I come from a long line of dragons.
Forged from the bowels of the earth, our bodies were the stuff of legends.
However, unlike my ancestors who had full dragon bodies, I was a shape-shifter. Able to transform from my natural dragon-form into a human one. They used to call us fire-eaters.
That was, until things changed till the humans adopted our practice that was now performed as circus-tricks. For we were majestic creatures made of molten gold, unlike how we were portrayed in books as mere fictitious creatures to be summoned at will.
After our leader, King Aang was killed after a human discovered his true powers, our numbers had dwindled into bloodlines that spanned across five major families.
As one of the few pure-blooded dragons left, it was my duty to protect our family and what we loved. That included my younger brother, Lin.
The circus stands in the middle, with its flashing lights and human fire-eaters that had birthed several traditions adopted by us. I watch as the circus’s fire-eaters ignited their flame from fuel and sticks, bringing with them, the awful stench of fumes that drifted so far as our side of the temple.
“What do you think those circus performers will do today?” Lin quips from his perch on the rooftop of our temple surveying the glittering city before us.
“The usual uninteresting tricks. I say, candidly. “If only they knew where true fire-breathers came from. They’d probably destroy themselves when the chance came about.”
Lin agrees, turning his attention to the dragon statues and ornately carved sculptures scattered across the temple. Most of them spanned the ceiling and edges of the rooftop.
“I find it ironic since they’ve dragon designs on almost every surface of their temple. Perhaps our kind really did make our mark centuries ago.” I say, drawn by a particular life-like drawing of the late King Aang with his dragon horns and light green scales.
We might have been powerful, but ever since the death of the king, our mortality was questionable.
If there was one thing I actually liked about this human form, it was the fact that I could easily slip into the crowds of humans, and not be hunted for who I truly was. Other than the fact that Lin and I were not given enough chances to spread our wings and take flight, feeling the sharp scent of the wind against my body and the world at my feet, we were more or less stuck in this form – for now.
A performer dances her way into a pair of the performers, unafraid of the heat. The glow from the flames illuminates her lithe figure, slim as a ballerina.
Five feet away from the artist, stands a tall young man with dark hair intrigued by their activities. His arms are folded across his broad chest that glimmers reflects the light from the torches surrounding the circus.
Frowning, I take a closer look at the man as the flames shifted toward his features.
I could just make out the tell-tale green sheen in his eyes and his shiny hair that stood out in the night.
No, it couldn’t be.
“Talus is there.” I hiss, glaring at his silhouette that looked more dragon, than human each passing second.
“What?” Lin says, narrowing his brown human-shaped eyes, that transform into red slits.
It was Talus who was responsible for igniting animosity between our fellow dragon-kin and humans. Once, he let out a fire that blazed for two days. It was only through the intervention from his uncle, King Aang that the fire subsided.
He was placed on a two month probation, preventing him from returning to his dragon-form.
Clearly, that hadn’t lasted.
Nostrils flaring, he reaches across his back for his sword. “We have to do something, Wing.”
“I know. The Matriarch won’t be pleased to hear about this.” I say, making my way down the roof into the streets below.
I look back at the circus grounds, where I’d spotted Talus. But he’s no longer in sight.
“We have to find him, before something terrible happens.” I strap my sword to my back, feeling the comforting weight of it as it melded together with my jacket.
“Gather our gear,” I say, keeping an eye on the circus.
Lin nods, departing swiftly. Within minutes he was back holding some of our dragon-gear in hand. Iron ropes were clad around his waist, together with a device that would render our victim immobile.
In his hand, he carried a sealed letter from the Matriarch herself.
“What does it say?”
Lin opens it, lifting his hand wreathed in flame. Written in smooth, cursive is the Matriarch’s summons:
Report to the Matriarch’s Quarters by 1900hrs.
“Looks like we have a dragon to catch and a Matriarch to meet.” I say, changing into the leather jacket that Lin had brought with him. “First, we have some business to attend to.”
I dart toward the entrance of the circus, jostling with the crowd that had quickly gathered onto the lawns of the circus.
Talus had all but disappeared into the crowd, even I couldn’t see the glimmer of his bronze skin against the firelight’s flame.
If Talus was consorting with humans, the Matriarch would disband him from further dragon activities, including fraternizing with the Elders of our society. As the second-in-command to our late King, the Matriarch had arranged everything from our very wellbeing to where we were posted across the globe.
Lin keeps a lookout for other dragons that might have seen us. Apart from us and Talus, we were the only ones who seemed to be present in this spectacle.
“I hope he doesn’t reveal himself or transform in the circus. It will be a disgrace to us.” I growl, as Lin and I step up to the booth and purchase tickets.
As soon as we gain entry, the sounds of the circus, with the shouts of children and visitors threaten to overwhelm me with the heady scent of popcorn and cotton candy.
I sniff the air, looking for Talus’s scent of blood and iron. Most members of our clan had a particular scent related to the various energies of the elements apart from fire.
Lin’s and mine was water.
Standing in front of a crowd outside the main tent, stood Talus himself. He held a torch unlike the circus’s performers and was using dragon-fire that transformed from yellow to blue in seconds.
I watch with barely restrained rage as he blatantly shows of his skills deep inside the thin, flammable tents of the circus. Beside me, Lin stiffens withdrawing his sword.
I grip my fists, that threatened to emerge into claws and forced myself to calm down.
“I got it,” Lin says, moving toward a fire-hydrant and focused on its currents that ran beneath the city-grid. If there was one thing that came in handy with Lin, it as his affinity for water that had gotten us out of trouble over the past year we’d been promoted to guarding Matriarch Eve’s many temples across the city.
Talus’s eyes glint dark green and I knew that it was only a matter of moments before he unleashed his full dragon-form.
Just as Talus is about to transform, I strike – fast and hard. Talus whips his head toward me but I’m faster, locking the cool iron collar around his neck. At the same time, a geyser of water erupts from one of the fire hydrants. Shapes of animals wove across the crowd that soon transformed into visuals that suited the theme of the circus.
The crowd gasps, drawing back in surprise as the water-shaped animals splashes overhead obscuring their view of Talus who I pulled skyward and gestured to Lin who follows suit in his dragon-form.
Green scales glowed briefly on his skin before it settled, returning to his human-form.
“What in the skies are you doing here?” he snarls, green eyes burning with an intensity that reminded me of the late King Aang.
“Trying to stop you from devouring humans for dinner!” I snap, gripping his arm and marched him toward the temple across.
“I could say the same to you, Wing.” He replies trying in vain to get out of my grip. He keeps his gaze fixed toward my claws that had almost that now encircled his arm.
I ignore him, standing my ground, “I wanted to know what you were doing here. Trying to blow the cover on us?”
Lin joins me, extending his sword toward Talus who looks at him with undisguised anger.
“You would’ve done the same.” He scoffs, a puff of smoke wafts from beneath his nostrils. “I sensed you and Lin’s presence moments before you–”
He doesn’t finish the sentence. Lin, slices his blade against Talus’s arm, rendering him unconscious.
Together, we haul Talus in his iron chains.
“It’s time we pay a visit to the Matriarch.”
You are late. The Matriarch’s voice rumbles through our minds, making us flinch as one. Her dark-red scales and serpentine tail darken in annoyance. Rocks from the cave crumble down onto the ground, a sign of her displeasure.
Behind her, the still form of King Aang lay suspended in mid-air. A sphere pulsed within his body, protecting him from the outside world.
For someone who was murdered, he looked at peace.
“Our apologies, Your Eminence.” I say, bowing low. “We were delayed due to Talus’s activities. He was caught by Lin and I impersonating a circus fire-eater, trying to disrupt the shaky alliance we’ve maintained between us and the humans.”
At my words, Matriarch Eve regards Talus who lies between Lin and I with contempt. A low growl sits deep in her throat as she strides toward us, her heavy iron claws scraping the floor like nails against chalkboard as her dragon-form slowly transforms into skin and bone.
Standing before us is a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties with shiny black hair, and light skin. Her eyes were a burnished copper that glowed like embers.
She lets out a long, slow breath that fills the air with smoke.
At the same time, Talus stirs and opens his eyes.
“If you don’t have the strength to control your impulses during these difficult times, Talus, I’m afraid that your relations to us must be severed.” Eve says, threateningly.
The Matriarch draws close to him, making him look up unabashedly at his aunt.
“I had fun, Aunt Eve.” He says, silkily.
Lin mumbles something rude under his breath.
“I did it as part as our tradition.” Talus continues, trying to diffuse the situation.
The Matriarch bristles, then quick as a snake, she slaps him across the face. “You will be dealt in time, Talus.” Matriarch Eve says curtly. Snapping her fingers, the guards across the room hauled Talus and drag him to the dungeons.
“No!” Talus rallies against the guards. “This is the last time I’ll do anything like this aunt! Please!”
The Matriarch merely fixes him with a steely glare, eyes glowing red as she ignores his futile cries as he disappears below.
“Now,” she says, focusing her copper eyes on me, “I summoned you both here because it is time you both learned the truth regarding King Aang’s death.”
Lin and I look at each other in confusion.
“Come.” She says, and we follow her from the cave’s main room into a comfortable sitting room, dotted with plush couches and a water fountain in the shape of three dragons. She sits on a high-backed chair, and we follow suit around the oak table, carved in the likeness of King Aang’s crown.
“The truth is… difficult to hear. But you must bear the truth.”
Matriarch Eve takes a deep breath, schooling her hands together. “No one was responsible for King Aang’s death,” she says simply, looking down at the gold rings that she wore. “He died of an incurable disease. But it spread and we dragons thought that humans were to blame due to the mark that travelled down his neck in the shape of a scar.”
“Why tell us the truth now? We could have stopped this animosity between humans and dragons a while ago!” My hands trembled and Lin looked more or less shocked at the Matriarch’s admission.
“I understand your frustration, Wing. However we have a part to play in this world. Humans may liken themselves to us, the true Fire-Eaters. But in truth, it is our duty to protect them. Whatever the stories said, now the times have changed.” She looks each of us in the eyes.
“Do you understand?”
“We do,” Lin and I say in unison.
“Good,” she says, “Whatever you thought you did was crucial in making a just leader. Which is why I’d like you both to become my personal advisors.”
Lin’s eyebrows rise in shock, and I sit straighter.
“You’re not serious, are you?” I say, chuckling nervously.
“No, Wing. I most certainly am serious. Now, will both accept my offer?”
I share a look with Lin before he nods. “We accept, Matriarch.”
“Excellent.” She withdraws two rings from her middle finger, sealed with an imprint of her house’s color. “Wear this, and it will mark you as my personal advisors. It is not easy being a Matriarch. I want someone I can trust. Someone with integrity, and you both showed me how.” She hands the ring to me.
It’s embossed with the symbol of fire, made from the original flame of our ancestors. It burns my finger, and I gasp as the flame is inked onto my skin, leaving a scaly imprint of my true-form.
“Welcome to the Family.”
“Thank you, Matriarch.” I say, marveling at the ring onto my finger. “We won’t let you down.”
“You’d better not.” She replies, smiling softly. “Now, are you both ready for your first task?”
The sun was just rising on the horizon as Lin and I flexed our wings and took flight.
Most of us preferred to hide in plain sight.
Not me, for I preferred to be part of the ongoing movement to change history that changed the way dragons saw humans, for the future could be changed.
Fire-Eaters and dragons could co-exist and I would see it come to pass.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gemma Rose Foo grew up on a steady diet of Harry Potter novels and believes that reading is a form of magic. Gemma’s love for writing started at an early age when she was intrigued by the bedtime stories her mother read.
She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications from Oklahoma City University and is also a Paralympian who represents Singapore.
When Gemma isn’t reading or writing, you can find her at home with her cats, brainstorming ideas for her next project.