“Y-You -” I stutter in shock, knees shaking. When I followed my best friend into the forest, worried and concerned at her recent mood, I didn’t think I would instead bear witness to something astonishing.
My best friend in all of high school with long hair so black it looks purple in a certain light, eyes of such amazing hazel gold they seem to sparkle, now stands before me...different.
Olive skin darkens into royal purple plates, face elongating to account for a snout and limbs growing in proportion with her body. Ebony hair lightened into a shimmering yellow mane that tuffs at her ears and goes down her spine. Her body lengthens to account for tails and lavender wings slide effortlessly from slits in her scales on her shoulder blades.
I stare as her nails turn into darkened claws, her teeth to ivory fangs, and she falls forward onto all fours with an earth-shaking thump.
“Sophia,” a soft murmur whispers inside my mind and I look up in shock only to see golden eyes set deeply in plated sockets, brilliant and aflame with great intelligence and wisdom. Immediately, centuries flash before my eyes.
Images of pain and suffering, fires and destruction fill my mind. Sorrow and grief so deep I didn’t even know could exist. I watch as friends, family, loved ones fall to the blade, the poison, the spears. I scream in mental anguish as my heart is pierced by betrayal, fear, and loneliness.
Loneliness that aches me to my very core. It drags my limbs with a heavy weight and I nearly suffocate under the pressure.
Fury burns in my heart like the fires that destroys my homes and sanctuaries, the flames I expel from my belly. Rage that roars through my bones like the battle cry from my throat, echoing and ringing across mountains, plains, oceans, deserts. Warning all who hear the dangers of angering one of my kind.
Horror and fear shake my very core when I realize my kin weren’t killed as a threat, a misguided conception of what constitutes a monster. Indignation and terror wreck my mind when I see the hides of my brothers as shields, fangs of my sisters as spears.
Eyes of my family as gems.
Disgust fills me as I see lands turned to ruin in a battle that didn’t need to be fought but for Man’s greed. Resignation as different faces show the same expressions - confusion before horror, then greed that turns to lust. And it begins again in a never-ending cycle of death and destruction.
And then I see joy.
Love and compassion so absolute it’s grounding. Relieving after the anguish of fear and pain. A brush of noses in a motion tender and kind. Claws softly running along scales and manes in a soothing scratch, easing tension and stress alike.
Hope and positivity so powerful it energizes my very bones, excites my soul. Running with younglings, eyes as red as rubies, frolicking through grass, across deserts, over stone. Anticipation as we eagerly soak up knowledge from elders with eyes clear as diamonds, eager for the next lesson, closer to the wonders of the sky’s limits.
Peace and contentment like a full belly, watching the sunset over a terrain of my choice. Whispers of wind that sings around me, breathes life under my wings and gifts me flight.
Solace found in the warm embrace of my kin. Haven in the knowledge that my loved ones are well, and that we are never too far from each other.
I feel all this in the span of seconds, followed by a longing pull of my soul, a question that burns in my mind and suppresses hope deep in my heart. A question that, once every green moon, I muster the courage to ask.
“Can you keep a secret?” Veronica’s voice asks, quiet yet resounding all through the impressions and memories. I gasp and pant on my knees as ‘I’ turns back to ‘me’ and not the strange melded ‘we’ I just endured.
“Y-You’re a dragon?” I wheeze, still trying to get my breath back from the onslaught. She doesn’t answer, just looks at me with her penetrating eyes, and I see in her gaze a lifetime of memories, though not nearly as long as her own.
My first steps, my life at home, my mother’s love, my father’s anger. My first kiss, my first heartbreak. Every bruise and cut, every hug and tender moment. My entire life in the span of seconds, yet I can’t bring myself to mind. I just watched her life without permission. This is fair trade.
Finally the memories end with an image of me, standing in front of a powerful dragon, with wide eyes and pale face, but no fear. I feel confusion through the lingering link still present and smile.
“I finally know you,” I laugh. The magnificent being before me tilts her head and I giggle again.
“You are not afraid?” Veronica asks, musical voice singing in my mind. I shake my head.
“Why would I fear my own family?” I ask instead. “You’re my best friend, my sister. How could that change because you look different?” Piercing eyes widen and her form shifts again, shrinking and changing back into the girl I grew up knowing.
She collapses to her knees with a sob, and I run to her side. I brush raven hair from her face, allowing my fingers to scratch at her scalp the same way I felt in her memories, which makes her sob harder.
“I-It’s been...so long,” Veronica cries. I hug her closer, heart aching as I remember the centuries of loneliness she’s endured. Though jumbled, I know from what I saw that it’s been decades at least since she’s been with another dragon. She’s been alone all this time.
“You won’t be alone anymore,” I promise. It takes nearly an hour, but her tears eventually dry. I stand and reach down to help her up.
“I didn’t expect you to accept me,” Veronica admits sadly. I shake my head.
“I didn’t expect you to be a dragon,” I answer, chuckling. She giggles with me, and my shoulders relax. Now that I knew why she was acting so strange - like she was trying to sneak around but didn’t know how - I felt better knowing I could help her get through it.
We wander out of the wooded area, onto a sidewalk near the school and start down the street to our homes. I ask about what her life has been like; even though I had seen her memories, a lot was missed. It’s impossible to squeeze centuries into seconds, after all. She answers a bit hesitantly, but I’m patient. I won’t let her feel pressured or alone.
Because I’ve felt what she’s felt, been where she’s been, and I won’t let it happen to her anymore.
We turn onto my street, and I turn to her.
“You aren’t going back to that cave,” I say assertively. I know the cold dark cave in her memories is where she’s staying now, and I won’t let it continue.
“You’re staying with me.” I pull her gently to my house and enter my home.
“Sophia?” Mom calls, then stops short in surprise at the sight of my friend. She wasn’t expecting her, and that’s against the rules. I jump on the first idea that enters my mind.
“Mom, can Veronica stay with us for a while? Please?”
“Not that I mind, but why?” Veronica looks at me carefully, fear in her eyes, but I don’t even flinch.
“Her living situation is bad,” I say smoothly. “She needs a safe place to stay.” Mom’s face instantly clears of confusion and she ushers the raven girl to the kitchen.
“I don’t care if it takes until you’re legally an adult,” she says sternly. “You will not go back unless it’s safe.”
We let her dote on us as we help her make dinner, then head up to my room. I lay blankets on the ground in a circular pattern, reminiscent of the nests I remember seeing in her mind. I fill it with my pillows and stuffed animals for extra comfort and climb in, pulling Veronica with me.
We relax into the nest of fluff easily, and are nearly asleep when I feel a strange fluttering on the corners of my mind. I ignore it, thinking it was part of a dream.
“Sophia?” A soft voice whispers and a gentle pressure on my mind brings me back to partial awareness. I hum softly in my mind in answer and she pauses.
“Thank you,” the dragon whispers in my mind and I smile.
“I will never leave you, Veronica,” I think to her.
“What about your mom?” Her thoughts are full of worry and I push aside my unease and hope she can’t feel it. My mom is nothing if not tenacious. If she feels the situation is dire enough, she’ll do enough digging to try to ‘help’ and find the truth in the process.
“A little white lie never hurt anyone,” I eventually think back. “She’ll be okay, and it’s better if she doesn’t know.”
Satisfied, Veronica slips into a peaceful sleep, curled as she is next to me beneath the blankets of our nest. I smile and allow myself to relax back into the comfort of sleep.
Everything will be okay.