Sally, who lost her teeth in Khalid's first attack, is no longer the helpless victim. She's now an out-of-control predator, distracting the Guardians from Khalid's psychotic anger and need for revenge.
Apocalyptic death is coming to the Southwest. Can the Guardians afford to be distracted with hunting one of their own?
The serpent was hurt. Although he had escaped the boys with their cruel sticks and yapping dog, the prickly bushes offered scant protection as the sun fell and it grew chilly.
Damn those young humans. No one in this city respects wildlife, he thought as he slithered between rock crevices, looking for a stray rat. But at this time of the night, they were all out of the park, on the city streets, searching for their own food.
It had been an eventful year. A moment’s carelessness last summer had allowed the poacher to drag him from a tree to spend the next two months half-starved and hidden in various sacks while they dragged him from country to country. The rich man that had finally purchased him had treated him well, but still didn’t realize he was anything more than an exotic, yet ordinary snake.
Dragons are supposed to be wise and invincible. Pagh! How the mighty have fallen. If not for the lack of magical elements in this iron-infested city, I would be winging my way back home by now. Or... maybe not. His thoughts turned for a moment to the many weeks at sea and he realized he would probably never see ‘home’ again.
Then, he felt it! A gentle tug at the edges of his mind. The call of magic. There was something magical very near.
Following his senses and alert for the dangers the night could hold, he slithered down into a small ravine hidden by thick brush. A thin trickle of water fell from a round ceramic drain pipe and formed a deep pool. Slick with waste, it flowed over a stony creek bed and disappeared into a thick stand of bamboo.
There! That black rock high up on the bank. It didn’t belong there. It was totally unlike any of the others and it looked like some giant thumb had pressed it into the rich loam and lush ferns that surrounded it.
“A starstone. A living starstone. It must have fallen just in the last few decades since the humans arranged this park.” He sensed it held more than enough magic to release him from serpent form and return to the world of humans.
Ignoring the pain from his torn scales and bruised ribs, he crawled onto an overhanging branch to get a better look at the starstone. A few fireflies had started their evening blinking, and he rested his head on a broad leaf.
He awoke with a start at the soft sound of buzzing and rhythmic splashing coming from the pond below.
Another magical creature almost as rare and lovely as a dragon was skittering about the surface of the pond, chasing a firefly. Dodging to one side, she caught up with it and slapped it sideways and up, onto the bank.
The pixie carefully split the bug in half and with a wry face, started to dig out the meaty parts with her fingers. He could tell this wasn’t to her liking.
Suddenly, a large bat dove between them, grabbing the bug carcass and knocking her aside with its wing. As it banked hard, coming around for a final go at her, the old dragon dropped the first third of his body from the branch and intercepted it. His fangs barely brushed the soft fur as the bat frantically flipped backward and beat a fast retreat.
She was kneeling, gasping and watching the bat squeak away in terror. Then, looking straight ahead, she realized the serpent was hanging at eye level. Now it was her turn to freeze in abject terror.
“Don’t worry, little one. You’re not on my menu for this evening.”
She was stunned. “Wha... But... You can speak English.”
“I can speak any human language, child. It is one of the benefits of being a dragon.”
“A dragon? I thought... ”
“You thought I was nothing more than a large snake, didn’t you? Never mind. That’s a rhetorical question. My turn, though. What are you doing here in pixie form? You’re obviously an enchanted human.”
“I was human a few weeks ago. My ex-boyfriend threw this magic dust as we were walking through the park. I thought it was funny at first, then I fell asleep and woke up six inches tall, naked, and with wings. I’ve been living on these damn bugs and hiding from bats, owls and rats ever since. Now, what’s your story?”
“You are a very brave and strong woman. Most of your kind would have gone insane by now and let themselves be eaten. As I mentioned, I’m a dragon. And that means I’m a human like yourself, that has been enchanted. The only real difference between us is that I chose this form and was accidentally trapped when taken far away from my home.”
“Do you know of any way to change us back?”
“Yes. But it will require full noon sunlight on that black rock over there. And we will have to be touching it.”
“Why that rock? I have thought it was special since I got here, but I haven’t known why.”
“It’s a starstone... a meteor that has a great deal of magical power wrapped inside. With the sunlight on it, I can draw some of the power and bring our human forms back into phase with this reality matrix.”
“Well, tomorrow should be a nice day. Can you change us back at noon?”
“That should be no problem. The real problem will be explaining two naked humans in the middle of a city park.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll handle that. I know my family has been looking for me. When I woke up as a pixie, I was lying on top of my clothing. I didn’t have the strength to carry it, but I managed to push my cellphone into a small crevice. When the cops found my stuff, they missed it. To save the battery, I shut it off. As soon as I’m big again, I can call my mother and she’ll bring us some clothing.”
“I’ll make you a pact, little one... I’ll protect you for the rest of the night and help you to change back to your proper form in the morning. In exchange, you will help me to fit into this city until I can find passage back to my home.”
“You’ve got a deal, dragon! Oh, but one thing…... ”
“Don’t call me ‘little one’!”
“But of course, m’lady.” His velvet tongue flickered out and caressed her.