The Rise of The Dragon Queen: Chapter 17

The torch’s firelight illuminated the room as I remained on the floor, fading in and out of consciousness. Even in my sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about the key. I imagined holding it, running my fingers across the metal cylinder that made its neck, and unlocking the door that kept me from my freedom. When I awoke in the morning, I was surprised to find that it was within my grasp.

I sat up, awake and alert as I stared at the key in my hand. At that moment, I was holding my chance at freedom. I whirled around and seized my ankle, jamming the key into the shackle that was clasped around it. My hand trembled as I turned the key and the clasp released my leg. I stared at it in silence as it clattered against the floor.

After a moment of amazement, I stood and bolted for the door. I unlocked it and pushed it open with some of my remaining strength. I stepped over the old guard’s body and rushed for the exit.

I was finally free.

I stepped outside of the prison for the first time and found myself unable to see the sun through the smoke that was rising from the burning village around me. Most of the buildings were still on fire when I emerged, but I could tell by the charred rubble that it was not nearly as intense as it had been before. It was actually starting to die out. I was unsure of what to do until I heard something move behind me. I turned around to see the culprit, an enormous dragon with golden scales, lying atop the prison’s roof, staring down at me.

For a moment, we just stared at each other. I wasn’t sure why, but I couldn’t move. It was almost as if I was trapped by its eyes, which shined like emeralds. It was the first to move, standing up tall and stretching out its wings. When it did that, it blocked out what little part of the sun that was visible and all I could see was its silhouette. It let out a low growl and flapped its wings, taking to the air. I watched in amazement as it flew away, leaving me there alone. I didn’t move until it had completely disappeared from my sight.

It . . . saved me?

After the thought passed through my head, I turned around again and began to walk toward the village’s gates, barefoot. I was nearly there when I saw something glisten from the corner of my eye. Curious, I headed toward the sparkling object, finding shards of glass on the ground near one of the buildings that had been torched. I picked a piece up, careful not to cut myself on its sharp edges. That was when I saw my reflection for the first time.

I had long, caramel-colored hair, which was completely matted. My eyes were also a grayish blue, a detail I had never seen before. I pushed my hair back to find that my ears were pointed, like my captor’s. I ran my fingers over the sharp edges of them, taking in my reflection.

I’m not a monster?

All this time, I had assumed that I looked different from them. I looked away from the shard of glass, glaring at the prison. Maybe I was a monster. If I was a monster, I was one who had been set free.

I headed for the village’s gates again, making a promise to myself.

I’m never coming back here again.

The memory faded away as I walked to the center of the village, now significantly older than I was the last time I was there. Reality began to set in and I felt my stomach churn. Vixia was saying something, but I couldn’t hear her; it was almost as if there was cotton in my ears. I think she was walking up behind me when I first retched.

“Ketsuna!” Her voice became clear as soon as she grabbed onto my shoulders. I flinched away from her touch, taking a few steps forward, and fell to my knees. My face and sinuses burned as tears welled up in my eyes. My whole body trembled in a way that it had never done before when I screamed.

“Ketsuna, what’s wrong?” Vixia stood behind me, her hands hovering close to my body. I could almost feel the hesitation hanging around her as she considered whether she should try to comfort me or not. I looked up from the ground to see Puff standing in front of me. The way that his mouth was warped told me that he was scared, but as soon as our eyes met, all I felt was an intense burst of anger.

Why did you bring us here?” I screamed. He cowered at my voice and in that moment I felt a jolt through my body. More tears rolled down my face and I gasped for air, my vision blurring as I stared down at the ground. I kept crying, my anger leaving just as quickly as it came.

“I’m sorry, Puff,” I whimpered, pressing my forehead against the ground. “We have to get out of here.”

“Okay, where should we go?” Vixia replied with a voice that was much calmer than I expected. I lifted my head and looked back at her. Puff was now creeping closer to me, obviously still frightened. I tried to take a deep breath and control myself as best as I could. When I spoke again, my voice was almost as shaky as my body.

“I don’t know. We still don’t know what’s going on back at home. I mean, Sparrow’s been working with the queen, right? How the hell did he get a dragon then?” Vixia shrugged and rubbed my back a little. This time, I let her.

“We can figure that out later, but now we need to get you somewhere safe. Come on.” She helped me get back to my feet, but I still leaned on her because my legs were unstable.

“Okay, let’s find somewhere to stay.” Vixia nodded in agreement and we headed back toward the village’s gates, Puff following along behind us.

We wandered around like that for a bit, since nothing other than the village appeared to be familiar to me. We followed the winding path until it reached a dead end at a cliff, but from the view up there Vixia was able to spot a village hidden by the dense trees.

“Over there!” She pointed out into the forest below and my eyes followed, finding twinkling lights hidden in the forest’s canopy.

“Good eye. Puff, do you think you could get us a bit closer?” The dragon, who had shrunk down and rode along in my pocket since we left the village, trilled and nodded. I felt my eyes burn as I watched him climb out and land on the ground, already starting to grow in size. Vixia put a hand on my shoulder, rubbing it gently in an attempt to comfort me. I put my hand on hers and she squeezed me three times. I smiled a little.

“Thank you,” I whispered. She rubbed my shoulder again before withdrawing her arm.

“It’s what I’m here for.” We both turned back to Puff, who was now back to the right size to carry us both. We climbed on his back and he took off by flapping his wings and dashing off the edge of the cliff. His wings caught the wind and billowed a little and we glided through the air, heading down toward the shining lights.

If I wasn’t already convinced that we were in Draladen, the sight of the village would have confirmed it. Buildings stood in harmony with the trees and plants around them, some even positioned between two enormous trunks and shaded by the leaves. There were streetlights there like there were in Zaledrid, but this small village’s roads were less defined, made of only dirt and stone. My eyes scanned the area for guards, but I found none. I was about to look somewhere else when I saw movement. There were people down there, but they weren’t like the ones in Zaledrid either. My gaze focused on a specific couple, who were walking down one of the streets and laughing together. They had pointed ears, just like me. I stared in awe as we swooped in closer. Puff began to wind downward toward the ground in large circles when I finally turned my attention to Vixia. She seemed just as dazzled as I did.

“Ketsuna, they look just like—”

“I know,” I replied, sounding a bit more excited than I had expected to. Puff touched down on the ground, right outside the village’s gates. I call them gates, but there were no doors barring entry or guards standing watch. Vixia and I exchanged glances and then I looked back toward the village. Puff shrunk back down and climbed onto my shoulder with a happy chirp. He then nudged the side of my neck with the top of his head, brushing his rough scales against my skin. I reached over my shoulder and petted him with two of my fingers, but I felt the anxiety welling up inside of me. Vixia walked up and took my hand, squeezing it. I smiled at her and we walked toward the village together.

Once we crossed through the gate, we found that it was even more beautiful from the ground than it was from the air. Large toadstools grew everywhere, poking out of the ground and the trunks of the tall trees. There were several shops and homes and I realized that all of the signs were written in a script that I had never seen before. My eyes were wandering around my surroundings when they made their way back to Vixia, resting on the shining badge on her chest. I looked down at mine and felt a rush of panic.

“Vixia, take that off.”

“Huh?” Before she could do anything, I took the pin off of her shirt and tucked it away in my pocket. I quickly did the same with mine while my wife tilted her head at me. “Why?”

“If anyone asks, we are not affiliated with the IronScale Hunters.”

“Oh, right. Got it.” Vixia began looking around again, this time squinting when her eyes found the letters on the signs. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to read that, would you?” I shook my head just as Vixia looked over and saw a couple walking by. “Oh, I know! Let’s ask them.”

“Vixia, wait!” It was too late, she was already heading toward them. I followed as briskly as I could without knocking Puff off of my shoulder and just barely caught the beginning of the conversation.

“Excuse me, do you know where an inn is?” One of the Draladenians that she spoke to tilted their head. They looked toward the other person with them.

What did she say?” Now it was Vixia’s turn to be confused. That was when I stepped in.

“I’m sorry, where is the inn?” I asked, speaking in the same language as them. Vixia’s head snapped over to me, then back at the others. They smiled in what seemed to be relief and pointed further down the road. I bowed my head slightly to thank them and they continued on their way, one of them mentioning to the other that Vixia was cute. I smiled a little at that, but I was still confused.

How the hell did I know that?

“You speak their language too?” Vixia wondered aloud. I shrugged.

“I don’t remember much. I forgot that it was even a thing.”

“Okay then. Lead the way.” I did as Vixia commanded and we continued down the road, eventually finding a tall building with a red roof. We stopped in front of it just in time to see some adventurers come out, set up with all of their gear.

“I think this is the place.”

“Let’s go in then.” Vixia and I walked up the front steps together and I held the door open for her before I went inside.

When Vixia and I entered the inn, I quickly realized that it was unlike any building that I had ever been in before. The inn seemed to stand right in front of a large tree, but I noticed that its enormous trunk ran from the floor to the ceiling behind the front desk. Two ladies, both with pointed ears, stood there and chatted between the two of them. Almost everything in the room was crafted from wood and a set of stairs winded up the backside of the trunk, leading to where I assumed the rooms were. Vixia and I were completely awestruck by the time that the receptionists noticed us.

“Can I help you?” They spoke in Draladen’s language. I stepped closer to them, Vixia hanging back behind me shyly.

“Can we . . . room?” I asked back, using what bit of the language that I remembered. One of the ladies nodded and smiled, but I noticed the other’s eyes focused on my shoulder. That was when I realized that Puff was still perched there.

Crap! I was about to grab Vixia’s hand and run out the door, but then I heard Puff trill as the lady let out a squeal of delight.

“How cute!” she cooed, clasping her hands together underneath her chin as she bent over the counter. Puff seemed to beam back at her, clearly enjoying the attention. She then grabbed what appeared to be a sliver of jerky from a jar on the counter and reached out to give it to Puff. He scarfed it down and licked his lips while the second lady turned around and grabbed a key. She set it down on the counter and I reached into my pockets. That was when I realized that Vixia and I were missing something.

“Um . . .” I felt my face begin to turn red as I tried to formulate the sentence. “Money, don’t have . . . only from Zaledrid.” Both of the ladies’ ears perked up when I said this. Vixia did too when she heard me mention the kingdom. Both of the women looked at each other, sad looks on their faces.

“You are from Zaledrid?” I nodded hesitantly.

“You can stay for free,” the other lady determined. “Your travels must have been hard. The queen there is vile and she’s horrible to dragons.” I didn’t recognize the last sentence that she said until long after this conversation, but I got the jist of her meaning from the way that her nose wrinkled in disgust. “The dragon hunters are horrid,” she added. That was one of the parts that I understood.

I quietly thanked them for their hospitality and took the key. Vixia followed along behind me as I walked up the stairs, right after the women gave me directions to our room. When they were out of earshot, Vixia grabbed my bicep.

“What just happened?” “I think they think we fled Zaledrid. I’m not sure what’s going on, but this place is way different from home.” Puff chirped in agreement, licking his lips again. Once we made it to the right floor, we wandered over to the door to our room as I got a sinking feeling in my chest.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 16

The world around us grew cold and dark as Puff flew through the night sky. We were gliding over a large, sprawling forest when Vixia finally started to regain consciousness. She shifted a little and looked up at me, the back of her head resting against my chest. She shivered in the cold and I tugged at her cloak to try to cover her more.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I should be,” she answered, sitting up a little.

“What happened back there?”

“He caught us off guard. I didn’t realize that he was on the dragon at first. I didn’t even get a chance to cast a spell.”

“Did he tell you how he got it? That dragon wasn’t anything like Puff.” Vixia shook her head and pressed her palm to her forehead. Her brows furrowed and she let out a sigh.

“No, but I can tell you that he’s gone off the deep end. He was trying so hard to get to me that his attacks ended up hitting his teammates too.”

“So, when I got up—”

“They were already dead,” Vixia stated, finishing my sentence. I slumped a little and stared down at the forest below us while petting Puff a little. I was trying to make sense of everything when I noticed something about our surroundings.

Why does all of this look familiar?

We finally landed not that long after Vixia woke up. Puff chose a small clearing in the forest surrounding a mountain pass. I guessed that we were somewhere near the edge of Zaledrid’s border, but something didn’t feel right. Once we were sure that Vixia was able to stand, Puff began to lead us toward the mountain pass. Vixia stretched as we walked and winced from the pain of her injuries.

“Where does it hurt?” I asked, catching up to her.

“My ribs are a bit tender, but I am fine.”

“All right, let me know if you need help, okay?” She nodded and continued to follow Puff. I wandered along behind her, looking at our surroundings.

Have I been here before? I couldn’t shake this thought as we found our way to a dirt path, which winded up a tall hill. Puff continued making his way up there while we followed.

When we came up to the summit of the hill, I saw the place that I had feared the most. At the end of the trail was a large metal gate. One of the doors was barely hanging on, the other had collapsed on the ground, and the whole thing was rusted and falling apart. Beyond it lay the ruins of a village. Rubble had been left on the ground, untouched, and only the remains of buildings were left behind. Nature had taken the area back over, cloaking everything with grass, moss, or ivy. Hidden beneath the plant life were the remains of the former villagers, everything but their bones worn away by time. Standing tall toward the back of the village was what I recognized as a prison, the only building that could still be considered somewhat a building.

I suddenly realized why everything looked familiar when my eyes found the prison and before I could react, my mind was recounting the days that I had spent there.

During those days, I often found myself lost in daydreams. The dim cell around me would fade away as I dreamed of my nonexistent freedom, imagining what it would feel like to lie on the grass in the sunlight instead of the cold, hard floor. Sometimes, I could almost hear the sound of the ocean’s waves crashing against the shore, although I had never seen a beach or been to one before. A child’s mind is a wondrous thing; once you explain a concept like the ocean to them, their imaginations run wild. I was dreaming of the warm sand between my toes and the roaring waves when two guards entered my cell.

The creak of the opening of the barred, metal door snapped me back to reality and I painfully rolled over onto my back. The chain that cuffed my ankle to the wall rattled as I moved and groaned, the ceiling whirling in my vision. My eyes followed the firelight while it danced across the walls of the windowless room and eventually my sights found their way to the doorway. There were two men standing there and one of them was holding a torch, which he hung by the door so they could see. One of them slammed the cell door shut. The older of the two, who had white hair and a wrinkled face, stayed by the door. The second stepped closer and stopped once he was beside me, glaring down at me. His hair was dark and so were his eyes. His expression hardened when I let out a cough.

“You’re a waste of space,” he growled.

“What did I do?” I whimpered back. Instead of answering, the guard slammed his foot into my stomach. I curled up in a ball after the connection was made, the chains rattling again as my body ached. I gasped from the pain and tried to draw in a breath as I heard the older man yell out.

“Are you stupid? Don’t touch it!” I coughed and groaned, unable to throw up even though I wanted to. I writhed in pain as the guard knelt down beside me. He grabbed onto my chin, pulling my face up to look at him.

“Let go, that hurts!” He gripped my face harder.

“You’re going to die in here,” he hissed. “You should have never been created.” He finally let go and my head dropped back down to the floor. I sobbed quietly to myself as they left, locking the iron door behind them.

It wasn’t long before the older guard returned, alone this time. He appeared at my cell door, carrying the same torch as before while I glared at him from my position on the floor. He began to unlock the door again as I rolled over, standing on my knees. His eyes narrowed when he heard my chains rattle and he closed the door behind him. He hung the torch up and I could see the firelight and disgust burning within his eyes.

“So, you’re still alive.” I didn’t say anything back at first, just stared. I was about to ask the same question that I had asked before when a blood-curdling cry that I had never heard before ripped through the cell. The ground trembled as I gripped the dirty shirt that I was wearing.

Why does my chest hurt like this?

“Dragon!” a sentry screamed, interrupting my thoughts. His shrill voice was immediately followed by the sound of crumpling metal and cries of agony. I looked up at the older guard as he stared at the cell’s door in horror, listening helplessly as the snapping of bones echoed from down the hall. He turned his attention back to me.

“You called it to aid you, didn’t you?” he snapped.

“No, I—”

“You should have never existed!” the man shrieked, rushing for the door. He flung it open and slammed it behind him once he reached the other side.

“Wait!” I pleaded, but he wouldn’t listen. He retrieved a key from his pocket and locked the door.

“I’ll make sure that you perish!” He held up the golden key, relishing it as though it were a trophy. I scrambled toward him, fumbling over words to say, but was stopped when I felt metal tug at my skin. I looked back at my cuffed ankle, then at the guard. My eyes met his the instant that a jet of flames rushed down the hallway, engulfing him.

The key clattered against the floor as he let out a short, deafening scream. I watched as his charred body hit the ground, still burning. After he fell, the fire ceased. The building around me trembled for a moment and the dragon let out a scream from above the prison. I gazed at the key, stretching my arm out toward it.

Just a little . . . further. I reached out as far as I could, my shoulder burning as I pushed myself to the limits. My heart sank as I found that the key was just outside of my reach.

I rested my cheek against the floor, my arm still outstretched as the world around me faded to black.

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 8: . . . But Satisfaction Brought It Back

Ryoko’s POV

The scenery outside the train window whizzed by us and reflected off of Maneki’s eyes as she stared through the glass in awe. We were passing over the Seta River near where it merged with Lake Biwa. We hadn’t been on the train for long, but Maneki was already so excited that she could hardly sit still. From what I understood, this was her first time outside of Kyoto. I was still watching her when Harumi looked up from her phone.

“Is there anything that you guys want to do other than shopping?” she asked. “I’m not sure if we’ll have time to go down to the lake.”

“Is there anything cool about the boat tours?” 

“Yeah, they go through just about all of the canals so you get to see most of the town without walking. I think there’s fish in them too.”

Maneki looked at Harumi the moment she mentioned fish and clenched her hands into fists. She held them near her chest as she spoke, her eyes sparkling with determination.

“Then we have to go on a boat ride!” she stated.

“All right, we can probably catch one before we head home. We’ll figure out the rest when we get there.” Maneki nodded in agreement and looked out the window again. I resumed watching her while Harumi continued scrolling through her phone.

Maneki’s POV

Ryoko, Harumi, and I stepped off of the bus that took us from Omihachiman Station to the old town itself, and the first thing that I noticed was how loud the cicadas were. The next was all of the trees and old buildings. I was looking around at it all when my eyes drifted over to Ryoko, who was smiling at me. She then looked away, her face turning a little red. I tilted my head before Harumi clapped me on the back of my shoulder.

“I’m starving,” she groaned, now pulling in Ryoko. “Why don’t we go get an early lunch before we explore?” My arm ended up behind Harumi and brushed up against Ryoko’s pants. Neither of them seemed to notice, but I felt my face begin to burn as I pulled my arm back in toward my body.

“S-sure,” I agreed.

Ryoko’s POV

We spent the whole day wandering around Omihachiman and shopping. The town was just as I imagined it. The streets were made with stone and paths lined the wide canals. All of the buildings were old and traditional-looking with tall walls and wooden facades. The tops of some of them had white walls and I wondered if they were new additions to the buildings as we explored. When the sun was beginning to set, we made our way over to the boat rides that Maneki was looking forward to.

At the edge of one of the canals, there was a boat that was secured to a short metal pole. It was a small merchant boat with an old man perched on the back of it with a paddle. He greeted us as we walked up and I paid him for my spot and Maneki’s. Harumi was about to do the same when her phone buzzed. We watched silently as she checked it and began to panic.

“Shoot, I completely forgot!” she shrieked. She looked at Maneki and me, finding us already watching her. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go on this one,” she said, bowing her head apologetically. “I have to go grab something from one of the shops for my sister and they’ll be closed by the time we’re done. Have fun without me!”

“Wait, Harumi!” I reached out my hand toward her, but before I could say anything else, she had started running down the stone path and disappeared from my sight. I sighed and looked at Maneki. “I guess it’s just us,” I said with a smile. The nervousness that I had tried to stifle began to creep in. Maneki nodded, a small smile of her own forming on her face. We took our seats on the floor toward the front of the boat, deciding to sit beside each other.

“I guess we’re off then,” the boat driver said to himself. I looked around us, taking in our surroundings as the old man untied the boat from the pole and we drifted further into the canal.

It had grown dark around the town and now most of the old building’s lights were on, causing their windows to glow. This light reflected off the water, making it impossible to see any fish but also making Maneki visible beside me. I was now looking at her as she typed something on her phone, the screen illuminating her face even more. Then, she looked up at me and held out her phone so I could read what she wrote.

Do you have an answer for me?

My nervousness reached its peak at that moment. It was true that it had been a week since she asked me to go out with her, but for some reason, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to come to a solid decision. But even if I did make her wait longer, there was no telling when I would have a definite answer. I couldn’t expect her to wait forever. I took her phone and typed something under her message before passing it back to her.

I’m worried that I won’t be good enough. I don’t want to hurt you.

I felt my face begin to burn as her eyes scanned the message. She looked at me again and shut off her phone. She placed it in her lap.


“Bad experience,” I admitted, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions. That was when she took my hand. 

“It’s all right,” she whispered. “You won’t hurt me.”

“Maneki, I—” I was cut off by the sound of a firework screaming through the air, which then exploded in a burst of color in the sky. We both watched as it faded away, the embers fizzling out as they fell, and more fireworks burst around where the first one had been. The boat continued to drift along as we stared. I felt Maneki shift closer to me, her hip touching mine. She held my hand tighter.

When the fireworks finally disappeared, the world around us seemed darker than it had before.

“Pretty, weren’t they,” the boat driver remarked with a chuckle as he began to turn the boat around.

“Very,” I answered quietly, spotting Maneki’s blue eyes out of the corner of my vision. She was looking at me, waiting for me to say something to her. When the boat driver turned his attention back to the path ahead, I gave Maneki the attention she was waiting for.

“You have a lot of trust in me.”

“Well, of course. You’ve never broken a promise to me before.”

I realized that she was right. I had never even thought to tell anyone about her ears and I never backed out of anything else that we had planned before. I took in a deep breath and let it go in a sigh.

“Okay, I accept. Might as well give it a try, right?” At first, it looked like Maneki was going to cry when I said those words. She scooched closer to me and rested her head on my shoulder. She also squeezed my hand again.

“Thank you,” she whispered. I didn’t say anything back.

Not long after that, we made it back to the dock. Maneki straightened up and let go of my hand before we got off the boat. The old man wished us a good night as he secured the boat again and we found Harumi waiting for us at the nearest building.

“Sorry about that. Are you guys ready to head back to the station? The last train leaves soon.”

“Yeah,” Maneki answered with a smile. Harumi turned and began to lead us back to the station and Maneki and I walked closely behind her. I was almost tempted to ask Maneki for her hand again.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 15

Over the next few months, it became apparent to Vixia and me that we actually could stay in Tidalsong City. We began by taking on quests around town and eventually we became somewhat known by most of the people there. The kinder ones would give us food along with our payments for the quests and after helping out an innkeeper we managed to get a room for a few weeks. The only downside was how people looked at Vixia and me since we weren’t exactly human, but that would be an issue no matter where we went.

The first incident that we had was when we decided to go to a restaurant after finishing a quest with a hefty reward. Vixia and I were sitting at our table, beginning to eat our food, when a man wandered over to us.

He was tall with broad shoulders and hunting gear on. I assumed that he was probably part of a guild that specialized in monster population control because of the large bow and quiver on his back. As soon as he approached the table, he slammed his palms down on its surface, making all of our dishes clatter from the force.

“What’s a monster like you doing here?” he asked Vixia with a forceful tone. Vixia stared at him, her eyes wide with fear. She held up her hands defensively, but she was trembling.

“I’m not a monster,” she replied with a shaky voice. As soon as I saw the look on her face, I stood up.

“Leave her alone,” I snapped. “She hasn’t done anything wrong.” He looked toward me and I could tell that he noticed my ears because he immediately began laughing at me.

“What a pointy-eared freak!” My eyes narrowed as I gripped the hilt of my sword. I was about to draw it when one of the waitresses rushed over to us.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” The hunter turned to look at the girl, his expression shifting from amusement to shock.

“But I—”

“Sir, you are disturbing our guests. If you refuse to leave, I will go get the guards outside.” He grumbled something and left. Vixia and I tried to calm down and go back to eating, but Vixia couldn’t stop shaking. The waitress was kind enough to bring us a free dessert and assured us that people like the hunter were few and far in between, which made Vixia feel a little better.

Overall, Tidalsong City was a place where Vixia and I could not only survive, but could thrive.

A few years passed and Vixia and I found a semi-permanent place to stay at one of the local inns. The people there were kind and let us stay for a few months at a time for a lower price than what it would have cost to rent a place of our own. By this time, Vixia and I had been together for most of our lives and I finally saved up enough to buy a ring to surprise her with. I could not imagine spending my life with anyone else, but much less spending it without Vixia by my side. I had already planned the proposal out by the time I bought the ring and decided to pop the question on a warm spring afternoon.

We were at a local sightseeing spot, a cliff that overlooked the shore and the ocean. The breeze carried the sound of the waves, but also Vixia’s voice as we chatted about her magic.

“Zelora’s been teaching me all of these crazy spells recently,” Vixia explained, leaning against the railing with her arms crossed. She was facing the ocean and the wind blew her hair away from her face in flowing wisps. I was standing beside her. “But, I think they’ll be useful.”

“I have a random question,” I interjected.

“What is it?”

“What does Zelora think about me?” Vixia let out a chuckle.

“I already talked to her about that, actually,” she replied, taking my hand. “She likes you and says that I won’t have to worry about us being apart.” She squeezed my hand three times. I did it back.

“Zelora is a wise goddess then.” I smiled and I let go of Vixia’s hand. She began to turn to face me when I dropped down on one knee.

“Why do you say—” She froze mid-turn when she saw what I was doing. I could barely hide my joy as I reached for my pocket, revealing the ring box that I had concealed inside. Vixia’s hands rose up to cover her mouth and nose and her ears stood up alertly. Also, her tail started wagging.

As soon as I remembered her face, I was snapped back to reality by the sound of a scream. I sat up, finding myself still in the back of the wagon. I looked around, realizing that Puff and Vixia were gone.


The pain in my chest grew in intensity as I got up and began to run, heading for what I assumed was the deepest cavern. That was when I saw a sight that made my blood run cold.

Vixia was lying on the ground, motionless, while Puff towered over her defensively at a massive size that I didn’t even know he could grow to. Across from him, at the other end of the cavern, was another dragon with someone riding on its back. My eyes widened in horror when I heard the rider’s voice.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sparrow was sitting on the back of the large dragon. It was covered in green and yellow scales and its eyes were dark and soulless, like the others. There was a triumphant grin on the rider’s face as he peered down at me. My chest ached as a thought ran through my mind.

How the hell did he get a dragon?

I didn’t have much more time to think before the opposing dragon lurched for us. I jumped backward as Puff lunged for it as well, letting out a vicious roar that shook the cavern walls. My eyes darted around the cave until they found Vixia again, just behind the fight that was taking place between Puff and Sparrow’s dragon. I rushed over to her.

“Not so fast!” Sparrow yelled as I dropped to my knees beside her. His voice almost sounded maniacal. I didn’t know what he was talking about until I saw green flames erupt from the mouth of his dragon, heading straight toward us. At that moment, I grabbed onto Vixia and pulled her limp body close, positioning my back to the approaching fire as I braced for the burn. But it never came.

I had squeezed my eyes shut, but they opened again when I heard Puff scream. I looked back to see that he had blocked the fire from reaching us. He growled and bared his teeth as he stared Sparrow and his dragon down, his tail whipping back and forth in anger. He dug his claws into the ground of the cavern and launched himself at them again. I stared in awe before I heard a voice call out to me.

“Ketsuna?” I looked down to see Vixia reaching for my hand. She was shaking and she could barely open her eyes, but she managed to squeeze my hand three times.

“It’s going to be okay,” I promised, but the truth was that I really didn’t know. Puff’s cries ripped through the cavern as he was slammed into one of the walls. Dust and rubble went flying from the impact, clouding my sight of him. “Let’s get you out of here,” I said to Vixia, lifting her up. Her head rolled over to look toward a corner of the cavern and she reached out her hand.

“My staff . . .”

“We have to get you out of here first.” I was about to begin heading back toward the wagon when I noticed that everything around us was rumbling. My eyes darted around the cavern and I finally spotted Sparrow’s other teammates, who were lying on the ground and covered in blood. I guessed that they were dead, but there was no way to really tell. Puff let out a viscous roar, which shook the cavern around us even more, and my heart started pounding to where I could hardly hear anything else.

We need to get out of here.

“Puff!” I shouted. He had just managed to push Sparrow’s dragon off of him and hurried over to us. I managed to push Vixia up onto his back and was scrambling on myself when Sparrow’s dragon turned toward us. “We need to get out of here.”

Just as I said that, a boulder fell from the ceiling. Then, like falling dominoes, more and more followed suit, one landing on one of Sparrow’s dragon’s wings. It let out a cry as I looked frantically for an opening. Sparrow was cursing loudly when I finally found one. A large enough boulder had fallen to where the sky outside was visible through a medium-sized gap in the ceiling.

“There!” I commanded Puff, pointing up at it. He nodded and flapped his wings, pushing us up off the ground.

“I’m not letting you get away,” Sparrow screamed. As he said that, more flames sputtered out of his dragon’s mouth. Puff tried his best to avoid them as he headed for the opening. When we were most of the way there, I noticed that Puff wouldn’t fit through it at his current size.

“Shrink!” I held onto Vixia as tightly as I could as I clung to Puff’s neck. I felt it become looser in my grasp as he shrunk down and I held on tighter. We were about to be burned by Sparrow’s flames when we flew through the hole, finally reaching safety. Once we were out, Puff tried to gain as much altitude as he could and leveled out. That was when I finally had a chance to look at Vixia.

She was bleeding from her forehead and several other scrapes and cuts on her body. She was covered in dirt and dust from the cave and her clothes were torn. I wondered if she managed to land any attacks before being caught off-guard by Sparrow. I turned my attention to Puff, noticing that he had also taken quite a bit of damage. Most of his scales were singed or burnt, some of them even appearing like they were going to peel off.

“Puff, I don’t care where we go, but don’t take us back to the guild.” He nodded and continued soaring through the air, heading for the horizon as the sun began its descent.

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 7: Curiosity Killed The Cat

Ryoko’s POV

The chirping of cicadas and the chattering of people reached my ears as I waited outside the station for Maneki. It was a bright Saturday afternoon and the sun was high in the sky. The streets were busy and there were crowds of people taking over the sidewalks. I leaned against the wall of the station, standing a few feet away from the entrance, as I looked down at my phone. It read 1:30 PM.

She’s running a little late . . .

“Hey, Ryoko!” I looked up to see the girl that I was just thinking about approaching me. I was immediately taken aback by how cute she looked.

Today, a pink ribbon was wrapped around her hidden ears instead of the usual blue one and her short, white dress swayed around her legs with every step she took. The hem and neckline of it were both bordered with lace and she wore a thin, pink cardigan over it. Even her hair appeared to be shinier than usual and her feet were covered by flats that matched the cardigan. At this point, I had never seen Maneki in anything other than her school uniform, so this really threw me through a loop. I was still staring at her, taking it all in, when she finally made it over to me.

“Sorry I’m late.” She played with her hair a little, a look of embarrassment on her face. Suddenly feeling self-conscious from wearing a basic short-sleeved button-up and regular pants, I scratched the back of my neck and smiled awkwardly.

“It’s all right, I haven’t been waiting long. You look really cute.”

“Oh, thank you,” Maneki replied quietly. I could see that she was blushing a little.

“So, which way is the garden?”

“Just follow me.” Maneki turned and began to lead me down the sidewalk. We began to make our way through one of the crowds when I realized that I couldn’t see her anymore. I was tall enough to where I wouldn’t get lost on my own, but Maneki was short so it was a challenge to see her when she was surrounded by other people. When I spotted her again, I reached out and grabbed her sleeve without thinking.

“There you are.” She looked back confused. Her eyes drifted down to my hand, which was still gripping her sleeve.

“Oh, did you get lost?” she asked.

“I lost you, so kinda,” I answered. “Sorry, I’ll let go now.”

“No, it’s fine,” she chimed. “If that makes it easier for us to stick together, go ahead.”

“O-okay.” I continued to hold onto her sleeve as we made our way through the crowd, my face and ears burning along the way. I hoped that she wouldn’t look back to see me as I tried my best to calm down. Before long, we made it to the entrance to the garden that Maneki had talked about. A stone path led through a large wooden gate, which was left open for the public. People strolled by and walked in as Maneki and I stopped at the edge of the road. By this point, I had let go of her sleeve. I was looking around at all of the trees surrounding us when Maneki spoke again.

“Ready to go in? It should be less crowded.”

“Sure.” We walked side-by-side as we strolled through the gate, entering the garden. I was immediately met with the sight of hundreds of hydrangea bushes, all of them blooming in blue, pink, and purple. We wandered down the path, taking in the sights and the tranquility of the garden. I was even taking a few pictures of the flowers when Maneki grabbed onto my arm.

“Hey, look over there!” I followed where her finger was pointing with my eyes and saw a little stand further down the path. “We should go get some souvenirs!”

“Okay.” I nodded in agreement and Maneki let go of my arm. We made our way over to the stand and found that everything there was hydrangea-themed. I was looking at a paper fan with a hydrangea pattern on it when something caught Maneki’s eye.

“These are really pretty,” she said quietly, picking up a small jar. It was tiny, about the size of the tip of my finger past the last knuckle, and inside it there were small flowers from the hydrangeas. The one that she picked up had pink flowers, but there were also blue and purple ones as well. “Look, it even has some straps on the cork to tie them to our school bags.”

“You’re right.” I picked up a blue one and looked at it. I then saw the sign that listed the price. I let the tiny jar rest in my palm. “Do you want one? I can buy it for you.”

“Really? Are you sure?” I nodded and she handed me the pink one that she was holding. “Thank you.” Her voice was quiet and the only other way that I could describe it was cute. She wandered over to the other side of the path as I paid for them.

“I have an idea,” she said. “Give me the blue one.”


“They can be charms for us,” she explained. “You get the pink one and I get the blue one so we have something from each other.”

“So, like a friendship thing?” I asked, passing her the blue one. She held it gently in her hand and smiled, seemingly to herself.

“Something like that.” I tucked the pink one into my pocket and Maneki put the blue one in the pocket of her cardigan. We were about to start walking again when something wet hit my forehead. Suddenly, rain began pouring down from the gaps in the canopy of trees above.

“But it wasn’t even cloudy earlier!” I shouted, exasperated.

“Do you have an umbrella?” I looked over to see that the lady that was running the stand was talking to us. I raised an eyebrow at her.

Does it look like we have one?

“No,” Maneki answered.

“Here, take this.” The lady held out a brand-new umbrella, which of course had a hydrangea pattern on it.

“Thank you.” I took it from her with my right hand and opened it as quickly as I could. I held it over Maneki and me. We thanked the woman again and began heading back toward the gate. I noticed from the corner of my eye that Maneki was looking down at the ground while we walked.

“Are you upset? We can go somewhere else for a bit, if you want,” I offered. She lifted her head at the sound of my voice before shaking it.

“It’s not that.” She gripped the hem of her cardigan, just like how she usually did with her skirt when she was nervous. “I wanted to tell you something.” She stopped walking and I did the same to make sure that she wouldn’t get rained on. We were about halfway to the gate and there was no one else in sight. She looked up at me with determination on her face despite her cheeks being bright red.

“Ryoko, I . . . I really like you.”

My heart skipped a beat. There was no way that this was real.

“Like friends?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“I don’t think so,” the shorter girl admitted. “I’ve never felt this way before. I think it’s more than that.”

What is it then? I tilted my head as I stared at her. She looked down again.

“So, are you asking me to be your girlfriend?” She nodded, confirming my greatest fear and my deepest desire at the same time. My mind went blank for a moment. How was this really happening? I felt my arm lower the umbrella I was holding as I shook my head.

“Maneki, I need to think about this.”

“Is it because we’re both girls?” She was looking at me again and I could almost see the hope in her eyes.

“No, that isn’t an issue. I just need to think this through.”

“Will you have an answer for me soon?”

“Yes, I promise.” I handed her the umbrella and smiled at her warmly as I got pelted with not-so-warm rain. “Will you be okay heading home alone?”

Maneki, clearly confused, nodded.

“Okay, I’m going to head home. Text me when you get back, okay?” Maneki nodded again silently and I turned and walked away, still trying to process what had just happened.

A few days passed and I avoided the topic with Maneki, but she didn’t really push it either. In all honesty, I had no clue what to do. It was true that I still liked Maneki . . . Okay, it was more than “liking,” but I never expected to get that far. I couldn’t even talk to her a few months ago and now I knew her biggest secret and somehow won her affection. My mind was boggled, to say the least. But even in my amazement, one ugly thought still managed to burrow through my brain to taunt me from the back of my mind.

She deserves better. You weren’t a good girlfriend before, what makes you think it’ll be different with her?

This thought had popped up in my head while I was eating lunch with Maneki and Harumi the following Tuesday, the last one before summer break. It was true that I had been in a relationship before, but it had ended horribly and I definitely didn’t want that sort of situation to happen to Maneki and me. I must have been thinking about it too hard because Maneki grabbed my shoulder and shook me a little.

“Ryoko, are you okay? You look mad.”

I realized that my shoulders were tense and that my brows were furrowed while I glared at the ground. I looked at Maneki and saw a look of concern spread across her face. I shook my head and tried my best to put on a smile.

“I’m all right, just lost in thought.”

“Well, listen up, ’cause we’re planning a trip!” Harumi cheered.

“A trip?” Maneki sounded just as confused as I was.

“Yeah, for us to hang out over summer break. We can go on a day trip or something.” Maneki shifted a little bit in her spot, scooching away from me slightly. She looked down at her hands, which were folded in her lap.

“I’m not sure if I can go. My family doesn’t have a lot of money for things like that.”

“I’ll pay for you,” I offered. The blonde looked at me with surprise, then her cheeks began to redden.

“Are you sure?” I nodded.

“Yeah, I have plenty saved up from work. I can cover you if we don’t go too far.”

“Great!” Harumi nearly shouted. “I was thinking that maybe we can go to Omihachiman.”


“Yeah, I went there last summer with my parents. It was a merchant town way back when and it was preserved. It also has a huge lake and some boat tours going through the canals. We can get there by train, if you guys would like.”

“Sounds good to me,” I replied. Maneki, who was still looking at me, nodded in agreement and smiled. It was decided that we were going to Omihachiman.

That night, Harumi decided to put Maneki and me into a group chat with her to discuss the trip. It was after dinner and I was lying in bed, reading a book that my boss let me borrow, when I got the first text.

Harumi: Hey, I wanted to get the itinerary started. Is there anything that you guys want to do?

“Harumi is never this organized,” I mumbled to myself. I slipped a bookmark between the page I was on and the next one and closed the book, setting it aside before quickly sending a text back.

Ryoko: What is there to do? You mentioned boat rides . . .

It didn’t take long for me to get a reply.

Harumi: There’s a lot more to do. We can check out Lake Biwa and probably go swimming too!

That was when my mind conjured up the image of Maneki in a swimsuit, her ears and tail exposed. I shook my head, trying to get rid of the thought when my phone pinged again. When I looked at the screen, the first thing I saw was Maneki’s name.

Maneki: Actually, I don’t really like swimming. I wouldn’t mind checking out the lake, though.

Oh, right. She’s a cat.

I let out a sigh and looked at the time displayed in the corner of my screen. It was getting late.

Ryoko: I’m heading to bed. Let’s talk about this more in the morning.

Harumi: Okay~

I plugged the charger into my phone and placed it on the headboard of my bed. I got up, shut off the light, and was about to snuggle up under the covers when my phone buzzed and the screen lit up.

Maneki: Goodnight. See you tomorrow!

I smiled and set my phone back down. I crawled into bed and began to think about Maneki as I drifted off to sleep.

The following Saturday, the day after we got out of school on summer break, I found myself waiting at the same train station that Maneki and I had met up at the weekend prior. I leaned against the wall in the same spot and everything looked just about the same as it did when Maneki and I went to the garden.

Talk about deja-vu, I thought as I turned on my phone screen. It lit up after I pressed the power button and the time was displayed as 1:30 PM on the lockscreen. Okay, that’s really weird, now I’m seriously getting deja-vu.

“Hey!” I looked up, just like I had before, but this time I saw Harumi instead of Maneki. I noticed that she was wearing a yellow off-shoulder top that tied in the front with blue shorts and black sandals. Her hair was also styled in pigtails and her makeup was done. I hadn’t seen her dressed like this since the last time we hung out outside of school.

How long ago was that again?

“Have you heard anything from Maneki yet?” she asked as she walked up to me. I gave up on trying to count the months and checked my phone again. There were no new notifications.

“No, not yet. We’re going to miss the train if she doesn’t get here soon.”

“Sorry I’m late!” We both looked over to see Maneki running toward us. This time, she was wearing a pink skirt with matching sneakers and a white shirt. She also wore the same pink bow that she had worn to the garden. Her ponytail swayed as she ran up to us and she also had her hair pinned in a way that would hide where her human ears would be, if she had any. When she got closer, Harumi whistled.

“Looking adorable, Maneki,” she teased, looking her up and down. Maneki scratched the back of her neck and laughed.

“You think so? My brother picked this out.”

“Your older one?” She nodded. I smiled.

They must have made up then. I opened my mouth to say something else, but I was cut off by the ringing of my phone’s alarm.

“That’s our cue,” I told them, silencing my phone. I tucked it into my pocket and we headed inside the station, Harumi cheering and telling us how much she couldn’t wait to show us Omihachiman.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen – Chapter 14

Late that night, the traffic in the area died down and Vixia and I slowly crept out of the crate that we were hiding in. Now it was so quiet around us that you could hear the chirping of crickets and what I suspected was the croaking of frogs, basking in the puddles from the earlier rainfall. I peered around the corner of the building, seeing that the street was completely empty. Vixia followed silently as I snuck around the wall’s edge. I stepped onto the sidewalk and looked around, searching for any nearby shops. That was when something caught my eye.

Just down the street, at the corner of one of the city blocks, there was a shop with the windows still lit. I could see the silhouette of a man behind the glowing panes of glass and guessed that he was probably preparing to close the store. I looked over to see Vixia watching him as well. I took her hand and her attention was brought back to me.

“I have an idea,” I told her. “Let’s get over there and wait for him to leave.” She nodded in agreement and we crossed the street together. We headed behind the building that stood across from where we had been, hoping to avoid any guards that might be patrolling. I looked to the sky, finding a trail of smoke that I figured was from the chimney of the shop. We followed it and found ourselves beside the shop, creeping along in the dark alleyway beside it. I edged toward the corner of the building, finding that the man we had spotted earlier was now locking the door. I ducked behind the wall and waited until I heard him walking away before I peeked out from around the corner again. He had disappeared into the night. I walked over to the door, finding a sign hanging over it.

“A blacksmith’s shop?” I whispered under my breath. I looked over at Vixia, who was peering around the corner at me. I motioned for her to join me by the door and she walked out into the light of the nearest streetlamp. She also read the sign and crossed her arms.

“What now?” she asked. I shrugged. That was when she did something that I had never seen before. Her wolf-like ears perked up as if she had heard something and she stepped closer to the door. She took the lock that was hanging off the door’s latch in both of her hands.

“Vixia, what are you—” I stopped as soon as I heard her begin mumbling a few words under her breath, but I don’t remember what they were. Her fingers glowed with an odd green light and she pulled on the lock. It clicked and when she opened her hands it fell to the ground with a clattering sound. I stared at her, amazed.

“What was that?” She turned to me and shrugged.

“I don’t know. Zelora told me to do it.”

“I still don’t know who that is.”

“I’ll explain later. Come on.” Vixia opened the door and headed inside. Now it was my turn to follow her lead. I left the door open behind us and stepped into the building, awestruck by what was inside.

The hearth at the center of the room emitted a low glow as it cooled, providing just enough light to illuminate the weapons on the walls. Swords and daggers were to my left with shields and maces to my right. My eyes scanned the room, where I found a large assortment of axes, hammers, and sets of armor either pinned to walls or locked away in glass display cases. My eyes then found Vixia as she wandered further into the shop, toward the back right corner of the room, where staffs were displayed on the wall. I followed her, finding that she was staring at them in awe.

Mage’s staffs? I had never seen one in real life before, but they looked just like the ones I had seen in books. My attention was turned back to Vixia when she grasped my hand. When I looked at her, she was pointing further up on the wall.

“I want that one.”

My eyes drifted up to where she was pointing and I instantly knew what she was talking about. There was a staff up high on the wall that appeared to be crafted from both wood and metal with a glass orb, which was about the size of the palm of my hand, secured at the top. The weapon was set high up on the wall, far out of our reach.

“How are we supposed to get it?”

“Well, how would the blacksmith get it down?” We both thought about it for a moment. We were trying to come up with an answer when we heard a shout from behind us.

“Hey!” Vixia and I both jumped and looked over to the door, finding a man standing in the doorway. I quickly realized that he wasn’t the man who had locked the door earlier, but I couldn’t tell if he was a guard or not. “What are you doing here?” he asked, stepping toward us. In a panic, I grabbed the nearest sword and held it out in front of me.

“Stay back!” I screamed, my voice cracking. “I will use this if I need to.” Looking back, there is no way that he could have believed me with how badly I was shaking. My arms and the blade trembled as I held it out.

Shit, shit, shit! I looked at Vixia, watching as she reached her hand up toward the staff. Her palm glowed again as she whispered something. The staff then shined with the same light and lifted itself from its place on the wall. She held out both of her hands and it immediately plummeted straight into her grasp. The man and I both stared at her in disbelief as a smile crossed her face.

“Let’s get out of here.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me over toward the nearest window. With a quick blow from the bottom of her staff, she broke the window and started to climb through.

“Hey, wait a minute!” the man yelled in protest. He rushed for me, but I managed to jump through the window before he could get ahold of me. Vixia and I ran off into the night, now equipped with our first weapons.

Vixia and I headed back the way that we came and found ourselves back at the gap in the city’s surrounding walls. The shorter girl shoved her staff through first and then took my sword to do the same when I finally voiced the question that I was still holding onto.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“The glowing thing with your hands,” I replied, holding out my hand in mimicry of how she lifted the staff. She shrugged and turned back to the wall.

“I don’t know, but I heard a voice. I think Zelora told me to do it.” I tilted my head as she crawled through the hole in the wall. I followed behind her.

“And Zelora is?” Vixia reached the other side and kneeled on the ground, picking up her staff again.

“She’s my friend. The one that lives at the shrine that we went to earlier.”

“Friend?” Vixia nodded as she stood up. I decided to let it go for the time being and grabbed my sword. That was when I realized that I didn’t have anywhere to put it. “Crap, I forgot to grab a sheath.”

“It’ll be fine. We’ve got to get moving, though. I’m sure there are more guards looking for us now.” She was right. We walked off, heading back into the forest.

Vixia and I spent most of our days traveling around the kingdom of Zaledrid after that. After some time, Vixia managed to explain to me that Zelora, the friend that she had referred to, was once a popular goddess but was forgotten by time. Since she had first visited the shrine, Zelora spoke to her directly and Vixia was her only follower. With the help of the magic that Zelora gave to Vixia, we managed to take up quests almost everywhere we went. As time went on, the search for the two young girls who left the orphanage died out and we were able to begin using our real names again. Even so, we never stayed in one place for too long, since I was the only one out of the two of us that was old enough to not be sent back at that time.

That is, until we came to Tidalsong City.

It was the day before Vixia’s 18th birthday and we were walking along the cliffs at the edge of the city. We were looking out at the ocean, the wind whipping our hair and blowing in our faces. I watched as the waves crashed against the shore and stared at the city sprawled out in front of us in awe. Vixia squeezed my hand.

“Pretty, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” She tilted her head, resting her cheek on my hair. “Maybe we can find a way to stay here.”

“Sure, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

My Crush Is A Nekomata: Chapter 6 – Like The Cat That Got The Cream

Maneki’s POV

Exams came and went as spring began its shift into summer. As soon as I made it to school on the day that the scores were released, I headed to the board in the hallway that displayed my class’s ranking. My eyes scanned it, desperately searching for my last name.

Nekomura, Nekomura, Nekomura . . .

Then I finally found it. My eyes drifted toward the ranking printed beside my name and the weight of the world fell off of my shoulders. At the edge of the board, right next to my name, was the number five.

I let out a sigh and smiled as I backed out of the forming crowd.

I did it. My chest felt warm and fuzzy when I thought about telling Ryoko and Harumi, and also getting Taro off my back. I was about to go look for the other girls when Ryoko spoke up from behind me.

“What did you score?” she asked. I jumped, startled, and turned around to see both Ryoko and Harumi standing behind me. I could barely hold in my excitement as I told them the news.

“I got number five!” I cheered, jumping with excitement as I held up the same number of fingers.

“Good job,” Ryoko replied with a smile. She then looked toward the board and her expression quickly changed. She frowned for a split second, then she went back to normal. I was wondering if it was just my imagination when Harumi spoke up, also looking at the board.

“Eh, I’m in the middle like usual.”

I wasn’t really paying attention to her and was instead watching Ryoko. She looked down at me, realizing that I was staring, and smiled again.

“You did great. Congrats.”

“Thank you,” I replied quietly. My face began to burn again.

“I’m buying you guys ice cream to celebrate!” Harumi blurted, pulling us both into a hug. “Both of my buddies made it into the top ten. I’m so proud!”

Ryoko reacted like that to being in the top ten?

Harumi began to drag us along as she and Ryoko argued about it not being a big deal. Meanwhile, my eyes were zeroing in on where Ryoko’s name was on the board. She was number six.

After school, Ryoko, Harumi, and I stopped by the konbini on the way home to celebrate our passing scores. Harumi paid for all of us as she promised and made sure that I got the biggest popsicle since I got the highest score. I never thought that she would be so supportive, especially since she was so laid-back about her own grades, but it was a pleasant surprise to me. We were walking down the street together after we finished our treats when Harumi spoke up.

“You know, summer break is coming up soon.”

I realized that she was right. It was already early in July and the temperature outside had become significantly hotter and more humid over the past month. I wiped a little bit of sweat from my forehead and I wondered where the nice days from spring went as I looked over to Harumi. She was now looking over at Ryoko and me with a wide grin.

“We should plan something.”

“Sure, sounds like fun,” Ryoko agreed. Harumi turned around and began walking backwards ahead of us.

“We’ll talk about it later, I’ve got to run home. See you guys tomorrow!”

“Bye!” She turned away from us again and ran off as Ryoko and I waved. When Harumi was out of sight, I stopped walking. When Ryoko noticed, she did the same and turned to look at me since she was a few steps ahead. I felt my face burn a little when our eyes met.

“I’m sorry that I was so distant before exams,” I said, bowing my head as I apologized.

“It’s all right,” Ryoko replied. I lifted my head and saw that she was smiling. “I mean, you want to get into a good college, right?”

“Well, that’s not the only reason why I did it,” I admitted. “You remember when I told you that I was having an issue with a family member?”


“Well, it was my older brother. He wanted me to quit school and stop being around humans if I couldn’t make it into the top five.” I waited for a second for Ryoko to say something back, but she didn’t, so I continued. “Thank you for coming and talking to me the other day. You’re right, studying isn’t everything, but I needed to try my hardest. If I didn’t, I may have lost you.”

Why did I say that?

We were both silent for a moment and the tension around us grew so thick that you could almost cut it with a knife. I wasn’t sure what to say or do after that, so I got the idea to just run away.

“Maneki, I—”

“Ah, I’ve got to get home!” I cried, pretending to look at my phone. “See you tomorrow!” And with that, I turned and ran, trying not to think about what I had said.

Because I ran so quickly, I made it home in only seven minutes. I was about to fling the front door open when Taro opened it from the inside.

“There you—”

“I did it,” I shouted, interrupting him. He stared at me with wide eyes as I slouched, breathing heavily. I didn’t realize how tiring the run was. I began to untangle the ribbon on my ears as he tilted his head.

“Did what?”

“I ranked number five . . . in my class,” I stated, still trying to catch my breath. “So you can’t be . . . a jerk to me anymore.”

“I figured.”

“Huh?” I looked up at him, trying to straighten out as best as I could.

“I saw how hard you studied over the week, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. Are you sure that this is really what you want, though?” I nodded as energetically as I could. “Okay, then I guess I can’t argue with that.” For the first time since he had left, Taro smiled at me. At that moment, I realized that the world around me had grown dark and Taro was almost completely illuminated by the light coming from the living room. He stepped aside and moved his arms in a motion to invite me in. Instead, I rushed over and hugged him, nearly knocking him over. He laughed as I buried my face into his chest. He ruffled the hair between my ears and hugged me back.

“Just be careful, okay? Not everyone is nice.”

“I will and I know.” We let go of each other and Taro gestured toward the kitchen.

“Let’s go tell Mom.” I nodded eagerly and we headed inside, racing to the kitchen like when we were kids after I finished slipping out of my shoes.

Ryoko’s POV

I entered my room with a sigh and dropped my bag on the floor. I closed the door behind me and took a few steps to my bed before I flopped down. My cheeks were still burning as I remembered what Maneki told me and I was grateful that I had managed to avoid my parents when I walked through the front door. I knew they would be asking me a million questions if they saw me like this since I was flustered, to say the least.

I had a crush on Maneki since I helped her during our first year of high school. She always seemed unapproachable and quiet, so I mostly left her alone and I figured I’d be better off not interacting with her. At least that way I wasn’t at risk of telling her how I felt. I assumed that I would just get over her, but . . .

I felt my chest tighten and I rolled onto my side. I hadn’t gotten over her at all. This stupid, useless crush that I had held onto for the past two years was still there, pulling me toward her. I remembered the look on her face when she last spoke to me as I hugged my pillow to my chest.

I wish I could have told her how I feel. I want to.

That was when I remembered my last relationship and I felt my feet begin to tingle as if they were cold. The feeling traveled upward until I was completely enveloped in what I could only describe as numbness.

I shouldn’t. Besides, she’s close to being the top of our class. She deserves better than me. If we got together, I’d only hold her back.

Maneki’s POV

The following school day, everything went as it normally did. Class ended for the day and Ryoko, Harumi, and I all stood up from our seats. Before I could say anything, Ryoko slipped the strap of her bag onto her shoulder and turned for the door.

“I have work today, so I’m going to go ahead.”

“All right, see yah!” Harumi replied with a wave. Ryoko smiled at us and turned and left. After she was gone, I looked back to Harumi.

“Actually, there’s something I’ve got to do, too. Are you okay walking home alone?” I asked. She tilted her head and pouted a little.

“Awww, you guys are no fun. Well, I guess I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow!” I got up and rushed for the door, leaving Harumi and our remaining classmates behind. I could almost feel some people staring at me as I went, but I didn’t care. I wanted to catch up to Ryoko.

I finally did when I made it outside. She was approaching the school’s gates when I made it out the front doors. The cicadas were practically screaming in the summer afternoon heat and I felt sweat beading on my forehead. I breathed heavily since I ran down the stairs and watched as she walked ahead of me, her short hair and the collar of her uniform shirt rustling in the breeze. I swallowed the knot in my throat and I could barely hear myself over the pounding of my heart as I yelled out to her.


She stopped mid-step and turned to look at me, as did several other students. I hurried over to her and some people stared, but I ignored it. When I finally made it to her, I noticed that there was a concerned look on Ryoko’s face. When I looked at her, everything else seemed to disappear.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. I shook my head.

“No, I just have a question.”

“Um . . . I’m in a bit of a hurry. What is it?”

“Ah, sorry! I’ll make it quick. One of the gardens near my house is having a hydrangea-viewing event. I wanted to know if you want to go with me.”

“Hydrangeas?” The taller brunette wondered aloud, holding her chin as she seemed to consider it. “Oh yeah, I guess those are in season now. When is it?”

“This Saturday,” I answered.

“That’s perfect, actually. I’m free that day.” I could barely contain my excitement. I pumped my fists in the air and grinned from ear to ear as I cheered.

“Awesome! Should I give you my phone number so we can set up a meetup time and place?”

“Sure.” We both pulled out our phones and held them close to each other. They both pinged as we swapped contact information. I looked down at mine for a moment, then looked back at Ryoko as she tucked her own phone into her pocket. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you later.”

“Okay!” And with that, she turned around and began walking away. I watched as she rounded the corner and disappeared from view. I looked down at her name on my phone.I swear, I’m going to tell you how I feel.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen – Chapter 13

“All right, that should be all of the supplies you need,” Nesryn determined, putting her hands on his hips as some other guild members helped us load a few crates into a wagon. “It shouldn’t take you too long to get there. The caverns are only a few hours past the forest that you guys were in.”

I wiped some sweat off of my forehead as I turned toward her. Vixia was now sitting on the back of the wagon and the others were leaving.

“Wait, then how do we know that the dragon there isn’t the same one that got away from me?” I asked.

“I wondered the same thing,” Nesryn admitted, “but Queen Evelyn was very adamant that they were two different dragons when she sent the reports to me. I guess her soldiers found them.”

Vixia and I exchanged confused glances, but she shrugged it off. I then looked toward the guildhall again. My gaze pierced through the window as I looked toward the kitchen, finding Darius standing in the doorway. This was when I saw that he was actually looking at me first. Our eyes met and I briefly remembered when Vixia and I asked if he would come with us on this quest.

“I’d rather stay back here,” he answered hesitantly when Vixia asked him the night before.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. The guildhall needs me to make everyone’s food anyway. Stay safe out there.”

That last line ran through my head as I watched him look away. I did the same, looking down at the ground.

It’s all my fault.

“Well, we better get going,” Vixia spoke up, pushing herself off of the wagon. “Let’s get this thing outside of the city so Puff can take over.”

Puff, who was hiding in my hood, trilled. I nodded at her and we both grabbed one handle to the wagon. Nesryn watched silently as we dragged it away and when I looked back, she was waving.

Vixia, Puff, and I made the long journey to the mountains where Sparrow’s party was sent. We made it by the middle of our second day away from the guild, right on schedule. We were making our way up the mountain’s winding roads when I felt my chest begin to ache. I gripped my shirt and heaved a sigh, unsure of how else I should deal with the pain. It must have caught the others’ attention, because they both stopped in their tracks and looked back at me.

“Ketsuna, are you okay?” Vixia asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, slouching. I drew in a deep breath, which then came back out shakily. “I just need a minute.”

“Climb on the wagon, Puff can pull you the rest of the way.”

The dragon, who was now about the size of a horse, looked back at me from the front of the wagon. He nodded in agreement with Vixia, his eyes showing a level of concern that I had never seen in them before. I thought for a minute.

“All right.” I did as I was told and laid down in the wagon. Vixia walked along beside it, behind my head so I couldn’t see her. I rolled onto my side and looked at the dirt road behind us, dust swirling in the breeze as the wheels kicked it up. I cushioned my head with my arm and began to doze off as I remembered the time when Vixia and I left the orphanage as kids.

Vixia and I trudged along through the brush and debris of the forest as we wandered, having no clue where to go. I was mostly following her since she seemed to recognize where we were. She stopped in a clearing and looked around with a blank expression on her face.

“This is where they left me,” she began quietly. I was confused for a moment, but that was when I realized that she was referring to her family. I walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay. We’ll be fine as long as we’ve got each other, right?” Vixia turned to look at me and smiled. She nodded and grabbed my hand.

“Come on, I want to show you something.” She pulled me along as she walked across the clearing. We headed through another thick patch of forest before finding another clearing, which was a bit more overgrown. You could see trails through the tall grass that were made from animals trekking through and we followed one over to a small stone structure at the center of the clearing. A gap in the canopy above us made the moonlight act as a spotlight on the stones. Vixia looked at me expectantly as I stared at it.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s a shrine.”

“For who?”


“Who’s that?” Vixia shrugged and kneeled down in front of the tiny shrine. She smiled at it and ran her fingers across one of the stones.

“I’m not sure, but she comforted me when I was alone. I’m glad I met her.” She clasped her hands together in front of her face and bowed her head as she closed her eyes. She fell silent and I realized that she was praying. I took a few steps back and sat down, watching her quietly. Once she was done, she lifted her head again and touched the stones.

“I may not be back for a while. Farewell.” She had a sweet smile on her face, almost as if she were talking to a family member. She stood up and turned toward me. “Let’s keep going. I think there’s a city nearby. I was brought there before the guards took me to the orphanage.”

I nodded and stood up. Vixia took my hand again and we continued on our way.

We found out that Vixia was right about the city because we found it by sunset the next day. It was Centrum City, which was the heart of Zaledrid even if it wasn’t the capital. I had never been there before, so I let Vixia take the lead. We crept out of the forest and over to one of the large stone walls that surrounded the city’s perimeter. She looked at them, her eyes glowing slightly, and let out a sigh as she slumped on the ground. I sat down beside her.

“I’m not sure where to go from here,” she admitted, staring up at the top of the wall. “These are too tall to climb, but the only other way in is through the main gates where the guards are. They’ll just send us back.” I thought about this for a moment, then stood up and held out my hand to her. She looked up at me, confused.

“Then let’s walk around the walls a bit. Maybe we’ll find something that can help us get over.” She nodded and took my hand. I helped her up and we began our walk around the walls.

The sun slowly continued on in its descent and the world around us began to grow colder as night fell. We made it all the way to what I figured was the back-side of the city and found the northern gate. We stopped just beyond the view of the guards and decided to rest for a moment. We sat down on the dewy grass and I opened the sack that we had brought with us, finding that it was nearing empty. I sighed as I took out a piece of bread and passed it to Vixia.

“We’re going to need to restock.”

“How?” she asked, taking a bite of her bread. “It’s not like we have any money.” I shrugged and closed the bag again, deciding to skip a meal to make the food last longer. I was looking around, trying to ignore my hunger, when I saw Vixia’s ears shift from the corner of my view. She quickly tapped my shoulder.

“Hey, what’s that?” She got up and wandered over to a section of the wall, one that we had passed a moment ago. I followed and noticed that some of the stones were slightly ajar. Vixia must have seen the same thing that I did because she grabbed onto one of them. She slowly moved it out of the way, trying to make as little noise as possible. It shifted, revealing a small tunnel leading through the wall. Vixia and I exchanged looks, then focused back on the wall.

“I guess that’s our way in,” she determined. “Let’s go.” She got down on her hands and knees and began to crawl through the hole. I followed behind her.

The first thing that I noticed when I emerged on the other side was the bright light coming from the nearby streetlamps. The next was that we were actually behind a tall building. The area was littered with wooden crates and the ground was covered in slabs of stone. I looked over to see Vixia dusting herself off, also taking in the sights around us. Then her gaze fell on me.

“What now?” she asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. I honestly didn’t expect us to get this far.” I crept over to the edge of the building, peering out at the streets. Even though it was nighttime, there were still tons of people wandering around. I was about to retreat back to the shadows and let Vixia know when something caught my eye. A piece of paper fluttered through the air, carried by a breeze. I grabbed it once it came close to me and was surprised to see Vixia’s face etched on the front of it, followed by a reward for her return to the orphanage.

“Well, this just made everything a bit more complicated,” I groaned, stepping back to show Vixia. She frowned and looked toward the street.

“I guess there’s no blending in for us now, not that we could anyway.” Her tail wrapped around her and she began to smooth out the silverish fur that covered it as her ears folded back. I tore up the flier and dropped the pieces on the ground.

“We’ll have to sneak around behind the buildings until things settle more. Follow me.” I began to walk toward an alleyway between the building we were behind and the next one. That was when Vixia rushed for me.

“Wait!” She managed to snag the back of my shirt and stop me before I could run into the street. She pulled me back and we watched silently as two guards walked by, clad in royal armor. After they disappeared from view, I looked over at Vixia to see a concerned look on her face.

“You’ve got to be more careful,” she warned. “At least, until we can disguise ourselves.” I reached up and touched my ears.

“How are we going to do that?”

“Maybe one of the stores around here has clothing or something. We’ll find a way. Let’s just lie low for now.” I nodded and we returned to where the crates were, cramming ourselves into one of them. I pressed my knees to my chest as Vixia rested her head on my shoulder. At that moment, I was tempted to pet her ears, but I resisted and drifted off to sleep.

Top 5 Tips For Learning Japanese

So, you want to learn Japanese, but you’re broke. You can’t afford all of the textbooks that everyone recommends or the fancy programs that seem to work like magic for everyone else.

That’s okay!

I was (and still am) in the same position. At the time of writing this article, I have been studying Japanese independently for about seven years now and looking into studying it formally when I transfer to a university in the fall. Over the years, I have seen a lot of tips and tricks for learning Japanese, but only a handful were actually helpful in teaching me the basics of the language and pushing me toward fluency. I would like to share these with you today.

Without further ado, here are five of the best tips that I have heard for learning a foreign language that have shaped the way that I study Japanese. (Disclaimer: Doing these things likely won’t make you fluent right away, but they should help you at least get started.)

#1: Learn To Read Hiragana and Katakana

If you don’t know what these are, Hiragana and Katakana are the basic alphabets of the Japanese language and are essential for learning proper pronunciation, grammar, and spelling. When I first started learning Japanese, I tried studying basic words by reading them as they appeared in romaji. While that isn’t the worst way to start learning, it did not work well for me, especially since I didn’t know how sounds like “ryo” and “fu” were actually pronounced. Also, learning from romaji alone can make it to where you put emphasis on the wrong part of the word. For example, when English-speakers see the word “kitsune”, which means “fox” in Japanese, they may pronounce it like “kit-sune” instead of “ki-tsu-ne”. When you learn Hiragana and Katakana, you learn what sound each symbol makes and in turn figure out how to say it yourself. Learning Hiragana and Katakana also helps set you up for learning kanji later on.

When I first studied Hiragana and Katakana, I used some videos from a YouTube channel called JapanesePod101. They have hundreds of free video lessons for learning just about everything in Japanese and even have videos for practice sessions, too. In their videos on both of the writing systems, they give you tips for remembering what sound each symbol makes by associating them with pictures (for example, the Hiragana for “ku” looks like a bird’s beak). This allowed me to memorize them very easily and writing them out while you watch the videos also helps you learn them.

#2: Learn The Most Commonly Used Words

Apparently, about 1,000 of a language’s most commonly used words show up in 80% of everyday conversations. So, it seems like learning those words is a good start to being able to understand Japanese. I just recently started writing all of these out to see if there are any words that I weren’t familiar with and it helped me fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

If you want a comprehensive list, I recommend this one. It also breaks the words up into groups so you can study them easily over extended periods of time.

#3: Listen To Songs And Watch Shows or Movies In Japanese

This one is related to another tip in this list, but we’ll get to that later. I actually began studying Japanese because I love Japanese music and I wanted to learn how to sing my favorite songs. I did this from the very beginning and I can’t tell you how many words and phrases I have unintentionally absorbed through doing this. After you learn some of the words in tip #2, try this one out.

If you are new to learning Japanese, I recommend watching shows and listening to songs that are meant for children since they will be easier to understand. When it comes to anime, I recommend Chi’s Sweet Home since it is a very cute show and the dialogue is simplistic. I also used to listen to a lot of Vocaloid music as well and a lot of the songs have their own animated music videos with Japanese subtitles, so you can practice your reading and listening at the same time!

Now that I think about it, practice with reading leads into our next tip.

#4: Keep A Journal In Japanese

This is probably one of the most daunting tasks on this list, but I promise that it will change your studying for the better. Keeping a journal in your target language helps a lot with learning to write, practicing sentence structure, and expanding your vocabulary. If you are anything like me, you may struggle with perfectionism, so it is important to let yourself make mistakes in this part. Keeping a journal will also help you keep a log of your progress and allow you to look back at previous entries and see how far you have come in your language learning journey.

When it comes to supplies, any notebook will do but if you are writing in Japanese I recommend finding a thinner pen than your average ballpoint pen. I usually use a 0.7 mm pen or lower since it makes it easier to write kanji and other complex characters. Also, here is a post where I share some of the journal prompts that I came up with to get started with my own journal. They all revolve around things that you would likely talk about in real conversations anyway, so you may find them to be useful when learning how to communicate!

#5: Expose Yourself To As Much Japanese As Possible

You may be thinking to yourself, “Wait, weren’t we technically doing that in tip #3?” Yes, yes we were, but now we are kicking it up a notch.

It has been proven time and time again that people seem to pick up on languages easier when they are surrounded by native speakers. If you do not have the opportunity to go to Japan, practicing with a native speaker can be very helpful, even if you just text online.

However, you can also do things like reading Japanese news articles and books. As I mentioned before with the TV shows and songs, it’s good to start with children’s books or manga that are made for younger audiences. You can also do smaller things like adding Katakana next to some of your phone contacts’ names. In fact, some of my favorite people have their names written in Japanese on my phone and most of the folders that I have on my home screen are labelled in Japanese instead of English.

Anyway, those are my top 5 tips for learning Japanese. I hope that this article was helpful for you and if any of these tips caught your attention, let me know with a comment. Good luck on your language learning journey!

8 Prompts To Start Your Foreign Language Journal

Hello, everyone! Recently, I started writing in a journal to help me practice my Japanese and so far it has been very helpful with making me practice writing and building up my vocabulary. So, here are eight prompts that I put together to help me start my journal. Hopefully, they will be helpful to you too.

(Also, bonus points to anyone who can translate the prompt into their target language! Feel free to skip any questions that you are not comfortable writing about.)


  1. Who are you? What is your name and where are you from?
  2. What are your favorite activities?
  3. What is your family like? Do you have any siblings?
  4. Do you have any pets? What are they and what are their names? If you don’t have a pet, what would you like to have as a pet?
  5. What is your biggest dream or goal?
  6. If you could live anywhere, where would you live? What would it be like?
  7. What is one thing that you hate/dislike?
  8. What is your favorite season? Why do you enjoy it?