By: Aaron B.
Art by: Emily Ormsby
PLOT: We learn how well Jon fits into the lives of an anthropomorphic horse and dragon, Ira opens up about her somewhat dark past and Vlad and a deadly accomplice grow closer to killing Jon once and for all…
He sighed a bit, he didn’t really want to let Vlad into the church. Father Merek however ignored his slight fear and held the door open for him. The evening was a bit chilly, the town of Animalia was fast asleep, crickets chirped and the only sounds that could be heard was the ambience of the creaky church and the footsteps of the two anthros stepping inside.
Towards the alter was where the buck kept his black bag for storing various books he wanted to take home with him and study.
Once the Komodo dragon entered, he began sniffing the place, tilting his head up and down. His black armor clanking as he moved about the area, the deer coughed gently. “What can I help you with?” Vlad smirked, he knew a human had been there not too long ago. Placing his clawed hands on his hips, the soldier spoke. “I smell a human. I need to know if you knew of his presence.”
The priest felt his heart sink a tad bit. Merek’s throat became dry a few seconds afterwards, he knew lying would be the only possible way of getting out of this. His good deed of keeping Jon safe might had just backfired. “Human? No sir, I would have alerted a guard. I know how the king feels about the species. If you’ll excuse me, I must leave.” The deer briskly walked to his bag, buttoned it and slung it over his shoulder.
As he turned to go, Vlad was mere inches from the buck’s snout, he was clearly startled and leaped back a step.
The Komodo smelt the scent even more than ever, Jon had taken refuge there, he knew it. Vlad also knew that below the church was a washing area, where Jon had cleaned up before going on his journey. Vlad knew just about every inch of every building, being the right hand man to the king, he was given exclusive information. “The cretin used your wash room without you knowing it? That seems odd. Father, you better come out with the truth.” With a sigh, Merek spoke, becoming agitated. “Sir, I do not know what you mean-please do not use that tone with me.”
Merek only blinked once before feeling the sharp end of a knife enter his abdomen, the buck fell backwards, his bag flopped to the ground, echoing loudly. Vlad knelt beside him. “To bad you will not get to save your precious parasite before I’m done with him. I hope you’ve prepared a final prayer.” He felt the sting three more times in the same area, if it had gone in a fourth he would not have known. Samuel Merek’s eyes became cloudy, the buck’s world became a black void.
Stepping out to the woods, Vlad took one last glance at the white church. The scent of Jon picking up, the lizard licked his lips and continued onward. Leaves crunched beneath his boots, he cleaned the edge of his blade and sheathed it to one side. As he drank some water from a canteen he had gotten from the church, his circular eyes widened as he found something incredible by his feet. He knew now why the scent had been so strong, but no human had been in sight. Laying in front of him, was a sharp rock, with some blood upon it. He took a large whiff, pressing his nose against the hard surface and continued his path, hoping to perform acts of violence and dread.
The sound of a large grandfather clock did not stir the eighteen-year-old human from sleep, in fact the repetitious noise calmed him. He happened to had fallen asleep on the very comfortable couch in Vincent’s living room.
The dragon was in the kitchen, preparing some ham and potatoes for a morning meal. He was lucky he had such an inheritance from his parents to be able to cook fine foods and live in such a gorgeous home, without these luxuries, taking care of Jon would have been a much more difficult procedure.
Ira Goldentrot soon walked in on the fine smell of breakfast, wearing a white peasant shirt and green slacks with boots, her tail swayed contently as she gripped the shoulders of the seven-foot-tall creature who was humming as he cooked, he wasn’t startled by her. He sensed her presence before she set foot into the room. “Good day, scaly!” With a smirk, he placed the food onto plates and set his table up. Jon woke groggily, after being given the correct potions, his foot barely hurt anymore.
Jon sat by Ira and across from Vince when the eating had commenced, Jon’s soft and kind voice was heard. “Mr. Vince? Thank you.” He paused, collecting his thoughts, plus speaking was a chore in itself for him. “Really, I would be dead without you.” He smiled kindly to the human, he never thought a dragon could give a kind smile, but if anyone could it would be him.
Vince spoke to Jon after the eating was done, Ira could help him quite a bit with cleaning his area. “Jon? Are you stable enough to perhaps do some chores?” The teen nodded. “Yes Mr. Vince.” He was extremely content here, going from terrified for his life to the feeling of safety was odd. He knew in his heart that no one could replace his parents, even if Ira and Vince’s personalities were a bit similar, his family would forever be missed. The teen knew he would always feel a dark cloud of depression over his head, no matter what.
Ira’s wooden sword came down, knocking him to the ground. Vince’s large backyard was perfect for activities, and being that his house was high up and away from the town, the chances of a soldier discovering them were rather slim if the human did not wonder. Vince’s mansion overlooked most of Animalia, so he also got a good look at Crixus’ gated castle, the woods across from his home also marked the spot where Jon had hurt his foot.
The sky was very clear, a nice breeze made the tall grass in Vince’s backyard sway, the sun beat down on the mare and human. Ira chuckled as Jon shot back up, grasping a similar sword, following her spurts of instruction. He was becoming quite skilled in a short amount of time, but the mare knew not to rush him. She helped him up swiftly, the dragon kept an eye on the two while sitting on the back porch and sipping some tea.
After a few words about sword defense from Ira, the two clashed again, the wooden weapons making contact made a distinct sound which echoed slightly. Ira hit Jon, Jon hit Ira-it seemed to be going on for quite a while. As the two practiced and probably got new bruises and sweat dripped, Vince decided to wash the dishes in a wooden bucket of warm water.
The war between the mare and human ended, Jon and Ira now sit with cups of water in each hand and heavily breathing after a day of swordsmanship.
* * *
The woods never seemed to end and he had lost the trail of the human a bit, his body becoming more tense as he realized this fact. The Komodo dragon leaned against a large tree, his armor was beginning to hurt his scales, he wanted to go back to the castle and report the teen as still on the loose. However, that would be a lie since he knew for a fact his scent would soon turn up again. Vlad would not give up, this was an honorable duty-going after such dangerous creatures as humans. He plucks some grapes from the tree and tosses a few in his mouth. He began to absent mindedly scanning the woods and the hundreds of trees to each side of him.
He turns his head to one side and finds a path in among some thorns, something he had not found in a while. No scent of Jon could be detected, but what really intrigued him was the wooden cabin at the end of the mysterious trail. With his pointed tail swaying, his yellow eyes looking quite inquisitive, he made his way to the house and knocked on the front door-which swiftly swung open, nearly knocking him to the ground. No mere mortal would have had that power-the owner of this place must be something more.
Drawing his sword, the lizard entered with no fear in his heart, he could take whatever this thing was down if he needed to. Once stepping inside, Vlad was met by a huge area, much bigger than it should have been judging from the outside proportions. The place seemed empty, he needed a place to rest, if he were going to have to battle whoever was keeping Jon away from the anthro city. Rest would not come however, he felt the cold metal of a blade on his throat and breathing inches from one side.
A voice of menace was the next thing to hit his ear, a female voice. “Move and I kill you. State your business.” The front door slammed shut, candles on the floor began to light on their own, perhaps Vlad had landed himself into more than he could handle.
The Komodo dragon placed the sword back in its sheath, the knife pressed harder against his throat, he began to cough a bit, the female spoke harsher. “State. Your. Business.” Vlad didn’t sound fearful, but his words were a bit cut off by this stranger’s brute strength. “I am Vladimir of Animalia, I am a knight. I have come from the city of my people on official business. To kidnap a human. Let me go, wench!”
She let go with a huff, he rubbed his throat and his breathing returned to normal.
How was she strong enough to keep him still? No one had ever done such a thing, for whoever attacked Vlad rarely lived to tell the tale. He dared not strike her-she truly possessed powers beyond most living creatures. Magical abilities were one of the only things that could thwart him.
The lizard turned to face the woman, she was tall, about 6 feet, wearing a silk black dress and had long blonde hair which went down to her hips. Her face smooth, her eyes striking and quite sensual. Her hands a bit clammy with long silver fingernails. She spoke again, her voice piqued interest instead of hostility. “A human? You must be mistaken; no human would dare set foot in in the city of anthros.” The reptile looked around the cabin walls, seeing all different sorts of potion books and glass jars. “The human will no longer be an issue once I’m through with him. I smelt the scent and he is around these woods”
The woman paused and approached the muscular knight. “I am Ella-and I would like to make a bargain with you if the words you speak are true.” She held Vlad’s scaly hand, he did not pull away. He couldn’t. There was something enchanting about the 50-year-old, it was odd that she was somewhat taller than he was, but not by much. He began to feel a bit relaxed, none of this made sense. Her hand grasping his should have been reason to cut it off, but his guard kept going down lower and lower. She went to his ear again, her voice sultry. “I need a human for a rare potion, and if you help me I will grant you any wish your heart desires. You could help your king, banish anyone you dislike, you could have riches beyond your wildest dreams-you could even BE a king. Just bring me the little rat.” Vlad would be going strictly against Crixus’ wishes by not just automatically brining Jon to the castle, but the temptation was strong. The outcome could actually benefit the land in the long run-a wish? Any wish? Vlad nodded, once she released his hand, the two shook on their deal.
The mare plucked an apple from a tree, tossing it to Jon as they walked over leafy path ways and looking up at tall trees. Another beautiful day would arise, Ira walked by his side detailing how to get back to Vince’s place should he ever get lost. She would walk a bit ahead of him to make sure no one was watching their movements or no one would come out of the bushes with an attack.
Ira’s nonstop talking and energy kept Jon happy, he liked her more and more each day. She had done quite a bit for him, he never thought he’d start to learn how to use a sword, his nerves would often get in the way every time he picked one up in front of his mother or father. Neither of his parents were knights, so they also were unable to teach him properly, but Ira had both a happiness and confidence that left Jon at ease.
Deep down however, Vince was Jon’s hero and that would most likely remain a fact for the remainder of his life. He liked both equally, but the dragon had come to him at a time when hope and happiness was sucked out of him. He knew though with Ira’s help, he’d be capable of so much more than before.
Jon attempted to climb a tree, but was no yet strong enough to do so as the mare chuckled while watching him, she would point out various items and things on the ground and show him footprints made by woodland creatures-much different than anthros and much smaller, but still could speak to humans if they so wished.
Ira began to ponder about the future of Jon, she didn’t say anything to him specifically, but it was in the back of her mind. This was a unique situation, but she had vowed her entire life to protect anyone he needed it, regardless of how different they looked from her. She knew complications would arise from protecting him, but in all honesty her mind and heart were flooded with optimism for him, rather than fear.
Jon asked her a few questions regarding her past which she answered.
The flapping of determined wings distracted her train of thought as she was watching Jon explore, she turned her head upwards as a Peregrine falcon landed on a branch of a large tree. His breast white with brown speckles, his thick brown feathered backside completely slicked back like he used a comb to style it. His orange beak hooked at the tip and his yellow eyes huge and rounded, covered with a circular dark pupil that darted to Ira, then to Jon.
He stood at an impressive 20 inches, his talons shined in the sunlight and presented a sort of threatening look. The bird spoke with honesty and slight irritation, he sounded perhaps sixty in human years. “What are you both doing here? You’re about to trespass near my tree and I can’t say I appreciate that. If you have an issue, take it up with the other woodland critters and tell them Hector sent you!” Jon went to Ira’s side, a bit nervous to the bird’s harsh tone. “I’m walking with my friend-we mean you no harm.” The bird scoffed, as Ira too was getting irritated. Jon spoke. “My name is Jon-sorry to bother you, sir Hector.” The falcon could tell he had trouble speaking due to the long separation between words and the slight stutter, but did not hold that against him. “At least Jon has manners” the bird spat out softly. Ira scoffed a bit and crossed her arms. “He is polite for sure, please treat him with respect as he is doing you the same.”
Something about the teen struck the falcon, it wasn’t his tone, but that did help. It wasn’t his age, as age meant nothing to him, it was something deeper. A unique kindness, it was something in his soul. Something about his manner. Why couldn’t he pick it out? Hector knew this kid was safe-he didn’t trust Ira as much however. She had the strength to chop down his mighty tree if she so wished, Jon seemed a lot kinder and soft spoken, which Hector also liked. “Well you two keep out of trouble and I suppose I will let you both go with a warning. I’m much too old to be fighting and arguing.” He flew up higher so he could rest, he secretly watched the two interact as they made their way down to the calm lake.
The sun caused a golden aura to bounce off the leaves and anything on the ground. The air was getting a bit colder being that evening would soon fall. Vincent strummed his guitar as he sat on the couch, but little did he know, someone lurked outsidTwo figures hiding in among thorns and tall trees and looking directly at Vincent’s home. A Komodo dragon and a witch. Vlad sniffs the air with a smirk, it was refreshing to finally know that the human would soon not be an issue, and that he wasn’t even the one doing all the work. Ella stared into the window and saw the scaly figure contently sitting, when suddenly he stood up to answer the front door and Ira and Jon walked in. After a quick hug from Jon, the three went to the kitchen to prepare making some food.
Vlad was just about to stand up, when Ella pulled him back. “The scent is SO strong.” The lizard hissed, Ella spoke softly. “No. We wait until nightfall. I have a sure plan that you’ll love. Trust me. With my plan, we’ll get rid of the dragon, the horse and the human in one day.” Vlad went back to his hiding position.
* * *
As the sky became pitch black and crickets began to chirp, Vincent’s house became a bit brighter as he blew fire onto various candles. The house fully clean and everything was put in their proper spots. Ira and Jon both wore similar looking nightgowns Vince had bought as they conversed casually by the cracking fireplace. Jon was looking through the seemingly endless book collection Vince had. The dragon entered the living room wearing a brown evening cloak, smirking to the two. The mare looked back at him, and the same feeling crept into her heart. Something about Vince captured her, even when the two first met, she found him striking. His voice, his mannerisms, his kind soul. Never did she let these feelings out into his ear, whether she would or not one day would depend on circumstances within herself, confidence was not the issue. Rather his reaction, would he want a horse for a wife, or did he envision himself with another glorious dragon? Did he imagine marrying no one at all? He never spoke of love, other than the love he had for his mother.
She assumed not to speak of it now, right now he had a lot on his shoulders and tensions could raise at any moment, she would have to wait for a quiet moment when a poor human wasn’t being hunted. She knew Vince considered her an amazing friend, and for now that thought would have to do as Jon gave him a quick hug and the creature headed to his bedroom.
The young teen and mare sat, listening to the silence of the night and the ticking of the now familiar grandfather clock. “I had a great time with you, Jon. You really brighten my day.” She smirked and Jon blushed. “Really? Well, thank you.” The horse looked off and sighed a bit, she coughed gently as if lifting a bit of a weight off her shoulders. “You would have loved my foal, Nova.” The teen turned to her, not saying a word, he could sense she was going to reveal something. “She died due to medical complications no doctor could fix. I always felt she was stolen from me by whatever God or Gods might be lurking in the skies. The stallion I had her with left, so I could never confront him about it. He was a coward.” Jon frowned and held her hand gently, she spoke again. “I think maybe this is fate’s way of telling me I might have a second chance. That’s one of the reasons why I jumped at the opportunity to help you.” The human smiled a tad bit. “I love hanging out with you, Miss. Ira.” Her ear flicked a bit, so did her tail.
Jon wanted to do something, something to make her feel that motherly love she longed for. Life was not fair to her, it was almost frustrating that he couldn’t let these big and deep thoughts out. He could spend hours thinking of others and thinking of kind things to say, or mean things to say if someone bullied him, but was not able to let it out in a full-fledged paragraph. That fact felt a bit of an entrapment. As he sat in thought, images of his own mother came flooding into his brain.
In the evening, the two would talk together about anything, from mythology to real life politics going on. The love and help she gave him was incredible, it seemed in these times people were left to fend for themselves as the teenage years came, but Jon was extremely lucky to have loving parents who wanted him to do good, but realized he had tougher limitations to overcome.
Jon looked to the floor. “My mom loved me…” The horse and human both leaned back on the couch, tiredness over powered the two of them. “Of course, she did, you’re good and kind. She’ll always love you.” Ira was just about to put her arm around Jon, when he spoke. “Tuck me in? Please?” The mare’s eye lit up with a bit of excitement, she had not had to do this for anyone in years, and secretly she yearned to help someone feel protected. Not in a ‘knight in shining armor’ way like she always did, but in a more maternal way. She nodded and led the human to his bedroom.
After a swift moving of blankets and a tiny kiss on the forehead, Jon was in a deep sleep. “Good night Jon, see you in the morning.” She blew out the lit candle which sat by his bedside. Soon she drifted off into a deep sleep, the house remained quiet apart from the two who stalked and waited.
The sounds of screams echoed in his brain, his small town being burned. He smelt the smoke, he saw the Komodo dragons dressed in armor as they slashed at his friends and his parents. He felt his heart thud in his chest, he was back here. How? When? Why? Neither Ira nor Vince was around to explain anything to him, he was reliving the worst day of his life and nothing could stop it.
Jon sat up swiftly with a yelp, quickly feeling the blankets which covered him and looking around in a bit of a dazed confusion. The sound of wind could be heard from outside, he didn’t want to get up, but he realized rest would not come at this moment. He gently tossed to one side after trying and trying to fall asleep.
He stepped out of his room, being careful not to wake the two who slept close by. Jon crept his way downstairs hardly making a sound. The home was nearly covered in a sheet of darkness, Jon recognized the shadowy living room. He saw the formation of the couch and the last dying embers of the fireplace.
Footsteps descending the stairs behind him interrupted the silence of the night, Vincent was going downstairs to meet the teen who stood still, he adjusted his cloak. His calm voice so close by, it brought reassuring thoughts back to him. “Jon? Are you alright?” Jon nodded as Vince reached for a glass lantern by the couch and blew a bit of fire onto the small candle inside. “Just a nightmare.” The dragon sighed. “I am sorry to hear that. Do you want to talk about it?” The human shook his head, even if he wanted to forming the correct words and sentences would probably take too long, of course Vince would have waited patiently as he wasn’t going to dismiss him for this slight handicap. “Well, let me get you back to bed.” He was just about to do just that when a sound from outside interrupted his train of thought.
Who would be outside so late into the evening? The dragon told Jon to stay put, for he knew if anyone was sneaking around they were most likely after the human.
Vince briskly walked out the back door, the cold wind startled him a bit, his bare, clawed feet hit the dirt. He stared into the distance and saw the lining of trees which made up the woods, his eyes adjusted swiftly to the night. The crisp air hit his nose, which felt quite nice. He spoke in not a yell, but in a tone which was louder than usual. “Hello? Is anyone there?” Holding the lantern with one hand and holding his cloak closed with the other, he stepped a bit further away from the house, he wasn’t nervous but more curious.
From one side, only a few feet away from the home and in among tall eerie trees, a shadowy figure approached, her steps not making a sound, no face or facial features could be seen. She swiftly moved one of her hands, speaking in some native tongue-the dragon collapsed to one side before he had time to comprehend what happened. His head hit the earth with quite a thud. It wasn’t like he was pushed, it was more like a spell had been cast over him. A spell which was extremely strong and caused Vince’s brain to shut down for a little while.
Becoming afraid and starting to panic, Jon rushed outside, once he saw Vince lying on the ground only a few feet in front of him, he was about to run upstairs to wake Ira, but he failed to notice that the witch was now behind him-using the same spell, she caused him to collapse forward. She smirked and lifted the human was ease, walking into the now silent night.
Vlad spent his time trying to pick the lock to Vincent’s home with a small knife, which he succeeded in doing. Stepping into the large home, he drew his sword. Disposing of one mare would be quite simple, the dragon-not as much. The Komodo’s boots thumped against the hard floor. He smiled a bit, he knew everything would be taken care of. Perhaps Ella could deal with the dragon with some magical spell, but he wanted Ira. He had never met a strong man who could take him, so this would be a fun side project, an extra kill to maybe get some praise from the king upon his return.
The large lizard poked his head into every room, bracing himself for a short battle. Once he came upon Ira’s room and saw the horse sleeping among thick blankets soundly, he made his walk a bit softer. The sound of her breathing echoed through his ears as he approached closer and closer. The silence was nearly deafening, Ira slept so peacefully as Vlad was only a few inches from her, she is a beautiful white horse for sure. Her ear flicked and her nostrils flared-surly she was dreaming. He almost felt sorry he had to dispose of such a pretty creature.
The Komodo took a deep breath and raised his long sword above her bed, once his arms came down-Ira twisted her body out of the bed and onto the floor, directly opposite of where Vlad stood. He grunted in frustration, the horse’s heart seemed to thump a mile a minute. Under her bed, her silver sword lied. She reached for it with success, again Vlad’s sword came down as he was directly above her now. Using her upper body strength, the horse flipped herself onto her feet. Using all her skills, she blocked and dodged his attacks, her breathing controlled, her body relaxed and her eyes on the soldier. As Vlad’s sword swung, various items were broken and crashed loudly to the floor, Ira went in for a stab, but the lizard ducked and she instead smashed her bedroom mirror. He punched her in the gut, with a wince she stumbled back. Vlad flipped his sword theatrically, left and right, right to left his sword swung, Ira was nicked in the shoulder, but it did not hurt much even as it started to bleed onto the floor.
The sounds of loud thuds of the weapons hitting the walls and clashing against each other could be heard along with heavy breathing from both attackers. The mare swiftly went for the top of Vlad’s foot, he screamed in pain as she dug the blade passed through his boot and into his scaly flesh. She pressed deeper and deeper, he let go of his sword to try and yank the weapon out, before it even hit the floor, Ira grabbed it in mid-air and slashed his throat. The white horse now covered in his blood watched him as he slowly stopped breathing.
Without wasting time, Ira rushed into Jon’s room to check on him, she shouted his name over and over. Had her fear come true? Was he been kidnapped? Or worse, was he lying in a pool of blood? Cantering down the stairs, she realized the teen was gone.
Sunlight began to form upon the house and woods, Ira knelt beside Vince-she felt tears form on the edge of her eyes, her thoughts went to him being dead. For Ira, life without this dragon would be a life with forever fading happiness. She shook him. “Vince! Wake up!” She cussed at him a few times and after a few short coughs and sitting up groggily, the tall creature was at full attention. The two stood up, Vince rubbed his muzzle. “What on earth happened? Where’s Jon?” She sighed deeply. “He’s not around here!”
Vince and Ira call his name over and over, the sun rising more and more, the sky becoming clearer, the dragon shivered as the morning wind blew. The two were at a loss for words and looked at each other with dark and depressing thoughts enveloping their brains, when suddenly-hope came flying from the sky.
Hector landed on a low branch, making eye contact with two distraught anthros. His feathers not very neat, he clearly had just woken. His voice as stern as ever, he yawned a bit. “Looking for that human fellow?” He would never admit it, but the falcon was a bit worried, only for the fact that Jon seemed innocent and the innocent getting hurt was an unfair burden. With her ears perked, Ira nodded in a panic. “Some lady was off carrying him, I didn’t see where-but I have seen a cabin a few miles from here. It’s the only other living place I’ve seen other than Vince’s. Jon was breathing from what I can tell.”
She got the last of her armor on and a clean sword by her side, she straightened her gloves and splashed water onto her face. Vince got dressed in a white dress shirt and black slacks along with his frock coat, he too had a sword by his side. The horse and dragon exit the home and make their way into the woods, the air freezing even though the sun shined brightly. The two had no second thoughts of saving the human they both considered family.