My Crush Is A Nekomata: Chapter 3- I’m So Furtunate

Maneki’s POV

The next morning, I stepped out into the morning sunlight and practically bounded down the road. I spent the morning avoiding Taro as best as I could, but I wasn’t all that successful. I remembered the way that he glared at me from the kitchen when I came out of my room in my uniform and realized that maybe I was ready to leave because of him. Either that, or I hoped to see Ryoko and Harumi and catch up with them faster.

I made it to the train tracks and stopped. I looked around but I didn’t see anyone.

Did I miss them? I lifted my hand to shield my eyes from the sun. I felt my brows furrow together as I searched.

“Nekomura?” I turned around as soon as I heard Ryoko’s voice. As it turns out, she was just a little bit behind me, but Harumi was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Harumi?” I asked. Ryoko shrugged as she finally made her way over to me.

“She’s probably running a little late. It happens sometimes.”

“Oh, okay. Should we wait for her?”

“Nah, if we do that then we’ll all be late. Let’s just go.”

“Okay.” Ryoko and I both turned around and crossed the tracks together. At first, we were both silent and I felt my face begin to burn a little. How could I have been so excited to see someone and yet have nothing to say to them? I was thinking this right when Ryoko tried to make conversation with me.

“So, how was seeing your brother yesterday?” I looked down at the ground and my happiness faded a little as I began to remember what happened the night before. I shook my head, almost hoping that it would rid myself of the memory.

“It was fine,” I replied.

“Well, that’s good.” We were quiet for a second and I hoped that she would change the subject. She must have noticed, because that’s exactly what she did.

“Do you like to read?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m actually really into fantasy stories.”

“Really? Me too!” I looked up to see that she was smiling at me and that her eyes were practically sparkling. “You know, I work at a bookstore. Would you like for me to grab some of the new releases for you?”

“Sure! That’d be awesome, thank you.”

“Of course. Oh, and you can borrow some of my books if you want to. I have tons of recommendations!” We continued chatting like that for the rest of the walk to school. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think that this must be what friendships feel like.


Harumi just barely managed to make it to class on time, but other than that school went smoothly. Well, other than how long the day felt. The hours seemed to drag by as I waited for lunch. Once the bell finally rang, I got up from my seat and headed straight to Harumi and Ryoko. We then headed to the hang-out spot together. Ryoko made it to her usual spot when she began to talk again.

“I wish my dad would get off my back,” she said with a sigh. She dropped her bag on the ground and sat down beside it. Harumi took her usual seat on one of the steps and began to rummage through her bag like last time. This time, I didn’t hesitate to sit with them and chose the spot beside Ryoko again.

“About what this time?” Harumi groaned, digging through her bag.

“College, again.”

“You still haven’t talked to him?”

“I haven’t been able to.”

“Ryoko, you don’t want to go to college?” Ryoko looked over at me and she must have noticed the surprise on my face because she shook her head.

“I already have a job that I really like, so I don’t see the point. Besides, I’m average at best when it comes to school stuff.”

“So your parents pressure you?”

“Mainly my dad,” Ryoko admitted. “My mom doesn’t really seem to care, but I haven’t been able to tell either of them.”

“My family is the opposite,” I replied. I remembered what happened with Taro again and lowered my gaze. “If anything, it seems like some of them are against it,” I added in a quiet mumble.

“You guys are lucky.” Ryoko laughed. “You and Harumi don’t have any pressure. It must be nice.” I tilted my head as I watched Ryoko search through her bag for her lunch. I felt my lips press together into a thin line as I bit my tongue.

Am I, though? I would say that the pressure is just on the other side.


When I finally made it home, I barely had the courage to go inside. I stood on the doorstep, staring at the door as I clutched the strap of my bag. I could see some light coming through the wooden slats on the top part of the door, but none of the windows were lit up yet. I took in a deep breath and let it out when I finally pushed the door open.

I stepped into the entryway and looked into the living room. It was dim despite one of the lights being on and I spotted my mom and Taro sitting across from each other at the table, drinking tea. It was clear that no one else had made it home yet. They both looked at me when I walked in.

“I’m home,” I said quietly.

“Welcome back,” my mom chimed. “Why don’t you come here and have some tea? Taro has something to share.” I began to pull my bow out of my hair and adjusted my bag on my shoulder, trying to ignore anxiety.

“What is it?” Taro looked down at his lap and his ears partially folded back.

“I had to resign from my job,” he admitted in a low voice, “so I’m moving back in and I’m going to be working with Dad.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. It could easily happen to you, even if you decide that you want to be like them.” Now it was my turn to fold my ears back. “Honestly, you’d probably be better off—”

“Shut up!” I yelled. “Just leave it alone!”

“Maneki—”

“No,” I shouted, cutting off my mom. “I am doing my best. At least I am trying to do better than this.” I motioned to the room around me as my tails freed themselves from where they were hidden under my skirt and flicked back and forth. My eyes narrowed as I specifically glared at Taro. “I am trying to do something to pull us out of this, like you did. Or, at least I thought you did.” My eyes stung as tears began to well up in them. I turned and ran for my room.

“Maneki, wait!”

I didn’t stop. I went straight to my room and slammed the door behind me.


Ryoko’s POV

I shoved the box full of books across the hardwood floor as my eyes scanned the bookshelves. I was at work in a small bookstore that was about fifteen minutes away from my school. The sun outside had already started to set and it was getting closer to closing time, so the bookshop was basically empty and I had time to step away from the register and restock the shelves.

Let’s see . . . where does this one go again?

I looked down at the cover of the book at the top of the stack and then looked toward the front of the store, watching the street through the large windows. There were a few people walking on the sidewalk and they looked like dark silhouettes against the rays of gold, pink, and purple. The lights outside were finally on, illuminating the road. I was about to look away when I saw a familiar dark blue car zoom by. I immediately recognized it as my dad’s. I let out a sigh and turned back to my work.

The truth was, my dad didn’t like that I worked at a bookstore. He saw it as a waste of my time since my family was able to afford things comfortably, but I liked having my own money. My mom was kind enough to talk him into letting me keep this job while I was still going to high school, but if he had his way, I would be at home studying instead.

You don’t really know what I want.

“Hey, Okazaki.” I was snapped back to reality when I heard a voice call out to me. That was when I realized that my brows were furrowed together and I was frowning. I straightened out and tried my best to relax my face as I looked over at the origin of the voice.

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay?” It was my boss, Mr. Ito. He had an eyebrow raised at me from behind his thick glasses. “You seem troubled.”

“I’m fine,” I answered with an awkward laugh. I scratched the back of my neck.

Was I that obvious? Mr. Ito just shrugged and turned to walk away.

“There’s some extra food in the back room if you want some before you go home. Your shift is ending soon, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Thank you, boss.” He waved his hand at me as if he were dismissing my thanks and headed toward the cash register. I looked back down at the box of books and sighed.

Just don’t think about it.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 10

We headed out again after we left the restaurant and headed for the forest outside of the city. We followed a winding dirt path into the woods and quickly found ourselves deep inside of it. We wandered around for a while, searching for the dragon, but found nothing. Vixia and I were walking along behind the wagon, which Puff was still pulling, when she let out a sigh and looked toward me.

“Do you sense anything?” she asked in a whisper. Darius, who was walking ahead of Puff, was completely oblivious. I shook my head. Vixia’s eyes began to wander around until she recognized where we were.

“We’re close to the shrine now,” she stated, rushing over to Darius. “It’s over this way.” She pointed toward an area full of trees and dense shrubs. Darius looked at her, puzzled.

“How can you tell?”

“I just know. Let’s stop there and take a break for a minute.”

“All right.”

Vixia ran ahead into the brush and Darius followed while I helped Puff park the wagon. After I unstrapped him, we followed.

When we made it into the clearing, I realized that it was even more overgrown than it had been the last time Vixia and I had visited it. Everything was blanketed in snow, even the small stone structure that acted as a small shrine for Zelora. Vixia was now sitting in front of it with her head bowed and her eyes closed. Darius sat to the side of the clearing, so Puff and I joined him. He was drinking water from his canteen when I sat down.

“So, that tiny shrine belongs to the god that gives Vixia her powers?”

“Goddess,” I corrected, “and yes, that is Zelora’s shrine.”

“Hmm.” Darius watched Vixia for a moment, then spoke again. “She must be pretty devout if she remembered exactly where this is.” He motioned to the map beside him, pointing out that we were exactly where Vixia had marked it at the restaurant.

“Yeah, I’m surprised that she remembered. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here.”

“Hmm.” Darius leaned back against the trunk of the tree that he was sitting under and passed me the canteen. I was taking a drink when I felt a pain in my chest. I immediately spit out what was in my mouth and clutched my shirt.

“Are you okay?” Darius asked, panicked.

“Dragon!” I stumbled to my feet as quickly as I could and grabbed my sheathed sword, which was laying in the snow beside me. I pulled the blade out and dropped the sheath back on the ground before running over to Vixia. I was almost to her when a dragon swooped down from the sky.

“Vixia, look out!” She opened her eyes and threw out her hand toward the monster that was heading toward her.

Reflect!

A beam of light shot forth from her hand and hit the dragon. It screamed and veered away from us, falling in the snow. I rushed toward it, ready to strike. I had almost reached it when I felt something snag my clothes, holding me back from attacking. I looked over my shoulder to see that Puff was biting on the back of my cloak and digging his claws into the ground.

“Puff, what’s wrong?”

He snorted in response and tugged at my cloak again. I tilted my head, then turned my attention back to the other dragon, which was starting to get up. When it turned, I could see that its eyes were not pitch-black like the other dragons that I had fought. Instead, this dragon’s eyes were the same as Puff’s. I froze for a moment as the dragon and I stared at each other.

I was brought back to reality when Darius rushed past me, holding his axe in a ready position to swing.

“Wait!” Puff let go of me and I dropped my sword. I ran after Darius, grabbing his wrists and pulling him back as hard as I could. My knuckles ached from how hard I was holding on. “Don’t hurt it!” Darius looked back at me, his eyebrows furrowed.

“What? Why?” We both turned our attention back at the dragon as it ran a few feet and then flapped its wings, bits of snow falling from its body. It rose into the air, flying away as quickly as it had appeared. All of us watched silently as it shrunk against the horizon.

Darius dropped his axe and I let go of his wrists. He turned toward me and his eyes narrowed. This was when Vixia walked over to us, appearing just as confused. Puff joined me at my side as I stared in the direction where the dragon had gone.

Why was it like Puff?


The ride back to the guildhall was quiet and disappointment hung in the air around us. Vixia was curled up toward the back of the wagon with Darius sitting near her while I sat on the edge at the back. I stared at the snowy  ground as it passed by us slowly. I felt the cold breeze nipping at my skin, but I did nothing to stop it as I listened to Darius.

“Nesryn is going to be pissed,” he grumbled. I felt my stomach drop at that realization and the regret began to set in. That was when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked over to see that it was Vixia.

“Hey, it’s going to be okay.” For the first time ever, I didn’t believe her. I looked back down and she snuggled up to me, covering us both in a blanket.

Did I really do the right thing?


We decided to continue on our way home through the night and found ourselves back at the guildhall in the early morning hours, before the sun was even visible. We headed straight to Nesryn’s room and knocked on the door. She answered it groggily.

“Hello?” She rubbed her eyes and let out a yawn. Once she managed to actually look at us, she perked up. “Oh, you’re back already?”

“Yes, but the news isn’t that good,” Darius explained, looking down at the floor. There was silence for a moment and I felt my hands begin to tremble. Nesryn sighed and opened her door wider, stepping aside.

“Come in.” We did as we were told and stood in a line in front of her. None of us wanted to look at her, so we stared at the floor instead. “What happened?” I saw Darius tense out of the corner of my eye. Vixia was the one to speak up first.

“We failed to eliminate the dragon, ma’am.” Her voice was quiet and cold. She began to recount what had happened, but I zoned out for most of it. That is, until she struggled to explain how the dragon had gotten away. That was when Nesryn interrupted her, finally responding.

“Are you joking?” I could hear her anger rising and had only heard that sternness when she spoke to Sparrow. Vixia shook her head and Puff scrambled down her shoulder and into her hood.

“It’s my fault,” I admitted. “I let it get away—”

“What do you mean you let it get away?” I flinched at her words and made the mistake of looking at her. As soon as our eyes met, it felt like an arrow pierced my chest, so I looked back down again.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. Nesryn stopped for a second but she hadn’t calmed down. She continued on with her tirade.

“Do you have any idea how many lives you have just endangered by doing that?” she growled. I opened my mouth to respond, but she cut me off again before I could. “Hundreds, if not thousands!” she screamed. “Their blood is on your hands now.”

My eyes widened as I closed my mouth again, pressing my lips firmly shut. At that moment, I realized that she was right. If I was wrong about that dragon, there would be innocent people that would pay the price.

“I expected more from you. The queen was wrong about you; you aren’t any more skilled than the others in this guild. Get out of my sight. I’ll be reconsidering your assignments in the morning.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She nearly slammed the door behind us after we stepped out into the hallway. My eyes were practically glued to the floor. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The three of us stood there for a moment, unsure of what to say, until Darius spoke up.

“I’m heading to bed.” He turned and left without waiting for a response. As soon as he was gone, I heard someone cackling.

“How the hell did you manage that?” I looked up to see Sparrow leaning against one of the doors with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face.

“Weren’t you supposed to head out already?” Vixia asked.

“Got delayed because the queen wanted to speak with me,” he answered smugly, “but now I’m glad we didn’t leave. The big bad dragon-slayers aren’t so tough after all, huh?”

I clenched my fists, but I didn’t say anything. Instead, I walked down the hall, heading for my room.

“Ketsuna . . .” Vixia’s voice trailed off as she watched me leave.


When Vixia finally came into the room, I was already in bed, curled up under the blankets. She wandered over to me and I quickly wiped the tears away from my eyes.

“It’ll be okay,” she promised.

“How would you know?” I replied, looking toward the window. She let out a sigh and sat down next to me. She reached over and began rubbing my back a little, but I still didn’t look at her.

“I feel like a failure,” I admitted.

“But you’re not. We’ve slain several dragons before and I don’t think that one on the guildhall will be the last.”

Even with her reassurance, I wasn’t sure how to feel. There was just no way that I could hurt that dragon, especially since it looked just like Puff. The tiny dragon was actually beside me on a pillow. He chirped when I looked over at him.

“I’m going to go talk to Nesryn real quick,” Vixia said, catching my attention again.

“Okay.” She turned and left the room and I looked back at Puff. I got up out of bed and walked toward the window. I opened it and looked back to see the tiny dragon still staring at me.

“You can leave if you want to,” I offered, motioning toward the open window. He tilted his head at me and blinked. He didn’t move. I let out a sigh and closed the window. I crawled back in bed.

“Fine.”

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 2: Looks Like What The Cat Dragged In

Maneki’s POV

“I’m heading out now,” I called over my shoulder as I slipped on my shoes. I was standing in the doorway, watching my mom as she pulled some bento boxes out of the refrigerator. She placed two on the table in front of my younger brothers, Jun and Ken, who were still eating their breakfast. The twins gave her matching smiles and each muttered a quick “thank you” as they finished their food. She then met me by the door.

“Take care,” she chimed, handing me my own bento box. “You almost forgot this.”

“Oh, thanks!” I took it with both hands and gingerly put it in my school bag.

“Make sure to come home right away after school,” my mom continued. “Taro should be here by the time you get back.”

“All right. I’ll be back soon.” I stepped outside and before I closed the door behind me, I caught a glimpse of Jun and Ken waving at me. I waved back before the door blocked my view.

I stepped out onto the street and looked back at the house. The wooden lattices that covered the windows were beginning to splinter and crack and the shingles on the roof were either missing, broken, or covered in dirt. Even the walls on the second story of the building were becoming discolored with dark streaks running down them.

I’ll be somewhere better someday, I thought as I turned my back to it, beginning my walk to school.


Ever since I was little, I walked to and from school alone, which was fine since our neighborhood was quiet and relatively safe. I never even walked with my siblings since they all went to different schools than me. Taro, my older brother, attended the same high school as me, but he was so much older than me that he graduated before I even started my first year, so I never had anyone to walk with me. At least Jun and Ken got to walk together. I felt my envy of them begin to grow as I crossed the train tracks. That was when I spotted Ryoko and Iwamoto walking ahead of me. They were chatting with each other, smiling and laughing as they strolled down the street.

Do we live in the same neighborhood? I pondered this for a moment, then reached up to adjust my bow as my eyes focused on Ryoko. It had been about a week since she found out about my ears and, as far as I knew, she hadn’t told anyone. Even Iwamoto seemed oblivious. I was watching them from a distance and walking along when Ryoko happened to glance over her shoulder and see me.

“Hey, Nekomura!”

Both girls stopped and turned to face me. I froze and for a moment I wished I were a shadow so I could sink into the ground.

“Good morning,” I greeted them quietly. They briefly said it back before Ryoko continued the conversation.

“Do you want to walk with us?” she asked. I felt my cheeks begin to burn a little as they both stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Iwamoto must have noticed my hesitation because she spoke up next.

“Don’t worry, I won’t bite.” I then noticed that they were both smiling at me.

“Sure,” I finally answered. They waited while I caught up to them and we continued on our way together. They resumed their conversation almost immediately as I walked between them, my eyes downcast.

“Nekomura, what did you do this past weekend?” I lifted my gaze to see that Ryoko was looking down at me.

At that moment, she looked so pretty. Her brown eyes turned an amber color against the sunlight and the front of her matching hair framed her face perfectly. I didn’t notice until then that she was actually a bit taller than me and that she had a small beauty mark under her left eye. I couldn’t help but compare myself to her at that time. Then, another thought arose in my mind.

Why does she want to talk to me? Doesn’t she think I’m a freak?

“I, um, hung out with my younger brothers and cooked with my mom.” A smile crossed Ryoko’s face and I quickly looked away, trying to find something else to focus on.

“Ah, so you have younger siblings too?” Iwamoto chimed in. “I have a younger sister.”

“I’m an only child,” Ryoko added.

“I see.”

Why are you being so kind to me?


We parted ways after we made it to our classroom, but I saw them again as soon as math class ended. Lunch had just begun and I was leaving the classroom when I spotted them standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall as they chatted. I went to walk by them, but stopped when I heard Ryoko’s voice.

“Hey, Nekomura!”

I turned and saw both of them looking at me, smiling. I waved feebly and the same sinking feeling that I had that morning came back as they walked over to me.

“Is something wrong?” Ryoko asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want to have lunch with us?” Iwamoto offered, tilting her head.

“I’m not sure,” I replied hesitantly, looking down at the floor. “I should probably catch up on some homework . . .”

“Then we can do it together,” Ryoko cheered. “The place where we have lunch is pretty quiet.” She stared at me expectantly, her eyes practically shining, and I felt my face begin to burn again.

“Okay,” I finally answered, giving in.


Ryoko and Iwamoto led me to their usual hang-out spot, which was toward the back of the school. It was on the steps at the back of the gym and it overlooked the track. I was surprised to see that there were actually some students running laps and I concluded that they were probably from the track team. Iwamoto sat down on one of the steps and began to dig through her bag as Ryoko took what I assumed to be her regular spot by the back door. I stood there, clutching the strap of my bag and watching them silently.

“Hey, why dontcha come sit down?” I jumped a little at the sound of Iwamoto’s voice. I nodded.

“Okay.” I did as she asked and sat down beside Ryoko. I had opened my bag and was looking for my bento box when Iwamoto’s arm jutted out toward me.

“Here.” I looked up, startled, to see that she was trying to hand me a water bottle.

“Oh, thank you, Iwamoto.”

“Just call me Harumi.”

“Okay then. Thanks, Harumi.” She giggled and smiled at me and went back to searching through her bag.

“Hey, Ryoko! Heads up!” And without warning, she flung another water bottle straight at Ryoko’s head. To my surprise, the taller girl caught it.

“Thanks!” Ryoko set it down on the ground and pulled a plastic bag out of her backpack. “Nekomura, did you forget your lunch?”

“No, I’ve got it right here.” I pulled out my bento box and set it down on the concrete. Ryoko and Harumi stared in amazement when I took the lid off, revealing all of the food that my mom made for me.

“Woah, did you cook that?” Harumi asked, hints of awe in her voice.

“No, my mom made it for me. She likes to meal prep and make lunches for me and my brothers. Saves money.”

“Lucky,” Ryoko groaned. “All I have is stuff from the konbini.” She emptied the contents of her plastic bag onto the ground, showing that her entire lunch was basically prepackaged snacks. One in particular caught my eye.

“Is that dorayaki?” I asked, pointing to one of the snacks. Ryoko nodded. “I’ll share some of my bento with you if you’ll split that with me.”

“Okay.” Ryoko grinned as she opened the package and ripped the treat in half. I noticed that she handed me the bigger half, but I didn’t say anything about it. “I’ll have some of your chicken then.”

“Deal!”

Lunch continued on like that where we traded food and chatted about random things. Over the course of the lunch period, I learned that Harumi was from a relatively well-off family and that Ryoko’s wasn’t far behind hers. They also lived in different neighborhoods and I was surprised to find that Ryoko lived the closest to me.

“So, where do you live?” she asked me.

“Ah, nowhere in particular.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harumi mumbled, taking another bite of her sandwich. I laughed it off.

“Actually, I don’t think I live that far from you, Ryoko.”

“Really?”

“Mhm.”

“Maybe you can walk home with us then,” Harumi suggested, “since we’re all heading in the same direction until we get to the train tracks anyway.”

“I can’t today. I have to get home early to see my brother. This is the first time that he’s been home in a few years.”

“Yeah, I can’t either,” Ryoko admitted, scratching the back of her neck. “I have work today, so I’ll be heading in the other direction after school.”

“Oh, I see. I’ve been ditched,” Harumi joked and the three of us laughed. I went to take another bite of my food when the bell rang.

“Time to get to class.” Ryoko stood up and stretched, then bent over and began collecting all of her food and trash. “We should do this again sometime.”

“Yeah,” I replied, closing my bento box. I realized that I didn’t work on my homework, but then another thought drifted into my head.

That was actually kinda fun.


As soon as school ended for the day, I hurried home. Along the way, I began to remember the last time that I had seen Taro.

It wasn’t long after he had graduated high school himself. He was standing outside of our house beside his clunky, old truck with all of his belongings packed away in boxes and loaded into its bed. Jun, Ken, and I were there with him, crying as he hugged us goodbye. We knew that he was going to be moving to Yokohama, but it didn’t feel real until he was actually leaving.

“It’s all right.” He chuckled as he held us close and rubbed my back. “I’ll come back to visit, I promise.”

I still remember the way he smiled when he looked down at me, his ears hidden underneath a snapback hat. His orange hair shimmered in the spring sunlight and his eyes looked calm and caring, but they had an energy I had never seen in them before. He had been waiting for this move for over a year. After he left, he never came home to visit. Over the past two years, he was absent for every holiday and event imaginable since he was always so busy with work.

That is, until now.

I made it to the front porch to see that Taro was already there. He was facing the door, so he didn’t see me right away, and I noticed that he was wearing a long-sleeve shirt with some baggy pants. He was holding his hat loosely in his fingers instead of wearing it so his ears were visible. They still stood upright like I remembered, but now the fur on them seemed scruffy rather than smooth. I stopped walking and he turned his head to look at me from over his shoulder. His eyes narrowed when he saw me and that was when I noticed the dark circles underneath them.

“So, you’re still trying to be like them.” His eyes wandered down to my shoes, then back up to my face. “Might as well give up now.”

“What?”

“You look ridiculous. Humans aren’t as accepting as you might think.”

I felt my split tail drop down from where I had wrapped it around my waist. I gripped the hem of my skirt as I looked down at the ground.

What the hell is he talking about?

“Look, school isn’t going to get you anywhere. Trust me.” He turned back around and opened the door to head inside. I pulled the ribbon out of my hair, touched my ears, and followed him silently.

What has gotten into him?

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 9

The next morning, we headed out to the yard in front of the guildhall as soon as we finished breakfast. We were told that we were going pretty far and that it would probably take us a few days to complete the quest, so Darius had packed some tents and other supplies. He was carrying them when we walked outside to see that the other guild members who had taken on the dragon-slaying quests were also there with Nesryn. She was passing out supplies to one of the other parties when she noticed us.

“Oh, there you guys are. I have something for you.” She handed Vixia a rolled-up map and walked by us. “You guys have quite a lot of gear and a ways to go, so I figured you could use this.”

She leaned against a wooden wagon.

“Thank you, but . . .” My voice trailed off and Darius finished my thought.

“What are we supposed to use to pull it?”

“Well, there’s a stable not far from here. You could always request a horse there. I would recommend loading everything up as soon as you can, though. Your box of rations is by the porch. I wish you luck.” And with that, she left.

I tilted my head and looked to the porch, seeing a large crate there with our names scribbled on a note stuck to the top. Darius set down the tents and began walking toward it.

“I’m not sure they’ll be able to give us a horse on such short notice.” I thought for a moment, looking at the wagon. That was when Puff’s stirred a little in the pouch on my belt and I got an idea.

“Puff, could you pull it?” I asked. The tiny dragon nodded and seemed to smile at me from the pouch on my belt.

“All right, let’s get everything secured in the wagon and then we’ll head out.” After Darius got the crate and the tents in the wagon, we pulled the wagon to the outer edge of the city, away from any guards. Puff grew again, but stayed just a bit smaller than he had last time, and I fastened the wagon to him. We all climbed in and he began to pull it along, and so we started out on our quest.


By the time that evening rolled around, we were a little more than halfway to our destination. We found ourselves in the fields beyond the farmlands by the time the sun began to set and decided to set up camp. We pitched our tents and ate a ration of our food together around the fire, laughing and telling stories from before Vixia and I joined the guild. We were winding down from laughing at one of them when Vixia asked a question.

“Darius, what did you do before you joined the guild?” Darius seemed to think about it for a moment, tapping his fork against his plate. He straightened out his back and then hunched forward again.

“Well, I did a lot of combat training. Then I was a guard.”

“Really?” There was a tone of awe in Vixia’s voice.

“Yeah. Then the dragon attacks began. The queen put together the guild and sent me to work there instead.”

“Was it like that for everyone?” I inquired. Darius shook his head.

“It was in the beginning, but then we started getting volunteers, like Sparrow’s crew. You guys are the only recruits we’ve had sent to us by the queen since the first wave of members.”

“How’d Nesryn become guild master then?” Vixia asked. “Did the queen pick her?”

“Yeah. She was actually a high-ranking officer in Zaledrid’s military before the guild was formed.” I was thinking about that when a shiver went through me. I then realized that the fire was starting to die out.

“We should clean up and get to bed. We still have quite a ways to go.”

Vixia and Darius agreed and we got everything put away before we went to bed. Even though I was now cozy and warm in my sleeping bag, I couldn’t sleep. The night continued on while I watched silently as Vixia slept peacefully with Puff curled up on her chest. I let out a quiet sigh and rolled onto my back, now staring at the ceiling of the tent.

Maybe I should get some fresh air.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag and opened the entrance to the tent. I slipped my boots on as quietly as I could and stepped out onto the grass. I wandered over to one of the logs that surrounded what remained of our fire and sat down on it. Unsure of what else to do, I looked up.

The stars twinkled against the pitch-black sky and the moon’s light illuminated everything around me. I was still looking at it all when I felt something climbing up my back. I recognized the feeling and looked at my shoulder to see that Puff was now perched there. I was looking into his eyes when a question popped into my head.

Why are you different?

He trilled at me and rubbed the rough scales on his face into the side of my neck.

“All right, let’s go back to bed.” I gently scratched the underside of his chin and stood. We went back into the tent and went to sleep.


Almost immediately after we got up, we were on the road again. We managed to make a small breakfast from our rations and pack everything back into the wagon by the time it was 9:00. We ate along the way, but we were still pretty far from the forest. Even though it was winter, the sun’s light bore down on us like weights as it continued to climb up higher in the sky. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and shielded my eyes to find what appeared to be buildings on the horizon.

“Is that Centrum City?” I asked.

“I think so,” Darius confirmed, also staring at the buildings. “Should we stop by there and get lunch? I’m starving.”

“Same!” Vixia piped up from the back of the wagon. She was leaning against the folded tents, keeping them in place.

“Then it’s decided. Puff, head for that city.” Puff nodded and began to pick up the pace, dragging the wagon eagerly.


After Puff picked up speed, it didn’t take long to reach Centrum City. We had to stop our wagon a short distance from the city’s outer walls because there was no way that they would let us through with Puff. We parked the wagon in a place where it was hidden by shrubs and trees and Puff shrunk back down to his usual size after I unhooked him from the reins. He climbed into the hood of the cloak that Vixia was wearing and hid underneath her hair. We were able to pass through the gates without a problem and I was amazed by what was on the other side.

The city was busy, much like Tidalsong City, but there was a different atmosphere to it. Shops and homes lined the brick streets, smoke rising from their chimneys. Snow blanketed just about everything and children were playing in it, throwing snowballs at each other and building forts. I witnessed one kid get nailed in the face with a snowball when Darius’ voice brought my attention back to my party.

“Should we stop here?” he asked, pointing to a crowded restaurant.

“Would we be able to feed Puff without anyone seeing?” Vixia asked.

“As long as he stays in your hood, it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, we can feed him some leftovers later.”

Puff trilled from under Vixia’s hair and I laughed. We headed into the restaurant and it was surprisingly calm for how packed it was. We were seated quickly as soon as the staff realized that we were wearing badges from the IronScale Hunters guild. We also received our food very quickly and the sound of other customers chatting and eating hid our conversation from the others.

“All right, let’s come up with a strategy for when we get to the forest,” Darius began. “Vixia, do you still have the map?”

She nodded and retrieved it from the bag strapped to her hip. She passed it across the table as she brushed her hair away from the side of her neck. Darius began to unroll the map on the table while Vixia ripped a chunk of meat off of a dish that we ordered for Puff. The tiny dragon poked his head just barely into view and eagerly took the piece of food.

“Don’t make a mess, okay?” Vixia pleaded to Puff. He trilled back at her in response and disappeared again. I laughed a little and took up my fork to begin eating just as Darius pointed at a spot on the map.

“If we start here, we should be able to walk in a circle around the whole forest so we can search most of it in one go.”

“Can we visit somewhere along the way?” Vixia asked.

“In the forest?”

“Yeah, I think it’s about here.” Vixia leaned forward, pressing her fingertip against a specific point on the map.

“Why? What’s there?”

“Zelora’s shrine,” Vixia answered. “Actually, let me mark it.” She grabbed a pencil from her bag and marked an x on the spot that she was pointing to. Darius raised an eyebrow at her as I swallowed my bite of food.

“Ah, you don’t know about Zelora, do you?” I asked. Darius shook his head. Vixia sat back in her seat again and was about to pass Puff another scrap of meat when someone came up to our table.

“Are you from the IronScale Hunters?”

I looked over to see a kid, who couldn’t be any older than 15, standing by our table. There was a nervous look on his face as he waited for an answer.

“Yeah, we are,” I answered.

Really?” The kid’s eyes looked like they were about to start sparkling because they widened so much. “You guys are so cool!”

Vixia and I exchanged unsure glances and Darius spoke up.

“Do you need something?”

“Oh, um . . .” The kid fidgeted for a second and stepped back a little. “Usually when the dragon-slaying guild is out here, there’s something going on so I wanted to wish you luck.” Vixia was the first one to respond this time.

“Thank you.” She smiled at the kid and he nodded before he left. I watched silently as he returned to his table.Maybe we did do the right thing by joining the guild.

My Crush Is A Nekomata- Chapter 1: The Cat Is Out of The Bag

Ryoko’s POV

“Hey, stop,” a high-pitched voice yelped. “Don’t touch me!” I barely heard her over the sound of basketballs crashing against the gym’s floor, but I was close enough to the opened door to faintly make out what was being said. I let the ball that I was dribbling bounce to a stop and roll away from me to the nearest corner of the room as I turned my head to listen.

“Why do you always wear stuff like this?”

It was another girl’s voice. I crept across the hardwood floor and over to the door before I poked my head out of the doorway. I was just in time to see a short girl being surrounded by two upperclassmen. I watched silently as the shorter girl stepped back, her back meeting the wall of the next building over. Her long, blonde hair, which was tipped with red, was draped over her shoulders and her blue eyes widened as the two older girls stepped closer, staring at the neat bow atop her head.

“Some little hair clips would look a lot cuter,” one of them reasoned.

“Yeah,” the one who had spoken before agreed. “That bow is too big and it’s plain.”

The shorter girl’s hands trembled as she reached up to touch the ribbon.

“But I like my bow.”

“Well, at least try some of these out.” The second girl pulled a clip out of her own hair and began to reach for the shorter one. “Here, take that off and I’ll let you borrow mine.”

As soon as the older girl’s fingers pinched the corner of her bow, the shorter girl yelped again. That was when I stepped out of the gym.

“Hey!” All three of the girls jumped and turned to look at me. The one who had grabbed onto the girl’s bow immediately withdrew her hand, leaving it hovering in the air with its fingers spread wide in shock. Even though she had let go, I wasn’t finished.

“She said to leave her alone,” I growled. “Didn’t your parents teach you not to touch people?”

“Well, I—” The two upperclassmen exchanged frantic glances, then stepped away from the shorter girl. My glare sharpened as I said my next words.

“Get lost.” They both nodded and fled back to the gym, leaving the shorter girl and me behind. Ryoko watched as she reached up with shaky hands to readjust her bow. “Are you okay?”

She looked over at me and this was when I realized that they were in the same grade. We were both dressed in the same uniform with green skirts and ties that all first-year students wore at our school, the only difference being the blonde’s hair accessory. When our eyes met, I also noticed that some tears had welled up at her lower eyelids and that her cheeks were red, but she nodded anyway.

“Thank you,” she replied, nearly whispering. She tugged at the hem of her skirt and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

She’s actually really cute.

“What’s your name?”

“Nekomura,” she answered. She smiled at me briefly before the sound of the gym teacher’s whistle pierced the air. We both looked in the direction of the sound.

“We should probably get back to class.” I nodded and we walked back into the gym.

I wasn’t sure if it was the look in Nekomura’s eyes when she thanked me, or the uniqueness of her hair, but something kept me thinking about her. However, I didn’t talk to her again until nearly two years later, when we were in our final year of high school. That was when I learned Nekomura’s secret.


For some context, my name is Ryoko Okazaki. I was never particularly good at sports, but my grades were decent and I was quite the bookworm. I only had one real friend at that point in my high school days, Harumi Iwamoto, and she was hanging out with me right before my second encounter with Nekomura.

It was nearing the end of lunch on a sunny afternoon in April. School had started only a few weeks ago and Harumi and I were at our usual hang-out spot; the back of the main school building with a perfect view of the track and the grove of trees gathered beyond its chain link border. Harumi, who was sitting on the ground next to me, finished scooping her last bite of rice into her mouth as I rummaged through my schoolbag.

“Damn, I forgot to bring some change again.” I let out a sigh and leaned back, my head resting against a concrete wall.

“What were you planning on getting?”

“A drink or something.”

While I was staring up at the sky, I failed to notice Harumi unzipping a pocket on her own bag. I looked over when she held out a small coin pouch to me. I raised an eyebrow at Harumi as she shoved it into my hand.

“Go to the cafeteria then. They just restocked the vending machine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Go ahead,” she said with a nod.

“Thanks.” I stood and was about to leave when an idea popped into her head. “Do you want me to get you something while I’m there?”

Harumi pursed her gloss-covered lips as she thought for a moment. She ran her fingers through her dark, wavy hair.

“Sure. A coffee or something. Take the back way, since there isn’t much time left ’til class.”

“All right, I’ll be right back.”

The back way to the cafeteria looped around one of the back corners of the school and skipped the courtyard entirely. This would have normally saved me a few minutes if she hadn’t caught a glimpse of Nekomura along the way.

I had nearly made it to the cafeteria when I saw the shorter blonde standing alone in an empty hallway.

Maybe this is why I haven’t seen her around much, I wondered. I had never seen her much around school after I first met her. I reasoned that she probably ate her lunch alone, away from everyone else. I would, too, if people harassed me for the way I dressed like they did to her. I could have said hi and waved when I saw her, but for some reason, I didn’t. Instead, I hid around the corner and watched as she stared at her reflection in a pocket mirror in her palm. Little wrinkles formed between her eyebrows as she fidgeted with her hairbow, a plain one that was similar to what she was wearing when we first met.

Huh, I didn’t think she was so invested in her looks.

But in the next moment, I came to understand why, because she untied the ribbon and revealed two triangular ears that were hidden underneath.

At first, all I could do was stare as she rubbed one of them gingerly with her fingertips. They resembled the ears of a cat since they were covered in soft-looking fur and everything. They even matched her hair color perfectly and were tipped with red. The inside of them were pink with tufts of fur sprouting up from their bases. I didn’t realize that they were real until one of them twitched on its own.

The sole of my shoe made a scratching sound against the pavement as I turned to leave and one of her ears snapped toward my direction. The next thing I knew, Maneki was staring at me with wide, light blue eyes.

“Wait a second!” she cried, rushing toward me. I was frozen in place for a second and all I could do was raise my hand to point at her.

“Those things are real,” I stated bluntly. I know, not one of my brightest moments. She stopped in front of me, already panicking.

“Please don’t tell anyone!” she pleaded, her voice wavering. “I’ll do anything, just don’t say anything. If this gets out, I’ll be screwed!” I looked from her ears, which were now folded against her head, to her face. Tears were already escaping her eyes and I noticed that she was gripping the hem of her skirt again as she stared up at me.

“I won’t.”

“Really?” Her ears sprung back up, but the tears didn’t stop.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s not really my place to tell anyone—”

“You promise?” She leaned in closer to me and I could see down into the canals of her ears. There was no faking that.

“I promise.”

She stepped back and let out a sigh before wiping away her tears. She sniffled and her eyes narrowed a little as soon as she finished drying them. “You look familiar,” she began.

“Oh, um, we met when those two girls were trying to take off your bow in our first year.”

“Ah, that’s right. I remember.” She reached up to touch one of her ears, then looked down at the ribbon that was still in her hand. “I should probably put this back on.” I nodded silently and watched as she looped the ribbon around her ears and fastened it to her hair as a bow. She took out her pocket mirror again to double-check it.

“They’re covered.”

She let out another sigh of relief and returned the mirror to her bag. She turned her attention back to me.

“So, what are you doing all the way back here? It’s usually empty.”

“I was heading to the vending machines,” I answered, holding up Harumi’s coin pouch.

“Oh, you’re running out of time”—her voice was cut off by the sound of the school bell’s chiming—“then. Sorry about that.”

“It’s all right. I should probably head to class.”

“Which class do you have?”

“English.”

“With?”

“Mrs. Honda.”

“Really? Me too.”

“You do?” I tried to remember if I had seen her in class before, but nothing came to mind. She must have seen my confusion because she spoke up again.

“Yeah, I just sit in the back,” she explained. “Out of sight, out of mind, you know?”

I nodded, unsure of what to say next. She wasn’t wrong, especially since I hadn’t noticed her there before.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late.”


Maneki’s POV

Ryoko and I made it to class before the second bell had a chance to ring. Most of the other students were already inside the classroom, crowding around desks in clusters and chatting with their friends, but there was one girl who was standing by the doorway. I noticed that she perked up a little the moment her gaze fell on Ryoko.

“Hey, where’d you go?” she asked. “I was waiting for you.”

“Sorry, I ran into Nekomura by the cafeteria,” Ryoko admitted, scratching the back of her neck. “I didn’t get a chance to get anything from the vending machine.”

Well, she’s not lying, I thought as she handed the coin pouch that she was carrying back to the girl. Ryoko then looked back at me.

“Oh, Nekomura, you haven’t met Iwamoto, have you?”

“No.” Before Ryoko could introduce me to her friend, the bell rang to signal the beginning of class.

“I’ll introduce you two later,” Ryoko promised, walking toward the door. “I’ll see you later.”

“Right . . .” My voice trailed off as I followed them into the classroom. As soon as the bell rang, all of the other students wandered over to their desks. Ryoko and Iwamoto took their own seats at the edge of the class near the door as I headed toward mine at the back corner of the room. At least when I sat back there, I was out of sight and out of mind to most. I couldn’t help but watch the two of them as class began, noting the contrast between them.

They both had brown hair, but Ryoko’s was short and tomboyish. Iwamoto’s, on the other hand, was slightly darker, long, and wavy. Another difference between the two of them was that Iwamoto wore some makeup while Ryoko didn’t. I never would have assumed that they were friends if I hadn’t seen it myself with the way they passed notes to each other and always paired up for group work. But my main focus was on Ryoko.

I wonder if she’ll keep my ears a secret. This thought passed through my mind every time I looked her way. About halfway through class, I shook my head and rested my forehead against my palm. It’s out of my control now. It can’t be helped.

At the end of class, Ryoko and Iwamoto left without giving me a second glance. I watched them head down the hall, laughing together at a joke that I couldn’t hear. It felt like my heart was sinking into the pit of my stomach.

I hope she doesn’t tell anyone.


Ryoko’s POV

School ended a little past 3:00 and Harumi and I started the trek back home as usual. We took our time, so the sun had started to lower in the pale blue sky and the birds were singing shrilly, offering their melodies to the approaching sunset. I walked silently, looking around and taking it all in. We were almost to the halfway point to my house when Harumi struck up a conversation.

“Are you going to sign up for any clubs this year?”

“No, I don’t really want to,” I admitted, my gaze drifting downward to meet the pavement.

“Oh, are you becoming lazy now?” Harumi teased. She nudged me with her elbow and I chuckled a little.

“Nah, I just want to spend more time at work.”

“I see . . .” The conversation died out when we made it to the train tracks, which marked the halfway point to my house. This was where our paths split.

“All right, I’m gonna hustle home now. See you tomorrow!”

“Bye!”

We waved at each other and she ran off ahead. Then I was alone with my thoughts. As I walked along, the memory of my first meeting with Maneki ran through my head again. I brushed my hair a little with my fingers and realized that it must have hurt when the girl grabbed onto her bow.

She probably grabbed her ear with it.


“I’m home,” I called, pushing the front door open. I was stepping out of my shoes and into some slippers when my mom appeared in the entryway to the living room, which was down the hall from where I was.

“Welcome back,” she said, but my eyes almost passed through her. I stared into the room behind her, finding no one else home.

“Dad’s not back yet?”

My mom frowned and shook her head as she crossed her arms. “Not yet, but he’s on his way. He said he would be back by dinner.”

“Okay, I’m gonna go get changed then.”

“All right. Dinner will be done in a few minutes.”

And, as usual, we parted ways. She left for the kitchen as I headed up the stairs. On the way up, my eyes scanned the photos that were hung up on the walls, even though I had seen them at least a million times. Most of them were of me with a few pictures featuring my parents too. It was always just the three of us since I was an only child. The most recent one had all three of us and was hung next to my bedroom door. I glanced at it when I made it to the top step and remembered that it was from my first day of high school. It was also a little while after my dad started his new job, which was a bit farther from home.

My bedroom door was to the left when I stepped off of the top step and when I opened it my eyes immediately went to Sushi, who was swimming in the glass bowl on top of my dresser. I thought it was a miracle that I had managed to keep a goldfish alive for more than three years, but I did everything that I needed to. I closed the door behind me and sprinkled some food in his bowl. I watched with a smile as he gulped it down as quickly as he could. I opened the drawers to my dresser as my mind returned to Maneki.

I wonder if her family is like mine. I picked out a shirt and caught another glimpse of Sushi while I was taking off my school uniform. Do cat people keep pets? Is that even ethical?

I was pulled away from my thoughts when my mom shouted for me downstairs.

“Coming!” I pulled on a pair of shorts and left the room, making my way downstairs. When I reached the bottom, I saw my dad stepping out of his shoes. “Welcome back,” I said with a smile.

“Hey, Ryoko. Studying hard?”

Ugh, this again.

“I guess so.”

“Have you picked out a college yet?” he asked. I froze at the question and when I didn’t answer my father let out a sigh. “I’ll take that as a no. You’re already in your third year, so you should be thinking about this. I’m sure most of your classmates have already picked out theirs.”

“I’ll start looking,” I lied. “Dinner should be ready.”

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 8

The weekend passed and Vixia, Darius, and I listened closely for our names as we ate our breakfasts on the following Monday. Nesryn was standing in front of the bar, like usual, giving everyone their quests for the day. But, by the time she finished the list, she still hadn’t called our names.

Don’t tell me she forgot to give us a quest. I tilted my head in confusion as I watched the other teams get up and leave to prepare for their quests. I then looked at Vixia and Darius, who also appeared to be confused.

“Did she skip us?” Vixia wondered aloud. I let out an exasperated sigh.

“It seems like she did.” That was when Puff, who was sitting on Vixia’s shoulder and was hidden by her hair, trilled. I looked over to see him staring at Nesryn, who was walking over to us. When she made it to the table, she set down a map in front of us. It appeared to be drawn by hand with a pencil, shakily I might add.

“This isn’t dragon-related, but I figured you could handle it,” she began. “There is a farmer who is having issues with a pack of wild dogs attacking his livestock. I’m going to need you guys to exterminate them.”

“So, the guild takes on regular quests too?” Vixia asked.

“Sometimes,” Nesryn answered. “Usually we only take them on if they are local and the regular guards are too busy.”

“So, what’s the map for?” Darius inquired, looking it over.

“The farmer drew it up so that you guys wouldn’t get lost. Do you think you can do it or do you need more time to recover?”

It had already been a few days since the dragon attack on the guildhall. This was our first day back to actual guildwork since then and in the meantime we were resting. My eyes wandered over to the window that Vixia broke, which was now boarded up.

“No, we should be fine. We’ll leave soon.”

“Thank you,” Nesryn replied with a smile. “Good luck out there.” She turned and walked away and Darius stood from his seat.

“Here, I’ll take your plates to the kitchen.”

“Thanks.” I watched as he walked away with our dishes, but something else caught my eye along the way. I spotted Sparrow sitting in the corner, glaring at me while his other two partymates were laughing and joking with each other. I glared back and rolled my eyes, now looking at Vixia. I grasped her hand and gave it a few squeezes.

“Let’s go get ready.”


Not long after we finished breakfast, Vixia, Darius, Puff, and I headed outside of Tidalsong City to the winding farmlands. It wasn’t that far of a walk, but it took nearly two hours to get there on foot. Puff rode along on my shoulder for most of the way, still recovering from the dragon fight. I was thinking about that when we made it to the short dirt path that led to the farm and Puff carefully climbed onto my shirt sleeve. I bent my arm so that he could safely crawl into the pouch on my belt, which I had emptied for him. I watched him curl up inside of it.

Growing like that must really wear him out. Is that why he always stays so tiny? Just as I pondered that, the tiny dragon let out a yawn and stretched his wings before wrapping them around himself. I smiled just before an unfamiliar voice snapped my attention back to my surroundings.

“You must be from the IronScale Hunters guild.”

I looked up to see that we had made it to a farmhouse and an old man was rising from a rocking chair on the porch. He placed his hand on the wooden railing to secure his balance and began to walk over to the porch steps. I realized that he was looking at our uniforms, which bore the same blue and white colors that Sparrow was wearing the first time we ran into each other. Fortunately, we got to choose from different options, so the only thing that was the same across our uniforms was a small badge that we had to wear over our hearts. I saw Vixia nervously grip the hem of her skirt from the corner of my eye.

“You sure are an odd lot,” he continued, eyeing us. His gaze specifically narrowed in on Vixia. “They sent a hybrid to help deal with a livestock issue?” Vixia’s ears folded back at that comment. I stepped forward, drawing the farmer’s attention to me.

“She’s just as capable as anyone else at the guild,” I answered defensively. “Her race is irrelevant.” He crossed his arms at my response and glared at me.

“So, you’re having a problem with some wild dogs?” Darius spoke up, steering the conversation back to the task at hand.

“The damn things keep attacking all my animals!” the old farmer shouted.

“So we’ve heard,” Darius replied. “Do you have any idea where they might be now? The sooner we find them, the sooner we can resolve this issue for you.”

“I usually see them running in that direction when they leave.” The old farmer pointed to his right, toward a large open field full of grains. “They blend in with the plants for the most part, so be careful.”

“Thank you.” So, we turned and headed out into the field. By the time we approached the edge of it, I realized that the stalks of the grains were much taller than I was. However, Vixia’s ears were still visible over the tops of the field and Darius was tall enough for almost his whole head to be within sight.

“Don’t get lost,” Vixia teased. “Trying to find you in here would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

“Wow, thanks.” I crossed my arms and pouted, which elicited a laugh from my wife. She nudged me with her arm.

“Just stay close.”

“Okay.”

“Follow me and stay sharp,” Darius warned. Vixia and I nodded and he led us into the field.

For the most part, I couldn’t really see anything other than Vixia’s back. As soon as we passed through a section, the plants would spring back to how they were before, surrounding us. I finally understood how easy it would be to get lost there. We had been walking for a few minutes when I saw one of Vixia’s ears shift.

“Wait,” she commanded in a near whisper, stopping in her tracks. “I heard something.” We waited there for a moment and I looked around me, but couldn’t see anything. Suddenly, a set of snapping jaws jutted out of the grain stems. I screamed and I fell backwards, barely avoiding being bitten and waking Puff. The tiny dragon darted out of the pouch on my belt and let out a growl. Before the wild dog had a chance to retreat, Puff fired a tiny flame at the creature’s face, burning its nose. It yelped and disappeared back into the field. When I looked up, I realized that Vixia and Darius were gone.

“Vixia?” I shouted. There was no response, just a loud yelp from one of the wild dogs. I carefully grabbed Puff and got to my feet as quickly as I could. I put him on my shoulder and drew my sword before I actually looked at him.

“Do you think you can fly?” He nodded. “Okay, lead me to them.” He nodded again and jumped off of my shoulder. He flew in a small loop around my head and rose up high into the air. He zipped through the sky, flying further ahead of me. I ran after him.

It only took a minute or so to find Vixia. She had made it to a clearing and was surrounded by a bunch of the wild dogs, who were all snarling and baring their teeth. She was doing the same while holding her staff out in front of her. It was easy to forget that she could get this way when things caught her off-guard. Her tail was stiff, every hair standing on end. They appeared to be in some sort of standoff.

That is, until Vixia began her incantation.

Goddess, heed my call

Make my foes like lightning fall

The orb on her staff began to glow and she slammed the bottom of it into the ground. Bolts of electricity erupted from the orb and darted toward the wild dogs. They were practically fried almost immediately, which was impressive for a spell that only had two lines. After the beasts were defeated, she turned back to me.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Where’s Darius?”

Just as I asked that question, we heard Darius shouting from a few yards away. I looked up to see Puff zooming in the direction where we heard his voice. I grabbed Vixia’s hand and practically dragged her as I ran in the same direction. When we made it to the clearing where Darius was, he was surrounded by more wild dogs. One had managed to sneak up behind him and lunged at him as soon as we entered the clearing.

“Darius, look out!”

He turned around just as I shouted and caught the creature’s jaws on the handle of his axe. The other dogs saw this as an opening and also went to attack, but I was just a little quicker. I stood back-to-back with Darius and slashed at the attackers, cutting them down. Darius managed to push the one that had grabbed his weapon off and split its forehead with a crushing blow. We looked around us for a moment, realizing that they had all been slain. Darius let out a sigh of relief and wiped some sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

“That was probably the last of them.”

I sheathed my weapon as Puff circled around us. I held out my hand for him and he landed on my palm, trilling. I put him back in the pouch on my belt and after he got comfortable I lightly scratched his chin.

“Thanks, buddy.” He chirped in reply, like usual, and we decided to report back to the farmer. After that, we went home.


We headed back to the guildhall and after dinner, Vixia and I headed straight for our room. Puff and I watched from the bed as she prayed to Zelora and slowly opened her eyes. She lifted her head and turned to me with a smile before climbing into bed next to me. She cuddled up to me and rested her head on my chest. I stroked her ears in turn while Puff curled up on a pillow above our heads and we stayed like that for a while.

“Thank you for sticking up for me earlier,” she began quietly. It took me a second to realize what she meant. I ran my fingers through her silver hair.

“No problem, it’s what I am here for. What kind of wife would I be if I didn’t defend my partner?” Vixia smiled and then buried her face into my chest. I laughed.

“Still, thank you.” Her voice was muffled against my shirt. I went back to stroking her ears but didn’t say anything.

Little did I know that this was the calm before the storm.


The next week passed pretty uneventfully as the kingdom of Zaledrid began to grow colder in the approaching winter. Surprisingly, there weren’t any incidents with any dragons either. That is, until the following weekend.

It was dinnertime when Nesryn started the meeting. Everyone had just begun to eat when she ascended the steps and called for everyone’s attention. Unlike the usual meetings in the morning, everyone became quiet as soon as she spoke. Everything felt tense and still. Vixia leaned over to Darius.

“What’s going on?” she whispered.

“Something must have happened.” We watched silently as the guild master began to speak again.

“There has been another outbreak of dragon sightings,” she stated grimly. “The queen has tasked us with disposing of them immediately. I will be listing locations and if your party is up to it, volunteer. The first sighting has been found at . . .” She began listing locations as I looked to Vixia and Darius.

“Would you guys be okay if I volunteered us for one?” I asked. They nodded.

“Go ahead.” I turned my attention back to Nesryn just as she called out another location.

“The next one is in Centrum Forest.” My eyes widened upon hearing that name. I slammed my palm down on the table and stood, raising my hand.

“We’ll take that one!” Nesryn looked up from her clipboard and nodded when she spotted me. She quickly scribbled something down on her paper and continued listing.

“The final one is in the Highland Caverns.”

“We can do it!” I looked over to see Sparrow standing now, but instead of looking at Nesryn he was smirking at me. I raised a brow at him, but he didn’t care. Nesryn scribbled something else down and lowered the clipboard.

“All right, that’s all of them. Eat up and start your preparations tonight. You’ll all set out in the morning, except Sparrow’s team. I have some extra information for you guys.”

“Yes ma’am!” most of the guild shouted back. I sat down and Sparrow did the same across the room. I turned back to my dinner, doing my best to ignore him.

I guess he really wasn’t kidding about being shown up.


That night, Vixia and I finished the preparations that we needed to do for our quest in the morning. I flopped on the bed and let out a sigh. My eyes wandering to all of our gear in the corner of the room.

How are we supposed to bring all of that with us on foot? I wondered as Vixia joined me. She crawled under the covers and inched closer to me. When she was close enough, she wrapped her arms around me.

“Did you pick the forest on purpose?” she asked.

“Maybe.” I looked over to see that she was smiling at me.

“Well, thank you. It’ll give me a chance to visit Zelora’s shrine again.”

“No problem. I know it’s been a while.”

“Yeah . . .” Vixia’s voice trailed off and we both fell silent. After a moment, I pulled myself out of Vixia’s embrace and rolled over to get under the blanket.

“Let’s get to bed. We’ve got a long quest ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Okay.” She sat up and flicked off the light as I got comfortable. After that, she cuddled up to me again and we fell asleep.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 7

Vixia and I rushed out of our room just in time to see the whole guildhall begin to panic. The lights that hung from the ceiling were swaying as the walls trembled. Some of the guild members were hiding under tables, others were rushing for the exit. Yelling and screaming filled the air. Vixia and I dashed for the stairs and I slid down the banister, trying to get to the ground floor as quickly as possible. As soon as I made it there, I realized that the dragon wasn’t inside the building.

The rumbling intensified as dirt and dust fell down from the ceiling in small trails. It seemed to follow a specific line, ending directly over my head.

“It’s on the roof,” I said to Vixia as she ran over to me.

“So, we have to go outside.”

I looked toward the front doors but found that it was crowded. Nesryn was standing in front of them, blocking the exit.

“If you run out there now, you’ll get yourselves killed!” she screamed at the crowd. “Grab your weapons before you do anything stupid!”

Vixia and I had already grabbed our weapons on the way out, but I knew that there was no way that we were getting through that door. I then noticed that Vixia was looking at one of the large windows nearby.

“Are you thinking what I am?”

“Mhmm,” Vixia responded, grabbing her staff and holding it out in front of her.

Oh, great Goddess, we are in a dire strait

I fear we have no time left to wait

Please help me disperse this glass

So that through it, we may pass

The glass of the window shattered as if on command, catching the attention of a few people, including Nesryn.

“Wait, you two—”

We didn’t wait to listen to what she had to say. I jumped out of the window and Vixia followed quickly behind me. Once we were outside, I realized that there wasn’t a flame in sight.

“Must be fireless,” I concluded. “Vixia, is there any way for you to get me on top of the roof?”

She was staring at the top of the building. From the ground, we could only see the dragon’s wings.

“I have an idea, but it’s too risky.”

“Well, we don’t have time to think of a better one. It’ll cave the roof in if we don’t handle this now.”

“I know, I know!” Vixia snapped at me. “Just give me a second! I don’t want to put you up there because it’s curved. One wrong step and you’ll fall off.”

“And you can’t incinerate it like the last one because—”

“Everyone inside will burn up with it,” Vixia finished, gripping her staff. Puff, who was still on her shoulder, nuzzled her.

“Maybe if we had something to catch us,” a voice from behind us suggested, “it wouldn’t be so risky.” We looked back to see Darius approaching us, having also jumped through the window. There was a large battle axe strapped to his back this time.

“Darius, what are you doing out here?” I asked.

“What, you think I was going to leave all of this to you two? I am a member of the Ironscale Hunters, after all.”

“Right, but now we need to focus,” Vixia interrupted. “How can we set up something to make this safe?”

That was when Puff jumped off of her shoulder. He scampered across the grass, heading toward the building.

“Puff, where are you going?”

He stopped and looked back at us. For a moment, I could have sworn that he had smiled. He flexed his muscles in a weird way and his whole body began to grow. The three of us stared in awe as he expanded to about the size of a carriage. He then flapped his wings and began to lift off the ground a little.

So he can change his size at will? I didn’t know dragons could do that!

“Well, there’s our catcher,” Darius said. “Vixia, send us up.”


It only took a few minutes for us to begin our plan. Vixia used a spell to float both of us up to the top of the building and Puff flew around behind us in case we fell. Vixia came up herself using the same spell and we stood together on one of the stone support beams. I clutched my shirt as I got an intense pain in my chest when I stared at the dragon.

As I had noticed before, it was fireless. Its body was covered in dark blue scales and its eyes were pitch-black like the others before Puff. Its wings were outstretched to maintain its balance on the top of the dome with its claws digging into it for extra support. It waved its tail menacingly as it turned toward us, almost as if it were giving us some sort of warning. It let out an ear-piercing cry and our plan was set into action.

My pulse thudded against my temples as I rushed forward with my sword ready and Darius did the same with his axe. We made sure to attack from either side of the dome in hopes that it couldn’t block both of us and maintain its balance at the same time. Vixia covered the front-and-center area and slammed the bottom of her staff down into the material that made up the dome. She shouted a quick incantation and a trail of ice shards rushed ahead of her, jutting upward from the roof. The ice hit the dragon first, stabbing at its underbelly and chest as Darius and I went in for its legs.

“Now!”

I jabbed my blade into the dragon’s foot, which caused it to scream as Darius hacked at its shin. It kicked him off of the side of the building in one swift motion. Puff caught him just as quickly and returned him to where Vixia was standing as I removed my blade from the monster’s foot. I slashed at its leg and realized that ice was working its way upward from the roof, capturing the dragon’s feet and tail. Vixia had now frozen it to the dome.

I ducked down as it flapped its wings furiously and screamed.

“Now’s our chance!” Vixia and Darius both rushed toward the dragon, weapons ready. Puff flew overhead, his throat puffing outward as wisps of flames emerged from his mouth. He let them go as soon as Vixia finished her ice incantation again.

I jumped back just in time for both attacks to hit the dragon. It screamed out in pain and I made brief eye contact with Darius. There was a look of determination on his face and sweat was running down from his brow.

He must be thinking the same thing as me. We nodded to each other and turned our attention back to the aftermath of the devastating attack that Vixia and Puff had landed. Smoke—or was it steam?—clouded the area and made it hard to see anything other than the tips of the flames and cinders floating through the air. After the flames ceased, the dragon became more visible. At this point, it was writhing in pain, but it was also free from the hold that the first ice attack had on it. Darius and I both rushed in, screaming in both fear and anger.

Darius chopped its neck while I stabbed into its belly. The dragon’s cries finally stopped as its head dropped, detached from the rest of its body. It rolled off the edge of the roof, plummeting to the ground near the guildhall’s front door as its former body slumped and collapsed . . . right on top of me.

“Ketsuna!” I could barely hear Vixia’s muffled voice as I tried my best to scooch out from under tremendous weight over me. I could barely move at all and my chest and lungs began to ache. I reached out my arm as far as I could. I couldn’t see anything from under the dragon’s body, but I felt someone grab onto my wrist. Then another set of hands did the same, just a little further up my arm, and then they pulled. I was slowly dragged out from under the monster’s corpse and coughed as soon as I was able to breathe in again. Darius and Vixia let go of my arm and Puff let go of the back of Dariu’s shirt. They all dropped down on the roof to sit, breathing heavily. Vixia reached out to touch my face.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I think so,” I managed to say between heavy breaths. Vixia pulled her hand away as I rolled onto my back. That was when we both noticed that her entire palm was covered in dragon blood. Her face wrinkled in disgust.

“Ew.” She wiped her hand on her shirt and we both laughed.


Puff helped us down from the top of the building and shrunk back down to his usual size before anyone had a chance to see him. The front doors burst open and most of the guild rushed out, finding us standing there. They all froze, dumbfounded. I noticed that Nesryn, who was at the front of the crowd, was staring at me in horror.

“Are you okay?’ she asked.

“Oh, yeah,” I replied with a smile. “This blood isn’t mine.” I looked over to see where the dragon’s head had landed on the ground. Everyone watched as I walked over to it and picked it up, then wandered back over to Darius and Vixia. “It’s his,” I said, holding the head up. The crowd began to cheer and most of them headed back inside as Nesryn stepped closer to us.

“You three managed to slay it yourselves?”

“Four,” Darius insisted. “You forgot Puff.”

Puff, who was now on Vixia’s shoulder, beamed. The guild master looked at him and nodded.

“Right . . .”

“Um, Nesryn, I have a request,” Vixia spoke up.

“What is it?”

“Well, as you can see, Ketsuna and I are highly capable of handling ourselves.”

“Yes, her majesty the queen made that very clear.”

“Basically,” I interrupted, “what Vixia is trying to say is, can we please be put on something other than chore duty? Can we take on actual quests inside of being stuck at the guildhall? It’s a waste of our skills.”

“I wasn’t going to go that far,” Vixia mumbled under her breath. Nesryn seemed to consider my words for a moment, crossing her arms and holding the end of her chin as she thought.

“Fine, I will allow it. Let me speak to Queen Evelyn and see what can be done.”

“Really?” She nodded.

“But parties in this guild travel in groups of three. I’m sorry, but Puff doesn’t count. You’ll need another member to come along with you.”

Vixia and I both turned to look at Darius.

“Wait, what?” Darius wondered aloud.

“Darius, come with us!” Vixia cheered, hugging his arm. “We can go on so many adventures and it’ll give you a chance to get away from the kitchen.” Darius shifted his weight away from her, but she kept her hold on his arm. He scratched the back of his head with his free hand.

“I guess you’re right. I do kinda miss getting out there like I used to . . .”

“Then it’s decided,” Nesryn said at last. “You three are your own party and you’ll begin with your regular quests tomorrow. Now I have to go through the members and assign chore duty to someone else.” She turned and went to go back inside, but once she made it to the door she stopped for a moment and looked at us from over her shoulder. “Don’t let me down.”

Vixia and I nodded and she left.


That night, Vixia and I began getting our stuff together to leave the guildhall. We had already made a plan to meet up with Darius in the morning since we would be assigned to a quest together. I had most of my stuff packed already and Vixia was collecting the last pieces of her mini altar when she asked a question.

“Should we stop by the house before we leave? There’s a couple of things that I forgot there that might be handy.”

“Sure.” There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get that.”

“Okay.” I headed for the door and opened it. At first, I didn’t see anyone, but as soon as I stepped out into the hall, I saw Sparrow waiting for me. I sighed and closed the door behind me.

“What do you want?”

“I am not going to lose to you.”

“Huh?”

“I am not going to lose to you,” he repeated. “You may have the others fooled, but you’re not invincible. There’s something odd about you, and I swear that I will figure it out. And then I’ll make you regret ever coming around this guild.”

“Do you seriously still think that I actually wanted to join this guild? I came here for my own reasons and none of it has to do with you.” I turned to head back into my room. I opened the door as he began to speak again.

“I swear that I’ll beat you! Wait, I’m not done—” I slammed the door in his face.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 6

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.”

“Yes ma’am!”

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.

“Did you?”

“Yeah. They left me in the forest.”

“I’ve never had a family.”

“Really? Then, have you been here your whole life?”

“No.”

“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.

“Leaving.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

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!”

The Rise of The Dragon Queen- Chapter 5

“Three, two, one, go!”

I immediately spun around and rushed for Sparrow just as he began to turn to face me. I clenched my teeth as I went to slash at him, but he managed to jump out of the way in the nick of time. He barely managed to maintain his balance after that. When he had stable footing again, he swiped at me and my heart skipped a beat. I blocked it with my own weapon and his blade glanced off of mine before I took a step back. He went to launch another attack, this time jabbing at my chest, but I turned sideways and easily avoided it.

“Don’t get sloppy,” I warned. “You aren’t even paying attention to what you’re doing.”

I jumped back to gain some distance and then dashed forward again, gripping my hilt as tightly as I could with my right hand. I let out a roar as I rushed him and swiped at his side. I landed the hit, which caught him off guard. When he tried to get back at me, I planted my foot in his stomach and shoved him backward. He let go of his sword and hit the ground with a loud thud. I stood over him, the tip of my blade pointed at his face as I kept the sole of my boot pressed against the center of his chest.

“Ketsuna is the winner!” Nesryn declared, and Vixia and Darius began to cheer. The others clapped, but I could tell that a majority of the guild was still against me. I returned my blade to the sheath that rested on my back and stepped back to remove my foot from Sparrow’s chest. He glared at me as he coughed and propped himself up on his elbows. I bent over and held out my hand in an offering to help him up, but his glare just intensified and he began to get up by himself. I straightened out again and turned just in time for Vixia to collide with me.

She immediately pulled me into a hug. Puff, who was hiding in Vixia’s hair, trilled with excitement.

“You did great, Ketsuna!”

“Thanks.” But I looked away from her when I heard some of Sparrow’s party talking.

“I can’t believe you got your ass kicked by an elf,” one of them said with a laugh.

“Yeah, and so quickly too!” the other added.

“Shut up!” Sparrow snapped. He looked over his shoulder to glare at me and I shrugged. I looked back toward Vixia again, seeing that Darius had also wandered over to us.

“Why don’t you go get some rest?” he offered. “Vixia and I can handle making dinner and we’ll get you when it’s done.”

“Okay, I guess I will.” I stepped closer to Vixia and hugged her again. I smiled and looked at the tiny dragon, who was still hiding in her hair. “Puff, you wanna come with me?” I whispered.

The tiny dragon scrambled from Vixia’s shoulder to mine and I laughed as he crawled into my shirt. I let Vixia go after he was out of sight.

“All right, I’ll see you guys later then.” I went to head inside and I could feel Sparrow’s eyes on me the whole time.


When I went upstairs, the first thing that I did was grab one of the books that I had brought with me. The next thing that I did was flop onto the bed, right after Puff had chosen his own spot on Vixia’s pillow. While I did have an easy time beating Sparrow, I was still a little tired, especially because it had been the first time I was in combat for nearly a week. I was beginning to read my book when Vixia came in. She crept into the room and closed the door quietly behind her. I looked over to see her smiling at me.

“Hey, you did great out there.”

“Thanks, but it wasn’t much,” I replied. “Hopefully he won’t be giving us as much trouble anymore.”

Vixia walked up and leaned over me to kiss me. After she pulled away, she stared at me for a moment.

“We’ll get through this, okay?” I took a deep breath in and let out a sigh.

“Okay.”

“I’m going to chat with Zelora real quick. Is that all right?”

“You do whatever you need to. Tell her I said hi.” Vixia’s smile widened, showing her sharp canine teeth in a way that was surprisingly comforting. She walked over to her altar in the corner of the room and sat down on the floor, the lower part of her legs folded underneath her. I watched her for a moment as she closed her eyes, relaxed her shoulders, and bowed her head. I closed my book and set it aside. I began to remember the day that I first met Vixia.


When I saw Vixia for the first time, I lived in an orphanage at the edge of Zaledrid. I was in the common room, sitting by the fireplace with a book, when there was a knock at the door. Ms. Emery, the lady that ran the orphanage, went to answer it as the rest of the children and I watched in awe. We never got visitors, so a knock on the door usually meant that either someone was getting a new home or there was another child moving in.

The door creaked open and the sound of pouring rain filled the room. On the front steps were what appeared to be two royal guards. Between them was a small girl who had her gaze downcast while she gripped the hem of her dress. She had long, silver hair and this was before she had grown into her oversized ears and tail. She was wearing a cloak, but the rest of her clothes were not meant for the harsh weather outside.

“I’m sorry, but we do not have enough room,” Ms. Emery began. “We’ve been at max capacity for a while now and we’re really trying to focus on giving loving homes to the children that are already here.”

One of the guards opened their mouth to speak, but they were interrupted by Vixia.

“Is there anywhere else that I can go?” she asked. Silence followed as her words hung in the air. No one could give her an answer, and she knew it. “I promise I won’t be a problem,” she whimpered, lifting her head to look up at Ms. Emery. Tears were welling up in her eyes and a brief thought crossed my mind.

Why would anyone be so desperate to stay here?

That was when Ms. Emery took her hand and gently led her into the room. I recall thinking that Ms. Emery was never that gentle with me.

“Thank you,” she said to the guards. They nodded and she closed the door. When she turned around, she noticed all of our eyes on her and Vixia. She looked back down at the young girl.

“What is your name?”

“Vixia.”

“Vixia, go in there for a minute,” Ms. Emery instructed, pointing toward the kitchen. The silver-haired girl did as she was told and Ms. Emery looked back at the rest of us. Her dark hair was up in a messy bun and time had carved wrinkles into her face. They were even more apparent when she scowled at us.

“It’s chore time. Get up and clean somethin’!”

“Yes ma’am,” we all shouted in a panic, stumbling to our feet. I had closed my book and was trying to tuck it away under the nearest bookshelf when Ms. Emery spotted it.

“Ketsuna!” I jumped and my heart dropped into my stomach. I turned around to look at her.

“Yes, Ms. Emery?”

“What are you hiding there?”

I felt my hands begin to tremble as she stomped over to me. She snatched the book away from me and, as soon as she looked at the cover, I knew I was in trouble.

“Dragons? Again?” There was an exasperated tone in her voice. She glared at me. “You know these things are monsters, right? They kill people.” She walked across the room and put the book up on a high shelf, one that I couldn’t reach without standing on a chair. “Get to cleaning,” she demanded. When she walked away, my eyes passed by the doorway to the kitchen. Vixia was standing there, watching me.

I looked away from her and went to go find a broom.

The Rise of The Dragon Queen-Chapter 4

The next morning came and Vixia and I were shunned once again. We made our way over to our table and sat down with our breakfast, like usual. The tiny dragon was perched on my shoulder, hidden by my long hair. He quickly scrambled down my arm to sit on the tabletop instead. He stared at our food, unblinking.

“Do you think that maybe the little guy is hungry?” Vixia asked.

“Probably.” I was about to tear off a scrap of meat to give to him when Darius walked up to us.

“Here, I brought this for the tiny one.” It was almost as if he had read our minds. He put a small dish of meat down in front of the little dragon as he took his seat. The tiny creature immediately began to gobble down his breakfast, acting as though he was starving.

“How did you know that we had him?” I asked. Darius chuckled as he took his seat across from me.

“I saw his scales poking through your hair. Hide him better next time.”

“Oh, right.” I looked back at the tiny dragon. “I wonder if he came in last night because he could smell the food.” I watched him scarf down a scrap of meat and lick around his mouth with his long tongue. Darius nodded as he took a bite of his own breakfast.

“Probably.” We continued eating, but we didn’t have enough time to finish before Nesryn showed up, giving everyone their duties for the day.

Vixia and I listened carefully, and while our expectations were low, hearing “chore duty” after our names was not what we were hoping for. The rest of the guild got up and left to get ready for their quests, just like the day before, while Darius, Vixia, the little dragon, and I continued eating at our table. After she was done giving everyone their assignments, Nesryn walked up to us.

“You two are on chore duty again today, but I have a special request.”

“What is it?” Vixia asked.

The guild master pointed at the tiny dragon.

“Find out how he got in and seal it up. That’s all. If you need anything, I’ll be in my study.” And with that, she left. We finished our breakfasts and got to work.


I helped Darius with cleaning dishes and tending to the kitchen while Vixia looked everywhere for any sort of crevice that the tiny dragon could have squeezed through. I was taking a break when she finally left the kitchen, letting out a defeated sigh.

“How did you get in here, little guy?” she asked, crossing her arms and looking in my direction. The little dragon, who was sitting in front of me on the table, turned to look at her but did nothing else.

“When he first showed up last night, it looked like he may have gotten in through the window,” Darius began, stepping out of the kitchen behind Vixia, “but I closed it as soon as I was done cooking. There’s no way that he got in from over there.”

Vixia groaned and the tiny dragon tilted his head at her. Darius turned and walked back into the kitchen, letting out a sigh. My eyes wandered back to the dragon and an idea popped up in my mind.

“Maybe we should give him a name,” I suggested.

“Hmm . . .” Vixia rested her chin against her knuckles, leaning against the doorway. The tiny dragon blinked. “I have no clue. Do you have any ideas?”

I shook my head.

“Hey, Vixia, could you help me real—” Darius’ voice was interrupted by the loud clang of a metal pot hitting the floor. The dragon in front of me jumped and his throat puffed up. He stretched out his wings in what I assumed was an attempt to make himself look bigger. Vixia rushed into the kitchen to help Darius and the tiny creature slowly calmed down, huffing a little and transitioning back to what he looked like before he was startled.

“Puff,” I said quietly.

“What?” Vixia wondered aloud, poking her head out of the doorway.

“His name should be Puff.” My wife shrugged at my suggestion and returned to the kitchen. The tiny dragon, Puff, scuttled across the table and leaped off the edge. He quickly headed into the kitchen after her.

“Wait, where are you going?” I asked as I got up and followed.

When I entered the kitchen, Vixia and Darius were pulling out ingredients for that night’s dinner. Puff had already made it halfway across the room and quickly slipped out of my sight.

“Puff?” Vixia and Darius both watched me as I walked toward where I last saw the small creature. He was nowhere to be found since he had headed toward a dead-end.

“Did you lose him?” Vixia asked.

“I guess so.”

“Puff!” she called.

We heard a quiet chirp and I spotted him pulling himself out of a small crack in between the stones in the wall. He scampered over to Vixia and stared at her, blinking a few times.

“That’s how you got in!”

Darius chuckled from behind us as he pulled a full bag out of the trash can. “I’ll go ahead and seal that up for you guys,” he offered. “Ketsuna, can you take this out, please? The dumpster is outside at the western side of the building.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” I walked over and took the bag from him and left the kitchen.


I walked outside, trash bag in hand, and started heading toward the dumpster. The sky was a bright blue color since it was past noon on a clear day. I was almost to the dumpster when I heard a familiar voice. I stopped and crept around the side of the guildhall. When I peered around the corner, I saw Sparrow and his party mates standing around, chatting and laughing.

What the hell are they doing here? It’s not even lunch yet.

“Hey!” All three of them jumped as I headed over to them, eyes narrowed. “What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be helping keep watch for more dragons right now?”

“We’re just taking a break,” Sparrow groaned. “Besides, aren’t you supposed to be inside playing maid or something?”

I dropped the trash bag in my hand and started storming closer.

“Look, I’ve been doing the best that I can with the job that I’ve been given, but that’s something that you could hardly say. You guys are lazy at best and negligent at worst.”

“Who are you calling lazy?” Sparrow snarled, staring me down.

“That’s enough!” Sparrow and his buddies were suddenly looking past me and I turned around to see Nesryn walking over to us, her eyebrows furrowed. “Sparrow, what are you guys doing here? You’re supposed to be halfway across the city right now.”

“Um . . .” Sparrow struggled for an answer, but couldn’t find one. He looked over to his friends, who just shrugged. I could tell he was panicking. “I wanted to challenge Ketsuna to a duel!” I raised an eyebrow at him.

Oh boy, you just screwed yourself over.

“A duel? Like practice sparring?” Sparrow nodded and Nesryn continued with, “Why didn’t you bring it up ahead of time?”

“I didn’t know how to submit the information to you,” Sparrow lied, glancing over at me. I kept my eyebrow raised while I stared at him. He took note and looked back at Nesryn.

“You know, I should reprimand you for this,” Nesryn growled. Sparrow appeared to cower for a moment. “But I’ll allow it,” the guild master finished. “A duel would be fun to watch and it would be great practice for you to spar against one of our best dragon-slayers anyway.” She then turned to me. “Ketsuna, would you be up for it?”

“Sure,” I answered with a smile.


I went and got my armor and weapon and the other remaining guild members came outside to watch, including Vixia and Darius. We relocated to a sparring area behind the guildhall, which was just a large patch of dirt with some white markings on the ground, and suited up in our gear. His armor appeared to be blunkier than mine and he was wielding a two-handed sword with a broader blade than mine.

I have the advantage here.

Nesryn stood before the crowd as Sparrow and I stood on opposite sides of the battlefield, facing away from each other. I wasn’t really listening to her until she began to list the rules.

“No brutal injuries, no attacking private areas of the body, no lethal force. When I say go, both opponents will turn around and the duel will begin immediately. May both opponents have the best of luck.”

This is way different from a dragon fight, I thought to myself as the guild master began counting down.

But I knew that I wouldn’t lose.