“So,” he said. “Do you…you know…?”
Dovaline paused. “I do not have that authority in my job—”
“No, I meant set people on fire. God.”
“Oh,” she harrumphed. “That’s quite personal. I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Ma’am, it is my business.”
“No, it’s not. But if you wait twenty minutes for me to fly over there, I can make it your business.”
The man hung up, fearing she’d roast him like a hog after that. Which she did. No one misses bankers.
Now, Dovaline sat at her ‘desk’ and reviewed her active listings. Nikau, Wiri Lava, Fox River, Maori Leap. New Zealand had some of the most beautiful caves in the world. Closing her eyes, the small vibria could see those damp corridors, and touch the stalactites as they hung from the dripping ceiling. Dovaline sighed contentedly in her own grotto by the North Island, where she had settled in some time ago.
Now which cave would the old hag like?
“I require a large cave, maybe by the sea. Nothing flashy, nothing ugly. Just…” the witch breathed, “a nice cave.”
The dragon tried not to roll her eyes. Again, humans had it easier when it came to ‘real estate’—they were paid on commission, had whole agencies, and were aided by the Internet, the most terrifying contraption since the phone.
Melinda the Hag fluttered about Dovaline’s cave like an indecisive moth around a light bulb.
“My consort wishes to have a smaller property, to better raise a child. But I think a spacious property would do.”
“Whatever you desire,” murmured Dovaline in her native tongue. The language of the dragon was simply a derivative of the snake and the Draco volans.
“Oh, but I desire so much!” said Melinda in turn. The hag could speak many tongues, thankfully, though her reptilian was not as good as her cat or her canine. “Mating season is coming soon. Maybe this time you will be lucky.”
Dovaline closed her tired eyes. Opened them, and outlined the ridges in the cave, and the edges in the old woman’s face.
“Well?” asked Melinda.
“Maybe I will.”
But Dovaline knew she would never be lucky again.
Her mate’s eyes had been steel blue, as blue as her soft scales, and just as tough. She can still feel his nose where he would nuzzle her belly after hunting all night for food. She could see that gape in his claws that always bothered her.
She could hear his gasp of joy when she laid her first egg and his grief when the hatchling did not seize breath.
But she could not say this to the old hag, so she let the fantasy hang in the air.
“Good,” said Melinda. “Good. Because Morin’s death was sad, but there is still time, dear. There is still time to be dutiful, to give the gift of life to your kind.” She paused. “But perhaps it was not meant to be.”
No, it was not meant to be. If love was the sharing of affection, warmth, and food, then Dovaline loved her mate. And she did not believe that affection, that warmth, that food could be shared in quite the same way with any other animal.
Melinda rode on Dovaline’s back, with her arms around the little dragon’s neck. But Dovaline hardly felt her weight—it was a barnacle on her side. Instead, she focused on the takeoff from the edge, the swoop, the fall…dip, glide, soar, turn, and plunge down into the murky skies. Something akin to adrenaline filled her body, and she made a wolfish snarl.
Here was the tricky part, because the cave was partially in the sea. Dovaline was still a little afraid of the water, but her small form made a perfect fit to glide over the water. Her claws dipped into the chilly sea, and she shivered.
The water demons were down in that sea, with their bantam hands that glowed in the gloomy light and seduced the world around them. They were Death’s little traipses that coveted everything with a pulse, and then they wanted more, and more and more—
“Almost there,” Dovaline purred.
When they landed on the cave’s sandy sediments, Melinda jumped off like a flea.
“God, I miss my broom,” she puffed.
Dovaline wished to explore, but the witch said, “Those ocean water hussies scared the bajeezus out of me. Have to go relieve myself. ‘Scuse me.”
This was fine with the dragon. Better than fine. This way, she could trail the crevices of the cave with privacy.
It was when she was examining the stalagmites that Dovaline heard—the cry of an animal in immense pain. The cry of dying animal.
She heard that sound every time she slaughtered a cow.
But this was not an animal, Dovaline knew. The pitch was that of a human.
Dovaline waddled towards the wailing, her wings fluttering nervously. Every second she heard the desperation, the fear that enveloped her heart. Skidding on the cave floor, she stopped.
The woman’s eyes were shut so tight she might never open them again. She was on her side, naked from the waist down, in the fetal position. Dovaline could see scratches on her legs and feet, and her blood covered her thighs. Her belly was enormously swollen.
“Are you okay?” asked Dovaline.
In response, the woman on the floor let out a moan. Her neck fell back, and her forehead gleamed with sweat. How she had come into the cave was unknown, but Dovaline could spot a hopeless case. And sure enough, with her brow scrunched and her feverish mumblings slowing down, she died.
Dovaline sat in shock.
The resonance of weeping should be all too familiar to Dovaline. Yet she leapt back when her focused ears perceived a sniveling noise coming from underneath the woman’s shirt.
Quiet now, thought Dovaline. Quiet, or it’ll cry.
She lifted up the shirt delicately with her teeth—a hard thing to do if your body mass is that of two killer whales and your dentures look like yellow knives.
And there it lay, all autumn pink and slimy, its arms up in triumphant fists. Knees were tucked in to the stomach, and its thighs! They were as fat as a pig’s! The dragon could barely believe its proportion. The head too big, the eyes glassy brown, the ears the size and color of strawberries. Goodness, what a frightful looking creature.
Then it burped, and she fell in love.
She fell in love because it reminded her of her own little hatchling, the one that never made it through his first night.
When the azure egg first cracked, she remembered digging a hole for the little one’s sleeping habits. It was customary at the first crack, though the baby would not sleep alone the first month. But dragons are forever looking to the future. It is their greatest flaw.
Then she remembered staring at it with Morin, and waiting for the second crack. And waiting. Until she could not wait any longer, and went up to listen.
Silence from the egg.
Dovaline took her talon and sliced open the hard casing. The shell fell open. But the baby did not stir.
She nudged it. She pawed at it and sang to it and screeched until her mate gently took her away from the bundle of wet scales.
Five days later, they held the mourning ritual. Three days later, Morin was killed by water demons.
Now she stared at that human child, so unlike her own. It was expected that dragons have as many hatchlings as they could because of the dwindling population. But Dovaline’s hatchling days were almost all gone, with no male dragon south of Australia to serve as a second mate. Her elders had said so much about breeding, yet they never spoke about the anguish of losing a birth.
So she took the child, still mewling, and placed it in her mouth. She snatched the corpse and dumped it in the sea.
And flew away into sky.