gate. Then, we slipped off into the forest, veiled by the darkness of the night.
. . . Ketsuna. Hey, Ketsuna.
I could feel someone shaking me and I opened my eyes, the world around me coming into focus. I was still in my room at the guildhall, laying on my back in bed. Vixia was looking down at me with Puff perched on her shoulder as I groggily rubbed my eyes. I sat up and yawned.
“Did I fall asleep?”
“I think so.”
“What time is it?”
“About 6 o’clock. Most of the guild is back now and Darius and I just finished making dinner.”
“All right. Let’s go eat.”
I stood up from bed and we were about to walk out into the hallway when I heard a low rumbling sound. Then everything began to shake. My chest tightened.
“It’s a dragon!”