Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a young girl named Clara. Clara loved her mother and father very much, but on her twelfth birthday, a dragon swooped down from the blue, blue sky and ate them both up. The dragon looked at Clara, as if deciding whether or not to eat her up, too. Her parents must have made enough of a meal for him, though, and he flew off, burping a fiery belch as he beat the air with his scaly wings.
On her twelfth birthday, Clara decided that she would become a dragon slayer when she grew up.
The best–the greatest, most well-known and world-renowned dragon slayers came from a country bordering Clara’s homeland of Bodoni–a country called Eltis. In addition to training the fiercest, most dedicated dragon slayers in the world, Eltis also hosted the most respected school of magic in the world: two slightly related achievements. Related because dragons cannot be slain without magic; slightly because magic cannot be taught to someone without an innate talent for it.
With her parents lost to the appetite of a giant fire-breathing beast, Clara had no one to take care of her. Her father’s parents had died before she was born, victims of a rogue pixie who had sparked their cottage to flames while they slept peacefully in their bed. Her mother’s father had been crushed by the tree he was cutting down the previous summer, and her mother’s mother died of grief less than a month later.
She did have an uncle on her mother’s side, but no one had heard from him since he disappeared on his own twelfth birthday, nearly twenty years earlier. Sometimes Clara felt that she’d known him, she’d heard her mother talk about him so often and so fondly. Other times, Clara wondered if her uncle ever really existed. She had her doubts, since no one in their village knew of any other inexplicable disappearances.
Clara Paused to consider the fact that she was the only witness to her parents’ demise. Would anyone believe her? Of course they would; Clara was a trustworthy girl, and the marauding dragons had become more and more problematic as the year progressed. Of course they would believe her. She was twelve years old now; old enough for apprenticeship or marriage, even, if her family had been better off.
Clara laid down next to the scorched patch of ground that was all that remained of her parents. The clouds broke overhead, and a single shaft of sunlight reached down to caress her faced, drying her single tear and warming her clammy skin. Clara closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.
When she woke it was dark, and the air was growing chilly. She sat up quickly, and for a moment, lived again in a world with her parents. Then she turned her head enough to catch a glimpse of the burnt grass, and reality slammed back into her chest with a physical pain. She turned the opposite way to shut out the sight, and cocked her head as she realized that a fairy ring had sprung up around her as she slept. The small white mushrooms almost seemed to be glowing in the moonlight.
Clara tucked her feet beneath her as she sat up in curiosity, her grief momentarily forgotten. They were glowing; it wasn’t just a trick of the light. She leaned forward until she was on all fours and slowly, so slowly, crept forward.
The swish of wings sounded above her, and Clara cringed as she looked upward in fear, but it was a swooping bat, hungry for insects, not a dragon, hungry for Clara. She sighed in relief and returned her attention to the mushroom surrounding her.
But they weren’t mushrooms, after all, Clara saw as, one by one, the tiny glowing orbs began to craze with jagged cracks, She had no idea what was about to happen; no one had ever said anything about weird mushroom eggs hatching in the middle of the night. Having just turned twelve, however, Clara had precious little caution to begin with, and so she threw that little bit of caution to the wind and reached out to touch the nearest egg with one finger.
The shell fell to the ground in pieces, and Clara jerked her hand back. She quickly looked around as she heard the tinkling of the other dozen or so shells crumbling into shards. The light coming form the eggs intensified until Clara had to shield her eyes with one hand.
As one, the bright orbs rose from the ground and hovered a few inches above it. Clara fell back from the edge, then rose to stand in the center of the circle.
…to be continued.
Frannie was only too happy to leave the stinky van and the company of those hippies when they finally sputtered to a stop at the store in town.
“See ya later, little dude!” the driver called as she hopped down.
Frannie sighed, rolling her eyes, and simply waved her goodbye. There was just no getting through to this guy. He was as bad as a second grader.
She smoothed her hair down and squared her shoulders as she turned to face the entrance to–she looked up at the sign–Jack’s Grocery-N-More. Well, it would have to do. She picked up her pace and hit the automatic door nearly running. The man leaving through the exit door paused to make sure she was okay.
“That was a pretty good hit there, little lady. You feelin’ alright?” he asked, leaning down in concern.
She stood up and brushed off her backside. “Yes sir, I’m quite all right, thank you. I just expected the door to open for me. I guess that was a mistake.”
The man laughed aloud. “Yes ma’am, you’re sure right about that. It’s probably been six years or more since Jack’s door worked right. Since you didn’t know that, and I don’t recall seeing you around anywhere, you must be new in town. Where’s your mom and dad, honey?”
“I’m in the market for a set,” Frannie answered him honestly.
He was baffled. A kid this small, this honest, lost and alone? The town was too small for any kind of social services office; his mind quickly discarded the idea of calling the county. This girl could go places in life if she managed to not get caught up in the system.
“Do you have any money, or somewhere to stay tonight?” he asked.
“Nope. I’ll work something out.” Again with the honesty.
He screwed his face up in thought. He wasn’t sure if a girl her age would be comfortable coming home with a strange man all by herself, especially when he was all by himself, but he had to make the offer. He just wouldn’t have felt right about himself without doing so. “Would you–I mean, do you think–well, little girl, I can offer you a safe bed to sleep in tonight, is what I’m tryin’ to say.” He noticed her swallow as she eyed the grocery sacks in his hand.
“And a hot dinner, too,” he quickly added.
That was more than enough for Frannie. She jumped on it. “Thank you very much, sir. I won’t be much trouble for you. Can I help you carry one of those bags?”
He laughed and handed her the smallest. “That’s my truck, the red one right in front.”
When last we saw our intrepid heroine, she was hitching a ride with a van full of hep cats. Who knew such creatures still roamed the streets unchecked, preying upon innocents like Frannie? Well, we do, now. Frannie, however, is not quite so innocent and helpless as she may seem at first glance; she is intelligent, resourceful, and highly competent, not just for her age, but as a human being. But we already knew that, didn’t we?
As the van trundled down the highway at its top speed of 52 miles per hour, Frannie began to really get into the staring contest that she and her seatmate-slash-possible-new-mom were having. Blinking seemed to be okay, but breaking eye contact was not. At long last, the mostly-grown girl threw her head back and laughed like her life depended on it.
Frannie shrugged off her mild confusion, and continued the staring match with the girl’s funny-looking hair. It was so ropy and thick, like an old dirty mop. She wondered if the girl would mind Frannie touching it.
“Can I touch your weird hair?” Frannie asked.
The girl was still laughing, but she nodded and leaned her head over a bit so Frannie could cop a feel. It felt ropy and thick, just as she’d suspected.
“What’s wrong with it?” Frannie continued on the hair-related questioning.
“Nothing, it’s just dreaded,” the girl replied.
Frannie mulled this odd term over for a moment or two before moving on without a worry. “Where are we headed?” she asked.
The driver leaned over to his right and hollered back over his shoulder at her, “Wherever the wind takes us, little dude. We’re on a pretty sweet adventure right now, man.”
“I’m a girl,” Frannie muttered to herself as she crossed her arms sulkily. “Not a dude.”
The driver paid her no mind, and Frannie gave up the sulk to pull the grocery list from her back pocket once more, mulling over the list. She’d already come to the conclusion that these were not her new parents, and knew that she’d better get a move on to the next prospect before it got too dark. She didn’t want to spend the night in this van.
“Can you drop me at the store when you get there?” Frannie asked, very politely. “I don’t believe I’m up for a sweet adventure on top of the one I’m already having, thank you very much.”
The driver didn’t seem to hear her at first, but as his head bopped up and down, sometimes in time to the music playing, he gave a bit of an extra nod. “Sure thing, little dude. Sure thing.”
Frannie rolled her eyes. “I’m a girl,” she grumbled yet again.